Friday, July 9, 2010

Courtship - Weird, Perverse, Dangerous, Scripture Defying

Ahh. Courtship. The subject most likely to make me pour gasoline all over my clothes and light myself on fire. Before I go any further on the subject, let me qualify my views as being directed at adult relationships. Parents of minors are wise to set whatever guidelines (within healthy scriptural, emotional, and logical boundaries) for their children they choose. It's a natural part of teaching children to become responsible adults. My problem is with the imposition and indoctrination of courtship where grown men and women are concerned.

I've seen courtship described the following way, in these exact words, by some of it's proponents...

"Courtship: The period of time where a girl decides if she can do better."

Poor guy. (Forgive me for projecting onto all men victimized by the above mentality)

There's so much personal and emotional selfishness in that statement that it's dizzying. It's also misleading, as the girl's "decision" is about the most powerless and futile aspect of the whole process. The statement would better read...

"Courtship: The period of time where a girl's father imposes his own will and vision on his daughter's future, guarding her from her wicked, sinful, putrid, disgusting heart and those mean ole, deceitful emotions - with help from anyone else with an opinion who feels the young lady should be in submission to them, and if by some chance she gets really, really lucky, maybe, just maybe, she'll actually like the guy they choose for her."

Here are a few other options...

"Courtship: What the rest of us call meddling."
"Courtship: For a woman in a patriocentric home, it's either this or hell on earth."
"Courtship: Where you act as a forced stooge - and like it or else!"
"Courtship: Perpetual infancy."
"Courtship: Your forced admission of "I suck at this. You've said so all my life. Please domineer this for me."
"Courtship: Feigned virtue rather than genuine character, discernment, and discipline."
"Courtship: The only way to find a man without losing your family."

I could go on and on and on and on and on...

Courtship isn't a biblical instruction. It isn't even a biblical pattern or implication. It's a human idea, a commandment of men, reliant on total indoctrination which induces paralyzing fear of any other alternative, turns one's attention to one's own "sin nature", and which provides absolute, unchallenged control and opportunity for a father to impose his will on his daughter's life. I've discussed "lording" and "meddling" in previous posts, and measuring the process of courtship against those scriptures would seem to very clearly put courtship at odds with the heart of God. It's clear in Hebrews 5:12-14 that God desires His children to mature and be discerning, whereas fathers who officiate grown daughter's lives through courtship would seem to have an entirely different goal, usually seeming to have become so polluted by human religious traditions and the commandments of men that they tie their own self-worth as men and fathers into how successfully they pass the pollution on to their children.

The courtship phenomenon got an injection of steroids with the Harris book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", or as I call it, "You're stupid! You suck! So do it my way, you sinful, lustful wretch of a failure!" A 21 year old author, who didn't know jack-squat about jack-squat, still largely learning about life, becoming the voice for Christian singles as they searched for their soul-mates. The emphasis on abstaining from affection, with the implication being that it ALWAYS leads to something more, seems to me to suggest to the writer's audience that they should just accept their destiny to fail and do things his way. How convenient for the man who eventually took over one of the most controlling, spiritually abusive organizations in the church community. Beat them into oblivion, then remind them how oblivious they are, or, as I said more thoroughly here, create a demand, then demand to meet the demand. Great way to stay in business. Lousy way to serve.

Some of the most ridiculous things ever said to me have been said in defense of courtship. Of the 10 dumbest things ever said to me, my former future father-in-law has at least 8 of them, and most of those were in defense of courtship, which was in essence his way of peeing on the trees, tires, and fenceposts of my relationship with his daughter, claiming it as his own, and protecting his own authority and fiefdom. It had nothing to do with protecting her.

While I fully agree with seeking counsel, there's a huuuuuge difference between counsel sought and counsel imposed, and just because you receive counsel, that doesn't mean it's wise or Godly. That's where discernment, which is the mortal and spiritual enemy of courtship, comes in. I had no problem with my ex-fiancee seeking wise counsel about our future. Heck, I tapped every resource I had, from my own parents (who've just celebrated 50 years of Christ-centered, happy, and loving marriage) to various mentors. BUT, had any of the people in my camp imposed their counsel on me, I'd have likely invited them to go somewhere, preferably away from my relationship with my ex, and eat a Snickers. It wasn't their place to meddle.

My ex-fiancee and I exchanged our first kiss shortly after our engagement. It was sweet, innocent, beautiful, and every other wonderful thing I ever wanted our first kiss to be. Lucky for us, a couple of her sisters saw it happen. Of course, they had all been heavily indoctrinated into the courtship crapola, falling for all of the ominous warnings and the related propoganda. The next day, my ex and I were walking through a Wal-Mart, and apparently one of her sisters (I'll refer to her as "Sally") had jumped all over her earlier that morning. We had this exchange...

Her: Lew, some of my family saw us kiss last night.
Me: Is this a problem?
Her: Well, Sally really, really thinks we need to be careful. (translation: Sally said "You slut!")
Me: Careful how?
Her: I just think we need to be careful. It really bothered Sally.
Me: So now Sally gets a say in our relationship? She gets to set our boundaries?
Her: (taken aback and somewhat enlightened, having never considered it that way) Well, no, that's not what I want. What should I do?
Me: Sally needs to grow up, mind her own business, and leave you, and us, alone. If she keeps bugging you about it, send her to talk to me. Your family isn't gonna make me feel guilty about anything we're doing, and I don't like them pouring guilt on you.

It made me furious. To be frank, to this day I don't really like Sally, as she was the biggest disciple of the authoritarian and headship nonsense among the siblings, repeatedly trying to manipulate my ex and remind her how she was "tearing apart her family!" It's making me pretty angry even as I type this, over two years removed. And on that note, I'll end this post.

Uggggghhhh. What toxicity.

If you must officiate the life choices of a grown daughter, you've already failed as a father to prepare your daughter to face the world that awaits her. How grossly unfair and what an injustice to do this to your children. What a reproach upon the name of the Lord. His Spirit produces liberty, you know. If you're not nourishing an environment of liberty, is it really His Spirit at work in you?


  1. If you must officiate the life choices of a grown daughter, you've already failed as a father to prepare your daughter to face the world that awaits her.

    Well said.

    This whole family cult subculture is so toxic and anti-Christ. They may sprinkle his name over everything they do in word, but by their deeds they show that they don't know Jesus at all.

  2. Love your blog. Thanks for this post.

  3. "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", along with a strange mix of Gothardism and Denny Keniston, is what caused my husband and I to go through hell on earth for 3 years. Thank you very much, Mr. Harris. :P Oh yeah, his second book was worse. My mom higlighted all the places it talked about "giving your father your heart" and forgetting your desires, giving up your wishes, Not saying "I love you", or showing affection, and "letting go of the one you love", and then gave it to my then-boyfriend. It is to his credit that he read it at all. It is my everlasting thankfulness that he didn't listen. ;-) Those books have caused so much heartache and strewn broken hearts all over my generation.

  4. Hi Lewis,

    Saw your comment over at Quivering Daughters and hopped on over here. I'm so sorry your story ended the way it did, but take comfort in knowing that marrying might not have made the headache go away. I married a son from a patriocentric family - we finally eloped due to his father's crazy and controlling behavior. The sad thing is that my husband didn't escape the indoctrination, and abuse came into our marriage. Finally he just turned away from the Lord and grew to hate me and blame me for all his problems. We've been divorced a year now, after the most horrendous divorce that went on for almost 2 years. I wish I didn't have to have any contact with him, but we have two children so I don't have any choice. To this day he still doesn't realize he has a problem.

    Anyway, I pray you find healing! Thanks for posting your viewpoints. It is good to get a male perspective, since it seems to be mostly females who are pointing out the dangers to the patriocentric lifestyle/family.

  5. Jo...I'm very sorry about what you've experienced. Your ex-husband is further evidence that patriocentricity isn't something that anyone can just walk away from without pain and scars. It's a nasty bondage.

    Thank you (and the rest) for the encouraging words and prayers.

  6. Hey Lewis! Found your blog...while visiting another blog. I've learned so much already. I didn't know the Harris guy was that young. My first time hearing about him was on the Duggar show. Josh Duggar mentioned him, and talked about "giving pieces of your heart away". I thought that was a load of CRAP! There are plenty of people who did not marry their "1st" loves. I have no problem with dating or courting. It just bugs me when people say one is better than the other. There are pros and cons to both. I'm sorry about your...engagement. Is there any hope you might get back together? We will be praying for you. Thanks for being honest and real.

  7. Hey there Angie...Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your prayers.

    No hope, I'm afraid. In March she married the guy her family and friends rushed her into a relationship with just weeks after the end of our engagement (and after a rapid and intense period of heavy re-indoctrination in another state)...also just weeks after she had noted having passed over him before I ever came along because "the thought of a future with him made me sick...Nuh uh...No way...Never."

    I guess my biggest concern with the courtship phenomenon is the notion that the heart is evil and "emotions are bad and deceptive - you can't trust them." Funny thing, God is love, and love is many things, including: an emotion.

    I guess folks like Harris don't want us trusting God. If we do, we probably won't trust Harris.

  8. I think the commitment I made to courtship has been null and void for a while now. Of course, I will seek and want counsel. But after seeing my sibling go through torture in order to marry the perfect person for them, I don't think I'll be subjecting myself to the same.

  9. I have a great deal of respect for Josh Harris. My parents and his parents have known each other a very long time. (Yeah, I'm a homeschool grad and proud of it! But I do realize homeschooling is not right for everyone even though I think it's the most awesome thing ever)

    My family does practice a model of courtship. And by that I mean that my siblings and I didn't really date. None of us wanted to anyway so it was no big deal. In our family in regards to me and my sister, courtship simply means that the relationship has to be open, the potential husband must ask Papa's permission to pursue us and marry us. There are also certain rules laid down that must be followed, that are there for our protection. The biggest one is that single girls don't spend the night with single guys without a chaperone.

    That is one thing my "husband" has been quite angry about. We lived in separate states while courting and my dad didn't want me going over there by myself. I happen to completely agree with that of my own free will.

    I recognize he wanted to protect me, and being a man himself he knows how hard it is for many men to stop at "just a kiss". We shared our first kiss the night he proposed to me. But had I chose to defy his wishes and go see him by myself he wouldn't have stopped me. I just would have had to pay the consequences for it.

    I personally think waiting to share your first kiss (ever!) with the person you're going to marry is incredibly romantic. What greater gift to give someone!

  10. Hey Rachel...Thanks for stopping by.

    If I may, I'd like to ask a question of something you said...

    "But had I chose to defy his wishes and go see him by myself he wouldn't have stopped me. I just would have had to pay the consequences for it."

    From your perspective, what would those consequences be, and wouldn't you be paying them regardless of going with or without blessing from your father?

  11. Rachel...I guess the better question, if I may ask it, is, aren't you paying the consequences for following the system right now?

    I'm very sorry for the experience you've had with your marriage. I'm sure it's been hurtful, and given my own experience, I feel for what you've suffered.

  12. Knowing my "husband" the way I do, he wouldn't have stopped pestering until I'd slept with him. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. In every instance. Had I gone against my father's wishes in that matter we'd have ended up having sex and I would have ended up resenting him a lot sooner. Yes that was my father's wish that I not go over there by myself, but I also completely agreed with it and had no desire to go over there by myself.

    He had major problems with boundaries and putting his hands in places they didn't belong yet. Looking back I wish I had seen those things for what they are, but he hoodwinked my entire family. Parents, siblings, grandparents and cousins. Dating versus courtship wouldn't have changed that. He projected the image of what he thought I wanted, snagged me, and then when I didn't conform to his ideas of what a wife should be, he started down the abuse slope. He would completely agree with the male commenters over at that Seasoned With Salt blog. (that place is scary!)

    Considering all the things he's done and said in the last seven months, if I had gone over there by myself and continually refused to have sex with him I have no doubt in my mind he would have tried to rape me. He's from India and has less than zero respect for women as human beings.

    No, I'm not paying consequences for following the "system". Whether we had courted or not, it still wouldn't have changed who he is. He hid his real self from me, and the "format" we used to get to know each other wouldn't have changed that. I truly do believe that. He was intent on one thing and he would have done whatever he had to do to get it. It'll be very hard for me to ever trust a man in that way again, no matter what the "format" is for getting to know him.

    My experience hasn't soured me on the basic tenets of the courtship theory. I'm still all for it and think it's a beautiful thing when done properly. Your experience with it was not a way that I consider Godly or appropriate. People like that are just downright scary.

  13. I forgot one thing! We're from totally different backgrounds. He'd never heard of courtship, didn't know what homeschooling is, didn't understand why I chose to remain at home and not move out, didn't want to go to college, etc. Hindsight is truly 20/20 and from where I sit now these are huge warning signs.

    He's from India, came to the US to do a master's degree and supposedly got saved through a Navigators Bible study. I now have my doubts about the getting saved part. According to his mother he's had these issues his entire life and she told me to just be quiet and tell him he's right and it'll blow over. I can't do that because that's wrong.

  14. It seems to me that conformity to the system gave him a place to hide his "real" self, being that conformity to courtship kept you from going to see him alone, and that the courtship process failed to produce what it's promoted by the leaders of the movement to produce. I'm sorry that you had to experience all that you have.

    If you'd rather talk about this privately, please feel free to email me.

  15. I don't view having taken a chance on being raped as any better than where I am now.
    We were alone many times, even in my own home. But it would have been irresponsible and sinful for us to be alone overnight without being married first.

    The process itself is not what failed. It was the human beings involved in it that created the problems I'm dealing with now. Not the process itself or the fact that I was never alone with him overnight before we were married.

    That's always the case. Many concepts are good things. But the human factor is what makes them unworkable. Communism and socialism are classic examples of that. They look great on paper, but in real life they fail miserably because it's contrary to human nature and denies the existence of God and mankind's need of him.

  16. Rachel...I certainly didn't mean to imply that you should put yourself at physical risk, and I apologize if it came across that way. I'm not really speaking to spending the night alone with him. I would assume that you would've stayed somewhere else or with someone else while there. Forgive me for any confusion.

    I just hate it for you that you're convinced that if you had gone to see him alone, you'd have failed and sinned. This is what troubles me the most about courtship - the implication that without it's boundaries one will always fail. I'm really very sorry for what you've gone through.

  17. last paragraph...excellent point. thank you.

  18. If there had been another place for me to stay it might have been a little different. The town where he lived at the time was a place where I knew no one.

    What you describe in that last paragraph is not how I feel at all. It's something that's very difficult to explain. I am an adult, I was 26 when I got married. But I chose of my own free will to place myself under my father's authority and protection. He takes the protection part of his job as a dad very seriously. As all dads should. I wish you could have been exposed to courtship through someone like my dad. I think you might have ended up with a different opinion about it. :)

  19. Great post. Excellent points that everyone has made.

    I might just add though that there seems to be an unhealthy elevation of premarital sex in the Movement. Premarital sex is not even mentioned as being one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Just a thought...

  20. Here's the thing. I've seen courtship done many ways by many people, but I believe it to be *the system itself* that is faulty. Because it makes many promises that it can't keep. The promise of courtship (as defined by Harris et all) is that if you stay under your father's "protection", guard your heart, keep yourself physically pure, and always follow the rules of the system, you will not get hurt, you will have a Godly marriage, and you will be blessed. It basically promises the life that every Christian wants. And I'm sorry, no matter how well you "do it", no system made by a man can offer that life. Which is so obvious by the many broken hearts, broken relationships, abusive controlling fathers, and unhappy kids that have been faithful to "Biblical courtship". My best friend did courtship "right" and her parents weren't controlling or abusive. Yet she ended up married to a man that had lied to us all and was bi-polar, abusive, manipulative, a druggie and an alcoholic. She is now divoced and has three kids. The system that she followed so perfectly failed her. Why? Because it's just a faulty, imperfect system!! I have no faith in it or any other system that promises a perfect life.

  21. MoM...True. It's almost like it becomes the common enemy that rallies the troops and unites. I don't advocate premarital sex by any means, but I also don't see it as the ultimate evil and temptation on this earth, or fear that I'll end up having sex with a woman I bump into on the chewing gum isle at Wal-Mart, unable to overcome my male tendencies.

    Darcy...Great points. Courtship is a system made by men, imposed upon the powerless by men, governed and bounded by the "wisdom" and authority of men, and is among the numerous facets of patriarchy/Christian Islam that keep the eyes of the sheep upon men.

    It's like planting a lemon seed and then following the formula for orange trees, watering, weeding, cultivating, and hoping an orange tree will grow. When you plant the seed of the formulas and traditions of men, it doesn't produce the fruit of God.

  22. I think one thing to remember is that courtship is a term that can be used & mean many different things. (For example, my in-laws talk about the time they were shacked up together for years, pre-marriage as their "courtship" Ha!)
    My husband & I courted, I think. But, I've never read the Harris book on courtship. My dad didn't believe courtship was "the" way.
    But, my now husband did go to my father first, to discuss potential marriage, before he broached the subject with me.
    We got to know each other in group/friendship settings prior to that. Then after he talked to my dad about me, my dad said he had his blessing to pursue me. But, my dad said "I don't know if Erin will be interested". I was interested. Very much so. Now I am very happily married.
    That's just to say, courtship may be thought of differently by different folks. Your so called definitions in your post didn't ring true for us at all.

    I am not trying to tout a certain system here. And, I think Darcy's comment above it crucial. I'm just saying. Make sure you don't judge people like Rachel for following a "system" that you had issues with. Their "system" may have been a lot different from what you have experienced.

  23. Erin...Thanks for your comments.

    If people decide they want to follow a system of courtship, I don't begrudge them that choice. The issue arises for me when the process is referred to as "biblical", when it would actually go against and marginalize much scripture and discourage personal discipline, instead relying on an authority figure/figures to provide discipline in place of the couple. In some cases, it branches into almost a scenario where the father acts as if the daughter is a personal possession and his permission, rather than hers, is required for any part of the process of relationship. More often than not (I would guess darn near to 100% of the time) in patriarcal families some aspect of this is true.

  24. I meant Darcy's comment above is* crucial. Sorry for typos. I was homeschooled. :P

  25. Lewis,

    The contents of your blog crosses paths with my past in a few instances. I wounded two women with the courtship model you mentioned. The first, we started a typical "dating" relationship, and, having recently read Harris' book I was convicted of the courtship model and I "repented of dating" and superimposed what I learned about courtship a few months in. It didn't take long for things to go down hill.

    The second, a lack of definition of terms, semantics and the same courtship model gave the wound. But, fortunately, our love was greater than any man made system of relationsihp. As I've said elsewhere, I married her and kissed "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" goodbye. It doesn't work for long since emancipated first-generation Christian professionals from broken families in their late 30's, who fortunately can be Christians, too.

    FYI - I've never been in a patriarchal group, per se, but the typical conservative evangelical Reformed groupthink can swallow this stuff up pretty easily.

  26. Steve...Thanks for stopping by.

    Sorry about your experience with courtship. Messy stuff. I'm glad love won out. It's always good to hear of relationships that survived.

  27. Lewis... I'm a first time poster on your blog site. Love your writing. I have 2 sons (one recent college graduate and one junior in college). Each of them has encountered a girl they were attracted to, only to find out that these girls come from the "courtship only" family. I'll probably comment more about that later when I have more time.

    [SA] I'm wondering how these parents teach their children how to love their own children. If you are "giving pieces of your heart away" each time you have feelings toward another person, that must apply to children as well. How will they know how much of their heart they will give to each of their children? If they give 25% of their heart to each child, and they have a fifth child, what are they to do? There is no more heart left for that last one. And what about the spouse? They each deserves a little of that "limited" heart.

    It is disingenuous to think that your heart is limited in how much love it can give. Certainly you can go too far in a relationship, and that is damaging. But a normal crush between a boy and a girl is harmless. It is how they learn to relate and problem solve. The father of the girl one of my sons likes called him one day. In the conversation my son asked, "How is the best way for me to talk to her?" All avenues of communication had been shut down. His wise parental advice? "The way I see it, the less communication, the better!" Sounds like a great way to build a healthy relationship. I can so relate to your thought bubble.. "What the...?"