Written by Rachel Ramey
“[Courtship proponents’] proposed solution involved adding even more commitment, exclusivity and intensity, the very things that lead to the problem in the first place. This is why courtship is fundamentally flawed.” (emph. added)
The problem with calling courtship “fundamentally flawed” is that “fundamentally” inherently means “at its foundation.” I don’t doubt that there are those who are abusing the concept, or that this is a problem. Nor do I doubt that we have some blind spots and even those with the best of intentions may find their implementation imperfect – that is, “flawed.” But I vehemently disagree that courtship’s foundations are flawed.
The problem is that when we see an issue, rather than going back to the foundation and asking whether there’s a better implementation, we throw the whole thing out. There are, of course, some things that are so broken that we have to throw them out completely, foundation and all. But I don’t believe that’s the case with courtship, nor do I believe this assault on courtship ever even looked at its foundations. It looked at a set of symptoms, and not only assumed they were caused by the building, but by the foundation, in particular.
There’s a saying among the medical community and/or statisticians: “correlation is not causation.” In other words, two things occurring together does not, in and of itself, prove that one causes the other.
In this case, it seems to me he’s making courtship the scapegoat for a particular set of problems with parents when really it’s the other way around. The problems these parents have are what cause them to implement courtship in a damaging way.
So let’s move on to some concerns Mr. Umstattd has with courtship that I don’t think are really problems with courtship, but with particular implementations or abuses of courtship.
Okay, so that’s not his exact words, but it’s the right general idea. I think he has some good points here, but there are a few angles on this that impact things in actual practice.
““If I had only gone out with 3 or 4 guys I wouldn’t have known what I wanted in a husband,” she said.”
(That quote is from the author’s grandma.)
“[M]y generation…is encouraged to “wait until you are ready to get married” before pursuing a romantic relationship. This advice, when combined with the fact that “the purpose of courtship is marriage”, makes asking a girl out for dinner the emotional equivalent of asking for her hand in marriage.
I am not convinced that anyone is ever truly ready to get married. Readiness can become a carrot on a stick, an ideal that can never be achieved. Marriage will always be a bit like jumping into a pool of cold water. A humble realization that you are not ready and in need of God’s help may be the more healthy way to start a marriage.”
And this is from the author himself, but flows from the previous thought. (By the way, when he refers to “his generation,” I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean in the culture at large. I’m pretty sure he means from within the courtship culture. I could be mistaken, but I don’t see the culture at large encouraging the concept he mentions.)
First of all, I think the lead-in concept here is simply not true. Dating a bunch of people is not a necessary precursor to knowing what you’re looking for in a husband. (And maybe this focus on what we “want” is a good part of the problem underlying our culture’s high divorce rate, in the first place.) Interacting with lots of people is probably pretty helpful – perhaps even essential – but we get that many other ways.
We learn about our own personalities and those of others by living in our families, interacting with friends, talking to coworkers and neighbors, etc. We learn about relationships through every relationship we have (not just romantic relationships). And we learn about what a romantic relationship should look like by watching godly couples who set examples for us. (Important side note here: This is a critical point! If our kids aren’t seeing any godly relationships, they’re very likely to have problems with their own, regardless of what else we do.)
And I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to switch to the arranged marriage model, but I should point out that in cultures (especially in Yahweh-fearing cultures) where it’s employed, it works. These individuals most definitely did not shop around to decide what it was they were looking for! They learned a mindset that involved making it work – just like we do with our parents and our siblings (whom we didn’t choose).
“The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”
I might be getting too picky about the semantics here, but I think it’s worth noting that if having a “happy” anything is our primary point of a given course of action, we’ve already missed the boat. It is true that it’s our hope that courtship will result in lots of happy marriages, rather than divorce. But we should be seeking godly marriages more than happy ones. That may seem like a petty distinction, but I think it points to an important underlying shift in perspective.
The point of courtship, among those who embrace it, should be to please the Lord, not to get a happy marriage. (Likewise, if you decide on the “traditional dating” route, instead – or some other path – your purpose should be to please the Lord, not to end up happy.)
(And again, let me be very clear: I am not saying we should work at being unhappy! But if our focus is on being happy, rather than on pleasing God, we are almost guaranteed to fail.)
There’s a Whole Step Missing
"The courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing.
Or, put another way, they replaced dating with engagement. The only tangible difference between an engagement and a courtship is the ring and the date.
Similarities between Courtship & Engagement:
- They both require the permission of the father.
- They both are intended for marriage.
- They are not “broken up” but are instead “called off”.
- When they are called off there is an inevitable rending of a community as one of the couple no longer feel comfortable spending time with the community of their ex-future spouse.
Young people are expected to jump from interacting with each other in groups straight into “pseudo-engagement”. This is a jump very few are prepared to make.” (emph. original)
This is, in my opinion, one of the best points Umstattd raises, and one we really need to have more discussion about. (More on that in the final post.) There is, often, a disconnect in the area of interaction-that-isn’t-at-the-level-of-courtship. But it’s not as black-and-white as suggested here.
Whether “intended for marriage” means that you have to be clearly planning on marriage to enter into the relationship, or just that you’re in a marriageable position and a generally-appropriate match (a solid Bible believer, no major “red flag” issues like drug abuse or something, etc.) depends on the family.
So then while, yes, those other things are all pretty accurate depictions of engagement, it doesn’t necessarily mean that young people don’t ever have any relationships of any kind with a member of the opposite sex except and until courtship. I know there are families where that’s the case. In my opinion, these are the ones where it’s taken to an extreme. (Generally speaking. There may occasionally be situations where it just happens that way, and it’s a God thing and not a human construct.) Under normal circumstances, in a healthy family, a young person will have lots of friendships with members of both sexes.
Exactly where that “crossover” occurs will vary from family to family – and probably from child to child within a family. And is one of those areas where greater discussion is warranted, in my opinion. But not going around to the movies with twenty different guys before choosing to enter into a serious relationship with one you could reasonably see yourself married to is not an inherent recipe for lifelong singleness.
Guarding Your Heart
“I have no idea how women are supposed to guard their hearts while in an exclusive relationship with the purpose of marriage.”
She’s not. The purpose of a courtship period is for a man to woo a woman – to try to win her heart. If she’s being told to “guard her heart” during this time, then someone has gotten really confused. I mean, she should still guard her heart in that sense in which all believers should always guard our hearts! But a woman in a courtship should not be aiming to avoid an emotional attachment. An emotional attachment at this stage is the point.
That’s exactly why a young man is to be “vetted” before pursuing this type of relationship: he needs to be someone it’s okay for her to develop an attachment to. The criteria for this are going to be different for every family and situation, but they ought not be nitpicky and ridiculous. (Dad, if they are, please reconsider your purpose.) The basic question here should be, “Is this a godly man who can and will/would take care of my daughter?”
Dads, that shouldn’t narrow the field to the Twelve Apostles! Guys, if you can’t manage that, you don’t have any business complaining about “not getting the girl.”
Group Interaction is Inadequate
“If you talk with advocates of modern courtship they speak highly of single people spending time in groups. …The problem with group settings is that not all personality types open up in group settings. Many married couples include one spouse who is more comfortable in group settings than the other. …In group activities, it can be hard for the wallflowers to be discovered for the flowers that they really are. They need a less intense 1-on-1 setting in which to bloom. Group settings are particularly rough on women who grew up in communities where they were trained to value submissiveness, meekness and quietness.”
Baloney. Seriously. Practically every human being on the planet met nearly every person he knows through a group setting of some kind. Unless you’re expecting to go knock on a random front door, introduce yourself to the resident, and end up marrying him/her, you’re pretty much looking at a group. (And the wallflowers are definitely not going to be the ones knocking on random doors!)
I’m extremely comfortable in crowds. I met my husband in a group. My sister is extremely uncomfortable in crowds. She met her husband in a group. See, the thing is, being in a group setting does not necessarily mean “hanging out with” the whole group. Lots of people go to a party, or a Bible study, or a…whatever, and talk to just one person, one-on-one. Or talk to just a few people. Very few people will engage the whole room at once.
Lots of people got to know each other well as a result of “side conversations” held while they were physically present with lots of other people, but actively engaging with just one or a few.
Again, this needs to be okay. (And there is wiggle room, I think, for more one-on-one meetings in certain situations or settings.) But it works. The idea that if you don’t ever go on a date, you’ll never meet anyone is a false dilemma. (Actually it doesn’t even make any sense, because if you never meet anyone, how could you go on a date? The whole cause-and-effect is meet first, go out later.)
Courtship Isn’t Based on the Bible
“But Isn’t Courtship Biblical?
When applying Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, to our lives, it is important to differentiate between Biblical precedent, principle and precept. …What we have in the Old Testament is a lot of precedent: each story is different from the last….There are some good Scriptural precepts about sexual purity in the New Testament, and there are some principles about the benefits of marrying young and that sort of thing.
But the Bible is surprisingly quiet when it comes to laying out a system of courtship. Courtship Systems are cultural, and the Bible rarely advocates one cultural approach over another. God’s heart is that every tribe and tongue come worship him without having to surrender their food, language or other cultural distinctives in the process."
Umstattd is absolutely correct when he talks about precedent, principle, and precept. However, the implication is that courtship is lacking in any of these, which is patently incorrect. He may disagree with our conclusions, but it’s a pretty harsh accusation to suggest that we have built a system we consider “biblical” on nothing. (Especially since there’s no indication that he asked!)
There are, indeed, no Scriptures that say, “Thou shalt court and not date.” Given that these terms weren’t even in use in Old or New Testament times, I wouldn’t expect that we would! But there is a good deal of principle that is considered when determining what course to take for finding a life partner. Courtship proponents did not just make the whole thing up off the top of their heads!
(I find it a bit ironic that he would suggest that, since there’s no Scriptural principle provided for the assertion that we should all just date.)
God does not call us to surrender our cultural distinctives as long as they don’t violate His principles. It was culturally distinctive of the Athenian people of Paul’s day to worship multiple gods and goddesses. It wasn’t okay for them to cling to that practice, though, merely because it was their “cultural distinctive.” God doesn’t care if we wear Lederhosen or kilts, but He does care that our clothing covers with sufficient modesty. Cultural choices must necessarily be subjected to the Truth of God’s Word.
"Most of the moral arguments for courtship are actually arguments for arranged marriage. The arguments for the strong involvement of parents fit arranged marriage much better than they fit courtship.” (emph. original)
I’m not really sure what “moral arguments” he has in mind here, but I don’t believe this to be true. A belief, for instance, that a father is responsible for his daughter until he passes that responsibility on to her husband is not limited to an arranged marriage.
“The other problem with courtship is that it often delays marriage. Courtship communities expect young people to live celibate lives in a sexually charged culture for a decade or more before they get married. The Bible instructs us to flee temptation and to marry lest you burn with lust. Courtship teaches instead to delay marriage until you are ready.”
This is such an emotionally-charged statement. The first half of this seems more an expression of frustration than of truth. Could courtship delay marriage? I’m sure it could. Must it? I don’t see why. Again we have to consider that someone who chooses courtship and isn’t married for many years longer than expected, wouldn’t necessarily have been married any sooner otherwise.
The second sentence here I’m not sure I follow. Our culture is a sexually-charged one; there’s little we can do about that. A Christian community ought to expect single people to live celibate lives among this culture, regardless of what other label they put on it. The “decade or more” thing, though, I find baffling. Is there some community out there somewhere that has a minimum number of years requirement, like driving with a permit before you get your full license? Or is this just extrapolation based on the fact that many are finding themselves unmarried after many years? If that’s the case, I think we’ve already pretty solidly established that not courting is no guarantee of marrying any sooner; there are other elements at play.
So the suggestion here would seem to be to either sleep around, or just marry somebody – anybody – just to get married. I would hope that marrying “just anybody,” without ensuring that they’re “marriage material” would not be a recommendation any believer in his right mind would make. I’m hoping this one was just a matter of being so emotionally connected to this issue that the writing wasn’t rational.
And finally, yes, courtship teaches to “delay marriage until you’re ready.” But here’s a point I forgot to mention when I referenced a similar comment before: “ready” ought not be taken too literally! Will some people take this to an extreme? I’m sure. That’s not reason to vilify those who don’t. I believe the author is right that no one is ever “ready” to get married. But what most of us mean when we refer to being “ready” for marriage is a basic ability to function as a separate adult household, and in a reasonably healthy way.
If the only job either of you has, or has any prospects for, pays minimum wage and is only ten hours a week, it’s pretty foolish to get married. It might be hard to remain celibate, but that’s why you don’t enter into a romantic relationship at that point. You’re not ready to function as an independent adult. I sure hope that most people are able to function as adults independent of their parents well before they’re thirty (if not, that’s a whole other issue), so courtship proponents are not saying, “Don’t get married ’til you’re thirty.”
The System Kills Itself
“If you are a single woman, realize that the reason guys are not asking you out is…because you live in a system where he must want to marry you before he can get to know you. It is the system that is broken, not you…. Somewhere out there is a guy who will see you as the most beautiful woman in the world. The more guys you meet, the faster you will find him.”
Not true. I mean, the part about it not being you that’s broken is probably true. (I don’t know who every person reading this is, so I can’t absolutely swear to that, for every one.) But the “system” – at least when implemented in a common-sense manner – does not keep men from asking women out, either.
If a guy will not ask a girl out because he’s offended by being asked to meet her parents, she doesn’t need him anyway. He’s an arrogant, self-centered coward and he doesn’t deserve her. Chances are, though, any guy who isn’t asking her out doesn’t even know he’s supposed to talk to her dad – because he hasn’t asked yet.
Nor is it true that “the more guys you meet, the faster you will find him.” It’s true that you can’t just spend 100% of your time sitting in your own living room and expect to meet someone new. But God doesn’t work based on statistics. “The one” could as easily be the first guy you meet as the 1,000th. And until he’s around, it doesn’t really matter how many guys you know, or if any of them ever ask you out. (In terms of making you feel better about yourself it might matter. I don’t mean to minimize that. But going out with 1 guy or 100 is not likely to impact whether you meet that one that really matters.)
Next: Principles of Courtship - Part 6