An Open Letter to Gaye Clark

The original article which I link to below may be removed as Clark requested her article to be taken down. Keep in mind that Clark’s response to the backlash her article caused has been humble, sincere and honest, void of defensiveness or argumentation. Both her daughter and son-in-law approved the article before its posting. 

Today an article titled “When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband” showed up on my newsfeed. It’s first helpful to read Gaye Clark’s article in full, so you can form your own thoughts and better understand my response. If you don’t have time to complete the article now, I’ll give you a brief synopsis: in this post, Clark reflects on her emotions when her daughter brought home a black man, and how her faith helped her come to terms with their interracial marriage. The idea is endearing, a mother recognizing her reservations and learning to love more fully. I wanted to really like the article. However, the delivery felt very problematic.

This comes from a genuine place I believe. It’s evident that Clark’s intentions are positive as she seeks to reconcile her transformation with a desire to share her experience with others. It’s noble and much appreciated. As a fellow Christian, I’m moved by her attempt to reach out and would greatly condemn any number of negative comments that I’m sure are hailing down on her as we speak, so I will keep this as positive as it is constructive. The fact remains that there are deep issues with this article. Hopefully discussing them will help the conversation, as everything below is said out of love. 

In an attempt to help other parents like herself, Clark makes arguments that allow too much room for prejudice. She doesn’t truly deal with the fears, ignorance or assumptions that were behind the shock of seeing “an African American with dreads named Glenn” at her door. She glosses over it in a way that makes it difficult to effect real change: “I could only smile at God’s plan and asked his forgiveness for my presumptions.” I hardly doubt it was this simple. What were her presumptions? How were they negatively affecting her view of her daughter’s new man? And how was she able to overcome them? These are questions that-if answered-would be helpful to a parent in her situation, but unfortunately this opportunity was not seized.

By not addressing these issues head on, by making it seem like this scenario is something the Caucasian parent must adjust to/prepare for, instead of adjusting their perspective, Clark leaves room for continued prejudice. Biblically speaking, when a man finds a wife be happy, because he has found a good thing and has the Lord’s favor (Psalm 18:22). So what do you do when “God sends your white daughter a black husband?” You love him! You celebrate for your daughter. The end.

Here are a few moments from the article to consider:

“Though I never shared this prejudice, I never expected the issue to enter my life. Here are eight things to remember when your white daughter brings a black man home for dinner.”

If you don’t share the prejudice against interracial relationships, it shouldn’t be a problem when “the issue enters your life.” Clark seems to say that she had no personal problem with interracial couples as long as it was happening between other people, and the idea had never occurred to her that her own children may find love outside of their race, yet when it did her world turned upside down-and yours will too, so here’s how to get through it. This tone doesn’t acknowledge that this kind of thinking was problematic, so it makes it sound like it’s okay.

1. “Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God’s promises.”

The implications of this sentence are serious: there is something wrong with identifying as a black man; seeing him as a son only became possible because of his faith, not in addition to it; it took some time for her to see Glenn in God’s image; and accepting him meant erasing his blackness (denoted in “moving from a black man”). Yes, we are all heirs to God’s promises, made in His image, and we should boldly embrace each other as HE crafted us; not accept one another only after we’ve put on our homogeneous Body of Christ glasses. Christ is all and is in all (Col. 3:11) but that is not the only reason we should love one another.

2. “I’m deeply grateful my daughter chose this particular man, and I try to tell him often.”

Leaving out the “try” part would make it sounds more like a heartfelt action and less like a difficult attempt at congeniality.

5. “Remember your daughter’s ultimate loyalty is not to you or your family, but to the Lord.”

While this is 100% true and refers to the very ludicrous question Clark’s daughter and son-in-law received “which world will you live in-black or white?” it’s dangerous to bring answer this question by entertaining the idea of “loyalty.” While we serve the Lord foremost, Clark’s children also have two cultures, and regardless of how engaged they are in their culture, I’m sure they love each other and their families. This statement enforces the loyalty question by deflecting to their identities in Christ. It conjures up the idea that a child marrying out of his/her race is disloyal to the family, without properly addressing that emotion, where it comes from, and how to negate it.

4. Be Patient With Family Members 

I won’t even go into this extremely ill fated paragraph.To say that calling out a bigot is dehumanizing and that we should basically silently pray for them without addressing it, is exactly the passivity that allows prejudice and racism to run rampant in our country and churches.

6. “Before the wedding I reached out to Glenn’s mom, Felicia. As we sat and talked about our children, we realized we have similar hopes and dreams for them.”

This sounded like a movie honestly, where the two opposing families realize they’re not that different after all. Perhaps her background was not culturally diverse, but since we are all humans and in this case, members of the body of Christ, it should not come as a surprise that two mothers want the same things for their kids. Did Clark think Felicia didn’t want the same things? What did she expect? It’s troubling that this came as a surprise.

8. “Remember to die to your expectations.”

Clark tells a beautiful story about giving the engagement ring from her deceased husband to Glenn so he could personalize the stone and give to her daughter. Touching yes, but the heading about dying to your expectations doesn’t sit so well. Dying to yourself and your desires is a common idea for Christians, and in the context of this situation she’s not at all wrong about it. But what does that phrase mean in this scene? Is Clark simply concluding her list by showing us the greatest symbol of acceptance in giving Glenn her ring? Or is she “swallowing hard” because she’s not giving the ring to the person she expected? The unanswered questions here are difficult.

I give her much kudos for #7, in which Clark remembers their wedding as “a foretaste of a glory yet to come: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9).

The beautiful thing about this story is that somewhere along the line Clark instilled in her daughter to honor God, and in turn, her eagerness to exude Christ allowed her to experience a love that knows no bounds. It may have been much more helpful for Clark to share her personal feelings and transformation than it was to give a checklist for the culturally unaware on how to cope with a child’s divergent love choices. Parents want the best for their kids, but we also have to come to terms with the prejudices and assumptions that may lead us to believe entire groups of people aren’t good enough for our children.

It would have been nice to know how Clark grew to know Glenn as a person, where her assumptions came from, and why those assumptions were wrong – why anyone who presently has those assumptions should reconsider them. If she hasn’t realized these things yet, hopefully she will reflect on these aspects as well. There is more stepping around assumptions than owning them, more generalizing a person than accepting them for who they are, than Clark probably intended. Nevertheless, these statements are still hurtful.  This is what makes race issues tricky for those who are not completely transparent about it.

Writers E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien said it well in their article “Race and Ethnicity in the Bible”Columnist Jack White once observed, “The most insidious racism is among those who don’t think they harbor any.” His point is that those of us who leave our ethnic stereotypes unexamined will inevitably carry them forever, perhaps even pass them on to others. We would add that failing to come to terms with our assumptions about race and ethnicity will keep us blind to important aspects of biblical teaching.

While she sincerely meant to provide wisdom on this topic, it came with several confounding statements that make it difficult to praise. I only wish that this article was less “when life gives you lemons” and more “Assumptions End Here.”