The other day it occurred to me that many of my most faithful Mennonite friends married across divisions of ethnicity and race. In fact, three out of the three friends I was with yesterday are married to women who were born in foreign countries and later became US citizens.
Interracial marriage is not unusual in modern America anymore. A full 17% of newlyweds in the United States married across racial or ethnic lines according to Pew Research Center. This has been a steady trend for many decades and with this increase in interracial marriages the stigma has decreased—only a small percentage of Americans remain opposed to marriages across racial lines.
Mennonites have tended to lag behind the general population in many regards and this is one of those areas. It was only a few years ago that my Mennonite pastor (educated at Bob Jones University where interracial relationships were banned until the 1990’s) cautioned me against this kind of relationship citing cultural differences. It is probably safe to assume that his views are not unusual in the conservative end of the Mennonite denomination.
Have Mennonites have began to catch up with the mainstream?
I know that interracial dating was unusual and even discouraged in the Mennonite church of my youth. That is why my realization about so many of my friends being married interracially was astonishing to me. I’m not sure if it is only a local anomaly or a general across-the-board trend. However, I do know that there were very few others in the conservative Mennonite church when I was in a romantic relationship with a black woman just over a decade ago.
Some of it could be explained by inner-city outreach projects. Typically Mennonites have been raised in rural parts of the country and sheltered from non-Mennonites. My own experience was slightly different due to my public school education, which likely made me more open to relationships outside of my own ethnic group (my first real crush was not a Mennonite or white girl) and yet many of my religious peers caught up with a bit of exposure to the world outside their ethnic enclaves. Followers of Jesus Mennonite Church (in Brooklyn, New York) accounts for many of the relationships across racial lines that I know about in the more traditional end of the denomination.
But, before anyone gets too excited, this does not mean attitudes have changed much with most conservative Mennonites. I have heard many young men (who likely have not met too many girls besides their sisters or cousins) state that they would not be interested in dating a girl of a different race. It is probably even less acceptable for a Mennonite female to marry outside her ethnic fold, and many of the couples in interracial relationships do not remain Mennonite.
Generally one cannot deviate too far from the Mennonite cultural norm and expect to be embraced. It was hard enough for me, a Mennonite guy with some unorthodox views, to find a girl born in a Mennonite home that would give me the time of day. I could not imagine being a convert from outside trying to get a date with someone of a popular family with an established Mennonite pedigree.
Mennonites barely have the faith to ask or date anyone—let alone someone who doesn’t meet a long list of qualifications, race and ethnicity likely included.
Why do some Mennonites marry across racial or ethnic lines?
One thing my friends have in common is that they married older. I do not see them as purposefully trying to find girls from a different ethnic group or race either. Most of them are down to earth and practical guys who found a girl who gave them a chance and connected with them. It seems that girls from non-Mennonite background are more willing to be friends first, are less driven by impossible purity culture ideals, and much more appreciative of a guy who treats them with respect—even if he is not tall, smug or otherwise full of himself…
By all appearances, those Mennonites marrying across racial lines are not trying to make a political statement. Ironically, the virtue-signaling types (the most outspoken cradle Mennonites about racial issues) seem to marry the whitest and then preach to everyone else about about being more accepting of immigrants, etc. Those actually marrying across racial lines, on the other hand, are doing it for pragmatic reasons and real love for the person they married rather than to be superior to anyone else or prove anything about themselves. And that’s not to say my friends will not defend their wives and children from racists—they might not be vocal or making a show of it, but are solid men and their loved ones not to be trifled with.
Those who married across racial lines seemed motivated truly by love. They would have likely also married someone of their own ethnicity or race had the right circumstances come along. But, that said, they are extraordinary, they married out of a love that could transcend superficial differences and therefore their relationships have a potential others do not. They were willing to go outside of the conventional ideals of their parent’s generation, even of their religious peers, and may have even faced some extra resistance along the way. That may be why they are some of the most loyal, caring and mature people that I know—they are simply willing to go in love where others have not.
My recommendation to those on the fence…
Those advising against interracial dating often don’t have a clue what they are talking about. Yes, there are differences to overcome, but that is also true of any committed relationship and it certainly is not reason to quit before you started. Go on some dates, find out if your personalities compliment or collide and then decide your next step—is that really too difficult or complicated?
It does not seem that my friends who married interracially regret their choice. I do know there are a number of those who married ethnic Mennonites who have had second thoughts. Indeed, sometimes those seemingly perfect candidates (according to Mennonite cultural ideals) are not what they appear to be at first glance and pleasing their near-impossible standards can be a real headache. So, if it is a choice between being taken for granted by some entitled brat or more fully appreciated by someone who has seen real struggle in their lives, isn’t the right choice obvious enough?
Take my advice guys. Stop pining for that girl that snubbed your first inquiry. If she didn’t see your interest in her as reason enough to go on a date or two, then she isn’t worth any more of your time. Quit being a pathetic lapdog. That will only feed her sense that you have nothing to offer her (that she can’t already have) and further convince her that she is out of your league. Be a man, go where you are needed in the world, be a real leader, move on.
For those girls who have never been asked, same deal. Broaden your horizons, stop trying to please people who don’t lift a finger on your behalf, and you might soon find there are many faithful Christians who don’t have a familiar Mennonite surname.
Godly character, not skin color or religious pedigree, is what makes a marriage work.
2 thoughts on “Mennonite Values and Love That Transcends Difference”
Interesting to hear your thoughts on interracial marriage. I’ve seen both the positive and negative. I’m sure there are those who marry out of sacrifice and love, no matter if they are very different or very alike. But others marry for all kinds of wrong reasons, and interracial seems to attract those as well. One of my best friends married an African American. I was at the wedding. His father was very controlling and I believe he married someone as far different as his culture as possible, to make a statement as clear as possible about his “differentness.” His marriage lasted a few years. Another best friend also married an African American, probably for the same reasons, but his marriage endures, probably not because he’s so loving or strong, but because he married a quality person. A third friend married an Asian and although his marriage has endured, it was a mess, and he has totally disappeared from his family. So… every situation is different, and the quality of the person and their love for Jesus is far more important than making statements by whom you marry. Would love to have coffee and discuss this farther. (All these examples came from cons. Anabaptist homes.)
Certainly being of the same faith is more important than making some kind of statement. I don’t think interracial marriage is something more virtuous than a marriage between those of the same race either. But, again, I do believe that our unity in Christ should make it possible to transcend all differences and this means that intermarriage should not be a problem in the church. The church is supposed to be one family with no favorites, no untouchables, and united in Spirit.