What is God’s mind on the subject of marriage and race? The subject is complex, emotional, and often controversial. Furthermore, no matter how one approaches it, it can be a no-win subject. To say nothing offends some. To say anything will offend others.
God is love. Satan is hate-filled and wishes to divide mankind in general, and those whom God has called in particular. We all see things from our own background and perspective, and this subject is very personal. But, contrary to what some imagine, it is not something affecting one’s own nation only. It is a worldwide issue, and the body of Christ is found all over the world. It is in no way limited to any one country or group of people, and it even goes beyond what we might think of as “race.”
In many parts of the world, such as Africa, tribal differences are important. Heritage is highly respected. Xhosa and Zulu wedding customs are different and a marriage crossing these lines would likely concern both families. So, too, among the Dhlous and Kikuyus in Kenya, and the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda and Burundi. Additionally, some areas of the world have very little mixing of races and ethnicities, while other areas—such as the Caribbean and parts of South America—have long had significant mixing. And everywhere in the world we find individuals who are already of mixed tribe and race, including many of us reading this article.
Mixed marriages involving tribe, ethnicity, race, and religion are not new. It is evident from Scripture that mixed marriages have taken place since ancient times. It is also evident that God “made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). Yet the issue goes deeper than that, as shown in the remainder of the verse. We must guard against overreacting to or neglecting what is a sensitive and complex subject with many variables.
So, what is the Church to do? How are we to guide our members to see as God sees and to make wise decisions? I am going to be very open in this article, trusting that those who are guided by God’s Spirit will understand.
Marrying outside of one’s tribe, race, ethnicity, or culture presents challenges, as many studies demonstrate. Some think interracial marriage is only considered an “issue” by white people. This is patently false, as I have observed firsthand, both in the United States and elsewhere. Therefore, if someone can be called racist for opposing an intertribal or interracial marriage, then that emotionally inciting accusation can be made toward people of all races, ethnicities, and tribes around the world. But does such an accusation simplify the problem or only exacerbate this sensitive issue?
Further complicating the issue is the fact that some couples prior to coming into the Church are already of mixed tribes, races, cultures, and even religions, and few of us are of what we might refer to as a single ethnicity. Our approach to the subject must take this into account. Not only do we strive not to offend such dear brethren, but we also do not want to make any children from these marriages feel awkward. They and their families are cherished members of our spiritual family in the Body of Christ, and we sincerely do not want to risk complicating or adding further complication to their lives.
In my personal memory—including nearly six decades in the Church of God—the Church has never counseled married couples of mixed races to separate. The Church recognizes that they are validly married in God’s sight just as much as any other married couple.
But, at a time when many around the world are strongly encouraging mixed marriages, should we encourage marrying across broad racial or ethnic divides? How should we deal with this complex and emotional subject? To answer these questions, we must lay aside personal opinions and the “wisdom” of this world and look instead to the mind of God as revealed in the pages of His word.
Is the World “Ahead of the Church”?
When it comes to living in this world, Jesus set the example for us that we must reject Satan and his subtle devices: the misuse of Scripture, relying on human reason and emotion, and the influences of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (Matthew 4:1–11; Genesis 3:6; 1 John 2:15–17). We must overcome these and choose to think as God does. Positions of rulership will be taken away from the devil and his fallen angels upon Christ’s return and given to the saints (Revelation 20:1–4; 5:10). This is the reward of those in the first resurrection! Do we comprehend the magnitude of this reward? Do we understand the enormous responsibility and trust that Christ will put in us at that time? It is this latter point—trust—that needs to be addressed.
As Dr. Roderick C. Meredith often said, “God is not playing games!” He also repeated many times that the whole Bible represents the mind of God in print. God must know that those in His Kingdom, especially those who make up the Bride of Christ in the first resurrection, humbly strive to think as He thinks and to make decisions that reflect His mind. None of us will be perfect in this life, but God must know that we are humble of heart, that we are meek and teachable, and that we are striving to overcome this world’s way of thinking. He will not have self-seeking individuals ruling in His Kingdom, deciding right and wrong based on their own reasonings and feelings.
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong took us back, time and again, to the two trees. One symbolizes looking to God to understand right and wrong. The other symbolizes mankind using the “here is how I see it” approach to making choices in life. The choice between the two trees in the garden sounds simple enough, but was it? Is it now?
The prince of the power of the air is still ruling on earth, directing the course of this world, and working in “the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Sadly, some by their actions presume that the ministry, the Church, and—by extension—the Bible and God Himself are out of date and the world is “ahead of the Church” in some areas. Are we to look to “the course of this world,” as directed by the “prince of the power of the air,” for answers? Can mankind outvote, outsmart, or outreason God?
The Church’s approach has long been that mixed marriages are not sin, but marrying across broad racial, ethnic, or tribal differences is generally discouraged. We have not always applied this approach consistently, to be sure, and we have made our share of mistakes. But the approach itself has been consistent for decades and it remains our approach, which brings us to an important question: Is the world ahead of the Church?
The world around us is certainly stepping up its promotion of mixed marriages, but the promotion is not new. For those who remember, ask yourself: What was the 1958 musical South Pacific about? What about the 1961 movie West Side Story, recently remade by Steven Spielberg? These extremely popular productions, scored with beautiful music, stir the audience’s emotions to accept a particular theme: Personal attraction supplants consideration of family heritage.
Different approaches to forming a family were promoted on stage, in films, and in the media even before anyone reading this article was born, though often subtle in presentation. And aren’t subtle messages more easily overlooked and accepted? Once the subtleties are accepted, the heat is turned up and the advertising becomes incrementally more blatant. And video, music, and print are almost never so explicit as to say, “Do this.” Instead, ideas are promoted by flooding us with example after example, until we think, Everyone is doing it, so it must be O.K.—in fact, it must be good.
What do you see in television and magazine ads? Even innocuous HGTV programs showing home remodeling feature interracial couples far more often than we see them in day-to-day life. Why? Why do producers and directors go out of their way to seek out those couples and feature them?
Is It a Sin?
Many on each side of this subject engage in a never-ending battle of dueling Bible passages, each looking for a “silver bullet” verse that proves, in their opinion, that their side is right. For instance, those who firmly believe interracial marriage is a sin may cite Nehemiah 13 as evidence, ignoring that the context makes it plain that the main issue was religion and cultural degradation (vv. 26–27). As another example, on the other side of the issue, those who believe race should never be a consideration may cite 1 Corinthians 7:39, claiming that marrying “in the Lord” is the only factor, making the same error in handling the Bible as those who use verses like Romans 14:5 to falsely claim it is up to the individual to determine Sabbaths and Holy Days, ignoring anything else the Bible might say on the matter.
Most such verse “exchanges” go similarly, and even when the error in interpretation is pointed out, it seems to change no one’s mind on either side of the question. Consequently, I will not attempt in this article to address every single verse someone might present to “prove” his or her point. It only promotes debate and tends to settle the question for no one.
Instead, we need to follow Jesus’ own example by stepping back to get a larger picture of the mind of God on the issues involved. Let me explain what I mean.
In my 2017 sermon “‘Is It OK?’ Is the Wrong Question” and in my March-April 2023 Living Church News editorial “Challenge Yourself to Think Like God,” I pointed out that there are many actions we can take in life that are not sins in and of themselves, but which are still unwise decisions that do not reflect the fullness of God’s mind and thinking.
A good example is found in Paul’s counsel to fellow Christians regarding a situation they frequently faced in the first century—meats offered to idols. The discussion in his first letter to the Corinthians shows that focusing merely on what was or was not allowed misses a bigger point, and that “It’s not a sin, so it must be OK” is the wrong approach.
In this context, Paul explains a vital principle we all must understand: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23). We must recognize the profound significance of this principle. That is why Is it a sin? is the wrong question—not because we don’t care what sin is (we do!), but because we are not to be content with merely “not sinning.” The right question is, What is God’s mind on the matter?
Jesus corrected the Pharisees on this point when they challenged Him on the laws of divorce. Please note this, as it is important in understanding God’s mind. They sought nothing more than answering “Is it sin to divorce for this reason or that?,” based on Deuteronomy 24:1. Christ trumped them all by leaping over Deuteronomy all the way to Genesis to reveal God’s mind on divorce (Matthew 19:3–9), pointing them to the beginning and to God’s purpose and design for marriage.
Yes, God had allowed divorce in His law, due to the hardness of their hearts, but to fully understand His mind on the matter they needed a broader view beyond what was merely “lawful.” While the Pharisees focused on the narrow question of “Is it sin?,” Christ admonished them to aim higher, dive deeper, and seek God’s mind.
We know who the present “ruler of this world” is. Therefore, we would do well to ask ourselves other questions: What is Satan’s mind on the matter? Is it the same as God’s? In what way is the prince of the power of the air directing the course of this world? What is he promoting? Is it not prudent to see red flags whenever the world is pushing a particular agenda? What is his endgame?
Satan hates the family as God designed it, and he hates the true Church of God. He targets the family because God is building a Family (Ephesians 3:14–15). That divine Family will be built from human beings of both sexes and all tribes and nations (Galatians 3:27–29)—people who demonstrate during this lifetime that they get it. They recognize that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.… ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:7–9).
God expects us to grow in learning to think His way and discern His mind as His Holy Spirit works within us (1 Corinthians 2:9–11; Hebrews 5:13–14). We are to set aside human reason, which is often driven by human emotion. Carefully read Paul’s correction of the Corinthian brethren in 1 Corinthians 2:6–14. The apostle makes plain that what the “wisdom of this age” and “man’s wisdom teaches” falls far short of the wisdom of God, even as the understanding of the Spirit of God seems like foolishness to a world that has no spiritual discernment.
Yet how often do we say, “This is how I see it” or “This is what I think”? Our initial thoughts on any subject may very well be tainted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, as John warned us (1 John 2:15–17). What we think is too often influenced by emotion and human reason apart from the revelation of God, starting us off on the wrong foot from the very beginning.
Satan’s Approach to Human Love
The challenges to marriage involve far more than culture, race, tribe, or ethnicity. Satan’s all-out, multiple-front assault on this divine institution goes beyond the immediate topic of this article. Fornication, adultery, selfishness, self-will—all are of the devil and not of God. That is why marriage and family in our modern world face disaster and continue to deteriorate before our eyes! Too often, individuals who once pledged their lifelong love and loyalty to each other end up divorcing, claiming any number of reasons—leaving children caught in confusion.
Some today have little regard for family heritage or lineage. All that matters is “I love her, she loves me, and the rest of the world can take a hike.” Parents are often left out, having no part in who their children marry. Couples in love often minimize or ignore the effect their decision will have on their parents, future children, and grandchildren, focusing only on themselves.
But God does not think about marriage as modern society does. The Bible gives example after example illustrating God’s mind on families and marriage, and His thoughts are far from the shallow concerns of modern thinking—even beyond concerns of religion and culture.
Consider the case of Zelophehad’s daughters. Zelophehad had no sons. If his daughters married outside the tribe of Manasseh, Zelophehad’s inheritance would then transfer to another tribe. The chief fathers of the families sought Moses’ guidance, and Moses brought the case directly to God, who plainly considered inheritances and family origins important enough to override personal desires:
“[M]y lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. Now if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry….” Then Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying… “This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe’” (Numbers 36:2–6).
In the mind of God, marriage was obviously something larger than “I love her, and she loves me.” Yet, many today care little or nothing about family considerations.
The account of Israel going into the Promised Land, and God’s commands about the permanency of land ownership by family lines—a practice He will continue in the Millennium—show that heritage is important to Him. His many Old Testament regulations as to whom Israelites could and could not marry, whom priests could and could not marry—and even marriages required when a brother must raise up children for a dead sibling—illustrate that, in God’s mind, marriage is inseparable from considerations of lineage, heritage, and lines of descent. Consider how much of God’s word is devoted to preserving a record of lineages. This was important to Him. When the Jews, Levites, and priests returned from Babylon, some were excluded from the priesthood because they could not trace their roots (Ezra 2:62–63), which Christ will continue to consider for the physical service of the Millennial temple (Ezekiel 48:11).
There are too many examples in the Bible to list them all, but they paint a clear picture of God’s mind on marriage. As He designed and intended it, marriage is more than merely a formalization of romantic attraction between a man and a woman—much more than “I love her, she loves me, and that’s all that matters.” Marriage is the foundation of family—and, therefore, of civilization itself. In addition to faith and culture, issues of lineage, heritage, inheritance, extended family, and descendants are inherent concerns in God’s design of marriage. God’s mind on the matter is at odds with the relatively shallow modern take in many parts of today’s world.
Variety by Divine Design and Decree
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong noted that God equipped Adam and Eve genetically to produce varieties in their offspring. In fact, by directing different families to occupy geographically distinct regions of the earth—as we will see that He most definitely did—God guaranteed that humanity would produce concentrations of unique characteristics and variations we call “races.”
Did God make a mistake in creating the races? Of course not! He is a God of variety, and He obviously loves filling His creation with variety—including within humanity. Individual people differ, one from another, and so do the different tribes and races of mankind. If the creation of different races of mankind is God’s intent, should we not respect that? Should these differences not be seen as a blessing to humanity?
Knowing this—that the Almighty is the author of the races and that the variety among His potential sons and daughters, created in His own image, exists by His design—we see that there is no room for people who consider themselves Christian to harbor prejudice in their heart or to allow room in their mind for delusions of racial superiority and racist attitudes. All people of all races, ethnicities, tongues, and nationalities have equal standing before God and will be given the opportunity to be a part of His divine family in the Kingdom of God (Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). God will hold accountable those who judge one race as inferior or unworthy in His eyes.
Yet, we must not conclude that race is meaningless. If God loves the variety He created in the different families of man, who are we to view that variety as unimportant?
Science and history demonstrate that the different major races of humanity reflect different geographic origins and ancient homelands. Who dispersed humanity into the ancient nations and homelands reflected in the races? Let the Bible answer this question. “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you: When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:7–8). From this passage Paul shows that while we are all sons of Adam and Eve (of one blood), it was God who separated the nations. “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:26).
It was important enough to God that when mankind at Babel refused to separate and the people sought to make a name for themselves with no boundaries, He intervened and miraculously forced them to separate geographically into their distinct families (Genesis 11:1–9). He would not allow His plan and design for multiple, distinct family lines to be thwarted by humanity’s vain belief that it had a better plan.
Abraham understood that family lineage mattered when he sought a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham told his servant not to find a wife among the nearby Canaanites, “but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:4). Isaac similarly commanded Jacob to “take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother” (Genesis 28:2). Religion does not seem to have been the driving factor in these considerations, since Laban’s family had pagan household gods (Genesis 31:19, 30). The motivating reason was clearly related to family line and heritage. Was Abraham, the father of the faithful, racist? Was Isaac? Rebekah lamented that her son Esau had ignored such considerations and had married “the daughters of the land” (Genesis 27:46). Was Rebekah racist?
Fast-forward to the Millennium. We read of distinct nations—distinct “families” (Zechariah 14:16–18)—such as Egypt, Assyria, and Israel. While David will rule over Israel as a whole, the twelve distinct tribes will be ruled by the twelve apostles (Matthew 19:28). Just as when Israel came into the promised land, during the Millennium each tribe will have its own separate inheritance within the greater nation (Ezekiel 48). As with Zelophehad’s daughters, there will be some restrictions on marriage to preserve inheritances. God has kept track of the ancient tribes and families of the earth, and Scripture is clear that those familial lines do and will matter to Him, even through the Millennium when Christ will reorganize the world under His rule and God’s laws.
Truly, as we are taught, God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
What It Means to Be One in Christ
Some members ask, “Aren’t we all the same in Christ?,” based on Paul’s statement to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28–29).
Paul’s statement is true, but was he referring to marriage? If so, based on this passage, the roles of men and women in marriage would also be the same—which, as Paul shows elsewhere, is not the case. Furthermore, the same argument would justify same-sex marriage: “Aren’t we all the same, since there is ‘neither male nor female’?” This is, of course, absurd. The passage is speaking of all being equal in having the same opportunity for salvation.
The fact is that it is natural and normal for people of all races, ethnicities, tribes, and cultures around the world to want their children and grandchildren to be as they are. Yet, we know that God loves all, and offers to everyone the same hope of eternal life as His children in His glorious kingdom. The God who made us created the races of mankind to fulfill His own joy and purpose, and there is no room whatsoever for hatred of any race. But neither is there room to ignore God’s created differences as though He did so without purpose, or to act with indifference to His desires.
It is God who created our racial variety. It is God who divided the nations. It is Satan who influences mankind toward the destruction of the races. Even while promoting the amalgamation of the races God created, the devil is simultaneously stirring up hatred and strife between them. He is dividing families and causing children to grow up confused.
Before jumping on any bandwagon the world presses on us, we must ask ourselves: What is Satan’s agenda? What is he promoting? What is his endgame? And are we falling for his deceptive tactics as he, the prince of the power of the air, directs the course of this world?
Brethren, we must not be naïve. The world is not “ahead” of the Church on this issue. We must not be prejudiced against any of God’s children and potential children, but this does not mean marriage should be a free-for-all in which we focus on little more than our own personal desires. Scripture makes it plain that God’s mind on marriage is the exact opposite of such an approach. He was the one who separated the nations. He put restrictions on whom His priests could marry. He put restrictions on marrying across tribes when inheritances came into play. The patriarchs were involved in whom their children married, and He instructs us to honor our mothers and fathers. All these considerations and more will be in place during the Millennium when the world is under the direct control and guidance of Jesus Christ. People will know their heritage. Family lines will be maintained, and those families will rebuild their nations in beautiful homelands within clear boundaries.
The Living Church of God promotes love between all peoples. Where individuals have already crossed racial lines in marriage, we fully love and support these marriages and their children. We also recognize that there are singles of mixed race who might have questions as they seek to find a spouse and build a family.
Because of these complications, the Church provides counsel to couples considering engagement, and must make judgments from time to time and on a case-by-case basis. Those judgments include whether to perform a wedding or not. And those decisions are based on a multitude of factors, such as general compatibility; whether both are members; family input; significant differences in age, nationality, or culture; and, yes, differences in race, ethnicity, or tribe. We seek God’s will and mind in each individual case, and none of our decisions are likely to please everyone. But in most cases, as a general guideline, we discourage marriages across broad racial lines. We also discourage marriages where parents and family disapprove.
This has long been the Church’s approach and continues to be. As mentioned earlier, the ministry has not always been consistent in its application, and it is certain that we have made our mistakes. But the mind of God and Jesus Christ must matter to us—those whose whole purpose in life is seeking to reproduce His mind in our own (Philippians 2:5).
Dear brethren, I have no illusions that this will satisfy everyone, but decisions must be made, and explanations must be given. When Jesus told a crowd of disciples that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood, many fell away because they did not understand. We also saw people fall away when Mr. Herbert Armstrong made decisions on smoking, makeup, and the correct day on which to observe Pentecost. More recently, members were challenged by decisions the Church had to make regarding COVID-19.
Our true conversion is not shown by what we do when we agree with a controversial decision, but by what we do when we sincerely do not understand or do not agree with one (Deuteronomy 17:8–13). Whether the day on which to observe Pentecost, makeup, masks, singing, or social distancing, I will be the first to say that the ways some of these subjects were handled were not perfect. Yet many members who disagreed with how they were handled nevertheless kept their focus on the big picture and showed true conversion.
So, I appeal to all of you: Please do not allow Satan to stir up your emotions to serve his purposes. He has filled the world with a spirit of offense and division, but we do not need to follow his lead. And remember that God tells us that His ways are not our ways. Let us seek His mind—His way of thinking.