What comes to mind when you hear the word "courtship?" In my many years growing up in the conservative homeschool community, I heard a lot of talks on courtship and what it's supposed to look like. People would flock to these sessions and seemed hungry for an equation they could take home and implement. Rules varied from speaker to speaker, but one thing everyone agreed on was that courtship was different from dating, and dating was bad.
It’s easy to understand why our parents didn’t want their kids dating. American culture dates. And today that means falling for every possible spouse under the sun, it means sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex on billboards, sex in magazines, sex everywhere. Our culture is obsessed with dating and sex and these days, it’s affecting kids younger and younger. Christian parents didn’t want that for their children. In this sex-crazed world, they decided relationships needed to look different and they called it courtship. However, here’s where it got extreme. In order to completely avoid the cultural view on sex and love, parents decided that sex was dirty and feelings were bad. They combatted the world’s lustful bombardment by telling their children it was wrong, all wrong. Crushes were frowned upon so much so that it made a person feel as though they had lost their purity just by taking a liking to someone. The topic of intimacy was either avoided or quickly christened inappropriate.
Coming of age in these circles, I got to see firsthand what this courtship mindset produced. For some it resulted in relationships that fit quite nicely inside the little courtship box and ended in marriages filled with rosy cheeked children. But for many others it created environments where guys and girls were afraid to even speak to each other and entered into a marriage solely because that was what they had been raised to do. Children who were not taught about intimacy had a curiosity about it that eventually became adultery in adulthood. People who had never held hands before, got to the marriage bed feeling like they were about to do a horrible and dirty act. In protecting their children from the world's view on sex, parents went overboard and made it seem as though it was from the devil. Children then, in turn, either accepted this and still felt that way going into marriage or viewed it as something dangerous they weren't allowed to have so they messed around with it out of rebellion.
My husband and I have two sons. We want something different for them. We want them to know that intimacy is not dirty or wrong. The culture has distorted and twisted sexual desires in every way possible, but intimacy as designed by God is a holy and beautiful gift. The Bible doesn’t avoid bringing it up, so why do we? It was created as holy, set apart. Intimacy was intended to be a loving and God-glorifying part of marriage. It is only dirty and wrong when it is treated as unholy and used outside of marriage.
Many parents have adopted a view along the lines of sex before marriage is the ultimate sin. Hence the job security for the chaperone. But in the Bible God only punishes sex outside of marriage after the couple is married, when it is adultery. Biblically, if a guy and girl have sex before marriage, the only requirement is that they get married and if that doesn’t happen, then the guy makes monetary restitution. This doesn’t mean that sex before marriage is okay; it means that God places a lot more serious emphasis on adultery and, contrary to popular conservative belief, it is not the end of the world if there is physical contact before a couple is married. Therefore, all these rules have been set up trying to prevent something that isn’t actually as big a deal as we make it out to be.
My mother-in-law always says of overly chaperoned courtships that it does not give the man a chance to prove he’s not a rogue. Woe to the girl who finds out she has gotten a man with the wrong idea of intimacy and love after she has vowed to him that she will not leave. Do you see why God puts more emphasis on marriage fidelity rather than pre-marriage fidelity?
While the dating and sex-outside-of-marriage-hyped culture produces guys and girls with an unholy view of intimacy and love and marriage, I propose that the typical courtship culture also has its focus in the wrong place. I would submit that the actual problem does not lie with views on sex, but with views of God’s love. The world doesn’t have His love and they are trying desperately to fill the void with things that are but acts of God’s love toward us. In doing so, because they don’t know what the love of God looks like, they’ve perverted and distorted those acts. But the response ought not to be to do away with those acts. Instead, we should be the examples lived out of what God intended for love to look like. Here is a crazy hair-brained idea: maybe chaperones aren’t necessary. If you have taught your children that intimacy is a holy and beautiful way of showing God’s love to their spouse, then they are going to want to treat it as such as adults on their own. Maybe our children won’t need so many rules and a relationship that fits into a perfect little box if they know that fundamentally every relationship is designed to show God’s love to the other person and intimacy is part of doing that, but in a marriage. When godly love looks like doing what is best for another person, then sexual desires fall into line.
My husband and I plan to be very open with our children about intimacy. We want them to know it’s holy and beautiful and not dirty and awkward to talk about. We’re not going to have a million rules when they want to get to know someone they’re thinking about marrying. We’re praying for wisdom to raise them with the right view of God’s love and how it looks lived out in everyday life. We believe that adult children need advice when they ask for it and not when they don’t. The Bible promises that our work as parents, training young children in the way of the Lord, will not come back to us void and if we really believe that then we have to allow our children the benefit of our trust when they are older. If we feel that taking away the rules of courtship will promote emotional and physical promiscuity in our young people, then shouldn’t we be asking ourselves if we really taught them what God’s love looks like in the first place?
To end on an encouraging note, I have several friends who have embarked on this journey they’re calling “dating with a purpose." Along with them, let’s be the generation that stops getting on our soapbox about issues when we’re ignoring the root problem they stem from. Let’s show the world what beautiful and holy relationships look like through real life examples of living out God’s love toward one another and teach our children to do the same. Let’s stop hanging relationship rules over our children’s heads and instead teach them to love everyone with a Christ-like love. I think we’ll find it will prove to be our happy medium.