Joshua Harris wrote the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997, when I was solidly in my 20s. The book's thesis was a good one--that dating should wait until you're ready to get married. He said that so many single people lose themselves while dating because they're trying to be what they believe the other person desires in a mate. We then become immersed in "finding someone" rather than finding ourselves. These are valid ideas.
What was controversial was that he suggested--at the ripe age of 22--that we should return to a courtship system. Even if someone we're dating is approved by our parents, we should limit the physical intimacy until we get married. The book was a bestseller within the Christian community.
He would even publish a follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl, based on his courtship with his future wife. I loved both of these books because it resonated with my Christian values.
However, God always makes turns in the road to make sure we're paying attention. These turns aid in our growth as well.
I would eventually leave the evangelical church to return to my religious roots. Harris would divorce his wife and leave the Christian community that upheld him for so many years. He had published a long post on Instagram saying that no longer considered himself to be a Christian. He also apologized for his previous beliefs:
I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.
He would also apologize to the LGBTQ community for being judgmental. In his subsequent posts, you can see that he is still a faithful, caring person. He's not engaging in any arguments, and he admits he's in a period of inquiry. We are all called to the desert every once in a while.
What is most interesting is the polarization within the comments. You see so many "Christians" who are "praying" for him to come back. They honestly believe that the "evil one" has tempted him away from Christ. Here is what some of their "prayers" look like:
You also see fellow "deconstructionists," people who have "fallen away" from the Christian community, who are supporting him. They felt that they were brainwashed, and eventually life would present them with a crisis of faith. They began to question their orthodox views about marriage and judgment. They left their communities quietly, feeling rejected and alone for their desire to know more deeply. Harris gave them a voice.
Harris is being vilified in the Christian evangelical community. To challenge or question the "elders" and their laws threatens them, so the rebellious are tossed out. Power and order is restored because people fear being banished from the community.
So I pose the question--how do we know who is on the "right" side?
If you've ever belonged to a Christian evangelical community, you really feel you have a family. They would do anything for you. Their worship teams really work you up into a frenzy. You feel high when you leave their services.
However, there are also a lot of disordered beliefs. They propagate a lot of myths about "others" who are on the outside. They propagate a lot of fake news. It's definitely an "us" vs. "them" mentality. And if you challenge a teaching, they pray for you to come around to their way of seeing things.
Then you have those who do challenge church laws but still promote unity, acceptance, compassion, and truth. They see all people as God's creation, but they don't take it upon themselves to "save" those who don't believe. Instead, they just love them for who they are. If someone is broken and asks to know the way, the challengers just say, "Follow me," not "follow me or else you'll go to hell."
Perhaps the challengers don't have a structured community or much definition. This could lead them where disordered attachments entice them into destructive patterns. They could be led into a hall of mirrors that exacerbates the confusion.
Or they can maintain their internal compass--their search for Truth. This might lead them to the wilderness, feeling dry and desolate. But their hunger and thirst allows them to contemplate what is most important--to love and accept themselves and others no matter where they are in their path.
Ultimately, the "right" side is one that serves others through compassion, not personal gain. If the path we choose is to "win," then that path is destined for pain. If the path we choose is to "love," then that path leads to peace.
The good news is that there are several paths, not just one. The important part is for us to keep our internal compass.