ethnic, marriage

Parents and Perspectives on Multi-Ethnic Marriage

The royal wedding of an American actress and a British prince last weekend—which I did indeed watch with my daughters—gives occasion to answer a question I am regularly asked: what exactly does the Bible say about interracial marriage? I used to serve in college ministry and often fielded this question from the perspective of the couple. Now that I serve in real-life grown-up ministry, I encounter this question more from parents. So I want to address this question from their perspective.

Let me render it like this:

My son/daughter is interested in marrying someone from a different race/ethnic background. As a parent, I’m concerned about the difficulties they might face in our racially polarized society, and honestly I’m not sure my child is mature enough to be aware of those difficulties or wise enough to handle them. Do you think I should oppose the relationship on those grounds?

Here is my answer: 

First, you must have a solid, Christian foundation for how you view marriage. Namely, the kind of person your child is attracted to is a good indicator of their own spiritual health. A mature Christian wants to marry a mature Christian. A superficial person is attracted to superficiality in others. This maxim is not only true in marriage, but in all aspects of the Christian life: the measure of a person’s spirituality is revealed by what the person desires. The measure of a heart is its affections, and so in a real sense, we are what we love.

Second, you must have a soild, Christian perspective for how you view race. Namely, there is no such thing as race. The very concept of race is sociological, not biological. There is zero biological credibility to the idea of different races. The American concept of race in particular, abounds with self-contradictions and absurdity, owing to its flagrantly sinful origins. As Thabiti Anyabwile has pointed out, the concept of race always comes from those trying to take away rights, never those trying to give them.

Third, you must value the beauty of a Christian marriage. Two people, both sinners by nature but redeemed by grace, covenant to live together in mutual deference and sacrificial love as they propagate the gospel in our hostile society. Marriage is good and designed by God. Thus, marriage is for God’s glory and our good (Mark 10:6-8). It should always be commended and held in high regard (Hebrews 13:4). The real decline in our society has more to do with marriage than with race. And while I’m not a prophet, I do say the next generation of Christians will face more opposition for their views on marriage than their views on race.

Thus, when it comes to your child choosing a spouse, there are only two qualifications you need to be concerned about: the other person must be a Christian and they must share the desire to marry (1 Corinthians 7:39). While there are wisdom issues in play—such as the desire to marry someone who helps your sanctification, who understands marriage roles, and who is as excited for the Lord as much as you are (if not more so!)—those are still wisdomissues and not sin issues; they are not grounds in themselves to oppose a marriage.

But to tell your son or daughter they should marry someone only from their same ethnic background cultivates a superficial understanding of people, which is contrary to all three points above. I would even say that to discourage your child from a multi-ethnic relationship is a sin issue. Two Christians have more in common with each other than anything in their own culture. So if you elevate cultural preferences to a qualification for forbidding a marriage runs counter to 1 Timothy 4:3, as well as 1 Corinthians 7:39 and Galatians 2:14.

Beyond that, forbidding multi-ethnic relationships actually hinders your child from displaying these truths to the world. I’m not naive—I understand that marriage sanctifies, and some marriages have more problems than others. Every marriage requires adjusting expectations and working through problems, and when the couple comes from different ethnic backgrounds, those problems are multiplied. But the more extreme those differences, the more the gospel is glorified. So these difference only provide an opportunity for the unity of Christians and the power of marriage to be portrayed in even greater visibility. So I appeal to parents not to rob their children of the privilege to portray this kind of gospel glory just because of your own cultural fears.

Now, it is wise to make an engaged couple aware of additional difficulties they may encounter in marriage if they come from different ethnic backgrounds. That is a great topic for premarital counseling, but it is a bad reason to discourage a marriage.

It is worth noting that the Bible does address multi-ethnic marriage—albeit in an indirect way. When Moses married a Cushite woman (who would have had dark skin), the Israelites grumbled about it, as is their custom (Numbers 12:1). God responded by striking one of the grumblers white with leprosy (Numbers 12:10). At the very least, this passage reveals three things God approves: 1. irony, 2. not grumbling, and 3. multi-ethnic marriages.

So parents, my hope and pastoral counsel to you is this: if your child wants to marry someone from a different ethnicity, as long as that person is in the Lord and other wisdom principles are met, don’t be the voice that tells your child: “I know the gospel is strong, and I’m glad you believe it, but it’s not as strong as the hate in this world.”

In the United States, evangelicals have an unfortunate history of dividing based on race. Yet the future of our country is becoming more like British Royalty—multi-ethnic. We are increasingly less racially segregated than we were in the past. So when given the opportunity, embrace diversity and celebrate it in your own family. Teach your children to reject the ungodly values of society by valuing all people as the Lord does.

Source: The Cripplegate |  Jesse Johnson

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