Imagine a sanctuary filled with teachers and students of various ages singing:
“It’s the child on his wedding day,
It’s the mommy that gives him away,
A child on his wedding day… given away. Pause for a moment and think about that. Young, teenage boys married off to older, wiser, and more mature women… mothers handing over the care of their sons to other women… sons never allowed to become fully functioning adults but instead, entrusted to the parental-type care of a matriarchal wife who will always decide what is best for her husband. Would you find this strange and alarming?
While I’m sure that the above, altered version of a currently popular song would sound very bizarre to our ears, the real lyrics seem to invoke a sweet and innocent nostalgia when the gender is reversed.
Recently, one of my children invited me to attend her school’s weekly chapel where this song was part of the program. As the students and teachers sang, I chose not to sing along because it conjured up images, for me, of immature brides being given away like merchandise. I grasp that for many people it is nothing more than an innocent, sentimental, figurative description of a daddy letting go of his beloved daughter. Because I understand that the musicians are generally supportive of gender equality, I think that they simply did not think through all of the possible ramifications that these particular words could convey. So while I comprehend that these lyrics were just meant to evoke happy memories and to romanticize “traditional” wedding ceremonies, I can’t help to also perceive that these lyrics may work to devalue women. Consequently, it does not leave a beautiful picture in my mind.
There is within present-day Christianity those who glorify patriarchal families which treat women like perpetual children who will always need adult male guardianship. Men are viewed as the analyzing, discerning brains of the family who get to hear directly from God, while women are viewed as the tender, nurturing heart of the family who get to hear their husbands tell them what God’s will is for them. So the choice of the word “child” in this song causes me to picture a childlike bride who still needs adult supervision and guidance from her more mature groom. Personally, I think it would be better if Christian songs conveyed that the bride is a consenting adult on her wedding night.
The “giving away” of the bride, while figuratively representing the daddy “letting go of his little girl,” can also be a stark reminder of girls who are still literally given (or sold) away. Whether figurative or literal, it still expresses that the bride is a possession even if her daddy has cherished her. The groom is not correspondingly “given away” to his bride. Since free human beings are not possessions, then is the bride not fully human or is she permanently enslaved to men? During the traditional wedding ceremony, the bride is usually walked down the aisle by her dad and delivered over to her awaiting groom. No parallel symbolism occurs for the groom leaving his family. Also, it is the cultural norm for the groom to retain his family name while the bride usually loses or “leaves” hers. Compare these cultural traditions with Genesis where we are told that “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24 TNIV)