Equally Yet Uneasily Yoked
It’s the opening song, and while you and the Latino congregation chant “Onward Christian Soldiers” in Spanish, the back doors suddenly open. You proudly whisper to your friends that your “surprise guest”—your girlfriend—has arrived. But as you leave your seat and escort the rather exquisite figure to your row, sounds of dropped communion trays and a gust of silence envelope the atmosphere.
For an instant, you wonder if it's her radiance that has captivated your spiritual brethren. A nano-second later, you realize their stares are actually "snares" and for one single reason: your girlfriend—and fellow Christian—is Black.
From Jews and Gentiles to Africans and Europeans, multicultural churches have long been embraced, century-old social barriers breaking down amongst believers now more than ever. But what about interracial dating and marriages within the church? What are some of the difficulties and controversial clashes of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Middle Easterners, and other nationalities that have romantically crossed over before His cross?
“Obviously in church, no one’s ever gonna come out and share about their being prejudiced of you and your spouse, but their actions are blaring,” says Clay Harris, an African-American Christian man married to a Caucasian. “I’ve had people in church say to my wife before and after we got married, ‘How could you hook up with that guy?’ or tell us ‘I love you’ and ‘We’re here for you’ a bunch of times, and not ever be there.”
In a place where ethnic acceptance should be the norm, tension can still stir for many interracial couples within God’s kingdom, bombarded and betrayed by church brethren over factors far deeper than the average congregational concerns. Pitted against issues involving tradition, belief, ideals, customs, countries, culture, creed, family, and fear, the Son’s ethnic "rainbow" of romance lacks luster when racially integrated Christians are loathed—not loved—by both the world and fellow followers.
You Would Think
There are more than 2 million interracial marriages in the U.S. today, accounting for about 5 percent of the total, couples who must ask themselves, “Are we prepared for the comments and criticisms we may face as an interracial family?” “Do we have the capacity and creativity to merge two cultures?” “Can we be secure in raising biracial kids?”
But should these questions be posed for cross-cultured Christians in the church? If we who are in Christ are all indeed “red,” as the mantra often goes, then why are there not more racially mixed couples in our fellowships? While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see car ads or soap commercials with interracial families as the norm, why don’t the majority of gospel tracts or Sunday School walls contain pictures of intermixed couples and their children?
From Hispanics dating Persians to Asians marrying Hessians amongst God’s flock, the following article is an inside look at today's racially mixed Christian couples, their challenges inside and outside the church, and the reasons behind most of these difficulties. We will explore both legitimate and illegitimate reasons as to why interracial relationships are not traditionally commonplace amongst even believers and will provide testimonials of cultural clashes brought on by kingdom kin who don’t always sing, “… they are precious in His sight.”
In following The Great Commission, any disciple of Christ who has helped convert a father, brother, son, or nephew can speak volumes of the joys of bringing a family member to God. However, in the minds of many Christians, family outreach depends heavily on one’s spouse or girlfriend. Cultural differences, language barriers, and/or just plain prejudice that an unsaved relative may harbor can cloud and shroud their desire to know a spouse of different origin, thus hindering a couple’s goal to help their family know Christ.
“The main reason I wish to marry someone in my own race is that it would be easier to reach out to members of my family who are not Christians,” says Rod Pincaro, a Filipino Christian single. “In my culture, a certain clique is built amongst the people, and it would be difficult for my future spouse to relate if she is not Filipino.”
Persecution for faith in Jesus is inevitable (2 Timothy 3:12). Let’s face it—the mere mention of His name can really bring out the ugliness in people. And for followers already struggling with the daily challenges of self denial, an interracial relationship can be an extra meatloaf on a Christian’s plate of problems.
“The minute I first told my parents I was marrying a Latino, all I got from them was, ‘You’re irresponsible and selfish,’” comments Jheni Solis, a Korean Christian woman. “Mixed minority relationships pose more unique challenges than others. Strong and sometimes very opposite cultures trying to merge, such as Latinos and Asians, can cause heavy friction between families. I feel blessed to have married into an Americanized family (my husband being fourth-generation Mexican) who accept me as I am.”
Curtis Reed, a Christian who is part Caucasian and African American and married to a Latina, tells of an incident during his singlehood. “When a fellow Christian, who happened to be Mexican, invited me to her birthday party as a date, I noticed that her dad kept staring at me,” says Reed. “He was a tad drunk and finally said to his daughter, ‘He better be Puerto Rican—not no ni---r.’”
Another reason some Christians choose to opt out in cross-culture relationships is because of the hardships it may play on their children. Kids with mixed backgrounds are like sheep amongst wolves when around peers, adolescent cruelty unbearable for any Christian parent who faces enough challenges with the spiritual battle. Harris tells of problems he foresees in raising his half White, half Black 3-year-old son.
“In our society, it’s very easy for minorities to try and fit in with the majority and hide who they are inside because of the racial stigmatism that’s out there,” says Harris. “Because of this, my selfish, sinful nature automatically wants my son to hang out with only people of color. However, as a Christian, there’s a balance that can and must be forged, where my son can feel comfortable and be able to relate to Black people, and at the same time respect other races as well.”
Deleon Aramour, a Black man, recalls his early days of being a Christian when attending leadership classes of his church to become a minister. These classes contained some of the most bizarre statements on race and marriage he has ever heard.
“Our lead evangelist at the time, who was conducting the classes, told us that if we were to be effective in full-time ministry, each of us needed to date and marry someone from our own race,” says Aramour. “To the ministry staff, it was a more ‘attractive’ and ‘effective outreach’ to the non-Christian.”
Aramour also testifies to an encounter he had in his church when attempting to court and date a Christian Latina. “[My interest] was very active in the Latin Ministry of our church, and her and I had been building a friendship for six to seven months. One day, I got a call from her ministry leader (a Latino married to a Caucasian). He basically told me that they didn’t want me dating a woman from their ministry because there would be no way for us to ever be on a mission team together. It was Solo La Rasa, as he put it.”
A good percentage of us are indebted to our parents for sculpting and carving us into the people we are today. But whether good or bad, the seeds of parental influence can be difficult to uproot.
“A lot of Christians today have parents who lived through times like the 60s and the Civil Rights movement,” says Steve Burkulis, a Caucasian Christian currently engaged to a Black woman. “In many of these cases, sadly, these parents can pass on to their children negativity toward certain races.”
Jay Minor, a minister of a multicultural church in Los Angeles, speaks of another childhood influence parallel to our parents’.
“Many churches are quite racially segregated because of tradition and generations of personal preference,” says Minor. “Those who have grown up in churches like these and come from a long line of Christian families are more likely to object to interracial marriage, as opposed to people who have recently been converted.”
Though a new creation, certain habits from a Christian’s “B.C. days” can resurface. For some, this can entail a personal preference in race when choosing a mate, be it harmless or harmful. “Before becoming a Christian, 90 percent of my guy preference was Whites,” says Keesha Bunche, an African American Christian woman engaged to a Caucasian. “I guess you can compare it to why some people prefer apples over oranges—both taste good, but for some people, there are things that are a little more exciting than others. I admit, my past preference might have influence on my choices today, but it’s ultimately based on a man’s spirituality.
“Unfortunately, other Christians with past racial preferences can drag other things into their Christian life, such as prejudice and ‘hang ups’ toward other races, and overlook what’s really important—a person’s love for God.”
Joseph’s “CEO” package included the daughter of an Egyptian priest. Moses married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro the Midianite. Boaz took great joy in his Moabite bride, Ruth, our Savior’s mixed lineage. Queen Esther’s intermarriage with King Xerxes (which forestalled the annihilation of the Jewish people) was also unique. And although intermarriage is not specifically mentioned, Paul and Peter’s writings affirm that all Christians—regardless of race—are bound together as one holy people of God. The only example of our Lord’s disapproval of intermarriage was/is if a believer was/is “unequally yoked” with a non-believer.
Is it wrong, therefore, for Christians to prefer mates of the same race to preserve culture, promote outreach, or simply fulfill a personal desire? Not at all. But if we can eliminate most of the negative, stereotypical reasons for not having more mixed couples in the church, our radical union with the One who broke barriers to be with us would be all the more colorfully displayed.
About the author: Michael Lizarraga is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and follower of Christ. His work can also be found in martial arts, cultural and faith-based publications.