“Rejection is God’s protection.” Ah, the salve of comfort for broken hearts.
Those words echoed frequently throughout “The Great Christian Love Debate,” amid zebra-striped and neon-orange and red crushed-velvet pillows at Baobab Stage, in Town Square Las Vegas on Dec. 2.
The town hall-style debate, staged as part of “The Great Love Debate” national tour, addressed the challenges faced by single, dating Christians. Moderator/life coach Michael Sartain — sporting sneakers and hipster hair — joined the show’s creator, Brian Howie, and three presenters in setting the mood for approximately 13 attendees. About 100 were expected.
Still, Sartain said, “this is a great singles mixer type of event for people of the same faith.”
Attendees grappled with topics ranging from Facebook slander to the artificiality of the Sin City dating scene, “missionary dating,” and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow’s premarital celibacy vow.
“I’m going to encourage them to stay hopeful,” said presenter and psychologist Karin Anderson Abrell before the show. She’s author of “Single is the New Black.”
“No matter how many disappointments and heartbreaks you’ve gone through, you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep believing that God’s got somebody special for you,” she added. Abrell, who is Christian, said she waded through 27 years of dating to meet and marry her husband at age 42.
But, in a town where “drive-thru” marriage ceremonies mimic a trip to McDonald’s, love still seemed like a hard sell to some attendees that evening.
“I don’t date in Las Vegas,” admitted 28-year-old Jill Pham. “That’s how bad it is.”
Her advice for those drawn to love’s flame in the valley: “Have very thick skin, and always expect the worst.”
As for the evening’s event, her goal was to learn something — or “at least get a good laugh.”
Presenter Terri Smith, matchmaker/CEO of South Coast Executive Club and a specialist in Christian matchmaking for 28 years, conceded that Las Vegas isn’t easy.
“Because there’s a big entertainment industry here, it’s sometimes difficult to meet an authentic guy for the women,” she pointed out. She advises single Christians to choose from 900 churches in the valley, and start meeting people.
The transience of the Las Vegas population also makes dating harder, according to attendee Cherie Tonkin, who said she was a former singles ministry leader at Las Vegas’ Canyon Ridge Christian Church. She’s been single for 11 years, and won’t consider dating a non-Christian.
“I’d still say that Las Vegas can be a place to find your mate,” she added. “You just have to look in the right places.”
“A lot of people came back to Christianity because of an incident in their life, and they tend to use their faith as a shield when it comes to dating,” observed Howie, who launched the tour to promote his book, “How to Find Love in 60 Seconds.”
“What we try to do in these shows is let people know, you shouldn’t use it that way,” he said. “You should use it as a positive.”
That evening’s event was the 107th show in a series that’s included gay, Asian, senior citizen, and Jewish-themed events. According to Howie, nearly 30,000 people have attended the shows to date, touching base in 78 North American cities.
There’s also a podcast, and a television show on the way, he said.
“It’s about getting rid of the words, ‘Not my type,'” said Howie. “And understanding that everyone around you could be a connection, or could be a connection to a possible connection.”
Notwithstanding the power of getting out and meeting people, Smith reminds Christians still stuck in a dating rut to “get close to God first.”
“A godly man is going to want a godly woman,” she said.