Wooing as Warfare, part 5: protecting our daughters?

(David) A bedrock principle of the modern courtship movement is the father's duty to protect his daughter at the point of marriage. And it's true, fathers are called by God to be guardians of their children. But should fatherly protection take a radically different form for coming-of-age daughters than for coming-of-age sons? Well, yes and no.

Scripture reveals certain fatherly privileges that apply only to daughters. A father can veto his daughter's vows and God will hold her guiltless. More to the point, a father can refuse to give a seduced virgin to her would-be husband:

Exodus 22:16-17
If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.

Though the virgin's father can reject his daughter's consummated union, the seducer's father possesses no such veto. Yet Scripture also assumes that the virgin's father will usually accept his daughter's de facto union. Because a seduced daughter is less marriageable than a virgin daughter, a dowry payment is required should the father "absolutely refuse."

But beyond such paternal vetoes, does Scripture reveal a different approach to protecting daughters than sons? Are daughters close-held treasures while sons are javelins tossed to the wind?

No. In fact, Scripture's picture is one of fathers and mothers seeking to influence and protect both sons and daughters at the time of marriage. Abraham seeks a bride for Isaac. Bethuel asks Rebekah if she will go with Abraham's servant to Isaac. Isaac sends Jacob to the house of Bethuel to seek a wife. Manoah seeks to influence Samson's choice of women. Judah refuses his sons to Tamar.

Instead of calling fathers to exercise special protection over their daughters at the point of marriageability, Scripture demands intense fatherly care and discipline (over sons and daughters alike) in younger years which decreases as age and maturity advance. Daughters and sons must both be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Both should be taught God's Word day and night. Both should be warned of the dangers of sin, the consequences of fast friends and the hazards of adultery. Sons and daughters should be jointly warned of the deadly embrace of the Proverbial loose woman--sons warned against her embrace, daughters against becoming her.

But such nurture has a goal. We don't train our children for war only to shield them perpetually from battle. Training and nurture point to independence, an independence of father and mother that is ultimately dependence on God. Godly daughters raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and lovingly cared for by fathers from infancy will be radically unlikely to reject their father's input when considering marriage. Nothing in the world is more natural than for a daughter raised in this manner to seek her father's opinion and approval when she considers a man as a potential husband. Fathers fear having their daughters' hearts stolen. Brothers, those of us who have our daughters' hearts should not fear this. Fear in such situations borders on faithlessness. God gives us promises for such times. This is precisely why we raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

If a father can't trust his grown daughter’s choices after years of such care, it's as much an indictment of him as of her. What do we reveal of our confidence in our daughters if we must interrogate each man she lingers with in the church parking lot? Where is our faith if we cannot trust her to share a casual cup of coffee with a man at Starbucks? Is this Scripture's picture of father-daughter protection? Or are we perhaps treating our daughters like the women we wish them never to be—weak women incapable of saying no and susceptible to seduction? 

Fathers who insist on approving their daughter's male friends from their first blush of romantic interest on embrace a view of fatherly responsibility simultaneously grandiose and abdicating. Grandiose and overly ambitious in that the father's authority over his grown daughter is never described in Scripture as reaching its apex in its control over her courtship and marriage. Grandiose also in that the man who thinks he should be in total control of his godly daughter's marital destiny is probably tragically unaware of his own depravity and fallibility. Abdicating in that the man who must govern his grown daughter's every relationship probably neglected to train her in wisdom and righteousness in the first place.

The Biblical ethic of male leadership and care for women is so foreign to our culture that when Christian men do awaken to it they tend to exaggerate. They overcompensate. Yes we are to protect our women. It's our God-given duty. But protection begins at birth, not puberty. Training begins before our daughters can speak, not when they're giving their hearts to a man.

Ultimately, godly fatherhood is one long path of training and challenging, of protection and releasing in faith. Yes, if our daughter sins we must oppose her. Yes, we have a duty to counsel--and ultimately to give her hand in marriage. But if we suddenly stand and act as men only at the point of romance, when our daughters' hearts are being claimed by others, it's too little too late. The cows are already in the pasture, there's no sense rushing to close the gate.

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Comments

I wonder what you consider a "grown daughter?" A young woman in her late teens may be ready to be a wife, and yet have less experience in the world and therefore be less able to spot undesirable qualities in a young man to whom she is attracted. I think the father should be active in helping her "screen" young men from the time of "their first blush of romantic interest." I don't think that's grandiose, but helpful and wise. If the young woman is unmarried in her mid-twenties, she has more experience of the world and may be much safer getting to know a young man a little before her father gets involved, without getting too emotionally entangled prematurely (i.e. before all the facts are in on the young man's character and qualifications.)

Definition of a neoconservative: only a liberal with a newly teenaged daughter ;-)

(see recently)

From the post I get this message to fathers:

1) Protect your daughters, but also protect your sons.

2) If your unmarried daughter sins, you are responsible. If you are genuinely concerned that your unmarried daughter may commit the sin of fornication, you are responsible. Specifically, you have not been properly protecting her throughout her life.

3) If you have failed to protect her in such a way, trying to make up for all that with a "Maginot Line" against all potential suitors isn't going to correct the underlying problem and (since it is unbiblical) will cause more problems.

And more specifically:

4) If you have protected her properly, then you shouldn't insist that a young man talk to you before talking to your daughter and displaying initial interest.

5) Further, that sort of contact could include going out for a cup of coffee or some such.

I've really only read Doug Wilson and Mike & Debi Pearl on this subject, so I don't know the whole spectrum of the "courtship" movement, but I don't think any of what I've read disagrees with 1-3. I think they'd also agree with 4, with the premise that the daughter is capable of handling herself if the man is obviously unsuitable. You might get some resistance on 5, if you mean before the young man has declared himself to the father (though if the young man simply didn't know the father's expectations, which is common today, then I think the authors mentioned would suggest that the father be patient).

So, agreeing wholeheartedly that "protection begins at birth, not puberty" and that "Fathers who insist on approving their daughter's male friends from their first blush of romantic interest on embrace a view of fatherly responsibility simultaneously grandiose and abdicating", I ask: at what point should a father insist on approving an interested man? What sort of interaction between the potential suitor and daughter is ok before that? Is this a sliding scale dependant on the daughter's physical age, spiritual maturity, living situation (i.e. gone to college, overseas for missions, living with her parents, etc), or all three?

Thanks,

Keith

From the post I get this message to fathers:

1) Protect your daughters, but also protect your sons.

2) If your unmarried daughter sins, you are responsible. If you are genuinely concerned that your unmarried daughter may commit the sin of fornication, you are responsible. Specifically, you have not been properly protecting her throughout her life.

3) If you have failed to protect her in such a way, trying to make up for all that with a "Maginot Line" against all potential suitors isn't going to correct the underlying problem and (since it is unbiblical) will cause more problems.

And more specifically:

4) If you have protected her properly, then you shouldn't insist that a young man talk to you before talking to your daughter and displaying initial interest.

5) Further, that sort of contact could include going out for a cup of coffee or some such.

(continued, got caught in the spam filter when I tried it all together)

I've really only read Doug Wilson and Mike & Debi Pearl on this subject, so I don't know the whole spectrum of the "courtship" movement, but I don't think any of what I've read disagrees with 1-3. I think they'd also agree with 4, with the premise that the daughter is capable of handling herself if the man is obviously unsuitable. You might get some resistance on 5, if you mean before the young man has declared himself to the father (though if the young man simply didn't know the father's expectations, which is common today, then I think the authors mentioned would suggest that the father be patient).

So, agreeing wholeheartedly that "protection begins at birth, not puberty" and that "Fathers who insist on approving their daughter's male friends from their first blush of romantic interest on embrace a view of fatherly responsibility simultaneously grandiose and abdicating", I ask: at what point should a father insist on approving an interested man? What sort of interaction between the potential suitor and daughter is ok before that? Is this a sliding scale dependant on the daughter's physical age, spiritual maturity, living situation (i.e. gone to college, overseas for missions, living with her parents, etc), or all three?

Thanks,

Keith

Dear Keith,

Thanks for your excellent comments. I think you nailed it by saying there's no easy, or even necessary, answer. "When?" would be a question I would tend to oppose--or to answer with a simple, "Yes." To do more is to exceed Scripture.

Your brother in Christ,

David

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