Christian Peer Pressure: When It’s Okay To Be Out Of Step Sometimes

I kissed my husband before we got married.

Scandalous – if only because, at the time, a good number of the people around me in college were attempting “godly courtship”: a marriage-minded way of Christian dating that places special emphasis on gender roles, mentorship and accountability, and which de-emphasizes physical intimacy/arousing desire sometimes to the point of postponing a first kiss until the altar.

My husband and I were marriage-minded, and both of us Christians; we prayed together and worshiped together and God was very much a part of our daily lives.  But we kissed (yes, even in public).  We held hands.  We went out on dates with just each other and cuddled and spent time alone unsupervised.  I was perfectly happy and so was he, and both of us felt our relationship was godly and respectful.  Yet I felt oddly out-of-step with some of the friends around me for whom godly courtship seemed the only option.

“You know,” a friend of mine confessed to me once as she explained the virtues of godly courtship, “for me it’s just…when we kiss I want it to be special, you know?”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I felt my kisses with my husband-to-be were no less special for not having occurred at the altar.  Nor did I explain my own pained experiences with godly courtship.  The one time I’d attempted it previously, with a Bible-school-attending man I’d met at a Christian concert, he asked my parents for permission to date me before he ever thought to ask me if I was interested in him at all (leading my father to respond, with typical West Virginian humor, “Son, I don’t know, but don’t you think you ought to ask her?“)  And the relationship became frightening to me when he started showing up to “check” on me every time I didn’t answer a phone call and once punched a wall when I told him I was concerned about his obsessive behavior.

And yet I still felt strange for not being on the godly-courtship train.  I felt strange in the way that I always feel strange when all the Christians around me are really into something – accountability groups!  small groups!  weekly dinners! – and I’m just…not.  The thing is, peer pressure to participate in certain activities or trends or events exists among Christians as much as it exists in any other group, and I’d argue that for Christians it’s especially difficult to navigate, because we often wonder if it’s okay not to like something “godly,” or to want to do something different than all of the believers around us are doing.  When is it okay to take a pass and not participate, to be the odd duck of the group?

As a certified odd duck myself, I have some thoughts on how you can identify and deal with Christian peer pressure around a particular issue or practice:

1) Ask yourself what the Bible says about a particular issue.  Many Christian trends, events, and practices are based on Biblical principles, but are not in and of themselves inherently Scriptural.  God commands us, for example, not to forsake fellowship, but “Thou shalt attend weekly dinners” is nowhere in the Bible.  Similarly, the Bible contains many precepts about relationships, but does not command that you refrain from kissing until your wedding day.  Be sure to differentiate between the two concepts.  You’re bound to God’s word as a believer, but you are not inherently bound to all the practices, techniques, and ideas that have been generated from it.

2) Talk to God about it.  I think we have to be careful and sit down with God to assess our own motives, ideas, and thoughts around participating or not participating in something.  For my part, when the accountability groups became a popular practice, I didn’t really want to join the local one because I didn’t know the group members well and lacked the shared trust I felt I needed with them for such brutal honesty.  Still, I felt it was important to examine my own motives.  “Do I want to avoid an accountability group because I don’t want to be held accountable in my Christian walk?” I asked myself.  “Or do I just feel like that method of accountability doesn’t work for me?”  The second question turned out to be my honest feeling on the matter, but talking to God about it helped me be sure of it.  Ask God what He wants you to do, or to resolve your feelings about what is best for you; He’ll respond.

3) Be at peace with being different.  There are as many different ways to live a Christian life as there are Christians. Certainly we all agree on core doctrinal truths and practices and ways of living, but beyond that the options are infinite.  Some Christians love accountability groups and small groups and godly courtship; bless them.  Other Christians flock to the popular study of the moment, finding themselves drawn to Rick Warren’s A Purpose-Driven Life or The Prayer of Jabez. Some Christians love class and workshops and in-depth lectures; others love retreats and godly hiking and Christian concerts.  And it’s all fine!

Because of Christ, we can “live as free people” – and, according to 1 Peter 2:16, as long as we “do not use our freedom as a cover-up for evil” and live instead as servants of God, we may pick and choose among the buffet of Christian activities and trends that float our way.  Don’t feel guilty if you can’t get into the cool new Christian “thing,” whatever it is, and don’t judge those who can.  You’re free to be yourself, living and acting in love.

4) Don’t judge others. I never really found the concept of “godly courtship” to be helpful to me.  I was never really into the accountability group movement, either.  It just didn’t really work – for me.  But I do know that for a lot of other people, both of these practices have made a significant difference.  They’ve been helpful Christian tools.  Even if something doesn’t work for you personally – whether you had a bad experience or it just wasn’t happening or it felt like a waste of time – understand that because we’re all different, others might not share your experience.  Do your best to support everyone in the things they do that bring them closer to Christ.

For believers today, there are so many options available to us to help strengthen and participate in our faith.  Every day churches come up with new ideas for fellowship and growth.  It makes sense that some of them will stick, and some won’t, and that none of them will work for everyone.  Feel free to experiment and to pass on what doesn’t suit you while pursuing what does – God’s children are a blessed array of people and personalities, made unique and individual by Him for His purpose.  Embrace it.

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6 responses to “Christian Peer Pressure: When It’s Okay To Be Out Of Step Sometimes

  1. In Corinthians, Paul rebuked the Christians for “going along” with a lot of bad practices. It is always critical that we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2.12) We should always examine God’s Word, our motives and the activity itself before participating in or abstaining from certain things.
    Great thoughts!

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    • That’s a wonderful verse that relates so well here. Critical thinking is always a good thing, and being willing to be introspective about what we’re doing and why is invaluable.

      Thanks!

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  2. I believe one of the worst things Christianity can do is to create a ‘one way works for all’ approach to living out day to day life. I wasn’t really surrounded by a courtship community, so in a big way it is out of step with how normal life goes in this area. For one, it fails older Christians. It’s one thing for a 16 year old to ask a dad’s permission, it’s another for a 26 year old to do likewise. For another, when my church began emphasizing gender role teaching, it was awkward to be told that women must never initiate a relationship and yet be the only long-term single person still going to church. They all looked at me with a combination of pity for still being single and confusion as to why no one had asked me to marry them. I’m just glad that the whole ‘True Love Waits’ and ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ didn’t catch on in my church while I was in high school. Things were confusing enough without their input. Courtship functions best with like-minded people, but my parents had raised me to be an adult who is capable of making my own decisions about who I’m supposed love and how that love takes shape. That’s why I ultimately rejected courtship teachings. That said, there are some people that need the rules and regulations of courtship teachings because that eliminates some awkwardness of traditional dating – and they should be allowed to have it. They just shouldn’t be allowed to force other people into it as the most godly way of dating because it’s no better or worse than any other way of dating – it’s just not right for everyone.

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    • “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” – that was the one all my college friends were reading. I remember now! It had a guy with a hat on the cover, I think. I remember coming in one day and everyone had this entire new vocabulary and set of concepts from that one book; the one guy I courtship-dated would actually quote verbatim to me from it and would literally pull it out mid-date to check what we should or should not be doing. (Romantic!)

      You’re right too that courtship-styled dating sort of disregards a big swath of the demographic. It made sense to the college crowd I was in (at a secular school, interestingly) but love and dating are so complicated especially when you factor in things like age that some times it just doesn’t apply to certain couples or individuals.

      Laughing about the “only long-term single person” in your congregation – I’ve not experienced that, though my husband and I are currently the “only long-term childfree couple” and that’s been amusing too. It’s true that no one thing is going to work for all people. It’s just impossible. And you’re right – for some people courtship dating works and it’s necessary and it does make the most sense in communities where believers share a like mind about that sort of thing. But people for whom that sort of thing just doesn’t work should feel free to take a pass on it, or whatever the flavor-of-the-moment is that doesn’t quite fit.

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