Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, pastored my church for over ten years. His book was famous among evangelicals for promoting dating restrictions to nurture sexual purity before marriage. He taught it as a way to have a good marriage later in life.

I was a member of Joshua Harris’s church for over 30 years. It has been in the news lately, and not in a positive way.

Josh resigned as our pastor over three years ago. To our surprise, he recently announced he is divorcing his wife and and that he is no longer a Christian! Additionally, he has adopted a “Side A” gay-affirming belief.

Needless to say, this has had a terrible impact on our church and on many other evangelicals influenced by Josh. I have been urging my friends not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” but to keep following Jesus Christ anyway.

Jesus Christ is still who He is, despite any failures of any one man!

Despite all this drama and the church’s many other issues, this place has been of some help to guys dealing with same-sex attraction. I will discuss two reasons why.

First, our church had a policy against casual dating amongst singles to reduce sexual temptation. The church only allowed very limited and structured dating for those ready for marriage.

This resulted in most single guys not dating, so any guy who didn’t want to date women would fit right in with the majority of single, straight guys in the church.

This was the perfect cover for gay men! I’ve known many other guys in the church who secretly dealt with same-sex attraction while living a celibate life.

We actually did not stand out as weird for not dating women! Many of us felt very comfortable and even accepted in the church for years.

Of course, that was only as long as we were careful not to out ourselves.

Second, our church had a long history of promoting strong same-sex friendships. Pastors of the church often taught that friendships strengthened our commitment to God.

Because real friends talk in depth and hold each other accountable to follow Jesus. Opposite-sex friendships were discouraged because of fear of sexual temptations for straight people.

So, guys like me who deal with gay attractions had many opportunities for close, non-sexual friendships with other guys at Joshua Harris’s church.

Intuitively, we all seemed to know how to talk around our attractions to keep from outing ourselves while still feeling the warmth of real non-sexual affection with other men.

This kind of longterm love and acceptance from other Christian guys really met an inner need and greatly helped me resist my temptations to wrongly fill that need sexually with other men.

Do former Christian leaders’ abandonment of faith and/or their embracing of gay theology impact you? Do you have any questions for me about being in Joshua Harris’s church for decades?

About the Author

  • As you may know, I lived in DC for a number of years…my first few years I lived/worked just up the street from the White House. I did not have a car, and Sunday public transportation was difficult at best. The subway didn’t run on Sundays and bus service was “slim pickings.” I ended up going to the large National Presbyterian Church in NW DC near Tenley Circle. To get there I had two choices of bus service – one involved a transfer of buses and the other was somewhat direct service but required a long walk to get to the bus.
    Since I was dependent on the organization as to where to live, I was moved a lot. For a while, I went to a church in Georgetown, but it was a long 20-25 block walk from the Dupont Circle metro station. I also went to the Washington Community Fellowship Church – a Mennonite Church on Capitol Hill, but even that was about a 13 block from the Union Station metro stop.
    One of my regrets was that I could not be active in any church while I lived in DC, due to public transportation issues and I was moved around a lot. Plus, being out alone at night had some safety concerns, so Sunday evening services were out of the question.

    • Dave, I definitely recognize names of some of the churches you mentioned, but I never attended any. Our church was like a close-knit small town. I was so involved I rarely left “the bubble” to visit other churches until more recently.
      I worked in downtown DC for over 15 years, so I am familiar with how bad the crime was at night. At one time it had the highest murder rate in the US. Safety was a very big deal.

  • I wanted to break up the post to not keep things so long. I remember one time a young man from your church was visiting someone he knew at our place, and they asked me if he could spend the night in my room, since I had two beds. He was a very friendly, talkative guy and I enjoyed talking with him. I can’t recall all what we talked about, but I do remember him telling me he was a smoker and he felt judged, condemned by others. I assured him I would do no such thing. Finally, about midnight, he was ready to climb the walls, so I gave him my keys so he could go outside and get some relief of having a cigarette. Bless his heart, i don’t remember his name, but he was a treasure and wonderful guy. The gay issue never came up…but it was a hot topic in DC which i could write a very long post about…but I’ll stop for now so I don’t bore anyone!

  • Thank you for this particular insight, one that we who did not attend the church would have no experience of. You wrote that ‘[o]pposite-sex friendships were discouraged because of fear of sexual temptations for straight people’. Are you able to elaborate on that more?
    Did people generally agree with this position? Was there any theological basis given for it? Was this view limited to those within the church or did opposite-sex friendships between a church member and a non-member (or two non-members) attract any comments? Were there any times where this caused friction between people, including anyone who may have disagreed or had what they thought was a strong or solid opposite-sex friendship (including from anyone who might have had it before joining the church) that they thought posed no sexual temptation?
    I’m genuinely curious.

    • Ernest, I will answer your questions from my own perspective as a church member. Obiviously I didn’t see how every friendship happened, just the ones I knew personally.
      Most people in the church agreed with the position that one-on-one friendships between a guy and a girl were unwise, unless they were ready for marriage and seriously considering a dating relationship with each other. Usually in these dating situations the guy and girl were… “cared for”, or more accurately supervised by, parents or a mature couple in the church. Socializing in mixed groups was ok, just not one-on-one friendships. People who disagreed with this position simply left the church, so most who stayed agreed.
      The way this was justified theologically was that scripture taught against premarital sex, so there need to be “guidelines” to help us not even get close to sexual sin. Leaders often quoted 1 Thes. 5:22 (KJV) “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” to support these “guidelines”.
      Yes, there were a few opposite-sex friendships that happened between members and someone outside the church, but it was called out by leaders as soon as it was discovered. A few left over it, but most stayed and gave up the friendship. Many in our church never looked outside the church for friends. We jokingly referred to church as a “bubble” or a “small town” because we all knew each other’s business, family history, and friends. It is hard to describe the tightness of community to those who haven’t experienced it, but many loved it and couldn’t bring themselves to leave.

  • I think Joshua Harris and his book are often used as a synechdote for a bigger, more troubling phenomenon in conservative American Christian culture. That is to say, even though I haven’t read the book, from what I’ve heard it didn’t really encapsulate the whole of the negative side of “purity culture” or whatever you want to call it. So I’ve tried to be fair in my mind to him and his book. Without knowing him personally or knowing too much about his history, I think I would just chalk his recent changes up to too much fame, too much public scrutiny, at too young an age. Wasn’t he like 21 when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye? You have a long journey ahead of you at 21–and even today his journey is not yet complete. Who can say what’s left in his story? When I see someone “fall away” I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that their story’s not over.
    I can see that aspects of Harris’s influence on your church made it easier for you to feel like you could remain there long term. It still seems like there’s a difference between “it was safe because there was less chance I’d be forced out of hiding” and “it was safe and therefore I didn’t need to hide.” I pray that the Lord grows our churches toward the latter.

      • Friedrich, Haha I noticed the same word. It makes me think of when someone asks me what I do for a living and I accidentally use too many technical words. People’s eyes glaze over and they start yawning before I realize I did it.
        BTW, I work in the manufacture of fluorodeoxyglucose, flutemetamol, and related compounds in the Positron Emission Tomography section of the Nuclear Pharmaceutical Services division of a large medical services corporation.
        Usually now I just say that I keep automated equipment running to manufacture a drug.

    • Hey Ryan!
      Yes, I think you are seeing Josh Harris right. He wrote that book when he was living with his strict home-schooling parents and he lacked much experience in the “real world”. He moved from there to living in the basement of the senior pastor of our church, just as the book was published.
      He was an instant celebrity and ended up getting married and taking a position as a pastor before he was 30. Then he had responsibility for our church that had over 3000 people and had to deal with abandonment by his mentor, public criticism, scandals, and both true and false accusations on numerous blogs, news media, and in social media. He never had time to question or think through some of his beliefs before he became a spokesman for those beliefs.
      I know we have not heard the end of his story. There is hope for him to repent and actually follow Jesus!
      You are right about the environment in our church. As you said “it was safe because there was less chance I’d be forced out of hiding”. I was loved and respected until I went public with my story of being tempted by gay attractions. Then I was marginalized and people talked unfavorably of me behind my back. Still, my real friends stood up for me and continue to love me until this day!
      Yes, I also pray that our churches become places where “it was safe and therefore I didn’t need to hide.” !

  • Mike, yes, the answer is not legalistic rules or on the other hand removing all restraint. The answer is being a new creation in Christ with a new heart that gladly desires to follow Jesus!

  • Hi Marshall,
    It saddens my heart to see this man, who was used by God, in so many great ways fall away from the faith! Ever since I heard the news that he no longer claims to be a Christian, I’ve wrestled with the doctrine of eternal security also called “once saved always saved”. Are we, by free will, able to walk away from a relationship with Christ?
    I had a friend in high school who came out as gay in college. We would pray together, keep one another accountable, and read scripture together regularly. I believe he was truly saved. After his coming out he left Christianity all together. I’ve been praying for him for years that God would call him back to himself, recognizing the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. I’ve begun praying the same for Joshua Harris as well!

    • I am also praying for Josh Harris, not just because he is influential, but also because I know him personally!
      Josh is a sensitive guy like me and I would call his personality ENFJ. He cares deeply about people but people have hurt him deeply. He was sexually abused as a teen. He was especially hurt by his ENTJ / Enneagram 8 mentor who abandoned him at the beginning of a succession of scandals.
      Josh was left to deal with news media and popular bloggers who kept uncovering more and more dirt and calling for him to answer accusations. Even his wife seemed to turn against him as their marriage fell apart. Meanwhile the church members kept demanding care and not realizing the pressure he was under.
      So, he ran.
      I think many people who run under similar conditions eventually come to their senses and turn back to God.

      • Thanks for providing context Marshall and I admire your protection of your former pastor! It is so hard when we feel like people turn against us, especially those we trust the most (a spouse, a close friend, a family member). I’ll continue to pray for him that he would hear the Fathers heart and be drawn back to his first love!

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