During my teenage years in a Fellowship-like system, I was given an assignment on “courtship.” No, I didn’t get to court anybody, although I was desperately interested in the idea. My assignment was to research a romantic couple in literature and explain how they did or didn’t follow the Biblical principles of courtship. Then, as a contrast, I was to highlight a Biblical couple who did follow the principles of authority-led courtship.
As a quick recap, the brand of courtship that my camp espoused went something like this, (not necessarily in these exact words):
- Approach — A single man (and his parents) chose a woman worthy to pursue, and the suitor asked her father for permission to court her.
- Evaluation — The father decided if this young man was right for his daughter.
- Approval — After an unspecified process and duration of evaluation, the father ideally would approve the young man as a suitor.
- Acceptance or Veto — The father then went to his daughter and told her who wanted to court her. This was the woman’s one moment of self-agency. She could accept or decline.
- Courtship — If she accepted, she and the young man were unofficially bound in courtship. It wasn’t an engagement, but to break off a courtship was a very serious matter.
- Purity — To protect both parties, parents (usually, but not always, hers) set strict rules about conversations, physical interactions, how much time they could spend together, and whether they could ever be alone.
- Engagement — He asked her to marry him after his authorities agreed it was time. She could theoretically decline the engagement, but that would be highly scandalous.
- Marriage — Whew, finally get them safely married. Now they could have sex and God wouldn’t get mad.
With this courtship formula in mind, I chose Romeo and Juliet as my cautionary couple, and Ruth and Boaz as my shining example.
Whatever I thought I learned at the time, some lessons now stand out very clearly all these years later:
- If Romeo and Juliet had followed the principles of authority-guided romance, there would be no story. In fact, anytime characters always behave according to the rules — good or bad — the story is lifeless. Most morality tales are zombies, dead stories forced into terrible half-lives.
- Since courtship was “Biblical,” and since Ruth and Boaz are clearly a “good” couple in the Bible, it follows that their relationship is Biblical. I experienced a major disconnect when I tried to fit them into the formula. I mean, Ruth followed her mother-in-law Naomi’s advice to speak to Boaz about marriage; and her mother-in-law was her authority, so I guess Ruth was under authority. But Ruth basically threw herself at Boaz. At night. Where he was sleeping. It’s unclear exactly what went on between them on that threshing floor, but it’s pretty hot stuff compared to the painfully chaste courtship stories we were given to emulate.
- There was no male leadership. Boaz didn’t make the first move. The only “permission” he asked was when he had to let a nearer relative get the first chance to marry Ruth.
- If Ruth and Boaz had followed the “right” method of courtship, they wouldn’t have gotten married either.
Basically, this whole assignment shot itself in the foot. While Romeo and Juliet failed to follow the proper steps of courtship and DIED, I learned that the Bible didn’t, in fact, lay out a correct method of romance. This lesson opened the way for me to interpret courtship so liberally that when the time came that I actually did court a man, I exercised all kinds of self-agency in my decision-making. I entered marriage fairly well-prepared for life as an equal partner to my husband.
So while I wasn’t as bad as Juliet, I still completely failed at courtship. I’m pretty sure Ruth was proud of me.
Why, yes, I’m really pleased with my post title, thanks.