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The Bride Wore White – But Why?

June 15, 2009

Owen Strachan is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.  He is also the Managing Directory of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS.  We are grateful for his continued contribution to the Gender Debate at CBMW.  This post, along with many other helpful resources, can be found at his personal website.

Newsweek is running a piece, "MySpace Generation Brides Go for Sexy, Not Virgin" that chronicles the sexualization of weddings and offers this concise statement of where things are:

In response, sociologists say, the sexier dresses and the handoff of pin-up pictures—which was introduced into the wedding prep about three years ago—are ways to add spark to an already-established couple’s sex life and mark the marriage as a monumental life change. “When a girl left her parents’ house to be married, she was making an enormous transition,” Wallace says. “The wedding celebration was to help her negotiate the change. Now very often there is no functional difference between marriage and living together.”

One wonders how long the tradition of the white bridal gown will last. It does not, after all, signal purity for many brides today, as it formerly did. It is merely a holdover from a quaint age and an aesthetically pleasing choice for brides today.

The sexualization of weddings is really quite strange, if you think about it. Weddings (should) celebrate the complete union of a couple, but this is a private matter, not a public one. It’s very strange, and quite twisted, to have brides attempting to draw the eyes of men other than their husband on their wedding day. One doesn’t need to be a Christian to see this. It’s just common sense. It’s downright weird for a woman to sexually advertise herself on the very day that she announces to the world that she is permanently taken.

Weddings ceased to symbolize purity long ago, of course. Bachelor parties, for example, have little pure about them as practiced by many men. Though we justly decry this, does it really surprise us? Everything good in this world faces the assault of Satan and his weapon, sin. That includes marriage, and weddings, and everything else.

This reminds us of the tremendous opportunity every Christian woman has to offer an unmistakably clear witness to lost people. Every act of modesty, however small, is significant. A total commitment to modesty brings great glory to God, firstly, and also has incredible cultural power provided that a Christian woman knows unbelievers to witness to.

We are reminded on this matter that we Christians need to be in the world so that our witness can shine among the lost. It is great for Christian women to all be modest together–we need that. But we need them, however they can, to be modest as a mode of witness.

This does not have to mean–in most cases–something extreme. It’s fine for Christian women to look normal and even fashionable. It’s nice for a woman to feel confident about herself and her appearance. Women should not feel the need to wear huge dresses, billowing blouses, or the like to avoid keeping men from stumbling. Honestly, if a woman is being modest, the power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient for men to avoid lust.

We need to wrap up. Many brides today don’t dress modestly. Christian women should, knowing that they are imaging something greater than their own marriage. As they have preserved themselves for their husband and chosen carefully about how to act and dress, giving constant precedence to modesty, so the church of Jesus Christ will one day meet her husband in a ceremony celebrating the Savior who has given His bride the greatest gift the world has ever known–righteousness, pure and dazzling, that outshines the most immodest show this world can offer.

Additional reading:

All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of the American Wedding by Carol Wallace

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

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