The United States is a land of immigrants. Although political pundits continue to question American immigration policy, there is no question that what we call "American" culture is actually an amalgam of immigrant cultures. And, since Israel Zangwill's 1908 play, "The Melting Pot," the term "melting pot" has been used to describe America's cultural fusion. Now, one hundred years later, American culture will soon reach the point where historical ethnic minorities represent the majority of the U.S. population.
This cultural diversity brings with it a wealth of ideas, attitudes, beliefs and values that are sometimes complementary and, at other times, conflicting. These changing demographics are dramatically shifting our conventional understanding of the American workplace, church and home. It is the American home – more specifically the institution of marriage – to which we give our focus.
What is marriage like in the melting pot? The increased interaction of individuals from different ethnic backgrounds has inevitably led to an increase in inter-ethnic marriages – particularly in the urban centers. Couples are increasingly challenging the historical social stigmas regarding inter-ethnic dating and marriage in the pursuit of authentic, colorblind love. The "melting pot" holds tremendous potential for marriage as it makes possible an integration of the best aspects of each partner's background. But, this synergy only develops as couples negotiate gender roles, develop effective communication and conflict resolution strategies, and attend to the daily decisions that make marriage enriching.
In a real sense, "marriage in the melting pot" is a relational philosophy espousing mutuality – where the perspective, personality and gifts of each partner are valued simply because each person is created in God's image. When mutuality is absent, inter-ethnic marriages cannot achieve God's potential.
Inter-ethnic marriage is not a 21st-century phenomenon. A quick search through Scripture highlights a number of inter-ethnic marriages among our biblical heroes and heroines. For example, much to the chagrin of his family (Numbers 12:1), Moses (a Hebrew) marries Zipporah (an Ethiopian). In another example, Rahab, the Canaanite harlot responsible for hiding the Jewish spies looking to overthrow Jericho, converts to Judaism and marries Salmon (a Hebrew). In these instances and others, God shows His approval of the relationship because He remained the object of their worship. Other inter-ethnic marriages, however, led to disastrous consequences because the focus on God was lost. The best example is that of Solomon who allowed his wives from foreign lands, including the queen of Sheba, to divert his attention from the God of his ancestors.
As globalization continues to bring individuals from different cultures into meaningful contact, inter-ethnic marriages will continue to increase. This trend holds tremendous promise for marriages that can transform differences into assets rather than succumb to them as liabilities. The articles in this series recognize the challenges that inter-ethnic couples face – both those that are unique and those that are common to same-race couples. More importantly, however, these articles provide practical handles for marriages in the melting pot to achieve marital satisfaction and to become a beacon for Christ by extending graceful acts towards one another.