Courtship Schmortzship

imagesAs you might have noticed, there’s an article making the rounds on Facebook called “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” I read it sometime last week and found it to be quite interesting, though I didn’t agree with most of it. It did, however, hit a nerve, and judging from the reaction I’ve seen from many of my friends, I was not the only one. If you have not read this article, you should before reading any further. 

I’m a single girl in the last year of my twenties. I have one failed relationship to my name and two instances where guys have been interested in me and I could not return the favor. For the longest time before all of that, I thought I must be ugly because no one ever seemed interested and no one ever asked for me. I have since then discovered that I am not ugly and am actually quite attractive. At least the failed relationship I mentioned was good for that realization. Not only that, but every parent of marriageable young men with a five mile radius of me wants me for a daughter-in-law. If only their sons were so enthused. So, what’s the problem? According to the article above, girls like me stay single year after year after year because either courtship requires a guy to want to marry you before he gets to know you or your dad is an overbearing control-freak. The author of the article recommends a return to good “old-fashioned” dating. Hmmm. I sent the article to my brother-in-law to get his perspective. Jason is always good for a rational, non-reactionary, Biblical response to such things. He did respond, and I asked his permission to share his comments here. They are as follows:

“Bottom line, I thought that the article was poor and unhelpful. We need good conversations on topics like this in order to gain wisdom, but this kind of article doesn’t promote wisdom. Here’s why I think this.

The problems begin with the title, “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” That’s a big claim, and if one is going to make such a claim, one needs to have something to back it up. This is what the article fails to provide. It would have been much better if the author had titled his article “Why We Need to Improve on Courtship” or “Suggestions for Courting Christians” or even “Why I Believe Dating Is Better than Courtship,” or something along those lines. That kind of humility in the title (and the article) would have gone a long way toward making this a vehicle for gaining wisdom instead of a reactionary exercise.

I suspect, though I could not verify it simply by reading this article, that some of the underlying problem prompting this kind of reaction is embodied in the sentence, “Each year I waited for courtship to start working….” If the trust was placed in this methodology, then that was a problem to begin with. It reminds me very much of reactions against Christian schools. Back in the 1970’s, starting Christian schools became very popular, even though many Christian schools had a weak basis. In the past ten years, we hear all the reactionary comments about Christian schools not working. I think people had misplaced expectations to begin with. A good biblical understanding of sanctification would be a great help at this point. The distorted understanding comes through loudly in this statement, “The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.” When I read that, I wanted to exclaim, “What???” If this is really the way the author thought about courtship, then it is no wonder that courtship is a disaster. It was practically guaranteed to be a disaster if it was built on such an unbiblical foundation.

The author uses his grandparents’ generation and their dating practices as a foil for courtship. The unspoken assumption is “It worked for them.” But, with all historical integrity, we can ask, “Did it really?” Actual statistics don’t bear out the author’s paradigm. The entire twentieth century was a progression of getting worse and worse in the marriage and divorce departments. The “greatest generation” was pretty morally confused, in my opinion, and it showed in all kinds of ways, including relationships.

Another burr in my saddle regarding this article was that it was not well informed historically. The author makes unfounded generalizations, even in terminology like “traditional dating.” What was “traditional” about the way his grandparents dated? Actually, the way they dated was fairly “new-fangled” when they did it. The author also fails to take into account current sociological trends in general, like the fact that all Americans are waiting longer to get married these days and more and more of them are staying single, including the ones who date around like crazy. This is not an issue that can be compartmentalized as a courtship issue. Thus his entire cause-effect paradigm is open to serious doubt. For example, he puts in bold the statement, “a commitment to courtship is often a commitment to lifelong singleness.” Really? How does he know this? Anecdotes? What does he have to say to all the young women who have pursued dating with gusto but end up single?

So, by the time I got to the bold headline “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate Is So High,” I was about ready to stop reading this article. This is written by someone who seems to want to get lots of shares on Facebook by using shrill rhetoric. He goes on in the text to admit that there is little research on courtship divorce rates. So why put in bold what you admit you do not know?

At any rate, without interacting with every point he makes, I would have liked to see much better interaction with Scripture. Again, if he is going to claim a “fundamental” flaw in courtship, then he needs to demonstrate why it contradicts Scripture. He actually doesn’t even attempt to show that it contradicts Scripture (which, again, would be fine if he had made a more modest claim about his argument). I would have also liked to see much more rigorous moral reasoning, anchored in permanent moral truths, demonstrated in the broad expanse of human experience. If this article passes for good moral reasoning, may God help us all.

Now that I have given my unvarnished opinion about the article, I’d like to also say that I think the problems he reacts against are real problems. They need to be addressed. But articles like this just perpetuate the problem by adding more mess. Surely if the courtship groupies were spewing out simplistic, sloppy moralism, then throwing simplistic, sloppy, pro-dating moralism into the mix will help, right? Well, it will help create more mess. It won’t help people become more like Christ, which is what we are really after.”

So much for that. Since reading Thomas Umstattd’s article, I have come across some articles on the subject that I found to be far more balanced and helpful. Top of the list is an article by Jesse Jost, “Saving the Baby: An Alternative to Courtship.” Here’s another good one, “Courtship: It’s Just Coffee,” by Hal and Melanie Young.

Thoughts, anyone?

6 thoughts on “Courtship Schmortzship

  1. My thoughts:
    I read the “fundamentally flawed” article and have similar thoughts to Jason. In fact, in “Boy Meets Girl,” Josh Harris mentions a shift in his own thinking on the purposes of courtship when a couple of friends broke up. He lamented that courtship didn’t work, but was reminded by someone else that indeed it did work – they were able to determine whether or not to get married. They decided “No.” That’s not a failure, that’s a result preferable to getting married and later divorcing. Courtship isn’t “do this to get married,” it’s “do this generally to help you figure out whether you should get married to each other without getting too invested emotionally and physically.”

    I think it’s hard to have a beneficial conversation about the topic at all b/c we are very influenced by our own culture, and that affects how we think about proper dating/marriage. My take: get to know people, remain sexually pure (there are some hard lines, but within the gray of hand holding and brief kisses, give grace and avoid judgment), let your intentions be known (don’t lead people on!), and keep your focus on God rather than on marriage/the ring/the white picket fence and 2.5 kids.

  2. Hi Amanda,

    A quick introduction and then my thoughts. My dad is a friend of your parents, and told me about your movie, which I have yet to watch…agh (want to but making time is a challenge). I also am a violinist, although sporadically now that I have a lot of children and am home schooling. I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    Thomas Umstattd’s article was interesting to read but I didn’t agree with much of it either. I really appreciate your brother’s wisdom. Here are my thoughts.

    We do need to be careful not to build our beliefs (about anything, in this case, how to go about “finding” a spouse) around experiences rather on truth; rather than trusting God to work through obedience to His explicit directions and trusting Him to work through our particular circumstances. The advice in this article about “traditional dating” is founded on the experience of his grandparents and culture–which has changed dramatically over the last couple of generations–rather than truth. It’s got the same kind of flaws as courtship because it’s a method that isn’t God-given (but, in this case, experience driven). I’m not a courtship advocate either; the Bible doesn’t say anything about HOW to find a spouse. Many people point to examples in the Bible, such as Mary and Joseph, but examples of how people did things in the Bible aren’t commands, just a truthful record of what people did…often without commentary as to whether what they did was good or bad or indifferent. Many times the Bible gives examples of sinful behavior without commenting on it. The only guidelines I find in the Bible for relating to the opposite sex of any age are to conduct ourselves in purity toward one another (1 Tim 5:1-2) to submit to parental authority (Eph 6:1, Col. 3:20), if anyone cannot exercise self-control sexually, they need to marry (1 Cor 7:8-9), to marry someone who belongs to the Lord (1 Cor 7:39, 2 Cor 6:14), and not to cultivate sexual desires prematurely (Song 2:7).

    It’s also bad advice to advise even older children to “tell” their parents they intend to stop thinking along the lines of courtship and start going on dates. If a child is under the parents’ roof and under their authority and protection, they are called by God to submit to them and obey their rules and guidelines (Eph 6:1, Col 3:20). Children in their parents’ homes should never be encouraged to go against their parents wishes (unless those wishes happen to be sinful actions)…that would be sin. Unless a child is out from the authority of their parents’ home, this is out of line. And if they are, they ought to be careful to honor and respect their parents as they discuss this decision with them.

    I do disagree *strongly* with the reasoning for why so many marriages that began in courtship have failed (and have they any more than other types? I’m certainly not convinced…). They don’t fail because they didn’t get to know one another well enough or because they weren’t compatible. They fail because people are sinners. They fail because, no matter what circumstance, people can put on a mask of goodness to hide who they really are if the perceived rewards are great enough. They fail because every sinner is selfish. They fail because people are only willing to love and forgive within certain limits. They feel they are entitled to a certain level of respect or love and are unwilling to die to themselves and their own desires. They expect more of their spouse than they do of themselves. They fail because they lack humility. They don’t try to work out problems that they expected to circumvent because of the way they got along before they were married, or because they followed a certain formula they believed would lead to success. They don’t leave room for God to work through the sharpening and sometimes painful tool of marriage to another sinner. “We did everything right, so this shouldn’t happen.”
    We can’t prevent trials in marriage. (Paul writes in 1 Cor 7:28b “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.”) Troubles are inevitable and necessary for our growth in Christ. Some couples are more “compatible” than others…which means that they won’t have to rid their lives of as much sin and self as those who are in more “incompatible” circumstances. Is the goal of finding a spouse to find someone that’s easy to love and get along with? We may even say that our goal is to have a marriage that honors Christ and portrays His loving relationship with His church. But in my mind this relationship is even more beautifully shown in a marriage where husband and/or wife have to learn to deny self, to live for another, to give up their selfish ambitions for the good of the other, no matter how painful that process may be, regardless of “incompatibility”…because that’s what Christ did for us and that’s what the church does (albeit imperfectly) for Christ their Savior. I can’t think of a greater contrast in compatibility than Christ and the church!

    Method (courtship or dating) isn’t the problem. Method (courtship or traditional dating) isn’t the solution. The problem is sin. The solution is humble submission to Christ, no matter what circumstances a young person finds themself in…with parents who hold to courtship, godly parents who don’t, with unsaved parents who don’t care what you do, with mentors in the church who lead in a certain direction; and no matter where you end up: a good marriage, in a difficult marriage, or single. God doesn’t promise to bless a particular method of finding a spouse. He works through a vast variety of circumstances engineered by His wisdom to refine each of His children to make them more like Christ—and it rarely, if ever, looks the same in any two lives.

  3. Basically the criticisms boil down to two things: 1) substance failed to meet expectations, and 2) style seemed sensational.

    Any rebuttal on the basis of style is more or less moot in my opinion, but the lack of substance means I’m going to be going back and re-reading Thomas’ article more critically, and also taking the time to read Jost’s article which I encountered several months ago and never took the time to read.

    I agree that we must not look for results from methods that only God can provide. But I also do think that for many (not all, many) people that we stopped trusting God and started trusting methods.

    Alas, generalizations rile people up because they don’t like being generalized, except when said generalization matches their own perception which they have already begun the process of reacting against. That is a factor in some of the enthusiastic support, as well as some of the criticisms.

    So when depending on methods instead of God is the problem, how does introducing a “new method” help? None, except to rebalance our behavior to be more, well, sane. And that alone can be worth it.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think the particular method in question (courtship vs dating) actually matters nearly as much as who you’re trusting and why you’re doing it.

  4. I believe, no matter how a couple came to marriage, if they are not willing to put their spouse’s needs before their own, and seek the Lord’s guidance, that it will not be a strong marriage, if it lasts at all. Too many young girls enter marriage thinking only of the big beautiful wedding, instead of the marriage relationship. Kids go to college to prepare for their profession. How little do they prepare for marriage.

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