“Interracial marriage” has almost reached the status of little-used term in the cultural lexicon. This is not to say that racial distance no longer exists because of course it does. It is to say that fewer people become as agitated as was once common when an interracial couple walks through the public square.
When I was a young adult this term, and the cultural implications behind it, still loomed large, including amongst the Christian community. Interracial dating and marriage was something people with any sense of propriety simply didn’t do, or at least that was the dominant view among whites. But in the past forty years American attitudes toward race have changed.
According to one recent study, black-white marriages are increasing, though they still trail the rate of other mixed-race marriages. In 2008, 10.7% of blacks married whites compared to with 3% in 1980. This may not seem like much, but given the social history of this country this is a huge change.
When I was in high school, our school and community didn’t have many non-whites. But I remember discussions about interracial dating and the overwhelmingly negative response the topic elicited.
Coming of age at Cedarville College, 1970-1974, I remember not simply discussions but for the first time knowing personally both black and white individuals involved in what was then called “mixed dating.” In fact, mixed dating and the potential for interracial marriage became a major issue because two couples, each individual a popular student, became regular ‘items” on campus and, we eventually learned, some college supporters didn’t like it.
This was about the same time that Bob Jones University in South Carolina garnered national publicity for denying admission of blacks based on what the school claimed was a biblical mandate forbidding interracial dating and marriage. Because of this, the IRS revoked the school’s tax exemption in January 19, 1976, retroactive to December 1, 1970. The ensuing legal battled ended in the United States Supreme Court with a judgment against the school in Bob Jones vs the United States (1983). In 2000, Bob Jones University finally stated publicly that it was wrong about interracial dating and marriage and began admitting black students.
So, my alma mater faced a converging stream of race-related issues: a) for apparently the first time in the school’s history, two prominent interracial couples were dating on campus; b) certain off-campus supporters allegedly expressed dismay; and c) Bob Jones University was attracting national attention for taking a stand against interracial dating and marriage, thus arguing its refusal to admit blacks was protected by freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment. Needless to say, as a social and political science student I was thoroughly immersed in this on campus discussion.
Eventually, then-President Dr. James T. Jeremiah spoke publicly to the issue. In brief and from my memory, he said: race is a creation and gift of God; there is nothing in Scripture suggesting, much less mandating, interracial dating or marriage be considered morally suspect or condemned; those who choose to date and especially those who choose to marry interracially should carefully evaluate social attitudes because, wrong or right, they cannot be controlled and the couple must know how it will respond; and Christians should relate to each human being, regardless of race or ethnicity, as people made in the image of God.
All these years later, and having served as a college president myself for nearly 17 years, I still value this memory of a Christian leader who stood for right, good, truth, righteousness, however you want to say it. Dr. Jeremiah spoke truth to culture that day, protected the school and the couples in the spotlight, and used his bully pulpit wisely and well.
Interracial marriage, because of social context, is still in 2011 fraught with challenges, which for some couples may prove insurmountable. But to paraphrase Dr. Jeremiah, there is nothing in the Bible that says interracial marriage is a sin. What matters is who each person in the relationship is spiritually before God and each other.
As I said, American culture’s attitude toward race has change a lot in the past forty years. I’d add that much of that change has been good.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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