Arranged Marriages? Ewww!

I never seriously thought about arranged marriages as a way for people to find their life-partners until after moving to the USA. To be sure, America is not a match-making country.  But it was in America that I heard a preacher castigating arranged marriages as something unchristian.  I had never really thought much about the subject but I instantly knew this preacher was talking nonsense.

The Bible does not advocate arranged marriages, but it is certainly depicted in a good light. The most significant is the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac needs the help of his father Abraham and their servant Eliezer to find him a wife (Gen 24:1-4); and Rebekah agrees to the marriage without fuss (Gen 24:57-58). They have one of the best marriages in the Bible.

Not all marriages are arranged in the Bible.  There are romance marriages as well. We have no statistics to determine which was the norm, but it is more likely that arranged marriages were more common.

But we do not need to peer through thousands of years to look at arranged marriages. Indian Christians tend to have arranged marriages to this day, regardless of whether they live in India, Singapore or America. And they have the lowest divorce rates! And it was the Indian Christian arranged marriages that cause me to rethink.

Chinese Christians look to the west for Christian leadership, and the cultural packing is undeniable.  Arranged marriages are not the norm in the west.  We Christians look at the often terrible marriages of our parents, or grand-parents, and we easily find the reason for their failures and the solution all at once. And what a sweet solution! The problem is that they have arranged marriages!

This, we say, is why they quarrel and do not love each other.  That is why the man who has the means, takes on many wives.  That is why the women who feel betrayed escape to the celibacy offered by Buddhism when their husbands leave them for a young thing. There is so much pain in the Chinese marriage customs that our rejection of arranged marriages is no more than a desire to find a better model.

When we embrace Christianity, we unconsciously adopt western thinking as Christian (bride wearing white, wedding ring, ceremony in church, etc.)  The west did not have arranged marriages, so we reject it. The traditional western “courtship” model (when the boy goes to the girl’s home to bring her out) never caught on. In Singapore, we Christian singles just do our own dating thing (like the west), try not to get into trouble while doing our own thing, and when we think we have done enough of our dating, we tell our parents. They really have no choice but to approve. It’s almost like we are telling our parents, “I’m going to marry him/her so please approve so things will be good at the wedding.”

Those in the Christian faith and outside of it are quite similar in the family dynamics of finding a life-partner.  Parents are there just to give the rubber stamp. Parents do not arrange marriages.

We who are Christian parents today have no model of parental involvement in a Christian way, and we don’t know how to provide one.  Our children are now in their marriageable age.  We have not taught them how to look for a spouse, because we ourselves just stumbled into it.  And to compound matters, some of us struggle with the shame of failed marriages; or at the least, failures within our marriages. Who are we to tell our children what to do?

Young people today ask the same questions we asked when we were young. “How do I choose a life-partner? What do I do on a date? How do we keep from going too far? What if I marry the wrong person?” Our response? “I wish I know! If I know the answer to these questions, I will not make all these mistakes!” We have no answer in our own life and we have no answer to theirs.  In fact, the greater likelihood is that while they ask these questions, they don’t ask us!

Whatever the answer to these questions, Christians rarely think of arranged marriages as a possible solution. We are just programmed to reject it out of hand. Yet, today, we do have arranged marriages. Marriages arranged by software. Perhaps it is time to revisit arranged marriages.

[continue next week]

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