IN SEARCH OF A MATE
Marriages-their making and their breaking-are touchy issues in most communities. A lot of times, the so called honour killings that we read about in the newspapers have their roots there. Most people, for instance, would recall the Katara murder case involving a cross cultural marriage or the Rizwannudin case in Kolkata involving a cross-cultural as well as cross-religious marriage. People have strong feelings on the subject and often react violently to the idea of their children marrying outside caste, creed and religious boundaries. The fact that the intended spouses of their children are somehow "different" is enough to create disturbances even if the men and women in question are in every way of good character as was the situation in the case of the Kataras and Rizwannudin.
Sadly in this area, the Chrsitians are not very different. The Bible has very little to say on whom one should or should not marry; except the famous verse on not being unequally yoked. But, of course, while that verse is extensively cited to discourage marriages between believers and unbelievers, it is often conveniently ignored that the domain of being unequally yoked is far wider than marriages-it involves trade and commerce, employment as well as other social relationships. Typically, it should mean that Christians ought not to work for companies and organisations which have questionable ethical practices and dealings. But I know plenty of people who work for such organisations and I am sure that many others do too for the money involved in working for them is good. Similarly, Christians ought not to be buying flats and buildings from builders who conceal the real purchase value of the flat to avoid paying stamp duty but many do and don't mind being unequally yoked in dubious transactions.
But coming to marriage, the scriptural provision about not being unequally yoked is more rigidly invoked in our churches, and Christians are stigmatised if they marry non-Christians. But, at the same time, the church very overtly promotes marriages within the same culture, leaving people from communities where there are very few believers to either marry unbelievers and face stigmatisation, or remain unmarried all or most of their lives.
Many people are heard to say that marriages within the same culture are desirable because they involve less problems and adjustments. Both parties have the same customs, speak the same language, possibly belong to the same church tradition and over all, therefore as is to be expected, family support is more and society is more accepting. The experience is relatively easy as even role expectations within marriage in particular cultures are well defined. This is, of course, correct but the question to be asked is whether all that is easy and comfortable and convenient is necessarily the most desirable and edifying way.
Bear One Anotherís Burden
Let us look at our evangelism patterns: We go out and evangelise whoever we can and because of these efforts, some people come to Christ. Many of these people have to discard their culture to a greater or lesser extent because some pieces of that culture do not honour God. Many lose their family. Many are geographically displaced. Even if their family is not actually inimical to them, they are now in no position to find mates for their sons and daughters as often few believers will be found in their particular cultures and communities. So, if Christians are not prepared to marry cross-culturally, who will marry these people?
A typical response of many believers is to try and fix matches between converts as if converts are one homogenous entity with a common culture. Often converts from diverse backgrounds are forced to marry because no one else will marry them. Sometimes marriages begin with both husband and wife estranged from their families and therefore in times of crisis have no family from either side to fall back on. All this while, the "typical Christians" happily keep marrying within their communities and have settled family lives without enduring any of the turmoil that convert families have to face. Is this how Paul asked us to bear one another's burdens?
Ruths Of Today
When Ruth, the Moabitess, accompanied Naomi to Israel, she told her mother-in-law: "Where you will dwell, I will dwell, your people will be my people and Your God will be my God." Naomi then brought Ruth to her land, gave her a dwelling place under her own roof and helped find Ruth a husband from her own Israelite people apart from introducing Ruth to her God. Today we are prepared to deal with the Ruths of today (the converts) by only talking about our God through lots of Bible Studies and intellectual discourse, but they cannot dwell where we dwell, and far less can our sons marry a Ruth (and similarly with our daughters) and be welcomed into our homes as "our people."
Many of the seniors who distance themselves from cross cultural marriages are the ones who shed the most copious tears about the lost and then the young converts who remain unmarried for years together or having failed to find any body marry unbelievers and earn their scorn and wrath. With no spouses available for "arranging" in several communities, where Christians are few and with dating and such things also frowned upon, it is a doomed life for many young people. Of course, for those coming to faith from other traditions, the problem is most acute; but the difficulty is far more widespread than that.
Having said that, it must also be said that cross-cultural marriages are not for every one and the adjustments etc are real and can be worrisome. But then even conversion and following the Lord is not for everybody and in everything as the Lord has said, we need to count the cost-but staying perennially in one's comfort zone cannot be the answer. Coming back to where we began, D.P.Yadav or Ashok Todi did not want their daughters to marry men they considered "below their status" although to all intents and purposes, the men they married or wanted to marry were honest, decent, hard working people.
Sometimes it is not very easy to distinguish between them and the typical "church-going" family, who makes similar decisions on similar criteria except from actually physical murder, with the older generation trying to hold on to a fast disappearing culture that they want to preserve and the metrosexual young having no culture except a shapeless amoeba-like identity, the conflict will only intensify in the days to come; but the church, as a community of people, has still to debate this out concretely- which identity is more important-our identity in Christ or our identity as members of particular ethnic, language or regional groups. For our primary identity will determine our response to this and many other related issues.