- Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law
In Almighty God Created the Race: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law, Fay Botham, adjunct professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, focuses on a rarely examined issue in American race matters: the intersection of religion, law, and interracial marriage. To what extent did Protestant or Catholic understanding of marriage influence secular law regarding this institution? In particular, how did the Catholic understanding of marriage as a sacrament and the Protestant notion that marriage was sacred but a state matter influence judicial decision making? Furthermore, what are the proper roles of the church and state in establishing marriage laws in this country?
Divided into six chapters, Almighty God begins with an examination of the 1948 California-based case Perez v. Lippold, which outlawed religious discrimination in marriage. The deciding vote in the state of California's Supreme Court decision was cast by a Christian Science jurist who agreed with the plaintiff's argument that antimiscegenation laws violated religious liberties. With the Perez case as a starting point, Botham then proceeds to examine the [End Page 179] development of American marriage laws; the difference between Protestant and Catholic understandings of the institution of marriage; the theology of race; the Protestant influence on antimiscegenation law; and, finally, Southern Catholics'attitudes on race and marriage with analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia decision (1967), which outlawed race-based nuptials. Hers is an ambitious and wide-ranging investigation of American race-based marital attitudes and laws using primary source material as diverse as papal encyclicals, court decisions, clerical sermons and writings, secular newspapers, and religious journals as well as Holy Scripture.
Botham's research convincingly proves that a biblical understanding of the separation of the races informed American antimiscegenation laws from colonial times into the twentieth century. Her examination of the influence of religion in repealing such laws, however, is less convincing; an exception being the Perez case. As Botham herself notes regarding the all-important Loving decision,"… the real legal issue [in Loving] was whether or not anti-miscegenation laws violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment" (p. 174). An amicus curiae brief, submitted to the court by Southern members of the American Roman Catholic hierarchy on behalf of the Lovings,"went virtually unnoticed by the attorneys and the justices in the case…" (p. 174). Religion separated the races; the law would allow them to live together.
Almighty God leaves readers wanting more, given the brevity of the manuscript for such a complex and controversial issue. The struggle for racial civil rights was obviously more complex and nuanced than what is presented here—there is no examination of Catholic and Protestant efforts to end Jim Crow laws, which would contextualize the religious impulse and influence on the modern civil rights movement. Nevertheless, Botham's work forces readers to come to terms with their religious value system, their Constitutional understandings of religious freedom, and their racial attitudes. Whether one believes marriage is a sacred institution established by Christ to impart grace, a God-inspired relationship between a man and a woman, or a state-controlled partnership that governs property and inheritance rights, the country's understanding of marriage as an American institution is in flux. Almighty God is contextual scholarship for any rational discussion or debate on the topic.