Nearly two decades ago, 21-year-old Joshua Harris wrote a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye that came to define what it meant to be in a relationship as a Christian. Dating around? Bad idea. “Courtship” was preferred — that is, you should only see someone with the intention of marrying them.
As anyone who’s been in the real world knows, it’s not easy to know if you want to marry someone before you’ve even gone out together… (and don’t even think about figuring out if there’s sexual compatibility before marriage). But it’s a book that influenced many people — and sold well over a million copies.
In other words, it really messed some people up.
To quote former fundamentalist Libby Anne, one of the points of the book was that “every time you have a romantic relationship that does not end in marriage, you are emotionally cheating on your future spouse.” Because this thinking was so prevalent in their communities, they never had the opportunity to meet new people, learn about themselves, or work through the difficult stages that everyone in a relationship goes through. They jumped into marriage when the opportunity presented itself and had to deal with the consequences.
Maybe you’ve already had the same reaction I did: What the hell does a 21-year-old know about relationships? Turns out Harris acknowledges that, too. Which is good since, at the time, even he hadn’t been in a serious relationship. In a recent NPR interview, he announced that he’s slowly walking away from what he wrote:
I think I’m finally at a place where I’m really trying to listen to those [critical] voices. And I think it’s taken time for the consequences of the way that people applied the book and the way the book affected people to play out. And so I’m hearing these different voices saying, here’s how your book was used against me, here’s how it was forced on me, or here’s how I tried to — no one forced it on me, but I tried to apply it and it had this negative consequence in different ways.
I’m trying to go back and really evaluate, you know, where did my book contribute to that? Where was it too stringent? And where was that me and what I was writing, and where was that — the families and the church cultures and so on? So I feel like I’m on the front end of a process to help people in some way if I can apologize where needed and re-evaluate where needed.
That’s all well and good, but the damage is already done. And this is typical for evangelicals, isn’t it? They act on faith-based impulses without thinking through their actions. They may one day apologize for their treatment of LGBT people, but not before spending decades demonizing them and denying their rights as much as possible. They may one day apologize for embracing Donald Trump, but not before he drives the country into the ground. They may one day apologize for promoting abstinence-only education, but not before countless numbers of teenagers have had sex without protection because they don’t know any better.
Meanwhile, they denounce the ideas of people who study and understand these issues because it all comes from a secular perspective.
I don’t fault Harris for assuming he knew what he was talking about when he was 21 — we all think we know everything at all times. But it’s been long enough to see the consequences of what he wrote. Harris should denounce his book completely — or better yet, use his celebrity in the Christian world to write another book explaining why he was wrong and what he’s learned since then.