Guest Post: I Hugged Dating Hello, Part I: Developing Relational Intimacies

A guest post by Molly

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 [1] 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. [2]

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.

Molly

—————

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

—————

[1] 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.

[2] 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?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred H

    Great post, Molly. I want to draw attention to the following:

    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.

    This whole “giving away a piece of your heart” mentality strikes me as being based on a presupposition that love is a finite resource that must be guarded lest it runs out rather than something that is infinite and/or renewable. I find that a strange presupposition for anyone to hold, but especially followers of a religion that tends to suggest the latter about love in all other circumstances. I mean, come on, “But these three things shall remain…and the greatest of them is love”?

    • Rosie

      Doubly ironic in a tradition that advocates having as many children as possible once you’re married. Does each successive child get less of your heart, because you’ve given pieces away to the older ones already?

      • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred H

        I’m not sure if that (i.e. the belief that Christians should have as man children as possible) applies to Josh Harris in particular, but I definitely agree with you in principle.

      • Molly

        Rosie & Jarred,
        At least as far as I Kissed Dating Goodbye goes, Harris isn’t openly advocating Quiverfull views TTEO “WOMEN ARE INCUBATORS; MARS NEEDS BABIES FOR JESUS!” He does reference women being perpetually under authority of men–coming in a later part–but that’s par for the course with complementarianism.

    • Molly

      Hello!
      Jarred–You’re quite right, and that discussion is totally showing up in a few sections! You beat me to the punch–well played!

  • http://google.com ivan

    baaaaaa test

  • http://amethystmarie.com/ Amethyst

    When you found the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, let me know how I can get in on that.

    • Molly

      Would you prefer Sci-fi channel miniseries iteration where we all get fancy butterfly hats or the David Lynch version where we all have awkwardly shaved heads? I’d strongly prefer the former.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Can we dispense with the idea that our entire existence is all about a savior that HAS to be male because Men Are Better Than Women Of Course? I never could get over that, but I do like the idea of mind-birth-control and people being helpless to resist my commands when I use The Voice. :-P

      • Molly

        I mean, if we’re *founding* it, the Missionaria Protectiva doesn’t have firm guidelines for the religious structures we’ll be subtly implanting across the cosmos. Yet.
        So, yeah, I’m okay with ditching the “absolutely totally has to be male” messiah concept!

      • Shemeshka

        I vote strongly in favor of keeping The Voice, however.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Woot! We can have a lady-messiah who overthrows the patriarchy! God knows there’s plenty of it to be overthrown in the “Dune” universe…

    • Hilary

      So what would you use for spice? Cocoa? Nugmeg? I’d love to have glowing purple eyes, do they have to be blue? Yes, let’s absolutly keep the Voice, and the special worm-tooth knives. Yes to a female Kwizatz Hederach.

  • http://fastforwardtomarriage.com Gill

    For more help with with relationship matters, try this site: http://fastforwardtomarriage.com/ggr-video

  • Red

    To your last point, about purity culture defining what NOT to do rather than what TO do, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! This is so true.

    I once dated a guy who had been influenced by the Joshua Harris books (not the point of calling our relationship “courting” or having it filtered through his parents, but still, much of the influence was there). We had huge struggles starting up our relationship, because he thought that relationships begin to exist when you set up rules and parameters for them (rather than when two people simply begin growing as a couple). When asking me out, he specified that I should only say yes if I could imagine this someday leading to marriage (what??) and a whole host of other things that we could and could not do, and what time schedule it would be appropriate to do them on.

    Now, this may sound like he was just a controlling douche–however, after further conversation with him, he backed down on all of it and ended up not being controlling at all during the 2 years we dated. After a few conversations I realized that he had only set up this extremely bizarre situation because he had been taught that this is the only way healthy Christian relationships can exist. He had been scared into believing that if you don’t set up tons of rules, you are going to BY DEFAULT slide into a type of selfish, sinful relationship that God would not want.

    His dependence on rules actually continued to be a struggle for him throughout our relationship. It was confusing to him to understand how two people could mutually negotiate something unless that thing was spelled out for both of them ahead of time. Case in point, when we discussed mutual decision-making in marriage (rather than him being the head and me submitting), he thought the best way to do that would be to just say, “You got your way last time, so now it’s my turn, and next time it’ll be your turn again.” He was okay with me making the decisions half the time, but he didn’t believe that he and I could MUTUALLY make decisions, or that we could safely decide which issues were more relevant to which person, etc. We’d have to follow the rules or we’d fall into chaos!

    I want to point out that this guy was completely normal in every other way, so I’m assuming it was the purity culture that made him so incredibly strange about dating. I wish I could say he was an extreme example, but he wasn’t!

  • http://www.wideopenground.com Lana

    When you get a blog, Molly, please let me know!! want to follow you!

  • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com lara

    “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.”

    THIS!!!

    I’ve been married for almost 10 years and I still have no idea how to develop an interpersonal relationship that leads to a lifelong partnership! Thank you so much for articulating this so well. I want to learn more so I can teach my kids. My husband and I were so ill equipped.

  • Hilary

    To geek myself out beyond belief – I give you the immortal lyrics of Tom Smith:

    Crystal Gale killed Frank Herbert
    (To the tune of “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue”)

    The spice melange, it’s so cinnamon sweet,
    I put it on most everything I eat.
    It’s addictive, too,
    And don’t it make my brown eyes blue.

    Dad got control over all that spice,
    But Baron Harkonnen had him iced –
    Tried to kill me, too,
    And don’t it make my brown eyes,
    Don’t it make my brown eyes,
    Don’t it make my brown eyes blue.

    So me and my mother ran away across Dune,
    Got found by the Fremen, not a moment too soon,
    They said it was easier to leave us behind,
    But if we went with them, it would stillsuit them fine.

    Now I’m dreamin’ of a huge jihad,
    And the Fremen all think I’m God –
    Maybe I do, too,
    And don’t it make my brown eyes,
    Don’t it make my brown eyes,
    Don’t it make my brown eyes blue.

    Please google “Tom Smith songwriter” to find his most awesome website.

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