Who would have thought a Cheerios commercial could spark racial rage? A recently released ad for the classic American cereal featured a White mother, a Black father, and an interracial child.

The Commercial and Its Comments

The child asks the mother if she’s sure Cheerios are good for the heart and when the mom replies that they are, the child trots away with a smile.  The father, who is napping on the couch, awakens to a chest full of Cheerios piled near his heart.

To the credit of the advertisers, the ad doesn’t make a big deal about race.  No one  mentions color by name and the scenario isn’t presented in such a way that it highlights the bi-racial child or the different races of the parents.  In all respects, this is a typical Cheerios commercial featuring a typical American family.  The only problem for some is that they aren’t the same color.

The company eventually had to turn off the comments on Youtube where the video had been posted due to obscene and racist comments.  An article on Adweek described some specifics by saying, “And then you have the YouTube comments section, which predictably has devolved into an endless flame war, with references to Nazis, ‘troglodytes’ and ‘racial genocide.’”

The Adweek article goes on to say, ” At what point will an ad like this just seem normal?”

The Increasing Popularity of Interracial Marriage

Their question is a valid once since interracial marriages have been sharply increasing over the last three decades.  According to a Pew Research study released in 2012, “marrying out” has more than doubled since 1980. The executive summary states:

About 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another, more than double the share in 1980 (6.7%). Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married out. Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%. In 1980, that share was just 3.2%.

A Problem as Old as America

Many states passed anti-miscegenation laws (rules against marrying outside of one’s own race) after the Civil War.  These laws remained on the books until 1967 until the Loving v. Virginia case made all such laws unconstitutional.  Still, reflecting wide ambivalence about the ruling, many states were slow to change their constitutions.  Alabama was the last state to officially repeal its anti-miscegenation laws in 2000.

Two Racial Realizations

The Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple and a bi-racial child got me thinking about two racial realities.  Number one, we still need to talk about race.  And number two, racial and ethnic integration should be a priority for the church.

#1 We Still Need to Talk about Race

This Cheerios ad featuring an interracial couple and a bi-racial child is case-in-point of why we still need to talk about race.  While some may dismiss the racist comments as the rantings of a small group of bigots, that solution is too easy.  A flare up like this should remind us that America has endured a traumatic racial past and continues to feel its effects.

Even if overtly racist comments like those expressed in reaction to this commercial are relatively infrequent, the heart attitudes that lead to such sentiments are more common.  Most of us are “politically correct” enough not to point out race in public or in an offensive way.  But for too many of us, these racist comments bear a resemblance to our unspoken thoughts and feelings about mixing colors.  And nowhere, it seems, does America more truly show its colors than when White and Black people intermarry.

A box of Cheerios breakfast cereal.

#2 Racial and Ethnic Integration Should Be a Priority for the Church

The Cheerios ad reveals that America still has a race problem, and that is why the church should make racial and ethnic diversity a priority in the 21st century.  I can think of no more visible display of the Gospel’s power to reconcile sinners to God and  to each other than a congregation demonstrating worshipful unity in the midst of racial diversity.

Some Christians maintain that we are “post-racial” or that race is irrelevant these days.  This is a false assumption and it slows down the solidarity we need to see, especially between Blacks and Whites.  When a brand as innocent and American as Cheerios creates a firestorm ignited by race, let’s admit the topic is still relevant and start talking about ways to move forward.

The furor this family caused got me thinking about the church.  Would a Youtube video of our church picnic raise as much ire as this Cheerios commercial?  Would observers in our Sunday morning worship be similarly scandalized by the composition of our congregation?

The Family of God

Some may think the comparison between a fictional family in a commercial and the church is a stretch, but the Bible frequently refers to believers as a family.  Christians are members of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10), God is our Father (Mt. 6:9), we are children of God (Jn. 1:12), and we are brothers and sisters of one another (Rm. 12:10).

Yet Christ’s family is united by much more than blood.  Rather, we have a cosmically unique blood bond–the shed blood of our shared Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through faith in Christ believers who are far more diverse than a mixed race couple come together in a far deeper relationship than an earthly marriage.

People of different races, ethnicities, languages, cultures, income, education, gender, and ages are inseparably bound together through the Holy Spirit because of their faith in Christ (Gal. 3:28).  The unity and the diversity of the church is of a categorically higher degree than the diversity the family in the Cheerios commercial displayed.  But far too few of our congregations reflect this reality.

Each church will have to examine its own context and come up with its own solutions guided by Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Not every local church body will have an array of skin colors, languages, and ethnicities.  A church in Phoenix will have different demographics than a church in Idaho or a congregation in Mississippi.  In some cases, due to certain geographic and community constraints, a body may be more or less diverse.  But each church should strive to resemble the demographics of its local community and all churches should preach and teach the trans-racial, trans-ethnic reach of the Gospel.

The Church Before a Watching World

No single solution can adequately apply to all churches in all their different contexts.  Volumes of work must be done to plot a path toward racial peace in the new millennium.  But we can’t even begin walking down that path until we as believers in the U.S. accept that race is still an American dilemma.

We must stop treating questions about race as if they are peripheral to our witness in this country.  Racial reconciliation is central to the church’s task of being salt, light, and a city on a hill (Mt. 5:13-16).  In the sight of a watching world, they will know we are Christians by our love, especially our love for all the beautiful colors with which God has painted His people.