On that warm Virginia night in July, Mildred and her husband were fast asleep in their Central Point home. Like other neighbors, the Lovings didn’t lock their doors so they didn’t hear Caroline County’s three lawmen until they were standing in their bedroom.
“Who’s that in your bed with you?” one demanded of Richard.
“I’m his wife,” Mildred said, pointing to the marriage license hanging on the wall.
“That’s no good here,” the one responded. They’d been married in D.C.
It was 1958 and like nearly half of the states, Virginia prohibited interracial marriage. Because Richard was white and Mildred was black/American Indian, they were arrested for violating the Racial Integrity Act and taken to jail. In court, they were given the choice of leaving the state, or going to prison for a year. They pled guilty and agreed to leave. They were told that if they returned before 30 years, they would be rearrested and serve 1 year in prison.
Which meant they couldn’t visit their families. Ever. In the early 60’s, Mildred wrote Attorney General Robert Kennedy, wondering if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might apply to their plight. He said no, but referred her to the ACLU which eventually argued the case before the Supreme Court. And won a unanimous decision 50 years ago in 1967. Nearly 10 years after they were ordered to leave, the Lovings returned to their beloved Central Point where Richard built them a home.
Before the case got to the highest court, it made a stop at the Virginia Appeals Court where it was again rejected. The judge who wrote the majority opinion suggested the Lovings might be “rehabilitated” by being allowed to return to Virginia and live apart, “contemplating the error of their way in going against God, nature and the traditions of the Commonwealth.”
On Easter Sunday in 1960, Dr. Bob Jones preached a sermon entitled “Is Segregation Scriptural”? (he answered “Yes”, based on Acts 17:26), a public justification for a variety of Bob Jones University’s segregationist standards–one of which was no interracial dating (no longer policy at BJU). While it’s true God wouldn’t let Jews marry non-Jewish neighbors, it was to preserve the purity of faith–not the purity of their ethnicity. Marry a Chemosh-worshiping woman and there’s a reasonable chance she’ll talk you into visiting her temple and next thing you know you’re a member. Scripture makes no case for opposing interracial marriages–as long as both are believers. In fact, when Aaron and his sister criticized their Semitic brother Moses for marrying a black woman (Numbers 12:1), God dealt fiercely with them.
Although most Americans say they approve of interracial marriage, some white parents’s hearts still sink when their first-out-of-the-nest comes home from college with a black, Latino, or Asian boyfriend; and…, so do those of some black parents (or Chinese, or Latino, or Indian) when their son brings home a girl from another race.
Some of that is explained by an innate push back against change that marks many of us, but we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that other, darker implications linger. John Piper has a point:
There “…is an inevitable pressure on all social structures to keep ethnic groups separate, especially among young people who might fall in love, if they hang out together. So, that includes neighborhoods and schools especially. No matter how much love or goodwill you may have, if my son or daughter is racially unacceptable as a spouse for your son or daughter, then you will keep your family at a distance from mine. And the social order will reflect that distance. And the desire for that distance will inevitably breed disrespect, suspicion, and antagonism.”
Parents who object to being tagged as racist because they’re uncomfortable over their daughter’s engagement to an Indian, say they have legitimate concerns. Their backgrounds are so dissimilar, they’re going to have a hard time. And what about their kids? They’ll have a really hard time.
But since when do Christians wash their hands of what’s “hard”? If we do, that might take all marriages off the table. For sure it would take missions off the table, adoption off the table, foster care off the table, serving in the military, maybe even going to college for some or learning a trade, confessing sin to a sister or brother, and making restitution for sins committed decades ago. It would take evangelism off the table…, and learning to live and worship side by side with those from other ethnicities.
Keystone is a mostly white church which, I am praying God will change. I understand that in many of the communities we come from, we don’t enjoy the kind of racial diversity that’s more apparent in our cities. But I think we should aspire to look as much like heaven as possible. And although in Genesis we all began as one race with a common ancestor, in heaven we will gather as one people of many races (Revelation 7:9). And frankly, I believe that only as God shuffles us together more and more–and deliberately draws us together as fellow worshipers and friends despite our unique ethnic backgrounds, does He purge the innate prejudices that haunt our hearts–the ones we admit as well as those we don’t. And yes, it might increase the prospect that having those of other ethnicities be part of your family of faith, you end up with a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or grandchildren who look different from you. That’s ok, that’s a testament to the fact that you as a follower of Jesus–and we, as church leaders, are doing something right, just, and good in the eyes of the Lord who counsels us to “love one another”.