Random Thought on Arranged Marriage

I was scrolling thought FB when a post popped up made by the wife of a missionary I met when I was on a short-term trip almost 10 years ago (social media truly is an amazing thing). She and her husband are both non-westerners and doing long-term ministry in a non-western country. She wrote:

Every parent’s dream is to find a person who can love their daughter more than them. You are the best decision of my life made by my parents. Thank you hubby for being the perfect man for me.

This spurred several random thoughts about arranged marriage, in no particular order:

  1. How sad it is that this is not the dream of most American parents–even Christian ones. In America (and probably other western countries), every parent’s dream for their daughter is that she get an education and have a career so that she has something to fall back on if the marriage doesn’t work out (men are notoriously unreliable, after all). Also, it would be good for her to have a chance to travel before being captive in the home for the rest of her life.

  2. How beautiful it is to trust one’s parents to make such a decision. I’m sure she had input in the process, herself, but the decision was ultimately not hers. It’s cool to think of wise parents knowing their children well enough to pick a suitable spouse for them. How many western parents even know their kids well enough to make such a decision? It seems like the process of choosing a spouse for your son or daughter would really force you to be honest with yourself about their strengths and flaws (and sins) and shatter much of the blind idealism American Christian parents can tend to have toward our kids.

  3. Thinking Scripturally, my recollection is that marriages tend to be arranged, but it’s not always neat and tidy. Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. Isaac and Rebekah send Jacob to their own people to look for a wife. Joseph and Moses marry with no input from parents, though the women’s fathers are identified (and certainly involved). With Ruth and Boaz, Naomi is certainly playing matchmaker, at least for Ruth’s part. And Boaz goes through the kinsman-redeemer before taking Ruth as his wife. I suppose the pattern here is that the man seeks a wife and the woman is given as a wife to the man. A more thorough study would be interesting worthwhile.

  4. In our context, I think we’re missing a lot of the cultural cache required to make arranged marriage work on a broader societal level the way it does in non-western countries. But I think Christian parents should raise our kids with the expectation that we, their parents, will be involved in the process of choosing their spouse. Similar to other discussions about Fatherhood and authority, there is a way to do this that is cartoonish and oppressive. Don’t do that. But if God the Father chose (elected) a bride for His Son, why should Christian parents not imitate this?

7 Likes

Most iterations of courtship teaching assume a big role for the father(s) somewhere along the way. And travel is an excellent thing to do, anyway, but that is another story … :slight_smile:

1 Like

I don’t have anything against traveling. But I’ve known of more than a few young women who are given to wanderlust. Vagrancy equals freedom and putting down roots is scorned.

2 Likes

“Her feet will not stay at home…”

1 Like

During my single years I was on the periphery of the courtship movement. Even though the basic idea appealed to me, my observations of people who did try to implement a strict courtship/etc. framework on their children led me to conclude that it would never work unless it developed organically within the community. Unilateral imposition by a father who read a book and applied a theoretical system seemed generally to lead to disaster.

2 Likes

My own observation is that it doesn’t work to import part of a system. If you want to do arranged marriages, fine, but you’ve got to bring back the bride price, too. Some people might say, “Fine. Great. All the better.” But most with some common sense are going to be set back on their heals by that, I hope. Why? So they can ask themselves the question not only of what one part of the system accomplished, but how it worked as a part of the whole system, and whether that system actually accomplishes the same things today, much less whether the one part imported would accomplish it.

Take the example of a father and mother that insists on courtship and the father’s permission to even court his daughter in the first place being necessary. But they send their daughter off to live and work a full-time job, supporting herself three states away. Is that going to work? No, and I hope it’s obvious why.

Furthermore, if a father (or more likely a mother) reads this and decides they know how to solve the problem—by keeping the daughter at home, as in biblical times—will that work? No. Not unless you’ve got something productive for her to do. So, you decide you’re going to have a Productive Household™, until you realize you don’t have the foggiest clue what that actually means.

I’m not opposed to arranged marriages per se. But even in modern cultures that do that, there is a lot wrapped up in making it work as a system. It’s not just about having parents that are good at making an inspired choice.

For example, when we had refugees fresh from Sudan over for dinner one time, they asked us how we were related. Well… we’re married. “Yes, but how were you related before that? We’re cousins.” You don’t marry your relatives here, we informed them. “Then how do you get married?”

That’s how foreign the systems are.

4 Likes

I once had a long, confusing conversation with a Muslim guy where he tried to explain to me that there was a law in America that married couples couldn’t live with their (his) parents after they got married. We talked past each other for a bit (between us we shared about .60 of a language) until I finally realized that he couldn’t conceive of a reason why else someone would move out of his parents’ home after getting married.

One of the strangest conversations of my life was asking my now father-in-law “permission” to marry his daughter. He had been absent at this point for a number of years and emotionally absent since my wife was very small. I put “permission” in scare quotes because I couldn’t actually bring myself to ask it that way. It was too farcical. I think I said something like, “Hey, I’m going to ask your daughter to marry me and I’d like to have your blessing.” Subtext was that I was going to ask her to marry me with or without his blessing. I’m not sure whether he picked up on that.
I was bracing myself for him to pepper me with some obligatory overprotective father questions, but instead he told me that he had always liked me and that he was sure I would take good care of her. He actually seemed pretty relieved. I think, in his mind, marrying off his last daughter relieved him of all remaining fatherly responsibility he had been neglecting for years.

From that conversation, I learned a lot about what kind of father I don’t want to be. And it meant a lot to my wife that I would ask him before asking her. And he treated me to Chinese buffet. So all around a good time.

1 Like

You and I had very similar circumstances and experiences, including the response received. I didn’t get Chinese, but he did mute the nature show he was watching for the few minutes we were talking, though.

My father-in-law looked confused and said, “Wait, which one?”

Apparently my wife’s oldest sister was the prime pick for marriage on account of being, supposedly, more attractive. I disagreed ;p