Joshua Harris, the former evangelical pastor of a Maryland megachurch who wrote a best-selling book criticizing modern dating, has announced that he is no longer a Christian and is divorcing his wife, Shannon Bonne.
Harris made both announcements via Instagram. He also used the announcement to apologize for views expressed in his 1997 book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
In the book, Harris had slammed dating as a “training ground for divorce,” urged Christians against engaging in premarital sex, and decried same-sex marriage.
Harris wrote on Instagram in apology, “I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.”
On His Christian faith, Harris explained, “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Joshua Harris Previously Served as the Pastor of Covenant Life Church in Maryland
Joshua Harris grew up in an evangelical Christian family. The Washington Post reported that Harris’ father, Gregg Harris, was “one of the early national leaders of the Christian home-schooling movement.” Harris was the oldest of 7 siblings.
Harris began preaching at a young age. He began leading the congregation of the nondenominational Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland when he was in his mid-20s, becoming a senior pastor in 2004.
Harris stepped away in 2015 to attend graduate school. He left around the same time that the church was facing criticism over a sex abuse investigation. A former member of the Covenant Life church was convicted in 2014 of molesting three children during the 1980s. The children’s families had gone to church leaders about what was going on but the church did not call the police. Harris told the Post in 2015 that part of the reason he wanted to attend seminary was to advance his training. “We need to learn from the historic church about ways that there is better accountability and responsibility.”
2. Covenant Life Church’s Lead Pastor Sent a Letter to Parishioners Asking For Prayers That Harris Would Find His Way Back to Christianity
The current lead pastor of the Covenant Life Church, Kevin Rogers, had a message for the church after seeing Joshua Harris’ announcement that he was no longer a Christian. Rogers asked for prayers that Harris would find his way back.
Rogers cited Paul in the Bible to explain that it is normal for spiritual leaders to at times question their faith. The letter read in part:
For most of us, Josh isn’t just some distant public figure. He’s a beloved former pastor and friend. So this news isn’t just a lot to process theoretically. It hits home personally.
How do we process the news that someone who was a spiritual leader in our community, who taught us God’s Word, who ministered to us, no longer considers himself a follower of Christ?
Today, after I got the news, I read through Paul’s first letter to Timothy and found it very grounding. Several times Paul mentions former Christian leaders ‘swerving from,’ ‘wandering from,’ or ‘making shipwreck’ of their faith. So while this is sad and confusing, it isn’t new. Christian leaders occasionally veered from faith at the very beginning. Paul says some had gone off course theologically. Others behaved in ways that violated Christian conscience. For others, it was greed. In every case, Paul’s hope was for redemption and restoration. That these leaders would develop ‘love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.’ (1 Tim 1:5) That should be our hope and prayer for Josh as well.”
3. Joshua Harris Has Distanced Himself Repeatedly From His Best-Selling Book, ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’
Joshua Harris wrote his best-selling book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” when he was just 21 years old. He slammed the practice of modern dating and premarital sex, describing dating as simply preparing people for divorce. He encouraged young people to avoid dating altogether and to have faith that God would help them find a future spouse.
Harris has since renounced most of the ideas in the book. In 2018 op-ed published in USA Today, Harris expressed regret for having written the book, calling his ideas “naive” and even harmful.
Harris wrote that he now believes “dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I realize now that my book, in an effort to set a high standard, emphasized practices (like not dating or not kissing before marriage) and concepts (like ‘giving your heart away’) that are not in the Bible.” You can read the full op-ed here.
“I Kissed Dating Goodbye” sold more than 1.2 million copies but is no longer in publication. Harris also created a documentary explaining his transformation and why he no longer lives by the values put forward in the book.
4. Harris Now Lives in Vancouver & Works in Marketing
After leaving the Covenant Life Church in 2015, Joshua Harris moved to Vancouver, Canada with his family. He attended Regent College, a graduate school of theology.
But Harris did not pursue a continued career as a religious leader after completing his studies. Instead, he now runs a marketing company called Clear and Loud.
5. Joshua Harris & Wife Shannon Boone Have Three Children
Joshua Harris announced on Instagram on July 17 that he and his wife, Shannon Boone, were divorcing. The couple had been married since 1998, the year after Harris published “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
He explained that they were committed to remaining friends in order to raise their three teenagers.
Harris wrote, “In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us. It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision. We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead.”
Harris’ estranged wife, Shannon Bonne, is a singer. She released her debut album in 2018.