A few years back, Marshall Segal penned an article on well-known evangelical theologian John Piper’s website titled “Dads, Date Your Daughter’s Boyfriend.” I want to emphasize that Piper is not considered fringe. He is not considered radical. Among conservative evangelicals, he is fairly mainstream. And yet, here is an article urging dads to date their daughter’s boyfriend, published on his blog.
Evangelical courtship culture extends well beyond the fringe.
What does Segal have to say?
One of the most terrifying moments of a not-yet-married man’s life is meeting his girlfriend’s father.
This should not be terrifying.
The much-anticipated introduction is an unending fountain of humor for friends and family, but it’s more often an occasion for horror for the young man. What will dad say? What will he ask? Will he be armed?
What in the blazes?
The moment is a mountain to overcome in almost any relationship, but I believe it’s a mountain we, as Christians, can capture for the good of the daughter, the suitor, and the father.
Okay. Cool. This is an opportunity to tell your readers that dads should respect their daughters’ judgement, prepare them to vet men themselves, and support their choices. Right?
May I Marry Your Daughter?
Part of the problem is trying to understand a father’s role in his daughter’s pursuit of marriage. In today’s ideal scenario, she brings home a guy the whole family can love, and the rest is matrimony. But as good as ideal sounds, it’s hard to find that picture in the Bible, and ultimately it’s far too simple for most not-yet-married realities anyways.
I’m thinking ancient Middle Eastern civilizations may not be the ideal place to look for your model for boy-meets-girl. And what does “not-yet-married realities” mean, exactly?
What if dad isn’t all that involved in her life? What if her parents aren’t believers? How about if she moved and met her man far away from home? What if she’s still single at 25, 30, maybe even 40? These kinds of complexities can make honoring parents, setting expectations, and finding husbands feel hopeless.
I’m confused. Why do any of these things stand in the way of her bringing a guy home and the family embracing him?
As a trend, dads seem to be less and less involved in their daughter’s dating. It actually makes for a dangerous situation because God means for spiritual headship and leadership to be a more seamless handoff, not this disjointed affair that leaves the young woman spiritually and emotionally uncovered from age fifteen until her wedding day.
I want to emphasize that Piper is considered mainstream in evangelical circles, and while this article is written by Marshall Segal, it would not have been published Piper’s blog if he had not approved it. Here Segal states directly that a woman must always be under the covering of her husband’s spiritual and emotional headship. Here Segal states that marriage is to be a “handoff” of a woman from father to husband.
Here Segal puts the father in a position of authority over an unmarried daughter—authority that extends to overseeing her choice of marriage partner.
We’ve relegated dads to a last-minute interview before engagement when God meant for them to be active, available agents of wisdom and safekeeping. And I don’t mean policemen. Foolish dads relish the gun-bearing, tough-guy role. The wise dads relish the opportunity to develop a real, intentional, grace-and-truth relationship with the man who might be tasked with caring for their daughter for the rest of her life.
“tasked with caring for their daughter”
Segal does not see marriage as a partnership. He sees it as a sort of guardianship. The daughter moves from her father’s authority to her husband’s authority—in either case she is a dependent in need of care.
This idea is not fringe.
Once again, Segal goes on:
Where’s My Dad?
In the first pages of Scripture, we find that great love story of Isaac and Rebekah. Completely apart from Isaac, Abraham sends another guy off to find his son a wife. Some code words and a camel ride later, Isaac and Rebekah are tented and covenanted in love. Anyone who’s tried and failed to get married reads that simplicity with at least a little bit of longing.
Yes, that’s right—Segal reads the story of an arranged marriage with longing. (I think we can safely read that in between the lines here; Segal is the author of a book titled Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating). We’ve gotten to the point of idealizing arranged marriages.
(Also, the Bible doesn’t suggest Isaac and Rebekah had the greatest marriage.)
Do you know what this reminds me of? Josh Harris was 21 when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. At only 21, he was already frustrated enough with trying to find “the one” that he wrote a book urging Christians to try something entirely new. Segal, too, has dealt with such frustrations—and he doesn’t seem to have completely worked through them, if he he is waxing lyrical about arranged marriages.
So, is that how we should get married today? Wait for the day dad sends her to Minneapolis on a camel? My dad doesn’t even have a camel.
That’s his objection? My dad doesn’t have a camel?
In the end, Segal walks back from arranged marriages:
While we can certainly learn about love and marriage from Isaac and Rebekah, I don’t think God intended it to be a manual for getting married in twenty-first-century America.
Well, that’s a relief.
I do think, though, that we may be facing greater evils in our Christian homes today than handpicking fathers.
Here, Segal brings the conversation back to the idea he started with—to dads dating their daughter’s boyfriend.
The options could be described like this: In one case, a daughter’s father picks her husband (an arranged marriage). In a second scenario, dad approves a husband, affirming her wisdom and choice. Another step down, dad concedes, disagreeing with her choice but passively supporting her decision to marry anyway. Finally, and tragically (and most often in our day), dad disappears. The daughter marries a man without dad. For whatever reason — distance, disagreement, divorce, disinterest — dad is out of the picture, and the wedding happens anyway. He might attend, but he had nothing to do with the union.
But what if there was another approach? If dad has typically picked, approved, conceded, or disappeared — what if instead dad discipled? What if a daughter’s father took some responsibility not just in vetting a young man, but in investing in him and preparing him to make much of Jesus in dating and marriage?
I’m going to repeat, here, that Piper is not a fringe figure, and that Segal’s article was published on Piper’s website. These ideas, in other words, are not fringe ideas within conservative evangelical circles.
Segal rejects the idea that a father should pick his daughter’s husband, and the idea that the father should approve her husband—“affirming her wisdom and choice.” He rejects, too, the idea that a father should concede to a choice he disagrees with, as well as the idea that the father should disappear. Oddly, he fails to include another option—that a father should accept his daughter’s choice,because he respects her and it is her life.
The option Segal lands on is this—that a father should disciple his daughter’s husband, before they marry.
It probably should be said here that you might consider giving the daughter you raised the benefit of the doubt that maybe she picked well, at least before coming to any quick conclusions.
This is a good admission. It’s unfortunate that it’s accompanied by statements like this:
Men, consider this a call to arms. Too many of our young women are giving themselves away to unworthy men because there’s no worthy man in their life to tell them differently.
Their craving to finally be loved might cause them to make unhealthy compromises, but it’s far less likely if someone loves them enough to know what’s going on and keep them from destroying themselves.
Oh, and Segal’s advice for women?
Girls, if you’re terrified to have your Jesus-loving father more involved in your boyfriend’s life, that is a red flag for your relationship. Depending on the reason you’re afraid, you might even need to break up with him. God has given you a father for your good. God wants to love you and keep you and protect you and provide for you through this man. And if your father loves your heavenly Father, God will use him to guard and grow your heart for Jesus. As awkward as it might feel at times, make this a qualification for a man wanting to pursue you: that he get to know an older, godly man that you know loves you, preferably your father.
This amount of trust in fathers—coupled with a severe distrust in daughters—is rather horrifying. And I say that in part because I experienced it. Fathers are not all knowing. Fathers do not know their daughters well enough to do this work of choosing a husband for them—and whatever Segal says, that is what he’s talking about. Because he is talking about women letting their fathers have the say of yay or nay on any man they date, no matter their age.
I have an idea. How about equipping your daughters with the tools they need to be self assertive and confident in their self worth, then letting them pick their own life partners?
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!