I Kissed Legalism Goodbye: How to Respond to Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne


Well, I guess we’ve all heard the news about Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne.


According to Slate, “Josh Harris, the author of a wildly popular manifesto on abstinence before marriage, is separating from his wife—and reevaluating his legacy.”


Now, before we start throwing stones or painting our strike signs, let’s take a moment and reflect – let’s go back to the 90s and ask ourselves, WWJD?


For those of you who were sparred during the purity phase of Evangelicalism, here is a little background. Harris was an icon – a guru of purity culture, courtship, and complementarianism. He was the voice that boomed through packed youth conferences and the author that changed the trajectory of a whole entire generation.


I Kissed Dating Goodbye was carried alongside our Bibles and quoted more than the gospel of John. We believed it, hoped it, and honored it. Click To Tweet In essence, it was our secret code that guaranteed us a healthy and vibrant sexual life by age 23. However, fast forward a few years, and it’s easy to see the shrapnel after the war.


During an interview with NPR, Joshua Harris reveals:



That was the first time that I started realizing, you know what? You can have good intentions, and think you’re making good decisions, but the effect in people’s lives can be very different than you’d planned,” he said. “And that’s the first time that I started thinking, ‘Maybe there are problems with my book.’


Today, social media platforms are circling around the topic of two people – two individuals who have prayed, thought, and decided to separate. Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne have stepped out from the shadows of Evangelicalism and shared their story – their authentic narrative that bleeds from the pages of their soul. However, in the midst of their transparency, we are faced with a choice.


Here are three ways to respond well:


1. Don’t Gossip


Sometimes reconciliation is moving forward and finding health. Sometimes God’s direction leads us apart from one another so that we find wholeness.


Now, I’m not advocating for all types of divorce, but I am saying that sometimes we have a tendency to push people into unhealthy situations to make us feel better, not to help them.


My greatest prayer for these individuals is that they have time to grieve, time to be whole, and time to seek God’s direction within the constructs of this new journey.


Remember. Empathy places yourself within the other’s shoes. Manipulation and gossip force the person’s shoes to walk in the same direction as yourself.


2. Don’t Shame them for Choosing Separation


I Kissed Dating Goodbye was not a prescription for personal boundaries or even sexual ethics – it was a mantra and demand that was painted in blood upon every steeple and every ministry. It was a culture that elevated sex with one’s purpose.


Shannon Bonne talks about her experience with Purity Culture and Evangelicalism on her Instagram page. She reveals, “What was most damaging was being told that my heart was deceitful above all else, therefore, I learned to believe that someone else knew better than me.”


Relevant Article: Our Lament: A Prayer for the Church to Look Like Christ


Countless women (and men) echo the same cry each year. They’ve been brought up to believe that they cannot trust themselves, their interpretation, or their sense of calling. This leads to many falling into hierarchical situations that are driven by manipulative authoritarianism in the guise of Christian leadership.


It also leads many to view marriage as the only way that they can find acceptance and identity. If one is unable to trust themselves, then they look for people who are stronger than them to direct their steps. This leads to a lack of purpose and self-doubt.


3. Don’t Take Safety in Legalism


Purity Culture did not elevate marriage, it demeaned individuality – it caused women, especially, to doubt their interpretation and influence without the presence of a spouse. This, in turn, provided space for abuse, emotional manipulation, communal conformity, and strict elevation of complementarianism.


It also caused women to be seen as the scapegoat for sexual abuse. Click To Tweet


There’s nothing wrong with personal convictions or healthy abstinence for practical reasons; however, the purity movement did not simply define sexual ethics. It also dehumanized society, demeaned women, degraded men, and damned equality.


It created a generation that viewed dating as society’s detriment.


So, we have a choice.


Will we echo legalism or will we encourage, support, and love Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne through this journey?


As for me, I’m choosing to love. Click To Tweet I’m choosing to learn from the past and respond better in the future. I’m learning to Kiss Legalism Goodbye and welcome grace.





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8 thought on “I Kissed Legalism Goodbye: How to Respond to Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne”

  1. Susan V says:

    I do believe purity before marriage is what God intended for man and woman. I think the ” purity culture” in the 1990’s was trying to navigate a path through a culture obcesed with sex and a culture that did not have much good to say about marriage . I think the ” purity culture” tried to bring marriage back into the picture and teach the next generation that marriage and sex belong together.

    With all that was wrong in the 1990’s, there were attempts made at good and glorious things,We should embrace purity before marriage. It is a great gift a husband and wife can give to each other on their wedding night

    1. Purity culture created a lot of issues as well as good conversation. Yes. It did encourage Christians to evaluate their dating and their treatment of one another, but it also created a lot of awkward relationships for men and women as they got older. Men were portrayed as animalistic and women were portrayed as weak within the Purity Culture. It generalized both genders and created a fear of one another, instead of agape love for one another.

  2. Neil says:

    Thanks. Yours is the first response to the episode that I’ve read on how we should react.

    1. Wow! That’s great to hear. Grace and love are always the best reactions.

  3. Becca says:

    The problem with “purity culture” is that they discouraged dating. And courtship was super serious right away. It started out with suggesting that past relationships meant you wouldn’t give your full heart to your spouse. This was so incredibly problematic.

    Yes we should keep Christian sexual ethics, sex is in marriage for a reason. But we human beings do make mistakes and we screw up. And honestly sometimes the only way we learn is by trying. Dating can give you an opportunity to learn what your looking for in a spouse, what you like and what you don’t like.
    Also you learn what is a good relationship and what is a bad relationship.
    Plus it had a messed up idea of what was like in the olden days. Kids were encouraged to date fifty/sixty years ago. They just weren’t encouraged to go steady. That way they could know what they wanted in a spouse. Plus I do know people who were high school sweethearts and married.

  4. becc says:

    I want to say this we screw up and there’s grace. Telling someone that they screwed up and that means they won’t be able to give their whole heart to their spouse is seriously messed up. Yes there are consquences and emotional ties that take time to be broken. But with repentance and reliance on God, He can heal our hearts. And we can come out a little wiser and have learned.

  5. Jean says:

    Josh and Shannon’s Reform theology and complementarianism was the culprit. Not courtship or purity. You quote no statistics of the great many, many who did wonderfully well in courtship. Reform theology demeans all women. That’s how they control the congregation.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, some pastors who perpetuate Reform Theology are guilty of creating a scism that encourages marriage issues. However, not all Reform Theologians are Complementarians. PCUSA still holds to certain aspects of that theology; however, they also view women as equal and are inclusive in their beleif and their praxis. Purity Culture created a fear and basterdization of gender. Men and women were simplified to being sexual objects, instead of self-controlled men and women of God. This didn’t teach peoople healthy boundaries within relationships or work environments. It simply presented a false view of humanity as lower than animalistic.

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