VANCOUVER — Author and former pastor Joshua Harris, most known for his book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” — which he officially recanted last year, has announced that he and his wife have mutually agreed to separate, citing “significant changes” that have occurred in their thinking.
The announcement has generated various reactions, from sorrow over kissing his marriage goodbye to some profanely blasting him for teaching in favor of courtship and purity in the first place. Harris also admitted in an interview published the following day that he is sometimes “tempted” to “forget it all” in regard to his faith because of his “very conservative” upbringing, as he characterized it.
“We’re writing to share the news that we are separating and will continue our life together as friends,” Harris posted to social media on Thursday. “In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us.”
“It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision,” he said. “We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead. Thank you for your understanding and for respecting our privacy during a difficult time.”
Harris is the former senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the founding church of Sovereign Grace Ministries. He left his position in 2015 and soon moved to Canada to attend Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The following year after leaving Covenant Life Church, Harris explained in an interview with NPR that he was rethinking his approach to romantic relationships.
Harris, who authored the books, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” “Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship,” and “Sex Isn’t the Problem: Lust Is,” had taught since 1997 that Christians should be different from the world, including in their dealings with the opposite sex.
He urged Christians to not engage in recreational dating, outlining the downsides of the common practice, but to be purposeful about finding one’s spouse for life and to consider the courtship model instead.
“The world takes us to a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, ‘This is love.’ God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, ‘This is love,'” Harris wrote.
“When God knows you’re ready for the responsibility of commitment, He’ll reveal the right person under the right circumstances.”
“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?” he explained to NPR in 2016.
Harris said that some had advised him that the suggested standards in his book had negative ramifications in their life and that he was “really trying to listen to these voices.” His listening period to those who thought he was being too stringent resulted in a decision to retract the book.
In 2018, Harris released a formal statement advising that he no longer believes Christians shouldn’t date and asked his publisher to stop printing “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” He, however, also expressed apprehension over calls to throw out all of his teaching on purity.
“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,” he wrote. “I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.”
“I realize now that my book, in an effort to set a high standard, emphasized practices (like not dating or not kissing before marriage) and concepts (like ‘giving your heart away’) that are not in the Bible,” he also wrote in an article published by USA Today. “In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, instead it often instilled fear — fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken.”
Now, Harris has announced that he and his wife are separating, citing unspecified “significant changes” that have happened inside of them both. He did not indicate that his book played a part in the separation as the alluded changes in thinking seem to be broader than that, and both Harris and his wife indicate a departure — to some extent — from what they would term their “conservative” upbringing.
Some have responded to the announcement with sorrow, and others have continued to lash out at Harris for teaching courtship and emotional and physical purity before marriage in the first place.
“Hope you put out a new book admitting that you don’t know what the [expletive] you’re talking about, that sex is an animal instinct, that monogamy isn’t necessarily natural or ideal, and that it’s no one’s business what any consenting adults decide to do in the bedroom and beyond,” one commenter wrote.
“[Expletive] you for tainting the adolescence of thousands of impressionable youth with your sacrosanct [expletive]. [Expletive] you for speaking as God’s ambassador on dating when you’re just as much a human [expletive] as the rest of us,” another remarked.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 reads, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God. … For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.”
The day following his separation announcement, the liberal outlet Sojourners published an interview with Harris, in which he said that while he still feels that the biblical standards for relationships are good, Christians shouldn’t focus so much on them.
“What I think was hard for me as I was re-evaluating my book is I was starting to get all this criticism for purity culture, and I was kind of like, well, what’s the alternative?” he said. “I really didn’t know, and the only thing that I can come to is — and again, not that I’m necessarily here, but if a person is saying, ‘Okay, we’re Christians, we want the Bible to inform us,’ and so on — the only thing that I can come to is to say these standards are still good and they’re for human flourishing, but we’re not going to fixate on them and make such a big deal of them.”
“We’re going to be more accepting of the fact that [expletive] going to happen, people are going to [have sex with] each other,” Harris continued. “Like, let’s just move on. Let’s move forward and love each other.”
Sojourners remarked that Christians have different interpretations on what the biblical guidelines for romantic relationships are, at which point Harris acknowledged that it is “tempting” for him sometimes to want to throw his faith out.
“It can start to feel like you’re like doing some move from the Kamasutra with the Bible. 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 [that people interpret it to say],” he said.
“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,” Harris stated.
He added, “But it can get to feeling, like, what are you holding onto in Christianity? Why do you need it still? … I guess if we can with one generation make that radical a shift with the Bible, who’s to say that another generation can’t completely shift the Bible to, you know, to justify something that we would all think is horrendous? It starts to just be silly putty.”
While repudiating what Harris termed “purity culture” and “shame culture” in the Church, he said that he didn’t want to be “legalistic” the other way and condemn those who hold to the standards he once taught in his 20s.
“There are going to be people that want to continue to embrace different aspects of purity culture, and they should have the freedom to have that option,” he said.
Harris’ wife, Shannon, recently posted a video to Instagram where she discussed how being taught by the church that her “heart is deceitful” was “damaging” to her, and that her “fundamentalist conservative Christianity experience taught [her] to ignore [her] inner voice.” She used the hashtags #exvangelical (meaning an ex-evangelical) and #spiritualhealing with her post.
Harris, who is posting under her maiden name Shannon Bonne, also wrote on July 8, “Healthy churches don’t use fear, bullying or shaming. They don’t need to manipulate behavior or manage image. Love feels: Safe Love feels: Accepted.”
Shannon had appeared on Sovereign Grace Music worship projects, and now has ventured out to create secular music as a singer/songwriter. She posted on July 16 that she is also working on creating a musical that will “explore themes like identity, authenticity, gender roles and power in the conservative church.”
She shared the same separation announcement as her husband to Instagram on Thursday, and while some followers were supportive, one visitor wrote, “Don’t do it! My wife and I had so many reasons to get divorced and just 4 years ago it was almost over. God still came through and was so faithful. We’re going on 25 years now! You have a beautiful family. Would hate to see it end for you guys. Praying you can begin again.”
Last updated 5:10 p.m.