Tuesday, July 8, 2014
An Ounce of Prevention: 'Online Dating: A Pastoral Perspective by Isaac Hydoski'
Being that I'm not on social media...
I can just about guess what you think my stance is on online dating. Personally, I like something that's a bit more...organic. However, for those who are in "those waters", I checked out an article (that was originally penned in 2007) that, I discern, covers a lot of questions/comments/concerns that you might---or should---have:
Recently, the team of pastors who lead the single men and women of our church decided to address the topic of online dating. One of the men, Isaac Hydoski, who is a very wise and skilled pastor, wrote a paper that sums up our pastoral team's counsel and concerns for those using or considering the use of online dating services. This is a longer post than we normally share here, but I hope that you'll find it helpful. This is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the subject—it's simply our local church seeking to give wise counsel to the men and women in our care.
Online Dating: A Pastoral Perspective by Isaac Hydoski
Don't you wish it was as easy for you as it was for Adam and Eve? Online dating services have been around for just over 10 years, but the idea of finding a spouse goes back to the Garden of Eden. The world looks very different now in some respects, but in other ways it hasn't changed. We still desire to get married and God is still bringing husbands and wives together in marriage.
But how does the $500 million industry of online dating fit in to the grand scheme of God's plan for marriage? Does the Bible have anything to say about online dating? Can we learn anything from others' experiences with online dating?
These are some of the questions we hope to bring clarity to through this paper. This perspective paper is the fruit of the application and study of Scripture, pastoral experience with counseling others and an interview with some from our community who have participated in online dating. We believe this paper is timely. We hope it serves you as you seek to obey and honor our Lord Jesus Christ.
Before getting into the details it is vital to establish that Scripture nowhere forbids online dating and therefore neither should we. It is a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture to add 'laws' that God in his wisdom decided not to include in Holy Scripture. Let's all commit to not load each other's consciences with 'sins' that are not in Scripture. This was the mistake of the Pharisees. But we do want to help inform your thinking and practice related to on-line dating that is shaped by biblical principles.
As we studied online dating sites some of the benefits we were able to identify are:
Online dating allows for interaction with a much larger group of singles.
If used wisely, it can provide a context to evaluate a potential date before meeting face-to-face.
In addition, many singles who invest the amount of time and energy into online dating are generally interested in a serious relationship.
Finally, there are positive examples of couples who have met and got engaged/married through these services.
These are good benefits. But with any decision we make, it is important to weigh the benefits and the risks before we proceed. Having said this we, as pastors, do have significant concerns about on-line dating services and the unwise use of them, which we will detail in this paper.
Concerns to consider (not in order of significance):
A few of these sites are free, but most average $30 a month and some are as high as $50 per month.
Filling out lengthy questionnaires, sorting through potential "matches", and contacting matches can be a very time consuming and slow process that can distract from other priorities.
Advertising campaigns for these sites such as "finding your soul mate" or "the love of your life" border on being disingenuous. Most sites report that only 1-2% of participant's relationships end in marriage. But the advertisements show couple after couple finding true love, which creates an impression not in keeping with reality.
Most online dating sites have lengthy disclaimers and warnings regarding personal safety when meeting people online.
Disclosing highly personal information to someone you don't know at all is unwise at best and dangerous at worst.
Best foot forward syndrome: It is quite easy to become a different person online or to not represent oneself truthfully. Often a person will communicate what they would like to be true of themselves rather than their actual lives in practice.
Consumer complaint sites list stories of predators, liars, con-men/women who are actively trolling online dating sites for victims.
Values: Many find that their potential matches answer value questions in a similar way (sexual purity, fellowship, church involvement, etc.) but how they define and practice these values is much different and leads to the immediate need to either end the relationship or deal with the temptation to compromise.
Lowering standards: Maintaining God-glorifying standards for relationships is much more difficult after you're already involved with someone and as a result it is easy to drift into casual dating relationships and compromise on the significant values of a committed, intentional relationship.
Doctrinal beliefs: Excitement of meeting new people interested in you can lessen the importance of significant doctrinal differences that will seriously affect any long-term relationship. Consider a marriage where husband and wife cannot agree on how the sovereignty of God is expressed in salvation, or how the role of husband and wife differ, or how they ought to raise and discipline their children.
Priority of local church: Getting connected with other believers from different areas immediately adds the pressure of the potential of relocation and can affect commitment to their particular local church.
Can reinforce self-focused view of relationships
Matches are generally based on what you want in a spouse or how well someone is compatible with you instead of biblical criteria.
Decisions to contact a match can be based on superficial preferences or how well they measure up to what you want/prefer.
This encourages sowing towards a selfish view of finding someone who will love you rather than the other way around. (Read Ephesians 5:22-32 for God's perspective.)
Loss of protection from church community
Many singles in our community are not involving family or friends in this process due the "stigma" associated with online dating.
You lose the benefit of dating someone known by others you trust.
You do not have the benefit of seeing the fruit of their life lived out in a local church context.
Your impressions of the potential match are almost entirely dependent on their self-disclosure and are subject to their honesty or lack thereof.
Deception: It is easy to conceal from others involved in your life what you are doing and easy to conceal the truth about yourself to others online.
Hopelessness: Many singles approach online dating after experiencing disappointment within their church context and can even see this as their "last chance" for a meaningful relationship. Given that only 1-2% of those participating in online dating services find a spouse this can be a significant discouragement if marriage doesn't occur.
Laziness: Some see online sites as an easier approach to relationships, which hinders a cultivation of a trust and faith in God.
Discouragement: Many singles find that after a few months of online searching, nothing meaningful comes from the hard work. Some are never contacted at all.
Distortion of biblical roles: These services can place women in the difficult position of having to lead if paired with a man who is unwilling to lead.
From our perspective these are significant concerns/risks that you need to prayerfully consider if you are thinking about participating in one of these services. Please do so with the help of the spiritual community God has given you, because "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22).
Pastoral Counsel to Those Using Online Dating Services
For those who are currently participating in online dating, we want to counsel you so that you are best equipped to navigate these concerns & risks.
1. Discern your motives (Jeremiah 17:9; Luke 6:43-45; James 1:14)
Our motives are constantly driving us to do things--whether good or bad. When it comes to online dating, there is a range of possible motivations one might have. One common motive seems to be a hopelessness in God's provision and timing of a spouse. You might ask yourself this question to discern this, "Is this a means to take the possibility of marriage into my own hands instead of trusting God?" We are not saying that you shouldn't be taking action and specific steps towards pursuing good things like marriage, but if this is your motive you might be setting yourself up for an even greater temptation and struggle because the reality is that the vast majority of those using services like this are not finding a spouse. If you discern this is your motive, then repent of unbelief and start believing in God's sovereign goodness and provision for you in particular. Please also consider if continuing in this service is going to further tempt you to doubt God's goodness for you by trusting in yourself to find a spouse. If the temptation is too strong, it may be wise to discontinue using it and start sowing to trusting in God to provide.
2. Involve your community (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 20:18, 24:6; Hebrews 3:12,13, 10:24,25)
The biggest concern we have about online dating is that it seems to go under the radar. People aren't talking to their friends or their care groups or their pastors about the people they are meeting online. We realize that you might be wary of sharing this with others because of a perceived "stigma" that on-line dating has, but you need to be seeking wisdom from others to help you honor God more than you need to maintain a reputation. It is unwise to not invite your friends who care for you and know you well to help you evaluate the type of people you are meeting online. The reality is that no matter how often you re-read their profiles, talk to them through email or phone, you still do not really know this person. What we would suggest is that you invite family or a trusted friend into your correspondence with the people you are meeting. We know this sounds very personal, but consider letting them read the emails, profiles, etc. to get their perspective on these individuals. We are aware of some examples of humble people who have done just this as they sought to apply biblical principles to online dating. Finally, bring the people you are meeting into your community so your family and friends and pastors can begin to get to know them face-to-face. This will bring much needed grace, protection, and wisdom to you as you evaluate this relationship.
3. Know your values and convictions (Ephesians 5:10)
What are the non-negotiables in a potential spouse for you? If you haven't spent time considering this in light of Scripture you will likely default to what feels right instead of determining what is most important for you in a spouse. Compromise really is right around the corner when we don't determine what our convictions are. We have seen this time and again with Christians who aren't clear on Biblical criteria and priorities for a spouse.
4. Communicate your values and convictions (Zechariah 8:16; Ephesians 4:15, 25)
Feelings of attraction and a desire for the opposite sex are powerful realities in our lives. If these are not anchored by your values about the Christian life (e.g. sexual purity, local church, fellowship) they will pull you towards either conflict or compromise. Please do not allow a relationship to remain in an undefined territory where what you believe and hold to is not communicated by you or the other person. This will inevitably lead to either you tempting the person who is becoming emotionally attached to you or it will tempt you to simply jettison important convictions you have because of your emotional attachment.
5. Ask about their values and convictions (Ephesians 5:6,7; Proverbs 24:21; 1 Corinthians 15:33)
Don't get entangled with someone who doesn't love what you love, value what you value, desire what you desire--especially as it relates to your relationship with God. Ask detailed, specific questions about their faith and how it functions for them in day-to-day life BEFORE a relationship begins. We'd also like to suggest that you try to talk to this person's pastor or significant leader in their church. Ask them the same questions that you've been asking the person through email/phone and compare notes. They will likely offer a much more balanced perspective on this person. This will be really helpful if the person has spoken much more idealistically about themselves than the pastor's or leader's perspective.
In summary, if you are participating in online dating, please know that we love you and we support you. Our concerns are just that: concerns. We want to see you experience God's grace in Christ Jesus and we want to be faithful to show you some of the significant pitfalls as we see them, so you can be protected from discouragement and danger.
If you are considering participating in online dating, please weigh our concerns and make your decision carefully and with much prayer and counsel.
Good stuff. For real.