Mormons and Misconceptions of Interracial Marriage

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Interracial Couples Holding Hands

Article content by Melissa Muse

The week of 12 June marked a special week for people who are a part of interracial marriages. On 12 June 1967, in the landmark civil rights case of Loving v. Virginia, the decision rendered by the Unites States Supreme Court invalidated all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states citing, “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause.” Thanks to the efforts of the Loving family, Loving Day, though not yet an official recognized holiday by the United States government, is the biggest multiracial celebration in the U.S.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints welcomes those who choose to marry that are of different ethnicity. However, acceptance of miscegenation, or interracial marriage, took a while to occur in the States, thus also affecting relationships within the Church as well. A question to ask is, what is the Church’s standpoint of the topic? Here is a discussion about the Church and what fellow members have said about their feelings about interracial relationships and marriage.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Interracial Marriage

A remarkable trend these days is that an increasing number of people are accepting interracial marriage as a suitable choice for couples to make. How does this relate to The Church of Jesus Christ?

Brigham Young was the first President of the Church to state that men who were Black and of African descent were no longer to be ordained to the priesthood. Despite the conditions, Blacks still could join the Church through baptism and could receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Many church presidents following Brigham Young upheld the restriction for Black men to get the priesthood and for Black members to receive temple ordinances.

It was a big day in Church history when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that Black members of the Church could finally receive the priesthood and temple blessings. In June of 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball, along with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, received revelation from Heavenly Father that all brethren, no matter their race, are entitled to having the priesthood as long as they are worthy. Additionally, all members who are worthy, no matter their race could enter the temple and take part in the holy ordinances performed there.

What does this mean for those within interracial marriages? It means that those who are of different race can take part in all the blessings that are provided to them through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.There are no restrictions placed on any worthy male member from obtaining the priesthood, or any worthy member, regardless of race, from participating in sacred temple ordinances. Regarding race, LDS.org, the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ, states:

In theology and practice, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the universal human family. Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally.

In lieu of this statement, I believe that God fully accepts and is happy when two people decide to marry, and that race is not a negative factor when two people are to marry as one.

I still had some questions in mind. So I reached out to a couple of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have helped in answering my inquiries.

What does interracial marriage mean to you?

I have met several people and grew up with friends who have married outside of their cultural or racial background and they are doing well with their marriages. Most have children and are happy with how life is going for them. My belief is also that it helps to have the gospel perspective before marrying not only someone of a different ethnicity, but any person in general.

I asked Sister Dumdi Baribe, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, about her feelings about interracial marriage. Her response was:

I feel that love sees no color and two people from two different cultural backgrounds can be united in marriage, as long as they love one another and share common interests, morals, and values.

Sister Dumdi Baribe
Sister Dumdi Baribe

Born in Nigeria, and the oldest sister of six siblings, Sister Baribe feels that this is true, especially since she has stated that she has dated outside of her ethnicity before.

I also interviewed Brother Keith Brown, who is a convert of nearly seventeen years to the Church. He is an honorably retired 30-year United States Navy veteran, having been officially retired from the United States Armed Forces on 1 September 2010. His heritage is predominantly Methodist and Lutheran, but he grew up Baptist. He shared his feelings that love can transcend race and culture. He said:

I do not believe that the color of a person’s skin makes the person, but rather it is the character of that person that tells who he or she truly is.

He further stated:

I will admit that there will be cultural differences within such [interracial] marriages, but those can be dealt with and overcome. However, both the husband and the wife have to be willing to work together to better understand one another.

And he also adds:

Before marrying anyone, a person must take the time to make it a matter of sincere prayer, and seek the Lords guidance and direction. If the Lord’s blessings are not on the marriage union, then it does not matter what race the couple is, that marriage is built on a sandy foundation from the start.

Brother Keith L. Brown
Brother Keith L. Brown

Their beautiful responses hit the nail on the head. I feel the same: that no matter what color you are, love can transcend boundaries, including interracial ones. I also feel that loving anyone within a marriage, whether it is with someone who is of a different race or of the same, the feelings should be the same. There are no restrictions that should keep one person from loving another, especially race.

The History of the Church and Interracial Marriage

I understand there was much joy for those who married someone outside of their own ethnicity when the announcement was made that priesthood requirements were extended to men of any racial background and that temple ordinances can be performed by any worthy member for anyone. For example, there is the story of Robert Stevenson, a convert who married outside of his own ethnicity before the ban on Black men having the priesthood was lifted. He and his wife celebrated the day that President Kimball gave the word to allow all men the ability to receive the priesthood. He and Susan Bevan, his wife, were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple almost a year later.

God does want what is best for his children and that means that it was important to Heavenly Father to allow Brother and Sister Stevenson to be married in the temple, as well as other brothers and sisters seeking the same blessings.

Has the Church fully accepted interracial marriage?

Today, I understand that several of my friends who have married outside of their own race are comfortable in their decision, and are allowing others to see that they are just as happy as can be with their marriage as any couple who marry within their own ethnicity.

However, there is that unfortunate instance where interracial couples may face discrimination from fellow members. Brother Keith Brown shared his thoughts about whether the Church has fully accepted interracial marriage:

There are some who have accepted and embrace interracial marriages, but sadly, even within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are some who probably will never accept interracial marriages. I have personally dealt with a few in the social media world.

Sister Baribe, who is the only active member of her family at the moment, gave her thoughts about this issue and stated:

I think the Church itself has accepted interracial marriage to some level but not necessarily fully. There have been times when I have heard talk about how we should marry in our own culture, in the Church.

I fear that this may be a trend within the Church, that people of different races are discouraged from dating or marrying people outside of their race and culture. My hope is that people within the Church can be more accepting of those who date or marry outside of their race. My thoughts are that it is the Christ-like thing to do.

I liked what Brother Brown says here:

I think through the years, the Church has made great strides in understanding different races and cultures and are perhaps more accepting today of interracial marriage than they might have been in the past.

He also mentioned a group called the LDS Genesis Group, which is presided over by a General Authority of the Church, and shares that many interracial couples make up this group. He also feels that the Church follows the teachings of the scripture where it states: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9). Brother Brown continues to say in this profound statement:

When God sees a marriage union, He sees the couple as one. He is not concerned about race or any other such thing.

My personal hope is that we see beyond color and accept everyone as sons and daughters of God. There is no doctrine opposing two people from getting married based on the fact that they are from different ethnic groups. If God accepts it, then so should all. It is unwise to discriminate where God has not done so.

Does ethnicity matter when two people are in love?

With being in love with my husband, I may have an advantage to say what is and what isn’t love, but could I have fallen in love with someone of a different ethnicity? If that was within God’s plan for me, maybe that might have happened, but I did marry someone of the same color. I feel inclined to say that God works in mysterious ways sometimes and I feel that it is normal for people of different races to fall in love. Love transcends color, and with any marriage, difficulties will arise and problems will need to be solved. Interracial marriage is no different from a marriage between those of the same race.

Sister Baribe’s feelings are that she thinks ethnicity does not matter. She commented:

There are clear differences and different obstacles to overcome when dealing with two different ethnicities, but those things can certainly be worked with when two people are in love.

Brother Brown answered emphatically that he personally does not think that ethnicity should make a “difference if two people are truly in love.” and believes that “as long as the two people treat each other with dignity, respect, and self-worth, the color of their skin should not play a part in their romance.”

My favorite statement Brother Brown gives:

I also firmly believe that the heart only knows the color of true love, not the color of a person’s skin.

He follows this by pointing out that if people of the same race and culture cannot make it through marriage or dating, then why should people of differing races have the same results? He mentions that “if I truly love someone, it does not matter to me what ethnicity that person is. I see her as a daughter of God” (emphasis added). He also feels that it is important to look past the “barrier of ethnicity” and see each other as sons and daughters of the “same Heavenly Father.”

Love is a beautiful feeling when that connection is felt between two people, even if that attraction is between people of differing races.

How do interracial marriages affect the dynamic of the Church?

My clear opinion on this is that I believe that interracial marriages benefit the Church. First, I think that it allows for people to have the opportunity to be more accepting and loving to all our brothers and sisters, no matter their race or culture.

Sister Baribe who is also a returned missionary who served in San Jose California, said:

Honestly, I believe that it gives the Church and the members an opportunity to learn about and experience different cultures than they (some of the members) have always known. We need more of that in the Church. That way, people can be more open-minded about members and non-members from different cultural backgrounds.

Brother Brown said in response to this particular question: “Honestly, I think that having interracial marriages strengthens the dynamics of the Church by allowing more diversity and opening new windows of understanding among the different races and cultures.” He continues:

I think that interracial marriages helps people to see and understand that true love is not color blind. And interracial marriages helps in many ways to bring about unity in the Church as people begin to realize and understand that we are all brothers and sisters and our ethnicity should not separate us, but rather unite us.

You can check out his blog here to read more what Brother Brown has stated about interracial marriage and the Empirical Triangle of Marriage.

God felt it was time to allow church members of different races to be given more privileges, so thankfully not only Blacks, but other ethnic groups, can take part in saving ordinances within the temple and have the priesthood. This allowed church members the opportunity to not feel limited as to who they could fall in love with. Miscegenation may not be common within the Church, but I believe that it is important to love everyone equally and not discriminate. Welcoming everyone, no matter their background or race, should be a key part of how God wants His Church run.

The Lesson to Learn

It is crucial that church members try to be more accepting of those who marry outside of their race or culture. To do that, it is important to abolish all prejudices and be fully compliant with interracial marriage. There is no church policy or doctrine refusing people of different ethnicity to get married or date. My challenge is to reach out to those brothers and sisters who are part of an interracial relationship. Be Christ-like in your actions and words to these dear brothers and sisters. To wrap up, on lds.org, again, it also states about race that:

God is ‘no respecter of persons’ (Acts 10:34) and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous–regardless of race–is favored of Him.

Melissa MuseThis article was written by Melissa Muse. Melissa is a loving wife to her husband, who to her, is also her “muse.” She is also a recent college grad from Brigham Young University–Idaho with a degree in English, Creative Writing. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, and current resident of Utah, she luckily finds herself back in her birth state. She has love for cats and enjoys music and sewing/crafting.