(The best starting point for this blog is the article I co-wrote with Talli Moellering, “The End of Purity Culture – check it out here.)
This week, Joshua Harris released an official statement apologizing for his seminal work I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Considering this is the book that launched his career and a massive courtship movement in conservative evangelical circles, that couldn’t have been an easy step for Harris to take. He alluded to his shifting perspectives last winter in a TedX talk, though his talk fell short of the full blown retraction he’s offering now. If you have a copy of IKDG floating around, it’s about to be a relic because he is also halting further publication of the book.
Honestly, while I’m not a fan of the book, I sympathize with Harris. He was the ripe old age of 20 when he wrote IKDG, and by his own admission, had a very limited dating history. Considering the fact that his brain wasn’t even fully developed by this point, my bigger question is, who determined this young kid was qualified to write a dating manifesto for the masses.
But even more so, I sympathize with Harris because he wasn’t the only person sharing these thoughts in Christian circles in the 90’s. Not by a long shot. He just had the biggest platform (a catchy book title can do that for you.) The purity movement swept over youth groups like a tidal wave and pledges, purity rings, and True Love Waits conferences had the full attention conservative Christians for nearly a decade.
I flipped through the pages of I Kissed Dating Goodbye once, but none of the central thoughts really stuck with me. What stuck with me more was the purity talk where I was told that holding hands was akin to sex, or the camp counselor who shared that her knee length dress had caused her boyfriend to lust after her and implied that it was somehow her fault.
Happily, I shrugged off those ideas because they seemed weird to me at the time, and no permanent damage was done. But, those moments are indicative of a larger conversation in the church that took a biblical idea (sex is designed for marriage) and added on layers of man made rules and made promises on God’s behalf to an entire generation. (The phrase True Love Waits implies that if you wait, true love will ensue – at least that’s how my seventh grade mind interpreted it. But True Love Waits sounded better than If You Wait, You Might Fall in Love, Get Married, and Have Sex One Day…or You Might Not.)
I’m glad that the Church is moving beyond the purity conversations of the past, and I think Harris’ apology is one signal that we’re entering a new era of how we as Christians discuss sex and dating. The question is, how will we take what we’ve learned and have a better conversation moving forward?
I also think it’s important to note that Joshua Harris was writing primarily to a teen and college aged population back when his book hit the shelves. It was assumed back then that most people would get married young, or young-ish, sometime shortly after college. These days, people are staying single for much longer and well into adulthood, which means there a much richer and ongoing conversation is required. We need to be able to talk about sex and dating with teenagers who live under mom and dad’s roof, and we need to be able to have this conversation with grown adults who pay their own bills and are still called to a biblical standard of living.
(Perhaps one of the most damaging effects of IKDG was when young people continued applying Harris’ principles to their lives well into adulthood, and interpreted his book to mean they should avoid a healthy and godly pursuit of dating and relationships at age 25 just as they did at age 15.)
Dating, relationships, marriage, & sex are all still important topics for the Church to talk about, but now that the conversation is changing, it’s up to us to determine how it will be shaped moving forward. So let’s speak up, chime in, and be a part of it, wherever we are and whatever life phase we’re in.
In future posts, I’d like to dig in to this discussion even more. In the meantime though, I’m curious to hear from you: Did you read IKDG or other books with similar ideas? How do you feel about Joshua Harris’ apology?