14 June 2021  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

In my region in Africa the custom is that a woman who is marrying must wear a veil to show that she is a virgin. It isn’t unknown for elders to initiate a physical investigation to discover if the woman is qualified to wear the veil! The woman I want to marry is a wonderful Adventist Christian, but if at our wedding she shows up with her face revealed, the community will condemn her as if she were an immoral woman even though she lost her virginity when she was very young. It will demoralize her. What should I do?

Signed, Concerned for Her

Dear Concerned,

Aunty was unfamiliar with this particular custom, and consulted an African friend and Adventist Today writer, Admiral Ncube, to clarify your question. Here is his reply:

While historically African cultures valued chastity, most originally didn’t make virginity a requirement for entering into marriage. There were more important factors which legitimized traditional marriages, such as the relationships between the families. 

When the missionaries came to Africa, they insisted that the African traditional marriage was insufficient: unless a pastor had solemnized the marriage, the couple was living in sin. African couples were subjected to church discipline if they’d consummated their marriage without having had a church wedding, even though they’d met the community’s traditional marriage requirements. Our denomination’s missionaries were also guilty of this. This evolved into the demand for virginity, symbolized by the wedding veil.

Yet Scripture says nothing about virginity as a prerequisite for marriage, so those who make such demands are requiring what God does not require. It reminds me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees: “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4).

Is this not tantamount to putting asunder what God has joined? To subject women to a virginity test and make it a disciplinary issue, is holding a couple’s past against them instead of celebrating their joyful future together. It is especially humiliating and degrading to the woman, not to mention misogynistic. It says that the woman’s value is not in her having been created in the image of God, but in whether or not she has had sex. 

This is sexual objectification at its worst. Is a groom subject to the same investigation? Of course not. If your bride’s state of virginity doesn’t bother you—especially since, as you imply in your question, she lost her virginity when young, possibly even against her will—why should she be subject to the community’s scorn? This is nothing but an unnecessary intrusion. 

It is time for these colonial traditions to be challenged strongly by African Christians. Neither the Bible nor African traditional culture says anything about a veil or a white dress. It is no more a Christian requirement than is a necktie. The white wedding with a veil is no closer to the divine will than the African traditional wedding, as long as the marriage is blessed by God. 

Cultural fusion, such as that between African culture and Christianity, can be beneficial. But forcing a woman to make a public statement of virginity is demeaning and unbiblical. Let the church’s concern be directed at its own critical spirit, instead of toward the past of a couple who are trying to build a future together.

Thanks to Admiral Ncube for his help with this cross-cultural question.

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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