[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]
Not that this issue of race is ever far from South African minds. But I have been taken aback by race related tensions in the past month. Twitter wars, xenophobic attacks, allegations of discrimination at restaurants, schools and the workplace, and allegations of race related farm murders. There appears to be an unstoppable supply of race-related tension and strife in our land. While the mainstream media, human rights groups and political parties argue about the causes and solutions, I have a question circling my mind: What Do Christians think of interracial marriage, and why does it matter?
A useful reference for me in answering this question is the book Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian by pastor and author John Piper. I value his input on the subject for a number of reasons: He is grounded in the Bible, He sees the value of racial reconciliation for the church’s mission and its benefits to his nation and the nations, he is ‘white’ (and I am not), and because he cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be accused of being a left wing, liberal, we-are-all-going-to-heaven type. (His ‘struggle credentials’ include his longstanding voice against abortion amongst other politically incorrect positions he has consistently taken.) Why is that important you may ask? Because when it comes to racial reconciliation, generally and historically speaking, ‘right-wing’ Bible-believing evangelicals have not done so well on the diversity issue in interracial marriage, diversity of their congregations, or in speaking about racism as sin. In case you missed the first article, this column is about the whole chicken, about how the Kingdom of God is not about ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’ issues alone, but how we can attempt to bring the Bible-based truth Kingdom of God into our world, regardless of whether society thinks this is a right or left wing issue.
Piper presents four biblically based reasons in favour of interracial marriage:
1. All Races Have One Ancestor, And All Humans Are Created in God’s Image (Gen 1:27 and Acts 17:26);
2. The Bible Forbids Intermarriage Between Unbeliever and Believer – but Not between Races (Deut 7:3-4; Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Cor 7:39 and 2 Cor 6:14)
3. In Christ Our Oneness Is Profound and Transforms Racial and Social Differences from Barriers to Blessings (Col 3:9-11)
4. Criticising One Interracial Marriage Was Severely Disciplined by God (Num 12)
Based on these Scriptures, Piper goes on to add that the consistent prohibition in the Bible is not colour mixing, but one between those who believe in Christ, and those who don’t. Rightly so, he says, “if the great ground of our identity is not our ethnic differences but our common humanity in the image of God and especially our new humanity in Christ.” At this point, I would add that these external features from which we mistakenly derive our primary identity and sense of significance from, are not our primary essence.
As a result, while interracial marriage (based primarily on skin colour and other externalities) is still such a big issue for us, it is a non-issue for God. In as much as He did not consider external appearance as a fitting attribute for leadership, it can also be argued that He does not consider external appearances (skin colour, hair type, accent and more) as an important characteristic for the suitability of marriage: 1 Sam 16:7 reads But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” How different we are to God. For us, these are so important that inheritances are lost over this, and family members disowned, not over issues of character and faith, but externalities that we find uncomfortable. But God does not merely think that external appearance is unimportant. Num 12 records that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Aaron and Miriam, because Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. (Num 12:1). Biblical scholars agree that Cushite people were known for their black skin (see Jer 13:23), thus making it quite clear that Moses married a Black African woman (maybe our children’s picture Bibles might even look a bit different if we applied this to them?!), and that this interracial marriage was the source of their accusation against Moses.
Christ-centered heart change
Beyond all these arguments, does what I really think about interracial marriage matter so much? Piper thinks so. He writes: “…I would argue that opposition to interracial marriage is one of the deepest roots racial distance, disrespect, and hostility in the world. Show me one place in the world where interracial or interethnic marriage is frowned upon and yet the two groups still have equal respect and honour and opportunity. I don’t think it exists. It won’t happen. Why? Because the supposed spectre of interracial marriage demands that barrier after barrier must be put up to keep young people from knowing each other and falling in love…and as long as we disapprove of it, we will be pushing our children, and therefore ourselves, away from each other. Piper concludes: Separation has never produced mutual understanding and respect. It has produced ignorance, suspicion, impersonal stereotyping, demeaning innuendo, and corporate self-exaltation. Are there challenges for an interracial marriage? Absolutely. Conversely, is there the possibility of prejudices being removed and reconciliation becoming a reality? If we have Christ, that is a very real possibility. And it is this Christ-centrered heart change of individuals towards others, that can serve to glorify God, spread the Gospel and heal our nation more than the political correctness, quota regulations and twitter wars.