Is Courtship “Fundamentally Flawed?” – A Response to Thomas Umstattd Jr.


My brilliant son recently brought to my attention a blog post by Thomas Umstattd Jr. entitled, “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.”

The title intrigued me since, as you will soon discover, I am a proponent of courtship as opposed to “dating.”  I was even more intrigued when I found out that Thomas was homeschooled, and that he was the founder of a website called, “PracticalCourtship.Com.”

As I read the post, an avalanche of thoughts were pouring through my mind and as I have reflected on the post over the past few weeks I felt compelled to compose a response.

Let me say at the outset that although I disagree with Mr. Umstadd’s post, I appreciate him writing it.  It is clear that there are issues that he and many of his peers face that we who support courtship need to address.

Before I dive into my response a note of background is in order.

I am a homeschooling father of 3 children (age 15, 13, and 10 at the time of this writing) who advocates courtship in contrast with dating.  I attended public school through high school graduation.  I dated in my youth and early adult life, and was never taught the ideas related to home education or courtship when I was young.  I discovered virtually everything I know and believe about the subjects of launching the next generation from the study of Scripture, the study of history, and the observation of both successful and unsuccessful families.  With that said, let’s get to it.

Idea vs. Use of the Idea’s Name

Before I address specifically the points raised in the blog post I want to establish an overarching understanding.  An idea or concept and operating under the guise of that idea are not the same thing.  It is a common fallacy to criticize an idea or philosophy when what needs to be criticized is the misuse of the idea’s name by those who are not congruent with the idea at all.  I’ll give you some examples.  Any Christian who has done evangelism has run across the “I am against organized religion,” objection.  People will say things like, “Christianity has created so much violence.  Just look at the the Inquisition.”  To criticize Christianity because people calling themselves Christians acted in an abhorrent way is a non-sequitur.  The Inquisition must be evaluated independent of a critique of Christianity itself, and an objective analysis that compares Christianity’s teachings to the behavior of the Inquisitors has to be a part of that evaluation.  The criticism of corporal punishment is another common example.  “I would never beat my child,” the critic says passionately.  Critics use cases of abuse as their supporting data for opposing the idea.  But the idea and the execution of the idea are not the same.  Of course there are thousands of families that lovingly, Biblically, and selectively use corporal punishment as a highly effective tool in the rearing of disciplined young men and women.  It is unfair to lump abuse under the label of corporal punishment.

We have to be careful to look deeper and make sure that what we’re criticizing is not an aberrant example of someone wielding the language of a concept while not being very closely aligned with the concept itself.  I believe this is what is happening in Thomas’ post.  He’s challenged by tactics that are being called “courtship” but don’t necessarily fit the mold.

What Is Courtship?

One of the first things that challenged me about Thomas’ post was his definition of terms.  As I just discussed, I believe we need to distinguish criticism of specific methods employed by a family or group of families from criticizing the notion of courtship itself.  I don’t believe courtship is flawed at all.  Conversely, I think dating is severely flawed with a mountain of empirical data to support the belief.  Having said that, I do believe that there are families that engage in tactics that are not profitable and they call it “courtship.”  There is a big difference.

So what is courtship?

The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “court” as:

(1) to seek to gain or achieve (2) to act so as to invite or provoke (3) to seek the affections of; especially : to seek to win a pledge of marriage from (4) to seek to attract (as by solicitous attention or offers of advantages) (5) to seek an alliance with (6) to engage in social activities leading to engagement and marriage.

I think there are several useful ideas contained in that definition that align with what I believe courtship is about.

“To seek to gain or achieve,” speaks to the intentionality of the process.  Courtship is beginning with the end in mind.  It has a specific “destination.”

“Seek the affections of” has obvious implications as well.  The courter is working to win the affection and ultimately the hand of the one being courted.  Take special note here.  Courtship is that process of pursuit.  It is not the culmination of the pursuit.  To court a woman is to actively attempt to win her affection.  I mentor married men and one of my admonitions is to never cease to “court” your wife.

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Courtship and engagement are not the same.  The engagement is the culmination of a successful courtship.  If they were the same, no man could ever court his wife.  A married man should be in a daily quest to win the heart of his beloved.  The winning, striving, exerting of creativity and effort in order to gain the affection of one woman is what courtship is all about.

Let’s skip to the 5th meaning listed, “to seek an alliance with.”  This definitely plays a role since we are looking to form a lifetime partnership and covenant in which we are “equally yoked.”

The last part of the definition is also very helpful.  “To engage in social activities leading to engagement and marriage.”

With all this as a helpful backdrop let me present a working definition of courtship that can serve our purposes in evaluating its merits.

Courtship: a purposeful process for men and women to evaluate their compatibility for marriage, and for men to strive to win the affection of a woman found to be compatible that maximizes the capacity for objectivity, wisdom, and Godliness, thereby creating the highest probability of marital success.

So let’s break that down and compare it to Thomas’ understanding of courtship.  Thomas lists 6 trademarks of courtship that he thinks most would agree on.  They are:

•The man must ask the woman’s father’s permission before pursuing the woman romantically.

•High accountability (chaperones, monitored correspondence, etc).

•Rules about physical contact and purity. (The specific rules vary from community to community).

•The purpose of the courtship is marriage

•High relational intentionality and intensity

•High parental involvement. Fathers typically hold a “permission and control” role rather than the traditional “advice and blessing” role held by their fathers.

Thomas’ first bullet creates a rhetorical difficulty.  We see the first example of confusing execution for idea.  I would agree with the bullet if the emphasis is on the word “romantically.”  However, what I see him criticizing is the practice of needing to get a father’s permission before pursuing the woman AT ALL.

I’m probably going to make some fathers mad at me, but I disagree with the notion that a young man would need my permission to interact with my daughter – period.  Notice that in my definition, courtship is a “process.”  This is an extremely important consideration.  The point where a young man would need my permission to interact with my daughter should come very late in the process.  How so?  Because the initial stages are a “feeling out” exercise that in some cases may take place over years.

My daughter is around young men all the time.  Our homeschool co-ops have young men.  There are young men in our church.  There are young men in her theater group and in her speech club.  And of course she has brothers, so she sees and interacts with their friends consistently.  All of these young men, in one way or another, for good or bad,  are already instilling in my daughter a sense of whether they have the stuff she’s looking for, and helping her build clarity in her mind of what she wants her spouse to “look” like.  Whether intentionally or unintentionally, all of these young men are already “winning” or “losing” her as an option.  When my daughter graduates from high school she will move into the larger world in some way, whether through secondary education, the workplace, ministry, etc.  In those arenas she will be engaged in settings that are populated by young men.  Here again, they will be winning or losing her, purposefully or not, from the moment they begin to interact.

My sons, likewise, are around young ladies.  They are making impressions, for good or bad.  And they are noticing which young women are “attractive” to them based on much more than external appearance.  Which young ladies have the same or compatible values, theology, intentions, ambitions, sense of humor, etc.?

A young man can pursue a young woman a really long way without needing to go on a “date” or ask anyone’s permission, and without being alone.

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A young man doesn’t need to ask my permission to speak to my daughter or interact with her in hundreds of available opportunities.  A young man at a party might strike up a conversation with my daughter standing near the punch bowl.  My son might speak to a young lady in the bleachers of a basketball game where their siblings are competing.  At speech and debate tournaments, young people sit and talk frequently, and none of it requires parental permission.

Permission would come at a point pretty far down the line when he might desire to be with her one on one, to really begin to explore marriage as a possibility.  I use the term “one on one” rather than alone, because the two are not identical.  A young man can sit across a table from a young woman at a restaurant and have a private conversation while some form of accountability sits a few tables away.

This is in line with Josh Harris’ thinking in, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  Joshua Harris defines 4 stages of courtship: casual friendship, deeper friendship, purposeful intimacy with integrity, and engagement.  The casual friendship and deeper friendship stages of the courtship process are intentionally lacking the intensity of the “purposeful intimacy” stage when parental permission, or at a minimum, parental engagement, is in order.

A Note to Fathers

Fathers should be engaged in discussion with their daughters about young men long before a young man shows up at the door.

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Fathers should see a major part of their role as mentor, adviser, and advocate to their children.  Any good father desires that his children find a Godly spouse…and sooner rather than later I might add.  Fathers are not to be the roadblocks to the advancement of their children’s lives, but to the contrary, facilitators of their children having even greater success and impact than the father has had.  It is true that, as our Heavenly father is our protector (2 Samuel 22:3-4; Psalm 46:1; 2 Thess 3:3), we as earthly fathers are to protect our children.  If our children are heading down a path that will lead to their misery, we have an obligation to do our best to influence that trajectory.  But protection and paranoia are not the same thing.  My daughter and I have been talking about courtship, marriage, and men her entire life.  I think if you were to ask her, she would tell you that I am her most trusted adviser when it comes to selecting a mate.  I often joke with her saying things like, “when you’re 40 I’ll consider letting you see a guy.”  She just giggles and says, “oh Dad!”  She knows this is just me saying how much I cherish her.  She has no doubt that I want her to find the mate of her dreams and flourish as a wife, and God willing, as a mother.  I have prayed about her future spouse since  the day she was born, and she has heard many of those prayers.  When she enters the stage of life that marriage becomes realistic (i.e. after her 18th birthday) I will consider it my duty to be actively involved in helping that stage of her life unfold, rather than delaying, or worse preventing it.

Let’s talk about non-married men and women being alone.  I don’t believe it’s wise for a man to be alone with a woman that is not his wife in any circumstance.  I have a rule to never be alone with another woman, not because it is sinful, but because it is not smart.  Likewise, I have advised my children to not be alone with members of the opposite sex.

High Accountability.  I agree with the idea of accountability, but I think accountability is wise in every area of your life.  I am accountable to other men in many areas of my life.  As my children go through the process of identifying and selecting a mate it only makes sense that there would be accountability.  I think chaperoning is a term I would agree with loosely as well.  For instance, I don’t think my wife or I need to be present for every interaction.  I do think that once we get to the stage that Harris calls “personal intimacy” there should be someone present that is aligned with my son or daughter’s values that has sobriety.  Again, this is only wise.  There are lots of possibilities of who that person could be including siblings, friends, and relatives.

Rules about physical contact.  Yes.  This is only Biblical.  If you are making out with a girl that is not your wife you are making out with someone else’s wife.  There’s no way around it.  Moreover, certain physical contact can begin to erode objectivity and wisdom.  We’ll talk about that more in the follow-up post where I lay out a vision for courtship.

The purpose of courtship is marriage.  Definitely.  See the definition above.

High relationship intentionality and intensity.  This is where we’re going to start being very specific about what we mean.  One of my challenges with the Umstattd post is that it confuses engagement with courtship.  I understand that there are some people who do confuse those two things.  But I don’t.  Courtship is that…courtship (see definition above) and engagement is the interval between selecting a spouse and taking oaths of covenant to the one selected.  I agree that in courtship there is “relationship intentionality.”  However, I don’t agree that there is relationship “intensity.”  In fact, in many cases, quite the contrary.  Courtship is the process of winning the affection/hand of a woman.  If it’s intense early in that process, something is wrong.

High Parental Involvement.  “Permission and control” rather than “advice and blessing,” by the Fathers.  I am entering territory where I’m going to be repeating myself.  Yes, the parents should be active.  “In an abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Prov 24:6)  The parents are a source of objective observation, wisdom, and guidance.  They should definitely be active in the process.  However, I don’t agree with the notion of “control.”  My job is to raise my daughter in the wisdom and ways of the Lord.  I am to disciple her and see her grow into the full measure of the maturity of Christ.  As a Godly young woman, she will intrinsically seek my input and feedback as a source of Godly wisdom in her life.  She will also know my heart and motivation is to see her fulfilled in her role as a Godly wife and (God willing) mother.  She knows that I don’t see my job as the roadblock to her finding a spouse but rather the facilitator of her being united with a spouse that will bless her, honor her, cherish her, serve her, and love her as Christ loved the church.  Ultimately, she will choose her spouse.  My prayer is simply that she heeds my feedback and advice along the way.

Let’s dive into the meat of Thomas’s post.

Thomas’s Case For Dating

The core to Thomas’s argument for dating comes from his grandmother, who had a successful marriage.  His grandmother shares the notion of never dating a guy twice and makes a distinction between “dating” and “going steady.”  Thomas makes a massive leap from the anecdotal dating experience of his grandmother to a prescription for marital bliss.

First, let me say that my grandparents too had a very successful marriage.  In fact, they were the role models I desired to emulate with my marriage. At the time of this writing, my grandparents on my mother’s side are still living and are in their 71st year of marriage.  You read that correctly.  71 years and counting.  As Thomas notes, such long marriages free from divorce were common in their generation.  However, there is a massive logical leap made by Thomas to attribute their lack of divorce to their approach to dating.  When you examine the byproducts of that generation’s philosophy and practices the record is not pretty.  If we’re going to base our approach to life on their wisdom we better know the fruit.

The “greatest generation” as they’ve been called were those born from roughly 1917-1927.  Let’s recall that this is the generation whose children lead the sexual revolution and radical activism of the sixties and seventies, that oversaw the systematic elimination of God from the public square, and ushered in abortion on demand.  Biblical, political, historical, and economic literacy plummeted in the 3 decades after the “greatest generation” returned from WWII.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is a lot to admire about that group of people, and the sacrifices they made during WWII to liberate the world from tyranny can never be forgotten.  I have spent thousands of hours with my grandparents and their friends.  They were hard-working, frugal, grateful, and for the most part church-going.  And it is probably unfair to paint an entire generation with a such a broad brush.  None-the-less, the negative impact from their lack of discipleship and their approach to parenting and faith is unmistakable.  They were the first generation in American history to not “pass the torch” so to speak.

I question whether these are the people that we want to rely on as the fount of wisdom when it comes to ensuring that the next generation is trained up in the way that they should go.

Secondly, there are innumerable sociological factors in the lack of divorce among that generation.  For starters, divorce was very difficult during the majority of their lives.  The concept of the “no-fault-divorce” was introduced by the Bolsheviks in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution in 1918.  Communism requires a breakdown of the family to flourish and it is a primary goal of communism to create mechanisms that break down family in any society they attempt to infiltrate.  In 1969, California became the first state in America to introduce no-fault divorce.  The act signed into law in 1970 by then governor Ronald Regan contained language that was almost identical to the statutes implemented in the Soviet Union.  It took about 15 years, but by 1985, all 50 states had followed California’s lead and adopted no-fault divorce.  It was at this point that divorce rates skyrocketed.  For the “greatest” generation, divorce was all but a foreign concept.  They had never seen divorce modeled for them, and didn’t really have a mechanism for their own divorce when abuse and adultery were absent.  Therefore, to attribute their lack of divorce to the fact that they went on lots of dates is simply naive.  Moreover, divorce was a mark of shame during that generation.  People would simply live apart or live in the same house but not in the same bedroom rather than get divorced.  There was great societal peer pressure to not be divorced.  Again, this had nothing to do with the methods they used to choose a spouse in the first place.

Keeping It Casual

Thomas then quotes his grandmother by saying,  “The lack of exclusivity kept the interactions fun and casual. ‘The guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you!’ She said.  The lack of exclusivity helped the girls guard their hearts and kept the boys from feeling entitled to the girl. How could a boy have a claim to her time, heart or body if she was going out with someone else later that week?”

Well Thomas.  I’ll tell you how.  By being raised in a hyper-sexualized society where young boys are exposed to pornography as early as age 2 and “hooking-up” is not only common, but in many segments of the adolescent culture, expected.  Again, I think this idea is just naive.  Cultural standards for his grandmother were night and day from what they are today.  Much the way that virginity is maligned today in schools and popular culture, anything but virginity was scandalous in the 1930’s and 40’s.  It wasn’t a matter of dating lots of guys.  It was a matter of it being completely out of bounds to even consider a sexual relationship.  A girl who was willing just to kiss a boy heavily was spoken of derisively and whispered about in the halls.  We live in a completely different world.

On college campuses today, exclusivity is the furthest thing from the average student’s mind.  They use language like, “fun” and “casual.”  And they do so to describe and justify sex with people they barely know.  Kathleen Bogle, assistant professor of sociology at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, wrote a book called “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus.”  In the book she documents that young adults are more likely to have physical intimacy first and only later develop any sort of relational intimacy.  This is a phenomenon never seen before in Western history and must be accounted for by anyone desiring to operate Biblically.

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If that weren’t enough, another factor has emerged that dramatically alters the landscape: the rise of the sexually aggressive female.  For Thomas’s grandmother, the notion of the woman being the aggressor would be a totally foreign concept.  Prior to writing this, I interviewed my mother and grandmother.  Both agreed.  For a woman to initiate anything would have been unheard of.  A girl didn’t call a boy, let alone ask him out or make a sexual advance.  To quote my grandma, “If a boy didn’t call you, you sat at home.”  This is no longer the case.  Many young women are as aggressive as their male counterparts, and this creates a halo effect of peer pressure regarding a young woman’s romantic activity and prowess.

Two Bold Statements

From here, Thomas tries to make a semantic argument regarding the difference between “dating” and “going steady.”  I don’t think there’s any value in this distinction for a variety of reasons.  First, what really matters is positioning a young man and a young woman to make the wisest and highest probability choice regarding the most important decision they will ever make in their lives.  It’s not the number or variety or frequency of your dates.  It’s what happens when you put men and women together that matters.  Secondly, lots of these people did “go steady,” and as we entered the 1950’s we saw that happen with greater frequency.  The idea of “getting pinned” or wearing a letter jacket to demonstrate your loyalty to one person became en vogue.  By the 1970’s and 80’s the class ring was a common symbol.  And every step in that process led to greater promiscuity, greater pregnancy out-of-wedlock, and with the introduction of no-fault divorce, higher divorce rates.  That entire section of the post is really designed to lead to two bold statements.

Mr. Umstattd first says, “The courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing.”  I don’t know who the “courtship movement,” is.  Is it a committee somewhere?  All I know is that books like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” and fathers like me didn’t replace it with nothing.  We have replaced it with a process that is pretty clear.  (My next post will lay this out.)

Then Thomas says, “The only tangible difference between an engagement and a courtship is the ring and the date.”  Here’s where the rubber really meets the road for his entire critique.  I think this is the hinge of Thomas’s entire argument, and it is a statement I find patently ridiculous.

As I stated in the beginning, we cannot judge an idea based on someone’s actions who claims they are following the idea.  I have no doubt there are families that operate in such a way that the courtship and the engagement are practically the same thing.  But people do all kinds of strange things.  I can only speak for myself and the other men who I know that care about getting this issue right.  Courtship is courtship.  Engagement is engagement.  They are NOT the same thing.

In my next blog post, I am going to lay out a hypothetical courtship process so that it is clear what courtship could look like.  I’m also going to talk about the why behind courtship and demonstrate its superiority.  But let me get through the rest of Thomas’s post first.

A High Divorce Rate Among Courtship Couples?

Where’s the data?  You can’t claim that the divorce rate among couples that courted is high based on a few anecdotal cases that you are personally familiar with.  Is there any empirical evidence to support this claim?  Moreover, you would need to address several things for it to matter.

  1.  Are you suggesting these people would NOT be divorced if they had dated instead of courted, and if so, why?  What evidence do you have that the outcome would be different?
  2.  Can you demonstrate that those who date divorce less that couples who court?  You know this isn’t the case.

  3.  What is the spiritual condition of the people involved?  I’m not making an assumption here nor am I judging any of them, but courtship is not a silver bullet.  People who are not committed Christ followers and are not dedicated to obedience to the Word are likely to get divorced no matter what mechanism you use to put them together.  Marriage is a covenant.  Typically, only those that value keeping covenants indeed do keep them.

Supposed Advantages of Dating

Forgive me here.  I do not mean to be demeaning.  But this section is just laughable.  First, Thomas claims that dating (as defined by his Grandmother) presents less temptation.  Is he serious?  In our culture, young people are “hooking up” in many cases without even knowing each other’s names!  “It is hard to fall in love with Bob on Tuesday when you know you are going out for coffee with Bill on Thursday.”  Really?  In what fairy tale?  And who said anything about falling in love?  After all, it’s temptation that we’re talking about.

Next he claims there is more interaction.  This is another leap of logic and a critique of execution.  Why is it assumed that a girl gets less opportunity, by definition, to interact with males simply because she and her family believe in courtship?

I will say that I see how the issue raised of girls sitting home and never being approached because the young men are fearful could be a real thing.  But this isn’t a problem with courtship.  This is a problem with certain fathers and certain subcultures of people who communicate overtly or not to the young men that the only time he can approach is when he’s sure he wants to marry.  If this is happening, to those people, I would say an examination of your approach is in order.

Next he lists less heartbreak as an advantage, and to this I would say, “my dear boy.  You have NO idea what you’re talking about.”  My high school might as well have been called Heartbreak Hotel!  Every day you would find a girl in your class sobbing over a break up or a young man devastated because the love of his life just dumped him.  Every day!  Girls who had “given themselves” to a guy they were sure was the one would find themselves on the trash heap a week later and the innocence of life was gone.  If you think dating equals less heartbreak you’ve been living in a fantasy land that has no access to pop music.  Just listen to the lyrics of the hit songs of the last four decades and you’ll need no more proof that dating is an emotionally violent game.

He claims dating means more marriage.  This is a false cause argument.  The simple fact is that the majority of the population doesn’t know any other approach than dating.  Therefore, it only follows the majority of marriages come from those who “dated.”

He claims dating makes the process more fun.  Again, this is spoken by someone who it seems has never dated.  Dating is hell.  Write it down.  Every dating relationship ends badly but one.  And you are so scarred and beaten up by that point that most people never fully recover.  They take all that baggage into the one relationship that looks like it’s going to last (the marriage) and they can never have the intimacy that was intended.  Assumptions, guardedness, and hidden thoughts and feelings are brought from all those years of bad experience on both sides and they plague the relationship.  I counsel married couples and I know first hand what that baggage can do.  Do dating relationships start well?  Sure.  Is there bliss and magic for a season?  Sure.  But the open-endedness of dating, the lack of direction, and frankly the option to just bail whenever by either party always creates emotional havoc.

He says dating creates more matchmaking.  Why?  Matchmaking started long before dating did.  Families and friends have been matchmaking for thousands of years.  Matchmaking and dating are not synonymous.  In fact, I think it’s possible to follow a courtship model while using a service like eHarmony or  Courtship is the mindset and the methodology.  Where the people come from is not much of a factor.

Last he has this idea of “league awareness.”  I understand what he’s saying but I don’t understand what he’s saying.  I personally married WAY outside my league.  What I can tell you is that when a man is courting a woman, if she thinks he’s “beneath” her in any way, there probably won’t be a second meeting.  This causes me to once again repeat that courting is not a preventative for men and women to spend time together.  Quite the opposite.  It simply governs that process in a wise and Biblical way.

His Response to Questions and Objections

The excessive length of this post is bordering on being criminal, but I do want to give the briefest possible attention to a few of his thoughts from this section.

He answers the supposed question of “Why not spend time in groups,” by pointing out that some people don’t excel in group settings and that finding groups is hard.  I would say that groups are the place where almost all relationships begin, marriage or otherwise.  I’ve met my best male friends in groups through work, church, or a club.  I know there are chance “one on one” encounters that generate relationships, but I would have to bet that if you think about every relationship in your entire life, most came from a group.  People who “date” meet first in some sort of group.  Courtship will begin here as well.  But courtship will ultimately move outside the group as we’ll see in a follow-up post.

Because groups are so critical to the development of extra-familial relationships in a person’s life, all parents have to make their children’s involvement in such settings a priority.  It’s a priority on two fronts.  First, parents must take seriously what groups they are allowing their children to be a part of so that counterproductive peer groups don’t arise.  But second, parents need to provide ample opportunities for their children to be in these settings.  If a family is a part of a small church with few other children of the same age, the onus is on the parents to find or create other avenues for their children to interact with people of the opposite sex.

As I said earlier, a good father desires to see his children marry and marry well.  My daughter is 13.  My oldest son is 15.  I am pondering daily where the candidates will come from for marriage.  Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re years away from that point for even the 15-year-old.  But in the next 18-24 months, having a candidate-rich environment is going to become imperative, and I consider it one of my most critical responsibilities.

Next Thomas addresses the argument that courtship is Biblical by essentially saying that the Bible is silent on this issue and saying that when most people argue for courtship on moral grounds they are really arguing for arranged marriage.  To say the Bible is silent is both a red herring and, no pun intended, an argument from silence.  We could use this same argument against homeschooling, bathing, brushing your teeth, or driving the right direction on a one-way street.  Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly lay out a model for modern courtship doesn’t mean that courtship is not profitable.  Nor does it mean that the Bible is silent about principles that lead to the best outcome regarding male/female relations, sexuality, and marriage.  In the follow-up to this post, we’ll be talking about this more.

At the end of this section, Thomas makes yet another block of comments that leaves me shaking my head.  I want to quote it in its entirety:

“We need a system to help young people make good decisions. Fortunately, we have one: Traditional Dating.  Traditional Dating fits our culture like a glove. Most of Americans already intuitively know how it works because it is part of who we are as a people. If you don’t know how it works, ask your grandparents, and they will tell you of the glory days when men were free. Watch the twinkle in their eye when they tell you of a time when men and women could fall in love and pick their own spouses.”

My reaction is: Is this for real?  What empirical evidence exists that dating causes young people to make good decisions???  We have the highest rate of cohabitation in history.  We have the highest rate of abortion from pregnancies out-of-wedlock in history.  We have the highest rate of sexual activity among non-married 13-17 year olds in history.  We have a tragically high divorce rate.  And virtually all of these numbers come from people who “dated.”   Ask your grandparents and watch a twinkle in their eye?  Glory days?  Who needs to ask how dating works?  Turn on the television.  Watch a movie.  Talk to a local public schooler.  Heck, talk to your parents.  Dating and it’s results are no mystery to anyone.  Dating wasn’t in the “glory days.”  Dating is right now all around us.  And the results are anything but admirable.

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I have followed up this post with a series on courtship that describes what I think courtship should look like in the real world.  I think you’ll find it a valuable companion to this discussion.

To conclude this response, I appreciate Thomas giving voice to the apparent frustration of some of his readers and peers, and creating a catalyst for constructive dialog on this vital topic.   But courtship is not fatally flawed.  That description would belong to dating.

Thanks for suffering through this long post.  I’d love your feedback below.

41 thoughts on “Is Courtship “Fundamentally Flawed?” – A Response to Thomas Umstattd Jr.”

  1. I appreciate you taking the time to make a response. I was thinking over this post the last week and while I could definitely understand some of the “problems,” pointed out, there was still something that I felt was missing. Your post cleared up a lot of that and gave a great discussion on the topic. Thanks for taking the time to respond

  2. Ladasha Smithson

    Incredible rebuttal. I also wanted to point out something he over which he emphasized, options. He said basically said how important it was to how more options, however science says too much choice is actually bad. Basically if you give a person 5 flavors of something and ask them to pick their favorite, they can easily pick one. But if you gave them 20 different flavors, they can’t pick a favorite easily or at all.

  3. This is fantastic! I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts on chaperoning (as a practical application of accountability). Specifically, what it might, in your opinion, ideally look like in the stages of “personal intimacy” (Harris) and engagement…just things I’m personally mulling over at the moment

  4. Kneehemyah Nemo Knox

    #Truth. I feel like what Thomas had written is what most Christians think, which is very disheartening. As a 20 year old I have seen nearly all my friends either get engaged or get married recently. When I talk with the few people who not married, they get surprised whenever I say I dont want to date. They get flabbergasted when I tell them I would rather wait till I am older to start courting.

    Too often Christians fail to understand the deeper knowledge and wisdom behind the principals of courting. They assume that girls who court are stuck in the 1800’s and only wear dresses and dont know a thing about the “real world”. I would much rather court someone who is completely innocent to the dangers of the world than to attempt to date someone who has already been tattered by worldly influence.

    What you say about “being alone” and people using intimacy before a relationship is established rings true to me as well. I had found myself in a position where I never should have been in and it took a very rude awakening for me to realize that Dating would only destroy my life. As if pornography/lust/alcohol/drugs and various forms of peer pressure is not enough to deal with already.

    Anyone who thinks dating is beneficial to Christians need just turn on the TV and see what destructive information is presented. Heck, there is actually a show called ‘Dating Naked’!

    “Two ill-matched singles are transported to a tropical locale and
    instructed by a poorly greased tin woman of a host to disrobe so they
    can go on a date. Then four more singles arrive and disrobe to go on
    another pair of dates with the two original naked people. Then the
    original two choose which person they’d like to go on another date with
    in the real world”

    Really? This show is so asinine that non Christians admit its a bad idea. Granted its a stupid show for stupid publicity and ratings, and its a terrible example. However it does make people think. What is the purpose of dating? If the purpose of dating is to get married then why is it necessary to date every single person, have sex with most of them and then pretend that you are compatible for superficial reasons.

    The only reason why people date is so that they can date again. Its kinda like going to a gym. If you are serious about working out and losing wait you wouldnt go to 3-4 different gyms and keep switching just because you want to work out. No you would find a gym that is suitable for your needs and stick with it, You would routinely go to that gym until you hit your established goal ergo Marriage. And once you get in shape you keep going to the gym to stay in shape and not slack off and expect everything to be served on a platter. You would keep working at it for the rest of your life.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Scott. That’s really deep. This topic affects us all. I agree with what you have shared. I read the book, “Boy Meets Girl” a few years ago and it gave me an understanding of what courtship is about. Dating is dangerous indeed because it has no direction and very easy a trap to fall into I must say, it’s a good reminder. I am concerned about my generation and the one following as we are constantly bombarded by the message of dating. It’s a topic I’ve been wanting to bring up with my siblings but not sure how to go about it. I’m looking forward to the follow up post.

  6. Thank you Scott Ross. You fleshed out a topic that needed it! I for one would have loved to have been raised and mentored the way you outlined. I praise God for your outstanding witness and will keep your family and ministry in prayer.

  7. I want to say thank you for your boldness and your post. Well done. This is a very touchy topic for many.

    As you are thinking about your follow-up post, I was wondering if you would dive deeper into the “boys can talk with my daughter topic” less from a group environment framework (which I’m fine with) but more from a one-on-one technology perspective (emails, texting,Skype, etc). I personally struggle with the idea of one-on-one contact using these channels because it is so closed and feels private to the ones participating in it. For example, my sons have friends who actively text young ladies on a regular basis. I’m concerned about them stirring up emotions in these young ladies through the one-on-one attention they give (I see it already). Someone is going to get hurt…it is just a matter of time.

    Again thanks for your courage and your example.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. Yes, I plan to include specific thoughts on electronic communication in my follow up. Social media and technology are ubiquitous and must be considered when discussing this topic.

  8. Excellent article, worth the read! I read the one referred to as well, and saw so many holes in it. My first thought upon reading it was ‘where is God in all this?’. It seemed like He was left out of the equation, courtship or not.

  9. Chris Scotty Peters

    This is a great post Mr. Ross, I appreciate you for taking the time to break down courtship, because I’ve been confused on “dating” and courtship. As a young man at the age of 24, I believe in courtship and will follow the process that you have clearly layed out for the ones who believe in courtship. Your a great mentor and leader and I look forward to learning more from you. Thanks

  10. Thanks, Scott! This brought a little “mist” to my eyes as I read such a Father’s heart for your daughter, and for this generation to really “get it right”. As a single woman, who has been focused on pursuing God, goals, etc.., I have been blessed to get to know guys as friends in group settings in hopes that there would (and will) emerge a serious man with intention to know me–no other. There had been a time where I dated a guy who was someone I knew better NOT to date and that was a very painful experience for me. I know that by God, family/community and wisdom, making a great choice is epic in who you let into your world forever in marriage. All that to say, thank you, Scott, as you continue to stand for what is pure and true challenging the indoctrinations of foolery that is being perpetuated throughout our families who would rather consult anyone that will “agree” with their lifestyle choices rather than God of the Bible who made us all with utter good in mind. Much love!

      1. Ahhh, I just now saw this comment. YES SIR!!! I totally agree and believe! I can’t wait to introduce him to you, Sir!! God bless you!

  11. I appreciate this response Scott. I had also read Thomas Umstattd Jr’s post, and had discussed it with my wife. I found it interesting, and thought provoking, but it was the thought provoking part which led me to see many of the same non-sequiters that you point out here.

    His post pointed out a few unhealthy practices present in only a small subset of the families who subscribe to the courtship model. In the process, he inadvertently —and illogically—dismisses the entire concept of courtship and recklessly swings the pendulum fully back in favor of the dating jungle.

    This wouldn’t be so alarming if the post was from some secular humanist that thinks we are glorified chimpanzees with no moral concerns beyond mere social convenience—such a source would have zero traction with evangelicals. Unfortunately, this author sounds reasonable, and even appears to address the “supposed” pitfalls of the dating scene, which he may well have done, if our children had the option of dating within the social parameters of the early to mid 20th century. But they most certainly do not have that option! To compare the most extreme, outlying examples of “courtship” gone wrong today against the normal dating practices of the 1940’s—and draw the conclusion that Dating > Courtship, is irresponsible , and needs to be soundly refuted. Thank you.

  12. Kudos, kudos, kudos! The response was accurate, needed, and well thought out.

    I hope more people are not swayed by the false theology of and personal opinions given as facts by Mr. Umstaddt.

  13. Rev. Robert A. Ross

    Rev. Bob-We discussed the other night in our Ephesians study and myself and the other Minister that was there remarked about the number of weddings we had done in
    recent years of co-habiting couples-I will marry no couple unless 6 weeks counseling never did-but in my day the late 50s-earlier 60s we had the fear of God instilled by the danger of Preg. also we were taught respect by our entire society-they had a name for lose girls-the key word here is respect-my peers and I never dreamed of going to far, we could not have handled the shame from family. I would not want to go back to those socially restrictive times and bigoted days, but we had rules no dirty jokes or language around women-your mother and I were virgins on our wedding day-so one can control their emotions-and urges-trust in God and he will lead you! Good comments-our society is not as bad as others in the world, but we have a long way to go.. Good work-stay well our prayer and thoughts are with you with the Dallas Health scare-we are not afraid for we have the finest health care in the world-which is why all want to come here-there will be no “Outbreak”-oh by the way see “prisoners” and debate what you would do-shocking and he is a man of Christ. Good comments-hey your wife is special but her husband is a very good and smart man-God is using you-well done-we have had the bad flu-get your shots called but no answer–LOVE to all Dad & Mimi

  14. Pingback: Courtship: When There’s a Judge and a Jury on Your Love Boat | That Crazy Christian Romance

  15. Great post, and I found it incredibly helpful in beginning to navigate the confusing world of finding a spouse. However, I do want to point out two places where you and I have different understandings of Umstattd’s post.

    The first is when you’re refuting his claim that dating around is a good idea. He makes the distinction between “dating” (individual dates with multiple people) and “going steady” (committed relationships), whereas you combine the two concepts and call them both “dating”. Does this mean we should only go out on a date when we’re in a committed courtship? I’m hesitant to commit too soon, as I have done in the past. (I hear you about Heartbreak Hotel!) So in more recent times I have “dated” without “going steady” or hooking up. What would you recommend?

    The second: Umstattd said don’t ONLY have group dates, whereas you evaluated his post as if he had said NEVER have group dates. Personally, I like both group situations as well as one-on-one situations in public places. And I think that the latter is more conducive to getting to know an individual. What do you think?

  16. I noticed your kids aren’t old enough to court or date. Getting on your high horse is easier when the consequences of your courtship principles have yet to be realized. Let’s wait and see what your kids say about courtship in 5-10 years. If they are all happily married to someone who checks all the right boxes, then good job. But otherwise, I am going to keep an open mind to what Umstattd is saying.

    1. Let me make sure I understand this. You’re dismissing all the points I made because my kids are too young to date, but you are accepting Mr. Umstattd’s ideas though he doesn’t even have children? The logic of this comment is flawed on multiple levels. I’ll only point out a few. Frist, this is a classic ad hominem attack. You don’t refute a single point I make. You just attack me as a father. Second, the premise of your comment is false. My oldest son is 17, and my daughter is 15. Those ages place them squarely in the dating years based on current cultural standards. Third, as I stated very clearly in my article, I have witnessed first hand the fruit of dating in not dozens, or hundreds, but thousands of couples. The devastating results of our modern approach to romantic relationships are evident. If you want to play Russian Roulet with your future marriage, by all means, use dating as your approach. I’m just pointing out why Mr. Umstadd’s myopic, sheltered thoughts on courtship will not serve you.

  17. While I appreciate this article, I really do, I would like to point out a few flaws. Your definition of courtship is different from Mr. Unstattd’s. This understandably leads to you getting a little upset over his critiques when they don’t apply that much to your version.

    You also seem to forget in the article that we are talking about Christian communities. If you have a community of committed Christians going on “casual dates” do you really think that they will be “hooking up” like secular culture? No. Mr. Umstattd isn’t recommending that you completely go the way of world in matters of marriage, just that we reconsider dating.

    I, myself, think that dating–when done with boundaries and with caution–is perfectly all right.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. Actually, Thomas doesn’t give a definition for courtship. He gives a bullet list of characteristics or “trademarks” as he calls them that he says you will find among people who espouse courtship. There is no definition. It’s why I felt one was needed. And much of my critique is the flawed assumptions he makes in the “trademarks” he lists. Second, I have re-read his post and I don’t see anywhere that a disclaimer is made that his advice only applies within the confines of “Christian communities.” To the contrary, Thomas’s target demographic is going to be students on college and university campuses that are anything but Christian environments. However, even within “Christian communities,” I would say that his logic is flawed and that the empirical data is heavily against him. Again, thanks for your feedback.

  18. The irony is here is everyone has different definitions. The author is agreeing with Umstattd as much as he is disagreeing, unless I’m missing something.

  19. Thank you for your response, it was helpful. In the nicest way possible, I would like to say that you ripped his post to shreds. I’m not sure fully where I stand on this issue, but this post was a good counter-balance to his argument on dating. The thing that really bugged me about his post, and the other posts I’ve read on “dating,” is the emphasis on it being “fun” or “relaxing,” and that they seem forget the most important aspect of marriage… Serving the other person! Being a servant like Christ, from what I understand in scripture (as a single dude) is the most important aspect of any relationship, which would thus involve choosing a spouse. It’s not, “do I have fun with this person,” but, “do they have a servant’s heart” and “am I approaching this and other relationships from the attitude of a servant?” I personally think having Joy is more enjoyable than just having fun (not that they’re exclusive) and Joy comes from having a Godly mindset. Thanks again and God Bless!

  20. I think your primary argument is flawed. You repeatedly claim “An idea or concept and operating under the guise of that idea are not the same thing.” Yet you maintain a double standard. Dating can be judged based on the actions of those who date, yet you claim that courtship cannot be judged by the actions of those who court. Which is it?

    I would actually claim that your statement is false. Jesus says, you know the tree by its fruit. The Inquisition was not the fruit of “Christianity”, but the fruit of the organized religion of the time. So, in order to claim that the Inquisition is not the fruit of Christianity, you need to demonstrate the intellectual flaws that make it so, for example, the excessive coupling between civil and religious authority maintained by the Catholic Church.

    So, if you look at the fruit of courtship, you have to figure out whether courtship itself is flawed, or whether there is some flaw in the adoption of the model. I will say that whether or not courtship itself is flawed, those who profess it tend to have a flawed concept of parental authority.

    You also twist the definition of courtship. Thomas says that courtship is essentially engagement without a ring and a date. The dictionary definition of courtship you quote says: “to seek the affections of; especially : to seek to win a pledge of marriage from” and “to engage in social activities leading to engagement and marriage.” This suggests directionality. Yet when you define courtship, you say “a purposeful process for men and women to evaluate their compatibility for marriage” You don’t appear to recognize that you have now redefined (equivocated) courtship away from Thomas’s (and Merriam-Webster’s) definition to suit your argument.

    You also recognize that many (most?) courtship-advocating fathers have a different position than you. For example, “I’m probably going to make some fathers mad at me, but I disagree with the notion that a young man would need my permission to interact with my daughter – period.” Why would you make fathers mad if “courtship” meant what you say? What if, instead, your definition of courtship is on the liberal fringe, and the mainstream definition is precisely the opposite? I was in a church where two patriarchal wives said that the Matthew 18 process for two wives was to first get their husbands together. That is, they were not allowed to resolve differences without their authority.

    1. It doesn’t sound as if you actually read the post. What “primary argument” is flawed? How about addressing any of the myriad of specific points that I made? Better yet, this is very simple. We judge a tree by its fruit. I point that out in the article and you agree. So post a single piece of objective data that is positive “fruit” of the modern dating culture. I’ll stand by.

        1. I am. Clearly you are advocating for dating. So give me some positive fruit. The burden is on advocates of dating, since, as I point out in my post, modern ills including but not limited to pregnancy out of wedlock, sexually transmitted disease, cohabitation, skyrocketing divorce, the breakdown of the family, the inability of boys to make commitments (and become men) are all connected to the dating paradigm. Courtship existed for 6000 years without these issues, and is still the model in countries like India where there is essentially no divorce. So if you are advocating for dating on the basis that you judge a tree by its fruit, I need a single piece of “fruit” that is positive from dating.

          1. I have positive fruit!
            Sorry it is so late but I felt I must share this: My Bible study leader (a Godly, upright, Scripture-memorizing woman) is engaged to be married. The way her and her fiancé grew their relationship is through dating. They were introduced by her sister, and the relationship grew from there, but they went on dates! Now, were they smart about protecting their purity? Yes. Did they have a direction? Yes, marriage.
            I think what Thomas is saying is that “dating” and “courtship” are both flawed to an extent if they don’t have direction. Now, if we put direction into both, there probably would be some change.
            Do I agree that my age group (I’m 16) begin “dating,” “hooking up,” and the various other sexual things people can do? No. Do I think it’s smart to be alone with a guy, especially if he’s close in age? No, we’re both teens, and have emotions/hormones flowing through us that we don’t understand.
            You mentioned that in India there is essentially no divorce. While this is true, we have to keep in mind the cultural differences between the Western culture, i.e. the United States, and India. India and the US are VERY different.
            I don’t mean to be rude or disrespectful. You’re obviously much older than me, older Follower of Christ, and a father. I just wanted to point those things out.
            Thanks for your clarification of courting, though. I’m a homeschooler who is surrounded by that language daily and often I don’t know what the person is talking about. Thanks, again.

  21. I’m very late to the party, but I feel I have something important to say, so I’ll say it:

    I grew up in a dating-averse Christian culture, and it didn’t help me. A common saying in my friend group was, “Don’t touch the boys!” I am of a conservative nature, and my parents and my church’s arguments against sexual promiscuity were entirely reasonable to me; they did not need the augmentation of a strict relational ethic. Instead of guarding my heart and my body, my church’s culture made me very phobic of both men and relationships. When dating is supposed to lead to marriage, it makes exploring things with a potential partner almost prohibitively difficult, because to a teenager who has known no other context, it sounds like dating is a pseudo-engagement. I didn’t have a single date throughout high school or college, finally having my first boyfriend at 23 years old. When we “got together”, I became physically ill at the fact that I was practically engaged to a man I barely knew.

    He was no good for me, and thankfully, I had the good sense to leave him after a year of courtship. I then spent the next 4 YEARS figuring out how to engage in a healthy romantic relationship that could lead to a happy and stable marriage. When I entered the romance scene again, it was with an intent to date casually and non-committally. I would not engage in sexual relations with a dating partner, and had even made up my mind that I would not kiss a man before three months of serious relationship. Rather, I intended to date as many Christian men as asked me out, to flirt with them, have fun with them, and to make myself no promises about finding a spouse.

    5 months into that venture, I met my future husband at a party. We were never only friends- we started dating immediately. I was not exclusive with him at the beginning, and I let him know that. Yet, our dating was intentional. On our first few dates, we discussed the big items and the dealbreakers: God, family, and life goals. During those formative dates, we discussed physical boundaries, and I respected his desire to not kiss until engagement.

    Having been on both sides of the coin, I prefer dating, and I will recommend it to our children. However, the dating I will extol to them will be the sort that treats dating as an opportunity to get to know a person better, and to evaluate them as a potential mate. I will definitely be singing the praises of strict physical boundaries. Casual dating helped my husband and I get to know eachother without the pressure of marriage looming over our heads and choking the spontaneity out of our relationship. The physical boundaries that we employed let us evaluate eachother with clear minds and pure bodies. Courtship, as I knew it, forces people into a committed relationship too early, and sets people up for relational intensity they are not emotionally ready for. Contemporary dating sets no physical boundaries, and sets people up for sexual intensity they are not physically ready for. We must strive, in our communities, to avoid both pitfalls whatever mode of courtship we recommend to our children.

  22. Interesting view and response – however I think you soften the “blow” of realities of the majority of families who actually do courtship arrangements. I did not date nor did I have a courtship before I met and married my wonderful husband. I don’t feel strongly about either method, other than that it’s a cultural preference, which has the ability to serve or not serve God, or to please or not please Him. Overall though, from an outsider looking in, it is clear that Thomas paints a more accurate picture of how courtship today is carried out.

  23. I agree with you 100%. But I also think both you and Thomas missed touching on is, we live in a throw away society. I see so many relationships thrown away because it got difficult. Something worth having requirers work and effort. I know it’s part of what you were saying to continue to court your wife after marriage.

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