Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Challenge 2: The Weekend!

This weekend's Challenge Task is to read a series of articles on Christian Dating, and to respond to them with agreements, disagreements, and the ways we would, could, or have applied the principles put forth. I don't plan on reading all 8 articles at once, but I'm going to consolidate my responses as well as possible, so I'll be taking notes as I go. I'll sometimes include quotes so that you can reference what I'm responding to. The articles are written by Scott Croft, an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church where he runs relationship seminars, and an attorney.

Right off the bat, I'd like to note that Mr. Croft has no credentials related to relationship or marriage counseling, psychology, sociology, or even theology (aside from a year as a "pastoral assistant"). FotF doesn't even tell us what kind of attorney he is, so I checked with Google. If this is him, he's in "litigation", mostly the 'business and gov't' kind. Therefore, his experience as an attorney is completely irrelevant to the matter of Christian Dating.

So why tell us he's an attorney at all? It's a basic rule of sociology: Anyone with a Degree is More Important Than You and Knows Better, and is therefore Qualified to order you around. There have been studies done on obedience to authority figures, and it clearly works in real situations. Even I have experienced the obedience phenomenon when I tell people I was a Behavioral Therapist. Isn't psychology fun?

Regardless of Mr. Croft's lack of actual related credentials, let's assume he's a smart guy and has enough general life experience to give us some dating suggestions. We'll start with the first article: Biblical Dating: An Introduction. He begins with a pair of Basic Assumptions that color the entire series: Inerrancy of Scripture and its close cousin Sufficiency of Scripture. Basically, Scripture comes from God and is therefore neither flawed nor has errors, and also therefore it is Sufficient to guide Christians in all areas of their faith and life; nothing is left out of God's Instruction Manual.

Ok. So we start with a definition of biblical dating:
We may define biblical dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman:

1. That begins (maybe) with the man approaching and going through the woman's father or family;
2. that is conducted under the authority of the woman's father or family or church; and
3. that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal.

While I've never been a fan of the whole "asking her father" thing, it does help when starting any relationship to have adult guidance and good role models to look to for help when things get awkward or difficult. Authority is something entirely different, and I do take issue with that. I have no problems with #3, though. Dating for me was never about getting into short, semi-casual relationships "just because". I've always considered it to be a search for a mate. I don't think casual dating makes much sense from either an evolutionary standpoint or a moral one. People are built for love and attachment - the goal of all life on earth is to reproduce, and in our case that goal includes hanging around long enough to properly raise our young. So marriage, or at least a settled domestic partnership, is a good idea, and therefore dating ought to lead toward partnership.

The rest of the article bashes on modern dating. He makes a few good points - that many people are entering the dating world entirely self-centered, looking for the person who fills their wants and needs without thinking about whether they are ready to fill someone else's wants and needs, that others are only dating to fill some basic emotional or sexual need without looking for the future commitment, and in doing so are keeping themselves satisfied in the short term but damaging their ability to commit to marriage in the future. Our system is flawed. But do we have to return to 300AD to get around that? Wouldn't advocating personal responsibility and attention to the needs of others get you the same result? The historical and social context for our current dating behavior bears examining; is this 'trend' going to continue, or will a few more generations experience the backlash of single mothers and unattached 40-somethings, and be pushed into marriage earlier than we were?

[derail]Mr. Croft mentions regret - in the context that he has never heard a Christian not express regret for a sinful relationship before they turned around and started living a more Godly life. It's not surprising. Most cultures (and Christianity is a culture) will encourage you to look back on the time before you came into the fold as one of disgrace, or at least one of ignorance. Why? Is it so important to alienate ourselves from our pasts that we must be told that not a single one of our companions has ever accepted past behavior as a good or necessary thing? I firmly believe that everything we experience is a chance to learn about ourselves and the world, and that we put ourselves into situations because we subconsciously know (or, if you will, God knows) that we can benefit from the lessons we will receive. If you regret something, you haven't learned everything you could from it, or are denying the lesson. I've made quite a few "mistakes" in my time, but I work every day to understand why and to eliminate regret. Life is too short to look back with sorrow and guilt, and besides, isn't thankfulness a lot more spiritually mature? So I strive to be grateful for the lessons I've been given, instead of regretting that they had to be taught. [/derail]

Now I'm going to nitpick at the biggest issue I see with Biblical dating. "Men initiate, women respond". Men are, of course, put into leadership roles in the Bible.
Hollywood's perfect woman runs with the boys, knows what she wants, and is aggressive en route to getting it — especially romantically. Hilariously, Hollywood even writes these characters into period pieces, as if the normal woman at all levels of society in the 18th and 19th centuries was a post-feminist, post-sexual-revolution, "there-ain't-no-difference-between-me-and-you" libertine.

Take one look at 18th century London with 10,000 prostitutes top-to-bottom, courtesans to streetwalkers, and tell me that society hasn't always had its share of "liberated" women! The "normal" woman back then succumbed to a lot of peer pressure when she chose a husband and lived a "normal", quiet, meek life. The "normal" woman had to live with her husband taking a mistress and say nothing, as it was common for him to do so and in some cases encouraged, especially when the wife wanted to avoid pregnancy (contraceptives being neither readily available nor Godly)!

Historically, ancient Rome (from which Christianity sprang) was a patriarchy, and most societies since have been patriarchal. There are few surviving female voices from those times to tell us whether they liked their roles in the household; whether they struggled as women today do with their expected roles; whether their husbands left their togas on the floor. There's been debate since 200BC regarding women's independence and authors in all eras have blamed women to some degree for ruining families by taking on male roles, whether it was owning land or money in ancient Rome or having the ability to work outside the home in more recent times. There's nothing new about the debate regarding male and female roles. It's rather telling that despite Mr. Croft's insistence on the vague historical ideal of women as meek and willing participants in the Patriarchal order, a good hard look at history says that the ideal has existed as long as written history, and so have the "recent problems" regarding marriage and family values. I'd much rather hear "either can initiate, as long as they do so with honesty and good intentions". Defined roles are not bad (see my post "Femininity" regarding gender roles), but I think the definitions should be left up to individuals.

(Sunday's Thoughts)
Now that I'm through with the reading I realize: I wanted to get mad at these articles. I fully admit that I went into this Challenge geared up for a full-on "Logic vs. Religion" rant about the various ways in which Biblical dating was both absurd and cheerfully ignorant of real life situations. Despite that initial reaction on my part, the rest of the articles are fairly straightforward and agreeable. Even though I'm still tempted to pick God right out of the equation, the guiding principles - communication, getting to know not only the person but his/her friends, family, etc to better judge compatibility, taking it slow - are all sound concepts to apply to dating in general, Christian or not. And of course, it reminds us not to leave our friends behind in our zeal for finding a mate. (Keeping a healthy social network is another post on its own)

Really, despite Mr. Croft's repeated assurance that Biblical Dating does not include "playing at marriage" and warns against too much intimacy and getting to know someone "too well" before marriage, lest a breakup cause more damage than it really should, he does advocate a lot of getting-to-know-you kinds of discussions. Discussions are GOOD. What he doesn't advocate, clearly, is finding out whether your potential husband leaves his socks all over the house by moving in with him. I guess you should just ask his mother! In all seriousness; I would bet that the most awkward part of marriage is learning to share your space with someone else. Suddenly you have two dressers, the closet is half full of someone else's clothes and there are socks on the living room floor. Old habits are hard to change, and again he gives the advice that to solve potential problems, you must communicate. Nothing wrong with that!

I think that what I am most having a problem with is the idea that women need to subject themselves to some invisible authority who will make all of their important decisions for them. I love the quote "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it is yours (love it forever). If it doesn't, it never was." And really, that's what women are advised to do in this series of articles - let go of the control.
The Lord is sovereign. If it doesn't work out with a particular guy because he didn't step up, the Lord will cause something else to work out. He knows what is best for each of us, and all of us must learn to trust him — especially about things that are really important to us.
The wording is enough to get under my skin! Even though the meanings are similar, the first quote puts control in the hands of the reader; the second puts it in the hands of God. I guess this is something I have to work through - my own desire for control. But that's another blog entry on its own, and a lot more learning ahead. For now, I'll just say that I have not been forced to submit to my partner but that I do on occasion simply because I love him and respect him. And really, that's what dating should be about - respect for the other person; wanting to find someone who is worthy of that respect and who can not only help you in your own growth, be it spiritual or material, but who can be helped by you. All relationships are a two-way street, and I think a lot of people forget this.

I'm glad these articles reminded me of the work it takes to willingly put your partner first in a relationship, instead of selfishly asking them to put you first. The challenge certainly gave me a lot to think about this weekend!

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