By Annie Laurie Gaylor
In these sometimes grim days under the sway of the Religious Right, you take your humor where you can find it.
Paging through a recent issue of "Focus on the Family with Dr. James C. Dobson," I found this little gem: "Courtship Makes A Comeback: Dating in the Nineties," by Jim and Anne Ryun, who, with their four adult children, run a ministry in Kansas. Jim Ryun is the three-time Olympian and world-record holder in the mile. Yes, another Jock for Jesus.
The article explains the family's philosophy toward dating, which is actually a philosophy of nondating, dubbed "courtship."
"Courtship can mean different things in different circles, but for our family it means that if a young man wants to date one of our daughters, he contacts the father and asks to take the daughter out," explain Mama and Papa Ryun. (The article adds magnanimously and parenthetically, "Of course, the mother can take this role in families where the father is not available.")
This is actually a little misleading, since permission is never granted to "take the daughter out."
Courtship, the Ryuns explain, "means that the young man must be spiritually and financially prepared to marry her if they fall in love. Otherwise, don't even bother starting a relationship."
Redundantly, the Ryuns add that "this effectively means no courtship or dating during the high school years, and perhaps not until after college graduation."
Here is a blow-by-blow description of a heavy date, Ryun-style:
"If a young man is interested in a young woman, he starts by praying about the relationship. With a go-ahead from the Lord and his parents, he then approaches the girls' parents. The parents pray and, if the young woman has a reciprocal interest in the young man, her father talks through courtship and its expectations with the fellow."
Wouldn't you love to eavesdrop on this conversation?!
If the fellow passes muster, there's still no date.
"Before a young man and woman actually begin courting, the girl's father and the interested fellow spend time getting to know one another. This relationship may be built through shared activities or--in cases where the two do not live near one another--through letters and telephone calls."
Do you get the picture? The Dad actually does the dating, not the daughter! Yes, indeed, the Ryuns write: "In our home, a young man interested in Heather or Catharine is apt to find himself playing basketball with Ned and Drew [their brothers], or helping out in the kitchen after dinner."
But wait, there's even more fun in store for the young man "interested" in Ryun's children.
"Courtship activities may include a family missions trip, prison ministry, or similar service-oriented endeavors. The idea is to give the young couple an opportunity to spiritually mature as they fulfill God's call on their lives."
There is no indication of any serious suitor, except for this chilling reference: "one of our children became seriously interested in a person who, we [we?!] later realized, was not the right choice in God's eyes."
Courtship is not without stiffer criteria. "Each person should demonstrate spiritual depth, a strong biblical character, financial responsibility, sexual and emotional purity, and the ability to lead a simple, practical life."
Dutiful younger daughter Catharine is quoted pathetically saying that the courtship process allows her to "concentrate my energies on doing what God wants me to do, rather than on what I want to do."
Little is said about the two sons in Ryun's patriarchal business arrangement except that "they must meet the same guidelines before they can begin courting a young woman."
While the "process" has apparently effectively scared away any would-be suitors, the Ryuns rave that it has brought their family "together in laughter and in tears [I can believe that], and it has encouraged us to pray." (Who else but their immediate family can they be together with, under the circumstances?)
Needless to say, none of their children is married, engaged, or, one gathers, "courting." They are ages 20 through 25. "[B]ut we aren't worried, since we know God has a plan for their lives."
I think it would be nice if society downplayed the dating pressures kids often feel by middle school, and encouraged postponing marriage until both parties are mature, have finished schooling and are income-earning.
But if this doesn't describe the Ultimate Paternal Control Freak, what would qualify? Daughters are clearly possessions in this household. This father's obsession with what he calls his daughters' "sexual and emotional abstinence" strikes me as very unwholesome.
I am not making this up. This appeared in the November 1995 issue of Dobson's mag.
National Day Of Prayer "Update"
Speaking of "kingmaker" Dobson, did you know he is behind the annual "national day of prayer" fuss? Under Reagan, of course, Congress took action to declare the first Thursday in May as a "National Day of Prayer," fixing what had been a roving date since the scheme was inaugurated in the 1950's. Fundies now use it as an organizing tool at every level of government.
Dobson has appointed his wife, "Mrs. James Dobson (Shirley)" as "Chairman" of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headquartered in Colorado Springs. The group boasts that in 1995, evidently for the first time, it had achieved its goal of bullying every governor in the United States, plus the governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, into declaring a "national day of prayer." The group managed this because Lowell Weicker is no longer governor of Connecticut. (State/Church advocates remember Weicker with fondness--he actually made ringing speeches when he was in Congress endorsing the Establishment Clause.) The group claims that observances were held on capitol building steps in more than 40 states last year. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald Fogleman were among the speakers at a Capitol Hill observance.
Did you know that this task force has what it calls a "tiny little staff of five"? That's more full-time staff members than the Freedom From Religion Foundation has ever boasted! And organizing one day of prayer is all this task force does!
Incidentally, the December newsletter, called "Prayer Lines," reports that four of the five staff members are new moms. Ken Waggoner on the staff is pleased as punch to announce that "All four new moms have elected to stay home full time, so we're in the process of rebuilding our team here at NDP."
Deep thinker Kay Parker, a coordinator, offensively writes:
"I believe, very strongly, that the turning of our nation to a more conservative nature and the 1994 elections are results of the prayers that were offered on the National Day of Prayer, but I also believe the forewarnings we're receiving (hurricanes, drought, flooding and the Oklahoma bombing) are a taste of the judgment that could come to the United States. There is much work to be done to bring revival and repentance to this nation."
Christians love to feel persecuted and Parker is no exception: "your victories came with a price, didn't they? In so many ways, the enemy tried mightily to derail the most celebrated and observed day in NDP history. My heart breaks over your stories--how much you went through on the front lines!"
The "Sixth Annual Coordinator's Conference," an entire 3-day convention, met in January in Colorado Springs, simply to help plan for the 1996 Day of Prayer.
One might hope that politicians would grow wary and weary of such folk. One pushy tactic is the "Adopt-a-Leader Kit. "Includes cards for writing your leader, prayer reminders and a journal to track your requests and answers" for only $12! You send a postcard telling your "leader" that "you've adopted them," and monthly notecards thereafter. Can you imagine the poor members of Congress and governors who are the recipients of this harassment-in-the-guise of prayer? On second thought, perhaps those quivering towers of legislative jelly, so eager to pander their religiosity, deserve Focus on the Family!
Nothing Fails Like Prayer
"Nothing Fails Like Prayer," as the Foundation bumpersticker notes. Unfortunately, the fundies really know this is the case, too. They're not just praying anymore. The day of prayer newsletter exhorts:
"Prayer is not an excuse for non-action. Rather, prayer is the proper preparation for action." So said Pastor John Perkins during a seminar following the National Prayer Breakfast last February--a breakfast which was attended by the President and members of Congress.
Another writer instructs in "expressing your faith in action." In addition to the usual fundamentalist pastimes, recommended are some decidedly temporal actions:
"Write congressmen, broadcast networks or sponsors"
"Support candidates with time, finances and votes"
"Follow the Lord's leading to serve on local commissions, civic projects, etc."
It's that "et cetera" that really bothers me. Also, this advice: "Testify to an unbeliever." We freethinkers all know what that means!
Yes, this is the new, improved fundamentalism, which seeks not just to proselytize the daylights out of every innocent bystander but seeks a theocratic takeover of our government. And proclamations are only the beginning, but are an important symbolic first step.
If you can persuade public officials to urge citizens to pray, to read the bible and to give thanks for their alleged Christian heritage, you can change public perceptions about the role of public officials, rewrite history, create precedent . . . and you're well on your way to a theocracy even without amending the Constitution.
The Foundation has suggested its own proclamations. Many others could be suggested. We're too busy plugging the hole in the "wall between church and state" to have the luxury of going into the window-dressing proclamation biz fulltime, as have Dobson's prayer taskforce, and the Laymen's National Bible Association.
Nevertheless, every public official who misuses his or her office to exhort constituents to worship should be hearing from freethinkers, and be asked instead to affirm secular values and principles.