How Does God REALLY Feel About Interracial Marriages? (Or, what year is it, people?)

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, Tim’s depthy, well-articulated insights are probably as familiar as my posts themselves. So when he forwarded me this article about a church that voted (recently!) to ban people in interracial marriages from membership, suggesting I might want to write something up about it, I had no problem suggesting that HE would do a much better job of it than me. And I was right. :-D Tim graciously agreed to do a guest post. Here’s what he has to say about interracial marriage, our response to it, and, most importantly, God’s response to our response.

Equal Only If Separate

Image: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

He sang while she played piano. It was a scene straight out of almost everyone’s church experience. They probably sounded wonderful, glorifying God through their blended talents. Their differing skin colors, though, jarred the congregation and eventually prompted a new policy:

“That the ________ Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”

(Disclosure – I am in what they would call an “interracial marriage.” I was offended by this statement before I remembered that, though.)

You would think we’ve put this issue to bed by now. I’m not talking about Loving vs. Virginia, the 1967 United States Supreme Court case that struck down state laws preventing people of different “races” from marrying each other. I’m also not thinking about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels, since churches are not covered by that act. Nor am I referring to Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision which said the government cannot rely on a “separate but equal” policy for providing services, since churches are not government agencies. No, I am going back much further. I am relying on events that occurred 2000 and 4000 years ago. Let’s start with the oldest.

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. … The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. (Numbers 12:1, 9)

God left Miriam and Aaron. He left them. God left those who criticized a man just because he married a Cushite woman, a man seeking to serve God and his people. Now Cush (or Kush) is an ancient name for a kingdom which comprised present day southern Egypt as well as parts of Sudan and Ethiopia. The people there had dark skin. Moses’ own brother and sister must have thought marrying someone from there justified their criticism of his ability to minister, because here’s the full account of their “talk against Moses”:

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Numbers 12:1-2)

While they apparently thought Moses’ marriage to an outsider affected his ability to serve God and his people, God immediately set them straight:

At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam.

When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”

The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. (Numbers 12:4-9)

What a lesson for us all. God is the one who sets the qualifications for ministry, and it has nothing to do with the color of your spouse’s skin. And you’d think that it settled the matter for all of God’s people who came after. But if the events 4000 years ago are not instructive enough, Paul reminded us 2000 years later that the fellowship of God’s people is not determined by the color of one’s skin:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11. See Galatians 3:28 for more of the same.)

So what do we learn from God’s word? That Christ’s followers can marry each other regardless of whether one is a Gentile and the other Jewish, one a slave and the other free, or any combination of any category you can come up with. They can even marry a barbarian (case in point: my wife did). Not one of these marriages is a disqualifier from fellowship or from service in God’s kingdom. Not one.

Might such marriages offend some people? Sure, there’s always a way to offend people whether inside or outside the church. But they don’t offend God. Instead, as we see from Numbers 12:9, their attitude actually offends God himself (“The anger of the LORD burned against them”). I’d rather please him than be concerned about unity “among the church body and the community” (as the church’s proclamation put it) when the very basis for that unity is contrary to God’s word.

After all, “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts,” right? (1 Thessalonians 2:4.)

Bio: Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids now in college, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings. He and his wife live in Northern California.

39 Responses to How Does God REALLY Feel About Interracial Marriages? (Or, what year is it, people?)

  1. Jenny Rae Armstrong December 2, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Thanks again so much for this post Tim! My favorite line: “I’d rather please (God) than be concerned about unity ‘among the church body and the community’ (as the church’s proclamation put it) when the very basis for that unity is contrary to God’s word.” Excellent point–why should we be unified about things that are contrary to the values of God’s kingdom?!

    • Tim December 2, 2011 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks so much for inviting me along, JR!

      Tim

  2. Chrystal December 2, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    As I read the article about the church in Kentucky, I was particularly saddened by the fact that it was only after the new pastor of the congregation had reached out to the couple, inviting them back to sing and participate any time, that the retiring pastor, who’d been there many years, apparently generated the ban on accepting interracial couples. We seem to frequently misunderstand “unity” to mean don’t upset anyone who is part of the group, or don’t advocate for change. Thanks for a wonderful reminder of God’s perspective on the barriers we try and set up between ourselves!

    • Tim December 2, 2011 at 10:09 am #

      Thanks Chrystal. Regarding “God’s perspective on the barriers we try and set up between ourselves”, it reminds me of Jesus clearing the temple because the merchants had taken over the space used by Gentiles who wanted to approach God in worship. If I were in present-day church leadership, one of the last groups of people I’d want to be compared with are the money changers!

      Tim

      • Chrystal December 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

        That’s a great analogy! And I agree, I don’t ever want to be in a position of impeding anyone’s ability to approach God in worship…..for whatever reason.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 2, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      I found that troubling, too–a person who still obviously holds great sway over the church using their influence to do something so un-Christ-like, to pull the congregation the wrong way. Apparently nine members voted for the ban, six voted against it, and the other members “chose not to vote.” Hmm, I wonder why? Was there spiritual bullying and manipulation going on?

      • Chrystal December 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

        The same questions went through my mind. God bless those six people who were brave enough to vote against the ban. In a small congregation and a small community, disagreeing with an authority figure can’t have been very easy.

  3. Melody H Hanson (@melodyhhanson) December 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    I saw the article about the church and was appalled.

    My family is full of beautiful biracial children and bicultural marriages and we are the better for it! I pity those that think otherwise. God have mercy.

    Thank you for writing this. I am sorry that it needed to be written but glad that you did.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      Melody, I echo everything you said. Almost half my cousins are bi-racial, and it exasperates me that this sort of thing still comes up. Utter nonsense. What in the world???

  4. Tim December 2, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words, Melody. Among the many things that are non-issues in God’s kingdom, one is definitely the color of your skin. Not many of us here in America look like Jesus and his followers anyway.
    Tim

  5. Marlena December 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Very well said. However, I am extremely saddened that this argument has to be made today! Tim, maybe you can forward this along to the board of the Kentucky church. They are in dire need of your wisdom. Blessings to you and your family.

    Thanks Jenny Rae for featuring Tim!

    • Tim December 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

      Thanks for thinking so highly of the article, Marlena. I don’t know about forwarding it to the church, though. I’d rather they seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit than get anything from me!

      Tim

      • Marlena December 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

        But Tim and Jenny, it seems as though they are turning a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit. But you’re right. They’re not beyond redemption!

        • Tim December 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

          Marlena, if they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit, I’m sure they won’t give a hoot what I say. On the other hand, if you think God can use this article to change hearts then you can send it on if you like. (I am reminded of God’s OT use of a donkey!)

          Tim

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      I was happy to do it. :-) I really hope that church decides to revisit this decision–it’s preposterous. And yet, one thing that I thought was telling was that the church didn’t have an official policy on interracial marriages until an interracial couple showed up.

      How many of our churches have unofficial, unspoken “policies” about race, I wonder? Maybe the church in Kentucky was simply being more honest about their stance than many of our churches are?

      • Tim December 5, 2011 at 10:13 am #

        “I really hope that church decides to revisit this decision–it’s preposterous.” They did! Or at least the folks running the show did. Here’s the link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/14981

        Good news for the kingdom of God.

        Tim

  6. Karen Swallow Prior December 2, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    Although I myself have written about interracial marriages, I have never read such a powerful (and explicitly biblical) approach.

    Thank you, Tim, for this excellent piece, and Jenny, for opening up your blog to make it possible!

    • Tim December 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

      Karen, thank you for such kind comments (and they’re especially meaningful coming from an English professor!). The Bible really is clear on this, I think.

      Tim

      P.S. I’m in a judicial ethics meeting today, but I am looking forward to reading the article you wrote at her.meneutics on the topic soon!

  7. AIMEE Y BYRD December 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    Great article, Tim. My favorite line was when you said God wasn’t offended. My neighbors are a bi-racial couple, and I was appalled to hear that the first church they tried to get married in would not do the ceremony over their race. What a horrible witness to Christ! They do not attend church now. I just can’t believe, with all the real issues, that bi-racial marriage is one at all. James Montgomery Boice wrote well on this issue, citing your Moses example.

    On a side note, you better write an article for me one day!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      Great idea, Aimee! Since Tim doesn’t have a blog of his own, we should send him on a blog tour. ;-D I’m liking it…

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Tim December 3, 2011 at 12:03 am #

      Thanks Aimee. It’s horrible to think that a congregation drove people like your friends away over an issue that God has already said is a non-issue. And to mention me in the same paragraph with Boice? Wowzah!

      Re your side note: I’ll write one if you think there’s a good topic to cover.

      Tim

      • AIMEE Y BYRD December 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

        What if we piggy-backed off this article a bit (1st paragraph being a summary), and developed it into a comparison of how we are not to be unequally yoked spiritually? Instead of race, we should be looking for fruits of the Spirit in who we date to marry. Just an idea.

        A Tim blog tour!

  8. Keri Wyatt Kent December 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Great job, Tim. It’s funny how people read the Bible with odd filters. Those Kentucky folks probably would argue that they are a “Bible-believing” church but seem to have ignored Moses’ bi-racial marriage. As with other issues, when churches do things like this, it drives people away from Jesus: not just the couple that’s discriminated against, but seekers or unbeievers who are watching and saying–why would I want to join an institution that is so obviously dysfunctional and mean and just stoopid? And that’s a terrible thing.

    • Tim December 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      Great points, Keri. And I would say that it is mean in both senses of the word. It’s hurtful and it is small minded. God’s grace and wisdom upon them all.

      Tim

      • Keri Wyatt Kent December 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

        I just wrote a blog post about this, linking back to your excellent article, Tim. It’s at http://keriwyattkent.com/soul/?p=1010
        I have some questions at the end of my post that I’d love to have you weigh in on.

        • Tim December 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

          Thanks for thinking it worth linking, Keri. I’m in a meeting and my phone’s almost dead, but I’ll be over there when I can.

  9. Aaron December 4, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Well written, already a popular post, and good discussion. Nice job Tim!

    • Tim December 4, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

      Thanks Aaron. I’m hoping it’s God’s renown that is built up by this discussion. By the way, your teaching videos look great!

      Tim

      • Aaron December 4, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

        Thanks Tim. I’m agreeing with everyone else, hoping you’ll be doing more writing in the future! Always really appreciate you thoughts and perspective.

  10. Nick McDonald December 5, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Tim – I hope this isn’t the last I hear of you in the blogging world. You have some incredible, biblical insights on life.

    *Insert clever quote from the depths of my vast realms of knowledge, as you would.

    *Insert humorous remark, as you would.

    *Insert gentle critique, as you would.

    *Insert my favorite parts of the piece. OK, that I can do:

    -Way to pull out an OT Torah/ethics lesson. Rare, but well done (Get it? It’s a play on terms we use to cook beef, which is ironically one meat the anti-interracial Judaizers and pro-interracial Gentiles could have agreed upon eating….OK, that’s my imitation of a Tim joke.)

    -Nice mini U.S. history lesson to drive home your point.

    -Great closing paragraph: “Might such marriages offend some people? Sure, there’s always a way to offend people whether inside or outside the church. But they don’t offend God. Instead, as we see from Numbers 12:9, their attitude actually offends God himself (“The anger of the LORD burned against them”). I’d rather please him than be concerned about unity “among the church body and the community” (as the church’s proclamation put it) when the very basis for that unity is contrary to God’s word.”

    -Love the bio.

    Cheers,
    Nick

    • Tim December 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

      Thanks Nick. “Rare, but well done”: not only did I get it, but it got me grinning something fierce. A good pun is a thing of beauty!

      Re: mini U.S. history lesson – couldn’t let that law school education go to waste.

      And as for the closing paragpraph, the good news out of kentucky is that the church’s decision has been overruled – http://www.huntingtonnews.net/14981

      Tim

  11. Victoria / Justice Pirate December 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Tim, I had never actually thought about Moses and his wife at all with their varying backgrounds, but that is really wonderful how you put that together and I really loved it. Wonderful article. What a blessed couple you and your wife must be! I think too many people forget to follow Christ above all else and to listen to His word. They become clouded away from what is important. I think about the verse where man sees the outward appearance but God sees the heart. In an issue such as this, it speaks true volumes. Some of the most amazing couples are from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds because Christ is what brought them together and their family is under Him first (not where they once came from).

    • Tim December 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

      Thanks Victoria, and I really like this: “Christ is what brought them together.” What a wonderful thing to say about people in the Body of Christ. It’s amazing how much our Savior loves us!
      And it’s funny you mention 1 Samuel 16:7 – “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I am reading through 1 and 2 Samuel right now and had not even connected this to the issue of interracial marriage, but you are so right that it applies quite clearly to the issue.

      Tim

  12. alli September 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    I think this is more about economics. I am biracial blk white and native american, if a girl was european and wanted to marry a chinese man i think there would not b this law. I think its about certain ppl who have issues with some ‘particular’race. Now im not saying its a issue if two ppl are unequally yoked yep its going to b hard, and culturally things are more difficult unless you are BOTH strong committed Christians, but if God is calling you too i think this law is really obslete, if tjis is tru they are also speaking against moses and i highly doubt anyone really trying to obey Obey God would do that.

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  14. Anastasios March 19, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    First century Rome was as ethnically diverse as any modern city; there were Greeks, Romans, Africans, Assyrians, Armenians, Chinese (yes, Chinese!), Jews, northern Europeans, etc. The early church brought all these different groups together under one roof and that’s one of the reasons why modern-day Italians are so ethnically mixed (recent DNA studies have proven this). Obviously, the early Christians didn’t object to interracial marriage, even if their pagan neighbors might have…

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