By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
The church prohibits premarital sex. The Bible labels it fornication. The church condemns premarital physical intimacy between intending couples. The Bible deems it sexual immorality. The church abhors marital separations and divorces. The Bible says marriage is for better and for worse. And many Christian denominations interpret the Bible to mean that a divorcee cannot re-marry. So Christian marriage is considered sacrosanct.
It then means that a Christian wedding is an important Rubicon. It has to be approached circumspectly and prayerfully. In the world, courtship allows sufficient premarital sexual intercourse. The assumption is that courtship is the time to fully test chemistry and compatibility before marriage. The church forbids Christians from such carnal explorations. Intending Christian couples therefore are expected to the reach that technical point of no return without looking into or probing each others groins.
Yes, the righteous must live by faith, but eyes and ears and information aren’t totally useless to people of great faith. And Christians with baby faiths have to marry too. Christian courtship therefore encourages as much non sinful disclosures and due diligence as possible.
The limitations placed on Christian courtship have generated a lot of anxieties over the ages. And many Christians freed themselves from those anxieties by breaking the rules, by engaging in routine premarital sex. If the church had done any research, it would have discovered that premarital sex was nearly cultural even amongst Christians. So the church ought to have shown concern long ago.
The institution of heterosexual marriage is one of the main pillars of Christianity. That institution is now particularly threatened. Divorce rates have become alarming, even amongst Christians. The church recognizes that marriage can survive without children but cannot survive without sex. If marriage must be consummated with sex then at the very least the sex organs must be taken for granted to exist. That presumption has become increasingly precarious.
The church must be concerned about this age. This is the age of proliferation and diversity of sexual orientations. Since the church restricts thorough due diligence, it must introduce measures to assuage growing old and new anxieties. The church must seek to deny premarital sex legitimacy conferred on it by the need for greater sexual diligence in the midst of so much confusion and transsexuality.
The Redeemed Christian Church Of God (RCCG) conducts mandatory marriage counseling sessions for intending couples who plan to wed in the church. The would be couples are informed about the demands of Christian marriage and the gender roles. But counseling also anticipates prevalent marital issues and seeks to prevent them in new marriages.
So a few medical tests are deemed necessary to improve the quality of counseling. Intending couples are sent to designated hospitals to be tested for pregnancy, HIV and genotype. The aim of the medical investigations is to enhance fuller disclosures and help decision making. Sickle cell disease in children has tested and damaged many Christian marriages. The world has prenatal diagnosis and embryo selection to rely on. But a strict interpretation of Christian doctrine on abortion may forbid these medical procedures. It’s therefore important that couples understand the risks before they take the vows. And the church is right not to leave it to the couples to decide whether they want tests or not.
The church will not wed a pregnant bride. You can term it pretentious or sexist. But the church has good reasons which may not make sense to a feminist for such a tradition. The church will bless such a couple. The church never refuses to wed couples based on positive medical findings. It counsels intending couples if a problematic medical result turns up. But it always allows them make their informed decisions. The church understands that faith and love can trump science.
Even where the results reveal HIV infection or some genotype incompatibility, the church doesn’t make the decisions. The intervention of the church is to enhance positive freedoms, the personal autonomy of the couples.
Recently, the RCCG decided to include mandatory medical physical examinations, to determine biological sex, to the list of medical checks for intending couples. And hell was let loose. The church was accused of acting like a secret cult. Some scoffed that the measures were too intrusive. Some said the tests were designed to determine virginity through the backdoor, so they are sexist.
The decision to include a mandatory physical examination by a doctor is moral. It’s minimal. It’s necessary. It’s aimed at a legitimate concern. It is therefore a justified intrusion. There are many Christian bachelors and spinsters who would not have engaged in premarital sex if they were sure their partners had the right genitals. Yes, agreed, the organ could be present and not functional, particularly in men. Anatomical abnormalities discovered after weddings always seem fraudulent. Physiological abnormalities are less heart breaking.
The truth is that premarital sex has become rampant in churches. Were it not the case, were every young unmarried lady and man committed to celibacy, they would welcome the checks. In the throes of love, intending couples wouldn’t ask questions that could be misconstrued to portray them as being too shrewd, too calculative. Love is supposed to be blind. But many marriages have crashed because simple checks were not done, not forced on couples. Since Christians do not have the freedom to do all the checks others do, the compulsory medical examination would help alleviate anxieties and deny premarital sex apparent legitimacy.
The church must not cave in to pressures from the outside. The church is supposed to be the light of the world. And the church isn’t supposed to be compatible with the world all the time. The church must always be on the look out for new social problems and create solutions to alleviate them.
If couples are honest, mandatory physical tests would harm no one. It would strengthen the hand of one or two of the parties intending matrimony to resist premarital sex. The church must stand strong. Mandatory premarital medical physical checks would please God.