Noah curses his son Ham, a 19th-century painting by Ivan Stepanovitch Ksenofontov. Ham looks pretty white to me here, but thousands of Christians in the American South, from at least the 19th century to even fairly recent times, thought Ham had black skin (photo credit: Wikipedia).
When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:24-27 ESV)
It was my first Christian retreat in college. I met another student just a few years older than me the first night of the weekend, and we struck up a friendship. But the next day, we had a conversation that has stuck with me for years. I have no idea how it got started, but it was about whether or not the Bible allows interracial marriage. My new friend, growing up in a rural part of southern Virginia, insisted that God absolutely forbids white people from marrying black people.
“Where is that in the Bible?,” I asked with curiosity and amazement. I had only recently started reading the Bible, so perhaps there was something in there that I had not seen yet. His response bothered me:
“Well, I am not exactly sure where it is. But I know it is in there.”
Later that weekend, I asked him again if he could show me the verse.
He never was able to find it.
Let me rewind a few more years. I was a mere toddler when the famous Loving v. Virginia case was resolved in 1967, overturning Virginia’s statute forbidding “miscegenation.” The Lovings, a black and white couple, from Caroline County, about an hour away from where I grew up, had driven up to Washington, D.C., to get a marriage license, where interracial unions were permitted. Upon returning to Caroline County, Virginia police raided their home, but the couple responded to their arrest by going all the way to the Supreme Court to defend their case … and they won.
Such action to change the law that had been embedded in the culture of the so-called “Bible Belt” was not a concern to my new college Christian friend in the early 1980s. In his mind, the Bible still forbade mixed marriages between people of different skin colors, and that was all he needed to know. He had no animosity towards African-Americans. He was really a nice guy, and a devout believer. It was simply and clearly taught in the Bible that God does not allow interracial marriage, according to him.
The problem was… and still is…. he had no verse from the Bible to back up his belief.
So, where did this whole thing about the Bible forbidding interracial marriage come from?