Its like, well, crap, is the biggest thing Ive done in my life this really huge mistake?
Do you remember the 1997 Christian book bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye? If you were a Christian teenager or young adult in the early years of the 21st century, chances are pretty good your youth group did a study on it. If youve been in ministry for a while, chances are equally good you led teens through a study on it.
The author of the book, Joshua Harris, was just 21 years old when he wrote it. Many have used this fact to discredit Harris and question the validity of the advice he gives in the book. After all, what advice could someone give another on relationships when that person hadnt been in a significant one yet and had lived such a short time on earth?
Many found Harris idea to steer clear of dating until they were sure God had sent the one absolutely impractical. However, a decent number adhered to his advice, saving dating, pursuing, even kissing until after they had found the one they were sure would make good marriage material.
However, a lot of reports have surfaced in recent years of young people who felt stifled and impaired by the advice given in the book. Many felt the book admonishing them to repress their sexuality and miss out on healthy relationships in their formative years. Some go so far as to say the book caused them to miss their chance at a happy marriage.
What does the author have to say about all this? Well, it looks like hes starting to change his tune a little. According to Wikipedia, as early as 2005, Harris seemed to augment his stance. Addressing the congregation he was leading at the time (Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.), he admonished the young people to remedy the lack of freeness between men and women in cultivating friendships. In fact, he goes so far as to say men and women should go to coffee with one another, one-on-one even (scandalous!).
Harris recently spoke to NPR about his book and his changing views. He tells the interviewer, I think the problem (laughter) when I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye is that I had not walked through that relationship yet myself. And I wasit was very speculative. Harris claims hes at a place now where hed like to hear the feedback of those who feel they have been wronged by the teaching of the book. And while he doesnt feel responsible for the extremes to which some groups took the message of his book, he is ready to process this feedback.
What I was writing about was, Avoid this pain, avoid these mistakes, dont do these things, Harris admitted. Is that really how we grow as human beings?
Harris has set up a page on his website where readers can submit such feedback.
As those ’90s teens and 20-somethings grew up and got to experience love and relationships for themselves, let’s just say they’re not holding back on how the book has affected them. Some of the comments have been downright blistering, like this one for example:
I have been married to my wife for over seven years. Weve been together over 10. We have a beautiful daughter, and successful careers. When we were dating, we had sex. Because of the shameful purity movement rhetoric we learned from your book, sex became tainted. To this day, I cannot be intimate with my wife without feeling like Im doing something wrong. Sinful. Impure. We both adored your book as young people. And I believe our diligent commitment to your ideas, and our failing to stay pure until marriage has permanently damaged our relationship. Years of truth and counseling later, I cannot get the subconscious idea out of my head that I am doing something wrong. Damn you.
Others have responded to the book with the recent trending hashtag #KissShameBye that started circulating on Twitter last month.
Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. Its what Im known for, said Harris. Its like, well, crap, is the biggest thing Ive done in my life this really huge mistake?
According to an article on Harris by Slate.com, “He still believes in the mainstream evangelical sexual ethic that says sex is reserved for heterosexual marriage. But he has come to question many assumptions that undergirded his book: the urge of parents and church leaders to strictly control young people; the purity movements implication that sexual mistakes are somehow irrevocable; and his books ‘formulaic approach to relationships that somehow guarantees a happy outcome.’”
While one author recanting a book he wrote almost two decades ago may not seem like that big of a deal, it points to a bigger issue plaguing the church right now. A quick search on Google will reveal a lot of people who are disillusioned by the purity culture movement that Harris is partly responsible for creating.
The church is at a crossroads where it needs to step back, evaluate some of the teachings weve held about purity, sexuality and relationships, and carefully consider how God would have us revise. In the meantime, there is a lot of ministry to do among those who have been hurt by the overly legalistic purity culture movement. Not only have relationships with other people been impaired by this movement, but our understanding of God and his nature have also been affected.
Has IKissed Dating Goodbye affected your life and relationships? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.