Courtship, Part 2: What’s Important and What Isn’t

Courtship, Part 2: What’s Important and What Isn’t June 22, 2012

I explained in Part 1 why the idea of a parent-guided courtship was appealing to me. In that post I described the courtship process that I grew up expecting. Here I am going to focus on one aspect of that: the process by which the father vets his daughter’s prospective suitors. This is, after all, how the father is supposed to protect his daughter from a disastrous match by helping her choose a husband.

My father made a list, a list of qualifications that any young man would have to meet on order to obtain permission to court me. The list wasn’t all that long, but it was non-negotiable. Everything on that list could be placed in one of three categories: religious beliefs, political beliefs, and ability to provide. For my father, being a good husband meant having proper religious beliefs, proper political beliefs, and being able to provide.

My father’s vetting process really wasn’t all that intensive when compared to some. Some fathers influenced by the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements come up with lists of questions that run on for pages, or insist on getting to know the prospective suitor in a process through which the suitor must essentially first court the girl’s father – all before ever saying a word about it to the girl in question. The process of evaluating a potential suitor is something so discussed in Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull circles that Vision Forum offers several resources on the topic for parents.

The questions asked and the vetting process vary from family to family. This makes sense given that the ultimate authority in the Christian Patriarchy movement is not given to some distant leader but rather to each individual father. What I’m going to discuss here is a tendency I have seen toward valuing doctrinal purity over things like good treatment and the ability to carry on a healthy relationship. Because of the diversity in the practice of courtship, the severity of this problem may vary from case to case.

With that caveat, it seems to me that it is doctrinal purity and the ability to provide that matter most for fathers in the Christian Patriarchy movement when evaluating their daughters’ potential suitors. Even the questions that do relate to carrying on healthy relationships generally seem to simply go back to the proper gender roles endorsed by Christian Patriarchy – and in my father’s case, such questions did not exist at all.

I’ve written about this before, in a post called “What About Love?”:

I recently shared my father’s list of requirements with a valued friend of mine. She was completely taken aback. “You mean, there’s nothing about loving you or treating you well on that list?” she asked. Uh, no. I had never thought of it that way, but there wasn’t. It was all political and doctrinal purity and the ability to provide. She then told me that when she started getting serious with the man to whom she is now happily married, her father asked her only two things: “Does he love you?” and “Does he treat you well?” When she answered yes to both, he gave his hearty approval. To her father, it was love and good treatment that mattered, and everything else was optional.

This conversation made me see just how problematic my father’s list, and his valuing of political and doctrinal purity above all else, really was. After all, an awful, controlling, hateful, abusing man who only wanted to marry me to make me his servant would get my father’s blessing if he met my father’s political and doctrinal purity test and could provide for me. At the same time, my loving, adoring, hard-working husband was unable to gain my father’s blessing no matter how wonderful he was simply because he was a member of the wrong denomination and voted for the wrong political candidate. There is something seriously wrong with valuing doctrinal purity above love and kindness.

In other words, doctrinal purity matters more than the ability to carry on a healthy relationship, or even being a healthy and non-abusive person in general. I.e., doctrinal purity matters more than whether the young man is an emotional manipulator, or a potential abuser.

I’ve written before about how little I was actually taught about how to carry on a healthy relationship. I suppose I thought that if I followed the right rules – remained a virgin, married via a parent-guided courtship – a healthy relationship would be the natural and effortless result. It is in the same vein that my father, like so many other fathers in Christian Patriarchy circles, believed that if a young man had the proper doctrinal and political beliefs and was able to provide, then he must naturally be fit and upstanding husband material. How could he not be? Follow the rules/check all the boxes = things work out perfectly.

Now it could well be argued that my father felt that so long as he made sure any suitor met some minimum requirements I would be the judge of whether he treated me well, whether he was kind and compassionate, whether he knew how to carry on a healthy relationship, etc. The problem with this assumption is that the entire rationale for courtship is built on the girl’s inability to properly evaluate suitors without being “blinded by love” or beguiled by a manipulating young man. With this justification, courtship only works if the father only lets through young men who are gaurunteed husband material.

In the end, then, when evaluating prospective suitors what really matters in the courtship crowd is proper belief as opposed to healthy practice. The reason is simple: there is an assumption that proper belief leads to healthy practice and that improper belief leads to unhealthy practice. In other words, someone with correct doctrinal beliefs will naturally be a good and trustworthy person, and someone with incorrect doctrinal beliefs will naturally be a potential abuser. This thinking is so black and white, so bare of the nuance of real life, so deaf to the reality that being a Christian does not automatically mean someone is a good person, and that the correlary is also not true.

But within the mindset of Christian Patriarchy, this thinking makes perfect sense. It is really only natural, within this structure, that what matters most, above all else, is correct doctrinal belief. That correct doctrinal belief, then, combined with proper political belief and the ability to provide, was the sieve through which my father planned to strain any of my potential suitors. And when, partway through college, a young man did become interested in me, and when this young man didn’t meet the requirements of my father’s list, my father refused his permission for a relationship to proceed.

This young man’s character did not matter; how he treated me did not matter; the selfless service he exhibited toward others did not matter. All that was important was doctrinal and political purity, and whether or not he could provide for me.

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