Sunday, August 30, 2009

Equally Yoked, Part 1

March 24, 1992

Dear Grandpa,

I hope this gets to you in time for your birthday. And I hope that you have a nice day.

I’ve had a busy year. I suppose Mom and Dad have told you about Laura McBride and her kids—the people I spend most of my non-working time with. They are a family I have known for the seven years I’ve been in Nashville. I’ve spent most of my holidays with them, and I’ve been there for all kids’ birthdays and celebrations…

…I don’t mean to take up you birthday note talking about my life, but I do have a couple questions for you about this situation. I do love Laura and the kids and I am dating Laura now. I remember Grandma saying at one point that it was okay to associate with white people, but that “we should not be unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14). I don’t think that’s what that verse is about. I think it has to do with people who believe differently than we do.

Anyway, Laura is white (I guess that’s obvious now). I want to know what you think about this issue. If our relationship comes to that, I don’t have any illusions about the marriage being easy. But I still consider it because I love Laura, I love the kids, they love me, and I think we could be a family together. Obviously, I’m a grown man and I will make my own decisions, but I would appreciate hearing what you think.

I still hope to see you sometime soon. I hope to hear from you sooner. Again, I hope your birthday is special. I’ll be praying for you.

Much Love, Your Grandson,


The question I asked Grandpa Peterson was prompted by a conversation I had had with Grandma Peterson back in 1977. The bus tour of the US that I took that year included a visit to Grandpa and Grandma’s little farm in Grove City, Ohio. It was my first trip to the farm as an adult and my first trip to see Grandma and Grandpa without either of my parents.

We kids had grown up with great affection for our grandparents, even though we didn’t see much of them. With all of our moving around, we lived nearby in Columbus, Ohio, only two years, when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. In those days Mom and Dad took us out to “the country” as often as possible. I remember strawberries, blackberries, and gooseberries, Concord grape vines, apple and walnut trees, and cornfields. We explored the old barn and walked along the railroad track at the edge of the property. We drank from the handpump. I can’t forget the smell of the cellar, which housed all of Grandma’s canned fruits. We always ate well.

We loved it out there, even though there wasn’t that much for kids to do. We always hoped our cousin Jeffrey would be there. Sometimes our other cousins from Mom’s side of the family would come out with us.

There was a lot of serious talking, but it usually didn’t involve us kids much. Dad and Grandpa spent a lot of time together; I gather Dad was trying to soak up Grandpa’s wisdom. Dad revered his father until the day Grandpa died in 1996, maybe even until Dad’s own death only four years later.

On this trip I had Grandma and Grandpa to myself. I was a little nervous. What would I talk about? How could I sound impressive or at least not stupid. All I knew to do was talk about my life. I was in the middle of my sophomore year at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, so I talked about school—mostly about friends and activities. This particular conversation was just Grandma and me. She asked me if there were other “colored” students at the school. I replied that there were a few, but that most of my closest friends were white. “That’s okay for friendship” she said, “but just remember what the Scriptures say about being unequally yoked.” I wanted to correct her theological interpretation, but I remembered my manners and kept my objection to myself.

Grandma was, of course, a product of her generation. She was also a product of her scriptural teaching, the backing for what some thought to be a self-evident reality: Races should not mix.

I have never agreed with Grandma on this issue, but her words stayed with me until the days when I was contemplating marriage in 1992. I don’t know if her sentiments had changed by then. She died in 1990. I still didn’t know what Grandpa thought, and although I disagreed with Grandma’s comment, I did not want to disrespect my grandparents, so it was important to me to hear what they thought.

I have lost Grandpa’s response letter. But it must have encouraged me since I’ve found later correspondence from him on the matter. In one letter from September of that same year, he recounts all the mixed race couples he knows of in our family. And he goes on to talk about their love for one another and when appropriate, their shared Christian ministry.

Grandpa was not well enough to come to our wedding. Shortly after our wedding, my cousin Jeffrey bought the farm (No, people, I mean he literally bought Grandpa’s farm). Laura finally made it to the farm in 2000 for Dad’s burial, when Grandpa was already gone.

If Grandpa’s approval is based on the love between me and Laura and on our shared ministry, Grandpa would be thrilled with Laura. And she with him.

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