“I would have a heart attack if my daughter ever brought home a black boy.”
I heard those words a few weeks ago in what began as a normal conversation with an acquaintance. We were chatting about new TV shows airing that night when this person ranted about how the media continues to push “unbiblical” agendas such as interracial marriage.
“There has to be at least one black and white couple in every show now,” they said, oblivious to my mouth hanging wide open in horror. “I mean, if God wanted blacks and whites to be together, then why did he make us different colors?”
I had flashbacks to when I was in my early teens and admitted to a friend that one of my celebrity crushes was the Christian rapper, Lecrae. A look of pure disgust crossed over her face as her words dripped over me like poison.
“But, he's black.”
My experiences are not isolated. A little more than a month ago, a Mississippi couple was denied a wedding venue because the groom was black and the bride was white. The venue's owners claimed the couple’s union went against their “Christian beliefs.”
The so-called “Christian” motivations behind such bigoted opinions are deeply embedded in some conservative Christians circles, which cherry-pick parts of the Bible that fit into their personal mold of God. Often, such Christians identify with the “Religious Right.”
The creation of the Religious Right can be traced back to the late 1960s, when public schools were forced to integrate. In response to mandatory integration, conservative white Christians formed new whites-only private schools. In one particular county, Holmes County in Mississippi, the number of white students enrolled in public schools had dropped to zero in the years following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
In the spring of 1969, a group of African-American parents sued the Treasury Department on the basis that the private schools should not obtain tax-exempt, “charity” status due to their discriminatory policies. The following year, President Richard Nixon issued a new policy in which the Internal Revenue Service was to deny tax exemptions to all segregated schools in the U.S. under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The ruling on the case upheld the new policy, and white evangelicals were furious. At first, some private Christian schools such as Bob Jones University refused to abide by the policy, using the defense that the Bible mandated segregation. Eventually, the university was legally forced to allow African Americans, but they only admitted married African Americans in order to prevent interracial dating relationships. The IRS stripped the university of its tax-exempt status in 1975.
According to historian Randall Balmer, this was the foundation of the Religious Right. Old habits clearly do die hard.
As people of faith, our blood should boil when we hear people try to say our God is for marriage segregation, because the God of the Bible is one who celebrates diversity and interracial marriage.
Perhaps one of my favorite examples is that of Boaz and Ruth. Ruth came from a pagan Moabite culture, whereas Boaz came from the tribe of Judah. Prior to their union, Ruth was married to a son of Naomi, also from the tribe of Judah. The story of Boaz and Ruth is a beautiful picture of how God led them to one another after the loss of Ruth’s husband, and how cultural differences can be celebrated. Ruth, a Moabite woman, is one of only five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
There are other examples. Consider Moses and Zipporah, Esther and King Ahasuerus, Joseph and Asenath - all of which were marriages God ordained and blessed.
The thought of God being “for” one particular group of people (whites) over all others is not found in the Bible, but it is something tightly woven into the tapestry of American history. And consciously, or unconsciously, it’s been passed on to future generations.
One of my college friends, Sydney, admitted to me how Christians challenged the legitimacy of her first relationship with an African-American man.
In one particular instance, a church friend of Sydney’s confronted her and said, “Sydney, I know you are so much better than that. Do you know what black men do? Does God still love you?”
According to Sydney, this judgment and condescending attitude have no place in the heart of a Christian. “You see, you cannot be racist or against interracial relationships and follow Jesus. It just does not work like that,” Sydney said. “God commanded us to love others.”
A Christian risks disobeying the greatest command Jesus gave us by continuing to allow human opinion to taint the waters of their faith. Opposition to interracial relationships may have once been typical behavior among Christians, and I mourn that, but this attitude certainly should not continue.
As people of faith, united in our adoption by Jesus Christ, let us work to build longer tables, not the opposite.