Swiping for salvation: Why Mormon singles put their faith in a dating app

More than 100,000 Mormons have used Mutual, a dating app for the faithful.

(CNN)Benjamin Brown is a glasses-wearing lawyer who flavors his language with words like "heck" and "gosh." He has also been punched in the face in an altercation over dating, one of the few subjects that can rile Mormon men.

Growing up, Brown was taught that marriage was his raison d'être. "I had fantasies of being married since basically as young as I can remember," he said. Mormon doctrine holds that intrafaith marriage -- a union to another Mormon inside the church's temples -- is essential for salvation in the highest level of heaven.
Brown, 31, said he "often went on multiple dates a day" while a student at Brigham Young University. Nonetheless, he graduated single.
Six years ago, he began flying cross-country in search of a wife. On weekends, he created elaborate dating strategies for new cities, filling his calendar with singles events he heard about through the social media grapevine. On Sundays, Brown attended multiple church congregations called "Young Single Adult Wards" that aim to help Mormons ages 18 and up socialize and, ideally, get married.
    "I literally flew all over the country to date. I was booking red-eyes just to attend church somewhere and meet new people. Some weekends, I would go to three, four, or if I was really ambitious, five wards in one Sunday," Brown said. "Singles wards often feel like meat markets. So much of church revolves around dating."
    Inside these chapels, marital concerns and sexual frustration (Mormon doctrine prohibits premarital sex, regarding it as "second only to murder in its seriousness") figure prominently into the service. Curious eyes wander the pews, scoping out the well-groomed singles while hymns are sung and the sacrament is passed. In the pulpit, leaders announce upcoming social events planned to help teetotaling Mormons get to know each other. The latest in Brown's ward: "Pictionary with Pudding."
    Now, however, singles wards could be considered a secondary social venue -- the place you may run into the match you chatted with the night before on Mutual, a dating app created exclusively for Mormons and monitored by members who ensure only faithful users participate. Mutual has collapsed the singles wards onto a digital platform, providing an alternative to the church-sponsored matchmaking venue.
    Dating apps writ large have been blamed for tectonic social shifts, from delayed marriage to relaxed sexual mores. Vanity Fair hyperbolically credited Tinder as the source of a "dating apocalypse."
    But Mutual contradicts this trope. To swipe through the app is to get a glimpse inside a cultural enclave antithetical to the modern dating landscape.
    One user, Brandon, who is 28, captures the ethos of the app in his "About Me": "(I) would like to be married and raise children." Another, Kolton, 21, of Rexburg, Idaho goes even further, telling prospective matches, "If you're on here just for fun, unmatch me!"
    Cooper Boice, the founder of Mutual, says that while some people are just on the app to date, he considers marriage to be the "ultimate success." In total, he says, more than 100,000 Mormons in more than 100 countries around the world have swiped through the app more than 250 million times.
    Boice proudly cites dozens of marriages that have resulted from Mutual, including international unions from the UK to the Philippines.