Moses and the In-Laws

Dear Wedding Guests:

This past weekend I read a news story about a wedding venue in Mississippi that rejected a rental application from a couple for their nuptials. No, it wasn’t for a same-sex wedding. The couple was interracial (can anyone believe we’re still talking about this?). Surprised by the emailed rejection, the bride and her mother visited the venue to talk with the owner directly. They recorded her response, in which she gently and apologetically explained that it wasn’t about race, but that her Christian understanding was that same-sex couples and interracial couples were forbidden by the Bible and she was only standing firm in her faith.

A few days later, the venue owner sent a lengthy written apology saying that she had talked with her pastor and learned that the Bible did not forbid interracial marriage. She admitted she was wrong and offered her facility to the couple. They declined, having found an alternative space to celebrate their wedding, but did express their appreciation for the woman’s unambiguous change of heart.

I’m not sure what passages the proprietor’s pastor used to change her mind, but I would have chosen Numbers 12, a chapter I researched for my book, The Joshua Factor: Leadership Principles from an Ancient Warrior (Xlibris Press, ©2009, available in ebook, paperback and hardcover, please try not to order it from Amazon where my royalty is a fraction of what it would be if you order directly from the publisher,, but I digress in shameless self-promotion).

In the 12th chapter of Numbers, Miriam and Aaron, Moses’s sister and brother, begin to make fun of their new sister-in-law. Moses had married a Cushite woman from the land of Ethiopia, unambiguously an African woman of dark skin. When Moses protests their insults about his wife, they mock him and claim their insights are just as spiritual as his. God calls out all three of them and tells them at the Tent of Meeting that Moses knew what he was doing. When God leaves, Miriam has leprosy and Aaron gives a panicked apology. In effect, God says, “Make fun of your sister-in-law’s skin? I’ll give you skin nobody wants!” Moses, being Moses, pleas with God to cure his sister, God tells him to quarantine her for seven days after which she is healed, and the story moves on.

While Numbers 12 can be read as a simple proof-text demonstrating God’s affirmation of interracial/interethnic marriage, a passage I hope the wedding venue owner’s pastor used, it also speaks profoundly about all relationships with in-laws. This is why weddings are so emotionally complicated—they proclaim a new set of loyalties.

I used to explain to my ministry students at the University of Chicago that weddings in most cultures are multi-day events. Shifting the dynamics of a young couple’s every social relationship takes time and involves the whole village. Even though we’ve reduced the process to a twenty-minute ceremony and some signatures on a document, the anxiety remains. And so, in our culture, we fuss over flowers and cake and rented clothes and seating arrangements, because, from this day forward, everything will be different.

Husbands and wives, previously aligned with siblings and parents, are now allied with a spouse. This should be understood by all involved as a tectonic transformation; unfortunately, in-laws frequently fail to honor the shift. Too many marriages are beset with hostile impositions from family not recognizing that their sibling or child is now committed to a spouse, something God seemed to take very seriously at the Tent of Meeting. You don’t need to like your new son or daughter or brother or sister-in-law, but you better support their marriage. Don’t make me visit you in the hospital when you contract leprosy.

Hoping you’ll give the in-laws a break, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor