- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

NEW YORK In the often racy realm of cyberspace dating, these are come-on lines with a difference: "Avid reader, enjoys theological studies." "Single, conservative Lutheran pastor in rural Iowa."

Uncomfortable with local bar scenes, restless in the social circles of their own churches, single Christians by the tens of thousands are flocking to Internet services offering the prospect of spiritually correct matchmaking.

Some of the sites are listed in the same directories that promote "Hot Sexy Singles" or "1-to-1 Extramarital Dating." But operators of the Christian services say their patrons, by and large, are sincere in their faith and their romantic quests.

"I don't think single people are integrated into Christian churches as they should be," said Dan Magnuson, who runs a service called Adam Meet Eve. "For single women, it can be really sad. You're almost ostracized because you're not 'normal.' "

Adam Meet Eve has attracted 6,000 members since it went on line in February, Mr. Magnuson said. It has been free thus far, though a monthly fee of $5 is planned. Fees at other services range up to $15 a month.

Mr. Magnuson considers himself to be doing God's work, and cites a verse from 2 Corinthians as corroboration: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?"

His interpretation: "It's basically saying, 'Don't marry a non-Christian.' "

Most of the Christian singles sites include testimonials from couples who married after linking up through the Internet. Success stories include Debbie and John Wicklund, who connected over Christianity Online in April 1998. Mr. Wicklund was trying to rebound from a divorce triggered by his wife's affair with a man she had met over the Internet.

For three months, John and Debbie traded e-mails between her home in Tampa, Fla., and his home in North Branch, Minn.; they even engaged in joint on-line Bible study. They met in person in July 1998 staying in separate rooms at an Atlanta hotel and by the second day of the rendezvous had agreed to marry.

Two other satisfied customers are James and Tonya Wieck, both 38, both divorcees. They met on line in January through Shining Star Singles and married April 27 after an e-mail courtship.

Mr. Wieck, an architect and deacon of the Seventh-day Adventist Church from Sun Valley, Calif., proposed to Tonya during their first date, after he flew to her home in Amarillo, Texas. By that point, he had used the Internet to introduce her to the televised services of a popular Adventist preacher.

"We got to know each other the best way by words," he said, adding that physical attraction was a decisive factor when they finally met.

"My profile had been out there [on the Internet] for three years," he said. "I got e-mails from women with pictures that didn't match what I was looking for, who were obese or not very pretty. Sometimes it was difficult to say 'You're not the kind of person I'm looking for.' You get the feeling it's a lonely person, and the door is being slammed in their face one more time."

Nannette Thacker, who runs Shining Star Singles along with her husband, said the 3-year-old service maintains a pool of about 4,600 members.

"Some say they're just looking for a friend, someone to correspond with," she said. "Deep-down in their hearts, I think most want a serious relationship, but they want to be careful to start with."

"We had a guy from Kuwait who wanted to talk about sex with any young lady who'd give him the time of day," Mr. Magnuson said. "Some of the born-again women they were thinking they're going to convert him to Christianity."

On a site for single Lutherans, where messages can be seen by all users, there is occasional do-it-yourself policing. Spotting a familiar moniker making overtures, one woman e-mailed to another: "Nancy, run like hl from Dale. I mean it. He has been on the Single Mingle and really has done some great harm to some unsuspecting women."

Some messages posted on Lutheran Online's singles site are poignant in their admissions of loneliness.

"I am looking for a lifetime commitment from a man who believes strongly in God," wrote a woman named Amber. "I know that God does not want to see me cry, and I cry because I have a heart with so much to give to that right person."

Mr. Magnuson's Adam Meet Eve site offers encouragement.

"Remember that there is nothing wrong with being single," it says. "Jesus was single His entire life on Earth."

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