Guest Post: I Hugged Dating Hello, Part II: Developing Spiritual Intimacy

A guest post by Molly

Part II of An Open Letter to Joshua Harris

A note for readers: Molly is a progressive Christian who is looking at Harris’ book and teachings through that lens. Please bear this in mind as you read this installment and be respectful with your responses.  

Dear Josh,

The last time we parted ways I left you with a quote from Julia Feder, an author featured at Women In Theology:

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.

All of the types of relational intimacies Feder describes are dynamic. While I know you intend to whisper, “I can’t wait to see you when you’re fifty” in the ear of your new bride, the person you marry at twenty-five is not the same person you’ll be married to at fifty (Harris 186). I’m not talking just about the aging process. [1] Twenty-five years of living—with all of life’s unpredictable joys, sorrows, successes, and failures—shape a person physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually in ways that cannot be imagined.

Your three methods of predicting your partner’s future character are based on how she relates to God, how she relates to others, and how she disciplines herself in the present (176-181).  In particular, your description of spiritual intimacy seems static—you write that “time can only add to [your future wife’s] true beauty. Of course, the signs of age will emerge, but the spirit that lights up her sparkling eyes will still be young, vibrant, and alive” (186). This suggests that relationships contain no space for spiritual growth—the Christian one is at age 25 is the same Christian one will be at 50—yet in reality our faith is constantly tested and sometimes deepened: by the death of a parent, a miscarriage, a car crash, towers collapsing in New York.[2] I believe (and I think you’d agree with me) that the best method of ensuring a couple matures and grows together is to develop solid lines of communication early on in the relationship. While much of I Kissed Dating Goodbye concerns one’s own individual relationship with God, spiritual intimacy isn’t a 1:1 ratio of believers to God. Spiritual intimacy is a communal effort—hence the existence of the Church—and I believe that you would agree with me that it is a duty of Christian couples to support one another in their walk with God. That being said . . .

Serving others is rarely sin, but your motivations could be

“Instead of making God the object of our longing, we wrongly direct these feelings toward another human. We become idolaters, bowing to someone other than God, hoping that this person will meet our needs and bring us fulfillment” (144).

Josh, I believe that part of Christian living is to see everyone (not just believers) as imago dei—made in the image of God—so it initially struck me as strange that you seem to be saying that “longing for another person” and “making God the object of our longing” has to be mutually exclusive. I don’t think it’s wrong to long for people when the desire is motivated by wanting the best for them, seeing them prosper, praying they don’t come to harm, and seeing them with hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). I see service to others as service to God; we attend to one other and love one other as we love ourselves, as Christ commanded (Mk 12:31).

But I do believe you’re onto something with that last part—it is, to borrow a phrase from my Hebrew professor, high-handed sin to serve another person if one is motivated solely by the guarantee that one will be rewarded financially, sexually, or emotionally by that person at some future time. You’ve used Christian terminology to describe what’s frequently called Nice Guy syndrome, which blogger Augusta Christensen described as the belief that one’s crush is some type of machine that “you can put friendship tokens into until sex falls out.” That sense of entitlement doesn’t build relationships with God, and it poisons relational intimacy with other people. In a roundabout way, I agree with you on this point, Josh. Healthy relationships are based on unforced reciprocity.

I’m not letting you off that easily, however, because . . .

Christian objectification of women is still objectification

“When I stopped seeing girls as potential girlfriends and started treating them as sisters in Christ, I discovered the richness of true friendship” (21).

“At this point in her life, Mom has been a Christian for only a year. She’s still a bit headstrong and independent. At nineteen [her] conversion to Christ has disrupted her ambitions for a professional career” (205).

Josh, remember how we talked about seeing everyone as made in the image of God? I do genuinely appreciate men who remember women were also created in imago dei, but I think maintaining a dichotomy between “sister in Christ” and “potential girlfriend” lulls both you and your potential crushes into a false sense of security. While I certainly don’t object to you elevating the status of the women in your life, it shouldn’t come at the cost of rendering them sexless, emotionless, mindless servants of God’s kingdom. Benevolent objectification is still objectification, and even when rendered as “sisters in Christ,” women still bear the burden of policing a man’s sex drive. This is ironic, given that men are supposed to be leaders and patriarchs of their future families, and yet . . .

‘Lead me not into temptation…’ (but if I am tempted, it’s your fault!)

“Please be aware of how easily your actions and glances can stir up lust in a guy’s mind” (99).

“Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self-control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body” (ibid).

Josh, as my mother is fond of saying, “I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was going to blame you.” Holding women accountable for the degree a man succumbs to his libido is not only unfair to women—note the frequency of the “she was asking for it” defense in rape and sexual assault cases—it’s downright insulting to men because it denies them agency and accountability. As Libby Anne has written here, modesty can frequently be a positive thing, “but not when it’s used to absolve an entire gender of the responsibility for their own sin and instead places the responsibility for that sin on the other gender.”

A recent post on the forum Gentle Christian Mothers points out that babies raised in complementarian households are frequently disciplined to not act on what they see. “If what they see (i.e. Mom’s glass vase) causes them problems, they should be taught to simply not act on their urges. Nothing should be hidden to protect them from stumbling.” In contrast, adult men should be “protected from seeing things that make them stumble. If what they see (i.e the female shoulder or knee) causes them problems, it should be hidden from them.”Josh, you’re not a baby, and neither are the Christians you’re writing to. When you quote 2 Timothy 2:22—“flee the desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart”—you’re ignoring that it’s nearly impossible to isolate yourself from the temptations of sexualized secular culture (128).

I recognize that hamartiology—articulating the cause of and solution to humanity’s sin—is a large part of Christian theology, but I believe there’s a huge (and damaging) distinction between telling people that they’re born with sin—and that’s its own conversation—and telling them to fear their bodies, that they’re not in control of their own actions, and that they should feel personally attacked by (and despise) women who violate biblical modesty. [3] Instead of running from temptation, why not face it down? As James 1:2-4 explains, you should consider it “pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

If you find the way someone dresses, speaks, or carries herself offensive or tempting, it’s up to you to face it with maturity and conviction, not her. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “when I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Taking responsibility for your own impulses is the best way to “grow up” in faith.

Respond to God’s grace with action rather than passivity 

“Do you believe that God knows best? Then place your life’s calendar at His feet and allow Him to handle the scheduling of your relationships. Trust Him even if it means not dating when other people think you should. When God knows you’re ready for the responsibility of commitment, He’ll reveal the right person under the right circumstances” (86).

I don’t believe that “trusting God” equates to “denying one’s own ability to impact their environment” and it seems like purity culture frequently tries to employ what feminist author Jessica Valenti calls the ethic of passivity in her book The Purity Myth:

Staying “pure” and “innocent” is touted as the greatest thing we can do. However, equating this inaction with morality not only is problematic because it continues to tie women’s ethics to our bodies, but also is       downright insulting because it suggests women can’t be moral actors. Instead, we’re defined by what we don’t do (25).

While God may “reveal the right person under the right circumstances,” I feel like this trust may lead to complacency—not pursuing opportunities for relationships (of any variety) out of the conviction that God will initiate all of your needed social contact with no outreach effort on your part. This, to my mind, isn’t trust. It’s laziness. It’s demoting Jesus from personal savior to personal secretary. Even though you frame this passivity as a way of trusting God, it’s clear to me that one of your underlying motives for letting God schedule your social calendar is to avoid the risks you associate with emotional intimacy.

Molly

—————

Gentle (and Not-So-Gentle) Readers: Come back soon for Part III of I Hugged Dating Hello, where I will write about “emotional purity,” whether or not love is a finite resource, and why it’s horrifying we even need to debate the latter. ~ Molly

—————

Notes:

[1] Though you advocate looking at a girl’s mother as a projection of what she’ll look like in 25 years (187). To quote my mother: “Sorry.” Love you, Mom!

[2] As noted in the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, “There’s nothing wrong with a fifth-grade understanding of God as long as you’re in the fifth grade.”

[3] And we already talked about the hazards of using the “biblical” label in front of controversial terms back in part one.

—————

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

    Another great installment.

    I look forward to the section on emotional intimacy.

  • SB

    I don’t get what relevance this post has for an atheist website. I enjoyed the previous post and am looking forward to the next (probably because I like your writing style) but this post is way off target.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      SB,

      Because I am an atheist and Patheos categorizes its blogs by religious affiliation or lack thereof, my blog is indeed in Patheos’ atheist portal. However, while I do blog about religion and disbelief my blog is primarily a feminist blog, not primarily an atheist blog. (Hence the title.)

      This particular post is part of a guest series, an open letter a woman named Molly has written to Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Molly happens to be a progressive Christian, not an atheist, but as her series deals with the harmful ideologies of the evangelical purity culture, and most specifically the significantly influential teachings of Harris, I happen to think it fits very well here. While this particular segment of her series may not be all that relevant for you, I do also have Christian readers who may find it to be quite relevant.

      I have done a significant number of guest posts over the last year as part of the various series I have put together—Raised Quiverfull, Raised Evangelical, Purity Rings, Homeschool Reflections—and I have never required participants to be atheists. I would never post a piece that ventured into proselytizing, but I have no problems with posting something by a progressive or moderate Christian when what they’ve written fits the scope of topics I cover.

      Libby

    • Mariana

      As a frequent reader of this blog, I agree with Libby Anne – this post fits quite well with the topics she usually covers (feminist critique of conservative evangelical gender/dating prescriptions), even if it is from a slightly different perspective.

  • Noelle

    So a little math shows Harris (1 year older than I) was all of 23 years old when this book was published. This means he was even younger when he wrote it. Any dating book I might’ve written in college could’ve been titled “I have no idea at all how to get a date.” And I certainly was looking forward to some kissing, so I don’t know what his deal was. I was 24 when I got married, but I can’t say as I knew what I was doing then either.

    Who takes a “dating” manual from a 23 year-old seriously? He was barely out of childhood, for crying out loud. How did this take off? Has he ever updated his views now that he’s 38?

    • smrnda

      This is something that I don’t get as well. Harris was really young when he wrote these books, and I think he wrote some of them when he wasn’t in any sort of relationship and wasn’t married, yet his books get touted as somehow informative on topics the author really couldn’t know anything about.

      When I looked into his writings, I think Harris was just unhappy about not being with someone, so he had to make dating into a bad thing since he was jealous of other people. He does reek of the sort of ‘nice guy’ who feels that if he ends up with a woman who (gasp!) dated someone else he’d feel cheated, and that he wants to change his ‘never been in a relationship’ (a potential negative or just a neutral) into an asset that proves his superiority.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      First, he was 21 when he wrote the book, and fresh off of a painful relationship experience. Second, I have heard rumors from people at his church that he has had second thoughts about some of what he wrote and concerns about how people have interpreted it and put it into practice. However, he has never come out and said *any* of that officially. It’s a lot like his brothers — they started that whole Modesty Survey thing and supposedly feel like it really ended up a disaster and has been a bad thing, but they have not taken it down, nor do they mention their concerns on the Modesty Survey site. I honestly wonder if Harris doesn’t want to do damage to all the money he must still be making off of his book.

      • Jamal Jones

        Hello Libby,

        You make very good points above, when we think about it is a little strange that a 23 year old published a dating book that garnered such authority. I myself read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and didn’t like it, I also would consider myself the “conservative evangelical” that most people don’t like (I also would say that I’m very different than the stereotype, but how can you know unless you hang out with me, right?).

        I would like to clear up your second point. Joshua Harris did have second thoughts on his ideas after he released the book in question. But he also did recant some of those thoughts publicly, he even wrote a book on it called “Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship”. It doesn’t sound like much of a recant at first, but I’ve read that one too (like it more but didn’t overall care for it either) and he does “repent” for some of his past thoughts. I just wanted to clear that up.

        Molly, as we are classmates, congrats on getting your stuff published and out there. I’m hype for ya sistah, you pose well thought out arguments and I respect that.

      • Noelle

        I suppose we should be glad he didn’t write it when he was 12, or we’d be checking girls for cooties.

      • Rosa

        I Kissed Dating Goodbye got used in teen Sunday school and Bible study groups, too. It was chosen by adults to teach to teens, so people with experience were pushing it. Though I bet very few of those adults had the experience of not dating before marriage.

  • DoctorD

    My, that was, um, “interesting.” Interesting in that the language was clearly English, but I didn’t understand a word of it.
    So you’re “…predicting your partner’s future character are based on how she [he] relates to God…” Should my wife therefore have left me at the altar decades ago, as I do not believe in a god and must therefore be a characterless nobody?
    We should “see everyone… made in the image of God?” You’ve got it backwards… god is made in the image of man.
    “It’s demoting Jesus from personal savior to personal secretary.” Keep going… from savior, to personal secretary, to ancient myth, to POOF. Nothingness.
    Oh. And bible-quoting is meaningless to this choir.
    There is no supernatural. There are no gods. There is no afterlife. This is your one chance at existence. Live it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      DoctorD, you might want to take a look at my response to a commenter above.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Here’s an idea: if you’re confused or troubled by an idea she’s put forth, why don’t you ask her for clarification instead of projecting the most negative interpretation you can come up with on to it? I am not a Christian or even a theist but, as far as I’m concerned, Molly has demonstrated herself to be, at the very least, deserving of the opportunity to defend her ideas in a mutually respectful discussion, rather than written off as just some small-minded bigot. I don’t see anything in her writing that suggests that she sees atheists or non-Christians as “characterless nobodies.” Where are you getting that? The fact that you chose to use her point that faith is no reason or excuse for abdicating responsibility for your major life decisions (which, to my mind, is a good point whether you have faith or not) to get on soapbox and drop some smug atheist boilerplate on her makes you come out looking way worse, in my opinion. And trufax: not everybody who reads and comments here is an atheist and not everybody who’s an atheist feels the need to be condescending and combative towards people who have not attacked them and, in fact, are trying to make a case for progressive values.

      Looking forward to the rest of your posts, Molly, even if we are coming from very different perspectives on some things.

      • Molly

        Thanks very much for your kind words, Petticoat Philosopher!
        Basically, if we’re viewing this *as* a letter to Josh Harris, you pretty much have to use religiously-based language if you want an evangelical audience to listen. Could I make this case without bible quotes? Yes. Have I made this case without bible quotes? Yes, but part of seminary is playing rhetorical chess and learning to couch my arguments in theological language and hoping most folk don’t notice how “worldly,” “secular,” “hedonistic,” or “blatantly stolen from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” they are.
        While it’s easy to condemn complementarian theology, Quiverfull, and “emotional virginity” with or without a belief in a higher power, it’s been my experience that the only way you can get people raised in conservative religious traditions to give your argument a second glance is to use theology and language they’re familiar with and meeting them where they are as kindly as you can manage, rather than quickly drop-tackling them with atheism.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

        Well said PP and Molly.
        The other thing a lot of todays commenters seem to forget is how many of us that read this blog are atheists who USED TO BE Christians of one shape or another, and are still working through a lot of that.
        Reading a complete bollocksing of Joshua Harris, with relevant scripture, actually brought me several “YES!” moments in this post alone. As Molly has pointed out – this is the kind of post I needed to read as a university-aged evangelical who had been swept up in this teaching. Teaching that caused me problems for several years after I left the church.

      • Cylon

        “Yes, but part of seminary is playing rhetorical chess and learning to couch my arguments in theological language and hoping most folk don’t notice how “worldly,” “secular,” “hedonistic,” or “blatantly stolen from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” they are.”

        Huh. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but it sounds like you are taking moral arguments from nonreligious sources and trying to apply them to a Christian worldview. I can see the utility in that when trying to communicate with other Christians, but for you personally, if your morality is primarily shaped by things outside Christianity, what do you need religion for?

        But I may be missing something because I’m not terribly familiar with progressive Christianity. I come from a more fundamentalist religious background where the voice of the church was the ultimate arbiter of morality. Realizing that much of what they taught was actually immoral was a big step for me in ditching religion altogether. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on where your morals come from.

      • Molly

        Cylon–
        Sorry, brave little Toaster, but that’s a hand of Triad that–at least for now–has to be played very close to my chest.
        ;)

  • Stephanie

    I so agree with your last paragraph. I was kind of taught that you wait for good things to happen rather than going out and getting them. I am really trying hard now to reverse that thinking and focus on looking for opportunities. If I am waiting on God to give me a relationship then maybe he doesn’t want me to have one with the way things are going haha. Thanks for writing this.

  • Faith N.

    Molly, as a progressive-minded Christian & feminist (and frequent LJF reader), I’m really enjoying your perspective on this! This book was waved around constantly in my circle growing up as a homeschooler, and it’s such a relief now as an adult to be able to reject all the falsehoods it contains. Thanks for tackling it–looking forward to the rest.

    Also, as a fellow belly dancer, let me just say “yallah”! :)

    • Molly

      *somewhere, out in the woods, a ululation back. Like a wolf that has lost its pack, and is inexplicably dragging around 15 lbs of finger cymbals.*

      • Guest

        So nice to find some fellow theology geek belly dancers, hello from accross the pond! :)

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