Love and Interracial Marriage: 5 Principles for Engaging a Disapproving Family
Most of us agree that interracial relationships, though beautiful, can potentially be harder. I stress “potentially” since often it is assumed that people of different ethnicities are automatically opposites.
When engaging the topic of interracial dating, we must recognize that no ethnicity is monolithic. Therefore, we are called to get to know individuals and avoid jumping to conclusions based on the color of one’s skin.
I am extremely thankful for John Piper’s labors on the topic of interracial marriage. Here’s how he responds to those who would claim that “cultural differences make interracial marriage wrong because the couple will be incompatible”:
1. We should base ideas of compatibility on the facts of a situation not on the color of the people.
2. There are same-race couples that are less compatible than interracial couples, because the issue is not race but sufficient spiritual union, common conviction, and similar expectations to make the marriage workable. (The Ethics of Interracial Marriage)
So yes, interracial marriages can potentially be harder, yet we have to avoid the conjecture that it absolutely will be harder as well as the notion that because it may be hard, it should be avoided. Piper again has helpful words:
Here is where Christ makes the difference. Christ does not call us to a prudent life, but to a God-centered, Christ-exalting, justice-advancing, counter-cultural, risk-taking life of love and courage. Will it be harder to be married to another race, and will it be harder for the kids? Maybe. Maybe not. But since when is that the way a Christian thinks? Life is hard. And the more you love, the harder it gets. (Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage)
Responding to a Disapproving Family
With that being said, we know that one of the main things that can really make an interracial relationship/marriage difficult is a disapproving family. It can be physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually draining. It comes with disapproving looks, racist and prejudice comments, rejection, and poor theological arguments against your interracial relationship from loved ones who have previously supported and loved you well.
How should one respond? What should be said? How should you deal with a family that is rejecting you, or your significant other, based on ethnicity?
The goal of this article is not to provide a biblical basis for interracial marriage. I’m thankful for John Piper’s and Trillia Newbell’s writings on this. What I would like to provide here is biblical and practical advice on to how to engage a disapproving family, whether it is your own or your significant other’s, toward the ends of God being glorified, sin mortified, Satan horrified, and all involved edified. Here are five biblical principles applied to engaging a disapproving family.
1. Love your enemy (Matthew 5:44).
The term “enemy” may sound a bit harsh to some, but when a family is opposing you or your relationship simply because of the racial dynamic (while simultaneously making a relationship with a potential spouse more difficult), it’s hard to view them as anything else. Love is crucial and can be extremely effective. Biblical love is the basis for everything I have to say here. Why? The Scriptures call us to love that prevails and changes our current circumstances.
Without love, you will simply be “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Interracial couples fighting for a relationship without love only prove that they are ill equipped to love one another when times are tough. Biblical love demands that we go above and beyond worldly standards, remaining patient and kind to our perceived enemies. This can be hard when those closest to you remain stubborn and selfish, spewing hatred and condescending remarks about your relationship or significant other. However, biblical love demands that we endure the suffering.
Are you willing to endure the disapproving looks, words, and actions of relatives? Loving and enduring the hate is crucial to winning them. Dr. Martin Luther King was spot on when he revealed the supernatural effects of love:
But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory (Strength to Love, 56).
You may get your way with hate; however, this could lead to problems in your marriage and the chances of having a good relationship with the disapproving family in the future is slim. Choose the path of Christ, and let your love be genuine. Only then will it never end (1 Corinthians 13:8).
2. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
This is extremely critical, especially in the earlier stages, but also throughout your dialogues with the family. Whether it’s your family or your significant other’s, listening to their questions and concerns will better equip you to address them. It also guards you from making rash judgments that are merely speculative. The concerns a family has may not be rooted in race. It would be unwise and unfruitful to pull the race card hastily when a family has legitimate concerns about an interracial relationship.
I realize that few families will come right out and say that race is their main concern. We live in a day where racism is frowned upon; therefore, people don't feel comfortable admitting that it's a struggle. I have experienced situations where smoke screens went up when race was, in fact, the real issue. If the couple involved listens carefully and calmly to the concerns a family has, they will have a better chance at getting to the root of the issue and avoid unnecessary quarreling. After the couple has listened carefully, they are prepared to converse and defend the relationship, if necessary.
3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit (Philippians 2:3).
In other words, check your motives. Why are you fighting for this relationship? Is it because the two of you are spiritually compatible, or do you want to prove the family wrong?
One of the worst reasons to pursue a relationship is because the family is against it. To enter a marriage in order to prove someone wrong is selfish and unloving to everyone involved. The gospel calls us to a higher standard. The Christian is willing to forfeit battles for the love of all involved.
Sometimes when an interracial couple finds themselves going against a family’s wishes, they get so entangled in winning the battle that they lose sight of what’s important — God and each other. They feel pressured to make it work because if they give up on the relationship, they feel as if the family has won.
Be on guard against this lie. Remember, God is at work regardless of the outcome, and he is able to change a family’s collective heart whether the relationship survives or not. Remember Christ’s example in that he was willing to lay down his rights out of obedience to the Father. At the cross, it appeared as if Satan had won and Christ had been defeated. Christ knew the end result, and he lived with that end in mind. That end was glory. Likewise, we await our glory.
4. Be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10).
If an opposing family was previously a loving, caring, and supportive unit to an individual in the relationship and now rejects him or her due to the interracial relationship, human strength will only last so long and go so far.
Imagine a daughter dreaming of her dad walking her down the isle, her mom helping her pick out her wedding dress, or a son looking forward to being loved and accepted by a family previously foreign to him, and now all of this is in jeopardy because of race. This is heartbreaking and painful to go through. It will result in sleepless nights and lots of tears.
Most can comprehend the phrase “be strong,” but the “in the Lord” part can be confusing — yet it’s the most important part of the phrase. I think there are a few ways a Christian interracial couple can be and remain strong in the Lord.
First, they can remind themselves that what they are doing is God-honoring. To know that Jesus is pleased with us should radically transform how we view our hardships. Second, they can rest in the promises of God. We are promised that Christians who suffer for righteousness should not fear because they will be blessed (1 Peter 3:14).
Therefore, don’t be ashamed of your godly interracial relationship, and continue to commit it to Jesus. You may be tempted to avoid talking about your relationship with the disapproving family or cut your significant other out of stories because you know the family disapproves. The relationship should be neither forced into conversation nor hidden as if it is taboo. Interracial couples in Christ can date and marry with confidence because the Lord approves. His opinion is most important.
Every battle, hardship, pain, and trial that the Christian endures for righteousness’s sake has already been dealt with at the cross. We should not fear or be ashamed because we are “in the Lord” and in him we are victorious.
5. Preach in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).
Paul charged young Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season. I offer this same exhortation in two ways. First, share and defend the true beauty of interracial marriage and the multi-ethnic church in light of the gospel whether you are dating interracially or not. The temptation will be to only defend this with your family when you have a dog in the fight. Whether the relationship works out or not, defend biblical truth when you hear it being distorted. Share this truth in season and out regardless of your current relationship.
Second, always look for a chance to share the gospel with the opposing family. Share it in every dialogue and debate. Confront them lovingly with biblical truth. Never assume that the family understands the gospel or its implications. Bring the gospel to bear directly on the situation by reminding them that Christ died for all and in him there is no longer Jew or Greek. We are one in Christ, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Finally, remind them that Jesus, the God-man, came as human and died for humans — spanning not just a racial divide, but the Creator-creature divide — and now we are his bride and he is our groom. One day Christ will return for his bride, and we will all be a part of the most jaw-dropping interracial marriage the world has ever seen, the marriage of Christ and his Church, a people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
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