Interracial marriage is on the rise. A Pew Research Center poll released in February 2012 found that in 2010, 15 percent of all new marriages in the U.S. were between spouses of different races or ethnicities. That's compared to 6.7 percent in 1980.
In general, interracial marriage is no longer taboo—although some still find it objectionable. While 43 percent of Americans believe it is good for society, 11 percent believe the growth in interracial marriage is a change for the worse. Just last year, a church in Kentucky barred an interracial couple from worshipping together (that ban was eventually overturned due to widespread outrage). And with a quick search on the Web, I discovered many sites and articles arguing the viewpoint that interracial marriage is unbiblical.
Though this viewpoint exists, Evangelicals are not against interracial marriage. In fact, pastors have spoken out in favor of it. For example, John Piper not only advocates interracial marriage in his book Bloodlines; he has taken the time to preach about the topic.
That said, here's the truth: a decision to marry outside one's race or ethnicity should not be entered into lightly. Interracial couples must face struggles that others may not encounter. But the solutions are the same for everyone: humility, love, and the gospel.
My husband and I are different from each other in almost every way, including racially. We knew going into our marriage that we were different, but as most married couples know, you really don't know someone until you're married and living with them. We were in love, and that love led us to make a vow to be together, for better or for worse, until death. But at the beginning of our marriage we quickly discovered that we were strangers. We had work to do to get to know each other, and many of our confusions were rooted in the fact that we were so culturally different.
My husband and I joke that we are the reasons for the black and white stereotypes out there. He likes meat and potatoes and beer on occasion; listens to alternative rock and people like Nick Drake; and likes camping and hiking. I, on the other hand, can throw down on fried chicken, greens, and mashed potatoes; prefer gospel, jazz, hip-hop, or anything I can dance to; and would much rather workout indoors or run than be in the wilderness. Even our personalities are at two different extremes. He is reserved, speaking when necessary, and calm. I am charismatic, expressive, and enthusiastic. As we learned more about just how different we were, our differences began to put a strain on our marriage.
Tim and Kathy Keller explain the phenomenon in their book The Meaning of Marriage: "If your purpose in marriage was to acquire a 'soul mate'—a person who would not change you and would supportively help you reach your life goals—then this particular reality of marriage will be deeply disorienting. You wake up to the realization that your marriage will take a huge investment of time just to make it work. Just as distressing will be the discovery that your spouse finds you a stranger and has begun to confront you with a list of your serious shortcomings."
Our differences in culture caused some conflicts at the beginning of our marriage. We knew we were the same in Christ, but culturally we were so different. It became increasingly difficult to relate. Like many newlyweds, we had much to work through, with the added fear that as I became one with my husband I would lose a major part of who I was as a black female. The solution was simple. We needed to become more gospel-centered.
The gospel breaks down barriers because in salvation there is no distinction between people of different races, backgrounds, and ethnicities (Romans 10:12). God created my husband and me equally and God saved us by the same grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our first order of business was to see each other not in light of what we needed from each other, but rather as God viewed us—as redeemed children. As we began to see each other as covered with Christ's righteousness and beloved, the cultural differences became less important. What was important was whether we were glorifying God in our marriage through our relating to one another.
By the grace of God, our marriage did not remain in an uncertain state. We found the secret to marriage—the gospel. As the Kellers explain, "The gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another … When God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind … The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once." Knowing this made it more exciting to begin to learn about each other and put into practice agape (service) love.
Different, Yet the Same
No, we have not assimilated into each other. I am no more white than he is black. Instead, we appreciate aspects about each other that are different. We do not necessarily enjoy everything together. He won't be making up dance routines to music, and I'm never really going to be able to make Yorkshire pudding like his mum. But what we've learned to do is enjoy God's creativity in making us unique by learning about each other's cultures and embracing our differences.
One very practical way we celebrate our diversity together is through worship and music. We like to have dance parties in our home. We play various styles of worship music and sing and worship together. Or we put on different listening music and dance around. We have a blast enjoying our various styles of worship and listening and at the same time exposing our children to both.
We've also discovered that we are quite the same. What I mean is, because of the gospel, our differences don't separate us. Rather, they bring us together. We are a unified front in declaring the gospel to our children. We are united in service to our church. We are united in being each other's best friend. And of course we enjoy activities together, united in love and united in Christ—such as long drives, building traditions in our home, visits to our city square, praying and sharing our hearts' desires. We enjoy each other to the fullest extent that marriage intends.
As much as we may be different from married couples who are not interracial, we are truly the same. We are learning to lay down our lives, die to ourselves, love each other, learn from each other, and build each other up. We celebrate the joys of deep intimacy. We are learning to overcome sin and bear with one another. Our relationship may look different from the outside, but on the inside God's Spirit dwells within us; therefore, we are very much the same.
Trillia Newbell is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes on faith and family for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, and serves as the managing editor for Women of God Magazine. Her love and primary role is that of wife and mother. She lives in Tennessee with her husband, Thern, and their two children.