- Indian Orthodox Herald – Church News And Doctrinal Information - http://www.orthodoxherald.com -
My Take on Interracial and Interfaith marriages
Posted By Editor On August 10, 2013 @ 6:53 pm In Columns,Features,Opinions | 1 Comment
Mark Twain, the celebrated American novelist was asked whether there is any specific reference in the Bible that is opposed to polygamy. “Of course, there is”, he replied instantly and quoted Luke 16:13, “No one can serve two masters” to support his point of view. Looking for a biblical basis for anything and everything is not the right way to go. My effort here is not to find even a remote Biblical basis for Interracial or interfaith marriages since the Bible is no more a prescription for Interracial or interfaith marriages than it is for baptism or burial services as some Protestant denominations may claim. It is rather an attempt to find a common sense approach to a problem that many youngsters and families in this country are confronted with. ‘Fiddler on the roof’ is the story of young Jewish girls who were unwilling to yield to arranged marriages. In a tiny village where traditions were sacrosanct, the girls fought tooth and nail to change their father’s attitude to selecting their spouses. They succeeded in getting father’s permission to marry the boys they loved except one who insisted on marrying a young man outside the family’s faith. The situation is quite similar to many young men and women born and brought up in this country or any other outside India with an umbilical cord relationship through their parents to their families in Kerala since they grow up in a dichotomy of cultures in USA.
The method of choosing a life partner varies from culture to culture and country to country. Young men and women raised outside India, especially in the Western world, are caught between a rock and a hard place, not only because of the stark differences between arranged and love marriages but also because of the traditional concepts and cultural practices their parents rigidly hold on to. If marriage takes place in heaven, as is said, how can anyone know what is God’s will in choosing a life partner? What kind of relationship is deemed a wrong choice? Is it forbidden to marry someone beyond the borders of race, colour or faith? Is there any specific stand our church has taken on such issues? How relevant is the so called typical Keralite cultural concept of ABCDEF in looking for a spouse? (Age, Beauty, Character, Dowry, Education, Faith & Family)
Let me admit at the outset that I am not the authorized spokesperson for the Church on either interfaith or interracial marriages. Theologically speaking, the Church should not be opposed to interracial marriages. Marriage across racial barriers is more a problem of social stigma than it is of Church doctrines since social acceptance of such alliance into a close-knit community such as ours does not come easy. But, interfaith marriage is a different matter altogether since faith is sacrosanct for all religions. When it comes to marriages, serious conversions of faith seldom take place. How would you counsel anyone who wants to marry someone outside his/her faith? How important is it for a Christian to marry a believer? I recall reading a news item few years ago that a man died being bitten by a snake that has been his pet for many years. Snake, whether pet or not, bites because it is part and parcel of its nature. The faith and belief may be adjusted for temporary convenience and relief such as marriage but certain built-in habits, traits and beliefs seldom change in the long term. Converting to a different faith resulting from personal conviction is a whole different story. A practising Christian marrying a non-believer will form an odd couple and may provide a good prescription for bad family problems in most cases. Cherishing the idea that he/she will be able to drastically alter his/her beliefs as soon as the wedding ceremony is over is simply utopian at best.
Should compatibility be an important factor in marriage? Several studies have established the fact that compatible relationships have the best chance of survival. Intense researches have confirmed that most people select their spouses from similar social classes, economic and educational levels, occupations, age groups, race, religious backgrounds, and areas of residence. Social acceptability increases the comfort level of couples and without it life can turn miserable. There are those who do cross such barriers and still have successful marriages but such crossovers make people more vulnerable to pressure, making marital adjustments more difficult though not impossible. Statistics have clearly shown that marriage selection is best where such compatibility existed.
Let us look at a couple from the Bible, Rebecca and Isaac, for a case study (Genesis 24). Let us see how Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, looked for a spiritually compatible bride for his son, Isaac. I am not even remotely suggesting that an account of how God brought Rebecca and Isaac together should be the ditto pattern for all Christian weddings. But their choice does give some useful tips for bringing a man and a woman for Christian marriage and for raising a Christian family. Abraham commissioned his faithful servant, Eliezer, with clear instructions as to how he should find a wife for his son. “ You will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaanites, among whom I dwell but you shall go to my country and to my kindred and take a wife for my son, Isaac” (Gen. 24:3). Interestingly enough, Abraham did not want a girl from the Canaanites among whom he lived. He instructed the most senior servant of his house to go to a place many miles away to look for a girl among his own people. The Canaanites were pagans and worshipped idols. When the Canaanite woman pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus compared her community to the dogs. They worshipped pagan gods and goddesses involving perverted sex and human sacrifices. St. Paul enforces the same point with the Corinthians, “Do not be yoked together with nonbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with a nonbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15) The basic issue is spiritual compatibility. When there is no compatibility in faith, not only the person who marries but the whole family and community will suffer. “…Nor shall you make marriages with them…For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods”. King Solomon had “seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines. … when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father”. (1 Kings 11:3). It was not only King Solomon but the entire nation that suffered the repercussions. Persons of other faith may be handsome or beautiful, gentle and caring, kind and considerate, truly in love, and has the least intention of hurting you. Statistics have shown that at the end of the day when all the balloons have popped and celebrations over, when real life begins, a spiritual uneasiness will start taking shape, may be with their children, if not with them.
While admitting that searching the Bible to find even a vague reference to interracial and interfaith marriages is a futile effort, a derivative answer, if you will, can be found in the family of Abraham who looked for a bride for his son in his own hometown where the beliefs, culture and the language were compatible. In the town of Nahor, Eliezer prayed to God to show him a certain type of woman who will show humility and care. He sought God’s help in finding the right woman. I wonder how many prospective bachelors have this kind of prayer on their lips! The sign, “Proceed with caution”, displayed at road work area and dilapidated bridge is very relevant here. Furthermore, he goes on to find out more about the family she comes from. “Whose daughter are thou? Tell me, I pray thee…..And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor”. (Gen. 24: 23, 24). Eliezer takes the case even further when he consults her father and seeks his advice (Verses 51-61). The current trend is such that the family is the last to know of any relationship the children get into. To the question is asked whether one should follow the wishes of parents, there is no right or wrong answer. All I can say is that it will bode well to at least consult and seek the wishes of the parents who, more than anyone else, wish the very best for their sons and daughters. Such a step can put a check on impulsive and emotional decisions. Before any relationship begins, thinking ahead to find out what you are getting into will always help. Finding a partner in the right community with compatibility may not always guarantee success but that is a chance one has to take. It is good to remember the carpenter’s jargon: Measure twice and cut once.
Should character be an important criterion in selecting a partner? Indeed, it should be. Character is what one does when no one is looking. Peripheral view can be very deceiving. One must look deeper. If one marries a girl for her beauty, what happens when someone more beautiful comes along? If money and job are the only points of attraction, what happens when the pink slip is served? Beauty is only skin-deep but character goes right to the bone. Physical attributes are good, of course, but undue importance to the outside looks can spell trouble in a life-long relationship. Judging by the looks can be a serious error since emotions can blind us from serious character flaws. An action is worth a thousand words. Beware the sugar-coated words that can trap you for life. If character is that important what kind of traits should one be looking for? Let us go back to the case of Rebecca & Isaac. Rebecca is described as beautiful and a virgin. Old Testament law is very clear on loose sexual behaviour. Deception on sexual purity and premarital sex carried the death penalty by stoning (Deut. 22:13-21). Any prospective bride or groom should have the wisdom to differentiate between love and lust. Love gives but lust takes. Love protects but lust destroys. If someone dates a girl and makes sexual advances to her, know immediately that what he has for her is lust and not love because love is supposed to protect and not destroy. If someone you date knows that you are a teetotaller but still persuades you to drink, know immediately that he/she does not want to love you the way you are but as someone whom he/she wants you to be. The decision to enter into marriage should not be taken with as much ease as flipping a coin to select what Broadway show you should go to or what colour of car you should buy. Since it will affect the rest of your life, using wisdom and intelligence is highly recommended.
Anyone who wants to get married should first and foremost put marriage in the right perspective. The first wedding was performed by God himself between Adam and Eve. Marriage is a divine institution established by God who decided that man should not be alone. Referring to the account of the creation of Adam & Eve, Jesus endorsed this divine union when He said, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mtt. 19:6). In the creation story God saw everything he created good at the end of the day. The very first time God felt something not good was when he created man. “It is not good that man be alone”. God did not create Eve merely for companionship. He could have created another man or a few men to give company to Adam. A woman was created so that the couple could multiply on earth and raise a family. The Psalmist draws the beautiful picture of God’s family plan in Psalm 128 where the family is pictured as a God-fearing man with his wife like a vine and the children like olive trees around the dinner table. This explains why an Orthodox wedding does not take place in a Municipal building or a Town Hall or even in a park setting where the chirping of birds, a flowing stream or cherry blossom provide the backdrop. It is quite unfortunate that laws are being legislated to the effect that two men can walk down the central aisle of a church hand in hand as married couple. It must also be stated that divorce is not in God’s plan (Malachi 2:16). Marriage is more than mere companionship. It is a lifelong relationship needing constant adjustment and assuming responsibility to raise future generations. Therefore, walking away from that God-designed relationship must be only a last resort and must be avoided at all costs. A quarrel over a smelly mouth, the brand of toothpaste or the colour of the window drapes should not lead to a love-lost.
Christian marriage is an institution established and blessed by God who joins two individuals so that they become one. Though born and brought up in different families under different circumstances, they are meant to complement each other, lean on each other, depend on each other and together raise a Christian family. In Christian perspective, marriage is not a convenient living arrangement that can be terminated when relationships get sour. Especially in the Western world, the prospect of marrying someone without knowing him/her over a period of time can send a chill up the spine of prospective bachelors. Love marriages are not necessarily better than arranged marriages. Statistically, it is found that divorce ratio is just about the same in both. Marriage, whether it is by mutual love or arranged, does not determine its success rate. Rather, it depends on the conviction that the success of a life-partnership, inter alia, is based on the readiness on both sides to adjust to each other. Successful marriage does not depend on ‘finding the right person’ but ‘being the right person’. Choosing the right person to marry can be one of the most difficult choices but it can be one of the most rewarding of all choices.
Article printed from Indian Orthodox Herald – Church News And Doctrinal Information: http://www.orthodoxherald.com
URL to article: http://www.orthodoxherald.com/2013/08/10/my-take-on-interracial-and-interfaith-marriages/
Copyright © 2009 Indian Orthodox Herald - Breaking Church News And Doctrinal Information. All rights reserved.