Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

Fundamentalist weddings 1 – Courtship, Betrothal


I received a comment in which I was asked what fundamentalist weddings look like. I thought that was a great idea for a post! Also, since the commenter didn’t seem sure about the different concepts of courtship, I decided to first post a small collection of different courtship forms and then move on to the type of wedding I know from my group. So here’s about courtship! Even though the term “courtship” is constantly used in Christian circles, there are a TON of different concepts how it works. I don’t know all of them, but I’ll describe the ones I know, aka the most popular ones.

There are a few general rules about courtship: The parents are strongly involved, the father is approached by the men, not the girl, and the goal of a courtship should always be marriage.

First, there is a very worldly form of courtship. This is usually done by conservative, not fundamentalist christians. The girl and the boy meet and already have some sort of interest in each other before they even enter a courtship. The boy might even tell the girl he will talk to her dad before he talks to her dad. The father will evaluate the boy, but the daughter will be strongly involved in the questions he’s asking and has a big say in the decision he’s making. If the girl isn’t interested in the guy, she might even tell her dad to deny him right away in order to not hurt him personally. If the boy gets permission to court, he might be allowed to ask her himself (not dad telling her). Once the courtship starts, the girl and the boy sit together to make rules for their courtship. How far can they go? In most cases, holding hands is ok for the couple. They may also decide if they need chaperoning, and when they need it. They may go on dates alone if they wish to do so. Kissing is usually a no-no during courtship, but might be ok for the engagement. Same goes for saying “I love you”. The boy will need permission to propose, but if they have been courting for a year plus it’s very likely he’ll get it. Engagement times are longer, comparable to secular engagement times. The whole engagement and wedding process is comparable to worldly weddings.

In a more fundamentalist version, the girl will most likely not know that a boy is interested in her. The boy has to go to the dad first and be evaluated. If the boy gets permission to court, the girl will be told that there’s someone interested in her. In some cases, the girl might not even know her suitor, e.g. because the boy had seen and watched the girl at a conference, but the girl didn’t take notice of the boy. There will be a lot of contact between the boy and the girl’s dad and the dad can give his veto to the relationship at any point during courtship. They will always be chaperoned. Going into very date-like situations like movies or a restaurant usually doesn’t happen. It’s typical that boy and girl visit each other’s families in order to see their partner in “natural” environment. Kissing is off-limits until the wedding, holding hands may be allowed once engaged. “I love you” may be allowed, but not in every family.

Even more strict is a form used in some fundamentalist groups: The girl will not be allowed to have any emotions towards a guy. If she does feel something, breaking off contact entirely is encouraged. The guy pretty much has to walk around in the dark and take chances when he asks for a courtship. The father will evaluate (family might be involved). The dad often has long talks with the guy over a long period of time, several weeks even, before he gets permission and the dad tells the girl he has a suitor. Then she will receive counsel and opinions from her family, which she will use to either agree or disagree with a courtship. Usually the girl agrees as she fully trusts her dad’s evaluation. Evaluations are typically much harder to pass in this version. Once the courtship starts, the boy and girl are not allowed to be alone together. Chaperoning might not be enough to fulfill this in the first months, so they’ll always have to stay around many family members. Sometimes, girl and boy visit each other’s families. Emotions aren’t supposed to be evolving at that point – that’s for engagement or better yet marriage. Courtships may be very long, up to several years, depending on the boy’s financial situation, missioning work etc. Sometimes, the girl may be a minor (16 is eligible for courtship in some groups – in all other forms, that’s at least 17 or 18.) so naturally the courtship will be longer. Physical contact of any form is off-limits until the wedding, as well as verbal expressions of affection. If you see a couple where each the boy and the girl hold a stick or a band of some sort which the other holds as well, a “connection” of some sort, that’s the replacement for holding hands in this version. The family can veto the relationship at any point during courtship and engagement. The boy asks for permission to propose to the girl and will be evaluated again. He will have to work through the courtship with the girl’s dad and talk about different issues to get permission. This permission can be delayed or fully denied if for example the boy is struggling with some sort of problem the dad doesn’t like, or isn’t “financially ready” for a wife and baby within the next 9 months. This happens quite a lot and the permission to propose might be a long process. Engagement happens with somebody close (a chaperone). In some cases, the boy might not even be allowed to put the ring on the girl’s finger himself. The dad may be taking care of that and will put the ring on the finger. Touching is still off-limits and the first time they touch would usually be when the guy put the wedding ring on the girls finger during the ceremony. The engagement periods are rather short as the wedding is supposed to be frugal and cheap as well as all the “getting to know each other” was done during courtship. It’s really just the small time frame they need to plan the wedding. Breaking up in the state of engagement usually happens only in cases of adultery.

So much about courtship, but I feel the need to talk about another form of getting together. I have seen a slight rise of this in the last 2 years so I’m a bit worried. It’s betrothal and if you don’t know what that means, keep reading.

Betrothal is supposed to be even more biblical than courtship, and prevent heartbreak even better. Neither the girl nor the boy have any say in choice of partner. The parents of both parties will talk to each other, usually without the knowledge of the couple, to see if they fit together. The girl may already know the boy as a friend of the family, but it could also be a complete stranger. Either way, they will not know that their parents have picked them a spouse until they feel the deal should be sealed. Both girl and boy will be told that a match has been found. There is a chance of veto from both at this point, but they’d need really good reasoning and I personally can’t think of anything they could say to get out of it without making the parents look ungodly (“I’m not ready for marriage!” – “Yes you are, I talked to God, he says so.”). Then the girl and the boy will be betrothed in a small ceremony. I have heard of cases where they weren’t even in the same room together, meaning that they still don’t know each other at this point. The betrothal vows are like marriage vows – they are unbreakable. A betrothal is a serious commitment and can only be broken in cases of adultery, just like marriage. During betrothal, the couple gets to know each other. They may fall in love at this point but don’t have to. Not that it matters anyway, they are in a seriously committed relationship. Physical contact of ANY sort is completely off-limits and may be considered adultery in some groups, which would lead to an immediate breaking off of the relationships. Either way, physical contact would mean a harsh punishment for both parties. The girl will start planning the wedding, the boy will work to get a house and some money saved up. They wait on God to tell them the date when they will be married. Betrothal durations can vary from several weeks to several years.

Personally, I think betrothal is nothing but arranged marriage and should be under close watch. I’m sensing that in times where the fundamentalists grow crazier and crazier, this form of relationship will become more popular.

So much on the different types of courtship, the next post will be concerned with the question what fundamentalist weddings look like in groups with very short engagement times!


11 thoughts on “Fundamentalist weddings 1 – Courtship, Betrothal

  1. <>

    This is really disturbing. Talk about taking the joy out of “new love.”

    I agree with you that the betrothal method is basically an arranged marriage. I cannot imagine promising to be faithful to someone without even knowing him — or even being in the same room for the “ceremony”, for that matter. Really, this sort of thing should be illegal.

    • Yeah it should be, but the problem is that the people who believe in betrothal are so convinced that it’s godly and biblical, they’d never speak against it. And they are smart to hide the arranged marriage part. “I told my dad to look for a husband for me” makes it seem alright.

  2. I love that you differentiated between different types of courtship here! You definitely got the fundamentalist version and I definitely got the “worldly” version. My now husband got permission to court me and the two of us set our own rules (including no dating, but yes to hand holding and hugging). I hit a snag, though, when my parents withdrew their approval and told us to break up. I refused, and by that time I had been in the world (college) long enough that I knew there was nothing wrong with me making my own decisions. So I did. I married the guy against my parents’ wishes, and he’s the most wonderful husband and and father (to our little girl) I could imagine. In your case it sounds like you had the fundamentalist version but got cold feet at the end, looking at your life closing before you. But of course, we don’t have the rest of the story yet! Keep writing!

    • Well yeah, by now you need to differenciate. “I kissed dating goodbye” is popular among so many denominations, groups and movements, none of them interpret it quite like the other.
      I do think that a worldly courtship isn’t a bad thing. I mean, it’s great when two people can agree on a stardard and keep them for themselves, because they WANT to. I also think it’s kind of sad that parents don’t trust their adult children in their convictions about what’s right before marriage and what’s not. It’s not like a chaperone will prevent you from having dirty thoughts, and if you can withstand them by yourself, what’s the need for a chaperone?
      Good to hear you didn’t listen to your parents! Even IF they had been right in the end, you could’ve never forgiven yourself not even trying it. And now that you did and it turned out to be right, even better!

      • “Even IF they had been right in the end, you could’ve never forgiven yourself not even trying it.”

        Exactly! How can parents not see that sometimes children NEED to make mistakes in order to LEARN? Obviously in my case it wasn’t a mistake, but if it had been, well I would have learned and grown through it and then moved on!

  3. The bethrothal theory originated with a man called S. M. Davis. Last I knew, you could hear his entire series on one of those preaching repositories, such as, or the like. When I first got broadband Internet access, and could stream things like that, I started listening to his series, but quickly discarded it, because his theory lacked any solid Biblical proof. He just seemed to pick and choose verses out of the air, and make them fit together with heartwarming illustrations about his and his daughter’s freakish relationship to make it all sound like it had just sailed in on the mother ship! I didn’t make it to part 2, so I had no idea it was actually arranged marriage, but that makes sense, as I know of a few churches that have had Davis in to teach his theory. He’s definitely a freak!

    Also, I’m working on an essay regarding the QF cult, and things associated with it, and I would loe you to read it when I get it to a readable point, and help me to correct any problems, if you would be willing. I am afraid this movement is creeping in to good churches, and I’ve smelled the prelude to it, even in the church I attend. If I can warn people before it’s too late, even if they don’t listen, I will feel like I’ve done something valuable.

    • That’s interesting, I don’t know much about the whole betrothal scene, only the basics. I have heard some people talk about people who know people (blah blah) who got betrothed and many actually consider it oh-so-biblical and “old fashioned”, but I’m not sure about the actual scriptural back up they use for their theory. I read several blogs about betrothal too, and it pretty much all comes down to arranged marriage.

      Feel free to send me the article whenever you want, wow, I feel so honored you’d even ask me. I’d love to help you out with details and advice on how things are done by the QFers!

      • You seem to have a pretty level head on your shoulders, which is why I asked, and unless I’m totally mistaken, you don’t blame God for it. I read some of the blogs on nlq, and my heart breaks for the girls/women who had to get out of it, but it seems the common tone over there is that of hatred toward all things of a Godly nature. Speaking from nothing but a human standpoint, I can’t blame those people for feeling like they do, but from the standpoint of a Christian, it angers me that people could twist and distort the beauty of Jesus into something so gory, and so sleezy.

  4. This sounds so far out there… and sad. I just think how awful it would have been if my dad had picked out my husbadn and I would have missed out on choosing andn marrying my wonderful husband. I have seen a “worldy” courtship, which seemed so UN-wordly to me (especially compared with my own “Christian” dating experience)! But it was all by the choice of the courting couple, and it was really neat to watch and unique (to me). The only strict betrothal I have ever seen was that of our friends in India. It was much like you described the fundamental version of courtship. It has worked out for them and they love one another dearly, but that is their culture. To do anything else in their culture would have been scandalous adn would have hurt their reputations in society and their families whom they love.

    I don’t think I know anyone wacky enough to force betrothal on their kids, and there are actually some interesting nutjobs around where I live. Woudl you say it is actually a forced marriage? I think I read that the UK passed some law against forced marriage in order to protect their East Indian emigrants from being exploited by their own families. If betrothal as forced marriage became popular in the US, it seems that a law to protect the constitutional rights of adult children would be in order. Do you know of girls under the age of 18 who have been forced into a betrothal and marriage? That would violate some existing laws, for sure.

    • No, none of my close friends have been through a betrothal. As I said, it’s not really forced… that type of group within the fundamentalist movement doesn’t see it as forced, it’s what they believe in. The young people actually approach their parents at some point and agree to be betrothed, and then the parents have permission to start looking for a spouse, pick them out and present them. It’s a bit like you were asking somebody to bring you a gift. You don’t know what it’s going to be, or when and all, but you know it’s coming and you sort of have agreed to it.
      I think they’re working with a lot of pressure and guilt-tripping, so those couples think what’s happening to them is God’s plan, just like the QFers believe every child must be accepted, whether you want it at that point or not.
      End of the story is, it would be very hard to prove that it’s an arranged marriage because neither of the spouses see it that way. They do get to know each other before marriage, via letters, emails, chats and so on. Actual physical meetings are rare from what I hear. Kind of waiting for the groom to be ready and take his bride home, like Jesus will one day come physically back to earth and pick up his bride. I think that’s the image they’re working with here.

  5. Thanks for doing this. I guess I did meet one young bride at a conference a few years ago who had a courtship that was sort of in between the worldly and fundamentalist types. I don’t know that her now husband talked to her or her father first but their first kiss was at the altar. She wore a ring from her parents that she picked out that her parents removed at her wedding just before her father presented her to her groom signifying that she was now free to marry. She said she is thankful that she did this even though it was hard as a teenager watching the other teens in her youth group pair up and have relationships because she came into her marriage without any baggage from a bad relationship and her husband, having had other girlfriends, has baggage. She didn’t specify what baggage or even what kind. As a mother of teens at the time, I was just freaked out about the whole thing. And having been a teen girl and an only child with an aging father who had completely different values than I did–never would I have trusted him to pick my husband.

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