Race, Marriage and Ministry – When the Church Got it Wrong, and How to Get it Right

Nancy Le[Today’s guest post is from Nancy Le. You can follow her on Twitter, but read her post here on race and the Church first!]

Race, Culture and People Making Problems

There’s a problem in the church for interracial couples. Add cross culturality to it and there’s a real problem.

Twenty three years ago I got pushed out of ministry because I chose to marry an immigrant from a third world country. Us people were supposed to help them because they needed our help. We dang well for sure better not associate with them though. They were not the same race as us: Caucasian. Anyway, what does the church do with interracial couples? Where do they fit in? Unfortunately, not in many places.*

In the interest of full disclosure, meeting someone who is a client, falling for them, getting engaged and then married in less than six months is not wise, and could possibly get you kicked out of ministry anyway (but only if you are female because a male marrying an Asian female has it made and that’s okay). However, I was an adult, already graduated from college, and I thought I was making adult decisions. We’ve been married for 23 years, so I’m thinking at this point I was right. Sugar muffin tells me he was right too.**

When I met my husband and got married, I was so naïve. It was the ‘90’s and I absolutely thought racism was dead. I had grown up in a fairly large, prominent city with different races. We then spent some time in Amish country. My family, both immediate and extended, were transplants from another part of the country. In college the majority of my friends were from other countries, and my college had a large percentage of international students. I was very used to different races and cultures. I thought that life was a melting pot. However, I lost friends, lost my job, and had relatives make comments about how my children would be “black.” (My husband is Asian and I’m white. Everyone knows if you mix tan and white you just get tan! Geez, check your color wheel.)

Jealousy – ancient and modern

When reading Tim’s post They Want to Ruin My Marriage recently, all the implications of my marriage upon my experiences in ministry were reeling in my brain. He cited these verses:

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. … The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them. (Numbers 12:1, 9.)

Moses married a woman from Cush. What does that mean? It means she was of a different race and a different culture. (Some scholars, but not many, debate whether this Cushite woman was Zipporah or a different wife of Moses. Zipporah was from Midian (Exodus 2); Cush is almost always accepted as the Ethiopian region of Africa. It is most widely accepted this refers to two different wives. No matter for purposes of this discussion.) Moses’ biological brother and sister criticized him because they were jealous, but turned that lust for power away from themselves and used his interracial/cross cultural marriage as an excuse to murmur … grumble … complain … attack.

This same kind of pride is happening all over the Church right now. Thus we are in a time in world history where we are going through the “culture wars” in Christianity. Anyone who is different from the status quo is up for derision: cross cultural couples, gay people, feminists, egalitarians, intersex people, transgender people, liberals . . . if you color outside the lines of what has been the status quo in White American – often Patriarchal – Evangelical Christianity you may find yourself up for criticism and derision in both subtle and blatant ways. Things have become complicated and disheartening.

In that Exodus passage, the Lord’s anger burned against Aaron and Miriam and He left. I think that at the very least that means God himself walked away shaking his head face palming. At the most He walked away and didn’t come back for any conversations with Miriam and Aaron. I think Numbers 12:1-2 pretty much encapsulates what racism is.

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Numbers 12:1-2.)

It’s the criticism of someone else because you are so dang blasted jealous that you weren’t picked to be God’s mouthpiece, and that He instead picked someone of a different race from you. Don’t be so self-absorbed.

There are all sorts of people in God’s kingdom:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29.)

and God’s got plenty for everyone to do:

God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (1 Corinthians 12:18-20.)

Let us celebrate the differences in our God-created diversity and uniqueness as we come together to be one in Him.

***

*I know some get tired of discussing what’s wrong with the church today, as opposed to appreciating it for its beauty and longevity, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people got tired of hearing from those protesting in the 60’s. (Can’t the world just settle down and be done with this mess?) The church has to be different, or why else should it exist? Jesus was different, very different. The real church is the bride of Christ, which are its people, not a building or organized institution. But His people need to start acting like the head over heels in love girl who is about to marry someone whom she is totally brain drugged up on while everyone around them watches from afar and says, “Have mercy, they must be in love, because they are actin’ craaazy!” That’s the kind of love the church needs to have for everyone, all the time. There is redemption in my own story: I was asked for forgiveness fifteen years later.

**I do not call Sugar Muffin Sugar Muffin in real life, but a friend of mine (ANGIE!) used that term, and I am going to use it every chance I get on social media.

Nancy and Family

Nancy and Family

***

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32 Responses to Race, Marriage and Ministry – When the Church Got it Wrong, and How to Get it Right

  1. Michael says:

    Tim, I take her commentary as it was intended, frankly, interracial marriage is no big deal to me nor has it ever been. I do part ways with her inclusion of LGBT people in the mix of being bigoted if you DON’T accept them with open arms: interracial marriage isn’t a sin in the least, the life choices of the LGBT are. The trend I’m noticing is if you are white and worse yet, white AND Christian, you hate everyone who isn’t like you, poppycock. I believe this started in earnest with the “gay and Christian” movement where, for some odd reason, the idea that you MUST accept the person and the sin to be a “good Christian” and now it’s blossomed into relative moral chaos. But addressing the concern in the article, I’ve honestly never heard anyone judging a woman for marrying outside her race…maybe she should find new people to hang out with?

    • Pastor Bob says:

      Society has accepted two big lies:
      If you are to love someone you MUST accept evertything about them
      If you fail to accept everything about the person you are a bigot and/or hate that person

      To those who understand logic, this is called “begging the question.” Inorder to accept a position, the opposite is set up in order to force one to accept the preferred premise.

      Thus, ‘if you do not accept this position, you hate the person.’
      Love the sinner hate the sin is meningless to this person, pray for them and stand your ground.

    • Tim says:

      Michael, I am in an interracial marriage. You might have “honestly never heard anyone judging a woman for marrying outside her race”, but that judgment falls on men and women both as I can attest. Telling Nancy she should “find new people to hang out with” comes across as dismissive. She writes from experience and it’s one I can attest to as well.

      • Michael says:

        I wasn’t being dismissive, I was simply suggesting that if you find yourself constantly in the company of judgmental people, find a new crowd that’s more affirming…

        • Tim says:

          That’s a different way of expressing the thought, and much more positive and constructive. Thanks, Michael.

        • Michael, actually one of the main points is that I was totally unaware that I was constantly in the company of judgmental people until their opinion was fully expressed when the cards were on the table, and that was what was painful and hurtful. Plus, I wasn’t then, nor am I now, seeking people to affirm me. I’m trying to let the world know that if you think that interracial marriage is “wrong,” you may have thinking that is not Christ-like at all.

        • Michael says:

          Nancy, I agree…It’s indeed hurtful when someone smiles to your face but your dinner conversation when your away.

    • Tim says:

      P.S. You can address Nancy directly in your comments rather than run them through me.

  2. Rusty says:

    Michael, that’s assuming you agree it’s a sin, and if so, you have some justification for “elevating” it above any other sin (hint: we all sin). Jesus accepted all who would come to him “with open arms”…caught a lot of flack for it from the religious establishment of the day, as I recall… 🙂

    • Pastor Bob says:

      ALL sin is sin – ‘elevating’ is a red herring.

      • Muff Potter says:

        All sin is sin Pastor Bob, but not all sin is equal. If it was, we’d be executing people for jaywalking.

    • Tim says:

      Precisely, Rusty. It’s a matter of who is welcome: those whose sins we can deal with or everyone who answers Jesus’ call.

    • Michael says:

      Do I think interracial marriage is a sin? No, I didn’t say or hint at that. As for the other areas, yes they are sin and I wasn’t elevating myself over the LGBT….of course we are all sinners…Yes, Jesus welcomes with open arms…but if sinners come to Jesus’ open arms, is it reasonable to believe that the sinner will stop their overt sin? I really grow tired of inference or even subtle accusation that if you expect, for instance, the gay man to stop sleeping with other men after he comes to Christ, you are somehow a Pharisee because you’re not “loving them where they are”…which may be knee deep in sin on a day to day basis that is why repentance is so vital…can’t have belief without it.

      • Michelle says:

        I come from a very legalistic upbringing which nearly caused me to be agnostic as an adult. I found Julie’s SSB blog and then found Tim’s blog. Both have been very helpful, and I am very grateful to have found them. This is my first time commenting, and I don’t want to come across as judgmental. Let me start by saying I do not believe interracial marriage to be a sin at all. But I do have to ask, isn’t repentance required as Michael states in areas that are considered sin? Christ welcomes all with open arms, but I have never understood scriptures to mean that someone could continue to embrace a homosexual lifestyle after salvation—struggle, yes–full on embrace, no. I have a family member who is gay, and I love this person wholeheartedly. This is a very difficult subject, and I’d appreciate your feedback.

        • Tim says:

          Nancy’s post nowhere says repentance is unnecessary. What she does say is that judgmentalism is rampant and cuts so broad a swath that it includes unobjectionable events such as her marrying a man from another country. It cuts so deep as to deny her a ministry she loves and is good at. And it cuts so bloodily as to tell those who identify as LGBT that they shouldn’t even bother walking in the doors of a church or they will become part of the bloodbath too.

        • Michelle says:

          I guess I should have stated that my comment didn’t have much to do with Nancy’s actual post. I agree with her wholeheartedly, and what happened to her is downright terrible. I just had a sincere question about whether or not the commenters here believe a person could continue to embrace a sinful lifestyle (homosexuality) after coming to Christ. Didn’t mean to minimize what Nancy has been through.

        • Tim says:

          Michelle, that’s a great question. I think the issue is whether a person who claims to be a Christian is showing any signs of fruit of the Spirit. That might exhibit itself in repentance and resisting sin, or it might be in other areas of following God. I wrote a bit on it here: How To Tell If You’re Really A Christian.

        • Michael says:

          Michelle, I had/have/maybe still have a gay sister and I’m trying to figure out if my son is…you’re not alone. That said, I love my sister and my son but they both understand that their choices are not in accordance with God’s will. I have nothing but the best in mind for them and they KNOW I love them but they also know I don’t accept the “life style”. That said Michelle, I make sure I don’t fall into the trap that “if you don’t accept the ‘way I am, you don’t love me’ argument because people, as God’s creation aren’t identified by their sin; imagine introducing yourself as “Michelle, I’m a heterosexual”, no, it’s “Michelle”.

          As far as being in Christ. Yes, repentance is required as well as faith in Christ’s finished work. Now, bear in mind, IF the person was serious, God will deal with the sin…they may lapse a few times but the Holy Spirit will do His job. But be careful also not to fall or be pressured into the “God accepts me for who I am…after all, HE MADE ME THIS WAY…” I would just smile and nod because you both know that’s not true…just pray for them that God will open their eyes.

      • keriwyattkent says:

        I know this is a bit off topic, but since we’re already down that path a ways, I think it’s really important to distinguish between things one can choose, and things one can’t. Choices about our sexual habits (including lust, sexual encounters, what we view online, marriage) are just that–choices. But while one can choose lifestyle, can one choose orientation (not a sexual act, but the drive that causes a man, for example, as a heterosexual, to notice and be attracted to, women)? Can a heterosexual “decide” to stop being attracted to the opposite sex? Even if they choose to be celibate, they will still feel attracted. Even people who worked for many years in ministries (such as Exodus) to try to help men who wanted to “change their orientation” have pretty much said–you can choose to be celibate, but you cannot choose your orientation. Changing it doesn’t really work. Sexual promiscuity, lust, etc are sins. Orientation is not. (Which has nothing to do with inter-racial marriage. But since it was on the table…). Also, I would venture to say that many straight folks, even Christians, are “knee deep in sin on a day to day basis” because of lust, greed, covetousness, worry, materialism, etc. ALSO: My repentance of judgmentalism can never be contingent upon the repentance of those I’m judging, or it will never happen.

        • Tim says:

          Good questions, Keri. I like how Nancy spoke of this as an issue of pushing people on the margins further away. That’s something we should never do, because everyone needs to hear about and experience Jesus and his love.

        • Michael says:

          Keri, thanks for your reply and the spirit you show.

          OK, the idea of “orientation” is a recent idea that’s not backed up by Scripture, let alone, science. If you think about it, your “orientation” (if you believe God’s hand is involved in every birth) is determined by the parts you were born with, therefore, these parts are in your DNA that you can never change. Secondly, the “orientation” argument is emotion based, a girl may FEEL like a boy or a boy may FEEL like a girl, but that’s all it is, feelings which is disconnected from reality. Lastly, this idea of “orientation” is a capitulation to the idea that it makes the person “happy”, if you consider what the Bible says, God isn’t really game to what makes us “happy” from day to day.

          I’m not sure what you’re driving at when you talk about Christians being “knee deep in sin on a day to day basis”, I disagree with that assertion because it seems to me that your saying that gender confusion or homosexuality is no “no different than _________________”, all I can say (if that’s what you were saying) this isn’t so…God has specific reasons for doing what He does and what He commands and the idea that Christians commit “all these horrible things” on a day-to-day basis doesn’t really change anything….in fact, I make a distinction between a TRUE Christian and a CULTURAL Christian (or CINO = Christian In Name Only) – a true follower of Christ who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will keep themselves in check.

          Thanks for your comment Keri Wyatt-Kent!

        • Tim says:

          On whether one’s sex or orientation is as simple as assuming XX or XY chromosomes based on a person’s genitalia, there is much more complexity at stake. I touched on it a bit in a guest post I wrote for Liz Mallory’s blog: Sex in the Courtroom. People are born with chromosomes that do not meet the simple XX/XY dichotomy.

  3. Jeannie says:

    Nancy, one point I thought was great here was how you observed that Aaron and Miriam’s true motivation was anger and jealousy that God had chosen Moses as his mouthpiece; so they redirected that jealousy by attacking the race of Moses’ wife. The prejudice, racism, sexism etc. that we see around us today may often have the same motivation: not wanting to believe that God could really love [that kind of person that we don’t like and that we see as lower than us] and actually consider them His own. (After all, if I think they’re bad and inferior, I need God to back me up on that, don’t I?) Yet that verse you quote from Galatians says “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” We can be so insecure about our own place that we reject those who are different from us — but God is looking at the situation in a totally different way. That’s just one thing I got from your post today — thanks for it.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    Nancy, thank you for this post! The issue of interracial marriage tore apart my family when I was very young; I can’t discuss what happened online because it’s still a sensitive subject and I want to respect others’ privacy. But I distinctly remember being five and sitting on the kitchen floor, crying and crying, because I knew, even if I couldn’t articulate it, that racism is wrong. It breaks my heart to see others judged for marrying “outside” their race. Thank you for sharing. Your family is beautiful.

  5. Tim, thanks so much for allowing me the space and time. God bless you.

  6. Carole F. says:

    Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but it doesn’t seems as if Christianity itself had anything to do with Nancy’s problems, but the people within Christianity that caused her grief for marrying Sugar Muffin. Recently I read a comment by a young man whose Christianity is simply composed of love:

    “If our God is loving, he is loving. If he calls us to love, he calls us to love. That’s it. We don’t have to worry about whether something is a sin or acceptable or true when it comes to other people – we just must love them.

    When it comes to ourselves, we must decide our path either within the confines of what God wants for us or outside of that. That is also up to each person. If we decide to live our lives within those confines, we must seek out earnestly what it is God desires for our lives, and be able to live with the decisions we have made. If not, then that is not something on our radar and we do what we choose.

    Either way, it is not my responsibility as a follower of Jesus to decide whether someone else is living their life the right way, or making the right choices. When “Christians” come out lambasting someone for their choices, all I hear is Jesus’ own words: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” As Christians we are called to love, then love, and then love some more. That’s it. God will sort out the rest.”

    This is the Christianity that I see people like Tim and Nancy practicing and it’s a Christianity that can attract a long time atheist like me. But when I read other comments, I doubt that will happen. So I just want to say Thank You to those who give me hope, for me and humanity through love. I love you all, too.

    *I think the Sugar Muffin thing is hysterical. You go, girl!

    I re-formatted the blockquote into paragraphs for easier reading.

    • Tim says:

      Carole, thank you for such an encouraging comment. I love your distinction between what Christ taught (love) and the fact that sometimes Christians have trouble following his teaching .

  7. keriwyattkent says:

    Nancy, this is a great post, thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry for the way people have hurt you. It shows me how far the church has to go when it comes to simply loving our neighbor. No wonder Jesus said that was the main thing. All these years and apparently, we’re still figuring it out. Thank you again for sharing.

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