God or whatever angel to whom He has delegated the American news cycle must have a sense of humor. Just days after a study was released admitting that despite years of searching, no “gay gene” has been discovered, the actions of a Mississippi event hall owner set activists right back to equating sexual orientation with race. How could they do otherwise? It allows them to tar Christians as modern segregationists.
Here’s the quick-and-dirty on the current kerfuffle: The owner of Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Mississippi reportedly canceled a wedding at her venue when she discovered that the couple who planned to tie the knot were of different races. Afterward, she was caught on camera saying that both same-sex and interracial weddings go against her faith. But this story has a happy ending. When challenged by her husband and her pastor to search the Scriptures for a prohibition on mixed-race marriages, she came up empty-handed, and publicly apologized for her unbiblical prejudice.
As John Stonestreet points out on BreakPoint, this business owner discovered what should have been obvious to generations of Christian anti-miscegenationists in this country: race as modern people understand it plays no role in the Bible. Quite the contrary, the New Testament offers the most powerful apologetic for the universal kinship of man that the world has ever known. Its centerpiece, after all, is the dismantling of Jewish national identity in favor of a kingdom without dividing walls of hostility—a flock that incorporates sheep from every fold. And sheep—especially those who go to church together—have a tendency to pair off, regardless of the hue of their fleece.
What John didn’t have time to address is just how historically provincial Christian opposition to interracial marriage is. As a Presbyterian, I’m all too aware of the shameful history of racial segregation and oppression that was often baptized by theologians of my tradition. The Presbyterian church in the Confederacy parted ways with its northern brethren with a 3,500-word defense of the morality of racial subjugation. R. L. Dabney’s work on the atonement was formative for me. Then I read what he wrote about black people and decided I’d better find a new hero.
These attitudes persisted for more than a century after the Civil War, manifesting with special ferocity in opposition to “interracial” marriage. “Kinists” argued (and still argue) that God’s placement of different races on different continents proves that He is against racial “mixing.” They were also happy to appropriate Old Testament prohibitions on intermarriage with the Canaanites, even though these are plainly about religious, not racial hygiene. State laws enshrined these beliefs, banning unions between blacks and whites. And they weren’t struck down until after my dad was born.
Surveying this moral wreckage, it’s easy to believe the activists who say Christians are just up to our old tricks again when we refuse to accept gay “marriage.” I’ve been told that if I had been alive fifty years ago, I would have opposed civil rights for black Americans. Maybe I would have, but I’m sure my stance toward non-sequiturs would be the same.
None of this changes the fact that racist and segregationist theology is a post 18th-century and nearly uniquely American heresy. After a survey of the relevant literature, Sociologist George Yancey (who is black) concluded that “there is little support from these historians that Christian justification has been the driving force inhibiting interracial marriages.”
He goes on to argue what must now be obvious to the owner of that Mississippi event hall—that American culture made many churches racist, not the other way around:
“It is not feasible to argue that resistance to interracial marriages was based mostly in Christian theology…my reading of the historical material is that these Christians were guiltier of following the racist norms of the day rather than creating those norms. An honest assessment of their actions was that their sin was more of a failure to live according to the tenets of ‘Neither Jew nor Gentile’ than an active role of creating anti-miscegenation perspectives from the tenets of their faith.”
This matches what Dr. Glenn Sunshine, Colson Fellows instructor and chair of Central Connecticut University’s history department, told me. Prior to the 19th century, he said, “the concept of race as we understand it didn’t exist,” Rather, “race” would have been understood much as we now understand “nationality.” There was no “white” race. There were, however, French, English, and Italian races.
“Modern ideas of race,” Dr. Sunshine went on, “are a combination of a response to the anti-slavery movement, and Darwin.” In other words, they developed as an ad-hoc apologetic for chattel slavery, and later for anti-miscegenation, segregation, and eugenics—not the other way around. And opposition to interracial marriage, he pointed out, was particularly hypocritical, given the number of slave-owners sexually exploiting their slaves and siring biracial children.
What does all of this have to do with same-sex marriage, and the way progressive pundits and badly-catechized business-owners have equated it with “interracial” marriage? Simple: Christianity has insisted on sexual complementarity since day one. If you don’t believe me, read Matthew 19:1-12. Even Christ (as if His authority weren’t sufficient) roots His belief in marriage in older revelation, calling Moses, nature, and God, Himself to the witness stand. And in more than nineteen centuries since Pentecost, not a solitary theologian has questioned this definition.
To compare the filth of racism on the American church to belief in man-woman marriage throughout Church history is to compare a stain to a birth mark. Revealed as it is in creation and glorified as it is in the promises of Christ to His Bride, marriage is as close to a permanent tenet of the faith as you can get without quoting the Apostle’s Creed. Doctrinal racism, by contrast, is a thing of yesterday—an alien incursion—a smudge best removed and reviled.
Those who think they can equate the two need to find more than a “gay gene.” They need to find a different religion.