Joshua Harris, Author and Former Pastor, Says Goodbye to Christianity

Juicy Ecumenism | 8/2/2019 | Guest Writer
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My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The information that was left out of our announcement is that 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.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. 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.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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In 1997, a book denigrating dating in favor of courtship hit the shelves, written by an unmarried 21-year-old. That same year, I turned twelve. By the time I held a copy of Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye in my hands at fifteen, he had already sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his debut book, my family was attending a megachurch and purity culture had made its way into the evangelical mainstream.

Right age. Right place. Right time.

Harris - Set - Couples - Divorce - Rewarding

Harris argued that modern dating set couples up for divorce and promised a rewarding marriage to those who followed his advice. I first read the book out of curiosity; my friends and I giggled at the absurdity of forming a relationship without dating in between discussing the boys we hoped would ask us to the homecoming dance.

Yet we all agreed that sexual purity, respect and virtue were important. Every year our youth group went through gender-separated relationship sessions. The girls’ discussions focused on limiting physical contact, dressing modestly and allowing men to be the initiators in all things, practically verbatim from Harris’ model. If we were interested in a man, we were encouraged to pray that God would reveal that interest and kindle it in him as well.

Parents - Courtship - Model - Initiation - Purity

Though my parents did not support the courtship model, it was hard to shake my initiation in purity culture. After all, the motive made sense. I devoured Harris’ second book, Boy Meets Girl, which he wrote after courting his now-separated wife Shannon Bonne. Though the book still pushed modesty and reticence for women, Harris at least presented practical relationship-building suggestions.

He would become the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in 2004, a flagship congregation of Sovereign Grace Ministries. After the church became embroiled in scandal in 2014 due to sexual abuse allegations from...
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