Wooing as Warfare, part 5: protecting our daughters?

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(David) A bedrock principle of the modern courtship movement is the father's duty to protect his daughter at the point of marriage. And it's true, fathers are called by God to be guardians of their children. But should fatherly protection take a radically different form for coming-of-age daughters than for coming-of-age sons? Well, yes and no.

Scripture reveals certain fatherly privileges that apply only to daughters. A father can veto his daughter's vows and God will hold her guiltless. More to the point, a father can refuse to give a seduced virgin to her would-be husband:

Exodus 22:16-17
If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.

Though the virgin's father can reject his daughter's consummated union, the seducer's father possesses no such veto. Yet Scripture also assumes that the virgin's father will usually accept his daughter's de facto union. Because a seduced daughter is less marriageable than a virgin daughter, a dowry payment is required should the father "absolutely refuse."

But beyond such paternal vetoes, does Scripture reveal a different approach to protecting daughters than sons? Are daughters close-held treasures while sons are javelins tossed to the wind?

No. In fact, Scripture's picture is one of fathers and mothers seeking to influence and protect both sons and daughters at the time of marriage. Abraham seeks a bride for Isaac. Bethuel asks Rebekah if she will go with Abraham's servant to Isaac. Isaac sends Jacob to the house of Bethuel to seek a wife. Manoah seeks to influence Samson's choice of women. Judah refuses his sons to Tamar.

Instead of calling fathers to exercise special protection over their daughters at the point of marriageability, Scripture demands intense fatherly care and discipline (over sons and daughters alike) in younger years which decreases as age and maturity advance. Daughters and sons must both be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Both should be taught God's Word day and night. Both should be warned of the dangers of sin, the consequences of fast friends and the hazards of adultery. Sons and daughters should be jointly warned of the deadly embrace of the Proverbial loose woman--sons warned against her embrace, daughters against becoming her.

But such nurture has a goal. We don't train our children for war only to shield them perpetually from battle. Training and nurture point to independence, an independence of father and mother that is ultimately dependence on God. Godly daughters raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and lovingly cared for by fathers from infancy will be radically unlikely to reject their father's input when considering marriage. Nothing in the world is more natural than for a daughter raised in this manner to seek her father's opinion and approval when she considers a man as a potential husband. Fathers fear having their daughters' hearts stolen. Brothers, those of us who have our daughters' hearts should not fear this. Fear in such situations borders on faithlessness. God gives us promises for such times. This is precisely why we raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

If a father can't trust his grown daughter’s choices after years of such care, it's as much an indictment of him as of her. What do we reveal of our confidence in our daughters if we must interrogate each man she lingers with in the church parking lot? Where is our faith if we cannot trust her to share a casual cup of coffee with a man at Starbucks? Is this Scripture's picture of father-daughter protection? Or are we perhaps treating our daughters like the women we wish them never to be—weak women incapable of saying no and susceptible to seduction? 

Fathers who insist on approving their daughter's male friends from their first blush of romantic interest on embrace a view of fatherly responsibility simultaneously grandiose and abdicating. Grandiose and overly ambitious in that the father's authority over his grown daughter is never described in Scripture as reaching its apex in its control over her courtship and marriage. Grandiose also in that the man who thinks he should be in total control of his godly daughter's marital destiny is probably tragically unaware of his own depravity and fallibility. Abdicating in that the man who must govern his grown daughter's every relationship probably neglected to train her in wisdom and righteousness in the first place.

The Biblical ethic of male leadership and care for women is so foreign to our culture that when Christian men do awaken to it they tend to exaggerate. They overcompensate. Yes we are to protect our women. It's our God-given duty. But protection begins at birth, not puberty. Training begins before our daughters can speak, not when they're giving their hearts to a man.

Ultimately, godly fatherhood is one long path of training and challenging, of protection and releasing in faith. Yes, if our daughter sins we must oppose her. Yes, we have a duty to counsel--and ultimately to give her hand in marriage. But if we suddenly stand and act as men only at the point of romance, when our daughters' hearts are being claimed by others, it's too little too late. The cows are already in the pasture, there's no sense rushing to close the gate.