Growing up in an Evangelical Episcopal home and church, I was spared from much of the American religious kitsch, which is wreaking havoc upon the spiritual lives of so many people who have abandoned the faith and identify now as “dones.”
However, when I was in college, for the first time I was exposed to this kitsch’s crown jewel, a book by Joshua Harris entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye. On most college campuses in the 90s (heck all college campuses, since people have been going to college), everything was about sex, sex, sex, and nobody actually had a clue as to the emotional and spiritual power of sex, sex, sex. To sort of quote the shoe brand Nike, “they were just doing it.” While thrilling for a moment, a lot of this sex was leaving young people sad, confused, and unable to sustain the emotional wherewithal required for a long-term relationship. One important lesson our culture has learned from the #metoo movement is: no matter what you may think, sex is a really big deal!
Harris’ book had several important insights, one being that life and healthy relationships were about more than just sex. Harris emphasized the importance of friendship and romance in people’s relationships. In his book, Harris called for what at the time—and especially today—seemed extremely countercultural: abstinence, chastity, and ultimately the avoidance of dating before marriage altogether, hence the title of his book. Harris persuaded young people of the importance of not only not having sex before marriage, but more importantly, protecting one’s emotional self from the dangers of simply moving from one partner to the next.
“I thought about it,
but the problem was Mel was the best girlfriend I had ever had and I wasn’t about to screw that up.”
Many of my Christian friends gobbled up this book. I thought about it, but the problem was Mel was the best girlfriend I had ever had and I wasn’t about to screw that up. I also found out Harris got married shortly after the book was published so he was not even in the single realm for the long haul. Nevertheless, I was surprised to read in the news, two weeks ago, that Joshua Harris had renounced his Christian faith altogether. On Instagram, he wrote, “by all measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” My first response was: WTF! By all measurements that you have for defining a Christian... and pray tell, what would that be?
I Kissed Dating Goodbye had and has many valid critics, which now include the author. However, the theological criticism of it is the mixing of purity culture with one’s justification before God. That Jesus especially loves virgins, and if you’re not a virgin anymore, I don’t know if you meet my measurements that I have for defining a Chrisitian. This is not Christianity, instead this is a recipe for despair or Pharisaism.
Defining Christianity by any other means than the perfect imputed righteousness of Jesus, given to us freely as a gift from God, in our baptisms, is not Christianity.
This is Jesus’ entire point in our upcoming Gospel reading this Sunday. In Luke 12:49-56, Jesus delivers some unsettling words about not coming to bring peace, but a sword. He talks about dividing home and parents from children. However, when one reads this passage in context, it is clear that Jesus is speaking about achieving peace, specifically with God, the way the world offers it, through our own works. In this passage, Jesus is essentially saying: do not come and think that I have come to celebrate your achievements, your virginity, your morality or stances on justice issues. Rather, I have come to wash all of that away in the baptism of fire that falls upon me in order to make you the righteousness of God. Jesus goes on to talk about how we can interpret the signs of nature, yet we miss how to interpret the ultimate sign of his presence in his baptism, which is him upon the cross.
Let me tell you, friends, that sign, and that sign alone, is Good News for Joshua Harris and his Christian measurements. It is good news for those of you who’ve kissed dating goodbye, and those of you, who like me, just couldn’t do it. Jesus has not come to reward our efforts at being good, rather he has come to save us from our failures to do so!
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we celebrate the grace of God alone found in Jesus Christ alone, and the peace this brings in the midst of our world truly divided by their own self-justification projects.
The Reverend Jacob A. Smith