Shannon Harris, Stronger, Bolder than ‘The Woman They Wanted’

A look at Shannon Harris’s new book and thoughts on our interview

Sarah Stankorb


Before we start this week, I just want to thank all of you who have read Disobedient Women and are posting about it online. If I could ask one more favor: please leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon or wherever you buy or review books. Oh, and a second favor, please ask your library to order a copy for others to read!

My very marked-up and dog-eared copy of The Woman They Wanted.

I’ve wanted to talk to Shannon Harris for years. I was aware of her ex-husband Joshua Harris first, due to his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a classic tome of Millennial purity culture. But when I read his sequel, Boy Meets Girl, I couldn’t help but wonder about Shannon, the young woman who seemed to have abided by Josh’s guidance on courtship as prelude to their marriage. When I read, through his voice, how the sight of her in shorts threatened his barely controlled sex drive, and how she quickly “obeyed” when he asked her to change into pants, I wondered what spurred such compliance. I wondered how she would remember the same scene.

Josh also described mentally wrestling with God while lying in a hammock with her because of the lust he felt, arguing with a God whose rules on chastity he felt he must obey. And I pictured her, lying there, an object of this debate. I wondered if she was aware of his distracted, internal argument in real time.

I wondered if she was lonely.

Last week, Shannon Harris published her memoir, The Woman They Wanted, and the prose is a window into the life I’ve long wondered about. In this, her first book, Shannon Harris weaves scenes that detail how a young woman who grew up outside the church wound up as a pastor’s wife at Covenant Life Church, then flagship for international megachurch network Sovereign Grace Ministries. She was expected to be a submissive wife. She was evidence that Josh Harris’s guidance for “biblical” relationships could work. All she had to do was comply, each day, with what was expected of her.

The book shows how those expectations chipped away at her. They robbed her of her dreams. She was too often treated as an appendage rather than a person.

For any woman who has tried to live the hard reality of so-called biblical womanhood, Shannon Harris’s book will ring with truth. For those outside this world and these churches, Shannon’s is a gripping narrative that makes plain the toll of patriarchy, justified as godly.

I’d heard that Shannon was not giving many interviews at the release of her book, and I am grateful that she was willing to speak to me for Slate. Shannon was as frank and thoughtful as her book, and she opened up about the ways expectations of submission intimately impacted her life.

We went long enough that I broke from my questions and simply wanted to talk to her as a reader.




Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb