Contagion of Courtship Craze


If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth…. And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul …. But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her.

-Numbers 30:2,6,8, KJV

Courtship was all the craze in the evangelical culture when I was growing up in small suburban city. Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was touted as the very best in Christian advice for teenagers seeking to follow God’s will in the romantic world of finding a godly mate.

While the actual practice of courtship did not fully take hold of my world, some of the ideas did. It’s emphasis on traditional gender roles and reinforcement of male headship principles definitely were in the air.

You see, courtship puts a great pressure upon the man (and the couple) to know they are for each other forever before courting. For example, the courting man had to get permission from the woman’s father in order to court. It is a very family-involved sort of way to treat the development of romantic relationships (for a longer explanation regarding courtship in contrast to dating click here).

In a lot of ways, courting hails back to a more traditional world where women (and especially their virginity) were treated as property to be protected by the men in their lives and fathers especially. The idea of asking the father to court is clearly a nod back to that time even if it no longer is consciously treated as such.

That said, I appreciate the spirit behind this movement to treat sexual relationships between men and women with solemnity and respect. I just think it swung the pendulum too far back to traditionalism to the detriment of both men and women seeking to be faithful followers of Christ.

I am concerned such courtship practices set up couples for failure in their marriages by reinforcing an unhealthy paternalistic-power dynamic at the very beginning of the relationship.

In particular, my concern is with how the courtship mentality can easily devolve into outsourcing major life choice to others. It is like the passage from Numbers 30 (a strange favorite of my ex-wife) where fathers and husbands are the ones responsible for the vows of daughters and wives. Even with a very good father, this can go awfully awry for a young woman and the man she marries:

No longer is dating (i.e. courting) a decision between the couple but rather it becomes a decision of the woman’s father. That is how a romantic relationship starts under this philosophy.

What happens when things get tough in a marriage born of this?

A woman may rebel in anger believing her father did a poor job vetting her husband. She does not own the decision to marry as the relationship began upon a choice not technically made by her even if her father consulted her before granting the young man permission to court. 

Maybe it is the Mennonite in me, but I find it anathema for one adult to make adult decisions for another who has capacity to do so herself. This is true on matters of religious as well as–in this case–romantic convictions. Part of respecting another human being is respecting their agency–i.e. ability to make their own choices.

Courtship undermines personal agency and responsibility. It puts men on pedestals in making decisions for young women who need to be making and taking responsibility for such decisions themselves.

That way a woman (or man) tempted to cheat is forced to realize the choice to court/date and marry this person was their own choice. By choosing to lie and cheat, they are not rebelling against the woman’s father–whose choice to allow them to court and marry they deem flawed–but violating their own integrity before God.

A wise person and leader takes sound counsel into account before making important decisions. This ought to include the parents of the individuals seeking marriage under normal circumstances–i.e. sometimes the parents are not wise or accessible to obtain such counsel. However, a truly wise person makes their own decisions as this person recognizes he or she alone will be answerable to God for them one day ( 2 Corinthians 5:10).

2 thoughts on “Contagion of Courtship Craze”

  1. wow. i, a woman in my 50’s a 30 yr christian in a 4 square denom, and a strong businesswoman w my own money,i can now attest through experience of your direction that the “courting” and leaving all up to the man for responsibility is not Gods way. And my teen daughter is beginning to allow that in her boy girl relationships. I have only been remarried 4 yrs since her dad died, and i thought submission was the right way.oh yeah the word says submit one to another .Prov 31 says we as wise women consider things and makes choices.. And how many men actually will take responsibility for all anyway.! Personal responsibility when abdicated gives place for blame. Yippie,

  2. DM you have insightfully touched on something…the courtship craze that has swept conservative churches really can’t be supported biblically. It is just another man-made kooky rules-based effort to control people, in this instance, severely control both the young women and men seeking life partners.

    The bible shows that throughout history, mankind has a tendency to come up with all kinds of bizarre and strange ways of pairing up that are sanctioned by the culture of the day. It doesn’t mean that God approves, it just means that it happened and the Lord wants us to know about it and learn from the excesses and sins of past generations. But we never seem to learn, and people continue to suffer.

    Instead of hammering people with the courtship philosophy, the Christian church should be carefully teaching their young people about biblical truths, faith and character, including understanding the difference between good and evil, foolishness and wickedness. And if they are inclined to marry, they will then be better prepared to seek and find loving, responsible partners. I say “better prepared” because even when careful, it’s possible to still end up with a bad spouse, but it sure helps to have some wisdom beforehand.

    Proverbs 23:23-25 (NKJV)
    Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice.

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