Loving: “It was God’s work”

MildredLovingBookWhy did Mildred Jeter Loving take the risky stand that she did, fighting the Commonwealth of Virginia’s law that said it was illegal for her, as an African-American woman, to marry the white man that she loved?

The answer to that question comes near the top of Patricia Sullivan’s A1 story in the Washington Post:

The Loving v. Virginia decision overturned long-standing legal and social prohibitions against miscegenation in the United States. Celebrated at the time, the landmark case sunk to obscurity until a 1996 made-for-television movie and a 2004 book revived interest in how the young, small-town black and white couple changed history.

A modest homemaker, Loving never thought she had done anything extraordinary. “It wasn’t my doing,” Loving told the Associated Press in a rare interview a year ago. “It was God’s work.”

That’s a nice religion hook — a ghost in clear sight.

What about the people who fought her, the people who backed the law against interracial marriages? Why did they do what they did? That’s in the story, too.

… Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to a year’s imprisonment, to be suspended if they left the state for the next 25 years.

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix,” Bazile ruled.

OK, that’s smoke from the pit of hell. But there’s another strong religion angle hiding in clear sight, one that certainly deserves examination.

And then there is the person herself, the quiet woman who never considered herself a brave pioneer of any kind.

Others did. Loving’s church, St. Stephens Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Va., gave her a certificate recognizing the trailblazing lawsuit.

“The preacher at my church classified me with Rosa Parks,” she told The Washington Post in 1992. “I don’t feel like that. Not at all. What happened, we really didn’t intend for it to happen. What we wanted, we wanted to come home.”

That’s a lot of religion in one story and the Post deserves credit for getting that information on the record. I mean, compare this with the almost totally faith-free report over at the Los Angeles Times. No contest.

And yet. And yet. I know that this fine story couldn’t be longer in this day and age. But I wanted to see the religious dots connected, I wanted to know as much about the content of her faith as we were told (what a quote from that court document) about the religious claims of the racists who were oppressing her. Yes, I wanted — to put this in Southern terms — for her to be able to “testify.” I wanted to hear from her pastor and the people in those pews.

The story was haunted, because it was about a haunting subject in a haunted nation. I wanted to see the ghosts pulled out into the light.

Meanwhile, here is a Bible verse for the day:

Galatians 3:28 …

“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.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com/wp/ holmegm

    As much as I am very much in favor of interracial marriage and families (hey, our four children are from three different countries), I must take pedantic issue with your Bible verse linkage ;)

    The context in Galations 3 is pretty clearly that of salvation, not some kind of general grooviness about oneness and having no distinct roles at all:

    26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    All these groups have people in them who were “baptized into Christ” and are now “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This is the same Paul, after all, who also says that men and women are different in regard to a number of things. But here he is saying that with regard to baptism and being heirs of the promise, they are not different.

    Personally, were I verse-picking, I’d pick God’s defense of Moses’ choice of wife :)

    Yes, I know, this comment is not strictly about the journalism, but if you can do it in the post, then it’s only fair ;)

  • Jerry

    that’s smoke from the pit of hell.

    Of course, for a time, that was considered the Godly viewpoint rather than hellish smoke. Before that some that were pro-slavery quoted scripture in support of their judgement. Shakespeare’s famous quote about the devil quoting scripture should come to our mind not only when considering such examples from history but only when considering current events. And the ACLU could be said to have been doing God’s work when they helped overturn the laws against interracial marriages.

    It’s one of my favorite windmills, to be sure, but I really wish we’d see stories not only about the facts, but also about the deeper issues that lie behind the facts. Oh well, time to go for a short ride on Rosinante.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    That was a viewpoint and never normative in the wider world of Christian faith. And here’s the key, it was never connected to creed, sacrament or the actual teachings of the Ecumenical Councils. It was never doctrine.

    If you enter the post-Reformation period, you can literally find people who taught anything, if you look hard enough.

    So your statement that it was THE Godly viewpoint cannot stand, even though reporters may report it.

  • Jerry

    Terry, I can’t read the article since it’s behind a pay wall, but The Christian Doctrine of Slavery: A Theological Analysis http://www.jstor.org/pss/2716285 and many other sites that a google search turns up. Christianity is not monolithic. So your point about people saying anything is accurate. But since there is no one official voice that speaks for Christianity and thus no one Ecumenical Council etc, the norms about what Christianity truly calls for varies by time and place.

    But over time, I also do believe that there is a “Godly wind” that people are invited to follow. And that “Godly wind” tends to blow away incorrect views of what the Bible is truly saying.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The key question for reporters: Who believed what?

    Was the doctrine in question ancient, universal and linked to creedal belief? Or a sacrament of the church?

    Apply that standard and you stay with the core. When you say that there is no one ecumenical council, you are right and wrong. You are right, after 1000. You are right on some issues in the first 1000, on some doctrines. But there is a core in the ancient faith that is hard to shatter.

  • Dave

    Jerry and Terry:

    I fear your conversation is getting away from the core fact that many Christians and some Christian churches used the Bible to support slavery before the Civil War, and were at least silently complicit with Jim Crow afterwards. The judge’s stated views may not have been canonical but were certainly within the umbra of this religious “cover.”

    Some of those churches have recently apologized for their past behavior. This is history that can’t be ignored.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I would never deny that. In fact, my post asked for more coverage of that. Right?

    What I noted was that this interpretation was not the ancient, sacramental, creedal norm.