Culture, Marriage, and Marriage Policies

When a Chinese girl is “given away” to another man in marriage, a man is often expected to pay a bride price (or “Pin Jin” or “聘金”) that is to be negotiated and agreed upon between the two families. [1] In other words, we are degrading marriage to “a transmission of goods from the kin of the groom to the kin of the bride in return for which certain rights in the bride are transferred” [2]. Of course, we also must take into consideration the culture that is at play here. Where money is concerned in a mainly patriarchal society like China, girls are normally seen as “goods” to be “sold”. On this note, the bride price is then seen as a form of “compensation” that the family of the groom should pay the family of the bride for “raising a daughter” [3].

That’s part of the Chinese cultural tradition when it comes to weddings.

However, the Christian take on marriage on another hand is slightly different. In the Christian view of marriage, both man and woman are both independent individuals [4] with the capacity to make sound judgements [5]. Bishop Butler of Southwark reinforced this point by stating that “true marriage in the Christian understanding is the couple’s voluntary consent to a lifelong monogamous union” [6].

So, what happens when we marry the Chinese Culture and the Christian Doctrine in a church where Chinese still practices such traditions?

Bishop Butler openly condemns the use of “marriages” to gain certain advantages. He wrote that “the practice of forcing one of the partners to marry in order to be able to sponsor a marriage visa and gain immigration advantage cannot be justified and is to be strongly condemned.” [6].

On this note, it can also be inferred that “marriages” that was conducted in order to give either family certain advantage or benefits should also be condemned. Now, consider that the original tradition of the “bride price” is to “compensate” the bride’s family. What happens when the use of “bride price” has “strayed from its original purpose” [7]?

What happens when a girl is married into a family not of her choice because her family is in need of cash?

Consider also if a Christian girl from a non-Christian family, experiencing the exact same scenario. Is that “marriage”, morally right? Is it acceptable?

Question is, should it even be counted as a “marriage” from a Christian’s point of view?

And, what happens if this Christian girl escapes from this family and wishes to start a proper family with a proper “marriage”?

The stand of the reformed church is firm. “The faithful church will proclaim the prohibition against remarriage,” wrote Professor Engelsma in a pamphlet published by Hope Protestant Reformed Church [8].

Few Presbyterian pastors of Malaysia and Anglican Pastors of Singapore whom I have come into contact with shared with me a similar take on the matter, emphasizing that weddings of “divorced persons” – regardless of context and background – are “frowned upon and will not be recognized by the church”. Though their voices should not represent the entire denomination, I am unable to find the official document stating their marriage policies and hence, I will keep it as that for the time being.

However, one must recognize that churches around the world are softening their stand on conducting wedding ceremonies for couples who are remarrying. A very good example of the church softening its stand is the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan [9].

The delicate nature of marriage and re-marriage should be touched upon with great respect and sensitivity especially when it concerns the crossing of cultures. The Church should ask questions like whether or not such strict marriage policies should apply to traditional cultures or first-or-second-generation believers who still have families who insist on the adherence to cultural traditions.

Ultimately, it is the delicate nature of the topic that made it almost impossible to give an overarching answer to the said issue. What’s worse, this topic may in itself, open up to a can of worms that requires wisdom on the pastoral authority to handle with utmost cultural sensitivity.

Should a girl who was forcefully given into marriage for the greed of her family be offered another chance in marriage?

Should Chinese Christian view marriage as a monetary exchange?

Can a girl who has escaped a bad forced-marriage be given a chance to remarry in church and be acknowledged by the congregation once again?

I think, Paul has given an indirect answer to this that is worthy of our contemplation in this context.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
(1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NIV.)

References:

[1] – Koh, C. (2017). Pin Jin Or Dowry: What You Should Know About This Chinese Wedding Tradition. Retrieved from https://www.herworld.com/weddings/ideas-advice/pin-jin-or-dowry-what-you-should-know-about-chinese-wedding-tradition

[2] – Randeria, S., & Visaria, L. (1984). Sociology of Bride-Price and Dowry. Economic and Political Weekly, 19(15), 648-652. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4373161

[3] – Hung, J. (2017). Marriage Migration in Rural China: Daughters Have a Price Tag. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/humanrights/2017/12/04/marriage-migration-in-rural-china-daughters-have-a-price-tag/

[4] – God made independent individuals who are capable to think and rationalize the importance of marriage so as to leave their families to be joined as one. At the beginning, both man and woman are made in the image of God, that gave them fully capable of recognizing what does it mean to be joined in a union established by God, independently. After all, the arrangement of marriage was “good” before sin came.

Matthew 19:4-6, NIV. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

[5] – Proverbs 3:21, NIV. My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion.

[6] – Blake, D. (2008). Forced marriage ‘morally and legally wrong’ – Church of England. Retrieved from https://www.christiantoday.com/article/forced.marriage.morally.and.legally.wrong.church.of.england/17281.htm

[7] – Gan, N. (2016). What price true love? – groom in China pays bride’s parents millions for permission to marry. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/1913885/what-price-true-love-groom-china-pays-brides-parents-millions

[8] – Engelsma, D. J. (2014). The Prohibition of the Remarriage of the “Innocent Party”. Retrieved from http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/pamphlets/item/3889-the-prohibition-of-the-remarriage-of-the-innocent-party

[9] – May, C. (2017). Harry and Meghan: Can you remarry in church after divorce? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42141868

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