“Kissing Christianity Goodbye”: A Call for the Church’s Self-Reflection

Last week, former pastor and author Joshua Harris announced his departure from Christianity. The news came after his recantation of his popular book and the announcement of separation from his wife. Below is his full statement. It is painful to read.

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.

It’s usually around this time that some Christians will pontificate or speculate on the status of his salvation: “Was he really saved to begin with? Was he putting his trust on things other than Christ? Did he really know Him? Can he return to the faith? Will God accept him when they ‘meet’?”

Such attempts to peer into his soul or plum the depths of God’s mysteries are usually unproductive and unfruitful. We would be wise to listen to the words of Aslan when he says to Shasta, “Child…I am telling you your story… No one is told any story but their own.” Likewise, I would think that this is a time for the church to do some soul searching of our own; to ask ourselves whether there was anything that we contributed to Harris’ departure and whether there is anything that we can learn.

When the news broke (along with my heart), I wanted to tell him along with countless others that have walked away: “It is not Jesus Christ that has failed you, but Christians; and for that I am truly, truly sorry.” I was reminded of Gandhi, who once said, “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians.” I am not ashamed of Christ. I’m sometimes ashamed of Christians. After all, Harris like all of us is more than a product of his environment, but not less. Although Harris’ choices are ultimately his own, it is still appropriate to ask, “What did we do wrong?”, without needlessly obsessing over the question.

One of the biggest topics of discussion has surrounded “purity culture,” for which Harris was a bit of a figurehead. Having grown up in a corner of the Bible-belt, I can relate to some degree with the disillusionment that many have had regarding “purity culture.” As a self-professed “confessing millennial,” I hold to a traditional sexual ethic, but it took my brain awhile to understand it. I was often told the prohibition by well-meaning Christians, but the explanations were a bit lacking. It was not until I listened to a Tim Keller sermon and read his book, “The Meaning of Marriage,” that I grasped the biblical conception of sex as a sign of a lifelong covenant committment.

But first, I had to understand what a covenant was.

I had to understand the “telos.”

And in the church, we sometimes explain things backwards. We are seen for what we are against, but not always for what we are for.

Now, on the one hand, rationale need not matter insofar as God gave Adam and Eve a specific commandment for reasons that were opaque to them. God alone has the right to say what is good and bad as Creator. But the reality is that we live in a post-Fall world and have inherited Adam’s rebellion in our genes. It’s in our nature to be contrarian to our earthly parents, let alone God. And as St. Augustine famously noted in his Confessions, a prohibition is simply an invitation. Rules were made to be broken.

All this to say that our presentation matters when it comes to our public (and private) witness. It matters to our communities. It mattters to our friends. It matters to our families. And obviously it mattered to Joshua Harris. This is all the more relevant considering that we not only live in a post-Fall world, but also in a post-Christian society, where misconceptions of Christianity abound. So in this sobering time of soul-searching and self-reflection, let’s consider how we present and represent our faith, our God, our gospel, and our sexual ethic.

I’m confident that we can learn from this. Such a cautious optimism does not come from a rosy-colored view of Christians, but of Christ, who promised of His church, “…the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

And Joshua, I highly doubt that you’ll ever read this backwater blogpost. But in the unlikely event you do: I love you, and I’m sorry for the pain that we (Christians–the church) might have caused. I hope you reconsider Jesus Christ, and look past his flawed followers, at least for the time being.

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