Quirky Christian Courtship

“We told Ted he could court Mary.” My mother told me this as we were driving to dinner.

That didn’t make sense to me, so I asked, “Why would Ted need to ask your permission? It’s not like Mary’s your daughter.”

“Well you know Mary’s father; he would nod his head and say yes to anyone. So Mary gave me the responsibility of accepting or rejecting any man she might want to court.”

People not familiar with Christian fundamentalism may not know what courting is, so here’s a definition from a Christian: “Courting is young adults seeking each other under their parents’ supervision for the purpose of finding a spouse in the will of God.” Basically it’s formal dating without the physical intimacy and with more parental involvement.

Apologies to my mother, but having to grant Ted permission is weird. I feel sorry for him. It’s not even her parents — and he had to ask them too!

My mom continued: “We gave him a plan of things we want him to read to help him grow in Christ. We gave him a book a couple months ago on the will of God and he finished it. He’s a good kid.”

If I were him, I’d say screw this. This isn’t an engagement — it’s just permission to get to know someone more formally to see if they are a suitable candidate for marriage.

Oh, and did I mention they want to wait until marriage to kiss?

Yes, you read that right. They’re waiting for marriage, not only to have sex, but to kiss each other.

Poor, poor lovers.

As a Christian I would I have thought this was all very honorable. Now I see it as a little pathetic and a waste of time and guilt.

First, it’s demeaning. Mary is an adult. She’s 21 and doesn’t need a friend to tell her who she can and can’t have a relationship with. I would not let my mother tell me if  I could go out with a girl, and I don’t think she should be telling this girl whether she is allowed to “court” a guy. That is a decision she should make herself. Sure, my mom can give advice. But it’s Mary’s decision, not her parents’ decision and certainly not my parents’.

Second, it’s sexist. Ted has to ask Mary’s gatekeeper, but notice Ted doesn’t have a gatekeeper. There is an undercurrent here that women are weak; they cannot take care of themselves; they do not have the right to make an important relational decision by themselves. It’s insulting and misogynistic.

Third, it’s arrogant. My parents do not know who is the best match for this girl. Rarely do people really know how something will turn out for themselves much less someone else. Some people who seem perfect turn out to be rotters. Others who seem like jerks turn out to be loving, caring husbands. And we remember our hits (“I never did like him!”) and forget our misses.

Now of course we all have opinions, and sometimes there are clear indicators that someone might not be the best companion for someone (“Is that a body in your freezer, Ted?”). If we care for them we’ll probably make our opinion known — but it’s their life, and it’s their decision.

Christianity makes a big deal out of freedom, but these practices are a direct result of my mother’s Christianity. This is not freedom; it’s an oppression of rules and regulations. Some would say this is not “true Christianity” (which they define as whatever they believe), but virtually all forms of Christianity have core features of dogma that prey upon fear and guilt. Thus the concept of “sin” and “redemption.”

As I watch this overdramatization of Christian courtship, I wish I could say to Mary, “You don’t need my mother to approve of your relationship. If you love him, be with him. Screw the legalism.”

And to Ted, I’d say, “Run.”

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