Does it matter if the lyrics you sing to worship God were written by someone with whom you have deep theological disagreements?
Christian rock star Vicky Beeching forced her fans to confront this question last week when she toldThe Independent that she is a lesbian. Her songs are among the most commonly sung in North American churches. But many within her Christian fan base believe gay sex and marriage are sinful.
Beeching has shared harrowing stories of struggling to shirk her sexuality. She even recounts participating in a traumatic exorcism at a Christian youth camp. Nineteen years after the failed attempt to purge the gay-ness from her spirit, Beeching chose to just be open and honest about who she believes she is.
“Old habits die hard,” Beeching told me via email. “I’m finally free from guilt and shame, but it’s been a very long road to get here.”
Beeching isn’t the first major faith-filled musician to come out of the closet or change his or her views. Many in the Christian music industry — like their book publishing counterparts — appear to be slowly and quietly shifting on the issue of gay marriage. This is a formative moment when many Christians are reconsidering the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. And popular leaders within the Christian music industry could accelerate a broader swing.
After entering my email address, zip code, and height, I’m asked, “What is your body type?” My cursor hovers above “Washboard,” but in the end, I select, “I should maybe lose a few.” Next comes eye color, ethnicity, education, occupation, and smoking and drinking preferences. And then things take a religious turn. I’m questioned on what type of church I attend, how often I go, and what ministry I’m involved in. A couple more clicks, and it’s done.
I’m officially a registered member on ChristianMingle.com.
The search function of the site is user-friendly. I’m given a list of women in my area. Their profile pictures are surprisingly provocative—low cut shirts, exposed shoulders, skin-tight pants, pouty lips. The selection proves again that while the Lord may “looketh at the heart,” His people are still very much interested in outward appearances.
This paradox is one of several that causes me to wonder if increasingly popular Christian dating websites undermine the faith-values of their users.
As of 2011, ChristianMingle had garnered more than 5 million users, and generated $22.9 million in revenue during the first nine months of 2012. It is now deemed the fastest growing online community for this Christians. But it is only one of many online dating sites for the mate-less faithful. Others include Loveandseek.com, ChristianCafe.com, and EquallyYoked.com. Together, they form a pool of eligible Christian singles that is rapidly growing in number.
Over the weekend, I discovered perhaps the strangest new addition to the Christian dating cadre: ReformedSingles.com. The site is designed exclusively for Christians who adhere to the Calvinist tradition, a theological system that focuses on human depravity, God’s sovereignty, and the idea that God has already chosen the select few who will be saved.
Their tagline is “Prepared, Prequalified, Predestined,” adding to the plethora of clichés that make the site a near-parody of itself. For example, users’ identities must be verified by their (presumably male) pastor, who confirms that they are a church member in “good and regular standing” and “eligible for marriage.” Articles include tips on virginity, courtship, and how men must establish “loving headship” over their wives. In a twist of irony, ReformedSingles seeks to assemble a crowd of people who minimize humans’ ability to choose and then inundate them with choices.
@jonathanmerritt if people were honest they'd admit to really only looking for the first of those descriptors.
— Barnabas Piper (@BarnabasPiper) March 16, 2013
His response seems to echo my feeling that these sites and the Christians who engage in them might not be thinking as deeply as one might assume.
The new trend in dating sites built exclusively for Christians may have emerged long after their general market analogs but they make few strides in avoiding the same pitfalls. As usual, the Christian sub-culture is a step behind and not an inch deeper—from music to books to fashion trends, and now with online dating.
Christian dating sites are quick to invoke spiritual and even Biblical references in an effort to capture new users, but these marketing ploys are often taken so far out of their original context that they have been emptied of any meaning. ChristianMingle, for example, has been airing an ad during the History Channel mini-series, The Bible. Images of kissing and hand-holding flutter across the screen as a male voice sings, “Someday he’ll call her and she will come running. And fall in his arms and the tears will fall down and she’ll pray. I want to fall in love with you.”
At first viewing, the spot is wildly effective. But those who are familiar with the song will note that the “arms” mentioned are God’s and not Prince Charming’s. Titled “Love Song,” the hit tune by Jars of Clay is about God calling us into loving relationship with Himself. But ChristianMingle has emptied the tune of its meaning to co-opt its familiar religious language and attract users. One has to wonder why the band would license their song for this purpose.
Worse still, the site’s header invokes Psalm 37:4 over a picture of a swooning couple: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The implication is that if you are a good Christian boy or girl, God will give you your dream mate. This transactional view of God is hard to reconcile with a full reading of the Christian scripture, much less personal experience, but it certainly sounds enticing.
But perhaps we can excuse ChristianMingle for a bit of shallowness. After all, they are operated by marketers, not theologians. The site is owned by Beverly Hills-based Spark Networks. The company also owns, Adventist Singles Connection, BlackSingles, DeafSingles Connection, CatholicMingle, as well as sites for Mormons, Jews, military members, and plus-size women (and the men who want to date them).
What about a site like ReformedSingles.com, which purports to be more theologically rooted? The verse at the top right of their home screen is Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The verse is a favored choice for Christian greeting cards and graduation gifts. But this specific promise was offered to Israel as a reminder that though they find themselves in captivity, God’s covenant with them has not been forgotten. Applying it directly as a promised prosperity in modern Christians’ dating lives requires a feat of theological gymnastics.
Christian dating websites have potential for much good. Several of my friends have met their significant others, and in some cases, have even married the partners they met. But the way many of these websites are going about their business is shallow and short-sighted, and we need to be having a serious conversation about if and how believers should participate.
As Internet dating continues to grow in popularity and more Christians participate, we may find that we’ve given up more than our personal information.