For a while earlier this year, whenever I signed out of my Facebook account, I would see a full-screen ad for a Christian dating service. Now, this was troubling if only because my Facebook relationship status is very clearly Married; I hate to think what Facebook thinks it’s learned about me that makes me a good target for a dating service of any kind. But especially one like Christian Mingle, which aims to “Find God’s match for you.”
Even the administrators of that service seem to understand they’re in weird theological territory, since their website acknowledges that their tagline has been “controversial.”
To clarify, while we in no way mean that ChristianMingle is the only place where one can find the person God has meant for them, we do believe ChristianMingle is a tool God can and has used to bring people together….”Find God’s Match For You” articulates our proven success of being a vehicle God can use for the greater good of the community.
However you respond to this understanding of how God works, Baylor grad student Paul Putz reminds us that there’s nothing new about organizations like Christian Mingle. Posting yesterday at Religion & Politics, Putz went back 110 years in American history to tell the story of a Nebraska rancher who approached a Holiness pastor named Charles Savidge with an odd offer: if Savidge would help him find a wife, the rancher would bankroll a matchmaking agency. (Putz wrote more on Savidge last year in an article for the journal Nebraska History.) At first, Savidge declined, but eight years later he set up such an enterprise in Omaha:
The oddity of having a preacher playing the role of Cupid made the rounds in newspapers for decades, with stories on Savidge’s matrimonial bureau and on-demand wedding services appearing in print from Spokane to New York. “I just simply bring the man who wants a wife and the woman who wants a husband together,” Savidge told the Boston Globe. “God and nature do the rest.”
While Christian Mingle (launched, Putz notes, by the Jewish founders of a Jewish dating site) has attracted the ridicule of Stephen Colbert, it and its competitors may be far more significant than their distant forefather in turn-of-the-century Omaha:
Savidge’s enterprise, existing at a time of white, Protestant hegemony, was an interesting historical footnote without much of a lasting impact. Modern matchmaking services like Christian Mingle have the potential to be more than a punch line: they can also play a role in ensuring that conservative evangelicals marry within the faith, raise children in the faith, and maintain prominence on the national stage for generations to come.
Read the rest of Putz’s article: he goes into changing understandings of marriage over American history and why Christian matchmaking is particularly attractive to many evangelicals — while equally troubling to others. “Indeed, it is possible,” observes Putz, “that dating sites like Christian Mingle—conservative Christian cul-de-sacs—may turn out to be one key to the continued influence of evangelicalism in the United States. After all, dating sites are increasingly a portal from which new Christian families can begin their existence.”
Perhaps, though I do wonder if such dating sites have overtaken either Christian colleges or local churches as centers for matchmaking. My own experience is limited here: I didn’t attend a Christian college, but as a professor at one I certainly see plenty of anecdotal evidence that many students at Bethel see finding a mate as a key reason for attending such an institution; I did meet my wife at church, but the way we met seems uncommon, even in such religious communities. (She was a student in one of my adult Sunday School classes. A good story for another time…)