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Shiny Single People: Love Lives Held Hostage

It’s easy to watch Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets from afar and think such oppression only happens to ‘those people’ but what if the very teachings that led America’s favorite family astray weaseled their way into mainline Christianity long ago? What if a major issue among Christians today has its roots in the sordid story we are all binge-watching?

I speak of the issue of prolonged, unwanted singleness. For years the U.S. marriage rate has been declining, reaching the lowest it has been in 100 years in 2018. The rate among Christians is only slightly higher than that among secular young people and the church is getting worried. Why aren’t the young people marrying and raising ‘godly seed’ to refill the pews? As an old preacher once said, “If you don’t hear crying, the church is dying.” It’s easy to blame the delay on young adults desiring to avoid responsibility and prolong their carefree years. However, the amount of Christian material with the expressed intent of guiding lonely singles on navigating unwanted singleness, and the surge of young adult church groups teeming with hopefuls looking for love suggests otherwise. Many Christian singles are lonely. Lucky for them, popular Christian culture has a lot to say about dating, love, singleness, and the decision to marry. Some of their more prominent doctrines include; Singleness is a Gift- Wait on the Lord- God is enough- God will send you the right one in his time. Such mantras sound so godly but what if they are not? What if they did not come from God but from…someone else?

Extra-biblical doctrines have infiltrated popular Christian culture and hijacked the Christian romance narrative. Here’s what happened. Back in the 90’s a Christian dating book was published with an intriguing title and an even more intriguing message; I Kissed Dating Goodbye. According to him the only way to ‘remain pure’ and ‘honor God with one’s love life’ was to ‘wait on the Lord’ and ‘find satisfaction in one’s relationship with God’. Then God would reward you with ‘the one’. All you had to do was to boycott dating and wait for God’s reward of the perfect mate. I was a doe-eyed teenager when I received my copy and the handsome 21-year-old Joshua Harris’ words seemed like the epitome of wisdom. I was sold and I wasn’t the only one.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye sold over 1 million copies. A few years later Josh published a sequel, Boy Meets Girl, where he used his own “God-written love story” with his wife to validate his ‘new approach’ to relationships. Together they revolutionized the Christian dating scene and became affectionately called the prince and princess of purity. The message was preached from the pulpits, sung by Christian pop bands, and proclaimed at summer youth camps. Many of my peers and I signed up and eagerly waited for God to make our dreams come true. Some received their promised love story quickly and published their own success stories while others, like myself, faithfully waited… and waited… and waited. It had worked for Josh and the others, why wasn’t it working for us? We must be doing something wrong. This was God’s way. God would come through at the right time, wouldn’t He? The problem was, it wasn’t God’s way, it wasn’t even Joshua Harris’ way. It was Bill Gothard’s way.

Bill Gothard ran a parachurch organization called the Institute of Basic Life Principles that encouraged young people to focus on serving the Lord in singleness. Many a teen intern ‘served the Lord’ by participating in Gothard’s schools, seminars, training, and the overall IBLP ministry. When God did ‘call them to marriage’ the young people were only allowed to ‘court’ with the permission and supervision of their parents. These hyper-conservative, fundamentalist teachings remained mainly within Gothard’s own movement until they were neatly repackaged by none other than the prince of purity himself, Joshua Harris. Harris was exposed to the teachings of the IBLP through homeschooled friends and the writings of Elisabeth Elliot who was also closely associated with the IBLP and Bill Gothard. Harris credits Elliot’s book ‘Passion and Purity’ as the inspiration for the principles in his own book. Interestingly, if you compare the principles of Harris’ ‘new approach’ to dating in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, they are strikingly similar to the courtship principles found on the IBLP website.

The message has softened over the years but the core teachings are the same. Singleness is a gift, a calling, a privilege and not to be vacated unless the Lord ‘calls’ one to marriage. A single’s faith is proven by waiting on the Lord and is rewarded by God bringing the illusive ‘one’ in His good time. The girls are praying, the guys are waiting, no one is pursuing, and around and around the loneliness merry-go-round they both go. It’s time to get off the merry-go-round, friends, and admit we have been led astray. We have been taught human teachings as if they were God’s and they have withheld the very love they promised to deliver. The unbiblical teachings of the IBLP held our love lives hostage and it is time to break free. It is time to take back our God-given agency and actively pursue the life we want. That’s what I did and my life was forever changed. To hear more of my story and learn how you too, can break free from unbiblical doctrines, check out my new book; Sick of Singleness: A Biblical Guide to Breaking Free and Finding Love.

-Harmony Claire

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