Christian Courtship

by ISABEL LYMAN

IN AN AGE when marriage and morality have been largely marginalized, a renaissance of Christian courtship promises to restore God to relationships.

 Tom Wolfe, the acclaimed author of The Bonfire of the Vanities, has penned a new book. In Hooking Up, Wolfe offers a snapshot of American life at the turn of the millennium. As famous for wearing white suits as he is for crafting stylish prose, Wolfe memorably captures the sexually charged atmosphere of 2000. He writes:

 The old term “dating” — referring to a practice in which a boy asked a girl out for the evening and took her to the movies or dinner — was now deader than “proletariat” or “pornography” or “perversion.” In junior high school, high school, and college, girls headed out in packs in the evening, and boys headed out in packs, hoping to meet each other fortuitously. If they met and some girl liked the looks of some boy, she would give him the nod, or he would give her the nod, and the two of them would retire to a halfway-private room and “hook up.”

 The cavalier mating rituals of the young are not only shocking to their elders, but they have chilling results. In 1999 an Alan Guttmacher Institute survey on adolescent sex reported that every year three million teens — approximately 1 in 4 — acquire a sexually transmitted disease and that one million teenage girls become pregnant.

 Although their information is grounded in the harsh reality of the age, the Wolfe and Guttmacher synopses are incomplete. To be young and single is not always synonymous with recklessness. In truth, there are scores and scores of teens, college students, and singles, inspired by traditional and faith-based values, who are pursuing proper relationships with the opposite sex. For them, sex is not a form of recreation but is a marriage act, and cohabitation is not an option. What follows is the good news from the front lines and rear guard of the culture war.

 Encouraging Morality

 In 1987, the Best Friends Foundation was started by Elayne Bennett, a practicing Catholic and the wife of former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Begun as a pilot program in Washington, D.C., public schools, Best Friends is a youth development curriculum for girls, 10-18, that promotes sexual abstinence by teaching self-respect and decision-making skills. The program, which rewards long-term participants with college scholarships, is popular. Currently, 6,000 Best Friend girls attend approximately 100 public schools in 26 school districts nationwide.

 In the same spirit, “True Love Waits,” a campaign initiated by the Southern Baptists, encourages teens and college students, largely through rallies, to remain chaste until marriage. Since its inception in 1993, over a million young people have signed covenant cards which state: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my friends, my future mate, and my future children, to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.”

 A spate of books by conservative authors are also offering an antidote to the chaotic social climate today’s men and women face. In A Return to Modesty, author Wendy Shalit, who was influenced by the example of Orthodox Jewish women who eschew physical contact with men until marriage and clothe themselves in long skirts, champions female innocence and male chivalry.

 Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar by Amy and Leon Kass, a husband and wife team who teach at the University of Chicago, is a pro-marriage anthology. The readings in the book — from Thomas Aquinas to C.S. Lewis — are designed to teach rudderless singles that learning about love won’t occur while watching reruns of Friends.

 Discarding Dating

 One book having a significant cultural impact is the controversial I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris, an evangelical Christian and homeschool graduate. The book’s thesis is that casual dating is a self-serving endeavor which often results in heartache and regrets. The author, who advocates a “purposeful singleness” prior to courtship, challenges readers with questions like: “What is your motivation in relationships, pleasing yourself or serving others?”; and “Does your current relationship hinder you from serving God as a single person?”

 Harris, however, is no staid church elder who wants a moratorium on fun. Like Wendy Shalit, he is attractive, articulate, and in his 20s. He is also a successful author. I Kissed Dating Goodbye has sold more than 700,000 copies, held a number one spot on Christian paperback lists, and been translated into several foreign languages. Harris, who was single when he wrote the book but has since married, has emerged as a kinder-gentler Dr. Laura. His “New Attitude” conferences draw huge crowds, and he’s appeared on the television shows Politically Incorrect and Dateline NBC. (His book has also created a public rebuttal. Youth pastor Jeremy Clark has written I Gave Dating a Chance.)

 Fourteen-year-old Emoly West, the fourth runner-up in the Miss Oklahoma Teen USA 2001 pageant, pronounces I Kissed Dating Goodbye “wonderful.” The Edmond, Oklahoma, teen appreciates Harris’ specific guidelines on how to remain emotionally and physically pure throughout the single years.

 Says West, “The book showed me how to stand up for myself and my standards and not to let others tear me down. Marriage is a huge responsibility and is something to be taken seriously, because when you do marry it is for life.”

 Margo Hampton is the wife of the vice-mayor of Guthrie, Oklahoma, and the mother of four children, ages 13 and up. She took three of her children to hear Josh Harris speak in Wichita, Kansas, and agrees with his view that adolescents are better off socializing in co-ed groups, rather than isolating themselves with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Says Hampton, “Not dating keeps kids from the heartache of breaking up and moving on to the next relationship, which is just another way of practicing for divorce.”

 Twenty-year-old Joseph Hession studies computer systems engineering at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst where he has earned a 3.5 grade point average. “Dating is often used as a tool of intimate companionship,” observes Hession, who has benefited from Harris’ ministry. “While caught up in ‘the heat of the moment,’ how is a young adult to avoid such a temptation? It is possible, of course, but all too often, as situations have revealed time and time again, those involved in the relationship give in to their physical desires.”

 Presently, Joe is not dating anyone but says, “I think I would be ready for marriage not long after college. Were I to meet a good, Christian woman here at U-Mass, I might pursue a relationship.”

Courtship and Betrothal

 While Joe’s parents are taking a laissez faire approach to his social life, Emoly West’s mother and father want her to be “courted.” Jonathan Lindvall, a writer who conducts Bold Parenting seminars, describes courtship as a “parentally authorized romantic relationship focused on serious contemplation and hope of future marriage; hopefully, but not necessarily, the sole romantic relationship before marriage.” Parents often act as chaperones during the courting period.

 A premeditated courtship was the mechanism through which Joshua Harris developed a relationship with his wife, Shannon. Unlike Harris, who had grown up in the church and in a two-parent home, Shannon Hendrickson’s mother and father had been divorced since she was nine. Hendrickson embraced Christianity in her early twenties and met Harris while attending Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The complete story of how their casual friendship turned “till death do us part” serious is chronicled in Harris’ new book Boy Meets Girl. Readers will be delighted and shocked to learn about the final act in their quest to be a holy and wholesome bride and groom — the pair kissed for the very first time on their wedding day in the fall of 1998. The Harrises recently welcomed a baby girl, Emma, into their family.

 Twenty-five-year-old Israel Wayne is the director of marketing for Wisdom’s Gate, a ministry which advocates a biblical worldview and publishes Home School Digest, a 100-page quarterly. The publication recently featured an article by Wayne about “betrothal.” Its title? “Should We Kiss Courtship Goodbye?”

 In a colloquy about dating, Wayne might manage to make Harris sound liberal. He writes, “In a betrothal model, there is no intermediate courtship stage. There is friendship and then there is betrothal or engagement. The two young people initially get to know each other as friends, in a non-romantic setting . . . . You may have heard the archaic term ‘pledging your troth.’ It sounds funny, but it means that you are pledging your ‘loyalty, faithfulness, and devotion.’ Thus, the young man makes a binding commitment to the young woman, and pledges to be faithful to her as long as they both shall live.”

 Wayne has firsthand experience with his subject matter. The betrothal of him to his wife, Brook (now 22), was an exercise in faith and parental trust.

 Both were in the publishing business when the pair casually talked during a long distance phone call in 1994. Four years later they met, when Brook Tingom and her family, who lived in Arizona, came to visit Israel and his family in Michigan. During the visit, they had few and fleeting conversations. No fireworks between these two — just a favorable impression. But here’s the clincher: Shortly after the Tingoms returned home, Skeet Savage (Wayne’s mother) asked her amazed son to pray to determine whether Brook was to be his bride.

 After much reflection and prayer, Israel Wayne felt that Brook was indeed the woman he was to marry. He notes: “I later learned that Brook had been impressed by the Lord, over two years before we met, that I was to be her husband.” The couple were betrothed shortly after Brook’s family returned to Arizona, and got married on January 23, 1999.

 The Waynes now have a baby, Benjamin Judah, and are apparently living happily ever after. “We feel that we can fully trust God in our marriage, since we saw how faithful He was in bringing us together. We do not feel that we missed anything good by skipping a pre-commitment dating scene,” shares Wayne.

 David Crank of Hempstead, Texas, publishes Unless the Lord, and is the father of six home-schooled children. His magazine covers such topics as home births, home churches, and home businesses. Crank, like Israel Wayne, has written about parent-involved courtship/betrothal and marriage. Two of Crank’s grown children, Heidi, 23, and Samuel, 25, were married in this fashion. Heidi and her husband, Greg Greenlaw, and their three children are missionaries in Papua New Guinea. Samuel, with his wife, the former Aimee Beavers, works in the Dallas area as a software engineer.

 For Heidi and Samuel, their relationships with their spouses were their first and only serious encounters with the opposite sex. From testimonials offered in Unless the Lord, it appears they are enjoying fruitful unions without the burden of past mistakes to cloud their future. Admittedly, to modern Americans, this all sounds as romantic as the arranged marriages that still occur in South Asia, or as passé as enlisting an old-world matchmaker to select a mate.

 But to Greg Greenlaw, his was a marriage made in heaven. He writes, “God brought us together in His perfect timing and special way, and He used our parents in the process from beginning to end. It was our parents who first recognized the potential for a relationship; helped us find the most effective way to correspond; encouraged me to come home to spend time with Heidi; helped us understand one another and address issues that arose; and helped us think through the timing of our wedding.”

 Adds Greenlaw, “Now, don’t think for a minute that we were manhandled into marriage by our parents. Ours is a love story like anybody else’s. At every step of the process, the choices were ours to make, and that’s the way it should be.”

 Heidi Greenlaw, who confesses to initially not being enthusiastic about courtship, has obviously changed her mind. “We now have two small girls of our own and plan to raise them with that same understanding,” she says. “We want to counsel them in all important areas of their lives, with their marriage partner being at the top of the list.”

 She is in very good company in her desire to actively help her children find life partners. The book of Genesis records that it was Abraham, after all, who asked his servant to find his beloved son Isaac a wife. The Old Testament story notes that although Isaac had never met Rebekah “she became his wife, and he loved her.”

 In an age when many young adults have traded the epicurean dangers of dating for the nihilism of “hooking up,” it is refreshing to note that many other young people are seeking instead to combine the desire for companionship with temperance. Perhaps others will follow their example and lead our society out of the morass of no-fault divorce, date rape, adultery, and domestic violence in which it is currently mired and into a renaissance of morality and family.

 

Isabel Lyman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, the Miami Herald, the Dallas Morning News, and the Boston Herald, among others.