Hi all! Lara here. My friend Layne did a post on the conservative evangelical phenomenon of courtship. If you want a little more info on what it is, details about it, or different interpretations, feel free to email me or just google it… What comes up is pretty interesting. I also attached a hyperlink to World Magazine addressing the effects of the movement, though personally, I don’t think they were harsh enough. 😉 There is also a hyperlink attached at the bottom of the page which specifically addresses the purity issue, if you’re interested. The spotlight is all Layne’s now!

I’ll warn you now that my writing tends to be verbose. In my attempt to lessen that effect for this post, I’ll try to stick to these main points:

  1. “Biblical” dating
  2. The contemporary flaws of dating and courtship
  3. Conceivable alternatives/Realistic expectations

Whether you’ve grown up like I have, with a conservative evangelical background, odds are you’d heard of Courtship. The question is, what the heck is it? Not Josh Harris’s twisted take, or how the conservative modern day church portrays it; what’s the actual definition? The World English Dictionary defines courtship as “the act, period, or art of seeking the love of someone with intent to marry.” So if we’re being real, it has NOTHING to do with parents picking their child’s spouse, NOTHING to do with sexual purity, and NOTHING to do with not dating prior to meeting “the one”. The current meaning of courtship evolved from a misunderstanding of modern dating. The phrase then began to stand for everything flawed about courtship. So how do we return the word’s true meaning?

There are flaws in all man made systems: dating or courtship. Let’s note that the largest problems are results of people’s sinfulness and stupidity. A year ago I read “Boy Meets Girl,” by the famous pastor Joshua Harris. His book is the crux in the courtship movement. At that particular time in my life I actually found parts of the books helpful. Did you catch that? “Parts,” I said. This isn’t the Bible, people. The young pastor’s words are not untainted by sin and opinion. It’s foolish to read any work of man without a shaker of salt. I agreed with him when he said young men and women should be wary of sexual temptation and should not enter into relationships frivolously. (Did you also catch that word? Frivolously. I didn’t say “not at all”.) Because that is what my generation of conservative evangelicals thinks. Sadly, these young men and women have confined relationships into two categories.

  1. It’s casual, and you’re doing the nasty in a dark corner of a bar with no regard for the future
  2. You’re serious and you’re only together in well-light public forums thinking of marriage constantly.

Please, someone speak up and explain where Scripture ever gives black and white advice  about relationships, sexual immorality aside. To clue every one in, I’ll go ahead and tell you, listen closely, The Bible Says Nothing About Dating (Or Courtship). Do I need to pause a moment as the jaws are lighted off the floor? Because yes, I went there. I said it. Scripture draws no lines concerning “dating” or “courtship”. So people need to calm down!

Scripture doesn’t tackle the subjects of dating or courtship directly, but it does provide Christians with principles to live by. Jesus didn’t say that a guy can’t ask a girl to a movie or that a girl shouldn’t text a guy. I don’t mean to jest, but I trying to point out that the Lord has left a great deal of our behavior up to our discretion. The stated Biblical principles refer specifically to sexual behavior. So what does the Bible does say about being single (i.e. unwed)? It says do not awaken love before the time is right. (Song of Solomon 8:4)  So how are we to behave before then? We are not to have a hint of sexual immorality. (Ephesians 5:3 ) Those are the biblical guidelines for “dating” or “courtship”.

Dating is a how one generation handles relationship. Courtship has an old fashioned connotation, but Lara summed it up: “it’s a nostalgic word used to define a fear-based system.” God was gracious to us. He knew each generation would address singleness differently, and he provided Christians with clear boundaries. In plain terms? Keep your pants on until your wedding night.

Personally, I’m not one to date around. I flirt. Again, pick your jaws up off the floor. But if I date a guy, my goal it to get to know his character, under a romantic pretense, which doesn’t really follow along with Harris’ premise. How does he treat me? Could we foster an emotional and spiritual connection? Do we have chemistry? None of those are dangerous questions. I’m not going to tell him I “love” him on the third date then hop into bed with him. I know that “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. (Romans 8:28) He has also promised that “I won’t be faced with temptation that is uncommon to man”, and that when I am, he’ll provide me with a way out. (1 Corinthians 10:3) With these assurances, why do we limit ourselves to those public, well-lit forums, where all of our friends and family are gathered?

There I go, being verbose, as promised. Back on track! I’ve rambled on about the flaws of courtship. Let me now dare to suggest a solution, or rather, an alternative definition. I want to purge the word of the prude meaning it has come to wear.

Say Jane is in college dating John. They meet, feel a connection, go on a date, have a good time then decide to keep dating. Their independent goals are to value relationships as potential marriages. Jane says “wow, John prays before every meal. I like that!” John says “Jane has a heart that cares for others. How cool.” Great, right? So two months later, they split. In truth, who cares? Either they learned that they value those qualities in a mate, or their breakup was horrible and they realize that they’d never want to date some one like that person again. Either way they kept their goal in mind, of finding a spouse that possesses certain characteristics. Heck, say Jane and John stay together! It’s not like there was a ring in it from day one. Simply stated, they weren’t dating with the intent to ONLY have fun. See that, word? Only.

They were dating casually, which is a huge point of contention with the courtshippers. Casual dating can be an easy and drama-free way to find a mate; plenty of people have done it. It’s not a one-way ticket to divorce. Things will be a big deal if you make them a big deal. Systems don’t work because there is a problem with the system. They don’t work because the people who are in the system are flawed. The courtship movement started because people were upset about their past indiscretions and wanted a safe, Biblical system. Now that all of us are in our twenties and thirties, we’re finding out that it was only a system that works just as well as the people within it do. (For those of you who don’t know, courtship is a system that goes beyond high school and college years. Grown, mature adults are expected to comply with the system.)

We have to shake this idea that having fun while dating is bad. The problem arises when that’s the only reason singles date. If that is a relationship’s whole intent, then it will be easy for a believer to fall into temptation and lose sight of God’s plan for men and women. The ultimate goal in a committed romantic relationship is marriage, and that can easily be achieved via dating habits.

I want to define courtship. I’ll start by saying what I think it is in its simplest form. Courtship: when a couple spends time together, getting to know one another under the pretense that marriage is a possibility, with the involvement of parents, other adults, and peers. In case there is any confusion, let me go ahead and say what courtship should not be (but often is). Courtship should not be:

  • when a parent holds the power to select their child’s mate
  • limiting a couple interactions to public forums (group date, any one?)
  • or making a relationship a group activity, stripping away intimacy
  • saying a couple must be sexually pure (though it is a Biblical command, some choose to disobey it)**
  • saying once you dates a person he or she is expected to marry them (And if they don’t then they’ve given away a piece of their heart that will forever be lost)
  • saying a person can’t have more than one committed relationship in his/her lifetime
  • repressing the expression of physical or vocal affection of love until vows are sworn

My problem is not with courtship; it’s simply a different system. My problem is the twisted definition that many evangelicals and fundamentalists have applied to the term. They have built a system of dating with no Biblical foundation that claims to be Biblical. Its basic tenants are unfounded and are nothing more than opinions. Purity has been turned into prudishness. I pray that this generation and the next will not feel the repression and guilt that the current definition of courtship often brings.

Disclaimer: Although, I believe courtship to be a heavily flawed system, the Lord has built successful relationships from the chaos. He has set the wheels in motion and moved hearts to find love. My words are one sided and I welcome any defense. My views and opinions are tainted by my prejudices and sin. Romans 14:2

**”Love is not finite” and other purity myths explored in this post at Love, Joy, Feminism.