November 28, 2016

Hunting Blind: Christians and Online Dating

by Clint Archer

love-buttonWhether you are for or against the sport of hunting, I’m confident you’d agree that there are certain dangers attached to the activity, especially when there are other hunters afoot. And it’s safe to assume that the risk of those dangers would be increased when visibility is diminished. It is obviously safer (for the humans) to hunt in daylight than in the fog.

Honorable hunters adhere to a code: they don’t use laser scopes, for example, as this can cause the animal to freeze in a proverbial “deer-in-the-headlights” fashion, which is frowned upon as unsporting—as if binocular vision, opposable thumbs, and access to a firearm doesn’t make fairness a moot point anyway.

As fundamental as visibility is to hunting, in Texas (of course) even the blind are permitted to use guns. Visually impaired hunters, however, are only permitted to pull the trigger when accompanied by a surrogate sighted guide who peers over their shoulder and gives the all clear.

A hunting blind is a structure used to mask the scent and visibility of the hunter from his prey. But blind hunting inverts the logic of that effort, rendering the prey impossible to spot while the hunter is exposed. It wouldn’t be illegal to hunt wearing a blindfold; it would just be obtuse.

And yet in a similarly obtuse way, Christians who seek for a spouse online are willingly impairing their ability to discern.

From time to time a millennial congregant will ask—on behalf of a friend, of course—if it is biblically permissible for Christians to subscribe to online dating sites. I explain that although the concordance at the back of a study Bible doesn’t have the words “online” or “eHarmony” listed, the word of God is still as relevant today as it was for forlorn singles in the Ancient Near East, such as Adam, Isaac, and the 200 Benjamite bachelors of Judges 21.

One possible misstep when scouring the Bible for advice on spouse-seeking, is to view narrative descriptions as patterns to emulate. I hope it’s incontestable that neither waiting for God to supernaturally create a bride from your rib as Adam did, nor the kidnapping plot of the Benjamites, are intended to be normative for Christian singles.

The truth is that God’s word deliberately leaves great liberty in the area of match-making. But just because a method may be permissible does not mean it is wise. “All things are lawful but not all things are profitable.”

So, in honor of Cyber Monday, here are some essential factors in romantic matches that online dating robs you of:


1. Community
. People who know and love you need to get to know the person you’ve met, in real life (IRL), so they can peer over your shoulder and give the all clear. We all need help to see blind spots in our discernment. Two pairs of skeptical eyes are better than the one that may naturally be obscured by emotion and excitement. The quirky Yiddish matchmakers with their meddlesome charm have a distinct advantage over match(dot)com: they have an interest in seeing both eligible people happily married, and they employ their proven discernment when forging introductions.blindfolded

Parents are also an integral part of your community. Nothing keeps a suitor’s behavior in check better than dad sharpening his knives in the next room. Whether you’ve kissed dating goodbye in favor of a more closely marshaled courtship model or not, and whether you’ve kicked courtship to the curbside in favor of a celebration of independence or not, we all know God’s word calls children to honor their parents, not only because it is right but because it is safe (Eph 6:1-2). Before asking your pastor if online dating is permissible, you need to ask your parents.

 

2.Transparency. You need to show the person you are interested in what you are really like, not the persona you are able to construct behind a keyboard and portray on a screen. Working alongside one another in local church ministry projects, or enduring the unpredictability and discomfort of a hiking expedition will bring out the real you far more effectively than a survey you take, no matter how honestly you answer the questions.

Like a masquerade ball, the façade that is part of the virtual world may make you seem bold and quick-witted online, while your friends may describe you as reserved and conservative. You might think “But this is the real me” and yet, if you end up marrying this person they will almost only ever see the IRL part of you. Is it fair on them? And remember that this type of unintentional false advertising goes both ways…

 

3. Authenticity. You can never be sure that the person you are connecting with is who they say they are. They might think of themselves as patient, but the rubber meets the road when someone cuts them off in traffic or they are forced to wait in the California dry heat of Thunder Mountain’s interminable line.  He might think he’s generous, but the proof is in the pudding that he’s willing to pay for on your fifth date without a begrudging sigh.

And it’s not just their character flaws that are obscured by the medium of cyberspace; they might be a completely different person online…on purpose.creepy-mask

 

4. Safety. It’s time to mention the elephant in the room, which is that they are not in the room with you. The vulnerable, sensitive, pretty 26 year old lady your soul is becoming entwined with through daily, intimate conversations, might in reality be a predatory, perverted 40 year old man or a sadistic 14 year old girl who is messing with the emotional lives of her victims for entertainment. The internet is an uncharted jungle of unlimited danger and deception.

 

Conclusion

It’s not a sin for a Christian to subscribe to an online dating site. And there are success stories of Christians who have met online and married and lived happily ever after. I’m sure there are also stories of hunters bagging a bear in the mist. But when given the choice, wise hunters always opt for visibility.

Selecting a spouse is the most important decision you will make in your life. I can’t see why a person would willingly impair their discernment at the exact time they need it most and deliberately handicap themselves when tackling something that is so difficult at the best of times. It behooves us to use the most discernment available to us, to do the best we can do, when it comes to the most significant decisions in life.

I’m not saying that popular methods of real-life dating or courtship or any other models of match-making are immune to danger or disappointment. But in a land of blind men the one-eyed man is king. At least with regular dating you can make mistakes with your eyes wide open instead of hunting blind.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • LuLu

    It is not only “millennials” who are posed to be victims of “Christian” dating sites. My friend was widowed in her 40’s. She and her husband were a Godly couple and had been married since college.They still had a child in high school,when he collapsed at work from a massive heart attack and went to be with the Lord. He was 44 years old. About two years after his death,we were very surprised to hear she had met a man on an online “Christian” dating site. He claimed to be very active in his church and actually played in the “praise band”. She was thrilled; us,not so much. Too many vital details were missing,like:his salvation testimony and his current marital status. Apparently,not only did he have a wife he was separated from,but a girlfriend he currently lived with. When he finally revealed these “minor details”,he justified the situation by telling my friend that since his wife was not a Christian, and their children were grown,the Bible “permitted” his un-Godly philandering. Besides that,he said he was not seeking divorce, just extra marital “companionship”. Our friend’s trusting and undiscerning nature, vulnerable situation as a widow,and lack of counsel opened a door to this predator,who we were sure moved-on to his next victim without a thought.

    • Yikes. That story underscores the importance of not excluding your community from your decisions.

    • Lynn B.

      LuLu: Your story is not unique to online dating nor is it new. Sixty years ago, I had an aunt with two children who was married to a man with another family, both a wife and children. He’d be home for a spell, all would be well, then he’d disappear for months at a time. It went on for years before she learned the truth.

  • Jason

    Ask your dad to send a servant to find your wife, because who doesn’t like a woman who will get camels water (Genesis 24)?

    I think it is unlikely that any method that could be described as “hunting” is going to necessarily be authentic, transparent, or safe. I doubt a single person would say they didn’t put on a few airs while on a date (provided they’ve dated). That environment is begging for a hunter’s blind!

    If you get to know someone when they’re not singularly focused on trying to impress you than you can be more certain that they’re being authentic and transparent.

  • Christina

    While I understand your concerns with the concept of online dating sites, they are no more or less unstable than any other form of meeting. How do I know? Well, I am 42 and never married and have tried pretty much all types of dating. Meeting in the grocery store does improve the odds that a person is truthful….unfortunately neither does meeting in a church (I had a horrible experience with a serial liar that was a regular church attender.) Anyone that would be a potential mate needs to be thoroughly vetted before “feelings” get involved….met online or elsewhere. I do agree, however, that it is wise to caution people to not believe everything they see online.

    • Lynn B.

      Christina: You wrote, “meeting in the grocery store DOES improve the odds that a person is truthful.” Is that what you meant or did you miss the NOT, as in DOES NOT improve the odds… ?

      Are you familiar with the story of Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ recent wedding to Robert Wolgemouth? She was 57 and had never been married. He was 67 and recently had become a widower. It was an incredible blessing to behold and an encouragement to every unmarried woman (and man) to wait on God. To add to the romance of their story when Robert’s late wife was dying of cancer she made clear to all that she wanted her husband to remarry but privately she told only one friend that she wanted her husband to marry Nancy. How incredible is our God? Blessings to you!

      https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/wedding-videos-more-introducing-mr-mrs-wolgemuth/

      • Christina

        Thank you for pointing out my error. I did mean to say “does not” and corrected it. I know that people can meet later in life and have wonderful lives together. I am currently dating a wonderful man that I met over 2 years ago through a mutual acquaintance. I also am aware of the concept of “waiting on God”. You know what annoys me about that statement when it comes to dating…..that statement seems mostly to be applied to unmarried older women, as if we haven’t been waiting patiently on him already….for a long time. Also, just because someone is met online, doesn’t mean the marriage is happening immediately, if ever. I have two very good male friends that I met online and went on dates with…dates that led to wonderful friendships…not relationships or marriage. I am am the poster child for the non-traditional lifestyle…..never married, raised children that came to me as teenage fosters, dabbled in online dating on many different types of sites, met some great people….but not “the one”. I will admit to meeting a couple of doozies online, but I think the biggest doozy was the one I met in church who had a lot of people fooled. Safe dating is hard. I do agree,however, our God is incredible….and thankfully he gave people the ability to create new ways to meet in this increasingly digital world.

  • Alex

    I’ve always felt like online dating was more akin to diving into a lake or pool without knowing the depth. (Perhaps I’m just averse to “hunting” language in the dating sphere.)

    It seems like an inevitable reality that in a world and society with an ever increasing shift toward online interaction dating would follow suit. People have always had a tendency to initiate dating relationships as natural outflows from their daily, interpersonal interactions. Those daily interactions have become much more driven through online interactions, as such, the avenues toward dating have follow their natural progression.

    I feel like I would counsel Christians considering or practicing online dating to exercise increased caution, much like you are doing. To recognize that many of the natural protections and safeguards our communities offer to help us “see clearly” the person we are dating are hindered in an online environment. The most successful online dating stories I have heard usually see an intentional effort to bring the initial online interactions into more traditional dating environments – time with groups, participation in church together, etc.

    Nonetheless, I appreciate your article and tackling a tricky subject.

  • cs

    “And there are success stories of Christians who have met online and married and lived happily ever after.”

    I’d be willing to bet that for every one of these success stories, there’s a dozen or more “lurkers” out there who, claiming to be Christians, are online only to find a cheap, illicit hook-up. It’s the nature of the environment; much like it’s technically not a sin to patronize a casino, but there sure are an awful lot of un-godly things associated with it.

    • And there are success stories of hunters bagging bears in the mist.

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  • 4Commencefiring4

    I haven’t dated since shortly after Jimmy Carter left town, but isn’t online dating pretty much like online ordering? If what’s shown on the website isn’t an accurate depiction of what shows up at your door, you return it. Badda bing. Yeah, both are a waste of time if it doesn’t pan out. But you also didn’t go to much trouble. Click. How hard is that?

    I see online dating as just a tool of convenience–a time saver. Those who are there presumably are in the same boat as you–they want to meet someone. If they’re not who they say they are, you’ll find out when you meet. They’d have lied to you in person in the old days. At least now you don’t have to go through an uncomfortable “I’m busy next Friday” before you cull them from the herd. If you don’t like posts in the cheek, you can skip that ad instead of waiting until they’re walking in your door to be horrified.

    • Yes and no. Yes, if the person you meet online isn’t a stalker, then you can “return” them. But the online dating game often involves weeks or months of very intimate online interaction before the first meeting. In some cases people consider themselves completely in love and even make plans for marriage before they have met or before anyone other than the couple has had a chance to meet the love interest. Also, when people give advice they are often rebuffed by “You just don’t know him like I do” or “This seems rushed, but we’ve ‘known’ each other for a year already”. Anyway, it can be as simple as you say, but it can be way more complicated too.

  • Lyndon Unger

    Hmm. Good thoughts generally, except the dad sharpening the KNIVES in the other room? What in the world? That’s a definite clue to run for the door.

    I tend to think that the pitfalls of regular old dating are simply magnified when you’re online:

    – It’s certainly good to have plenty of outside parties observing their relationship…but I’ve seen a whole lot of horrifying relationships be blessed because the observing parties were idiots.

    – It’s also good to be transparent and authentic, but Heaven knows that I’ve seen a fair share of disheartened and surprised grooms or brides when they are finally living together in holy matrimony (and dated the “old fashioned” way).

    – Safety is a concern too, but there’s no shortage of unwanted sexual contact, including pregnancies, in many relationships (even in the church).

    Part of me wonders if we need some rather ground-level teaching on character, integrity, wisdom, sin, etc. I wonder if that would resolve many of the contemporary problems associated with dating, in all its technologically modified variants.

    For example, it’s not so much that people need to remember to involve others in their relationships but rather that I often find that people don’t really understand why that’s even an issue. I’d suggest that people need to learn to fear their own sinfulness/foolishness and take appropriate precautions (i.e. actively seeking wise counsel, actively seeking to bring themselves into account with others, etc.) in all areas of live, and that will boil over into applications in the dating scene.

    • Hey Mennoknight! Well I’m not saying dating is pitfall-free. Hunting in daylight still ends in accidents. I’m just saying the “online” part of dating adds to the danger of an already fraught activity.

  • Vinod Anand S

    Hi Clint, do you have any opinion about arranged marriages that are practiced in other parts of the world, like in South East Asian Countries?

    • Good question. I think that arranged marriages fall, like dating, into the category of biblically “all things are lawful but not all things are profitable.” Not all arranged situations are tenable for a Christian: you can’t marry an unbeliever, even if your parents what you to. But not all arrangements are untenable either: if your parents know you and love you and are wiser than you, them they may well select a more suitable spouse for you than you would yourself. Personally I prefer having all the say (as most people do i think), but that may be an explanation for the high rate of divorce. In short, I think an arrangement can be more beneficial for the young couple than total independence if done wisely. I also think there are many opportunities for disaster. But the same can be said for regular dating. Maybe even moreso. I hope that helps.

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  • Bradley Jones

    Clint, it sounds as though you are ascribing to online dating what you should be ascribing to PEOPLE and the way they use online dating. It is entirely possible that people can meet online, and then enter into community together with one another’s respective churches. There are certainly a lot of pitfalls in every avenue of dating. I think this issue is a lot more complex than you make it out to be. I agree that online dating is not ideal, but I think it can be used in a godly and wise way. Either it CAN be used in a godly and wise way, or it’s a sinful medium. I do not see a way around that. Perhaps your pastoral experience is different than mine, but there are quite a few godly couples at my church who met online and have great, Christ-honoring relationships. And the found ways to develop these relationships in community. The success of these relationships, from my perspective, had to do with the maturity of the people using these sites. It goes back to the people, rather than the medium.

    • I agree that it depends on the maturity of the people involved.

  • JW

    What exactly is a “laser scope”? Please don’t use analogies that you don’t understand. Any hunter reading this article will be immediately distracted by your ignorance of hunting which doesn’t help you get your point across.

    Other than that, good article.

    • The term “laser scope” would be recognized by more of my readers than the argot used by hunters. That said, my apologies for using vernacular vocabulary instead of technical jargon, as hunters (as well as vampires, assassins, and grammar police) are people I’d rather not tick off. Thanks for the warning.

      • JW

        Nice, cheeky, non-apology. If you’re not going to be sincere, just don’t respond rather than get defensive. The “laser scope” was just an example; I’m not the grammar police. My point was you don’t know anything about hunting and it shows when you use it as an analogy and that detracts from your otherwise good article.
        With sincere respect, take this to heart Proverbs 17:10 “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”

        • Neil

          JW: Physician, heal thyself. Are you calling Clint a fool? Really? Jesus Himself had some terrifying words about those who call a brother a fool. Clint was polite, apologetic, and funny, not snarky. Please, people, let’s love each other on line and in person. You are demonstrating un-Christlikeness, brother. Let’s not choke our fellow servants, considering all we’ve been forgiven of. Thanks for listening.

          • JW

            His reply sounded sarcastic to me but if I was wrong then I apologize. Can Clint answer for himself? To point, I didn’t call him a fool. The verse that I quoted is about the effect of a rebuke on a man. Am I going to hell for quoting scripture, Neil? You are rebuking me; is that Christ-like?

          • Neil

            Yes, friend, a gentle and loving correction or rebuke is Christ-like. But it appears it wasn’t effective. I’m continually surprised and disappointed with the readiness of our brethren to demean, attack, snark, etc. There are a whole lot of admonitions in scripture about unity, and both Jesus and Paul staste categorically that loving one another is the 2nd most important thing we are to do (loving God is 1st). That we read Christian blogs then comment/behave in un-Christian ways is saddening to me. Friends, let’s be slow to anger, quick to overlook an offense, consider others more highly than ourselves, love one another in word and deed. Grace, thankfulness for mercy, and kindness are the hallmarks of a born-again believer. If they are not our hallmarks we must examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith. Clint, thanks for your article. It was thoughtful and thought-provoking. I appreciate your ministry.

  • GlynneX

    Boy do I need prayer for wisdom. As I’m about to likely do the unwise and post a comment here.

    Most comments seem to disagree mostly with the style or strength of the article rather then the cautions. And I agree. The things that struck me were;
    1) “IRL”, really, trying to look hip, cool? Get to the youth? Ugh.
    2) Eharmony as an example of a christian dating site? I don’t think they have been marketing to Christians for years now. And I think the move was to maximize profit, not help the body. Not to mention from what I’ve seen they tend to match you with people far away to make you spend more time on the service.

    The cautions are admirable but if I have said anything wrong I see the author will correct me. Hey, if nothing else he made a very controversial article and apparently that gets the most views/clicks. Mission accomplished. Yes, I’m a bit burned by the net. Looking for love on the net may not be wise but neither is looking for wisdom on blogs. Sadly.