(David) Okay, a couple assumptions at the outset.
First, a father has authority over the marriage of a daughter living in his home. This is demonstrated in Scripture by the father’s right to negate a marriage occasioned by a man’s seduction of his virgin daughter.
Second, nowhere ever is sex permitted outside marriage. However, it’s also the case that sex between unmarried adults establishes marriage when promises are exchanged and a father doesn’t veto.
Third, respect for authority is vital. But respect doesn’t require agreement. Nor does it necessitate absolute, unwavering, slavish obedience. Abigail respected Nabal by going to David with her caravan of goods, thus saving Nabal’s life—though he may not have seen it as respectful submission in the midst of his drunken stupor. Authentic authority is not always wise or godly authority. And just as we seek to change the hearts and minds of earthly rulers, so a suitor’s attempts to win a wife don’t necessarily have to come to a clanging stop at a father’s no, though the heart of the father’s authority over his daughter’s marriage must be respected.
Now, having established these baseline assumptions—and I mean them folks, don’t think I don’t—several thoughts about wooing as warfare when the father and family oppose the marriage.
First, let me say very clearly that parents can be—and often are—wrong in their opinions about daughter’s suitors. You may think you’d never act contrary to God’s will for the good of your daughter. Fine, let’s stipulate the truth of this in your case and move on to Ralph, your unwise, not-so-devout friend who just might let personal feelings, biases and plain old ignorance interfere.
Ralph doesn’t want a manual worker for his precious dancer/free spirit/artist daughter. She deserves a doctor, better yet, a professor like himself. Or he doesn’t want a hopeless patriarchalist intruding upon and blighting his daughter’s freedom. Now, here’s the thing: courtship and parental authority aren’t just for Christians. If you’re committed to courtship and parental authority and you just happen to be attracted to the godly daughter of a raving lefty at the local university who hates Christians on principle, you can’t just back out of your commitment to courtship and the father’s authority. You’ve got to beard the man and win his approval, knowing that he’s probably going to say no to you simply because you’re a Christian. What do you do then?
Here are several things to bear in mind….
First, and slightly off the point of the question I pose above, approaching the father at the very outset of your interest in his daughter is probably unwise. Get to know the girl. Get to know if you’re interested in her. See if there’s a reciprocal spark of enthusiasm in her. And remember the assumptions we began with. No sexual acts, not even holding her hand. But go for the girl. Go as far as you’re honestly able in gaining her heart before approaching her father. Speak to her father when she tells you she can’t go further in good conscience or when he asks you what you’re up to. Don’t borrow trouble. Don’t go to dad when neither you nor the girl know exactly what you think about each other. Don’t awaken love before its time.
Remember, the girl you’re pursuing is going to read the world into your approach to her dad. Make sure you’re ready to awaken that kind of emotion and man enough to prosecute your suit in the face of it. And, though I hate to mention this, it’s also possible that you’re persuaded something wonderful is there when she’s merely suffering you. It happens, men: you think something great is happening and she’s simply being kind. Go to the father when the daughter’s uninterested and you’ll awaken scorn rather than love.
Second, if dad opposes, ask yourself if you’re pursuing the right woman. The answer here isn’t obvious either way. It may be that God is demonstrating His “no” through the father’s. But—and this is equally possible—the father may simply need more reason to say yes. Not every no is final. Many are probationary. Is there something you can do to alter his opinion? If so, seek it and do it. Perhaps he’s made his objections to some part of your relationship quite clear and you can meet those objections in good conscience. Well then, do so.
Third, if dad opposes and you believe God wants you married to his daughter, consider triangulation. This, brothers, is where war becomes serious. Triangulation turns a daughter into an ally against her father. Now you will already have begun triangulating simply by gaining a place in the daughter’s heart—this is, after all, your strongest suit with any father. But a further step in this direction is to take the opposite tack. If you are committed to obtaining the father’s approval and he unreasonably withholds it—and if you’re certain God wants you to marry the girl—then consider making very clear to both daughter and father your continued interest and desire for marriage and the impediment his refusal places in your path. Make this fundamentally clear to both, then tell them that because of the father’s refusal you are forced to break all contact with the daughter until and unless the father changes his mind. Finally, do as you say: break contact. Do it absolutely and unflinchingly. Be brave. Don’t say one thing and do another. Totally break contact. Trust God and give her up.
This is war. But it’s also love. You might just have to sacrifice your hopes to gain the girl. Does God want you married to her? If so, trust Him by renouncing her. Remember, Abraham did the same with Isaac and received him back. Do so in faith. Demonstrate to the father the seriousness of his refusal by acting in accord with it. Put the pressure entirely on him. Make his daughter your ally by forcing him to face her desperate unhappiness at your departure from her life. Give him no other option than a stark choice between total responsibility for her unhappiness and capitulation to your suit.
If the man who sets out to woo a woman gives up simply because her father refuses his approval, I question his manhood and the extent of his commitment in the first place. Take it to the father, men. Wage war. Do so respectfully. Don’t betray foundational commitments. Don’t sin in the way you fight your battle. But do fight, man, fight for your bride, fight every foe: change yourself if necessary, fight your own weaknesses and sins; change her father; make it clear to all that you’ll fight to the end to gain her. A real man will do no less.