Monday, June 13, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: In which I roll my eyes so much

Two cows in love. Image source.
Chapter 3 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Take God on a Date," and it's about how Christians shouldn't date non-Christians. So, obviously, I'm not a fan of that. A lot of eye-rolling when I read this chapter.
If we don't feel some sort of conflict or loss because our date isn't on the same spiritual wavelength, there is a problem in our own religious life. Something is broken.
*rolls eyes*
At the same time, having no lasting Christian friendships could mean problems. ... Or it could mean that she is not a Christian, but rather a religious person who has never received Christ as her Savior.
Oh COME ON. This book's gonna participate in that "a lot of people go to church but they're not REAL Christians" nonsense?

So far this book has had a lot of really good common-sense advice that makes sense, but this part, no. Why would it be the case that, because I'm a Christian, I can't connect on deep level with a partner who's not a Christian? Christian concepts like resurrection, love, and "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" are central to who I am and what's important to me. You know what's not central to who I am? Believing those things are exclusively Christian concepts which NEED to be described using Christian language.

If you're treating people with love and advocating for justice and equality, then I believe you are bringing God's kingdom to the world, and that's fantastic. It doesn't matter if you call it "God's kingdom" or not, it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not.

So much reasonable and healthy advice in "Boundaries in Dating," and then there's this completely arbitrary guideline that says Christians are only compatible with people who refer to the source of all love and goodness as "Jesus."

Yes, there are definitely certain types of Christians who would not be able to deeply connect with a non-Christian partner. It's the ones who believe in Christian supremacy- believe that everyone else needs to become a Christian, believe that non-Christians secretly believe in God but they just love their sin so much they refuse to admit it, believe that non-Christians' lives all suck because they're being destroyed by their sin and they have a God-shaped hole. Yeah, if you believe a lot of nasty things like that about non-Christians, then you definitely won't be able to love a non-Christian partner. (And this book uses the term "the lost" so yeah, that's Christian supremacy.)

(Question: Is there some kind of middle ground- Christians who have a close "personal relationship with God" and work so hard on it that a non-Christian partner just wouldn't be able to truly understand it and give them the support they need, but also believe that it's perfectly fine for people to not be Christians? I don't see how this could work out and be logically consistent. Back when I had a personal relationship with God, I worked so so so hard fighting against sin and temptation, and I believed if I failed even a little, I would be overcome by sin and my life would suck. I don't see how you can live that kind of lifestyle and yet believe that it's perfectly fine for your non-Christian partner to not do all those things, and their life doesn't suck.)

It's interesting that, when "Boundaries in Dating" talks about whether a very-committed Christian and a less-committed Christian should date, it says not to base your evaluation of someone's commitment to God on external things- maybe they have a deeper relationship with God that's just different from yours. And just because someone knows the bible better doesn't mean they're a more mature Christian. Yeah, okay, why don't we take it a step farther and say those "external things" could include whether or not they use the term "Christianity" to describe their belief system?

Also this:
We don't believe you can only find people to date at church. ...

Unfortunately, this may mean you may not know much about a person's faith as you evaluate whether or not you want to pursue dating him. You can tell a lot about character by how a person operates in the world, but character maturity is not always derived from Christian belief. There are caring and responsible people who aren't believers. So it is important to address issues of faith pretty soon.
Ahhh, so close. Instead of "non-Christians can be great people with good character, so it doesn't make sense to make a rule that you shouldn't date them" it's "non-Christians can be great people with good character, because Christian belief isn't always something that you can tell from a person's actions, but we're still totally set on the idea that it's a deal-breaker, so better ask your date explicitly whether they would use the name 'Jesus' when talking about the foundation of good morals and good character."

*rolls eyes*

But. You guys. There was one surprising bit in this chapter, which may actually redeem the entire thing:
Avoid the tendency to take the role of spiritual responsibility for your date. Don't set up the relationship so that she is performing and growing under your tutelage. Why? Because children have one main job, and that is to leave their parents. If you are the daddy, she must grow up and leave you in order to fulfill God's purpose of becoming an adult.

A friend of mine made this mistake. He fell in love with a woman whom he then began to disciple. He took her through various Bible studies, gave her assignments, and had her reading books. He was so excited about this until the day she left him for another guy, stating that she felt too controlled. It was a devastating experience for him. However, he learned from it. He told me, "Next time, I'll leave the discipling to someone else."
[please hold while Perfect Number picks her jaw up off the floor]

I... WHAT?

They're saying "It's not healthy if one partner takes on the role of being the other partner's spiritual leader." In other words, "It's not true that 'the man has to be the spiritual leader.'"

I mean, yes OF COURSE I agree, it's NOT true that "the man has to be the spiritual leader", that's a bunch of sexist crap that has no place in the kingdom of God. But wow, have you ever heard a Christian book say that? I mean, a Christian book that's recommended by church people, not like, a Christian feminist let-me-tell-you-everything-wrong-with-purity-culture-and-complementarianism book.

(But seriously, Christian feminist let-me-tell-you-everything-wrong-with-purity-culture-and-complementarianism is my favorite genre.)

And this anti-complementarian statement is just tucked away with some common-sense ideas about the role that dating partners can play in each other's spiritual lives. Just all nonchalantly, like "You can encourage them and challenge them spiritually. But it's not good to be their spiritual leader. Here's an example. Well yep that's pretty much all there is to say about that. Moving on..."

I'm just... wow. I'm back to last week's question: what kind of book IS this? Do the authors not know about complementarianism? Do they not realize that every single Christian of the biblical-gender-roles persuasion- every last one of them- is going to read this and gasp at how anti-Christian it is?

Who is the intended audience for this? Who could possibly read this "don't be your partner's spiritual leader" bit and not have a TON of questions? They'd have to be a Christian who had never heard of complementarianism [and probably western and English-speaking, if they're reading this book]. Do those even exist?

All right, yeah, that's all for this chapter. All the eye-rolling from me over the whole "don't date a non-Christian" thing, which is a big change from the very practical and realtistic advice in the previous chapters. And then suddenly a tiny little subsection that basically says "oh we are DEFINITELY not complementarian", gives no explanation, and leaves the reader like "wtf just happened?"

Honestly though, it is kind of amazing to actually read that, just dropped in there like it's no big deal.


A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

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