Josh Harris, a former evangelical pastor, wrote an influential book on Christian courtship. NPR’s Rachel Martin talks with him about the criticism he’s gotten from people who grew up reading his book.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” has been something of a relationship bible for a generation of young evangelicals. It urges people to avoid rushing into relationships and gives advice like this. (Reading) Dating is a distraction. It can help you practice being a good girlfriend or boyfriend, but those aren’t the skills you need for marriage. Joshua Harris wrote the book when he was just 21 years old.
JOSHUA HARRIS: I was advocating for friendship. I was saying, you know, you can get to know this person, you can enjoy a deep friendship. But when you get into this – we’re in this relationship where we’re sharing more and more of our hearts and our bodies, is that really a good thing if you’re not ready for commitment to the other person? So, you know, that was – 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 was – it was very speculative.
MARTIN: Joshua Harris has been reflecting a lot on the impact of his book. He’s heard from people who felt his writing taught them to be ashamed of their bodies and to feel guilty for having any sexual desires. The criticism came out recently on Twitter. One woman reached out and said the book was used against her like a weapon. Joshua Harris apologized.
HARRIS: I think I’m finally at a place where I’m really trying to listen to those 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.
MARTIN: As you have gone back through the book, where have you changed your mind?
HARRIS: Honestly, I haven’t engaged that process of reading through the whole book and saying, this is what I think about all these different areas. I think one area I am seeing is that – where my book was used as a rule book to say this is the only way to do it. I know that that’s not helpful. That was not my intention. But I think one of the things that I’m changing in my own thinking is I just think people – myself included – it’s so easy to latch on to a formula. You know, you do these things and you’ll be great. You’ll be safe and you’ll be protected and you’ll be whatever.
And I just don’t think that’s the way life works. I don’t think that’s the way the life of faith works. And so when we try to overly control our own lives or overly control other people’s lives, I think we end up harming people. And I’m – I think that that’s part of the problem with my book.