Josh Harris is Questioning Everything. Kinda. Sorta.

harrisI Kissed Dating Goodbye opens with a poignant and memorable illustration:  A bride is walking down the aisle as her groom awaits her at the altar.  The groom is then joined by a whole host of other women.  Who are these women?  We learn that they are women from his past, with whom he had been romantically involved prior to meeting her.  Though they mean nothing to him now, each holds a piece of his heart.

The moral is clear:  You don’t want this to be you on your wedding day.  So guard your heart and keep it pure; save it for the one whom you intend to marry.  Don’t give anything away to anyone unless he/she is the one you intend to marry.  I Kissed Dating Goodbye offers a blueprint:  Courtship, in which a couple moves purposefully toward marriage with parental involvement and blessing, is presented as a vastly superior means of connecting relationally with the opposite sex.  Traditional dating is disparaged as “a training ground for divorce” because it trains you to bail on relationships when things get tough.  And any sort of physical intimacy before marriage is strongly disparaged as a violation of the sacredness of married sexuality which could lead to lifelong regret.

Purity culture–that is, the emphasis on sexual purity as the end-all, be-all of how we distinguish ourselves as Christians and show ourselves faithful to Christ–was starting to be a thing back in the 90’s.  Josh Harris was a rock star in the then-emerging homeschooling movement, which is all about purity culture.  Then I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out and quickly broke through to become a major phenomenon in mainstream evangelicalism, propelling Harris to major-league Christian celebrity status.  Harris would go on to write other books about dating and relationships, including Not Even a Hint:  Guarding Your Heart Against Lust and Boy Meets Girl:  Say Hello to Courtship.

So here we are, nearly two decades later, and all the young people who grew up in the height of the purity culture movement under the shadow of I Kissed Dating Goodbye have had time to grow up, marry, have children of their own, and get divorced.  The chickens are coming home to roost, and Josh Harris is having misgivings about the fruit of his work.  This piece by Ruth Graham at Slate examines the fruit of I Kissed Dating Goodbye now that we are a generation down the road.  In it we see that there is a significant difference between the promises of purity culture and the reality now experienced by those who grew up in said purity culture.  Though Harris has not yet come to the point of issuing a full-blown apology, he is at least willing to listen to his critics.

As noted elsewhere in this space, the purity culture movement is a dead end.  It goes way beyond the commands of Scripture with regard to sexual purity and places unrealistic burdens upon people which are impossible to bear, burdens which fall disproportionately upon women.  It tells an alternate story in which sexual purity is the end-all, be-all of how distinguish ourselves as Christians and show ourselves faithful to Christ, and in which Christ himself is reduced to a marginal role, an assumed but unimportant presence.  That Harris is now willing to listen to his critics and reassess the fruit of a movement he played an instrumental role in promoting, is an encouraging sign.