A small Kentucky church has chosen to ban marriages and even some worship services for interracial couples. The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, located in Pike County, made the vote in response to a longtime member who is engaged to a man whose birthplace is in Zimbabwe.
I sat with this story for a while (which some of my friends took for me not seeing it, so thanks all of you who sent me links). I think the thing that struck me most about this news report was how everyone seems so shocked that this could go on this day and age (or, conversely, writing off the incident because it happened in a small church in Kentucky). Yes, it’s news because it shocks our sensibilities and should be decried when spotted. Still, it’s not as if interracial dating wasn’t just unbanned in 2000 at Bob Jones University or that Jim Crow wasn’t alive and well only a couple years ago. Surely this must be a product of their provincialism and isolation, right? This whole episode took me back…
I grew up in a conservative church in Indianapolis, Indiana. I’ll grant you that my city isn’t exactly as cosmopolitan as a New York or an L.A., but, despite its detractors, it’s also not a backwater hayseed town either. I was in an interesting place in my church and my life as the only black guy in our youth group/singles group (the basis for my upcoming story, “Whispers at the End of Creation” in the Relics & Remains anthology) and having my lack of identity/self-hate baptized by the church. Already questioning a lot of things about what a faith community should look like (i.e., loving) and not being satisfied with the answers I was hearing, I had one foot out of the door and the other in the Nation of Islam (as I was tired of the monochrome nature of my world and was ready for a change).
The final push/bolt came with our conversations over interracial dating. The topic typically came up as a sort of pre-emptive strike, as I was single and my very presence alone meant that I had an unspoken “where’re the white women at?” sign wherever I went (the double irony being that at the time, interracial dating was the furthest thing from my mind and now that I *am* married interracially). What lit my fuse was their use of the Bible to defend their belief.
Ignoring the more ridiculous claims (the mark of Cain, the curse of Ham, etc.) or evidence to the contrary (Moses’ marriage, the women in Christ’s genealogy), the arguments came down to two ideas: 1. “do not be unequally yoked” (2 Co. 6:14) and 2. the tenor of the Old Testament being that the races were to remain separate (one should always be wary when clinging to Leviticus to make one’s defense. For the record, both of these arguments are easily torn to shreds as those interpretation fly in the face of, you know, the rest of the Bible and Christ’s mission of reconciliation not separation. So when pressed, the bigotry was clearly encapsulated in the sentiments that “we” (black people, that is, as interracial dating conveniently was only defined as black and white people dating) were okay to be friends with, just don’t marry one. But since no one wants to be seen as racist, sometimes the defense came down to the fact that we had to think of the children, who’d never have a place because they’d be rejected by both sides (which, again, says a lot if their default belief is that kids would automatically be ostracized rather than becoming bridges of reconciliation).
Mind you, this was just in the early 1990s.
Let’s face it, we want truths that fits into what we’re comfortable with and that mindset can deceptively set us on wrong paths. If, in your reading of the Bible, it only seems to confirm what you already think, then you’re probably mis-reading the Bible. If, in your reading of the Bible, you never come across anything that upsets or challenges you, you’re probably mis-reading the Bible. You can’t go to the Bible to prove what you want to say, using it simply as a vessel to prop up your own authority. Racists use the Bible and bring their bigotry, their agenda, to its interpretation.*
So no, I’m not surprised to find out there are still bastions out there who make take an exegetical position that boils down to “Somewhere in the Old Testament it said ‘please don’t date our daughters’”.
We’re not quite a post-racial church and there is the need for continuing conversations when it comes to racial reconciliation. But for those in that church who say that their stance doesn’t make them racist … yes, yes it does.
*I don’t hold the Bible or Christianity responsible for their ignorance. If people do something stupid in the name of science (for example, the racist anthropologists who codified the idea of race in the first place), I don’t hold science responsible but those “scientists” and their individual bigotry and their misuse and/or missing the point of science.