Part I of An Open Letter to Joshua Harris
Dear Josh (May I call you Josh? You may call me Molly.)
I recently finished reading your book I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationship, and I want to share my reaction. I’m halfway through earning my Master of Divinity degree at a Presbyterian seminary on the East Coast, and my focus is looking at how enforcing “biblically-based” gender roles aids (or, in the case of most scenarios I’ve read, damages) the church as the Body of Christ. Rachel Held Evans, another evangelical author, writes in A Year of Biblical Womanhood that
evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like it’s Martin Luther’s middle name. We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own…using the word biblical prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity (xx).
So since I identify as both Christian and as a sex-positive feminist (yes, Josh, I’m another one of those,) I had a bit of difficulty agreeing with some of your vision for what courtship—biblical dating, for want of a better term—should look like. In my mind “dating” and “courtship” don’t exist as a dichotomy; rather, they’re points on a continuum. Dating develops healthy relationships; courtship moves toward commitment but is still dating. But before you stop reading, Josh, I think we may have more in common than either of us would like to admit.
I would imagine that the term “sex-positive” doesn’t pop up in the conservative evangelical community save for, perhaps, warning against the evils of feminism. In brief, sex-positivity is the belief that any consensual sexual activity between two adults is undeserving of stigma. In contrast, I Kissed Dating Goodbye repeatedly advocates for “purity”—a quality highly valued (and practically mandatory for women) in complementarian ethics  that not only encompasses sexual purity but also a sort of “emotional purity” as well. In addition to being taught that any type of sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, readers of I Kissed Dating Goodbye are instructed that if they have a romantic relationship with someone they don’t end up marrying, they’ve given away “a piece of their heart” that they can never get back. In other words, all attempts at romantic relationships that don’t end in marriage are seen as a form of cheating on your future spouse. For both types of purity, anything that could tempt Christians to this perceived infidelity—“immodest” clothing, R-rated movies, and time alone with someone of the opposite gender are, pardon the innuendo, a slippery slope. 
Despite our differences, I imagine that you’d agree with sex-positivity’s emphasis on safe sex. I know complementarians tend to shun the usage of contraception, but you’re doing yourself (and your future spouse) a favor when you get screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
I hope that you’d be amenable to sex-positivity’s emphasis on informed consent—both partners should be enthusiastic about intimate activity, know the other’s boundaries, and should have a clear understanding about the implications and potential future consequences of their action. This may not seem like the most romantic form of foreplay to you, but I think we’d agree there’s nothing more comforting than an ethic of mutual respect and a partner who cares about your wellbeing and happiness. (Regardless of how differently we feel about the hows, whens, and whys of sexual activity, disrespect or indifference to informed consent makes one—inadvertently or not—a supporter of rape culture.) The only point in sex-positivity I think you’d actively disagree with is its acknowledgement that consensual sexual activity is fundamentally healthy, pleasurable, and enhanced through experimentation, and we’d be quibbling over timing. You’d agree on that point when it’s limited to heterosexual couples within the context of marriage, and I’d argue for a much broader application.But my primary issue with I Kissed Dating Goodbye had less to do with your limits on sexual intimacy before marriage and much more to do with your portrayal of what the other facets of relational intimacy should look like. As Julia Feder, one author featured on Women In Theology, notes,
sexual intimacy is only one form of relational intimacy—emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and spiritual intimacy are others. In healthy (and ethical) relationships, sexual intimacy should never outpace these other forms of intimacy.
Unfortunately, I Kissed Dating Goodbye seemed more focused on teaching young Christian readers how to avoid or restrict sexual intimacy while waiting for a God-ordained partner rather than teaching them how to build that partnership. It is far easier to say no lusting, no hand-holding, no kissing, no premarital intercourse than to teach individuals how to develop interpersonal relationships that lead to lifelong partnerships. With that in mind, I’d like to invite the possibility of greeting dating in a way that encourages healthy relational intimacy. When I write next, we’ll start with how I Kissed Dating Goodbye approaches the spiritual aspect of building relationships.
Gentle (and Not-So-Gentle) Readers: Later today, in Part II of I Hugged Dating Hello, I’ll cover how I Kissed Dating Goodbye approaches the spiritual aspect of building relationships. I’ll cover another area of relational intimacy every few days over the next couple weeks. ~ Molly
 Libby has done several posts on complementarianism, but just so we’re on the same page: I define complementarianism as a theology modeled on female submission and male authority where men and women have separate roles divided solely on the basis of gender rather than personal merit. While both genders are equal before God, women are prohibited from leadership positions in ministry.
 Unsurprisingly, Harris always focuses on the dangers of friendship with the opposite gender. His treatment of homosexuality (or erasure thereof) in I Kissed Dating Goodbye merits its own article. But that’s—perhaps—its own article for another time.
Molly grew up in southern Louisiana and, after spending college partially (emotionally and physically) frozen in Iowa, somehow ended up in seminary where she’s cuddling her inner demons by moonlight and wrestling her faith by daylight. She likes bellydance, historical combat, 80s cartoons, Pema Chodron, and wants to use her M.Div to found the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. She doesn’t have a blog yet, but maybe Libby will be generous enough to provide trackbacks when she does?