So, maybe I’ll get in trouble with this entry, but whatever, it’s what I think. Feel free to slam me. Also a warning – it’s one of my rambling rants so it might be boring. Even worse, I’m not always clear about what I’m talking about. Oh well, sucks for you.
I’ve come to be very against the conservative Korean Christian view towards dating. And even marriage.
The first reason is this. I just feel like the conservative Korean Christian view towards these things almost misses something fundamental. Like, every sermon I hear on dating or marriage, it’s all about these principles, which are good. Like, you know, marriage is a partnership in ministry, marriage should be this and that, dating should be like this and that. And you know, they are all good things. There’s a Biblical basis for that.
But like, look at, for example, Song of Solomon, which is supposedly a model of how marriage should be. And all Scripture is inspired by God. Some argue that Song of Solomon is primarily a book about the relationship between Christ and the church. If that’s true, it’s a little disturbing. Because what you see in the book is that a fundamental, central theme of that relationship is passion. I’m not talking a general passion for something. I’m talking about something sexual, involving talking of specific body parts and stuff like that. Eddie took this Old Testament survey class, and they said how the book is basically erotic poetry. That’s what the book is about, and supposedly this book is a model for how marriage should be.
Or when Paul talks about whether to get married or not, he essentially says, if you can handle your lust, don’t get married, but if you can’t, get married, because better that than to burn with passion. It also talks about not depriving each other of sex for too long. The impression I get is that a lot of pastors don’t like this passage because it has such a “low” view of marriage. It doesn’t talk about partnership in ministry. It doesn’t say you should get married if and only if you encourage each other towards Christ. This passage says get married only if you can’t handle your passion. The passion is the critical factor.
Of course, I don’t to be cult like and take individual passages to the extreme. Partnership and mutual encouragement towards Christ is definitely a good and necessary part of a healthy Christian marriage. My point is that if you look at these critical parts of the Bible that talk about marriage (that discuss marriage more directly than many other passages pastors use in their sermons about marriage) – Song of Solomon and Paul’s discussion about whether to get married or not – passion is a good, necessary, and central part. Not just a part, but a central one.
Most sermons on marriage and relationships I hear do something like acknowledge that sex and passion is good, that God made it that way, it’s a good part of marriage, whatever. For about 3 minutes. Then they talk for 30 more minutes about how marriage should really be. Maybe that’s necessary. But I feel like this really reflects the general Christian view on dating. Passion is just a side note, an unfortunate reality. And as long as things are like this, I think the Christian view on dating is just a little bit unrealistic because it doesn’t acknowledge something central in marriage, and the cause of a lot of frustration and problems.
Again, I’m not saying passion is everything, or that the Bible only talks about passion in regards to marriage. There are other clear principles in Bible passages that directly deal with marriage, notably Proverbs 31 and Ephesians 5 (I think). I’m just saying passion is a big thing, a central thing. Scott Kim wrote on his page how the Christian view on sexuality is messed up (or rather, it’s nonexistent). I’m inclined to agree. Especially in regards to marriage. In talking about ideal marriages, pastors often talk about all these other things while virtually ignoring some things the Bible itself says about it.
But actually, that’s not a huge thing. What bothers me more is the idea that the first person you date is the person you marry.
I should clarify that. It’s not that I don’t like that idea. I think it’s good, noble, and ideally it’s the way it should be. I also like the idea behind it, that dating is preparation for marriage.
What I don’t like is the way it plays out practically, in real life. What happens is two things. First, guys (and girls, but more critically, guys) are so concerned about whether a potential partner is the one that they never end up pursuing them. Or similarly, they’re so afraid of being “dirty” that they never pursue anything. What ends up happening is that dating is supposed to be preparation for marriage, but then guys are asked to know in advance whether the one they date is the one they’ll marry. It’s not preparation. Dating someone is akin to proposing to them. So they don’t pursue dating relationships, at least until they get older and more desperate. That’s another thing. It’s nice to have these ideals in college. Wait until you’re years out of college and see how it works out, if it’s still practical.
Anyway, the reason I don’t like this is because if Christian guys don’t initiate with Christian girls, then non-Christian guys will. Seriously, since graduating, I’ve been surprised at how many of my female Christian friends have started dating non-Christian guys. But, I understand why it happened. Those were the only guys pursuing them.
You could argue that maybe these girls aren’t strong enough in their faith, that they need to be told just not to do that. And that’s valid. But not particularly compassionate. Nor is it realistic, I think. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to really blame them. I don’t. But that’s irrelevant – Whether you think it’s right or wrong, whatever, I’m just saying this is what happens. Because of the dating = marriage thing.
The other thing that happens is that couples have this intense pressure on them once they start to consider dating. They’re forced to consider way too prematurely whether they can make a life commitment to the other. Isn’t that what dating is supposed to determine? If not, what’s the point of dating? Why not just go straight to marriage. And then when they’re in the relationship, there’s similar intense pressure which, in my opinion, is more negative than positive. I actually think this pressure is what contributes some couples to breaking up. And then of course they’re viewed as having sinned, or fallen short of this model, when in fact, the pressure from the model contributed to them not working out.
Sometimes this model does work out, and people go into their first dating relationship fully committed towards marriage. And more power to them. But that’s the exception, not the norm, regardless of how much they ascribe to the model. Even for those who believe in the model, I think those who succeed are the exception, not the norm.
Which is why I think the model is questionable. It’s a nice ideal. But I just don’t like how it plays out in reality. I think it’s the reason why girls end up dating non-Christians and leads to undue pressure in dating. And the further away I get from college, the more I feel this way.
What I think is that instead of discouraging dating, or making dating equivalent to engagement, so that it doesn’t fulfill its role of getting to know a potential partner better, what we need to do is encourage good dating. A few years ago, CCC at Stanford (I think with Brad Fulton’s impetus) used to do creative dating. What this was (uh, Andrew or someone correct me if I’m wrong) was essentially a group date. My dad’s also a big fan of group dating. That way you avoid the typical negatives people list with secular dating, and you still get to know a person, which is what I think dating is for. Plus, you don’t have the same intense pressure as with the conservative Christian model. You’re not forced to make this impossible commitment without knowing the person. So it’s a win all around.
I remember being skeptical about it, but once had this talk with Brad about why they did it, and he said something to the effect of what I mentioned – if Christian guys don’t initiate with Christian girls, other guys will. He said something similar with that men’s club he started up once. Dunno if anyone remembers this but it met for the first time at Sundance for dessert and another big idea of it was related to being good pursuers of Christian women.
Anyway, I agree. I don’t think people should date less. I think people should date more. But date the right way. Like group dating.
An even better way to get to know someone I think is to serve with them. Just because, when you do, you really get to see how another person is, plus, you get to see how well you work together, which is important. It’s how me and Jieun got to know each other. Also Henry and Lorraine. And, I can’t speak for Henry, but I’m eternally grateful for it. That we got to know each other that way. When we eventually decided to date, we knew what we were getting into. Had we not had that opportunity, I don’t know how it would have worked out. But we didn’t have to make some premature commitment in order to get to know each other, and that was a critical thing.
So yeah, I’m down on the whole, dating is preparation for marriage, so you should only date if you’re committed to marriage thing. Yeah, you shouldn’t date if marriage isn’t a possibility. But to put it too strongly, to the point of saying breaking up is practice for divorce (what the heck is that? Nothing but negative pressure and in no way encouraging, which would be fine if the model people presented weren’t so unrealistic) I don’t like. But, yeah, this is all just my personal opinion.
Uh, I want to emphasize that it’s just my opinion, and you can slam me if you want. But yeah, like I said, it becomes clearer to me the further I get from college.
One last rant and then I’ll stop. So, a typical thing people say when criticizing “dating” (secular, or as opposed to courting or whatever) is that they say it’s a relatively new phenomenon. The concept of dating has existed only recently so it’s not a necessary thing, so we shouldn’t do it.
But I feel like these people are missing something. If it never existed before, why the heck did dating ever start? Isn’t that an important question to answer?
I think it is. What I think is that this modern conception of dating is a reflection of the times, the way society is now. To ignore that is to ignore how society is nowadays. And to advocate eliminating dating for the old model is trying to fit an old model in a societal model in which it doesn’t fit, which is difficult or impossible.
My thinking (and it’s all just out of my butt) is that dating started because in this modern (Western) age, we’re more individualistic and less family centric, and that’s something that has never happened before. Yeah, the model used to be courting or whatever. But that was back in the family centric days. When families knew each other. When people actually lived with their families. Then it works.
But in large part, we don’t have that anymore. We don’t live with our families – a lot of us live far away from our families. We don’t work together, go to church together, stuff like that. We’re all more or less independent.
I actually think the courtship or whatever model works well when the society is family-centric. I actually think arranged marriages are a great idea. But, it can’t work for like someone in my situation. How can my family really know someone out here? Or how can they expect someone to come out here and be apart from their own family, which is the basic support for that model? It just doesn’t make sense. And in general, arranged marriages don’t make sense in this society, which is very individualistic and not family-oriented.
In my opinion, where I have seen this extreme commitment dating and/or courtship model succeed most have been in churches that have a really strong sense of community, such that it essentially takes the role of the family. It’s easier to make a strong commitment early and avoid the Western concept of dating here because there’s a strong discipler relationship such that the discipler / Bible study leader has wisdom that can be trusted. Like I said, it’s like the role of the family in arranged marriages. It’s in these kinds of churches that this model works.
Unfortunately, churches that have this strong a sense of community, a lot of people call cultish. It’s true. And it’s also rare. Again, a victim of this individualistic society. But few people commit to churches for a long long time nowadays, such that these types of discipling relationships are possible. Everything is tentative, people are always coming and going. So you don’t have the stable community that you need for this model to occur.
But there needs to be something for the rest of us, who aren’t part of these churches. Advocating a courtship and/or extreme commitment in dating model I don’t think works without it, because there’s no basis for the commitment yet. We don’t have our families in the way that people did in the past, and we’re all individuals in churches, not part of stable, committed communities. So we don’t have someone above us who really truly knows us completely, so there’s no basis for committing to something to early.
So my theory is, there’s a reason why the Western conception of dating exists now. It’s not random. It’s a consequence of this individualistic age. People date to get to know each other because we’re not family-centric anymore, and all of us are part of that individualistic society. To ignore that and advocate the typical super commitment form of dating, where dating = engagement misses something fundamental about the times. We just don’t live in a society where we live with our families our entire lives anymore. It’s just not the way it is.
So we need a way to get to know another person to see whether they’re the one for marriage, and in the absence of older models which aren’t (with some exceptions) viable anymore, dating is the way to do it. We shouldn’t discourage dating or place undue pressure on it. I think we need to encourage it. But encourage dating in the right way.
Anyway, yeah, you don’t have to agree, and that’s fine. It’s just, when I look around me at what’s happened to people I know, I feel like a lot of the conservative (Korean) Christian stance on dating has caused more harm than good, and I guess that just makes me sad.
Sorry for rambling. Next time we spar – Broadway style.