Interracial Dating, the Internet, and Religion

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Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting observations about interracial dating. It turns out that there's more resistance to interracial dating even when it comes to online dating, which means it doesn't just have to do with who you associate with in daily life within your local community (although that's got to be a factor, because groups who tend to live in areas where they are the majority are less likely to take part in interracial dating than groups that typically find themselves in the majority wherever they live).

One factor that he includes that I hadn't connected with this is that people with higher or more specific standards in non-racial ways might be more open to interracial dating simply because their pool is already much smaller than other people's. He includes religious standards such as refusal to date someone of another religion. This may well be one explanation why, in my own observation, evangelical Christians (at least in the circles I run in) are far more open to interracial dating than most any other group I can think of. It may well be partly because evangelicals have a smaller pool to pick from because many evangelicals will date only other evangelicals, and being open to interracial dating helps widen the pool from what it would be if they looked only at people within their own racial group.

Nonetheless, I don't think such an explanation undermines what I've long thought to be the explanation for evangelicals' greater openness to interracial dating. I've generally taken it to be because evangelicals have a heightened sense of the oneness of all genuine followers of Jesus, who evangelicals typically see as including mainly those who have put their allegiance to Christ above all other allegiances. Identity in Christ is primary, and other sources of identity are at best secondary. Thus when I think about who I'm most closely aligned with, I'm going to think of black evangelicals as much closer to the heart of my identity than I will white non-believers.

This isn't just not in conflict with Somin's point, as if they are two compatible explanations. It's actually the same fact under two different descriptions. On the one hand, evangelicals who have this restriction do indeed have a smaller pool to pick from, and they are thus more likely to be willing to include others in the pool than just those of their own race. But the philosophical justification for restricting the pool to like-minded believers is the same justification for expanding it to include like-minded believers regardless of race. After all, it's the sense of closer identity with fellow believers that leads both to the restriction to only believers and to openness to believers of other races.

8 Comments

Ah, good points. I think I can second your comments here by including myself as a case-in-point: My wife is white and I am black. After we started dating, it turned out that there was much greater acceptance of us among evangelicas (black and white) than there was among the community at large.
But I don't want to give the impression that all evangelicals were overwhelmingly welcoming of our relationship (I had one fellow church member who urged me not to get married because of the discrimination our baby would face).

a heightened sense of the oneness

My thoughts run that way also; I saw the pool automatically shrink after reading the teachings of Paul (neither Jew nor Gentile, man nor woman), and Peter's vision in Acts 10:34-35. Some probably look at it simply from the view of not being yoked to a non-believer, and therefore the pool is necessarily smaller.

(Xavier, I had hoped that stale argument had quietly expired. It's hard to believe that anyone who has not been in a coma for thirty years would say that to you.)

Xavier, I'm not trying to suggest that evangelicals are monolithic on this. Partly it depends on where you are. In the deep South, you're going to find a lot of uncomfortableness with interracial marriage in particular, less with dating (especially among evangelicals, who will assume you aren't having sex, and it's really the thought of miscegenation of genes that bothers people). In the northeast no one bats an eye at it, although some will be resistant to their own children doing it or will give the pseudo-argument you mention (which I've always found funny, because it seems to count just as much against black people having any children with other black people, because they might just as easily be discriminated against).. But it may vary based on lots of other factors too, besides geography.

Still, I think evangelicals overall are more likely to accept interracial marriage in others than society at large is, and I'm even more sure that evangelicals are more likely to marry interracially than society at large is.

Evangelical Christians are more open to interracial dating? I don't know what churches you've been going to, but that has definitely NOT been my experience. I'm black, and have grown up in predominately white evangelical churches my whole life, and let me tell you interracial dating happens at times, it is by no means common place. However, they usually are accepting of interracial relationships that are already formed.
That said, I really don't know where you are getting your information from! I really wish you were right, it would be so much easier for a black girl like me whose stuck in the suburbs to even get a date. The most annoying thing ever is when my (white) friends at church, even leaders will tell me they have someone who would be "perfect" for me. Code word: black. People of the same race have EVERYTHING in common, right? The only problem is that half the time they don't even find out if the guy is really Christian, which leaves me disappointed after the second date when I find out that he's not really all that.

Where are you? As I've said, this is going to vary by region.

I never said it was commonplace, just that it's more common than in the general population. In my experience, it is much more common than in the general population. That is still especially uncommon, particularly when it comes to black-white pairings, which are the most uncommon, with black female and white male pairings the most uncommon of black-white pairings. One effect of racism in our society is that the standards of beauty that most of us just absorb growing up happen to be racist. Since men are more affected by this than women (for whatever reason), black-white pairings are more likely to be black man and white woman. Pairings like me and my wife are much rarer.

But my impression is that interracial relationships in general are more common among evangelicals than they are in the general populace. I don't think one person's experience is likely to show this if you're just in one area in one or two congregations. I'm not in that kind of position. I'm getting my information from direct experience, but it's very much not an isolated experience. I've been involved with a significant number of campus ministry groups at different universities, and I know a lot of people who work with such organizations. I've had lots of friends who have been involved with groups at other campuses, and I've participated in a number of missions projects involving people from all over the country. I've attended a number of conferences where I've observed complete strangers interacting socially. My experience with my generation of evangelicals is pretty broad, and this is what I've observed

I should also say that by evangelicals I mean people who are committed to biblical teaching. It was clear to me by my wife's parents' reaction to our relationship that they were. Even if people in her family had psychological resistance to it, none of them had any real objections to counter what they knew to be right. They supported us wholeheartedly, and it was on biblical grounds. It sounds to me from your description that the people you are talking about aren't really committed to biblical teaching.

Yes, I think that evangelicals are pretty open to inter-racial dating, especially in the northern US and in Canada (where I'm from). The biggest factor is the region. In cities like Toronto & Vancouver where the mix of multicultures mix is high, there is lot's of interracial dating/marriage. It's like everywhere you go, you'll see interracial couples. In smaller cities/towns, you don't see that simply because the culture of interracial dating/marriage is not as accepted. But in bigger cities, it doesn't even cross a person's mind as different or odd when they see them together in public.

I do think you're right about the pool being smaller for evangelicals because we want to date/marry evangelicals who "have put their allegiance to Christ above all other allegiances" like we do. If I didn't meet an evangelical who "loved the Lord", I probably would have preferred to stay single for the rest of my life. My wife is the same ethnicity/race as me but I'm sure if I met the right woman of any other race, I'd marry her (and it probably could have happened in my premarital dating days). Interesting topic in this post!

The person who said interracial dating is more comon among evangelicals must live on a different planet. Evangelicals are FAR more prejudiced against those of other races than non-Christians. The men in particular tend to conform to worldly standards when it comes to their taste in women. They screen first on looks and then, perhaps on character. You'll read a profile on a dating site in which a man will go on for paragraphs about how he is committed to the Lord, sold out for Jesus, etc. Then he'll describe what he si looking for and, invariably, it is a blonde women who is slim, fit, well endowed and under 30 EVEN IF HE IS IN HIS 40s and 50s. These men are a disgrace to the name of Christ. They'll hit on you even more quickly than a non-Christian. Canadian Christian men are the WORST offenders when it comes to being racist and sexist. Don't take my word for it, scan some of the profiles and discussion forums on dating sites. Excusing racial prejudice and sweeping it under the banner of "personal preference" may fool those of us on earth but it boggle my mind that they think they are fooling our Lord.

Perhaps it's just that Canadian evangelicals (or people claiming to be evangelicals) who use such sites are disproportionately like that. In my experience, which is mostly in the northeast U.S., in evangelical circles of a wide variety, evangelical young men are disproportionately not like that. I see them when they're not around young women. I've grown up around lots of white evangelicals when they're not around black people. They're not like that. They're certainly no more racially ignorant than other groups, but they have always seemed to me to be much more racially progressive than others in my community growing up.

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