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July 23, 2014, 2:23 pm

Christian v. secular dating: Is there a difference?

Do Christian couples date differently than secular couples? Both Christian and secular dating couples have many similar characteristics, but according to relationship experts, clergy leaders, faithful Christians and others, there are some unique nuances that distinguish Christian couples from secular couples.

According to Dr. Tony Evans, one of America’s top clergymen, “The fundamental difference between Christian dating and worldly dating is that you marry to date, not date to marry. The full expression of dating can be seen in a marital relationship. The contemporary American definition of dating where you bounce around from person to person in elongated relationships is foreign to the biblical perspective.” Dr. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, in Dallas, Texas. Evans is also president of The Urban Alternative, and the author of the best-selling book, “Kingdom Man.”

Dr. Rita DeMaria, Ph.D., a.k.a., The Marriage Doctor, weighed in with this comment, “The focus and direction are different (for both types of dating couples) … secular dating couples do not necessarily acknowledge the presence of God in their relationship.” This is a core-fundamental difference between Christian and non-Christian dating couples. DeMaria is the author of the best-selling book “7 Stages of Marriage,” and she is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed social worker, and she is an expert in sex education and premarital assessment. Her websites offers a variety of helpful relationship tips and resources: www.marriagedoctor.com.

Philadelphia native, Judge Carolyn Nichols, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, does not dichotomize her Christian faith and dating; she offered this comment on the topic, “As a person of faith, I don’t divide my life: worldly vs. Christian. I strive to conduct myself according to my faith values, including dating, and to enjoy life fully because life is short.”

Hundreds of dating agencies are sprouting up to help niche Christian clientele stay true to their pursuit of a like-minded faith-based partner. There’s obviously a solid market for such services, because top agencies like Zoosk, Match.com and eHarmony, are the top three preferred match-making services for Christians in America.

“There is no singular biblical view (for dating),” states Dr. Jeff Black, chair of the Department of Christian Counseling/Philadelphia Biblical University. Black underscores a poignant point regarding dating connections, compatibility and culture, “Most dating for Christians and non-Christians is fundamentally connection through recreation. … I could point out that dating done by whoever is implicitly about discovering levels of compatibility and how to make strategic decisions about levels of compatibility and happiness … The Bible unfolds its message within a historical and shifting cultural context so that (it’s) about Christians living as God-centered people in the midst of any culture — pleasured centered, oppressive, socially liberal or conservative.”

Dr. Stephen Treat is a senior therapist and former director and CEO for the Council for Relationships, the oldest and largest relationship counseling agency in America, said that, “Depending on what version of a person’s definition of Christianity is,” that will dictate how liberal or conservative their dating boundaries and beliefs are. Treat earned his doctorate in ministry from Andover Newton Theological Seminary, and he’s a licensed family therapist. For over 30 years, Treat has counseled many Christians who have dated non-Christians. According Treat, the most common relationship issues that all dating couples experience are, “Communication, resolving conflict, and dealing with woundedness.” Treat is the author several books, his most recent, “Couples in Treatment” (by Weeks & Treat).

Angela Davis, a member of St. Matthews Baptist Church, in Williamstown, New Jersey (Rev. Raymond Gordon, senior pastor), offered the following comment on the difference between worldly dating vs. secular dating, “… as a (Christian) Believer, while you look forward to the time that your mate is revealed, it does not consume you. Your season of singleness is spent consistently improving every area of your life, so that you are a blessing and not a burden to your future spouse, all the while, becoming the best ‘you’ possible. You live your life in obedience to God’s purpose and will for you, never compromising, because you know that His rules, (and) His way are for your protection…” For many single-Christians, the waiting period until a compatible mate is revealed is the most difficult.

Terri Matthews, president and CEO of CCS Inc., and a resident of San Francisco, California, said, “First, I want to make it clear that dating or courtship wasn’t listed in the Bible, it (simply) did not exist. ...When it comes to Christian versus secular dating practices, there are several differences to be considered. One of the most important differences is that many Christians see dating as a step in the serious process of finding a life partner, not just a spouse. …”

What did Matthews have to share about the nuances of secular dating? “Alternatively, in the secular world, dating is often looked at as a way of getting to know many people, and marriage may not play a part in the mind of either (secular) person.”

Christina Eve Vidales, a model and executive Ddirector of Royalty Spa Collections, in Phoenix, Arizona, shared, “There is a tremendous difference, and no way a correlation between the two. Christians, in seeking the will of God on whom He chooses for one to marry, would begin (courting) once (they received) God’s confirmation, then they prepare for holy matrimony. In worldly dating, the world … (dates, just) to date …” Vidales believes that most secular dating couples make intimate dating connections based on their lustful, self-seeking, motivations and desires.

Dating can be a daunting task for Christians and non-Christians, alike. According to Dr. Treat, if you can maintain great communication, resolve relational conflicts amicably, and rise above your past relationship wounds — whether you’re a Christian or secular dating couple — you’ll be well on your way to a healthy and productive relationship.