Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mixed-Race in the Bible ("Chino-Chicano" Part II)

As an expression of my multiracial struggles, I used to wrestle a lot with the issue of marriage.  I used to say to myself:  “If I marry someone who’s Mexican, then my kids will be 75% Mexican.  They’ll have a solidified racial identity.  If I marry someone who is Chinese, then they’ll be 75% Chinese, probably look mostly Asian, and then they might have some identity problems.  If I marry someone who’s Anglo, then my kids will probably look Latino, even though they’ll be only 25% Mexican.  But they’ll have the last name Romero, so they’ll probably just pass as Latino.”  I can’t believe I used to think this way!
         In my heart I knew that this was not the right way to be thinking about marriage.  Every time I went down this path of reasoning I would end up deeply frustrated, practically to the point of tears.  This is led me, one day in law school to cry out to God and say, “God, please help me to understand the topic of race from Your perspective!”   The answer to that prayer is what I hope to share with you in the next several blog posts. 
After many years of wrestling with my mixed race identity, I feel that God has given me peace, healing, and a deep security in my unique identity.  I have discovered a biblically-grounded understanding of race and ethnicity which allows me to be a whole-human being, and which allows me to understand, celebrate, and accept all of who I am.  Thank  You God.  I hope that I might be able to share this understanding with you now, and that what I share might help bring healing to many individuals who have gone through, or are going through, the same struggles I have experienced as a mixed race individual.
As part of my journey of coming to understand my mixed race identity, I have come to learn that I am not alone.   According to the 2010 census, there are nearly 7 million mixed race individuals in the United States.   My home state of California has a mixed race population of 1.6 million.  By 2050, moreover, it is projected that 70 million, or nearly 20% of the U.S. population, will be mixed!   I’m also not alone as an “Asian-Latino.”  According to the 2000 Census, there are more than 300,000 Asian-Latinos in The United States and 60,000 in California alone!  Based upon my own experience and these compelling statistics, I am convinced that a biblical understanding of racial identity is now more important than ever.   
Before sharing the biblical framework of race and diversity which has brought me so much peace, it’s worth noting that there are many prominent biblical examples of interracial marriage and mixed race individuals!  Moses, for example, arguably the most important spiritual leader in all of the Old Testament, was married to a Midianite named Zipporah (Exodus 2:21-22).  Their first-born son was mixed-race and his name was Gershom.  We are later told in the book of Numbers(12:1-2) that Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam criticized him because of his interracial marriage and used this as a basis to question his spiritual authority: 
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.

          Bible commentators give several explanations for this passage.  According to one interpretation, it is said that in calling Zipporah a “Cushite” (or in other translations, “Ethiopian”), Aaron and Miriam may have been taking a racist jab at her for being dark-skinned.  They also could simply have been being racist against her because she was not an Israelite.  In any event, the Bible is clear that God “heard this” and that he severely punished Aaron and Miriam for their spiritual disobedience and their racist slight (12: 9-13):
The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.
10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”
13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “Please, God, heal her!”

And so there were serious consequences for being racist against Moses for his interracial marriage—“the anger of the LORD burned against them,” and Miriam was struck with leprosy.   Apparently England and the United States didn’t read this passage too closely when they allowed anti-intermarriage “miscegenation laws” to exist in North America from the 17th century until 1967. 
         In addition to Moses, Zipporah, and Gershom, other prominent interracial families include Joseph, Asenath, Ephraim and Manasseh; Judah, Tamar, and Perez; Salmon and Rahab; and, Boaz, Ruth, and Obed.  Like Moses, Joseph is one of the giants of the Old Testament and one of the biggest heroes of the book of Genesis.  He married the Egyptian Asenath who was the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.  Their sons, Ephraim and Manasseh were adopted by Israel as sons entitled to special inheritance in the Promised Land.   Through a series of messy human events that’s too complicated to explain here, Joseph’s brother Judah had a son named Perez with his Canaanite daughter-in-law Tamar!  Judah and Perez play important parts in the genealogy of Jesus. 
Speaking of Canaanites, Rahab was the famous Canaanite prostitute who protected the spies before the Israelites conquered Jericho.   Rahab married a prominent Israelite named Salmon, and they had a son named Boaz.  Boaz married—yes, you guessed it--Ruth the Moabitess.  Ruth has a whole book named after her in the Bible.  She is considered a heroine of the faith because she selflessly followed her mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem after her husband Mahlon died, and in those days that was basically like resigning oneself to a life of poverty and alienation.  Because of her extreme faith and fidelity Ruth attracted the favor of Boaz and became his wife.  Their son Obed was the grandfather of King David, the “man after God’s own heart” and the most famous king in all of the Old Testament.  And the Davidic line traces directly to Mary and Joseph and JESUS!   And so, Jesus, the King of Kings has at least four “Gentile” women and several generations of mixed race heritage in his genealogy.  As a mixed race individual I feel like I’m in good company!

More soon,
Please follow the J for Rev blog on Facebook, too!

No comments:

Post a Comment