With Gusto!

Jenell Williams Paris is a professor of anthropology at Messiah College and author of The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are (IVP).

Should Christians use online dating services? Yes, and with gusto! Online dating doesn't correct the well-documented imbalance of devout Christian women (abundant supply) to like-hearted men (a paucity), but it at least widens the net for Christians seeking partners.

It also reduces the need to choose between meaningful service in a region where pickings are slim, and work that may be further from one's calling in a more populated area.

Along with these benefits, online dating does raise new dangers: a creep—a violent one, even—may be lurking behind the next click; the process over-represents certain features of a person (facial appearance, for starters); and it requires an investment of funds that perhaps could be better spent elsewhere.

It would be foolish, however, to preserve the dating practices of an earlier era, even as an attempt to avoid these dangers. For instance, I'd never recommend that a modern woman do as I did. In the mid-1990s, when I was seeing the man who became my husband, we talked on landline phones late at night (when rates dropped from 25 cents per minute to 10 cents), sent just a handful of e-mails (seemed impersonal), and never texted (weren't pagers mostly just for drug dealers back then?). We wrote letters, too. By hand! And sent them via postal mail! These archaic behaviors suited the olden days, but some of them seemed novel even to the generation before mine. Like work, house construction, and child-rearing, dating is a cultural practice that humans reinvent and adapt to different circumstances. Refusing to adapt to massive cultural shifts such as technological innovation may work for a short time, or for separatist Christian communities, but for Christians living in mainstream society, discerning engagement is generally better than wholesale rejection.

Viewed with my anthropologist's eye, online dating and conventional dating look like near equivalents anyway; both are mate selection strategies favored by individualistic societies that believe marriage partners should know each other ahead of time and freely choose one another. They seem even more similar in contrast to societies that rely on arranged marriages, cousin marriages, or bride service, where the prospective groom works for future in-laws before marriage.

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In another sense, however, online dating offers an improvement over conventional dating, which is rapidly devolving from courtship (increasing closeness over time with the eventual prospect of marriage) to hook-ups (sexual intimacy early, even before an exclusive relationship is formed). Online dating requires consideration of a prospective mate before physical contact occurs, and usually progresses from "just looking" to e-mail exchanges, texts, and cell phone calls, and then a face-to-face meeting. Electronic exchanges carry their own etiquette, so a person's character and charm (or lack thereof) are displayed early on. Christians can use online dating in ways that express discernment, modesty, and self-control, not only in sexual boundaries, but also in the very process of getting to know another person gradually.

Christians use the Internet for building all kinds of human relationships: evangelism, discipleship, friendship, family, and workplace. In today's society, the only thing odder than searching for a soul mate online may be not doing so.

No; Trust God

Leslie Ludy is the author of Sacred Singleness: The Set-Apart Girl's Guide to Purpose and Fulfillment (Harvest House) and coauthor of When God Writes Your Love Story: The Ultimate Guide to Guy-Girl Relationships (Multnomah).

When my sister-in-law Kristina was in her 30s and unmarried, she received an endless amount of pressure from well-meaning friends and family members to take matters into her own hands when it came to finding a marriage partner.

They counseled her to move to a bigger city, join a singles' group, and make herself more available to men. But Kristina believed that if it was God's intention for her to marry, he was able to bring her husband into her life out of nowhere, without the help of singles' groups, blind dates, or eHarmony. And that is exactly what happened. As she built her life around Christ instead of the pursuit of marriage, he orchestrated a beautiful love story in his perfect time and way as she simply trusted him with all her heart.

If you are single, God has a much higher calling upon your life than spending all your time and energy trying to snag a marriage partner. As Paul wrote, being unmarried is an amazing opportunity to serve the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:34). It's true that you might find a decent partner by reading books on how to get noticed or by joining an Internet dating service. But what amazing heaven-scripted beauty we forgo when we try to write the story ourselves. God is in the business of writing incredible love stories. The problem is that most of us aren't willing to leave the pen in his hands.

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After God promised a son to Sarai and Abram in their old age, Abram, at the urging of Sarai, tried to rush God's plan by taking matters into his own hands and sleeping with his wife's maid-servant, leading to the birth of Ishmael. What a messy situation this turned out to be. It was a self-manufactured, subpar solution of something for which God had a far better plan (Issac).

In the same way, when we rush ahead of God in search of a love story, we end up with less than God's very best. The most God-honoring way to find a godly spouse is to stop hunting for one, and instead focus your entire life around Jesus Christ and his priorities. If he wants you to be married, he is more than capable of writing your love story in the most unlikely way, in the most unlikely place—without the help of blind dates, singles' groups, and online dating services. God can bring your spouse to you in the remotest village in Africa, or in the most hidden slum of Haiti.

Throughout my past 16 years of ministry, I've encountered many godly men and women who didn't put life on hold until they met their spouse. Instead, they poured themselves into building the kingdom of God—even though it meant being less available to the opposite sex. Amazingly, it was in a place of seeming obscurity that God wrote their love stories.

Remember that God cares more about this area of your life than even you do. He wants the pen of your life, not to make you miserable, but to bless you beyond all you could ask or think. Those who put their hope in him will not be disappointed.

With Caution

Dennis Franck is the national director of single adult/young adult ministries for the Assemblies of God USA.

One might think that with 97 million single adults in the U.S. age 18 and older (according to the 2010 Census), it would be easy to find Mister or Miss Right. Not so, say many single and single-again adults of all ages.

Enter online dating, society's answer to this dilemma. Match, eHarmony, AdamMeetEve, Christian Soulmates, and a thousand other online dating services, Christian and secular, offer themselves as a possible, sometimes seemingly sure way to find a perfect relationship or soul mate. In my experience with single adults, at least half of them have tried online dating.

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What should a single adult think about these services? Especially a Christian single adult who desires to marry, but discovers only 20 percent of churches offer a group where single adults of similar ages can create and develop friendships with the opposite sex?

As a former pastor to single adults for 21 years, and now director of Assemblies of God Single Adult Ministries, I'm not against online dating services. I have seen a few of these relationships form and mature into healthy marriages. I do have many concerns, though.

Online dating services are tools to bring about a contact. They're not much different from a person meeting someone in the grocery store, except the person may live 2,000 miles away. Because of this, rather than condemn online relationships, I urge extreme caution and offer tools for navigating the world of online relationships.

Here are some dos and don'ts:

Do realize that people can and do misrepresent themselves and exaggerate their personal qualities. People tend to reveal too much too soon online, making it easy to build false intimacy. Depth of character cannot be known online or even on the phone. Because of this, it is a good idea to meet in person early in the relationship.

Online stalkers do exist, so protect your identity. Use caution and maintain a healthy level of skepticism. Don't use your real name as a screen name, and don't assume someone is a Christian because he or she says so. It is a good idea to meet in a public place and not travel alone to a strange place to meet an online connection in person—and let someone know where you're going.

Online dating can work, but realize that most Internet matches do not lead to long-term relationships, and that online dating can take a lot of time.

God knows your desire for a relationship with the opposite sex. He's a good matchmaker: he paired Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and many other model biblical couples. The promise in Philippians 4:19 that God will supply all your needs doesn't refer only to food, shelter, and clothing. Trust him to provide in his timing. Until and after he does provide, deepen your relationship through prayer and study of his Word. Live an obedient life in your attitudes, desires, priorities, motives, and commitments.

It's more important to become the right person for marriage than to find the right person for marriage. Would you marry someone like you?

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Related Elsewhere:

Previous coverage about online dating from Christianity Today and its affiliated blogs includes:

Why I No Longer Pray for a Husband | Lessons in longing, hunger, and trust. (Her.meneutics, September 26, 2011)
The Virgins-Only Dating Website | Is WeWaited.com really a perfect haven for Christians struggling in a sex-obsessed culture? (Her.meneutics, January 12, 2011)
Trouble with Online Love | Australian police found that two out of three victims of "romance fraud" are women. (Her.meneutics, October 20, 2009)
Restless, Reformed, and Single | Online dating services argue that God can use virtual reality too. (July 31, 2009)

Previous "Village Green" sections have discussed Muslim-Christian relations, military drones, terminal illness, marijuana morality, credit card debt, tithing during unemployment, illegal immigrants, giving to street people, thebest Christmas stories, laws that ban Islamic veils, theTea Party, Afghanistan, Bible smuggling, creation care, intelligent design, preaching, immigration, Lent, premarital abstinence, aid to foreign nations, technology, andabortion.

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