Joshua Harris Stops Printing I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Joshua Harris Stops Printing I Kissed Dating Goodbye October 23, 2018
Image credit: Pixabay

I didn’t grow up in the Catholic church, so I’m not sure how big of an impact someone like Joshua Harris had on Catholic teenagers. I do know he had a huge impact within the evangelical world.

I was sixteen when I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out. Before that, boys and girls in my church were expected to stay chaste. After that book came out, we were expected to stop having human thoughts and emotions.

If I held a boy’s hand, I’d given part of my heart away and cheated on my future husband.

If I even had a crush on a boy, I’d cheated on my future husband.

When you teach this to teenagers, there are two paths they usually take. They might become obsessed with policing their every thought and action to the point of scrupulosity or they might give up on trying to remain chaste. If holding hands is just as bad as having sex, and you’ve already held hands, why not just have sex? The latter was an especially big problem in churches that preach all sins are equal.

At least two generations of young Christians were raised to believe if they felt some sort of attraction to someone, they’d better marry them or they were sinning against God and their future spouse. That’s not a recipe for healthy adult relationships or for a healthy relationship with God.

I’ve known people who waited until their wedding day to have their first kiss. I’ve known people who decided to court instead of date. Most of them are divorced now or still single because they’ve built up all of these expectations for “the one” that nobody could possibly live up to.

I only know a couple of people who followed the ideas of the courtship movement and came out of that culture undamaged. I’m honestly glad for them, but they aren’t the norm. Most of my peers came out of it with deep spiritual and psychological wounds.

The cloud of the purity movement hangs over a lot of us. Some of us have so much baggage we don’t know how to have healthy relationships. Some of us knew holding hands wasn’t a sin, but we didn’t have any sort of guidance to determine what was a sin, so we swung too far in the other direction. Some of us were victims of sexual assault and endured feelings of guilt and unworthiness over something we had no control over.

Two years ago, Josh Harris started talking to his critics. I’ve been keeping an eye on him since then. Yesterday, I read a statement he posted.

I no longer agree with its [I Kissed Dating Goodbye’s] central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner…

[I]n an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture…

In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it’s best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar).

First of all, I appreciate that he’s taken the time to listen and reevaluate his work. The older I get, the more I understand just how young and inexperienced he was when he started writing these books. Part of the responsibility for all this damage is on his shoulders, but part of the responsibility is on the shoulders of all the adults who were publishing and promoting him. And part of the responsibility lies with the greater Christian culture of fear. His views were pushed so hard because adults were afraid. It was reactionary and that’s never a good way to make decisions. The gospel isn’t based on fear. It’s based on love, and love drives out fear.

It also makes me reflect on what a great responsibility we all have when we choose to speak, preach, or teach. Our words have real consequences, and we’re not always the ones who have to pay up. If I get something really wrong, and I go out and teach that, I’m not the only one who has to pay the price for my mistakes. There’s a reason most people shouldn’t be teachers.

When I was younger, I was such an evangelist. I loved God and I loved people, so obviously I wanted to hook everyone up with God. I loved God so much I wound up putting my blinders on and following along with some toxic beliefs. Instead of discernment, I went with blind obedience. I wound up teaching some things I shouldn’t have been teaching, and that hurt some people. I’ll never know just how much damage I did back then. Even if I only turned one person away from God, how many people might that person have positively influenced toward God if I’d just kept my trap shut? Our words matter.

I’ve seen some of my fellow ex-evangelicals expressing their forgiveness to Josh Harris. I’m not sure I’m at that point right now, maybe because I haven’t forgiven myself for the part I played yet.

I wish I’d had an older, wiser mentor back then to help guide me, but who knows if I would have listened. When we believe we’re on a mission for God, we don’t hear so well. I wish Josh Harris had been exposed to some older, wiser adults who could have told him, “Hey, why don’t you just go out and live life for about twenty years before you try influencing other people?” Maybe he would have listened and we’d have been spared all this pain.

People get frustrated with me sometimes because I’m not an ideal convert. I don’t get all worked up and excited about all these new things I’ve learned and then go tell all my friends so they can see how awesome and right Catholicism is and join too.

For someone who has been blogging about her spiritual life for over five years, I’m unusually tight-lipped about theology. That’s because I’ve already been that new convert before, back when I got saved as a teenager. I’ve been that fired up person who is so excited and wants to include everyone she cares about, which is everyone. And I know just how much damage a zealous person can do when they aren’t equipped to be out there evangelizing. A person can grow in their faith and live it out without running around acting like they know everything. I promise it’s possible.

Back in the 90s, Josh Harris and I shouted, “Come on everyone! Join me!” and jumped into the deep end of the pool before we could even swim, and other people wound up drowning because of it.

Yeah, sure, I’m swimming around in some deep theological waters here (I’ve never been one for shallow faith), but I’m not goading anyone else into coming with me. If I drown, I drown alone. I need to learn how to swim better before inviting anyone else in. If I pull someone in and they start flailing, how can I help them if I can’t even keep my own head above water?

Before we go around telling everyone else what they ought to be doing, we need to live with those decisions ourselves for a long time. Count the real cost. Determine what the long-term consequences are. Evaluate whether this is a decision that’s right for just me in my particular circumstances or right for everyone in all circumstances.

We have to stop being motivated by fear and blind obedience. We have to stop drowning people.

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  • By the way, I read your book, so this post makes a lot more sense given the crap that was handed to you in Arkansas.

    I’m at least a decade older than you are, and grew up Catholic in the 1970s and 1980s.

    My first communion class was very liberal- in 1978 we were the first ones to get communion in the hand instead of on the tongue. My priest from high school, whom I followed to Portland for marriage, ended up accused of sexual abuse.

    NEVER even heard of this courting stuff until the Duggars got famous.

    I even grew up around anabaptists (well, German Apostolic Christians anyways, we were the evil family in the neighborhood, we had a TV set) and I never even got an inkling any of this existed (the “Kuenzi girls” would date, but were expected after high school to move from Oregon to Illinois to find a husband- to keep the genetics from getting too awful. As it was, Kuenzis, Kaufmans, and Stadalis all looked quite alike to a face blind autistic like me). Oh, and we had a small family, just my brother and I- the average Kuenzi clan was 19 kids and completely overwhelmed our public school system.

    Our Youth group at church was so bad at teaching purity that the youth group leader thought it would be a good idea to introduce all of us to Billy Joel’s “Keeping the Faith” and the use of condoms in the back seat of a chevrolet. None of us had ever heard of that either, and in the time between the Catechisms, our faith education was rather minimal and limited to “God Loves you”, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and how to turn walnuts and rubber cement into a nativity set.

    It took until I was in my mid-30s to outgrow that hippie-dippie version of Catholicism (though thanks to that experience with my parents in the Charismatic Movement, Keven O’Brian’s character of Standford Nutting is *really funny*).

    But boy did we learn to get married early, and for most of my grade school class, divorce is considered a form of abuse. A man would no more divorce his wife than hit her. Just about every couple I know from high school who got married young, are now enjoying in their 40s being empty nest grandparents. My best friend from grade school who was raised anabaptist and baptist and never went to college, just bought a boat and got his grownup sons to help him get it home up the columbia through three locks as his wife posted videos to facebook. Took them 4 days.

    So perhaps, the more secular version of “Students Today Aren’t Ready for Sex” STARS program was better. I’m using a modified form of it with my son- you are only ready for sex when you’re ready to settle down and get married. Dating is find. 18 month engagements are great because they give you time to get to know who you are marrying. Financial stability is very important.

  • It sounds like we had very different experiences as teenagers. My church was reacting to the more liberal sexual ideas of the 60s and 70s that they’d grown up with. Instead of being reasonable about it and going with what you’ve described: sex when you’re ready to settle down and marry, dating, long engagements, and talking about finances, they swung way too hard in the other direction. They were so afraid of sex that they wound up giving a lot of kids some psychological issues around it. I’ve got my damage from it (as you know after reading the book), but I actually came out of that relatively OK compared to some other people who grew up in it too. A lot of us have children now and it’s a struggle to know how to teach our own kids about chastity and respect for others when what we learned was so wrong. As I wrote about in the book, I swung way too far away from what I’d learned before coming to a reasonable approach to sex. It’s interesting to me to see how the way we’re raised has such a big impact on which direction we tend to go as adults. There are some seriously harmful aspects of being too conservative and being too liberal, and as adults we tend to go in the opposite direction of whatever we experienced that was harmful.

  • That last sentence is the wisest thing I’ve seen in the conservative/liberal political debates yet.

    You win the internet for today.

    Interesting story about the anabaptist family that lived next door. We were rural, we had a 45 minute bus ride to and from grade school. LOTS of religious and political arguments back then. It was a smaller anabaptist family- only four kids.

    Of those four kids- one was recently elected pastor of the church across the street from my parent’s farm. Another converted to Catholicism and was studying to be a deacon when he died. The younger two also married into the Catholic Church.

    I consider those arguments I had as a kid to be VERY fruitful!

  • With my special needs son, KNOWING he’d be confronted with this in grade school, I started talking to him at age 6. Not sure I’ve entirely succeeded yet but at age 15 he doesn’t even feel ready to date yet. But he isn’t interested in sex for reasons other than procreation, and he knows my views quite well on the subject as well as the basic mechanics, including how birth control works even if his opinion is just no sex unless you’re willing to have children and take care of them. He’ll be a surprising catch for some young lady someday.

    But likely NOT before age 25. Because there’s the financial part, and that is when he comes into a trust fund that will allow his mother to go into business with him and for me to retire to become his bookkeeper.

  • I’ve been surprised by how many of us former Anabaptists have converted to Catholicism.

  • Dan C

    He owes restitution. He made money and a name on this. He owes. A lot.