If you follow Christian media, you may have noticed that Joshua Harris recently released a statement about his latest beliefs on dating, and his intent to stop distribution and sales of his best-selling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
He even went as far as saying that there are other books he would recommend people read when it came to learning about healthy dating and relationships: my book, True Love Dates, as well as Boundaries in Dating, by Dr. Cloud.
Why the strong reaction, you might be wondering?
KISSING I KISSED DATING GOODBYE, GOODBYE
I Kissed Dating Goodbye is a book that swept the country 20 years ago, encouraging singles to stay away from dating because it was an unhealthy way to interact with the opposite sex. Instead, the book encouraged “courtship” as the method of finding a life-long relationship – a much more serious approach to relationships. Whereas dating was labeled as “practice for divorce”.
I read the book as a teenager, and honestly, it helped shape my view of relationships. It opened my eyes to seeing that relationships were serious and that emotional and physical intimacy as powerful. For a while, I even tried to kiss dating goodbye – but it kissed me back. When I entered college, I realized that there was a lot of content in the book that I didn’t agree with – courtship wasn’t the answer to healthy relationships (see why Christians should stop pushing courtship) and there was a lot more to the equation of finding love, and that the journey of getting ourselves healthy was a key component to finding a healthy relationship. Healthy people = healthy relationships. That’s the bottom line.
But not everyone was able to disengage with the book in that way. Thousands of people started claiming that the legalistic and rigid concepts and principles in I Kissed Dating Goodbye brainwashed them, harmed them, and led them astray. Others blamed Joshua Harris for their extended/lifelong singleness because his book made it sound like dating was so bad that they stayed away from it – for life.
All the backlash challenged Joshua Harris to reevaluate his message, in a two year process that involved reading, studying, conversations, and even a documentary following his process.
I’ve been in touch with Joshua Harris many times throughout his journey. I’ve had the privilege of having phone conversations with him along the way, and being a part of his upcoming documentary in which we had a 45 minute chat about dating and why it’s a beneficial part of the process. In fact, Josh even told me he gave his teenage daughter a copy of True Love Dates because he’s all about his kids learning to date in a healthy way.
To say he’s handled this whole process with humility and a posture of learning is an understatement. Even if it’s taken 20 years to have this conversation – I’ve been so impressed by his heart to learn, to grow, to apologize and to take ownership of where he may have been wrong.
Is Joshua Harris To Blame?
So who is to blame for the hurt, pain, and problems that have come up as a result of the message of I Kissed Dating Goodbye? Is it Joshua Harris? Is is his publishing company who gave an 18-year-old such a big platform? Is it our churches who often say so little on the topic of dating and relationships?
Personally, I have a hard time pointing the finger at just one source. Because as a professional counselor, I know that when we point the finger of blame at any one thing, there are always three fingers pointing back at us. But three things I propose we do from here:
Authors and Leaders Need To See Their Words As a Responsibility, Not a Right.
Attention all leaders and teachers: just because we have a “platform”, doesn’t mean we should always “preach”. As an author, I take seriously the things I put out there for the world to read – but I also know that I’m human and I can be wrong (which is why there are dozens of articles and ideas sitting in my “unpublished” bin – because I’m just not sure I should put them out there.
As authors and leaders, we need to see the heaviness in what we’re putting out there, and make sure we’re taking the time to sift through what’s really coming from God, and what’s not. Approaching our work with that attitude adds a necessary responsibility and weightiness to what we’re doing, and helps us to “get good” at pointing out when we’ve been wrong.
Pastors and Churches Need To Make Space For Important Conversations
As a church, we need to get so much better at having these conversations and filling in the gaps so that no ONE message takes over the way it did twenty years ago. There has got to be a balance in how we approach the subject of dating and relationships, and we’ve got to be willing to see this conversation as a prerequisite to the conversations we’re having about marriage.
Walk into any church, and the resources there will be for married people will far outweigh the resources there are for singles. We need to get better at offering Christian dating advice, and realizing that healthy singles = healthy dating = healthy marriages. If we want to see the divorce rates go down, we need to help people better prepare for marriage by starting while they’re single (see Choosing Marriage for what I mean by this).
Christians Need To Take Responsibility For The Things We Allow To Shape Us Outside of God’s Word
I like to push-back on the victim mentality that puts blame on everything and everyone else when life doesn’t turn out the way we plan. Because as a professional counselor, I see that if we give people THAT MUCH CONTROL over our lives, we’ve got no control left for ourselves. I don’t want to give people that kind of power over me, so I go out of my way to see my role when life doesn’t turn out the way I want it to. What was my role here? How could I have done things differently? What do I need to change going forward?
We’ve got to get better at being able to decipher the kind of messages that are in line with God’s word, and the kind of messages that aren’t. No matter who they are coming from. We need to spend time learning God’s word, so we can use it as our one and only plumb-line. There are so many amazing teachers and leaders out there, and many of them are giving us content that lines up with Scripture, but many of them aren’t. But really, it’s up to us to know the difference.
I walk away from all of these conversations feeling hopeful. Hopeful that we’ve reached a point where we don’t idealize the words of teachers and leaders. Hopeful that God is paving the way for us to have important conversations. Hopeful that the more we know about these things, the better we’re going to do. Hopeful for the conversations about dating and relationships that I get to have with this generation, and the generation to come. May God continue to move us toward health in our own lives, and health in our relationships.
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DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twi