Interracial Marriage in the Church

Last week, Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in eastern Kentucky caused quite a stir by banning interracial couples from membership in the church.  (You can read about it here and here.)  While I doubt there would be churches in my own denomination and region that would adopt such church policy, I don’t doubt that many church-goers share the same disdain for interracial marriage.  I have heard numerous Christians explain that interracial marriage is wrong.

This is interesting considering the rise of international adoptions over the past several years.  Churches rejoice with the white parents who return from China with a baby girl, but disapprovingly shake their heads at the same white parents who show up with a black son-in-law.

What are we to think about this?  Does the Bible address this?  Is God against interracial marriage?

Let’s start in the Old Testament to answer this question.  God commands the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7:1-4:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following Me, to serve other gods.  Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and He would destroy you quickly.

Seems like a pretty straightforward command, right?  God told the Jews, His chosen people, not to intermarry, so it only makes sense that we shouldn’t either.  Well, let’s look at why He prohibited intermarriage.

The key is found in the beginning of verse 4: “for they would turn away your sons from following me.”  God’s reasoning for outlawing marriage with other races is not because they’re a different race, but because they worship a different god.  In the OT, the Israelites were God’s chosen people who were commanded to worship God and no one else.  The Lord knew that marriage with other races, who worshipped other gods, would result in His people pursuing false gods.

We see this same command in the New Testament when Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols (2 Cor. 6:14-16)?”  Notice that Paul does not forbid marriage with other races; he simply outlaws marriage with an unbeliever.  Why?  Because now the Church is God’s chosen people through their union with the true Israel, Jesus Christ.  Through this, we see that God isn’t against interracial marriage at all.  The core of the OT law that is carried into the NT is the protection of His people from false worship.

But we shouldn’t just tolerate interracial marriage.  Every time we see an interracial couple who have been joined in the Lord, it should cause us to rejoice.  “What?!”  Yes, you read that correctly.  “Cody, why would you say such a thing?”

Marriage was first instituted by God in the Garden.  We see this in Genesis 2:23-24.  Marriage is a gift from God for our good, but that isn’t its ultimate purpose.  In Ephesians 5:22-33, the apostle Paul is telling the Ephesians how the gospel impacts marriage.  In verse 31, Paul actually quotes Genesis 2:24 and goes on to say that the institution of marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the church.  That was always the ultimate purpose: to point us to a greater and eternal love.

In the OT, God’s blessings were poured out on those who were united to the Jewish bloodline.  Now, His love and blessings are lavishly poured out on those who are united to the bloodline of Christ, which happens through faith.  The grace of God erupted to the nations through Christ’s love for His bride.  That’s the beautiful reality to which marriage points us.

When we see an interracial couple, it reminds us of Christ’s love for the church, a love that does not regard race or nationality.  “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Col. 3:11).”  When we attempt to limit marriage to the same race, we miss the whole point of it.

Interracial marriage, like any marriage in the Lord, is a beautiful picture of the gospel.  The response shouldn’t be hateful looks or a change in church policies, but a thankful heart for the universal love of our Savior.

I praise Jesus that He isn’t racist like so many of His followers.

(Update: Sunday night, Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church voted to repeal their previous proposal.  You can read about it here.)

3 thoughts on “Interracial Marriage in the Church

  1. It is thought-provoking to note that, for this church, “new bylaws can’t run contrary to local, state or national laws. He said the proposal was discriminatory, therefore it couldn’t be adopted.” That is a vague precedent. I am glad the vote was nullified. I am not thrilled if it was by the authority of civil law.

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