Should Christians Date Online?

Our friend (and one of the fabulous Baylor history Ph.D. students) Paul Putz has a fascinating piece over at the Religion and Politics blog on the deep history of Christian matchmaking in America. After discussing the intriguing “matrimonial bureau” of Omaha pastor Charles Savidge in the early 20th century, Putz reflects on the contemporary relevance and challenges of online dating sites such as ChristianMingle. Putz says that

Given the reality of our increasingly online, increasingly digital world, Christian niche dating sites serve as an easily identifiable online companion to more traditional offline means used by evangelicals to find a spouse. They allow evangelicals to adopt the broader cultural turn towards individualism in the selection of romantic partners while still remaining true to conservative evangelical insistence on intrafaith marriage. “We want Christians to marry Christians,” Moorcroft said. “We don’t want Christians to marry nominal Christians or nonbelievers at all.” And once their customers are married, Christian dating sites claim to provide help on another account: they supposedly facilitate more compatible matches, which, according to ChristianCafe.com’s Fred Moesker, will help “to decrease divorce rates.” Moesker’s claim may seem dubious, but it does have at least the modest support of initial research from John T. Cacioppo and others for the National Academy of the Sciences. They conducted a recent study showing that marriages that began online were slightly less likely to end in divorce and were “associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction” than marriages that began offline.

Of course, not all evangelicals view Christian online dating in a positive light. In 2011, Christianity Today ran an opinion roundtable with the headline, “Is Online Dating for Christians?” Answers ranged from “With Gusto!” to “With Caution” to “No; Trust God.” More recently, Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist at Religion News Service, wondered if online dating websites actually served to undermine Christian values, concerns that were echoed from another corner of the evangelical world by the Gospel Coalition. For wary evangelicals, the turn to online matchmaking could carry the potential for further detachment from involvement in local church bodies at a time when more and more Americans are willing to shun affiliation with formal religious organizations. 

I am no Luddite about technology, or about newfangled ways to connect with people. For full disclosure, I met my wonderful wife through common friends, not through the internet, but we were a several-hour drive away from one another when we started courting, and e-mail did play an important role in starting our relationship. Therefore I can fully appreciate circumstances which warrant looking outside one’s own town, and one’s own congregation, for a good match, and using technology to do so.

But there may well be a price to pay for a highly individualized, digital method of dating. Yes, online dating can help singles find “like-minded” believers more readily, and evangelicals should unapologetically affirm that marrying a spouse who’s within the evangelical (or at least orthodox Christian) fold is a must. But I wonder if our approach to dating in evangelical circles implies that if you can just find the right match, wedded bliss will follow, with no thought toward the struggles or suffering that inevitably come via changing circumstances, family problems, or the garden-variety consequences of sin. Spiritual compatibility matters, but a focus on compatibility can also obscure the difficulties and gracious compromises that any healthy marriage will pass through.

The right balance, for those not called to singleness and celibacy, is to look for someone of spiritual compatibility, but to understand from the start that this is someone with whom you will share hardship and struggles as much as the much-advertised (literally) delights of Christian marriage. Instead of the quest for Mr. or Ms. Perfect, those called to marriage should pursue someone of shared values regarding family and church, but realize that for all its goodness, even the best Christian marriage only unites two sinners who are at some incomplete stage of sanctification. No matter how perfect the match, this is going to require some work.

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  • steve burdan

    Good post and interesting perspective – also reflective of the general approach of the evan. marital/industrial complex, lol!

    Some thoughts –

    Online dating can produce marriages as broken clocks are right twice a day – not the best or even a good way, but people will find a way to get what they truly want, with maybe a nod to an idea of God in the process. Did the godly women around Jesus campaign for him to marry? His example – there are many more things more important than marriage and children in life… e.g. spiritual family and children.

    Rather, I think A. Paul in I Cor 7 positions the two marital statuses as counter-balanced in the new church community, where even “family” is redefined – both are acceptable though Paul edges toward singleness as the most productive for eternity… though maybe not in this day of “Irreplaceable.”

  • http://www.tanyalogan.com/blog Tanya Logan

    I think one point people need to realize is that even if a site has the word “Christian” in its title, there are many secular factors that (may) come into play. For example, it is routine for dating sites to set up dummy profiles of non-existent members. The site is created for someone to make money; will they have the same morals/standards as you? And, will the people on the site reflect your values, or will they simply pretend to in order to get a date?
    Having been single for 17 years (now happily married for 6) I found that Christian dating only supplied me with a part of the solution — as you stated in your last paragraph, a terrific summing-up of reality.

  • Thomas Kidd

    Based on a couple of questions I’ve received from readers (thanks, you all!), I want to emphasize that my focus here is the _impression_ one can get from the online dating sites that compatibility leads to marital bliss – an impression one can get from any number of sources (Christian and non-Christian) in our culture. While basic spiritual compatibility is a must, I suspect that America’s dating culture (and the evangelical versions of that culture) overemphasizes the work that compatibility does for you in marriage. Dating sites advertise the “quest for Mr. or Ms. Perfect” to which I allude above, and consumers should simply take that advertisement with a grain of salt.

  • Doug Johnson

    I think it is a safe bet that “compatibility” is not of great importance in establishing marital bliss (else, how do arranged marriages succeed?). “Establishing” is the key word and a person’s determination and willingness to mutually submit to the needs of the other over themselves is the greatest indicator of future success.

  • ruis2002

    Singles over 35 have almost no way of meeting someone offline. 20-somethings have singles groups at church, and bars, and college courses, etc. However, unmarried and divorced singles over 35 have much more difficulty meeting new people, especially for dating, so I think the church should encourage older singles to search for a mate online. However, I agree that compatibility may not lead to bliss – two people who are both alcoholics are in a sense “compatible”, but in a destructive way. Pure compatibility is not the answer. I read a sociological study recently that said couples who treat each other with contempt are well on their way to divorce. Couples in which each person feels lucky to have found the other are in much more stable relationships. So, it’s not all about how much “work” you put into your relationship either. You can “work” yourself to death in a relationship with someone who treats you with contempt, but you’ll most likely wind up divorced anyway.


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