This is the third time I’ve written about racism. It’s prevalent. It’s insidious in society. We are dealing with it in everyday life in one form or another on a daily basis. Churches are in no way innocent in this area. There has never been a black Pope for example! I was brought up Roman Catholic and in a predominantly white community. In London (where I lived since I was 18 years old) I worshipped in mixed-race congregations but never saw Catholics from other racial backgrounds socially outside of Sunday Mass. Is this acceptable for Christians?

 

God took radical steps to irradicate racism in His church. There were even some struggles in the early years of the New Testament church that were ethnically related (Acts 6:1-3). The Old Testament too has quite a bit of tribalism. The people of God were quick to deal with these divisions and when they did not (as in the case of the Benjamites, Judges 19) by and large, there was a high price to pay. I have never really seen what I could call racism amongst the churches that I’ve belonged to for 28 years. The leadership has been ethnically and racially diverse and represented a similarly diverse membership. Inevitably what happens as a consequence of multiple racial groups mixing as brothers and sisters in Christ is that people fall in love and get married.

 

I mentioned before in my article ‘Family to the end‘ that there was one point where I had been in a good friendship with a woman in the church who was not white. My father disinherited me when he found out that I had been telling my sisters about this particular lady. So I’ve experienced first-hand how culture, race and nationality can result in persecution. One night, a few weeks after I had told my sisters about my friend Donna, I was visiting my dad. He told me he had heard about this woman and asked me if she was white. When I told him she was not, he went into a mini-lecture (one of his many skills – he was a qualified teacher). He was fond of genetics and as part of his talk, he warned me of the dangers of having children that were not like either of the parents. In describing the appearance of genetic characteristics recessive in the parents he used the word ‘throwback’. In doing so, he was trying to appeal to what he thought would be a racist tendency that I would have as his son. He was trying to suggest that though the woman was not black, the children that we would have, could be black. He was assuming that this would be a problem for me! Seeing that I remained calm and undeterred, he then proceeded to tell me specifically that he could not allow me to take any black woman into the house that he lived in. What he meant by that was that I could not marry a woman who was not white and expect that he would let me live in his house with her as my wife. He then proceeded to tell me that he was going to cut me out of the will so that I could not get the house after he died. That’s how specific it was. I recently found out that the estate was worth a quarter of a million pounds. My response to his disinheriting me was to tell him that I loved him and that I would still love him even though he’d done that. In a strange twist of events, he followed me into the other room and told me that he still loved me as well. That’s how it went down! (1 Pet 4:8).

If we are not willing to stay within the boundaries of our cultural and racial constraints sometimes we will be persecuted because of that. The Bible is very clear that we are all part of one race (Acts 17:26-29).

I recently sent a short simple questionnaire to all of the members of my congregation (the London International Christian church) that are in mixed-race marriages. One common theme in their experience of marrying someone from a different ‘race’ was an acute general persecution coming from physical family members who are not members of the church. This has come in the form of various types of persecution, mostly psychological and emotional abuse but sometimes slander and economic persecution of some kind. This is not only the case for marriage but goes also for new dating relationships. My wife and I recently spent quality time with a new dating couple. The brother is black and the sister is Asian. They had just started dating less than 24 hours previously and she had had calls repeatedly on her phone from relatives in several countries wishing to challenge her decision to date this young man. He was particularly unphased. She was very very hurt. She was receiving angry text messages of all sorts saying that she had let her family down and that she should be ashamed of herself. This only happened last week. I’m sure this experience is common to many of the members of my church that are in mixed race relationships.

In our church we are all, in fact, ‘new creations’ devoid of nationality and race in our spiritual identities.

‘Laughter is the sound track to our marriage’

Our dear English Rose who married to her Caribbean sweetheart put it this way.

Love doesn’t see colour. When I look at my husband, I don’t see a black man, I see my husband. I don’t think of him as being black or as not being white. I just see him as the man I love.”

In the ICC, when we repent, we repent of racism, hatred and any tendencies to allow inequalities among us. We actively promote racial mixing in the sense that we want to show the world how messed up racial segregation is. Nonetheless, we have to deal with racism on a day-to-day basis outside of the church. I think this is probably felt most strongly by those who end up in mixed-race marriages in the church.

One of my dear African sisters who is married to a white man in my congregation put it so eloquently when she said the following.

But one of my most joyful memories is the time when I studied the BIBLE, and knowing that God does not see the colour of our skins, But the Lord looks at our hearts 1 Samuel 16:7

She was married to her husband before they became Christians and was actually originally brought to church by my own dear wife. One of the first questions that she asked my wife was whether or not our church was a mixed church. This was a little bit of a strange question as you can imagine because my wife is white. What she was actually asking was whether my wife was attending a black church that had an essential ethnocentric membership and just a few token white people or an actual mixed church. In her experience, she had felt a lot of rejection in those ethnocentric kind of churches and her husband had also likewise found it very difficult to build any kind of lasting friendships with the men in those groups.

Here follows one of the clearest passages in the New Testament on the race issue.

Colossians 3:11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

The doctrine of the church is that ‘there is no race issue’. Sadly though, in the denominational world, ethnocentric religion is a global epidemic. When I moved into my street eight years ago I found that there was a mosque on the corner where only black African Muslims were meeting together to worship. Within a matter of just two years, a group of Asian Muslims had built a mosque just at the side of my building. Not only this but in the old office buildings lining my street, there were no less than seven Pentecostal African churches most of which were Nigerian based and at least one of which was Congolese. Sunday morning when the windows were open and I was on my way to the London International Christian church, we could hear only African accents in their praise and worship. Originally I thought this was racist. But after seeing them week after week and not experiencing any distasteful looks from them and seeing them with their families I realised that this was not really racism in the spiteful sense but it was idolising family, nationality, language and culture over the clear teachings of the Holy Scriptures of God. Because these churches exist in a multiracial society inevitably they are visited by people in mixed race relationships. This is when the ‘idol of family’ turns into spiteful racism. Here is a quote from one of my sisters.

“Most painful among the memories of my life was when we were rejected in many churches because I married a WHITE Man and people asked ‘why A WHITE man married a Black woman’ ?￰

It is so clear that the love of family above the love of God causes great pain in the world. This is certainly why Jesus taught that the love of God must be above the love of family (Luke 14:25ff). It is one of His most radical teachings and it is one that the International Christian church takes very seriously. It’s not always at denominational church meetings where interracial couples feel unwelcome but at family gatherings. My sister said:

“Another painful memory is when I overheard one of my husbands close family members make a comment about how he always settles for white trash. That was back when we were dating and it made me feel very unwelcome. I didn’t let it affect our relationship but it hurt to think they felt that way about me.”

Again, a mixed race brother engaged to a white sister:

” Most painful memory in context would be finding out my girlfriend’s mother didn’t approve of me because of my African background (connotations of abuse)”

Another brother:

The Frowning Experience. Having smiles and things when my partner is there but then when I’m alone, I’ve had family members approach me and say “you couldn’t find yourself a nice black woman” Also when out in public my wife will recognise the ‘black look’ that black women specifically give. They give as she would say ‘dirty looks’ frowning upon me being with her.

The racism of church and the racism of family are closely intertwined. The racism of religion and the racism of family are closely intertwined. Much of the religion in the world is ethnocentric. This is very clearly a relative form of truth where something is true only for me and my people and my kind. This kind of truth cannot be universal. If universal truth does exist it, therefore, must exist outside of humanity. There must be a God for universal truth to exist. Humanity only has relative truth and it causes great pain. Many people grow up believing that what Mum and Dad said is absolutely true. This is perhaps one of the greatest deceptions of humanity. It has lead in recent decades to a pluralistic form of parenting that lets children decide for themselves what they want to believe. This only leads to further relativism. It has the same consequences. Great pain.

One of the things that I have found whilst questioning mixed-race couples in my congregation is that they find it difficult to bring themselves to deeply consider this pain. None the less many of them have done so to help me write this article. That is what Christians do. The fundamental basis of the cross is pain and something positive that comes from it. It is not an analogy but an actual fact. There is such great joy in my church. Here is one of my questions and what one of the sisters wrote, a dear Asian sister married to a young African British man.

Q. What is your most painful memory or set of memories as a woman in a committed mixed race relationship.

A. The conflicts I had to have with my family in order to marry my husband.

It is hard for me to write with any great depth about the suffering that this young woman had to go through in marrying her husband. She does not wish to paint her family in any negative light. That said, let it be known that only one single member of her family came to her wedding. This young man showed exceedingly strong character in coming to walk his dear sister down the aisle to meet her husband. It was a glorious moment. I befriended him that day. It was a great privilege for me. It brings me to tears writing this, tears of pride in the honour of a righteous act in the face of great risk. In only a short time though, her faith is paying off and she can triumphantly claim:

“It’s really encouraging now that my family are starting to feel closer with me and my husband because of God and our convictions”

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.

When people experience the mixed race relationships between Christians they experience God. God does not have a race. God does not have a language. God is not racist. He only created one race. The human race. My sister is able to have this faith because she is in a fellowship of unashamedly loving disciples of Jesus truly committed to the teaching of His Apostles.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We cannot underestimate the impact that it has on a mixed-race couple to walk into our church for the first time. There are no stares and when they look around they see people of all different races talking to people of all different other races. This was my experience as a young single man when I walked into the church in 1990. I had long hair and I was a bit of a heavy metal hippie. I was looking out from behind my locks of blonde and quite amazed at the obvious nature of the friendships that I was surrounded by. This is the breeding ground for interracial relationships. The church fellowship of the International Christian Church. Here is what one of my sisters wrote about it.

“A great memory I have is joining the church. I had never seen so many mixed race couples all under one roof! I just felt completely at ease and comfortable. I knew we wouldn’t be judged and could just be ourselves. In the past when we get looks or comments I have always fought with myself not to go over and challenge them on it, but at church, I knew I wouldn’t have to feel like that. I just felt at ease.”

People come to church for so many different reasons especially in the beginning of their attendance. My sister describes a very powerful motive for remaining in the church. After seeing how the social problems have been dissolved away by the blood of Jesus the church can become a sanctuary for hurting couples in this sense. It is not only the mixed race marriages that make the church like this. We actively promote dating among the singles in the churches. This means that single members go on regular dates with members of the opposite sex from all different racial backgrounds. I did this myself as a single. It creates an atmosphere where people forget about race. It creates a safe place. It’s something that we become accustomed to. It’s something that we take for granted in many ways. Real life situations in our workplaces and on the streets where we live and in our cities and amongst our families, however, bring us back to reality. This feeling of safety can also reinforce our conviction to stay faithful. That’s a positive. It could become a negative in the sense that our sole motivation for staying in the church might be this safety. God works in our lives in mysterious ways to prevent this from being the case. We’re all humans and though we may not necessarily treat each other in a racist way in the church we do offend each other regularly and need to forgive one another. It’s so great to have that joy, that freedom and that feeling of comfort and safety is it not?

Having an ethnocentric church in a multiracial city is a sign of doctrinal error. Having a multiracial church with multiracial marriages and families, anywhere in the world is a sign that at least the possibility exists that this group, which has transcended human barriers, has tapped into something greater than themselves. It is an evidence of the presence of a God who is above human boundaries. It is empirical evidence. It is statistical evidence. It is experiential evidence. It is powerful evidence in so many ways. Historically, religion has been segregationalistic. But Jesus message was for ‘All Nations’. His great commission to the disciples was very specific. It was very specific and very simple. It was for ALL the nations. Look at this,

Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Here are the last words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven. In order to fulfill this commission, God had to allow the early church in Jerusalem to be physically persecuted. The martyrdom of Stephen in Acts chapter 7 led to the Jewish converts being scattered into the countries all around Palestine. Some 10 years after the beginning of the church God pushed his people to break out of their ethnocentric mindset and fulfill his commands to them to go to ‘All Nations’. He had to put the Apostle Peter in a situation where he was having supernatural visions to get him to break out of the traditional way that he saw his religion. Peter had a change in his theology as a result and this became known to the followers in the other countries who then began to convert Gentiles. As a result, the church began to obey Jesus. We see this pattern in the movements even since the 1st century. The European Anabaptist movement in the 1500s and 1600s spread through various different countries having different religions and governments in order to spread their religion. The ICOC grew from 30 members and 1979 to 135000 members in 171 nations in 2002. The ICC has similarly rapidly expanded numerically and geographically. This is all simply a feature of obeying the teachings of Jesus.

When we see traditional groups of people calling themselves Christian churches, who persecute their adult children (Luke 12:53) when they step across the racial barrier and when we see these groups existing for decades and centuries in our cities without the discipline of the hand of God we know that these groups are not children of God but children of Satan (Heb 12:7-8). Satan only wants to bring the races together for his own benefit. Interracial pornography is a genre unto itself! The world makes it a spectacle, something to be desired rather than treasured as any other relationship. This is the work of Satan. Generally speaking, to find interracial social groups at the weekend in London you need to go to the hip areas like Soho. But if you wish only to fellowship with those of your own kind in a London meat market on a Saturday night you can go to Peckham if you’re black and Shoreditch if you’re white. There you will feel comfortable and only observe token members of other races peppered around the pub. This is Satan’s world, and he rules the churches just as much as he rules the nightclubs.

My black sister married a white brother and this was one of her answers.

Q. What is your most painful memory or set of memories as a woman in a committed mixed race relationship.

A. Being looked at as if it’s wrong and called a ‘prostitute’.

One of the things that has really amazed me in the answers that I received from the members of my church is the strength of character that is so obvious in these men and women. I will post a few of the responses here to demonstrate what I mean.

“I don’t have any painful memories (cause I don’t care much about what people think) but if I have to pick something I think it is annoying that some people think that I like black woman. (In some way this is true but I could have been with any other racial background)”

Q. If you could make one point with an article about this topic, what would it be?

A. It takes extraordinary courage, impartiality and a sense of determination not to be swayed by the norm.

There are also unique experiences that parents in mixed-race marriages face. My wife relates a number of experiences that were shared with her by mothers in the church who had strange looks from people exactly at the moment when their child called them ‘mum’. There are other variations on this experience all of them equally insidious. They are painful memories and difficult to deal with especially in the early years. One brother writes the following:

My most painful memory was going to a black barbers and being asked, ‘Is that child yours?’ and confidently saying ‘yes’ and then the barber drawing closer to my ear to ask, ‘Are you sure?’

In our church however, all of our children are equally loved and cherished. This is not only the case with the parents but everyone else in the congregation loves every child. It is actually the whole membership that ’embrace the race’. What a safe and amazing place for children to grow up! What a great place for them to wander around in the fellowship! It’s like a little piece of Heaven.

Finally, I’d like to go back and look at the controversy describing the early church in Acts chapter six. We see the leadership quickly fix the problem guided by the Holy Spirit, by delegating people to work to make the situation equal for everyone concerned. This is the kind of leadership we have in the International Christian church. We strive to raise up and represent the church’s diversity in our leadership. Our international leadership themselves are often in mixed race relationships. The fact that a problem arose in the early church shows that there are specific issues relative to race and culture that can come up in the relationships in the church. I’ve had this mentioned in the answers to some of the questions. Here some of the examples.

“The culture challenge. My culture is very laid back when it comes to timing. Dating my wife was challenging because her culture is super offended when it comes to even a hint of lateness. If I’m late for a party in my family “Hey, there is no more mac n cheese left for you” but you still get a good plate because they actually prepare for late arrivals. If we’re late for something in my wife’s family there is no food reserved for you. When it comes to discipline too, my family would discipline hard line. I would have a physical sting, but my wife doesn’t have that in her culture, you take something away or tell off the child and that’s it in her culture.

Also, going camping and experiencing things that I wouldn’t have if I had dated someone of the same race. I never saw myself as someone who would enjoy the countryside or go camping but since meeting my partner her family do tons of that stuff. Teaching her to use seasoning which isn’t just salt and pepper was a great experience too and we have a beautiful mixed race son!”

There are some challenges that exist for couples from mixed race backgrounds to overcome that are genuinely to do with the way they were brought up like the food they eat and cultural things that they like. Outside of the International Christian church there is a 10% higher chance of divorce in the first 10 years of marriage for mixed race couples highlighting the greater pressures they face and a general lack of resources to deal with them. We approach this with a spirit of encouragement, dignity and celebration. When challenges arise we are very blessed in so far as we have so many mixed marriages in the church and there is plenty of advice to be had from brothers and sisters who been through it all before. So we all grow together. What a joy is to be in such a church. A church that is a bible church. A church that believes in evangelising the whole world. A church therefore that does not in any way wish to discriminate. What a joy.

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