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!