Author and former purity-culture advocate Joshua Harris announced last week that he is separating from his wife, Shannon. The couple has been married for 20 years, following an experimental kind of pre-marital relationship Harris referred to as courtship and wrote about in his famous book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
“In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us,” the couple wrote in a dual-post they shared to their respective Instagram profiles. The post indicates Josh and Shannon are hoping to remain friends through the process of separation and also mentioned their three children: “We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead.”
Joshua Harris and Shannon Harris Are Separating
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We’re writing to share the news that we are separating and will continue our life together as friends. 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. 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 author of the Christian mega-seller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which was published in 1997 when Harris was just 21 years old. The book described Harris’ journey of coming to the conclusion that our culture’s modern dating system simply represents a glorified preparation for divorce. The book sold thousands of copies and almost single-handedly convinced a stunning percentage of young evangelical Christians to completely alter their approach to romance and finding a spouse.
Several people who grew up in the heyday of this “purity culture” movement as it is now referred to have expressed their dismay at being sucked into this counter-cultural movement by well-meaning yet misguided youth pastors and parents, or even themselves. The criticism over the system of courtship that Harris (among other Christian influencers such as Eric and Leslie Ludy) pioneered ranges from complaints about developing a skewed view of sexuality to problems finding a spouse to harming their relationship with God.
In 2016, Harris attempted to re-evaluate the book he published nearly 20 years before. He even participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” The documentary explores the long-term effects the ideas laid out in Harris’ book had on people who read and accepted the book’s instructions. In 2018, Harris made a public statement recanting some of the principles of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, including the book’s suggestion to forgo not only dating, but also kissing before marriage.
Josh isn’t the only Harris who has changed his views. Shannon has been less public about her transforming beliefs, but recently on her Instagram account she has indicated her “theology is changing.”
Shannon, a singer and songwriter whose first album released in 2018, occasionally writes about her shifting views of church, Christianity, and life in general. She has hinted at feeling as if she had to bury herself while she was involved in church.
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Where I am now has everything do with God and nothing to do with God. Everything that could possibly be so simple and so complicated converging into one place is. . And I know why they disappeared. Leaders, especially. Why they were in for years, and then suddenly they were out. I know why they ghosted. . I myself have been sitting here for seven years. Quietly Thinking. No, longer. Nearly a decade ruminating over my time in a place called church. . When we left, I think my body was in shock. My mind, too. I hadn’t had a moment to myself in years, and there was an overwhelming amount of material to sort through. There was also the sudden quiet. The unfamiliar surroundings. The knowing no one. The jarring lack of things I needed to do. . I walked around my neighborhood in a daze, attempting to make my way through the fog of teachings, people, meetings, words, songs, voices, images, memories. There were good ones, of course. Lots of good ones. But the ones rolling in now weren’t those. . When I wasn’t walking in fog, I was in another mental space. Sitting on the floor in a room surrounded by disorderly stacks of the manila folders of my mind. . And I’m half looking for something. But I’m not sure what that is. So it’s taking forever to find. . While I’m looking for something I don’t know, I start remembering things. Things at the beginning. . Most importantly, the feeling of not feeling safe. . I had forgotten that I felt this way. . . #god #me #people #thinking #writing #writersofinstagram #religion #religious #deconstuction #womanhood #poetry #instapoet #music #spiritual #church #christianity #spirituality #writersofig #writers #writersofinstagram #writerscommunity
The Long and Short of It: There Are No Magic Formulas in Christianity
The Harris’ announcement about their separation is making quite the waves in the evangelical world, despite the fact that the couple took a step back from ministry and have been almost entirely out of the spotlight of the church since 2015. The general reaction has been one of sadness, although a small number of people are essentially gloating.
One message that is causing people to pause and think is a sentiment expressed by a handful of people, including journalist Ruth Graham, who often covers religious news. Graham wrote an article about the significance of the couple’s separation for Slate. She was also interviewed on NPR, where she said the announcement speaks to the fact that “There really is no magic formula for marriage.”
Skye Jethani, an evangelical thought leader, posted a similar sentiment on Twitter.
I feel bad for Josh & Shannon Harris. I wonder if this will help more Christians see the popular evangelical pursuit of magical formulas to produce a pain-free life is not only foolish it’s fundamentally unchristian. https://t.co/lIGL2TivJE
— SKYE (@SkyeJethani) July 22, 2019
In a way, the idea that if you check all the boxes when pursuing a spouse (let God lead you into a relationship, don’t have sex before marriage, date only Christians with similar values to your own, seek to honor God in your relationship, maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries at all times, etc.) feels very similar to some of the teachings of the prosperity gospel. The idea behind both—whether it’s marriage or money—is that if you do these specific things, God HAS to bless you. When in reality, nothing in life is that simple. If it were, Christians would be the safest, richest, healthiest, and happiest people on the planet. And “good” Christians wouldn’t be poor or get divorced.
Announcements such as these remind us all of that uncomfortable reality.