Following is the full transcript of ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ author Joshua Harris’ talk titled “Strong Enough to Be Wrong” at TEDxHarrisburg conference.
Joshua Harris – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I have a question for you.
Is admitting you’re wrong a sign of weakness or a sign of strength? And how hard is it for you to consider that you’ve gotten something wrong?
I’m not talking about small areas. What about when the stakes are high, when what you’ve gotten wrong could affect your livelihood, or your involvement in a community, or even your own sense of identity?
I wish that these questions were just theoretical, but for me, they’re very real, very right-now questions that I am wrestling with in a very public way.
So let me tell you a little bit of my journey.
I could take you to the exact spot, in my parents living room, in Gresham, Oregon, where I knelt down and I prayed this prayer: “God, let me write a book that will change the world.”
Be careful what you pray for!
I was 20 years old, I was young, I was religiously zealous, I was certain and I was restlessly ambitious. Youth, zeal, certainty, ambition – Not unlike the ingredients of the Molotov cocktail, they have the tendency to set the world on fire.
And, in my little corner of the world, that’s exactly what happened, because, incredibly, my prayer was answered. I did write a book, it was published and it exploded. It started to sell and sell and sell.
The publisher kept writing me, saying: “We’re going back to print.” It was selling tens of thousands of copies every month. I remember the day that I went into my local Christian book store, and there was my book, the number one, bestselling book in the country. And it stayed there for months.
I was on national radio shows, newspaper articles were being written about me and my book. The pinnacle of my 15 minutes of fame was when I was on the Bill Maher television show, sitting across from a young actor named Ben Affleck. I had a conversation with Batman.
My book went on to sell over 1.2 million copies and was translated into dozens of languages.
Now, if you were not a part of the Evangelical Christian subculture in the late 1990s, you will not have heard anything about my book. But, if you were growing up in that environment, there is a sense in which my book did change your world.
Now, some people would say, “For the better,” but there are a lot of people who would say, “For the worst.” And there are some that are still really pissed off about that.
My book was called: “I Kissed Dating Goodbye – A new attitude towards relationships and romance.”
I was writing to fellow Christians. I was saying: “We need to be serious about our faith, and if we’re serious about our faith, we won’t have sex until we’re married, and if we want to avoid premarital sex, then we should radically change our lifestyle, and that means we should stop dating. Dating is the problem. Dating is a distraction, it’s preparation for divorce, it leads to temptation.”
I was 21. I knew a lot, okay? I should probably mention at this point that I’d been homeschooled my whole life and I’d only been in one serious relationship at this point.
Now, you know, there were some things about this book that I still think are good. Some people were helped by the reminder that you don’t have to be in a dating relationship to be a complete person.
Some people were helped to realize they could take a break from dating and focus on personal development. And I still think that there’s a lot that takes place in modern dating that can be really selfish and harmful, and some of that needs to be challenged.
But my eyes have really been open in the last few years, to see some fundamental problems in the book that I wrote. You know, I didn’t leave room for the idea that dating could be a healthy way of learning what you’re looking for in a long-term relationship, that it could be a part of growing personally.
I made that the focus, I gave the impression that there was really one formula that you could follow, and if you followed that, then you would be happily married, God would bless you and you’d have a great sex life and marriage.
Obviously, the real world doesn’t work that way. But probably the thing that I regret the most is that there was a lot of fear inside of me that I transferred into my writing, and fear is never a good motive: fear of messing up, fear of getting your heart broken, fear of hurting somebody else, fear of sex. Yeah.
WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO SEE THESE PROBLEMS? You know, I think it was because I was so afraid of being wrong.
You know, that book had made me a best-selling author, it had given me an identity, it had made me slightly famous, and it was so easy to just write the critics off as haters, you know, “Those are the haters,” and then find people who liked my book and hide behind them. And isn’t that the great thing about the Internet?
No matter who you are or what you think, you could find someone on the Internet that agrees with you. You could literally be Hitler and find people who think you’re doing a good job.
But it was so hard for me to face up to being wrong because it felt like I would be saying that a big part of my life was wrong, and I didn’t have courage to do that.
What helped me to begin to let my guard down was, a few years ago, I stopped being the pastor of a large church and I went back to school. I went to graduate school and I stopped having to be constantly right about everything and defend all these different ideas, and I just became a student who was listening.
And I developed relationships with my fellow students, and a lot of them started to share stories with me about the effect my book had had. And many times this was a negative effect, and I couldn’t just write them off as angry trolls on the Internet. These were my friends, and so I listened.
And then one day, on Twitter, of all places, this woman wrote me, and she said, “Your book was used against me like a weapon.” And I almost didn’t answer her because I was afraid she would lash out at me, but in this particular day, I just answered and said, “I’m so sorry,” such a simple human interaction.
And that interaction led to a conversation, and that conversation led to a friendship, and that friendship changed me. She said something to me that I’ll never forget. She told me that that back and forth on Twitter was the first time that a religious leader had ever acknowledged getting something wrong, and ever apologized to her.
And I heard that and I just thought, “There’s something really unhealthy about this.” That led me to open up my website and invite people to share their stories, the effect my book had had, and we just published them uncensored on the website.
Some of those were stories of people having a positive experience, but others were heart-wrenching. Others were from people who were really angry and hurt.
And now I’m in this process of working with a fellow student at my grad school who was a woman who was hurt by my book, growing up, and we’re producing a documentary that’s sharing the journey of me going back and looking at the book, but also trying to tell a bigger story about how religious communities talk about sexuality, and talk about relationships and what it looks like to face up to moments when we don’t get everything right, even when we’re well-intentioned.