Shannon seemed to be an eager and vivacious woman trying her best to live up to manmade commands without experiencing a life built on Biblical Truth. As with so many young men and women who have shared this experience, Shannon has chosen to identify as a victim seeking truth and wisdom from within herself. She sees God, if there is one, is a complete killjoy who wants to squash your dreams and thwart your liberty. Shannon, now free from this bondage, has begun her crusade to liberate everyone else.
Shannon (Bonne) Harris recently premiered her much-anticipated autobiography The Woman They Wanted: Shattering the Illusion of the Good Christian Wife.1 She details her life, first as a young convert, then as a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mom in Sovereign Grace Church, Baltimore (SGM). Shannon tells a heartrending story of decades-long spiritual abuse at the hands of her husband, Josh Harris, her pastor, C. J. Mahaney, and his wife, Carolyn. But the goal of Shannon’s book is not merely to share her own story. Repeatedly throughout the 244 pages, Shannon beckons her readers to follow her on the path to fulfillment through “looking inside yourself” for wisdom and truth,2 thus deconstructing your faith in Jesus Christ along the way.
Shannon was raised in a secular home; her parents divorced during her middle school years, and she and her brother remained living with their dad while her mom moved across the country to advance her career. Shannon tells of her love of music and theater from a young age and her desire to pursue a life performing on Broadway. It is in preparing to “fulfill her dreams,” a phrase repeated many times throughout her book, that Shannon is introduced to evangelical Christianity as taught and practiced by Sovereign Grace Church (SGM).
Shannon’s story actually began decades earlier as her now ex-husband Josh Harris was growing up in the home of homeschooling pioneers Gregg and Sono Harris.
As a teen, Josh made many self-confessed bad decisions about dating and eventually purposed to approach his relationships with girls in a new way. The result was the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997) that sold over a million copies, landed him on the homeschool convention speaking circuit, and caught the eye of Mahaney. The no-dating message resonated with SGM, and Josh was brought on staff, eventually being mentored to become the lead pastor of the large flagship church. All that was missing was a church-approved courtship and wife.
Three years later, Josh published Boy Meets Girl3, detailing his courtship with Shannon and outlining a script for parents and young adults on how to challenge the world’s views of romance. The book was an immediate success, and the back cover shows the cute and perky couple happily married with children.
But all was not well in the Harris marriage. Reminiscent of the familiar story of Princess Diana, she tells us, Shannon paints the tragic picture of a young woman who was told by church authorities what friends to have, what clothes to wear, what music to listen to, when and how to participate in ministry, and how to raise her children. The goal was to make her the SGM version of a godly woman.4 All of these things resulted in more confusion and disappointment as she felt she could never be what was expected of her, all while trying to compete with the church and a broader audience for her husband’s time and attention.
Over the years, loneliness and disillusionment eventually lead to depression and a breakdown. When the SGM scandal exploded, Josh eventually resigned and moved his family 3000 miles cross country to attend a theology school they knew had a reputation for causing a crisis of faith in people. Josh and Shannon were primed for the same experience. In 2018 they announced their divorce and “deconstruction,” declaring they are no longer Christians.
Fast forward to 2023 and The Woman They Wanted. Either history has been rewritten, or the previously published chronicles of Shannon’s fairytale courtship and model marriage to Josh were lies. Perhaps it is both.