This week, The Gospel Coalition posted a piece titled, When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband. I think it was likely that The Gospel Coalition was trying to address racial prejudice in the piece, but it missed the mark on almost all counts. Instead of being an article that was convicting in its relatability, it was a lesson in how NOT to explain one's experiences adjusting one's mindset when it comes to race.
I was really saddened by that failure. I think white Christians in this country have such an important role to play in the work of Reconciliation with our black brothers and sisters. It begins with heartfelt examination of our past complicity. Then we must declare our intention to actively work for justice. Finally, our commitment must be accompanied by a willingness to submit ourselves to be held accountable for our future errors. I think this sort of piece really had the potential to be a breathtaking and eye-opening confession, and also provide healing by offering humble and gracious leadership to those who would likely see themselves in the character of the bigot. Instead, of the "there, but for the grace of God go I" read, it became an "oh thank goodness that's not me" sort of experience. Which is probably the opposite of what the author intended.
I was so frustrated by the post that I decided to write what I wish I would have read at The Gospel Coalition yesterday. My revision is in italics. The original piece is here.
For years I prayed for a young man I had yet to meet: my daughter’s husband. I asked the Lord to make him godly, kind, a great dad, and a good provider. I was proud of a wish list void of unrealistic expectations. After all, I knew not to ask for a college football quarterback who loved puppies, majored in nuclear rocket science, and wanted to take his expertise to the mission field. I was an open-minded mom.
But God called my bluff.
It turns out that this 53-year-old white mother had also included a racial identity in my vision for my daughter's future and was thus shocked when God sent my daughter an African American with dreads named Glenn.
Glenn came to Christ in college and served him passionately. He worked while attending classes and volunteered at church in an after-school program for urban kids. He graduated and found a job as an application developer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield. I noticed he opened doors for my daughter, Anna, even at the grocery store.
Godly. Kind. Well on his way to being a great dad and a good provider. What more could I want? Still, my impressive wish list for Anna’s husband paled in comparison to her own: “He loves Jesus, Mom. That’s it. That’s my wish list. Jesus lover.” Then a grin came across her face. “It’s really awesome he’s also cute, right?” Anna took a deep breath and with a sparkle in her eyes asked: “So, Mom, what do you think?”
What did I think? I was surprised. I was taken aback. I was discomfited. And I was convicted of my own sin.
It wasn’t long ago that interracial marriage—particularly a black man like Glenn marrying a white girl like Anna—was considered the ultimate taboo in American white society. (In fact, it was illegal in 16 states until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that race-based restrictions violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Hence the film releasing this fall, Loving.) Though I thought I never shared this prejudice, I also honestly never expected the issue to enter my life. When I was confronted with the reality of my daughter's color-blindness, I saw my own bigotry in shocking relief. I had never considered an interracial marriage for my children and I began to ask myself...why not? What was the thinking that would cause me limit my vision for my family's future to my own racial identity?
To the parent like me, who may be standing in front of a mirror and seeing someone with prejudice you never thought you had, here are eight things to consider as you bring your sin into the open, and before God.
1. Check your theology. All ethnicities are made in the image of God, have one ancestor, and can trace their roots to the same parents, Adam and Eve. As you consider your children's futures, pray for your eyes to see clearly. Pray that you will see those you encounter not as a person of a certain type, or fitting with a certain label, but as a beloved child of God. Ask that God will open your eyes to the heart of the one in front of you. Ask to not only see Him within that person, but also to see the treasure He has uniquely created in that individual. When you find yourself judging someone as something other than a Beloved-One-Made-in-God's-Image (and you will), repent and ask for forgiveness.
2. Remember to rejoice in all things. It is very difficult to be confronted with your own prejudice. It hurts. It stings. It smarts. You will want to turn away. But it is through confronting your own darkness that healing and reconciliation will come. Continually open yourself before God, confess your errors, and ask that He reveal your preconceived notions that do not align with the Gospel. Ask for humility. Be prepared to be humbled.
3. Remember no Christian marriage is promised a trial-free life. Raise your children to understand that following Christ requires sacrifice and pain, as well as deep joy and abiding life. If God calls your child into a marriage, it will require constant dying-to-self. Raise your child with the awareness that love is worth the hard work. As John Piper says, "Christ does not call us to a prudent life, but to a God-centered, Christ-exalting, justice-advancing, counter-cultural, risk-taking life of love and courage. Will it be harder to be married to another race, and will it be harder for the kids? Maybe. Maybe not. But since when is that the way a Christian thinks? Life is hard. And the more you love, the harder it gets."
4. Remember to be honest with family members. Confess your own shortcomings and prejudices to those you love and explain why you were wrong, and especially, why you believe bigotry to be wrong in light of your Christian faith. If your relations insist upon retaining bigoted thoughts, be prepared to set boundaries of expected behavior. You cannot bring another person to an understanding they are not willing to entertain, but you can explain, lovingly, that you will engage in honest conversation wherein another person can share his or her fears, concerns, and objections with respect. Also be prepared to state your intention to always firmly supporting your child and son-in-law or daughter-in-law. Pray for the naysayers.
5. Remember your child's ultimate loyalty is not to you or your family, but to the Lord.
Several people asked Anna and Glenn, “Which world will you live in—black or white?” This is an odd question and one that reveals a poor understanding of the gospel. The Christian is reconciled by Christ to be the reconciling hands and feet of Christ in the world. This is about an identity that transcends racial boundaries...or any other boundaries. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, brothers and sister, children of the Father. As Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
6. Remember your future child-in-law's family. Your future son-in-law or daughter-in-law were raised by people who very likely have similar hopes and dreams for their child as you have for your child. You share a common bond now, but you also shared a common bond before your children met. Treat your child's future in-laws as you would treat anyone who is going to love your child. Listen to them. Learn from them. Be respectful of their traditions and customs. Honor Christ in this relationship and, if possible, share your hopes for friendship with them.
7. Remember heaven’s demographics. As Anna and Glenn stood before our pastor and joined their two lives into one, I realized their union was a foretaste of a glory yet to come: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9).
8. Remember to honor your child's choice of a spouse with your generous love. As a nervous young man sat in my living room, I handed him the ring my deceased husband gave me the day he asked me to marry him. With a lump in my throat, I swallowed hard and said, “Glenn, have a jeweler put it in a new setting and make it your own. It’s precious to me, but you and Anna are of far greater value than that.”
Far greater value indeed.
Parents, teach your child early to choose well. Pray hard and often. Trust your child's judgment to the care of God and if you are surprised by your child's choice, face your own preconceptions with courage. Do the work you need to do to rejoice with your child in the goodness of God.