Cultural Differences In Marriage

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For some couples, cultural differences in marriage can be either a blessing or a curse. The extent to which partners from different ethnic backgrounds can peacefully coexist depends largely on how well religious observations, socioeconomic status, and language can be incorporated into the relationship. Couples with vast distinctions in religion or socioeconomic factors may have more challenges than those with similar backgrounds or experiences. In the United States, biracial unions among African Americans and Caucasians have been increasingly more successful, perhaps due to the commonality of the American experience. But husbands and wives from vastly distinct ethnic or religious backgrounds, such as Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians, or Catholics and Protestants, will have more difficulty coexisting even if love initially brought them together.

A growing acceptance of marriages between African American males and Caucasian females has contributed to the success of biracial unions. They are, after all, both Americans; and the Black experience in the United States has been intertwined with the White man's existence since the first slaves came from Africa in the early 1700s. Indeed, there has always been a co-dependency between both races; and cultural differences in marriage are slight, especially in the southern United States. In the Deep South, twenty-first century Blacks and Whites eat the same food, worship the same God, and dance to the same music. Over forty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Amendment, Blacks and Whites have discovered that they can coexist, much to the chagrin of a few incensed conservatives. For biracial couples in the southern United States, cultural differences in marriage are much less prevalent than several decades ago; and trends indicate an obliteration of the color barrier in the not too distant future.

Unlike African American/Caucasian households, a liaison between Arabs and Jews or Muslims and Christians can be tumultuous, especially when family or caste members express their displeasure. In certain cultures, marrying an outsider is considered taboo; and couples who succeed in walking down the aisle should be ready to face harsh opposition, both from within the immediate family and the societal structure at large. Tales of the trials of American females married to Muslim men abound, as liberal predominantly White wives are forced to discard freedoms that are taken for granted in the U.S. to come into submission to Muslim cultural and religious edicts. Unless liberal wives are willing to submit to Islamic cultural differences in marriage, such as covering the head or body, refraining from public expressions, or being denied some civil liberties, the marriage is doomed from the start. Clearly, for a Christian the reluctance to observe Muslim customs would not be tolerated, while yielding to such observances may require denying the deity of Jesus Christ.

Similarly, individuals of Jewish and Arab descent are not prohibited from marrying, but may face cultural differences in marriage of major proportions. Because Israelis and Arabs are both descendents of the patriarch Abraham, one would think that there would be more successful attempts at peaceful coexistence. However, the descendents of these half brothers have been warring since the birth of Isaac, and there is little hope for peace in the Middle East. So the odds of couples of Jewish and Arab descent marrying or staying married are slim. Those who choose love over war find that the immediate families may object to intermarrying with the enemy. Again, cultural differences in marriage regarding religious observances may present the greatest challenge, as an Islamic Arab and an Orthodox Jew are diametrically opposed. One or both partners may have to deny the faith in order to live peaceably with a husband or wife of another religion. But when one partner is forced to deny a personal belief or dogma to live with a spouse from a different background, excessive strain is placed on the relationship. A Jewish husband will want to instruct his children in the ways of G-d and observe the covenant of circumcision; while a wife of another ethnicity may object to Jewish teachings or religious customs.

While cultural differences in marriage can be problematic, the birth of biracial children can bridge the gap between ethnic and religious groups. Almost every grandparent welcomes the birth of a new baby; and the blending of two cultures is more likely after a child is born. While the issue of vastly diverse religious observances may continue to plague an otherwise peaceful household, little children who win the hearts of both ethnic groups can work more wonders than the United Nations. While racial slurs and persecution still accompany interracial or bi-cultural couples, more people of all nationalities are beginning to accept the fact that the world is a global society where the distinction between races is slowly but surely coming to an end. "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone;" (Ephesians 2:18-20).

Couples concerned about cultural differences in marriage would do well to consult spiritual leaders from both faiths before saying I do. A priest, rabbi, or preacher may offer scriptural or doctrinally sound information on dealing with diversity in a biracial or cross cultural relationship. Potential partners may need to search to find innovative ways of blending two distinct ethnicity into one. Perhaps hosting a get acquainted luncheon or dinner and inviting both families to share a meal consisting of cultural cuisine, can break down walls of resistance can be broken and forge new friendships. If all else fails, future husbands and wives must determine if their love is capable of enduring racist or religious persecution, or worth the sacrifice of possibly denying one's own faith to adopt the doctrine of a beloved spouse. The answer to both of these questions may determine the fate of the marriage.

Race Differences In Marriage

Like religious disparities, race differences in marriage can put even the most solid relationship to the test. While interracial couples of all nationalities are more widely accepted today than ten or twenty years ago, husbands and wives from different ethnic backgrounds still face formidable challenges on the home front, in the marketplace and in society at large--especially African Americans and Whites. On the home front, mixed couples want to be accepted by both immediate families; but that acceptance may be difficult to achieve. A Caucasian female engaged to an African American male may have trouble getting her parents to accept her choice for a husband, especially if they are prejudiced. The Black man's family may also object to an interracial union. Both sides may vehemently insist that the pair "stick with their own kind." If the couple marries, especially against the parents' wishes, there will be a price to pay, and it might include being ostracized from loved ones. The same may be true for an African American female who chooses to marry a Caucasian man.

Why is there so much opposition to race differences in marriage? The cause may be deeply rooted in America's shameful system of slavery. For decades, the southern states perpetrated the most denigrating form of human bondage possible on people of another race. Africans were kidnapped from their native land, packed in the bowels of ships reeking with the stench of human excrement, and brought to the United States to work in the cotton fields of wealthy southern plantations. Black men, women and children were beaten into submission by White slave masters; sold on the market like cattle; forcefully taken from their families; and made to breed like animals to furnish wealthy plantation owners free labor.

The Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865, between the northern United States and 11 slave holding southern states was a battle to free Black slaves from the tortuous practice of human servitude. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to theoretically free Africans. However, in practicality it was not until 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, formerly initiated by President John F. Kennedy, that the Black man was given the same rights of American citizenship as the White man. But the price for freedom was not free. In the Deep South, thousands of Black men were lynched --hanging like pieces of strange fruit from southern pines--just for allegedly looking at a White woman; and hundreds of freedom fighters sacrificed lives in the mid 60s for African Americans to gain civil liberties.

And while race differences in marriage in the twenty-first century are more tolerated, the specter of Colonial slavery and the injustices perpetrated against Black men and women may have made an indelible imprint on the minds of both races. Caucasian parents who object to their daughters marrying African American men may still view Blacks as lesser beings, ill favored when it comes to wedding what they feel is the more racially superior White woman. African American women who marry Caucasian men may also be perceived as unworthy of being called a White man's missus, rather than his mistress. While man is concerned about interracial marriages, God is color blind. His focus is on the heart and not the color of one's skin. "...for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7b).

Racial prejudice can be covert and subtle or overt and blatant; but bigotry against race differences in marriage often rears its ugly head in the marketplace. Interracial couples may be unfairly denied housing, employment opportunities, and social status. Spouses must sometimes keep mixed marriages secret in order to get a better job or live in a more exclusive neighborhood. The exception may be African American athletes and celebrities who marry Caucasian women, but race differences in marriage for the common man often means being ostracized, deprived, and denied rights extended to couples of the same ethnicity. From the African American perspective, some may object to interracial marriages based on the mistreatment of Blacks at the hands of Caucasians in the United States' sordid historical past; and interracial unions are often seen as a betrayal of an entire race of people.

Caucasian women who marry African American men also experience unfair treatment due to race differences in marriage. Most are ostracized from White society, especially the middle and upper classes. They and their biracial children are not always welcomed in predominately Caucasian neighborhoods; and these women may be forced to assimilate a "Black" lifestyle. Oddly, there seems to be a greater tolerance in the Black community for race differences in marriage; and Caucasian women may find a greater acceptance and the opportunity to live free from bias. Children of mixed parentage also seem to have a greater appeal to both Black and White grandparents. Interracial children, a beautiful blend of both ethnicities, may just be the catalyst for a new generation that will unify men and women of color with the ancestors of former slave owners; and end racial bias in the United States.

People of both races who insist on holding onto bigotry may learn a lesson from the Word of God: "For ye all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:26-29). As race differences in marriage gain a greater acceptance, couples of every ethnicity will feel at liberty to marry whom they choose. In ten or twenty years, the world as we now know it may evolve into a different culture where children of mixed parentage demand a society free of racial prejudice with true liberty and justice for all-- regardless of creed, color, religion, or social standing.

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