Most of us pay lip service to condemn dowry as a contemporary social evil, however, this ancient Indian custom continues to destroy families in our present age as well. Before bringing up this issue to the whole world, I believe that this must first be addressed to the professed people of God who are called to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). It is for Christians to confront this issue and explore fully to know whether dowry is acceptable or despicable. Let us reason, examine and find out - Is demanding dowry a perverted practice? Do we have any biblical proofs in order to come to this conclusion? Is requiring dowry in marriage unbiblical, or to say further, an anti-biblical practice?
This message might be offensive and discomforting to many money-loving readers. However, the fact remains – truth is bitter but makes our lives better. Therefore, I encourage you to read this message with an open mind and a humble attitude.
What is Dowry?
Dowry is a kind of gift given by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family along with the giving away of the bride. The terms and conditions of dowry often match those of a regular business or a financial agreement. Dowry negotiations are an essential prerequisite to marital bond. It can range from furniture, land, cash and consumer goods, to paying the husband’s study fees and the expenses of the marriage.
Though it is claimed this has no religious sanction, the practice of dowry (Katnam or Dahej) has originated from Hindu social custom in India, and is an important part of Hindu marital rites. It is suspected that dowry originated in the upper caste Hindu families who could not provide for themselves sufficiently and therefore had to accept the material support along with the bride, who was another responsibility. It soon became an outlet of greed while masking itself as a privilege of the strictly patriarchal society.
The Indian law recognised the dire outcomes of this practice in 1961and has officially prohibited by pronouncing the dowry system as illegal. Nevertheless, this practice is actively continued by Hindus, and has even crept into other religious communities like Islam and Christianity. These days, a dowry is no more a deliberate gift given by the bride’s family – it has become a mandatory act. And shamefully, it is rampant even among Christians.
The Consequences of Dowry
i) The practice of dowry has demeaned the value of a women in our society. To have a daughter means to lose money and material goods, but to have a son translates to gaining more. Since the world weighs everything materially, women have come to be considered less valuable to the parents than sons. The joy of the birth of a girl child is lost by the immediate realization of added responsibility of the father to start storing up wealth for her dowry.
ii) Most families prefer a male child either because they can capitalise on him to bring in dowry or to prevent the giving of it. The wife is held accountable and faces a lot of disgrace and mistreatment by her husband and in-laws, if the baby conceived is not male (though the XY chromosome that determines the baby’s sex comes from the husband and he is to be held accountable, if at all).
iii) Probably the most depraved consequences are feticide (abortion of female babies in the mother’s womb) and infanticide (killing an infant). Research points out that dowry is a direct cause for these horrible crimes. Though the law prevents pre-natal sex determination, greed and fear make people ignore it and deny life. It hasn’t been long since magazines had hit the stands with cover photos of female babies’ corpses unearthed over a large stretch of land, with the headline screaming: Killing Fields.
iv) Numerous women are undergoing harassment and physical abuse, compelling some of them either to commit suicide or ruthlessly be killed by their husbands and/or in-laws who lust for dowry. It is a sad statistical commentary of our times that 18 women are killed everyday in India because of dowry.
v) Broken marriages and families are the saddest thing in our society today. The wretched illegal practice of dowry is responsible for this plight.
vi) Many women’s marriages have been delayed because their parents could not afford sufficient dowry and even worse, many women have remained unmarried just because they are unable to pay their dowry! The huge debts that a bride’s family undertakes in order to pay for the dowry puts them into severe financial crisis and depression.
vii) A number of marriage negotiations break down if there is no consensus between the families on dowry. Groom’s families are even known to seek alliances that offers a better bargain. (I came to know of a failed marriage alliance because the dowry negotiation was not up to the expectations. Ironically, these were Christian parties and the mediator was none other than pastor himself)
Secular Opponents of Dowry
In the website Hindu Net, a secular writer noted, "Dowry is a deplorable practice. It is not a practice for which there is religious sanction, but it continues to be practiced in India today." Though dowry is a paganistic practice of Hindu religion, fortunately, there are those of the same religion who stand against the evil practice. I commend them for taking a stand against this deplorable practice and am equally ashamed at those so-called Christians who still love to require dowry in marriage.
The newspaper quotes a secular Industrialist - "We are more concerned about the evils of society like dowry. Moreover, he stated, that his company undertakes young men with an agreement that they will not accept dowry, from the prospective bride’s parents. A similar undertaking is given by women employees that they will not pay dowry." I also remember reading that a famous film actor had turned down an offer to star in a torch advertisement which sought to glorify the product as a dowry gift. Elsewhere, in an anti-dowry conference, over 200 Indians, both students and professionals, signed a dowry pledge which decrees, " I promise never to give or take dowry." Oh, how I wish to see this happening among Christian young men who can take a stand against this dehumanising practice!
Secular researchers have found a surprising fact: "A major new survey involving 10,000 respondents reports that the practice of dowry is becoming prevalent amongst dalit, backward caste, Muslim and Christian communities, which never had a tradition of dowry in the past."
Are you getting this? Dowry which was unheard of in the church before has become widely prevalent among Christians these days. How sad it is to witness Christians becoming equal with the world! Dear reader, where is your saltiness (good testimony before the world) today? Do you remember hearing these words of someone called Jesus, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men" (Matt. 5:12)? Jesus wanted those that partake of His blood and body to maintain such a moral standard so that the world would be influenced through their godliness and praise our Father in heaven. Are we Christians truly shining in darkness or have we allowed the darkness (the evil systems of the world) to creep in? "This is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Turn from your evil ways and from your evil practices’" (Zec. 1:4).
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:17-18). God has called His people to stay separate from the worldly systems to live a different life. (This is not to say that we should not relate with or despise the people of the world but that we should live a holy life uncompromisingly separated unto God.)
But have we Christians separated from the evil social system of dowry, thereby reflecting true godliness to the world? Maybe I am not talking about you, or maybe I am, but there are many so-called Christians who strongly claim of not compromising with the other religious practices but when it comes to issues like dowry (which actually originated from the Hindu social system) they cherish to indulge in it. Money indeed blinds eyes from the Truth. May we repent and turn to the Lord with brokenness and allow Him to represent Himself through us to the hopeless world! "O Lord, forgive us for bringing disgrace to your Name and for the worldliness in the church." As one of your servants prayed, "Bend the church and bless the world."
Is Dowry Anti-Biblical?
"Where in the Bible is it specifically written that we should not take dowry?", some Christians ask ignorantly, or to justify their love of dowry. It is interesting to notice that, in the Biblical times, it was the bridegroom’s family who used to offer gifts to the bride and to her family! Abraham sent gifts to Rebekah and to her family as a token of acceptance for his son Isaac (Gen. 24:53). Jacob served his father-in-law for seven years to get Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). Ah, the bride is highly valued in the Holy Bible! Speaking about dowry in the Old Testament, my friend Rusty Entrekin says, "Daughters were a great asset to their parents, not a liability." So, what exactly should the Biblical tradition be, if at all (again provided that it is done under no obligation)? Let us not forget that there is a world of difference between the deliberate offering of gifts from the bridegroom’s side in the Biblical times and the demand of dowry from the bridegroom’s side in our nation now. The Holy Bible sternly condemns the pagan Hindu practice of the bride's parents being compelled to pay the bridegroom to marry their daughter. The following are some of the reasons regarding how the lust for dowry violates God’s word.
i) Dowry desecrates the sacred institution of God in marriage. It violates the glorious purpose of God for marriage. Biblically, marriage is a holy institution of God where holy vows of love, faithfulness and commitment are exchanged unconditionally. Unfortunately, because of dowry, money has become a primary issue in marriage instead of God’s will and His sacred union. Even before printing Holy Matrimony on the marriage cards, dowry has become the unholy practice behind the screen.
ii) The requirement of dowry violates the very first commandment given by God, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk. 12:33). What is love? Though the term ‘love’ has many descriptions, the apparent description of love given by most biblical teachers is that it is a selfless act of giving and helping others. Jesus taught us to be generous givers out of love and not greedy seekers for money (Matt. 6:3; 6:19-24; Lu. 10:25-37). Is this loving principle practised in Christian marriages? Answer for yourself.
iii) Seeking dowry evidently proves lust for money. "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil," is a truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures (1 Tim. 6:10). The requirement of dowry by bridegroom’s family does in no way prove love for their neighbor but lust for their possessions. Br. Zac Poonen, addressed this well:
Dowry is another evil that is found among many believers. No true disciple of Jesus will ever ask for dowry from a girl or from her parents as a condition for marrying the girl. There is nothing wrong in the girl’s father giving her a gift after she is married. But there is everything wrong in making money a factor in deciding about a marriage! The present-day dowry system in India is satanic. Yet we find Christians in almost all denominations (evangelical and liberal) receiving it. The French infidel Voltaire, after observing Christians in Europe for many years in the 18th century said that, "In whatever doctrines the many Christian denominations differed, they all had the same doctrine as far as money was concerned – they all loved it." When it comes to dowry too, they all have the same doctrine – they love it.
iv) Dowry violates the command of doing good to others (Jas. 4:17) and to carry each others’ burden (Gal. 6:3). Instead, dowry casts the burden on the bride’s family and in no way it does good to them.
v) The Holy Bible says just as Christ loved the church unconditionally (which is symbolically His bride) and gave Himself up for her, the husbands must likewise love their wives (Eph. 5:25). The requirement of dowry violates unconditional love. Such marriages are not Christ-centered and I doubt the abundant blessings of the Lord upon them! Oh, without meeting the financial and material agreement, there are many who do not give their sons for marriage or wait to find suitable bride who can meet their expectations!
vi) The Holy Bible warns us not to become a stumbling block to the unbelievers (1 Cor. 8:9). Christians are called be the light of the world and to set a good example to others. An unbeliever who came to know of a Christian family demanding dowry asked me, "Being Christians, how do you all still demand dowry?" What a disgrace and humiliation to defend "Christianity" here! (Interestingly, this unbeliever committed to not demand dowry when his two sons get married. Shame on us greedy Christians!)
vii) Dowry violates one of the ten commandments, "Do not covet your neighbor’s property" (Ex. 20:17). This commandment is unashamedly broken by many Christians by requiring dowry in marriages, which is nothing but a sin of covetousness.
viii) Dowry violates the will of God to not oppress anyone (Eze. 18:7). It is painful to know how many brides’ families are oppressed under the yoke of dowry. In the Biblical times, God’s people were oppressed through bribe and injustice by their own people and these days people are oppressed through dowry by professed God’s people. Make no mistake about it: demanding dowry is a sin of oppression in the sight of the Almighty God whom you worship!
ix) Dowry violates the command of God to submit to the secular authorities (Rom. 13:1; 1 Peter 3:22). According to the Indian law, "the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, makes it a crime to demand, give or take dowry." Dowry is as serious as bribery. Yet, this has become a common rebellion by people - including Christians - against law.
Oh, but aren’t we masters of justifying our evil, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees:
i) Some say, "Dowry is just a gift – so, what’s wrong?" Well, what is a gift? It is something that is offered deliberately to others, and if it is given under obligation or compulsion it is no longer called a gift. When the bridegroom’s family asks for or even demands dowry, how can it still be classified as a gift? Sadly, some bride’s parents give dowry fearing that without it, their daughter may not be treated well by the in-laws. By the way, why should the burden of giving gifts fall only the bride’s family? It is up to them to give within their ability and deliberately but it is sinful to demand dowry as a prerequisite. However, there is nothing wrong if the bride’s and the groom’s family together bless the newly-weds within their own abilities.
ii) Even though they know the practice of dowry is evil, some young men give excuses that they had to accept dowry under their parents’ compulsion. They even justify themselves: "Doesn’t the Bible say that we have to honor our parents?" What a silly excuse to justify an evil act! Sometimes, the devil too craftily quotes Scriptures in order to lead us into sin (Read the temptation of Jesus in Matt. 4). Of course, the Bible does say that we have to honor our parents. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that we have to honor them at the cost of dishonoring the standards of God. Jesus forthrightly said, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10:37-38). Mark these words: no cross-bearer can be a dowry-seeker.
If it is a matter of either obeying God’s Word or your parents’ wish, which one would you choose? If your parents insist on dowry, teach them that it is not a good act, and if necessary, rebuke them in love. If we do not obey our parents in matters that are not according to or sometimes against God’s will, it does not mean we are dishonoring them. Br. R Stanley, a wonderful Indian Christian writer, commented:
When money transaction becomes a major factor in marriage, all sorts of evil will creep in. Money does matter but it does not matter for Christ-centered marriages. Many a Christian young man has missed God’s best in the choice of his life-partner because he has yielded to the pressure from his parents to make money in the marriage deal. It’s not cash or complexion but character that lasts (Pro. 31:30). Boys must have the backbone to resist parental pressures. Throwing the entire blame on parents is not manliness.
iii) Still others (from the groom’s side) say, "You know, the money that we get from dowry can be used to meet some debts we have or to meet the expenses of the marriage or to meet the expenses of our other children’s marriage. We have spent a lot educating our son." What a great and ungodly deal! Well, what about the parents who invest in upbringing and educating their daughters? Who will bear their expense? In order to get rid of our burdens is it fair to put burden on the other side? If in crisis, the Bible says to pray and seek God’s help (Jas. 5:13) and not to burden others. Further, I want to suggest, if there are no sufficient finances to have a marriage ceremony grandly, it is good indeed to conduct it modestly.
Once I happened to read a newsletter regarding dowry and it was requested, "Dear saints, please say a prayer for the women/girls of India." How can the saints of India pray when they themselves engage in the evil act? Those who did not stain themselves with this evil practice need to really pray, first for their fellow Christians who are caught up in dowry, and then for other unbelievers.
I humbly urge you - dear young men and parents - not to partake in this evil practice of dowry. I urge you dear pastors to teach your congregation to refuse dowry. I would appreciate your commitment if you vow not to lead a marriage ceremony if there has been a demand for dowry. I came to know that even some pastors do demand dowry for their own marriages! To quote Br. R Stanley again:
In the repentance messages preached by late Br. N. Daniel of the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship in the fifties, he often condemned the dowry system. In response many husbands either returned the amount to their in-laws or settled the matter with them in order to get right with God and with men. Modern pulpits hardly address social evils. On the other hand there are pastors who bless the dowry amount so they get one-tenth of it. Shame!
O People of God, repent and change your ways!
Finally, dear brothers, sisters and elders, since centuries - dowry, sati (self-immolation by a widow) and child marriages - which originated from Hindu social customs, have been prevalent in our nation. William Carey (1760-1834), who was known to be the father of modern missions, influenced not just missions but also the society. He fought the evil practice of sati in his time along with Raja Ram Mohan Roy and witnessed its abolishment. Isn’t there anyone in our nation today who can stand against dowry which has crept into Christianity? Will we ever hear messages from the pulpit addressing this major issue? Are the ministers of God willing to teach their congregation regarding dowry? Are we Christians and ministers of God willing to stand against this evil practice in the church and society and witness its abolishment? Young men, are you willing to commit yourselves to have selfless and unstained marriage?
Rise up, O children of God, and shine for the glory of the Holy One in this nation!
3. The Week, Vol. 24, No. 31, July 2, 2006, pg. 4.
5. The Hindu, 22 August, 2003.
9. Zac Poonen , Practical Discipleship, 1999
10. Anjali Modi, The Hindu, 25th May, 2003
11. R Stanley, Frank Answers - Volume Two, 2000
12. R Stanley, Frank Answers - Volume Two, 2000