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 it generated $22.9 million in revenue during the first nine months of 2012. It is now deemed the fastest growing online community for 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 size.

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.

When I discovered the site, I tweeted about it and received the following reply from Barnabas Piper, son of reformed paragon John Piper:

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 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 almost 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 given the tune a different meaning in an effort 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.

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).

But what about a site that purports to be more theologically rooted like ReformedSingles.com? 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 divine promise for 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 on them, 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.

44 Comments

  1. Great points; I’ve used eHarmony rather than a Christian dating site because I am not comfortable with the easy association of their mechanisms with “the Lord’s will.” With something like eHarmony, it’s more obvious that what I’m doing is making (hopefully wise) use of nonmoral tools (nonmoral = could be used for good or ill but are not in themselves either) toward an end that I think is good (a serious relationship leading toward marriage).

    There is a broader tension that could be discussed with respect to any dating website – on the one hand, Christians are free, in wisdom, to make use of tools that are “nonmoral” toward good ends; on the other hand, it’s sometimes easy to slip into a very consumeristic mindset in the use of the tools. I am divided on how often the medium affects the message in this case. Dating websites are usually focused on parading human product (to put it crassly) before you so that you have as many choices as possible; it could be argued that this is un-, or at least sub-, biblical. eHarmony mitigates this a bit by giving you a set number of “matches” on a regular basis based on personality profiles, but other websites are based almost entirely on a philosophy of continual browsing.

    On the other hand, it’s probably not true that God only has one significant other in mind for each person in their whole lives, nor is it theologically true (IMHO) that God’s will is a small perfect path that must be found with respect to many specific decisions. We have freedom and latitude, and perhaps dating websites have a role to play in that freedom. Theologically shallow websites that co-opt the name “Christian” for the sake of appealing to a historically easily-milked market, however, shouldn’t have any place there.

    • Rory – Just a point of clarification: the word you want is not “nonmoral” but “amoral.” “Non” is a negative, and when added to the word moral would make it NOT moral – or immoral. Amoral is neutral – neither moral nor immoral, e.g., money: money is neither moral nor immoral, but how one uses it can be moral or immoral.

  2. Are you saying Christian dating website are too sexy? I think Christians need to focus more on sex. It’s just not talked about in our culture and it needs to be.

    BTW I take it you disagree with Reformed doctrine? “focuses on human depravity, God’s sovereignty, and the idea that God has already chosen the select few who will be saved” true, but crude description.

  3. Man this was a great article! I have always held the belief that God does not need a website to guide me to my future wife, but neither do I think He could not use one if He sees fit to. I think I have chosen to avoid that route for simply because it is all to easy (and tempting) to “design” the person you want to be for a profile instead of working and submitting to God to become that person. I want to look in a woman’s eyes and hear from her heart without an intermediary.

  4. Your comments about the reformed dating site are too good. I have issues with the stereotypical Christian approach to dating in general, but your article is a good start at exposing the superficiality of what most of us are looking for.

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    The founder of Ave Maria Singles, Anthony Buono, is currently in the middle of a divorce after having left his wife and 7 children, one of whom is severly disabled, for his mistress/secretary, who is also married with 4 small children. So much for the sanctity of marriage by a Catholic leader…

    • Patty, why bash a Catholic who doesn’t live up to Catholic teaching? I’m sure there are plenty of Protestants who don’t uphold the sanctity of marriage, but that doesn’t mean those beliefs are incorrect.

      • Certainly, you have to overlook an awful lot. For example the Mafia (you remember them; gambling, drugs, prostitution, murder and general mayhem) are all devout Roman Catholics.

    • Patty, please source your information, otherwise you are simply gossiping. A public court records search does show that the couple is in the middle of a divorce, but Anthony is the defendant. His wife could be making up a story, for all we know.

      • @Ben: I was actually “shocked” at the statement of Patty. I had to email my friend whose husband is personally acquainted with Anthony and I hope I’ll hear from her tomorrow. I hope this is not true as Anthony should know that what God has put together let no man put asunder. And am sad to hear that Ben checked public records and that they are in the middle of filing for divorce. This all the more make me realize that the more we have to pray for each other especially when people try to bring souls closer to Christ the more they are tempted. If this is true, he wouldn’t be the first time I hear to have fallen. To bring the good out of a bad situation, they should really set aside their pride and perhaps just separate for a while and walk the talk of what he preaches. Just repent and stand up once again. In that way, we don’t let the devil have his way.

        Sigh.

  6. You make some great points; however, being a happily married product of man’s free will meeting God’s sovereignty through eHarmony, I must disagree with your evaluation of these sites being “shallow and short-sighted”. If the overall outcome of Christian’s behavior on these sites (Women dressing provocatively and men “window shopping” or worse) then that speaks more of the quality of the Christian, the teaching/discipleship of their church, and their basic faith in God, than it does the underlying legitimacy of the sites function or purpose. OR as you indicate, their theological underpinning.

    I have been involved in the “conservative” (Baptist-rooted nondenominational and Baptist) Christian world all my life. I grew up in a Christian home, attended a great church, graduated from a Christian college, served as a missionary, been on staff at several churches, and graduated from seminary, and it was not until I joined eHarmony that I found the Christian world of dating to be more than “social mixer” for believers, where physical attraction was key, followed by peer group and social standing. For me, it was through online date that external distraction were eliminated (or limited) and the true nature relationship was revealed.

    I would make myself a liar if I said attraction did not play any role at all. Christian dating in any form (including biblical example) partly includes physical attraction. But what I found in eHarmony was the elimination of the posturing and performance, the “peacocking” if you will. Online, the ambiguity was gone. Both people knew what they were there for, to date (mainly towards marriage). Both people’s behavioral, social, and theological preferences (and expectations) were clearly communicated and each individual was given the ability to accept or reject the others relational advances.

    My experience with online dating through Christian related sites may not be shared by all who journey down that road but that can be said for all who seek to date or be joined in marriage. I was introduced to many godly women on eHarmony for whom I have great respect. Eventually I was introduced to my wife, who I have been married to for over five years. Both of us give all the glory to God for our meeting, relationship, and marriage but we also fervently believe that without eHarmony we would not have gotten together.

    For those seeking a dating relationship or marriage I highly recommend eHarmony. However, I caution you to know who you are in the Lord, in theology, and in personality. Seek online dating only within the light of Christian community, through discipleship, accountability, and in full visibility of others seeking to follow the Jesus (as I would with any relationships). Anything done in the “dark” is dangerous, and often leads to ungodly (sinful) ends. I also caution those who are skeptics of online Christian dating sights to not judge the site or method of dating because it is different than what you have known. The world of Christian dating and marriage is flawed (sex before marriage, unwed pregnancy, and divorce is as high or higher within the Christian world as within the secular) but to place undue shame or an unbiblical stance of sinful behavior upon those who truly seek the Lord’s will for their lives through these modern forms of social gatherings would be wrong.

    Yes, there are shallow sinful people doing shallow sinful things, but that is not limited to online dating sites and the judgment of such actions should not rest upon the digital shoulders of online Christian dating sites. If blame is to be placed for the behavior of Christian singles it needs to squarely fall upon the shoulders of the Church, pastors, and parents, not sites who’s function is to merely connect.

  7. The Second Commandment says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

    Immediately, we think of uttering the name of God, the name of Jesus Christ, in an unholy way — as swear words, as mere expressions of speech. And those transgressions are certainly covered by this Commandment. God’s name is holy. The name of Jesus is holy. We are to call upon the Lord in prayer and not simply throw His holy name around as a profanity.

    However, theologically, the Second Commandment goes much deeper than the mere utterance from the lips of God’s holy name in a vulgar way.

    “Take” can also refer to “use” or “acquire.” God’s command here is to not take (use, acquire) His holy name “in vain.” Another way of phrasing “in vain” is “out of vanity” or “in a vain way.” Therefore, you shall not take (unto yourself; i.e., “acquire”) the name of the Lord your God [for a vain purpose.]

    Jonathan Merritt’s critique of ChristianMingle and other dating websites that market to Christians centers on this deeper violation of the Second Commandment. From what I’ve investigated myself and from what others have shared with me, it seems that the Christian, Scriptural aspects of the websites apply only as bait. Once a person joins, one finds that the administrative monitoring of the Christian values stated on the surface is as loose as any other dating website.

    This means that the individual remains on his or her own to discern how to proceed with any contact he or she makes. This, of course, is the case anyway because deciding to date a person, deciding to enter into a more connected relationship with a person, and deciding to marry a person can’t be decided by a website. But the spiritual and moral danger of a website that labels itself as Christian is that a Christian man or woman could be seduced by the labeling into believing somehow this is an online dating service that is much safer spiritually and morally than other dating websites.

    In short, the owners of the online services who label their websites as “Christian” are often taking the name of the Lord our God in vain. As the Lord spoke through Isaiah: “Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with the lips alone, though their hears are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of precepts of men” (Isaiah 29:13).

  8. I’m curious how Christian dating sites can offer much depth and sincerity. I’m on both eHarmony and Christian Mingle. Yep, I think the ads are cheesy and CM’s Bible verse is being applied quite liberally, but in the end for them it’s a business and it’s about marketing to a large population. Unfortunately, if they get ‘too Christian,’ that could narrow their subscription base, right? Online communities in general will be more challenging to corral and hold to a certain standard. Not trying to discredit your questions and searching (thinking critically is wonderful!)…just holding in tension that at the end of the day, it’s an impersonal service offered to Christians from all denominations with varying degrees of commitment and personal application of the Word.
    Hm, related to Barnabas’ comment, I don’t think that’s fair to say about Christian men across the board (that they are primarily just interested in meeting a sexy Christian). Christian men of spiritual depth do want more than that. The issue might reveal that we have many Christians who are young in their faith or perhaps comfortable with a shallow commitment, but I give mature believers more credit!

  9. Being an older widower and Ministry student I’m humiliated and appauled at the way our Evangelical churches treat single people. They are one of the largest and fastest growing segments of society (including inside church) in America and are being almost ignored-even verbally abused. They turn to Christian Dating Sites looking for meaningful relationships largely because of the shameful treatment they receive by the Christian community. I admit I’d much prefer single “pen-pal” internet clubs and single adult ministries in churches for friends and fellowship-but the truth is Evangelicals are better now at throwing stones (quite accurately I would add) at their own brothers and sisters than engage in actual practical solutions. In a church culture in rapid spiritual decline It’s very difficult to find a nice mature single Christian lady for friendship (or more as the Lord leads) in a very rural area. Let’s fix the church “inside” our walls first-then many of these issues will resolve themselves when we’re outside our church walls. Immature Christian behavior on Christian social sites (of any type) are a direct result of the immaturity and worldliness of our Evangelical community. You’ll know a tree by it’s fruit. Bad trees produce bad fruit. When the whole orchard is bad the land can only be flooded with bad fruit. Wise men treat the trees-fools just curse the bad fruit.

  10. Simple answer yes… But then again Christians dont have a clue about what christian values really are so why does it even matter? Christians are one step away from being as shallow and ignorant as Catholics who worship false deities pretending they represent god in some obscure way.
    As you have Christians who all seem to worship a graven image, Have no clue of a book they pretend to worship…
    Simple fact time will tell us all is religion is not the worship of god but the worship of greed and war and to think anything different just means you really haven’t read the bible!

  11. Patty is correct. Anthony is a complete fraud. I am the sister of the women he has divorsed to now marry the woman he was having an affair with while he was writing his book and giving advice on dating!! Our family was shocked to find out that she was his second marrige. So now he is on his third. What a joke. So not Caholic. He did leave 7 children. My sister is a beutiul mother and person. Shame on Anthony, Just a big fraud.

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  13. Dear Jonathan Merritt,

    Regarding Rick Warren and Christian Mingle Alliance, see this expose on Personality Profiling Temperament Divination:

    http://www.perfectpeaceplan.com/post/psychometrics-of-the-global-peace-plan/

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  16. HI Jonathan,

    I’m a believer, a psychologist, and the owner of ChristianCrush.com. I really appreciate your thoughts and perspective and agree with many of your concerns. My heart and passion is to make ChristianCrush stand out from the competition for the reasons you mentioned. Keep up your great writing!

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