I’ve had a bit of time to process my thoughts regarding the book I kissed dating goodbye by Joshua Harris. With any book that had as much impact as this one, we have to take a look at the broader culture and context that Harris spoke to. If I could boil it down to one word, it would be control.
Homeschooling really started to pick up speed in the late 90s and early 2000s. While for some, like me, it was more about quality of education, for most it was about control.
Parents looked to the sexual revolution and growing liberalism in society and felt afraid. When you are afraid, you turn to methods that you believe will control your family and social circle so it doesn’t fall to these influences. Homeschooling fit like a glove with this mindset.
With homeschooling parents could directly control their children’s
Social circle, dating habits, education, entertainment, religion, etc. When your kids are around you 24/7, it’s much easier to monitor them.
Harris made it easy for parents, because his book emphasized a great deal of self control, so it was easy for parents to throw this book at their kids and say, “Read it and follow it.” It was also beneficial for that culture that Harris also emphasized a great deal of parental control, although not as much as other proponents of courtship such as Bill Gothard.
You might recognize the name Bill Gothard as the disgraced founder of the Institutes for Basic Life Principles, who was forced to resign from that organization after multiple woman accused him of fondling them when they were teenagers. Gothard taught courtship before Harris did, albeit a more extreme version.
He believed that God put umbrellas of authority over everyone. For a woman, her umbrella would be her parents, although mainly her father, followed by her husband. These umbrellas of authority were the mouthpieces of God and if you disobeyed them, you would experience demonic attack.
Courtship fit will with his messed up philosophy since it took all the autonomy away from a daughter and laid it at the hands of a father.
Again, Harris was not as severe as Gothard, but his proposal was not so much different.
The Joshua Generation
One common phrase within the homeschooling circle was how the next generation of homeschoolers would be the Joshua Generation. They would retake the country for God, which was code for getting into politics and passing conservative Republican laws. Many within the homeschooling movement believed their children would be that set apart generation that would reclaim the country, repeal Roe v Wade and make America a Christian nation again.
For such a different and set apart group, it would make sense they would embrace all sorts of ways of life that were different from the majority. Hence, a book like I kissed dating goodbye came at just the right time. It gave them an entirely different way of life if you will.
I could mention other factors at play as well such as a revival of Calvinistic ideas within the evangelical church. However the homeschooling movement itself that embraced Harris has declined fairly severely. Many of the children who took up the banners their parents gave them now find themselves hurt and trying to recover from all the damage of that movement. You can see this on websites such as homeschoolersanonymous and recovering grace.
This was ultimately a movement that put fear and control above love and grace, and it shows even in a book as shiny and polished as I kissed dating goodbye.
Even the author himself is starting to wrestle with the damage his book has caused. My only prayer is that the church doesn’t fall into this trap of fear and control again.