Church Discipline as Virginity Testing: Shaping Adolescent Girls’ Sexuality in the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Africa
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Church discipline for falling pregnant out of wedlock is in practice discriminatory as it effectively affects girls than boys in the majority of cases. This article seeks to explore the role of church discipline in the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Africa in controlling and shaping adolescent girls’ sexuality. The church teaches about abstinence before marriage to both boys and girls. However reality as evidenced by pregnancies in schools by adolescents and the high rate of new HIV infections attests to the failure of the message of abstinence. The message of abstinence implies that the church views virginity until marriage as a sign of purity. The Lutheran churches’ church discipline and subsequent process of public absolution to adolescent girls who fall pregnant out of wedlock is considered by this study as a form of virginity testing that is practiced by the church in order to control and shape women’s sexuality at an early age. This qualitative exploratory study is non empirical however some empirical research is taken from participant observation research that was conducted during an earlier research project. The study seeks to present a meta-narrative analysis of the Lutheran church discipline process as a gendered power issue used to control and shape adolescent girls’ sexuality. Findings of this study are that the Christian church’s emphasis on abstinence is in fact a focus on virginity as a form of purity which is a way of controlling and shaping women’s sexuality since in most cases girls are the ones seen seeking for absolution after giving birth. Those who make them pregnant are not usual visible. This way, those who seek for absolution are no longer virgins, ideally implying that those who have not fallen pregnant are still virgins and pure. Findings of this study are evaluated through African women’s cultural hermeneutics and hermeneutics of suspicion.
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