Recently, the evangelical world has been rocked by the news of Joshua Harris’s decision to leave his marriage and Christian beliefs. Joshua is the bestselling author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and was a well-known spokesperson for the purity movement of the 1990s. A few years ago, Joshua began a journey of listening to people who have been wounded and disillusioned by the message of the purity movement: “Save sex for marriage and God will bless you!”
Joshua Harris has joined a chorus of former evangelicals who are walking away from their Christian convictions largely because of how the church has ignored or mishandled sexual issues. Legalist, judgmental, hypocritical, misogynistic: These are all words used to describe the traditional Christian approach to sexuality.
What saddens me is not simply Joshua’s conclusions and personal choices, but the reality that thousands of men and women readily identify with his “deconstruction” from Christianity. While I’m not personally familiar with the specific details of Joshua’s journey, I’ve talked to men and women like him, and understand the trigger points of why questions about sex can shipwreck a personal faith in God.
Every sexual issue is a spiritual issue.
Because of the church’s historical refusal to talk openly about sexuality, many people have a disconnect between their sexuality and their spirituality. They live with an invisible wall that appears to separate their sexual choices and beliefs from their relationship with God. I believe this divide between sexuality and spirituality is an illusion. Our beliefs about sexuality begin and end with our beliefs about God. Is He trustworthy? Is His Word reliable? How could a loving God not embrace me just the way I am? As Joshua’s journey showcases, when we question God’s sovereignty and kindness related to our sexuality, we will question everything we have ever believed about Him.
Deconstructing our views of sexuality will always cause us to revisit our beliefs about God. This is why it is critical for every Christian to be firmly rooted not simply in the rules of Christian sexuality, (“thou shalt not…”) but to delve deeply into God’s heart related to our sexuality.
The purity narrative has never offered a satisfactory explanation of God’s heart for sexuality. In an effort to encourage teenagers to stay pure, the purity movement presented unrealistic promises (a great marriage and sex life) to those who followed the rules, and oppressive shame (you become like “already chewed bubble gum”) for those who didn’t. The larger message of the gospel somehow got lost. God is not primarily after our sexual purity; He is after our hearts. Our righteousness has never come from our sexual choices, but by surrendering to the finished work of Christ. We have not been called to “save ourselves for marriage,” but to set ourselves apart for God.
Satan’s goal is not simply to destroy sexuality but to keep us from God.
I have met many people, like Joshua, who have been hurt and disillusioned by the message of sexual purity. But let’s be clear: The message of “sex positivity” is also leaving a multitude of ruined lives in its wake.
The purity movement was not primarily destructive because of what it taught, but because of what it often failed to teach. Following Christ has never been as simple as obeying a list of rules, nor have the blessings of obedience been primarily about happiness in our earthly bodies. The gospel is far more profound.
A few years ago, I got stuck on something Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “I resolved when I was with you to teach nothing but Christ and Christ crucified.” If you’ve read Paul’s letters to the early churches, you know that Paul taught about a lot of things, including sexuality. But his statement means that in every topic we address, we must begin and end with the message of Jesus Christ. He is our why. He is our how. He is our what. As I pondered this passage, I wondered, how can I talk about all of these sexual issues at Authentic Intimacy with the same resolve that Paul had—to teach nothing but Christ and Christ crucified?
We can’t just talk about sexual purity, the dangers of pornography, sexual abuse recovery, or any other sexual issue in a vacuum. We must always ponder these issues in relationship to what it means to be a sinner saved by grace, living in a fallen world.
Teaching the principles of biblical sexuality without the forefront and backdrop of Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption of our sins is legalistic and cruel. I don’t believe that Joshua Harris or any other person has left the Christian faith because of sex, even when that is the obvious trigger. Sexual issues and questions have the power to tap into our most profound fears, insecurities, and questions. Am I loved? Where do I find truth? Who will meet me in my excruciating loneliness?
If we continue to give simplistic rule-based answers to weighty questions, we are bound to see more people flee from Christianity. God has created us as sexual people. Our sexuality is a powerful and profound aspect of what it means to be human, to be loved, and to long for connection. As a result, sexual disillusionment and brokenness can send shock waves through the core of our personhood. God is the redeemer of all things, including sexuality. The journey toward truth and healing is arduous for most of us. Yet it is not only a journey toward healthy sexuality, but a journey to knowing the intimacy we were ultimately created for: Unity with our Creator Himself.
My heart is to journey with you, to acknowledge the complexity of your questions, but to remember that Jesus Himself is the way, the truth, and the life. Satan will use anything to keep us from Jesus. Remember that the central issue at stake is not about sexual purity, homosexuality, or any other aspect of moral behavior. Don’t get distracted from the pivotal question that sheds light on every other concern: “Who is Jesus?” He is my why. He is my how. He is my what. He is Lord.
To learn more, check out these additional resources: Pure Sadness and a Better Way Forward; Dr. Juli Slattery’s book, Rethinking Sexuality; Java with Juli episode #235: How the Purity Movement Hurt Us; #236: Pursue Wholeness, Not Purity; and #256: Who Is Jesus to You?
Photo provided by I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye