Sowing seeds for a more inclusive future

Published 1:37 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2023

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Mildred and Richard Loving have much to teach us about the struggle for freedom. Both Mildred and Richard were born and raised in the small community of Central Point, Virginia. Mildred, born in 1939, was both Native American and African American, having ancestry on both sides. Richard, born in 1933, was a European American, and his own grandfather fought for the Confederacy. Even though Mildred and Richard grew up in a time overflowing with racial discrimination and torment, they were drawn together by love and married in 1958. However, they had to marry in Washington, D.C. as interracial marriage was banned in Virginia. Driving back from Washington, they were stopped at the state line. An anonymous tip led a sheriff to their interception, resulting in the charges of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.” Pleading guilty, they avoided their sentence of one year in prison by agreeing to leave Virginia.

After their son was hit by a bus in the streets of D.C., they decided it was time to return to Virginia. In 1964, Mildred began the legal process of having their conviction vacated. Three years later, after a hard-fought battle against court after court, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in unanimous favor of the Lovings and struck down anti-miscegenation laws across the land.

Sadly, it wasn’t just legislation that was appealed to in the rejection of their marriage. It was also the Bible, and the God found within. At their initial trial, just before their exile, the presiding judge said the following:  Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Space limitations mean I can’t list all the ways the Bible and its God have been twisted and perverted to justify oppression. A key passage for detractors of interracial marriage is Deuteronomy 7:1-4, which gives instruction to the people of Israel on how to relate to the inhabitants of conquered land, specifically prohibiting marriage between the people of Israel and those they conquered. Back a bit further, in the Book of Genesis, there’s a story about the three sons of Noah. In it is found a ‘table of nations’ delineating which people groups of the ancient past descended from each son. Beginning in the late 18th century, this ‘table’ was used to identify and separate modern ethnic groups into genealogies that corresponded to Noah’s sons. Not only was this a terrible reading of a mythic story, but it was also rooted in racism, for those with black skin were identified as descending from Ham, the accursed son of Noah. Thus, to be black was to be fundamentally accursed.

The truth is that the Bible is, and always has been, an evolving document. Take, for example, the Biblical prohibition against Moabites. A people deemed unclean by the law, Moabites were excluded from the Covenant. That is until Ruth the Moabite challenged that prohibition with her very life. Even now, a Moabite now has an entire book of the Bible named after her and is included in the list of Jesus’ own ancestors. For the record, so too is a Canaanite prostitute.

We could do this all day. Eunuchs, Moabites, Canaanites, and Gentiles were all once banned from the Covenant because Scripture declared that to be true. But then new experiences with God happened, and humanity grew and changed. We evolved. So, while Scripture designated these types of folks as bad, Scripture changed. We’ve already talked about Moabites and Canaanites. A Eunuch was baptized and brought into the Covenant. Regarding Gentiles, well, the fact that I’m a Christian priest not Jewish by birth means that our understanding of Scripture has evolved and changed over time.

I brought up the Lovings to remind us that these struggles are not confined to a distant past in which we can gaze at them as if they are so far removed from our current reality. There are people still alive today who don’t just remember these kinds of struggles, but they bear the scars on their bodies, minds, and souls because they lived them.

So much effort is spent using Scripture as a weapon to harm those who are different. It happened back in the 60s, and it happens now as many Christians wave around their holy book in the belief that its truths are unchanging. But, to be faithfully biblical, we must recognize that the Bible itself proves that the Bible changes.

There’s a famous passage in the Bible that says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares.” It’s a vision of a messianic peace dependent on humanity’s willingness to stop killing each other. But perhaps there’s another message for us today. When the Bible has become a weapon, a sword, used to keep driving wedges between members of the human family, then if we want to be faithful to the Bible itself, we will stop using it as a sword of division. Instead, we will take that sword, beat it into a plowshare, and use it to till the ground of our present and sow seeds for a more dignified, inclusive future.

Chris Adams is the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.