Tag Archives: Joshua Harris

Joshua Harris, unkissed frogs and false promises


So, Joshua Harongekust enris, American Christian celebrity and the guy who wrote ‘I kissed dating goodbye’* is separating from his wife. Which would be nobodies business if he hadn’t been the guy who sold countless copies of a book that promised you a good marriage if you followed his rules.
* ”ongekust en toch geen kikker'”, (unkissed but not a frog) in the Dutch edition.

I’m not an anthropologist, but as far as I know the guy who made the ‘first kiss at the altar’ idea popular in (American) evangelicalism and made a lot of promises about how his (for me as non-US person extremely alien) ideas would lead to good marriages if you’d follow his rules. He also advocated a form of ‘courtship that I’m probably not even able to understand if I try as a European, and had a complementarian bent that has hurt a lot of women an relationships if I can believe the blogposts and FB comments I’ve read over the years.
He also wrote this when he was quite young and before he was married, which isn’t the best idea either.

It seems some people find it funny that he is separating now, which it isn’t. It’s tragic,  ironic even in the most dark cynical way possible. But this has a lot of consequences, he had influences a lot of people. Seems that the promises are not to be trusted if his marriage is over now; and that the book is completely worthless.

Well, he kind of recanted a lot of his ideas already in the last few years.  From Christianity today:

“While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. 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,” he said in a statement.

“There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken.

“The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture,” he continued

But he still seems to be so immersed in a very specific interpretation of American Christianity and what the bible says that he can’t see anything in between a very extreme fundamentalism and completely abandoning Christianity.

And I don’t mean to be dismissive, it’s just like from an intellectual standpoint, it actually feels more intellectually honest for me to say I don’t know that I agree with the Bible in general than it is to get it to say these things. And maybe that’s just because I spent so much time in a very conservative environment judging all these more progressive people that I’m now tempted to go past that [and] be like, forget it all.

But it can get to feeling, like, what are you holding onto in Christianity? Why do you need it still? …

Which is a bit concerning but completely unsurprising to me, a lot of the American postfundamentalism I’ve seen is just a negative picture of what it left behind, and has in no way broken free from the toxicity of what it tries to escape. See also On my problematic relationship with American post-fundamentalism…
if you like to see my thought processes about that.

(Yes, there is also a factor that the same ‘Christian’ tradition that gave the extreme purity culture also gave rise to a creepy sex maniac president who is the opposite of everything I can recognise as Christian, let alone the extreme sexual standard of purity culture. That is only crazy cognitive dissonance to me.)

When I wrote a review of ‘ongekust en toch geen kikker’ years ago there were a lot of problematic things, also with his gender role ideas, that I could put aside as ‘American nonsense’, but I doubt people in the US had that luxury. See also my older post Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…)

I never understood what US people meant with ‘courtship’ and I still don’t and I’m not even trying anymore.
Even the whole idea of ‘dating’ itself to descibe a form of relationship as is done in English is still a bit weird to me and, while it’s probably imported from Hollywood now in this part of Europe it’s not the way I would ever have framed a relationship. It is part of a relationship, but to me ‘dating’ says nothing about a relationship. You can have a ‘date’ with anyone for almost any reason. I’ve hung out with female friends one-on-one without it being romantic in any way (I’m an introvert who doesn’t like group settings) and it’s weird to frame a relationship with ‘they are dating’. That can mean almost anything. I’m having a da with my wife sometimes.  I’ve been hanging around and going to the caf or cinema with female friends when I was younger in what some people would interpret as a date but without any romantic element to it, just as friends too.

(What I find extremely creepy is expecting a kiss or even sex on a first date before you even have a steady relationship. Such cultural expectations are just a creepy kind of rape culture, at least I can’t interpret them otherwise. You need more relationship in the most basic sense, friendship, knowing each others mode of communicatio before intimacy can be safe.)

To translate a Flemish expression from my teenage years ‘it’s either on or not on’. (‘aan’ en ‘af’ in Dutch) And when it’s ‘on’ you’re in a relationship, serious or not, the word is even used by children, you can have a date but that’s not what defines a relationship. And if the relationship doesn’t work then you break it off and it’s ‘off’.

I would think that (unless you’re in a literally ‘bandless’ subculture) once you’re having a certain form of intimacy a relationship can be presumed to just be there and needs to be named as such.  And yes, you can date to get to know each other, before and in a relationship, so that’s not a definition of being in a relationship or not. But those last paragraphs were just a linguistic problem I have with the word ‘date’.

(I’m not going in the courtship thing, but the whole ‘ask parents’ thing sounds medieval to me. And it goes against our laws even I think and against the universal human rights declaration to let other people decide with whom you marry.)

To go back to Joshua Harris, I find the whole story very tragic, especially for all the people who trusted his promises and ended up with a broken marriage nonetheless.

So I end with pne more tip: Don’t let young unmarried people whith a lot of theory about relationships but no actual experience lead a whole crowd with their relationship advice that promises a lot and is full of very grave warnings about dangers that might not even be so big. It’s a recipe for disaster.

What do you think?

peace

Bram

See also:
A purity culture I don’t know…

On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?

Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…


true love waits
and that’s okay
but you seem to spend your time waiting
ain’t that extremely frustrating?

(the irresistible 21st century virgin boy)

Last week I had a serious flu and I was quite sick, and not able to do much at all, not even reading or thinking, so I was lying on my bed listening to old CD’s with demo songs that I recorded years ago, when I still used the nick/artist name ‘the irresistible 21st century virgin boy’*. One of the old CD’s contained a song I kissed waiting goodbye that I thought was lost forever, one of my earlier attempts to do something with beats and guitars together in a real song. But it also  vocalised  some critique to a book I mentioned in a recent post (‘I kissed dating goodbye’ by Joshua Harris), and I suppose more broadly to the rhetoric of the people of ‘true love waits’ , who then haTLW2d a Flemish division here in Belgium that sent me a lot of news letters because I once had carelessly signed one of their pledge cards on some christian event. (It seems they’re out of the running now though , can’t find anything of them anymore lately…)

The song itself was dismissed later because I hated how I hadn’t been able to find a really fitting melody on the sometimes quite random chord progressions. Re-listening there’s something in it that I like, and some things that I hate (that really bad word flow of the ‘don’t concentrate’ part for example.) But is was a good try, even if it got forgotten without ever been played again…

[please listen to the song ‘I kissed waiting goodbye’ here https://soundcloud.com/bram-cools/i-kissed-waiting-goodbye (lyrics are there also) and tell me; does it suck completely, or is there still something interesting about it?]

The title ‘I kissed waiting goodbye’ does not mean that I (with my weird artist name) had any problem with the idea of sex as belonging into a marriage relationship (I still believe in that, even though I don’t think a state marriage has much to do necessarily with the definition of marriage) but the whole imported ‘purity culture’ had some exaggerations that I found quite weird. And the local people that preached it were quite peculiar specimens too btw… The emphasis on waiting and not doing stuff was what was getting on my nerves…

Like I said earlier in my recent post a purity culture I don’t know, some of the critiques to ‘evangelical purity culture’ I’ve seen lately are describing something I don’t recognise at all, but I did have my concerns with what I did see. If I would have encountered weirdos like the 2 creeps in Sarah Moons latest blogpost my concerns would’ve been a lot bigger. And it might be that I didn’t even register some of the things that didn’t make sense to me, I think that’s how I never picked up those gender roles in Harris’ book if they are there. my brain didn’t even notice them because they made no sense to me, and they got thrown with the ‘this is too American’** garbage bin.

(Remember that an ‘American writer’ for me is as distant and exotic as an Italian cardinal, and Indian Sadhu  or an African Touareg songwriter…)

The whole movement always was a bit too obsessed with sex for my taste. (an obsession with having no sex all the time is just a weird form of sex-obsession.) It seemed like all they wanted to talk about was how to not have sex, and that was not what I was looking for, I was looking for how to actually grow in my relationship in all kinds of areas. All that talk about what not to do is not good for building a relationship. what people need is positive advice about to grow in love, and not just sexually!!!! there’s much more to a relationship than that, and focussing a relationship on that will make it unbalanced, be it a relationship focussed solely on sex or one focussed solely on avoiding sex …

One of the things I probably dismissed as otherworldy nonsense was the idea of ‘never being alone with someone of the other sex’, including the one you’re not yet married to but having a relationship with. As someone who had been always single with a lot of female friends some of which I saw alone regularly such things just didn’t make sense and didn’t get registered in my brain. It was not something that could convince me anymore than the idea that Belgium does not exist… (It would never haver worked with me and my wife either)

Another point that I found troubling was that I did not see how filling people with a ‘no sex’ message and conditioning them all the time to not touch and not be intimate would ever be reversed on a wedding night. I was too realistic to believe such a thing, whatever promises of ‘great sex lives for those who wait’ were gives. I just didn’t see that happen with such an obsessive attitude. And I later read a lot of articles that affirmed, sometimes from people who were completely blocked down sexually, so it wasn’t a false concern… I know it did work for other people, but I who was already blocked on sex and completely turned off by a world around me that seemed to sell sex on every corner but no love was more traumatised about sex on that moment. And in need of simple honest not overly sexual intimacy. It would actually take years of very slowly growing in intimacy before I would even be ready for sex and by that time I’d be ready to get married too.

By the way, there is something really problematic about all the weirdness this kind of movements does attach to the Christian ideas about sex and marriage. There is something dangerous about a good idea or a truth being hijacked by people who exaggerate in preaching it, and lump it together with nonsense and worse… It might work as a really good vaccination to ever believe it again. Those preached to who are first convinced but later see that the ballast is nonsense will most likely throw away the child with the bathwater… (an example of that here)
See also Ken Ham and his weird form of young earth creationism as litmus test for Christianity…

But let’s close with what I think is important about true love: it loves! And loving is not about not doing things, but about doing things. Apophatic theology (saying things about God by saying what He is not) can be an interesting way to communicate truth about God, but not doing certain things is not the essence of any form of love, and if it is you’re distracted from the real thing…

peace

Bram

* There was something sarcastic in that name, mainly the ‘irrestistible’ part… I’ve been single and eh, extremely celibate until I was 22 or so.

** Nothing racist about that. Other cultures always have things that are found to be nonsense and irrelevant by outsiders. But I do think I can indeed say that ‘too American’ is a valid reason for a lot of Europeans to  dismiss something…

A purity culture I don’t know…


Seems like there’s a lot of critique of the ‘evangelical purity culture’ in the blogosphere lately.  I grew up here in Belgium as a pentecostal/evangelical Christian, and I always thought I’d seen a lot of talk about sexual purity and stuff in my life. But when I read critiques of the North-American version of ‘purity culture’ (Very interesting ones from the latest blog storm are Sarah Bessey, Elizabeth Esther for example, or find a bigger list in Scots challenging article at faith and food, and some more commentary from Richard Beck) and  I must conclude that I don’t seem to know much about it myself when I see some of the details mentioned. Seems like there are 2 possibilities:

A) I’ve never been paying attention and did get a slightly different message than what was communicated.

or

B) What I’ve been taught is not at all as toxic as what appears to be taught in certain corners of the Christian subculture in the good ole Us of A.

What I’ve never heard  in all of this was stuff like the following, all of which I would’ve disagreed with then as much as I would do now:

– female virginity is for some unclear reason much more important than male virginity.

– Men are supposed to take the initiative and always be the leaders, otherwise you have some kind of abomination going on.

– purity rings or rituals for girls involving the father.

– Non-virgins will by definition have a bad marriage.

– Never be alone with someone of the other sex that you’re not (yet) married to.

– if you’re single after a certain age something is wrong with you.

– You must give your first kiss on your wedding day, not earlier.

 (Okay, the last whole ‘first kiss on your wedding day’ idea  was something that some people might choose to do I suppose, but not at all something that anyone (except maybe for some teenagers who never had had a relationship but liked to talk about those rules a lot) would ever see as normative over here. It’s quite an exotic idea in our culture actually, not even recognisable as ‘conservative’… Maybe something for followers of Joshua Harris)

(And oh, the rule of never being alone with someone of the other sex might also be something I read in Joshua Harris, but which I rejected as otherworldly, as being someone who had all his life had female friends and had never had any problem hanging out with them alone at all the idea just didn’t have a chance with me…)

Even though I might disagree with  some details of what I’ve been taught and the way it was communicated, I never encountered most of what those people and others I’ve read are critiquing. What I picked up from sex-talk in church, on teenage camps, and even from the people of wareliefdewacht.be, with was the local true love waits* but does not seem to exist anymore, and from imported  wisdom from people like Rebecca st-James (the Christian rock-singer, who was very clear about both ‘true love waits and her intentional singleness at the moment) was something like:

– Sex is something important that you need to wait with until you’re married. Sex is beautiful in the right context and it is powerful, so it will do much good in the right context, and damage people in the bad context.

– Speak about boundaries in a relationship, which was mainly about the ‘how far will you go before marriage’, but the issue of consent and not being pushy was also communicated clearly…

– Virginity and sexual purity is  equally important for boys and for girls.

– Love and friendship are very important in romantic relationships and marriage.

– Singleness is something to be embraced, and does not have to be a problem. For most it will be a season in their life that they will learn from, for others it might be a calling.

– Sexual sin might be serious, but there is always forgiveness, whatever you have done. (The weird term  ‘recycle virgin’ was also used.)  Anyway there’s no need in shaming those who have made mistakes.

ongekust en

When I was in my early twenties that Joshua Harris’ ‘I kissed dating goodbye’ (a book of which the Dutch title can be translated back as ‘unkissed, but not a frog’) was making the rounds, and that most people I knew found it ‘too American’. I can’t remember much of it, actually, I just know I wasn’t impressed at all.

Now I don’t say I would agree with everything if I’d have to hear one of those sex-talks again that I heard as a teenager, but I do not recognise the big problematic things at all… And really, I do not understand the asymmetry in which rules for women would be different from those for men. That’s just nonsense… (especially in a heteronormative frame, where sex requires both a man and a woman…)

So, my question is; those things that I do not recognise, how common are they?

And how do we frame talk about love, sex and marriage? I do believe that sex belongs in a lifelong monogamous family-forming relationship (which is not necessarily the same as a state marriage, I would think the sacramental part and the reality -2 people form one life-unit- more important), but there seems to be so much ballast on the concept of marriage and on all this ‘no sex before marriage’ stuff…

Bram

* they have nothing to do with this beautiful radiohead song.