Swipe right for a wife:
The curious phenomenon of Christian dating websites
Dating platforms are currently experiencing a boom thanks to the pandemic. But should Christians be wary of signing up to Catholic Match, or is swiping right justified in this day and age?
Dating in a time of COVID-19
It turns out that a pandemic is a sure way to destroy people’s chances of meeting new people and finding love. With Europe in lockdown for much of 2020, and into 2021, many have turned to the internet to help them find a partner. Dating sites such as Tinder, Match.com, and Hinge have seen big increases in signups and usage because of COVID-19.
Christians are also increasingly turning to online dating to help them find a partner, with some Christian dating platforms reporting an increase of at least 20% each month since March 2020 compared to the year before. And there are numerous websites and apps that cater to the Christian user, who may feel uncomfortable with the mainstream alternatives.
Dating apps such as Tinder have a reputation for helping people have casual sex, without the expectation of any long-term commitment. This is commonly thought of as counter to the Christian sacrament of marriage. Indeed, even the very idea of using the internet to find a partner is abhorrent to some Christians. The creator of one prominent UK-based Christian dating site has said that she has noticed hostility from some evangelical Christians. They see her service as distasteful meddling in God’s plan, and that ‘[i]f God wants you to find somebody, then it will happen’.
I have surveyed three prominent Christian dating sites in the UK to try to understand the phenomenon and its appeal, as well as scrutinise any weaknesses.
This is one of the oldest dating sites, being launched over 20 years ago. It has also featured in the BBC’s Songs of Praise, and won various awards. They give quite detailed criteria about those who are able to use their platform. In order to qualify as a Christian, according to Christian Connection, you must be Trinitarian (therefore excluding many denominations including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Christian Scientists, and Mormons), and assent to a sort of home-made creed. This somewhat arbitrary definition of ‘Christian’ may be seen as a weak point. What if I call myself a Christian, and desperately want to find a spouse, but cannot literally accept the ascension of Jesus Christ, as the platform demands?
Christian Connection does allow LGBTQ people to sign up to their platform, and stresses the importance of accepting the beliefs of others. The site’s creator, Jackie Elton, says that one of her main motivations was the invisibility of single people in churches. A recent survey found that more than a third of single people feel ignored, inadequate, and think they are treated differently from those in relationships. Church leaders are so focused on families and married couples that they often forget single people exist and have needs too, and often do not know how to meet these needs pastorally and theologically, she believes. She has also noticed embarrassment in churches about the issue, and fear of seeming like a match-making service.
Also popular in the UK, ChristianMingle.com emphasises the ‘customisability’ of their platform. You can search using any number of categories, and define your Christian identity precisely. It allows indecision and ambiguity: denomination choices include ‘non-denominational’, ‘interdenominational’, and ‘not sure yet’. Unlike Christian Connection, they are clearly accepting of a broader range of what it means to be a Christian. However, their acceptance does not seem to extend to LGBTQ people: a search for the words ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ on the site returned 0 results.
According to ChristianMingle.com, their platform works by matching people with common ‘values, goals, and… relationship with God’. While this might seem fine, it is worth pausing to ask: are successful relationships always between people who believe the same things? Of course, this is a question to be asked of Christian dating sites in general. Furthermore, is it possible that two people’s ‘relationship with God’ can ever be the same? On the basis of these criticisms, this website might need to give more thought towards how they coordinate matches. At least their online security protocols are rigorous: ChristianMingle.com does not allow you to create a password which includes the word ‘believe’.
The last site I’ll look at is specifically for Catholics, and differentiates itself from other dating sites by their focus on ‘sacramental marriage’. Their goal is to ‘promote more holy and healthy Catholic marriages’, which seems to accord with Catholic teaching. Users are asked all kinds of questions about their Catholic practice, such as what liturgical style you like, whether you attend Mass regularly, and whether you believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Such rigour is presumably to allow users to be matched specifically according to their Christian beliefs, which I suggested may be unhelpful. Some users of Catholic Match also complain that it is impossible to sum yourself up according to the website’s relentless questions, and that because the website is poorly explained, many are painfully shy and unresponsive.
The future of Christian dating apps
The outlook remains good for Christian dating sites, as normal life still seems a long way away for many in Europe. I have noted several areas in which these sites could improve, such as clarifying arbitrary criteria, and not restricting matches to people holding identical Christian beliefs. From user feedback, it appears that the quality of Christian dating platforms is also lacking compared to secular ones, due to problems with the interface and loading times. Christian dating sites will have to improve in order to compete with the likes of Tinder, Bumble, and match.com. But for many Christians, some initial awkwardness (perhaps) notwithstanding, using a platform that recognises the centrality of faith for one’s life and lifelong relationship is important. They feel that they will find people with whom they share meaningful beliefs and values, not only a hobby or a favourite TV show.
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