Catholic Dating in the Bible Belt

by Edmund Blair Leighton
(21 September 1852 – 1 September 1922)
Recently, I overheard some local teenage Catholic girls lamenting about their selection of Catholic boys in the area.  Understandably, this is a problem here in the Ozarks.  The statistic of "7%" was thrown around a bit.  I assume they were citing the percentage of eligible Catholic boys in the area.  The truth is, the same problem exists for Catholic boys looking for good Catholic girls.  In fact, it's such a big problem that many Catholic youths end up looking outside the area for a Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend.  Some try dating services, Internet meeting forums, and yes some even rely on their parents to "set them up" with a good Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend.  (Not a bad gig for parents really, when you stop and think about it.)  However, it just goes to show how desperate some of these kids are.

This is coupled with the aggressive proselytism of Evangelicals in the area when it comes to Catholics.  Let's face it, most Baptists and Pentecostals (along with Evangelicals in general) don't know much about Catholicism.  In fact, I dare say that most of them don't even regard Catholics are "real" or "authentic" Christians.  The typical question here in the Ozarks is: "Are you a Catholic OR a Christian?" as if the two are not the same.  As a result of this, dating between Catholics and Protestants often results in the Catholic losing faith, or at the very least a marriage wherein the children end up Protestant or not religious at all.

Sadly, many Catholic families just give up, with parents telling their teenage kids that it doesn't matter who they date, just as long as he or she is a "good person."  Parents, I must discourage this kind of capitulation.  It's a recipe for a future family crisis -- I guarantee it.  The Holy Scriptures tell us to not be "unequally yoked" (2 Corinthians 6:14) in our covenant relationships with others.  This especially pertains to marriage.  Now granted, this passage pertains to "unbelievers" and contextually speaking, that would mean those who don't believe in Jesus Christ at all.  However, in a lesser and moderated sense, we could apply this to Protestants as well.  Typically, when Catholics marry Protestants, what usually happens is the Catholic becomes less faithful to the Church, and the kids end up being raised Protestant or non-religious in general.  It is always best for Catholics to marry other Catholics, but that doesn't necessarily mean Catholics have to restrict their dating to Catholics only.  Catholics can date Protestants safely, provided certain ground rules apply.

I'm not a matchmaker, so if you came to this blog looking for a date, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.  However, I do have some guiding principles (ground rules) which I believe will help young Catholics navigate the field of dating here in the very Protestant Ozark mountains, or anywhere in the Bible Belt really...
  1. Start seriously practising your faith if you are not doing that already.  This will do three things.  One, it will help to win the blessings of God, especially in your dating life.  Two, it will help you attract other Catholics (eligible boys or girls).  Three, it will make Protestant boys or girls curious, and knock down their resistance to Catholicism.  I can't stress this enough.  If you're not practising Catholicism, and I mean seriously practising it, then you're wasting your time.  You might as well give up your quest to find (or convert) a good Catholic boyfriend or girlfriend.  It isn't going to happen.  If you're not practising your faith, you're only kidding yourself.  
  2. Learn your faith well, and learn how to both explain it and defend it.  It starts by reading the Bible and the Catechism.  Beyond that, you can use this blog or some Internet apostolate like Catholic Answers.  
  3. Understand what you're doing.  Dating is a type of courtship.  The whole point and purpose of it is to eventually find a person to become your spouse.  It's not for "having fun" or "fitting in."  If these are your objectives, it's time to re-evaluate your priorities.  Now granted, its okay to have fun on dates and enjoy the company of those you are with, but that's a side benefit.  The real objective of the whole process is to learn about yourself, your likes and dislikes, as well as other people, so that you can make an informed and rationale decision someday when the time is right for marriage.  This involves some really mature stuff.  Which means it's time to act like an adult.  That means don't be stupid.  Don't do "married things" when you're not married. I'm talking about heavy kissing, touching and sex. It will only cloud your judgement and complicate your life in ways you don't need or want.  Another thing about being an adult is talking to your parents.  Yes, adults talk to their parents all the time.  I'm an adult, and I regularly consult with my mother and father about a lot of things.  Why?  Because they know me better than anyone else (with the exception of my wife of course).  If you don't have a spouse, then your parents really do know you better than anyone.  Listen to them.  With the experience they've had, they might be able to help you avoid some nasty traps and obstacles.  They may even be able to steer you toward a boyfriend or girlfriend who is more compatible with your personality.  Oh sure, that good looking jock on the football team, or cheerleader at the game, may look pretty hot, and maybe you've even captured their attention, but if mom or dad says "(s)he's no good for you," there is probably a good reason.  They may have some insight into your personality which has given them a red flag, knowing that while things may work out for the short term, in the long term, the relationship is headed for disaster.  Part of being an adult means talking to adults.  Guess what?  That means talking to your parents.  If you can't do that, well, maybe it's time to grow up a little.  Or, maybe you're not mature enough to date yet.  Keep it real.  Are you ready for this or not?  There is no shame in waiting a year or two longer.  If you're under age 30, you've got plenty of time.
  4. Change your attitude.  The lack of Catholic teens and young adults in the Ozarks is not a negative.  It's an opportunity!  You've got to start thinking about dating as a way to kill two birds with one stone.  The Ozark Mountains (or anywhere in the Bible Belt) is a prime missionary field.  Each and every Protestant is a potential convert to Catholicism, and yes, Protestants are a lot more "convertible" than you think.  Of course, in an ideal situation, finding a Catholic girlfriend or boyfriend is the most desired.  However, if you happen to run across a Protestant you like, the fact that he or she is Protestant may only be a temporary problem.
  5. Ditch the siege mentality.  A siege mentality is when you go into a defensive mode thinking the world is out to get you.  Catholics do this a lot in strongly Protestant areas.  Granted, Evangelicals can be aggressive in their attempt to convert Catholics, but I assure you, they are not as strong as you think.  Protestantism is based on a very weak foundation.  If you know how to knock out that foundation, you are very likely to turn the tables and convert them to Catholicism.  It happens a lot.  You just have to know how to do it.  I'll explain the basics below, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to know your own faith well, practise it, and get some understanding of apologetics.
  6. HOLD YOUR GROUND.  This is an important one.  You need to make it known, in a polite and courteous way, that you are a Catholic Christian.  (Use that phrase "Catholic Christian" so they know you are both.)  You will not convert, and you will only marry another Catholic.  Say it nicely, and say it often.  You love Protestants, but you will not marry one.  That way the ground rules are laid.  This will do three things.  First, it will help attract eligible Catholic boys or girls to you.  Second, it will let Protestant boys or girls know that you're serious, and it's a waste of time to try to convert you.  Those types will eventually give up on you and move on.  Third, it will let other Protestant boys or girls (the ones not out to convert you) know that if they want to get serious with you, they're going to have to take a second look at the Catholic Church and probably convert someday.
  7. If you should happen to date a Protestant, take him/her to mass REGULARLY, and make sure you REGULARLY remind him/her that this is a non-negotiable issue with you.  You love Protestants but you will not marry one, but the Catholic Church welcomes all.  (hint, hint..)  Make sure this boy or girl knows the ground rules with you.  DO NOT COMMIT YOURSELF to anyone who does not respect you on this issue.  Remember, anyone who will not respect you on this issue, probably won't respect you on others.  Make it clear to him/her that if he/she wants you exclusively, his/her loyalty to the Catholic Church is required as a prerequisite.  In other words, never commit to somebody unless that person commits to the Catholic Church.  Don't feel obligated to attend your Protestant friend's church either.  It's okay to visit once, just to get an idea of his/her background, but make it clear that is not your home and you don't feel comfortable going there regularly.  
Now I know this may seem foreign to a lot of Catholics these days, but in truth, this sort of thing has been going on for centuries, both among Catholics and Protestants in previous generations, and it works!  Don't feel bad about it.  You're not obligated to play by their rules.  If they don't like it, they can move on to somebody else and so can you.  In the past, Protestants were much more firm about their commitments to their various denominations.  Fifty or sixty years ago, it was common to hear a Protestant say: "I am a Lutheran and I'll only marry another Lutheran." etc.  Such is no longer the case.  Today, Protestants have much less of a commitment to particular denominations.  That's their problem, not yours.  Evangelical Protestants on the other hand (which includes Baptists, Pentecostals, nondenominationals, etc.) might have a stronger commitment to their "type" of Christianity, but not necessarily so much commitment to a particular church or denomination.  In other words, they're committed but they're flexible.  Believe it or not, this flexibility puts Catholics at a tremendous advantage in dealing with Protestants, so long as Catholics will just stand firm and hold their ground.

Now let me tell you a little story.  About twenty years ago, I was a young Evangelical Protestant man, living in Southern California.  I was working with a young Latina about the same age as I.  I liked her.  She was very attractive to me.  However, she was Catholic.  I thought I might try to date her, but I also wanted to "feel the waters" so to speak, and see if she was open to conversion.  I invited her to attend my Evangelical church.  She refused.  She not only refused, but she flatly refused, and made it very clear she had no interest in converting or leaving the Catholic faith.  She said if I wanted to go to church with her, I could come to mass, otherwise forget it.  Guess what?  I lost interest in her and moved on to somebody else.  You know what I say to her now, wherever she may be?  I say to her: "GOOD GIRL!  I was no good for you.  At that time I was a devout anti-catholic.  My only intention was to date you, convert you, alienate you from your family and the faith of your fathers, and then maybe even lock you into a permanent relationship with me that way. That is what Evangelicals do, even though they mean no ill will by it.  I assure you, my intentions were sincere, but they were also sincerely wrong and misguided."  Had things gone down that way it would have been bad for her and for me.  Today, now that I am a devoted Catholic, I praise this young woman for standing her ground.  She saved herself (and me) from a very big mess.  She did this by clearly laying the ground rules to me.  I was interested in her, and she seemed interested in me.  However, she made it clear that there was no way she would ever commit to me unless I committed to the Catholic Church.  That drove me off, but the truth is, we are both probably better off because of it.  Today I am sure she's married and probably has kids, wherever she may be, and I'm sure her husband is Catholic.  What I don't know is if he was born and raised Catholic, or if she managed to convert a Protestant less stubborn than I.  If she did, I know why.  She stood her ground.  Good for her!

As I said above, young Catholics need to get out of the siege mentality.  There was a time, in the last generation, when Evangelicals were extremely aggressive and Catholics were completely unprepared.  As a result, literally millions of Catholics either lost their faith or else converted to Evangelical Christianity.  Those days are coming to a close.  While some Evangelicals are still extremely aggressive in their attempts to convert Catholics, their arguments have now been soundly rebuffed by Catholic apologists.  Catholicism is much more prepared to handle this now, and as we are learning, when young Catholics prepare themselves to stand firm, they're Protestant friends often end up converting to Catholicism in just a matter of time.  Now that I've given you seven ground rules, its time to spell out three apologetic rules that are critical to every young Catholic dealing with Protestants in the dating world...
  1. KNOW YOUR FAITH.  Study the Bible and the Catechism.  Seriously, this is the most important thing.  Learning your faith is a lifelong process that begins TODAY.  Pray, read and study!  That's where it all begins.  Reading Catholic apologetic books, along with listening to similar recordings and/or videos is also extremely helpful.  
  2. UNDERSTAND THAT PROTESTANTS ARE USUALLY IGNORANT.  About 90% of everything Protestants know about Catholicism is usually misinformation or no information at all.  The average Evangelical Protestant usually has no clue as to what Catholics actually believe.  Most of the time, the only information they have about Catholicism comes from former Catholics, who converted to Evangelicalism, and usually have an axe to grind against the Catholic Church.   See yourself as an educator to anyone willing to listen to you, and don't waste your time with anyone who won't.  Once in a while, you'll run across a Protestant who has a lot to say and seems to be on a "mission" to convert you to his/her brand of Christianity.  Don't feel bad if he/she won't listen to you.  These types usually don't listen to anyone.  It's best to just smile and ignore these types.  Don't waste your time with them. Just move on.
  3. AS A CATHOLIC, YOU DON'T PLAY BY THE SAME RULES AS PROTESTANTS.  It's important to not get roped into the Protestant way of thinking about the Bible.  Protestants confine themselves to a particular mentality called Sola Scriptura which is Latin for "Scripture Only."  That means they think they have to limit their faith strictly to what it says in the Bible, and it is the very foundation of most Protestant churches.  It leads them into a lot of other errors as well.  They'll try to limit your faith to it also.  If you allow yourself to get roped into this way of thinking, they're going to take you on a ride that may land you in another church.  You must remember that Sola Scriptura APPLIES TO THEM NOT YOU.  You are not bound by this rule.  It's an artificial rule, made by an artificial "reformer" 500 years ago, and is used by artificial churches to keep their members from leaving.  Sola Scriptura actually contradicts the Bible!  This Bible nowhere says that people must follow the Bible Alone (Scripture Only).  No such Scripture passage exists.  Furthermore, the Bible in many places tells us to follow the TRADITIONS of the Church and to trust the teaching authority of the Church.  In fact, the Bible calls the CHURCH (not itself) the "pillar and foundation of truth."  To believe what the Bible says is to follow the Catholic Church.  It is Protestants, with their artificial rules, that actually contradict the very Bible they say to be preaching.  If you make it clear that you, as a Catholic, will not subject yourself to non-Biblical man-made rules like Sola Scriptura, you will catch them off guard.  This is the most important thing every Catholic must remember when dealing with Protestants.  Beyond that, Catholics should familiarise themselves with Catholic apologetics.  You can read a good overview in my books, on this blog, or Internet apostolates such as Catholic Answers.
Any young Catholic living in America's Bible Belt, especially the Ozark Mountains of the Bible Belt, is going to be confronted with the stark reality that their selection of eligible Catholic singles is extremely limited.  Thus, dating outside of the Church is very tempting.  If one has a weak understanding of the faith, or is easily manipulated by others, this probably should not be done.  If however, a young Catholic is willing to learn and practise the faith, as well as how to explain and defend it, then dating outside the Church can not only be a possibility, but even an evangelistic opportunity!  Approach these matters with caution of course, but I would have to say the best tool is often the least expected -- stubbornness.  If a young Catholic is willing to stubbornly hold his/her ground, and clearly lay the ground rules for dating him/her, meaning no commitment without commitment to the Catholic Church, then it not only can be done, but it can also be a way to lead a Protestant into the fullness of the Christian faith.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

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johnnyc said…
Another solution would be for parents to guide their children's college selection to Catholic universities ( and I don't mean the Boston College and Georgetown type). I believe there are quite a few throughout the U.S. Franciscan, John Paul the Great.....
Thanks for this mate. I will pass it on.
Incidentally our problem here in Australia is :
1. rampant arrogant secularism-
2. a hierarchy of the church who hid or transferred abusive priests or who are insensitive to those who were abused.
3. Too many cafeteria Catholics
Myers16670 said…
Don't give up hope! As someone who grew up in the supposedly-Catholic midwest and has since moved to northern Alabama (officially recognized by the Church as a "mission diocese"), living in an area with few Catholics can be a blessing in disguise. The reason? Those who claim to be Catholic actually are! I am sure you can relate to the challenge of growing your faith in an area where you are gawked at as foriegn, if not outright besieged as heretical. This only builds on the strength and character of the faith of those who cling to the Church in these areas. As Benedict XVI has said, the Church must shrink in the coming age, but she will become a more dynamic, faithful Church as a result. Those of us in "bible belt" areas often see what this means as those weak in their faith quickly fall away, but those who remain hold fast with an orthodoxy seldom found in many of the large, multi-Mass, clergy-rich parishes of "Catholic" areas. It takes guts and staying power to be Catholic on the fringes, and what a precious find for a girl or boy to meet another brave soul who courageously lives the faith in such areas. They are spared the heartache and confusion of sifting through the many who advertise themselves as Catholic, but are really just blending in with the crowd.
I went to a Catholic high school in the north that boasted a graduating class of around two hundred Catholic youth. I can probably count only a dozen or so who still consider themselves Catholic, let alone attend at least weekly. It has been heartbreaking to watch them all fall away (facebook is especially painful for this reason).
Oh, and one good tip? Stop referring to them as Protestants, Athiests, Non-believers, etc. They're all really "potential Catholics"!
Tom M. in Texas said…
Shane, Thank you for this inspiring post; it's good advice for anyone! I found it through the National Catholic Register site.
Tom in Texas
Good post and good advice. I grew up in mission territory in North Carolina and can relate. My freshman year of college I attended UNCC, where the student body was 26,000 and the Catholic campus ministry about 15 people, none of whom practiced chastity. To reiterate what another commenter said, go to a good Catholic University. I transferred to Franciscan University for my last three years of college and it made all the difference. An entire campus full of beautiful, orthodox, young women? Heaven.

Catholic Match is also a good option. Online dating used to be for losers, but the world is different now. There is no shame in going on there to find a holy spouse.
John Wiehe said…
There are lots of online dating services to pick from. Some online dating services are usually regional so that you can find possible complements nearby yet others are usually relatively unique concerning get older. Various other exclusive best online dating are usually world-wide in setting and serve every courting choice by their absolute dimension.