By Michael F. Haverluck
Talk about diverging from contemporary society! That doesn’t object to premarital sex, changing partners, even same-sex partners these days. But a number of Christian pro-family advocates are saying that Christians need to be careful even about dating.
“I concur with many of the misgivings expressed by those concerned about the ‘dating game,’ as it has come to be known and accepted in modern society,” Daly shared with WND. “The temptations faced by dating couples must be frankly acknowledged.”
Having served with Focus for nearly a quarter of a century, Daly has come to the realization that the American standard for relationships outside of marriage might not be what the doctor ordered when it comes to preparing for a healthy lifestyle and future spouse.
“Some of the alternatives our friends have suggested deserve careful consideration, including a return to a ‘courtship’ rather than a ‘dating’ model for premarital relationships, closer parental supervision and guidance, and stricter and higher standards of personal purity,” shared Daly, winner of the 2010 HomeWord Family Ministry Award. “It is well worth asking whether God might not have a better plan for our young people than the one provided by the culture.”
But Daly doesn’t foresee the masses forsaking dating for courting anytime soon.
“At the same time, we don’t feel prepared to abandon the millions of American families who are not ready to embrace such a radically reconstructionist approach to adolescent male-female relationships,” Daly contends. “For better or for worse, dating remains a standard feature of our culture’s method of managing this fundamental aspect of human life.”
To Daly, the “dating” of today isn’t what mom and dad remember.
“To be sure, contemporary dating is different from what it was in previous generations,” Daly asserts. “Sexual promiscuity is rampant, even among Christian teens, and many young people receive little or no moral guidance from their parents or support from the culture. Binge drinking, date violence, and even date rape are far too common.”
A different approach
Instead of parents throwing their children into the fires of modern dating, Daly recommends an altogether different approach to those who choose dating – with a focus on hands-on accountability.
“In light of this, we would suggest that boys and girls under the age of 17 should not be allowed to go out on one-on-one dates,” Daly adds. “There are simply too many dangers associated with this kind of activity. Instead, they should be encouraged to participate in group dates with a number of friends who share their moral and spiritual values. Even then, mom and dad should make sure that they are well acquainted with the other kids in the group and their parents.”
The pro-family leader cites family expert Stacey McDonald when contrasting the two: “Dating is random, while courtship is deliberate; in dating, the goal is romance, while with courtship, the goal is marriage; dating leaves the couple unprotected, while courtship protects the young couple; dating is an unnatural setting of perpetual recreation, but courtship creates a natural setting of real life and family; and finally, dating gives the couple rose-colored glasses, but courtship brings in a magnifying glass.”
And he argues that the consequences of dating virtually always sell the participants short.
“A person either gets married with embedded memories of past romances or a person stays unmarried, frequently going from relationship to relationship, which tears the hearts of everyone involved,” Thomasson told WND. “Dating trains a divorce mentality. If you date person after person, you’re training yourself to leave someone when you aren’t happy, which is the same motivation for most divorces.”
When it comes to courtship, Thomasson says it brings about something altogether different.
“Courtship produces a deeper love because the young couple gets to study each others’ character and mind without their judgment being clouded by emotional rushes and premature attachments,” contends Thomasson, whose organization is based in Sacramento, Calif. “Ultimately, courtship produces a much higher rate of successful marriages than dating could ever hope for.”
And when asked why dating has become just another rite of passage for American teens, Thomasson had this to say.
“Both God and traditions promoted courtship, but the ungodly ideas from the entertainment media have promoted dating,” Thomasson explained. “Consider that most professionally recorded songs, even going back decades, are about romantic pursuit or the hurt that follows.”
High price for dating
He notes that teens pay a heavy emotional, physical and spiritual toll for taking the route of dating.
“And when you look at it closely, the dating culture has led to widespread heartbreak, sexual immorality, STDs, abortion, abuse, and divorce,” Thomasson points out. “All of these ills are much more likely to come from dating than courtship. For God did not intend for parents to cut their teenagers loose to follow their own foolish feelings.”
The dating mentality, reports Thomasson, is responsible for many of the social ills witnessed throughout America …
“Where does abortion come from? Primarily sex out of wedlock. Sexually transmitted diseases? The same. What has the highest domestic violence rates? Unmarried relationships. What reinforces a divorce mentality? The constant breakups of dating.”
Seasons of Courtship Founder Dana Dickey, who conducts seminars on the West Coast instructing fathers how to prepare their sons for marriage, agrees with Thomasson that dating and courting are worlds apart.
“I believe that dating begins with the physical attraction, often resulting in violating the moral standards of one or both,” Dickey expressed to WND. “It moves through a progression of emotional, social, character, and finally spiritual stages. There is no particular plan, and so it drifts along until marriage.”
On the other hand, he says courting sets couples up for success, not failure.
“Courting is more purposeful,” Dickey explains. “It may start with physical attraction, but in my view, it then concentrates on the spiritual and character aspects of the two people. It allows two people to evaluate the most important aspects that can result in a successful marriage. If these aspects are found to be satisfactory, then they can allow the relationship to progress through the social, emotional and finally physical aspects. Another way to say this is that dating often seeks to enjoy the privileges of marriage before marriage, whereas courting seeks to reserve the privileges of marriage for marriage while discovering who the person is.”
Dickey indicates that dating is the standard for teens because they aren’t presented with an alternative, and as a result, he sees America’s youth as lifetime victims of the dating scene.
“The present divorce statistics show the failure of the system,” Dickey reports. “However, they may also reflect the disappointment of those who have entered marriage without really knowing who they are marrying. We have not equipped those getting married with tools to know who they are marrying – only the means of avoiding a sexual encounter.”
But he warns parents that courting isn’t an exact science that guarantees marital success, as there are many things that factor into the equation, particularly the dynamics between the parent-child relationship.
“Courting is not a sure way to produce anything,” Dickey emphasizes. “If a family wants it to work, it relies on a relationship between the parents and the young person. If they have a relationship of trust, then the particular strengths of each can help determine if a prospective spouse is a good match. Note that this is not a matter of a parent dictating who a young person should marry, nor is it asking the young person to make one of the most important and long lasting decisions alone.”
Thomasson believes that Tracey Bartolomei best distinguishes dating and courting in The Christian Citizen.
“The main difference between dating and courtship is the attitude that one assumes towards relationships and the activities in which the couple engages before marriage,” Bartolomei contends. “Contemporary dating is generally a self-focused past time. It is characterized by expectations of physical/emotional intimacy without commitment. Self-gratification is paramount. If either party is no longer gratified, the relationship ends; thus, a cycle of short-term relationship begins and continues.”
And she says this couldn’t be further from the truth in courting.
“In courtship, both individuals have the understanding that marriage is the eventual goal of the relationship,” she continues. “Courtship takes a more thoughtful, long-term approach to a premarital relationship. The emphasis is on developing friendships and seeking compatibility in one’s future mate. Courtship doesn’t actually begin until each feels that the other person could be a perspective marriage partner. Their time together is spent getting to know each other better through conversation and group socialization, rather than sexual intimacy.”
But even though many pigeonhole dating as the modern phenomena, Focus on the Family points to Scott Croft – who serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where he teaches a seminar on friendship, courtship and marriage – as an authority when it comes to biblical dating. He stresses that it has no similarity to modern dating.
“We may define biblical dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman that [typically] begins with the man approaching and going through the woman’s father or family; that is conducted under the authority of the woman’s father or family or church; and that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal,” Croft explains.
He says this is in direct contrast to dating as we know it in our culture.
“We may basically define modern dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman that begins with either the man or the woman initiating with the other; that is conducted outside the formal oversight or authority of either person’s family or church; and that may or may not have marriage as its goal and is often purely ‘recreational’ or ‘educational,’” continued Croft.
The seminar instructor states that there is no biblical support for the modern approach to dating, which he says is brand new and has its origins in the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Croft lays out the fundamental principles that contrast modern dating from biblical dating.
‘Stop test-driving your girlfriend’
“Modern dating seems to be about ‘finding’ the right person for me (as my friend Michael Lawrence has written on this site, ‘Stop Test-Driving Your Girlfriend’), [while] biblical dating is more about ‘being’ the right person to serve my future spouse’s needs and be a God-glorifying husband or wife,” Croft points out. “In modern dating, intimacy precedes commitment. In biblical dating, commitment precedes intimacy.”
And the last major difference between the two?
“The modern dating approach tells us that the way to figure out whether I want to marry someone is to act like we are married,” Croft adds. “If we like it, we make it official. If we don’t, then we go through something emotionally – and probably physically – like a divorce. In biblical dating, Scripture guides us as to how to find a mate and marry, and the Bible teaches, among other things, that we should act in such a way so as not to imply a marriage-level commitment until that commitment exists before the Lord.”
But Thomasson and Dickey contend that only courting can provide the kind of accountability that will lead couples away from pitfalls and toward marriage, as God intended it. And they have their doubts as to whether America can shift back into a culture that embraces courtship over dating.
“I would not expect a return to courting unless the hearts of parents, particularly fathers, were turned again to their children,” Dickey concludes. “The amount of investment required to develop a relationship with your child is considerable. Developing that level of trust takes time – and many parents are not willing or too busy to make the investment.”
Thomasson says that unless parents get serious about leaving behind their pro-dating mindset when it comes to interaction with their children – and adopt a philosophy that has their offspring’s future well-being in mind instead of their immediate gratification – America will continue on its moral, societal and spiritual decay.
“If parents and grandparents would stop telling children and grandchildren they ‘just want them to have fun,’ that would be a good start [for America to get back on track and return to courting as the norm],” Thomasson asserted. “If mothers would stop dressing up and talking to their daughters as though their identity were in their appearance, that would be another good step. If more families with small children decided to train up a healthier, more secure generation, they will abandon future plans of their children dating and will read up on the benefits of courtship, which teaches young men and young women to honor God and family first, instead of succumbing to the vicissitudes of hormones and emotions.”