Friday, December 22, 2017

Interracial Marriage and the Orthodox Faith

There is a small network of white nationalists who have affiliated themselves with the Orthodox Church, but continue to promote their racist views, rather than to repent of them, as they should. Unfortunately, the internet provides them with a platform. Matthew Raphael Johnson (MRJ) is somewhat of a guru for many in this group, and he posted an article about interracial marriage that I have seen these people use to argue against interracial marriage.

MRJ is a defrocked priest, formerly of the already dodgy Old Calendarist "Milan Synod." He was apparently defrocked by them because even they did not wish to be associated with his views on race. I am not sure if he has gone into some other vagante jurisdiction or not.

In his essay, "Interracial Marriage and Church Doctrine," he at least begins by acknowledging that he hasn't a leg to stand on in terms of Church doctrine or the canons:
"Interracial marriage is not a sin, its just wrong, irrational and destructive. Only a marriage of two faiths is a sin. By itself, though, race is not a theological issue, at least at the present moment. I disagree with my Identity friends on this one – no one is saved by their race. The fathers never mention it, nor do the canons. It is not a theological issue because these definitions have changed so radically. “Race” was not a separate category, abstracted from all else. There were certainly “races,” but these were not scientific categories in our modern sense. They were rather collections of common traits from culture to language to climate."
So why is it "just wrong"?
"The Israelites condemned race mixing most certainly, but they did not have the modern conception of race in mind. Race was intrinsically connected with faith, adherence to the law, family life and the underlying culture that a group of people had built together. It remains true that often, the reason for condemning such a marriage is that they are foreign, not necessarily that they believe differently. Race -- in isolation -- did not exist. Only the modern world takes important areas of human life such as economics or theology and treats them as separate from ethnicity or family." 
So here he attempts to make a Biblical argument, but the problem with this argument is that if he were consistent, he would have to be opposed to a German marrying an Italian.

The issue with "foreign" wives was their faith, not their race. In fact, these foreign wives were mostly indistinguishable in terms of racial appearance. Canaanites not only were outwardly the same, but they spoke a language which was not very different from Hebrew. The only reason why marriage with such people was an issue was because of their paganism. And in fact, in the genealogy of Christ you find a Canaanite (Rahab) and a Moabite (Ruth) who are both ancestors of Christ -- both from pagan peoples, but who nevertheless embraced the Israelite faith.

Furthermore, he has the problem of the Prophet Moses' black wife, which he attempts to dismiss:
"It is occasionally argued that Moses married an “Ethiopian.” This would therefore be an example of racial mixing blessed by God. The problems with this are at many levels. To assume that Cush was racially identical today as it was thousands and thousands of years ago might be acceptable for a university professor, but not for a rational person. Ethiopians are not “black,” but Semitic. Portraits of ancient rulers there show light skin. Modern textbooks have deliberately darkened them. The Greek saints, including St. Frumentios, that converted the nation did not require a translator. Cushites spoke Greek. They were not black."
This is an amazingly ignorant argument. First off, there is no question that we are talking about an Ethiopian woman here. While I have encountered some who have made the baseless argument that the Hebrew word "Cush," which is translated as "Ethiopian, refers to someone from the Hindu-Kush mountains, the Septuagint translates this unequivocally as "Ethiopian":
"Καὶ ἐλάλησεν Μαριαμ καὶ Ααρων κατὰ Μωυσῆ ἕνεκεν τῆς γυναικὸς τῆς Αἰθιοπίσσης, ἣν ἔλαβεν Μωυσῆς, ὅτι γυναῖκα Αἰθιόπισσαν ἔλαβεν" (Numbers 12:1). 
No serious Biblical scholar doubts that this is speaking of an Ethiopian woman. There are no translations of any note that translate it differently. Ethiopians have always been known to be black, and this obvious difference in skin color was proverbial in ancient Israel, as is evident in the prophecy of Jeremiah:
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13:23 KJV).
"εἰ ἀλλάξεται Αἰθίοψ τὸ δέρμα αὐτοῦ καὶ πάρδαλις τὰ ποικίλματα αὐτῆς, καὶ ὑμεῖς δυνήσεσθε εὖ ποιῆσαι μεμαθηκότες τὰ κακά" (Jeremiah 13:23 LXX). 
"If the Ethiopian shall change his skin, or the leopardess her spots, then shall ye be able to do good, having learnt evil" (Jeremiah 13:23, Brenton translation of the LXX). 
The point of this verse is that an Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor can a leopard change his spots, and likewise the people of Judah who had become accustomed to doing evil were not going to change either. But this statement would have no meaning if Ethiopians were not known to have a color of skin that was different than that of the Jews.

An Icon St. Moses the Ethiopian, from a Monastery Church in Macedonia

Also, in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, there are a number of sayings about St. Moses the Ethiopian that speak of him as being black. For example, when St. Moses was ordained, and a white sticharion was placed on him, the Archbishop said to him "See, Abba Moses, now you are entirely white." And then, wanting to test St. Moses's humility (and it should be understood that such tests are a constant theme in these sayings, and these tests often took some extreme forms), the same Archbishop instructed the other priests to abuse him: "When Abba Moses comes into the sanctuary, drive him out, and go with him to hear what he says." And so, we are told:
"...the old man came in and they covered him with abuse, and drove him out, saying, "Outside, black man! Going out, he said to himself, "They have acted rightly concerning you, for your skin is as black as ashes. You are not a man, so why should you be allowed to meet men?"" (Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975, 1984 revised edition), p. 139). 
And this story is recorded, not because there was any desire to denigrate his skin color, but to praise his sanctity, because he did not become angry or feel himself unjustly treated; but rather, as a pious monk should do, he responded with the utmost humility, even in the face of such an extreme temptation.

So no, there really isn't any basis for the claim that Ethiopians were not black in ancient times. And consequently, unless we are prepared to condemn the Prophet Moses -- and the Scriptures, for that matter, since it is not Moses who is condemned for marrying an Ethiopian, but his brother and sister for criticizing him for marrying her -- we have have to conclude that there is no Biblical basis for objecting to interracial marriage.

MRJ also asserts that while the Church does not object to interracial marriage, he would not perform such a marriage as a matter of "cultural survival":
"Religious mixing is condemned by the church. As a priest, I would never marry a couple where one is not Orthodox. As a matter of cultural survival, I also would not marry a mixed couple racially either. This is often connected with race, since the Orthodox church is almost exclusively white. In theory, a white-Asian match might work out, since there are two high IQ people and Asian civilizations are both great and ancient. Yet, with all that a marriage entails, why bring this added dimension into it? Battles between the in-laws are guaranteed. There are too many natural, psychological barriers against it. If you married a Christian Asian woman, even one totally Americanized, you know her parents would be against it far more than yours would be, since its only whites that are asked to mix. Nevertheless, a whole European blood line would be obliterated in any racially mixed marriage." 
First off, when he says that it is "only whites that are asked to mix," who does he think that white people who enter into interracial marriages are marrying? Obviously not other white people. Secondly, as someone who is a white man who married a Chinese woman, I know from experience that what he says is just not so. The only parent that expressed any racial reservations about my marriage was my own mother, who told me that I should consider that my children would look funny. After she saw how beautiful both of my daughters turned out to be, she admitted that she was wrong. Neither of my wife's parents had any objections about my race. When I asked for permission to marry my wife, my future father-in-law's only concern was my ability to support my wife... which given that I was then a college student with a part time job in a bookstore, was not an outrageous concern. Fortunately for me, my future mother-in-law argued on my behalf, and my father-in-law consented. And neither of my parents ever had an unpleasant word with my wife's parents. Matters were probably helped in that regard by my mother and father-in-laws limited English. And, by the way, my wife and I will have been married for 30 years this coming May, and so it is working out very well in our case.

Now when you have a marriage involving two people from very different cultures, there are going to be some challenges, to be sure. And so, for example, I would not recommend a white person marry a Chinese if they didn't like Chinese food, or had no appreciation for their culture. But that is really a separate issue, because in America, for example, you have many people of different ethnic backgrounds who have grown up in this country, and so those kinds of cultural differences would not be that big of a deal. In fact, I would argue that culturally, a white man from Alabama marrying a white woman from New York City is going to have a lot more of a cultural divide than a white Southern Baptist man would ever have with a black Missionary Baptist wife. So cultural differences are one question. Racial differences are another altogether, and are only skin deep. And if it was good for the Prophet Moses, it's good enough for me (to quote an old Gospel song).

And when he says "a whole European blood line would be obliterated in any racially mixed marriage," he might as well argue that you should only marry cousins, because if you marry anyone who is not a relative, you are mixing your gene pool with another gene pool. Personally, I think keeping your gene pool shallow is not a good idea.

Using DNA testing, I discovered that my male line goes back to a Syrian man who was likely a Roman Soldier in Scotland, nearly two thousand years ago. And then I discovered that my maternal line, which I assumed was purely Irish actually goes back to a Viking woman who settled in Ireland probably about a thousand years ago. Neither line was obliterated, but there was a lot of mixing and matching that brought Syrian and Viking DNA  together in me, and I suspect that this is true of a lot more people than are aware of it.

In his sermon on Mars Hill, St. Paul affirmed two important truths relative to this issue:
"And hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26).
" certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring (Acts 17:28).
We all have a common human nature, with the same ultimate set of parents, and so we are all one human family, and God is our maker, and we are all His offspring, created in His image. Failure to recognize that image in others because of their skin color is not Christian.

Now, some try to argue that racial differences, like differences between men and women remain, even though we are all one in Christ. However, sexual differences predate the fall, while national divisions are a direct result of the fall, and a result that was reversed in Pentecost, as we sing in the Kontakion of that feast:
"Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations [at the Tower of Babel]; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity [at Pentecost]; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit."
And so while the Church continues to maintain distinctions between men and women, and this is reflected in the canons of the Church -- there are no similar distinctions in terms of race, color, or national origin.

MRJ also seems to think that white people will ultimately be forced to marry non-whites:
"Thus, if whites resist their own destruction, they will be forced to marry non-whites"
Let me just say for the record that I don't think anyone should be forced to marry anyone that they do not wish to marry. However, we live in a country that has always had people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Even in the earliest colonial period you had whites who had brought black slaves with them, and had Indians as neighbors. There has never been a day when this was a whites only country. And it has also always been the case that people who are around others of the opposite sex fall in love, and often this crosses the lines of color.

In the famous case of  Loving v. Virginia, which brought about the end of laws against interracial marriage (which existed in some, but not all of the states at that time), you had a white man who had married a woman who was both black and American Indian. And as her attorneys argued, under the law of Virginia at that time, there was literally no one she could have married without breaking the law. So what does MRJ suggest that people with mixed ethnic backgrounds do in his universe? Should they all just become monastics, or should they be forced to find someone who has the same ethnic mix that they have, before he would grant his consent to their being married?

If there was any basis in our faith for objecting to interracial marriage, we would have canons and traditions that forbade it. But as MRJ noted from the start of his essay, there are no such canons or traditions. Perhaps we ought not think we know better than the Church on such matters.

Update:  In the Orthodox wedding service, on two occasions, the example of the Patriarch Joseph's wedding with the Egyptian Asenath is invoked. For example:
"...bless them, O Lord our God, as Thou didst bless Joseph and Asenath..."
Obviously, since this is mentioned in every wedding, and we pray that every marriage will be blessed as was such a marriage, it would have to be considered normative. And not only did God bless this marriage -- two tribes came from it, and one of them (Ephraim) became the largest of all the tribes of Israel.

Update II:

From A Statement Concerning the Sin of Racism:

"For example, the Orthodox Church does not regard marriage and subsequent procreation between races or nationalities as either sinful or undesirable for any theological or ethical reasons whatsoever. The decision regarding whom Orthodox Christians should marry is a personal one only constrained by the Biblical injunction that one should, ideally, marry within the faith. Indeed, in one of his homilies on I Corinthians 13 (Homily XXXIV), St. John Chrysostom teaches that marriage between different families, nations, and races unites the human race in love just as does our descent from a common forefather:
"God also devised another foundation for us to have loving relationships with each other. Having forbidden the marriage of kindred, God led us to seek out strangers, again drawing strangers toward us. Since we were not designed to be connected in certain ways with our natural kindred, God connects us anew by marriage, uniting together whole families by a single person, the bride, and mingling entire peoples and races. [Επενόησε δε και ετέραν διαθέσεως υπόθεσιν˙ απαγορεύσας γαρ τούς των συγγενών γάμους, επ΄ αλλοτρίους ημάς εξήγαγε, κακείνους πάλιν προς ημάς είλκυσεν. Επειδή γαρ από της φυσικής ταύτης συγγενείας ούκ ην εκείνους ημίν συναφθήναι, από του γάμου πάλιν συνήψεν, ολοκλήρους οικίας διά της μιάς νύμφης συνάγων, και γένη γένεσιν όλα αναμιγνούς.]"" 
For More Information, see:

Moses' Black Wife

The Sin and Heresy of Racial Separatism

A Pilgrim's Podvig (wherein I speak about how my wife and I came to be married)