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The Western concept of dating has gone on for so long now that most people fail to appreciate that it is a fairly recent innovation in human history. In fact, even today, most of the world has not accepted the practice, even though many of us living in the West assume that it is universal.

In some societies young people are able to interact under the watchful eye of a chaperone. However, in many others (like India) young men and women have almost no social contact at all until they are introduced to one another by their parents a short time before they are to be married. These days they are generally given the option, after their first meeting, of refusing the choice made by their parents; but it does not guarantee that the next choice will not be even worse. It is generally regarded as a sign of respect to one's parents to trust Mum and Dad's wisdom in selecting a suitable mate. It is also interesting that arranged marriages have an extremely high success rate, while almost half of the marriages formed in the West end up in divorce!

We Jesus Christians believe that dating in general has been a product of lazy parenting, and that it is directly responsible for the sexual promiscuity that exists in Western society. Many failed marriages are also the result of the (slack) dating approach to human relationships.

In India, marriages which are not arranged by the parents are called "love marriages". It sounds romantic to our Western frame of mind. However, the term is one of contempt. It implies promiscuity and the strong possibility that the marriage was necessitated by the bride becoming pregnant. The concept of "falling in love" has, until the arrival of satellite TV, been either unheard of or totally ludicrous to the Eastern mind.

For much of the Third World, love is not regarded as a feeling; it's regarded as an act of the will. Two young people who have been put together by arrangement through their parents do not have to "fall" for one another. Instead, they "choose" to be faithful to each other as proof of a love which goes beyond emotional thrills. Most couples report that an emotional bond forms as well. But it is a by-product of a deeper commitment, and not the essence of their relationship. And this faithful commitment by the couple to love one another whether or not they feel like it, has been largely lost in the West, as a result of romanticism and the dating mentality.

Parents who have any hope of their children remaining virgins until their wedding day sabotage those same hopes by encouraging young people to spend hours together on their own in leisure activities.

The entire entertainment industry has dropped any pretence of morality with regard to sex. A generation which encouraged kissing and cuddling amongst good friends out on dates a generation ago, now accepts that promiscuous sex is normal and even healthy at the end of a date. Anyone who entertains thoughts of celibacy is considered a social misfit in today's society.

And we Christian parents have ourselves to blame for the situation.

Sure, there is overwhelming opposition to our stand from the secular world, but what have we done to challenge it? Perhaps we gave little lectures to our young people before sending them off to the cinema or to the discos together. But how many of us dared to challenge the entire practice of dating? How many of us questioned whether the movies and the dances themselves were encouraging sexual thoughts and sexual contact? We were more worried that our sons and daughters might be seen as prudes than we were about their morality.

Within our community we have combined what we believe are the benefits of arranged marriages with the benefits of dating. We don't "arrange" marriages, but we do chaperone all activities. Singles not only have contact with one another, but they actually live together, seven days a week. They do chores together, worship together, eat together, engage in Christian outreach and social work together, and play games together. But all of it is done in the presence of other committed Christians. Even engaged couples are rarely out of sight of other Jesus Christians. If the couple wish to discuss private matters, they can do so out of earshot, but within sight, of others in the community.

Right up to the time of marriage, couples do not kiss, cuddle, or even hold hands, much less indulge in sexual foreplay or intercourse.* Being engaged means that they will be assigned tasks which they can undertake together, so that they can get to know one another better. By the time they marry, they know more about one another than do many couples in the secular world who have been married for several years. But, by the same token, if they decide to call off the marriage one hour before the ceremony, they have no need to feel embarrassed in each other's company because of past sexual liberties.

*For the sake of honesty, some couples felt we should state that they did not always totally follow the rules. However, one engaged couple who had only held hands reported that even that much contact became a problem when they later decided to break off the relationship.

A few years ago, two of our members who had been engaged, called off their engagement, and they each ended up marrying someone else in the community. There have been no problems with embarrassment or jealousy, because being engaged merely meant that they had spent time working together. How much better this is than the present practice amongst Christians of offering free samples to prospective marriage partners.

But of course, we were only able to make it work because we established a Christian community where everyone in it subscribed to the same high standards. People within the community do not date people from outside the community. If anyone outside the community is interested in getting to know community members, then they are welcome to join in with our chores, outreach, meals, etc. as though they were members of the community. It is only natural to expect that they would join our community if they eventually decided to marry. But there is no need for our members to go off to movies, dances, or even to dinner alone with someone of the opposite sex.

Call it oppressive if you like, but we prefer to think that it is good sense, and that it comes from a fair understanding of what the whole dating game is leading to.

Because our members want to stay chaste, they consider this approach to be immensely superior to the dating game and all of the spiritual dangers that it brings with it.

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