Christian dating is weird. really weird.
For those unfamiliar with the strange world of “Christian dating”, it’s actually a bit difficult to define. I almost laughed out loud when I discovered Wikipedia has a detailed article on the subject called “Biblical Courtship”. Honestly, the list of complex explanations and detailed rules is embarrassing. Do we really need to make such a big deal out of this?
No. We don’t.
While well intentioned, “courtship” has some significant flaws. First of all, the idea of focusing so early in a relationship on marriage puts way too much pressure on a couple. Why in the world would you want to talk about marriage with someone you hardly even know? That’s awkward at best.
Secondly, this approach to dating relationships devalues women. It’s a father’s job to protect and teach his daughter while she’s young. But acting like an overbearing gatekeeper for her relationships as she matures implies that she’s incapable of making good decisions on her own. Ultimately, it devalues her intelligence and discernment. It also sends a message to all Christian women that they aren’t smart enough to make good relationship decisions. Is that a message we really want to send? I hope not.
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Lastly, courtship fails to address the difficult aspects of emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy in a dating relationship. Vague terms like “purity” are tossed around without proper definition. Rather than address these challenging issues directly, many Christian parents promote a form of courtship that contains absolutely no intimacy of any kind. Without a doubt, this does a disservice to the couple. And it may lead young couples to get married for the wrong reasons. I’m certainly not aware of any marriage counselor that thinks lust is a good reason to get married.
So how can Christians approach dating like normal people? Here’s five specific suggestions:
- Stop creating a “one-size-fits-all” formula for dating relationships. I have four children. They’re all completely different in personality, temperament, maturity, and spiritual development. So I parent them all differently. This is just common sense. Why should Christian dating relationships be any different? People are unique, and so are their circumstances and life experiences. Therefore, Christians deserve freedom to develop unique Godly relationships. Formulaic models can’t possibly work for everyone.
- Model healthy marriage for your kids. This means arguing in front of them sometimes. It also means resolving conflict in front of them. Parents should hug and kiss each other in front of their kids. They should pray together and play games together. They should talk and laugh. Get the point? Let them see you experiencing all normal aspects of a marriage relationship.
- Have blunt conversations about physical intimacy. I believe the primary reason courtship exists is because parents refuse to have honest conversations about this issue. Vague declarations of “purity” need to stop. When they’re ready, talk to your kids about physical intimacy at all levels. Anything from hand holding to sex. Talk to them about what God says about these things. Lead them toward an understanding of what’s appropriate. Empower them to make the right choices – and then trust that they will.
- At some point, dads need to stop being gatekeepers. All kids mature emotionally and spiritually at different rates. Obviously, parents need to be gatekeepers for all types of relationships when their children are young. But at some point, parents need to let go. Teach them while they’re young, and love them enough to let them make their own decisions when they’re older. If you do it right, you won’t have to force them to bring potential dates to you. They’ll actually want to.
- Dial back the intensity a few notches. Christians are wound-up way too tightly about dating. Quite frankly, our entire complicated and quirky approach makes us look exceptionally odd. To a world without Jesus, we’re already weird enough. Let’s just take a collective deep breath, talk about this like normal people, and fearlessly address the difficult issues connected to dating relationships within our own families. Use intelligence and Biblical wisdom as a guide. But no more books. No more catch phrases. No more acronyms. Please?
With a little bit of effort, Christians can approach dating relationships Biblically…without getting weird. At least I hope we can.