Joshua Harris, the former lead pastor of Covenant Life Church, the founding church of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is now apologizing to Christians he hurt when he advised against dating in his best-selling 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, calling it a "huge mistake."
"Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. It's what I'm known for," Harris told writer Ruth Graham earlier this month in Vancouver, British Columbia, in a report for Slate.
"It's like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I've done in my life this really huge mistake?" asked Harris, who stepped down as lead pastor at Covenant Life last year to pursue graduate studies at the evangelical Regent College in British Columbia.
In I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Harris argues that traditional dating is "a training ground for divorce" because it puts people in the habit of quitting relationships when things get tough.
The book, marketed to teenagers and 20somethings, also discourages teen relationships and promotes courtship, a process in which a couple moves purposefully toward marriage with their parents' blessing and involvement as a better alternative to dating. Any kind of physical intimacy before marriage, the book argues, is a violation of the sacredness of married sexuality, and could lead to lifelong regret.
According to Graham, I Kissed Dating Goodbye became a phenomenon in conservative Christian circles where it inspired praise from the likes of purity matriarch Elisabeth Elliot and Focus on the Family, as well as book-length rebuttals.
In May, however, Harris expressed regret for some of the advice he doled out in the book when he publicly apologized to some of the readers on Twitter.
"I never went to prom. #BecauseFundamentalism," Twitter user Elizabeth Esther first wrote.
"@elizabethesther my school wasn't allowed to have prom. Because @HarrisJosh lol," replied Jessica Kathryn.
The conversation drew Harris' attention and from his verified Twitter account, Harris replied: "@jessicakathryn @elizabethesther Sorry about that, Jess."
The conversation, however, didn't stop there.
"@HarrisJosh honestly, your book was used against me like a weapon. But now, I just feel compassion for the kid you were when you wrote it," added Esther.
Harris apologized again and revealed that he had plans to reevaluate his advice from I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
"@elizabethesther I'm sorry. And I'm planning to dig into that in the next year or two. Again, I'd love to chat," he said.
Other readers, like Kristine Kruszelnicki, blamed the book for making her set the bar on relationships too high and called herself a "victim."
"@HarrisJosh Add me to ur IKDG victims. 37, never married, now infertile. Set bar too high cause of ur book. Many regrets!" she wrote.
"@kruszer @elizabethesther Kristine, I don't know what to say. I'm sorry for the loss you've experienced and ways my book contributed," Harris responded.
Harris later announced on his website that he was taking a deeper look at his message in I Kissed Dating Goodbye to learn more from people who have been hurt by it.