[This is the article that started my guest posting, originally published by Jenny Rae Armstrong.]
Equal Only If Separate?
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 church 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. (Full article here.*)
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 government agencies 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.)
Cush is the name of an ancient 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 Cush 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 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 honor 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.)
[Update: according to this article, the affiliation that this church belongs to denounced this policy and the church’s leadership declared the original vote “null and void”.]
*Disclosure – I am in what they would call an “interracial marriage.” I was offended by this statement before I remembered that, though.