Have you seen the latest Cheerios commercial featuring an ethnically diverse family, an apparently Caucasian mom, an African American dad and their beautiful little preschool daughter? Having been told by her mom that Cheerios are good for heart health, she dumps a pile of Cheerios on her sleeping father, resting on the couch, who wakes up from his nap obviously puzzled. It’s a touching picture of loving caring family relationships.
But sadly, it has resulted in numerous ugly racist reactions from those opposed to inter-racial marriage. I suppose it is possible to oppose ethnic diversity in marriage without being overtly racist. The concern is not necessarily one sided and is a common tension all over the world. Differences in background certainly add to the list of issues where compromise will be needed in the marriage. But does that justify opposing such marriages?
Maybe you think God’s command to not inter-marry with the nations around them (Exodus 24:15, 16; Deuteronomy 7:3, 4) somehow applies to inter-ethnic marriages today? Do you think God prohibits ethnic diversity in marriage? I’m glad you asked! Because the answer is a resounding No!
A foundational principle in both Old and New Testaments is that the people of God are not to engage in inter-faith marriages. Why? The concern has nothing to do with ethnic background or the pigmentation of one’s skin. It has to do with common faith. By inter-faith, I don’t mean a Baptist marrying a Presbyterian or a Nazarene wedded to a Wesleyan, but a common faith in the LORD, or in New Testament terms, a common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Marriage as a picture of God’s relationship with Israel and of Christ’s relationship with the Church is designed to be a physical and spiritual unity or oneness that can only be reflected in fullness by a common devotion to the Lord. If you are a believer in Christ and your spouse isn’t, Scripture is clear that you are to make the best of it and trust God that they be “won over.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-14 and 1 Peter 3:1-7 are key passages on how to handle that situation.
But if you are not married and desire marriage, Scripture is clear, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14) and “she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) That’s the issue God is concerned about. That is what stirred Ezra (9:1-4) and Nehemiah (13:23-27) in a unique situation to demand the dissolution of such marriages. Dissolution, as noted in the above texts, is not the appropriate action today for Christians, but it does illustrate how serious God takes our marriage decision.
It is common faith in Christ that is essential, not common ethnicity. Thus, God blessed Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman (Numbers 12 – probably a dark skinned Ethiopian) without any objection, and a stern rebuke of Aaron and Miriam for opposing the marriage. And God blessed Boaz’s marriage to Ruth (a Moabite widow who emphatically embraced the God of Israel).
For a short seven minute audio response on this issue, I recommend John Piper’s most popular of the 112 episodes of his Ask Pastor John series, Can a White Woman Marry a Black Man?
But back to Cheerios – I do wonder what’s coming next in the way marriage is portrayed in mainstream commercials? No, I really don’t wonder because I know what’s coming. In the illogical but popular trend of equating the evil of racial discrimination with the belief that marriage is designed by God and jealously protected by God to to be complementary, one man and one woman, our society will increasingly portray as normal and beautiful what God clearly reveals to be a tragic distortion of marriage
Whether it is overt racism or a less accusatory lack of discernment that leads people to oppose ethnic diversity in marriage, either error comes under the correction of Scripture.. But in our confused culture, the same lack of discernment leads people in the name of tolerance to redefine marriage. That too must come under the correction of Scripture. Starting in late June, after four weeks of study leave, I’ll address a wide range of issues regarding gender and marriage in the sermon series, Church in a Broken World at Faith Church in Indianapolis.