All Are Welcome: Churches and Interracial Marriages

John Piper

Pastor John Piper, leader of the desiringGod ministry, says that he used to harbor some racist attitudes about interracial marriage and coexistence. During a sermon linked here, Piper says he used to think God created the races to live separately. Thankfully, he experienced an awakening, changed his mind, and eventually wrote and delivered a Biblically supported sermon extolling marriages like mine and promoting racial harmony.

I stumbled across this sermon recently, so that’s why it’s gone up years after its first delivery.

David IrelandDr. David Ireland, the founder and senior pastor of Christ Church in Montclair and Rockaway, New Jersey, had a different experience. He grew up in New York. (There is no more room for segregation, for pity’s sake!) His family integrated his neighborhood and came under some intense harassment from unwelcoming neighbors. One Sunday he explained why he cares so deeply that people of all races, nations and cultures worship together in the same congregation. Here it is: He was in a grocery store one evening and had stopped in one of the aisles to pick up an item and looked up at the people around him. He was spiritually moved and entranced by the mixture of cultures, races and nationalities represented by the other shoppes. Then, clear as a bell, he heard a voice ask: ‘David, why can’t it be like this in my house?’ He was moved to tears and has worked ever since then to support a congregation that welcomes everyone.

Why do I care what John Piper thinks about my marriage, or whether Pastor Ireland wants a culturally and racially diverse congregation? Well, I’m a Christian, for one. Why would I follow the teachings of certain collared nut jobs on this issue? Also, a lot of people have some very weird and misinformed ideas about where God, Christianity and the Holy Bible stand on interracial marriage. Even educated columnists at major newspapers have wrongly perpetuated the idea that an Old Testament command against interfaith/intercultural marrying is a ban on racial mixing. We know that religion is a subset of a culture and that the two are completely different from race, but somehow this columnist missed that. This is a surprising mistake from a writer at an elite newspaper. Many people of that ilk love great literature and can read the archaic English syntax in Shakespearean works without getting lost, presumably. The King James version of the Bible has remarkably similar language. (In fact, reading the Bible as a youngster helped me penetrate Shakespearean writing in high school literature classes.) I’m not sure why the columnist ended up veering off course so drastically. The irony is that the columnist is quite left leaning and is sympathetic to interracial marriages by all accounts.

Atheists might feel awkward about this discussion, because it involved religion, to be a distasteful and squeamish waste of time, but I think it’s worth having. The more vocal nut jobs who spread misinformation and lies about supposed biblical support for a racial hierarchy are the minority in Christian ministry. Either way, ministers hold sway over people. When one of them delivers a sermon like John Piper’s or that of my pastor, David Ireland, it goes a long way to getting people to think more humanely about the issue. I don’t remember sermons like theirs in the church where I grew up, and you want to know why?Everyone was either a first- or second-generation Jamaican, with a handful of exceptions. They were all Black, and the pillars of the church, plus a few core families, came from the same two or three parishes in Jamaica, where  they all knew each other. None of the young people, that I knew of anyway, brought white, Hispanic or Asian outsiders into the fold, married them at the altar where we were all baptized as youngsters or raised their kids in the church. Preaching sermons about interracial marriage would have been impractical. (Where we needed help was in curbing the gossipy cliquishness that could sometimes take a hurtful turn.)

I loved the richness in which I grew up, where women who were ordinary and working class showed up at church looking luminous and regal in their fine Sunday clothes and ornate broad-brimmed hats.  Although it could have been more racially and ethnically diverse, considering where we lived, one can understand how a church like that solidified around a black Jamaican core. We were relying on each other for survival in America, particularly in the competitive and cutthroat Northeast. With our insular ways and tribal politics, we might have been strikingly similar to the Liberians, Nigerians, Filipinos, Iraqis, Sikhs, Hindus  and other ethnic groups, but as we jostled with them for whatever slice of the American dream the white majority left laying around, we mistakenly thought we had clashing natures and opposing agendas.

Pastor David sometimes quotes Rev. Martin Luther King, jr., who, loosely transated, said that 11 o’clock is the most racist hour in Christian America, because that is when worshipers of all ethnicities go their separate ways to their different churches. When I sit in services at the church I’ve attended for more than eight years, I’m enveloped with a sense of peace. I have a pastor and presbytery who devote much of the ministry to ensuring that everyone from everywhere feels connected to God and with each other.

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