"Yes, We're Together."

Challenging the assumptions of interracial relationships.
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MARCH 12, 2011 2:51PM

Jesus is Not Post-Racial

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In May 2004, I met my husband right before I left town for Memorial Day weekend.  I'd just barely survived my first year of law school and planned to spend the holiday weekend in Maryland to detox my soul.  But over a three week period, every Sunday at church a different person would come up to me, insisting that I meet this guy from church who was starting law school in the Fall.  I knew it was really serious when a friend visiting from Nashville even insisted that I meet this guy.  So one fateful Sunday, a friend finally introduced us after church. There was no love at first sight; no fireworks.  But that meeting sparked the beginning of a friendship that evolved into a romance, engagement and marriage over the next three years.
 
Most people wrongly assume that my husband and I met in law school because we're both lawyers.  It's understandable--we did attend the same law school and overlapped by one year.  In fact, most of the lawyer couples I know connected over Torts or spent long nights "studying" Constitutional Law outlines together, but alas, we don't share the typical "Barack and Michelle Obama love story."  When I tell people that we actually met at church, I find it amusing how often people are taken aback.  I'm not sure why, but I have some theories: A) They assume lawyers are angry at God for law school and conclude that "Christian lawyer" is an oxymoron and our profession is full of soul-less, religion-averse, God-haters; or B) They think that God fits so snugly under the notches of the Bible Belt that He ceases to exist North of Maryland.  And if so, then surely Massachusetts is the foyer to eternal damnation.
 
Moving to Boston after our first year of marriage entailed lots of searching: a job for me, a place to live, somewhere to park our car, the closest L.L. Bean for winter outfitting, etc.  But searching for a church proved to be an adventure far more hilarious than we expected.  First there was the church that packed us in like sardines, featured impromptu solos from the pastors in the middle of sermons, and took time to recognize "100% tithers" (I still haven't quite figured out the math on that one--how can anything less than 10% can still be called a tithe?).  Then there was the so-seeker-friendly-that-we-don't-make-any-definitive-statements church, where the sermon began with "Well, I think maybe what Paul might probably be trying to say here could possibly be perhaps..." but we really enjoyed the free bagels and the Starbucks gift cards!  And then the suburban churches we visited left us feeling literally and figuratively out of place at their disbelief that we drove in  "all the way" from the city (a mere thirty minutes).
 
You see, neither of us really had to "look" for a church before.  Growing up, we attended the same church that our respective parents attended, and in North Carolina I attended the same church for eight years.  So we came to Boston having done very little church research, with a few half-hearted recommendations from family and friends, and  a resigned "I wish I had a church I could recommend to you in Boston, but I don't," from one of our North Carolina pastors.  As we began church shopping, we talked about what we were looking for--how we would know when it was time to stop browsing the aisles and settle into a particular congregation.  Chief among our concerns was worshipping in a place where we felt accepted and affirmed as an interracial, married couple.  And very early into our relationship, I learned that nothing to do with the demographic make-up of a church's pastoral staff or congregation.
 
When my husband and I were dating, I expected some less-than-ideal reactions from family members, but was completed blind sided by the comments I heard from members of my church (many of whom had no idea I was dating anyone, much less, a White guy).  In one instance, a friend relayed a story about a disagreement with another church leader.  To drive home his point that the other person involved was everything but a child of God he concluded: "AND he's married to a white woman!"  (Trust me, he didn't intend it as a compliment.)  In another instance, while chatting with a fellow graduate student, I learned about some church leaders who, when talking to their child about dating, ended the conversation with, "You want to marry someone who looks like mommy don't you?"  After we got engaged and entered the realm of church-based, pre-marital counseling, I noticed that none of our assigned reading acknowledged that two people who don't look like each other might actually meet at church and consider spending the rest of their lives together.  So I asked another classmate who was also engaged and in an interracial relationship if she knew of any books that churches or pastors used in pre-marital counseling with interracial couples.  Her response: "No, because there aren't any.  And I think that silence speaks volumes about how most churches really feel about interracial marriage."

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and I realize that my shock had more to do with my overly idealistic and unrealistic view of church that was, quite frankly, unbiblical.  There is no perfect church because at its core is a community of broken people.  So even in a faith community that holds diversity and multi-culturalism in high regard as a core value, and boasts a congregation made up from every tribe, race, nation, and tongue, Jesus does not simply become a panacea for the racist thoughts and behavior to which we are all susceptible.  It's not enough to simply be comfortable with having lots of different people in the room (but it can be a great start).  In fact, if I hear a church harping on "racial reconciliation" for more than five minutes, I start to get a little nervous. 
 
Our search for a faith community in Boston included many twists and turns, but eventually led us to settle in a Presbyterian congregation with a dominant pan-Asian culture.  And on the one hand, I'd like to think that I could find out what our church leaders really think about racial issues by asking: "How would you react if your son or daughter married someone that doesn't look like you?" But the truth is, racism is too pervasive to have a litmus test.  It doesn't matter how many flags from different nations are displayed around our sanctuary; how many worship songs and hymns we sing in other languages; how many AIDS orphanages we support; how many East Africans or Koreans we adopt; how many Historically Black Colleges and Universities we reach out to; how many hours we tutor and mentor children from the local housing project; how many care packets we prepare for the homeless; how many outreaches we hold for the Spanish-speaking community; how often our sermons reference  Martin Luther King, Jr.; or how often our bulletins and announcements include imagery with different colored hands, rainbows, or kaleidoscopes.  But rather, our willingness to embrace and display grace in the midst of messy lives, full of  misconceptions, mistakes, misunderstandings, and missteps around race (among other things).

 

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I have never been in this type of relationship and your perspective is very interesting. I wish you and your husband the best. Rated with Blessings for you both.
@George
Thank you for reading, your comments and wishes!
Good luck with your situation. I live in New York, and there are bi-racial couples in my Catholic parish -- no problems as far as I know.
IMO, racism is one type of the general malady of 'groupism' - some measure of dislike of some people who are not us. It is obvious even here on OS where no one cares what you are - unless you happen to be a conservative.
Racism and Christianity have a long, hard, terrible history. It was instrumental, after all, in helping to justify the genocide of nearly an entire people at the founding of this country. Hope you have a good experience at your new congregation.
Rated.
Writing as I am from San Francisco, where mixed relationships are pretty common (I happen to be in one, if you count my Latina spouse as non-white), my first thought is that it isn't the fault of the churches, it's the fault of Boston, that it remains such a segregated community. On the other hand, you know what Martin Luther King Jr. said about churches: something like "Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American life."
Why would anyone want to worship a flesh-eating zombie?
An interesting read, I'm sorry you and your husband have had a hard time feeling at home at a church. It can be hard to find a home at a church without being bi-racial, as my family has found, where we live now....
There are so many kinds of Christians and church-goers, with so many different nuances of belief, that I ask, what kind of church were you looking for besides one with acceptance? Traditional? Wine serving? Grape juice serving? The End Days are coming? God is Love and Light? Those who accept gay couples? Progressive?
Episcopalian? Episcopagan? (I've experienced both : )) Strong youth programs? Accepting to mentally challenged? (some are not, whether they say so or not..) Pentecostal?
We've 'settled' for sometimes attending a UCC/Congregationalist church where they change up the services, and some weeks we are greeting upon entrance by traditional music, sometimes a Jewish band is playing up front by the altar, our minister isn't afraid of yoga practices, sometimes the collection plate is sent around by dancers, and we're encouraged to dance up the aisle for communion (as I say, there's all kinds!)...but we also like the more formal service at the Episcopal church where many gay Catholic couples come for acceptance....
My sister and her partner were married and attend a gorgeous church that was Congregational back when, now is UU, right in Cambridge at Harvard Square...you'd definitely be welcome there, but the Unitarians are another kind of service that may or may not suit.
Mostly I'd like to add: It's the "Christians" themselves that are not post-racial, not Jesus. He's more concerned with "Love one another as I have Loved you" , I believe.
Best wishes to you and yours...
@ David Ehrenstein: You made me laugh out loud with that comment...
Excellent post! I've been in three interracial relationships - with a Pakistani man, an African-American, and a Latino (who was also a Nicaraguan citizen). I'm clearly Caucasian: blonde and fair skinned. While many (most?) people were either great and supportive or didn't pay it any mind, I've been shocked by how many people are still upset to this day about interracial relationships.

A few images and conversations stick out in my mind:
- the Pakistani and I were living in San Francisco at the time of 9/11. Despite San Francisco's=well-earned liberal and tolerant reputation, and frequency of interracial couples, we often got stared at on the street, and he was frequently harassed (by police, death threats by phone and email, etc.) following 9/11. Then we moved to (also very liberal, but very white) Portland, OR, where the stares became even more pronounced.
- When my mother (who's somewhat liberal now, but had a conservative Southern upbringing) first saw a picture of my African-American boyfriend, she was visibly taken aback and was incapable of words for a while. She recovered eventually and grew to really like him, but...
- When I told a later (white, Southern, libertarian) boyfriend about my African-American boyfriend, he was also rendered wordless, only stuttering out "don't you ever tell my father".
- When I married the Nicaraguan (long story, some of which is on my blog), my entire family was appalled, and did their best to convince me that it was just an entire scam. Conversely, he got a lot of criticism from his friends and family for "selling out". We were frequently stared at, and occasionally harassed, on the streets.

I simply don't understand how people can be so intolerant in this day and age, especially people who purport to follow the teachings of Christ. I'm glad to hear you've found a supportive church. ~r
When people ask me if I date outside my (mixed) race- I always say the same thing, "I'm still dating the HUMAN RACE."

Where to start? Blacks, under constant persecution for the last 500 years, understandably, yet, of course, immorally, lash out constantly in group environs with reverse racism ... such is the human condition. I have dated dozens of black women, and, with very few exceptions, have always had to "deal" with blowback from their friends and family, if they are willing to introduce them.

That said, if you were in Hawaii you would have no issues whatsoever with a Hawaiian church- they just wouldn't care at all. However, there are many transplant white folks here who believe in the myths of dispensation, and, many of them would say stupid, ridicules and ignorant things about you, these sheep are the same everywhere.

The SF comments are partially true ... (including the hate against south asians, they get the worst these days) but, they are so many churches in SF and the Bay Area, Glide Memorial standing out, along with Berkeley all inclusives, where you would have NO ISSUES whatsoever- Rev. Cecil, a black man, is married to an Asian for the last 40 years ... but, BOSTON!!!!- wow, do I feel racist hate there, so bad it felt like Georgia- and it worked both ways in Roxbury too.

I ask you to have a look at a post in progress on my blog, which is, slowly but surely, spelling out all the reasons why haters hate. I don't normally self-promote, but I think you should read it.

I would also ask you to look into 1st Century history, and to the Council of Nicea Constantine called in the 4th Century ...

Aloha to you and your husband- I hope you have many children, the Golden Mean is making a comeback and the haters can't get a lot of the kids these days, the web just lets them see through it all.

IMUA (Onward)
I am a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant who grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist. Years ago I expanded my world view to include all religions and science and alternate systems of belief, finding basic human stories about people in every one of them. A religion is usualy a book club for a particular writer. Gods and goddesses are basically biographies of people who lived long ages ago.

I married an Indonesian Muslim woman from Surabaya and we have two charming, creative daughters that I named for my favorite goddesses: Saraswati and Athena. We have never encountered any overt racist attitudes or behavior, but she has not yet met any of my all-white mostly-Adventist family who live in Oregon and Washington and Idaho. We lived in Michigan, North Carolina and now Georgia. We do not attend any religious services in a building.

I am quite happy since I have such a broad view of religion. For example I consider myself an Abramist which includes Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I have noticed that Abraham and Sarah resemble the names Brahma and Saraswati, so I consider all Brahamanic religions of India such as Shaivism, Vishnusim, Buddhism and Krishnaism, to be part of the one world religion of my world view. I love Taoism and Odinism also, having hung out at rainbow gatherings and pagan gatherings around the United States.

I know, my religion is Earthism. Hee hee.
My comment implied that all-white mostly-Adventist family would not like my wife, but I think only one of about forty individuals in my family would have a problem. The rest are all friends with both of us on FaceBook so I think they are all happy for me.
I find this kind of funny.

You are having problems in Boston. When I dated a black lady, in Greensboro, NC, nobody really cared.

Something seems wrong with this picture.
Welcome to Bahst'n
Here's Christianity in Action

http://open.salon.com/blog/david_ehrenstein/2011/03/14/christianity
I have to ask; you're hubby is white, what race are you? I don't think any of us, regardless of how enlightened we think we have become, are ever post - prejudice. A young Chinese American nurse who dated several of the members of the house staff when I was an intern called to break a date because she was going to Spain that weekend to get married. We were all shocked and appalled. She had never met the man, but she always knew this would happen some day. Her grandmother had told her, "If you ever marry one of the barbarians you will cease to be alive for us." I always wondered how Shirley raised her children.
@the traveler
Thank you for reading and sharing your opinion!
@BOKO
Thanks. It's been a process, but so far so good.
@Mark
Not sure how much any particular city is to blame. Most of the piece took place in North Carolina, not Massachusetts.
Lately I've been wondering if the most segregated hour is when we get our hair done at the beauty salon or the barber shop...
@Just Thinking
Thanks for your wishes and for sharing about your congregation. I'm a pretty visual person and your description left quite an impression!
@NOLA
Wow.
Thank you for your kind words and for sharing some of your story.
@IMUA
I'll definitely pass on the "Aloha" to my hubs, I'm sure he'll get a kick out that.
@Surazeus
Thank you for taking the time to read and to share. I do hope things go well if there comes a time when your daughters meet your extended family.
@Catnlion
Good to hear! I like making readers laugh.
Actually most of this took place in North Carolina. Comparatively, Boston has been pretty calm thus far...
@TheBadScot
Why thank you!
@David
Okay. Thanks for the link!
@Rodney
Race: Black
Ethnicity: Yoruba
Nationality: America
If you want more bio info there is an "About" tab on my site (www.yesweretogether.com)
That situation with your co-worker sounds intense, but not all that uncommon in some non-Western cultures.
There are a lot of ignorant (not-knowing) individuals who claim to be "Christians", but do not share Christ's attitude (LOVE they neighbour--- regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, hair colour...)

We just moved to the UK and we've found churches to be very progressive overall, which is a real blessing!

Thank you for this post, which I think reminds all of us to spread a little light (and, enlighten).
I came back to read comments this morning, avoiding EVERYTHING else the world has to offer today....Thank you!!!! That video was hilarious! (although where'd your post go? : ))
@K.Manky
Good to hear. A very dear friend of mine recently moved back to the States from the UK and had a very positive church experience there as well.
@Just Thinking
So sorry. Had some tech difficulties trying to include the video! Folks can see it on www.yesweretogether.com. I agree. Gary Owen is hilarious!