I Kissed “Biblical Womanhood” Goodbye

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For years, Shannon Harris’ church expected her to be an exemplar for submissive, biblical womanhood. She was married to Joshua Harris, the famed author of anti-dating handbook I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which sold over a million copies after its publication in 1997 and, in advising chaste courtship instead of dating, became a mainstay of American purity culture. Looking back, Shannon describes him then as a “kind of abstinence pop star.”

As Joshua’s platform grew, Shannon became a figure in his writing, sometimes deployed as a useful narrative device. He described her having a “typical party life” “ruled by sin” before becoming a Christian. She’d been headed to Nashville to pursue a dream of becoming a singer. But, as the story went, God upturned both their lives after Shannon joined the church and later caught Joshua’s eye. They wound up in a courtship, preparing for marriage in Maryland. The couple had to live up to Harris’ own relationship guidance. He later wrote how she “honored” his needs by dressing modestly and replacing a pair of shorts that caused him to “struggle” with lust.

Years after they wed, Joshua Harris became lead pastor at Covenant Life Church, the flagship church of international megachurch network Sovereign Grace Ministries (now called Sovereign Grace Church). Shannon gave up opportunities in order to fit herself into the church—recording for the church’s label instead of striking out on her own. And, of course, her days were full: She had to be free to homeschool their children.

What most of the world knew about Shannon was through this lens of salvation, submission, and her husband’s words. She worked hard to be—as the title of her new book outlines—The Woman They Wanted, even as she and Joshua had three children. But as Harris details, trying to embody what their church viewed as biblical womanhood was no dream. Their church started to fall apart in 2013, when C.J. Mahaney, co-founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, resigned. As allegations of sex abuse and subsequent church cover-up continued to surface, Shannon was already in a deep depression. In 2019, via Instagram post, Shannon and Joshua announced their impending divorce.

Content retrieved from: https://slate.com/human-interest/2023/09/joshua-shannon-harris-kissed-dating-goodbye.html.

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