Mark Driscoll, Will You Marry Me? Or Looking for Mr. Right at Christian (W)Life College

by Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh
  In my many travels through the evangelical/Pentecostal subculture, one particular subset of that life has fascinated me more perhaps than any other. The curious dating dance that occurs at bible colleges and evangelically oriented universities, where as I have been told numerous times, women go to meet their future husbands.  This selective process is intended to weed out anyone who women and men would consider incompatible and unequally yoked. Since I know quite a few of these pairings, some more successful than others, I thought it would be a good history lesson to see how these pairings are actually orchestrated--yes, I am afraid that the marriage industry, as created by mid-20th century marketers of jewelry and other assorted wedding accouterments  is not the only thing manufactured, since, it is at these bible colleges and universities, where, with apologies to Noam Chomsky, evangelicals are busy manufacturing consent--to appropriate dress, to appropriate dating, and eventually, to marriage. Here are only a few examples.

Emmanuel College, located in rural Georgia, was founded in 1919, making it one of the earliest Pentecostal bible institutes.  It  is a part of the Pentecostal Holiness denomination. It is difficult to disentangle the behavior from dress codes and in fact to separate all this from the overwhelming desire all of these bible institutes have to maintain marriage as the final culmination of one’s life.  Emmanuel College students’ sexual lives are strictly regulated, in accordance with what the college believes is biblical teaching. As such,  premarital, extramarital, homosexual relationships, acts and practices are forbidden.  Emmanuel’s dress codes are in keeping with the goals of regulating women’s dress and behavior by explicitly making it a way to de-sexualize women. Men’s dress on the other hand, while subtly arresting some physical attraction,  (assuming seeing men without shirts is considered alluring), are meant to make them more professional. They erase the boyish appearance of youthful immaturity with the more “grown-up” look of shirts and slacks, where t-shirts are to be worn under all shirts.

A perennial favorite for restriction since perhaps mid 19th century, but definitely since the late 19th century Holiness movement, is the prohibition on dancing.  Students should at no time engage in overt demonstrations of affection, behavior, physical displays of affection in public or private that include but are not limited to “excessive kissing, inappropriate touching or laying down on couches.” (The last one I imagine would be self-explanatory).

Elim Bible Institute in upstate New York was founded in 1924. Its dress and behavior codes are focused on professionalizing the students, minimizing their casual appearance, and de-emphazing women’s sexuality much more than men. For men, there are no muscle shirts, shorts, hats or earrings. For women, there are no low-cut blouses or sleeveless tops.  The rules governing behavior seemed to be aimed not only at reinforcing the moral codes of the school, but in regulating the social lives of the student’s relationships, more so than Emmanuel.

At Elim, freshmen cannot date and they need written permission from parents and the Dean to continue an ongoing relationship.  There is no explanation for this given so we can speculate that because freshman are normally expected to be younger than most other students, their perceived immaturity would worry school officials. More curious is the prohibition against engaged couples continuing their relationship on campus, which requires a Dean’s approval and authorization to do things such as hold hands. As a deterrent to interrupting their studies by getting married, students are encouraged to wait till they graduate to get married.  Still, the idea that approval from a school official will deter an engaged couple from holding hands seems quaint to an outsider but makes perfect sense in a Pentecostal context where bible institutes serve as a traditional bridge from adolescence to adulthood. 

            Zion Bible College in Massachusetts stresses similar dress and behavior codes regarding modest dress, professionalism, and restrictions on dating, kissing, holding hands, and any kind of “physical familiarity.” In a nod to Pentecostalism’s nearly universal denial that same-sex attraction occurs or is even possible, Zion actually allows same-sex sleep-overs in the dorms, though one doubts that this freedom would extend to men as well as women. The behavioral codes, especially regarding homosexuality, include coded references to “behavior or practices,” assuming one can tell who is and who is not gay by examining specific non-sexual behavior patterns.   

            Finally Evangel University in Missouri, founded in 1955 states simply that everything that is not in keeping with “biblical principles” is forbidden, and leaves it at that.  In contrast, their system of punishments for varying levels of infractions is almost dizzying in its detail. For a first offenses for improper displays of affection, there is no sanction. Social dancing is an “alert level 2” with a $25 fine. The second offense is punishable by up to 8 weeks probation and another fine.  The levels for sexual infractions are so numerous that it may be worth noting that Evangel punishes both gay and straight forms of sexual activity. There are levels of punishment for having sex outside of marriage. There are various levels of punishment for “sexting,” but not as serious as say genital contact or oral sex, which are both level one infractions, and both have a $100 fine "with the possibility of STD testing required afterward."

There are a multiplicity of anecdotal stories about students realizing that these moral and behavioral codes were simply too onerous to bear--so one group of dorm mates established a kind of infraction fund they kept in a jar--just in case.  

            One can see here the foundation of the evangelical marriage seminar industry, the “I Left Dating Behind” books, the chastity rings, and yes, if you look really closely, you can see a slightly stubbly Mark Driscoll talking about submission and his “smokin’ hot wife,” and if you don’t blink, perhaps you can see future husbands and wives putting money into the jar on a Friday night.



An interesting topic. However, this blog post is filled with far more grammatical errors and typos than usually appear on this blog. Was it perhaps published prematurely by accident?
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said…
Per a recent internet controversy, how they other half [99%?] lives:

"First of all, I -- like many college kids -- was simply not conditioned to even think about coupling beyond my next formal date. Secondly, these men may very well have been la crème de la crème, but they were also the guys who, on a Friday night, were more likely to be seen drunkenly stumbling around a frat basement or sloppily sucking face with some girl in a bar.

The same is true of women: Myself and my female peers might have been intelligent, engaging, and vibrant students bound for success, but all of that went out the window when seen at 9 o'clock on Sunday morning, walk-of-shaming home from the frat house.

Patton is mistaken in her assumption that the only reason women are delaying marriage is because they have prioritized "professional advancement [and] breaking through that glass ceiling" above finding a husband. This assessment presumes that women are in total control; that, should a young woman decide to value finding a good husband as much as finding a good job, she will find both, no problem. What a convenient narrative. Unfortunately, ladies, it's simply not true. After all, what guy wants to marry some girl who has slept with half of their friends by the end of sophomore year?"

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