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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.


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