I would like to think that nowadays, and especially among Christians, interethnic marriages are celebrated. Sadly, people, including different believers, struggle to relate to those who are different to themselves.
The clearest Biblical example is in Numbers 12, where Moses’ siblings take issue with his African wife. For her racist, resentful attitude, Moses’ sister Miriam was struck down with leprosy, until Moses prayed for her healing (John Piper’s written a good poem about the incident- Google to find it!).
Thankfully, God hasn’t struck any of our acquaintances with leprosy.
I feel like I should have insightful things to say about interethnic marriage, although I’m not sure I do, I’ll share a bit about our experience.
I’m a white British male. My wife’s a black Italian female. It’s an interesting combination, but we get on remarkably well and I feel like culturally there’s not been much drama in our relationship.
I think the secret to our success has been our shared faith in Jesus, in whom differences of ethnicity and culture are rendered insignificant compared to the surpassing greatness of being part of the multicultural, multiethnic kingdom of God.
I don’t think the world understands the unity we enjoy as children of God. The world is a pretty racist place. People seem to be either racist against white people like me for being privileged, or to be racist and to look down on black people for not being privileged. The church is the middle ground where black and white meet at the level ground at the foot of the cross.
I think the difficulties in my marriage have been less ethnic or cultural than just generic spiritual needs to confess and repent of sins (mostly on my part) and to forgive (mostly on my wife’s part).
One thing I’ve noticed cultural differences in especially is in parenting. In my Western, Disneyfied culture, parents assume that the main thing for their kids is that they’re happy, even if they never grow up and spend all their time on computer games for example!
In my wife’s Nigerian cultural background however, there’s an expectation that children grow up to be doctors or lawyers for example. So if British parents want their kids to be happy and spoil them, Nigerian parents want their kids to excel.
I saw this clearly at my daughter’s first birthday party, where we recorded messages for our daughter to look back on when she’s older. I think I’ve imbibed my culture and put a Christianised spin on it because my message to my daughter was along the lines of, “it’s okay if you don’t grow up to be great and ‘successful’ [by the world’s definition], as long as you grow up to be good and gracious”.
My wife didn’t quite agree with that. She would still like my daughter to excel in life.
I read on Sheila’s blog Heartful Faith that there’s a rabbinic proverb that if parents don’t teach their kids to pursue a career they may as well be teaching their kids to be thieves! I know that’s not a Bible truth as such, but I think there’s some truth to it.
I hasten to add that I’m not criticising my upbringing. Even my wife admits I had a great upbringing. But she’s a pharmacist having pursued medicine initially, and I’m a customer service assistant having failed to pursue anything. Truly those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
One thing that slightly irritates my wife is that I tend to qualify everything I say, something to do with my academic training I suspect. So I need to qualify that I don’t think I’m a failure. I don’t think customer service assistants are failures. There’s dignity in good honest work like customer service. It’s just that I have the potential to use my intellect more (I guess that’s why I blog- I don’t need to be paid to stretch myself spiritually and in my writing).
One of the main reasons my wife married me is because she saw (still as yet) unfulfilled potential in me. She’s since seen with my help that this isn’t a great reason to get married, but thankfully she’s graciously resigned to the providence that brought us together and has given us a beautiful daughter.
The important thing for me is not to squander my gifts and talents, not to waste my life, but to serve God wholeheartedly and purely.
So we share a common purpose to give our daughter the best upbringing we can to prepare her for life in the big wide world, as well as to enjoy one another. Of course, two people with the best of intentions can have different expectations of what the best for our daughter looks like. But we’ll continue to work through our expectations and whatever reality transpires for our family in the providence of God.
The world assumes that the biggest dividing lines between people are maybe ethnic, cultural or political. As Christians, we know that the biggest difference between people is whether they are spiritually dead or alive, dark or light, lost or found etc.
The most important thing is that my wife and I are united in Christ. Everything else pales in significance. The closer we are to Christ, the closer we are to one another. A chord of three strands isn’t easily broken. God is the third chord in our relationship and He’s holding us together in the might of His loving strength.
**I would like to thank Robert for this great article. Robert has an amazing and very insightful blog – Watching Daily at Wisdom’s Gate which i would advise you to check out.**