Josh Harris, Sexual Abuse, & My Opinion of Courtship (5-27-13)

Kudos to Josh Harris (of I Kissed Dating Goodbye famedom) for taking a stand on sexual abuse in the church. Read the story here. Really appreciate what he has publicly said, particularly this part:

My hope is that a person would hear me and think, “Okay, if the pastor can admit that in front of the church then I can call the police and tell someone what is happening to me. I can get counseling. I can tell my story, too.” It’s very difficult because it feels like such a shameful thing, but we need to learn how to talk about sexual abuse in the church. We need to teach people who have been abused that it’s not their fault.

I respect Josh Harris for making this stand; I know what a huge issue this is in churches, and what he has done will hopefully make a difference. i I think this is a deplorable turn of events for all involved. Allow me to explain why.

I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye as a teenager. It was one of two books my mother provided me with on relationships and sex. Well, they weren’t really about sex so much as avoiding it like the plague until you’ve said your marriage vows, but anyway. Even as a fundie teen who cared deeply about staying pure and someday having a godly relationship, I thought the message of Harris’ book was off. It’s been so long since I read it that I can’t remember what in particular it was that bugged me, but it was enough that I put the book on a shelf and never picked it up again. I think part of my issue was the premise for the book – dating is bad. I like(d) old fashioned things, but falling back to courtship in the way prescribed didn’t seem healthy. Fast forward a few years to when I’m reading Created to be His Help Meet and other Quiverfull literature. Even then I took issue with the concept of true courtship. Despite my feminist thoughts, many notions about courtship, marriage, and relationships in general were poisoned by the ideology I’d read about and even heard from teachers and pastors over the years. I consider the teachings poison because they lead to unhealthy relationships. I speak from personal experience.

The notion that the only real relationships are the ones that lead to marriage is prevalent amongst people who propose courtship over dating. Marriage is the assumed end result of courtship, after all; dating focuses on creating a relationship and then maybe marrying that person. To enter into courtship is like becoming engaged, whereas dating someone has far less strings attached. When I entered my first serious romantic relationship, I still had the courtship model stuck in my head. I wasn’t overly concerned about the parental aspect of things, but how I viewed the relationship was clearly impacted by my past. Once I got started into the relationship, I didn’t feel like I had the option to end it. If I truly loved him, I would stick with him, no matter what. I felt like anything short of marriage was a failure on my part. He was my first love, after all, and having no practice, I didn’t know many important things that could have saved me from much heartbreak. Saving your heart for your spouse was widely pushed onto young people, and it stuck with me. I saved my heart very well. I prided myself in the fact that I had never actually dated anyone, because I was just waiting for the right guy to along and marry me. So that’s exactly what I did, except he wasn’t the right guy and I was too inexperienced to realize it. Well, I take that back. I realized I had made a mistake a few times before actually tying the knot, but still felt I had no other option but to marry him anyway. Another common teaching amongst those who praise courtship over dating is to advocate that women stick with their men regardless of any abuse or mistreatment (read Created to be His Help Meet for a clear picture of this teaching). That teaching also influenced my reasons for sticking with the relationship for as long as I did (which was not long in measurements of time, perhaps, but eons in measurements of the soul).

My marriage was not a healthy one because my relationship wasn’t healthy enough to support marriage. He had initially asked that we live together first, but my need to have the “real” thing led me to refuse. I told him I didn’t want a trial marriage. I thought I was doing the right thing and was darn proud of myself for it too. Now I know how foolish I was to think and act as I did. Dating is sometimes knocked because it can take on the likeness of a trial marriage. Why on earth that is a bad thing, I will never actually understand. Sending people to vows of eternal commitment without any prior experience is crazy. In my opinion, courtship is a far too sheltered approach at building relationships. It is male-led, parentally controlled, highly restrictive, and is focused so much on the end goal of marriage that actual compatibility can’t be explored well enough.You must KNOW the person you want to be partnered to, and you must know him/her in ways that can’t come to light unless you’re living together. Anyone can play charades long enough to “get the girl”; it’s what happens behind closed doors at odd hours of the day that composes the true nature of a person. You can’t know those things until you’re behind those closed doors together.

I am now a strong advocate for dating and living together as a couple before making anything legally permanent. I also strongly advocate against courtship and all that it brings to the table. In my case, there were many negative factors that ultimately contributed to the ending of the relationship/marriage, but I place a large amount of blame at the feet of courtship teachings, because without them I honestly don’t think I would have been in that relationship in the first place.

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