In 1997, Josh Harris’s book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, made a splash in some Christian circles.
It sold over a million copies.
He’d prayed, “God, let me write a book that would change the world.”
The how-to made an unusual claim. There were certainly some conventional ideas — No to homosexuality and sex before marriage — but the twenty-something’s plan for the best forever-love possible was a revolutionary act of faith: Don’t date.
He referred to conventional dating as “a training ground for divorce.”
Over the years, he’s heard horror stories from people who followed his book’s advice.
Sounds about right.
One person told him, “Your book was used against me like a weapon.”
In 2015, he stepped down as lead pastor of Maryland’s Covenant Life Church to attend graduate school in British Columbia. A year later, he began to question the relationship manual’s message.
He eventually provided an apologetic statement via his website.
In part, here’s what he had to say:
I no longer agree with its 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…
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). My publisher, whose encouragement in this process has been deeply meaningful to me, supports this decision and will not reprint the books after the current copies in their inventory are sold.
Josh gave a Tedx Talk in 2017, in which he outlined his wrong thinking:
“I was young, I was religiously zealous, I was certain, and I was restlessly ambitious. Youth, zeal, certainty, ambition…they have the tendency to set the world on fire. … I didn’t leave room for the idea that dating could be a healthy way of learning what you’re looking for in a long-term relationship, that it could be a part of growing personally. I gave the impression that there was one formula that you could follow, and if you followed that, you’d be happily married, God would bless you, and you’d have a great sex life and marriage. Obviously, the real world doesn’t work that way. … There was a lot of fear inside of me that I transferred into my writing. And fear’s never a good motive.”
In 2018, he released I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a documentary re-examining his freshman attempt at authorship.
Well, now there’s somethin’ else that’s fresh:
The father of three has bailed on his marriage.
And he’s no longer a Christian.
He posted the announcement on Instagram over the weekend, which included an apology to gay people:
My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.
I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)
The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.
Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.
To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
In a letter to the congregation (posted online by a author Julie Roys), Covenant Life Interim Senior Pastor Kevin Rogers addressed Josh’s abandonment of his family and faith. Here are a few excepts:
These updates are hard to hear. We love Josh and Shannon. For most of us, Josh isn’t just some distant public figure. He’s a beloved former pastor and friend. So this news isn’t just a lot to process theoretically. It hits home personally.
Several times Paul mentions former Christian leaders ‘swerving from,’ ‘wandering from,’ or ‘making shipwreck’ of their faith. So while this is sad and confusing, it isn’t new. … Paul says some had gone off course theologically. Others behaved in ways that violated Christian conscience. For others, it was greed. In every case, Paul’s hope was for redemption and restoration. That these leaders would develop ‘love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.’ (1 Tim 1:5) That should be our hope and prayer for Josh as well.
Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could take seriously the marital wisdom of not dating. Then again, they didn’t date in the Old Testament, either.
Still, if contemporary culture allows you to take as many years as you wish to get ice cream and go on hayrides in order to decide whether you’d like to made a go of it, why waste the opportunity?
As for Josh’s faith and family, hopefully he’ll get things figured out. If not, it looks like he’s on course to experience a whole lot of the things he once dismissed.
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