Above photo credit: Joshua Harris Instagram public account
I’m sure you’ve read the news: Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye is divorcing his wife, the mother of his three children. Harris says in regard to his faith in Jesus Christ that he has “fallen away,” and “By all measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” He admits that he can’t even read the Bible to see alternative interpretations.
Christian publications and Christians all over social media are commenting about this. Comments range from grace, peace and prayers to, he never was a Christian if he has fallen away…to…show him no mercy in light of the SGM sexual abuse cover-up scandal. Some prominent homeschool leaders have been the most unmerciful toward him.
When Harris hit the big time in the homeschooling community, and the book publishing industry, he was immediately singled out and groomed. Yes, groomed. I’ll let you read about it below in the piece written by Elle Renee, a fellow domestic violence advocate and former homeschool mom.
One point of interest I must include is that Harris recently apologized for the harm his book caused for countless young people. At age nineteen he taught: don’t date, don’t kiss until marriage, and other do and don’t statements that are not found in scripture. His books flew off the shelves and were taken as the gospel truth by eager readers. What made it worse was that adult leaders took liberties with his book and turned it into the foundation for the purity culture. He discontinued his book’s publication, as well as other supplemental resources tied to it. When is the last time you heard of someone doing that?
So where am I going with all this?
Harris and his soon to be ex-wife have been in a system of spiritual abuse for over two decades. It will take them years to find their way through the mess, find some healing, and find a way to manage the damage done to them. Harris will also have to deal with the cover-up damage he caused or contributed to for innocent children who were sexually abused.
Please hear me, I am not excusing his leadership in the sexual abuse cover-up scandal at Sovereign Grace Ministries if he was indeed involved. He allegedly knew what was going on and I’m sure law suits are not finished. As more states abolish the statute of limitations there could possibly be charges filed against him. Only Josh will know what part of his ministry was manipulated, which responses were made from the brain washing he suffered, what was willful, or what was guilt by association. This we know; at SGM children were harmed. Crimes were committed. Innocent children may never come to know Jesus because of the abuse they suffered in the church.
As in domestic abuse and extreme psychological abuse people do things they shouldn’t, things their abuser talks them into doing because their abuser is a professional liar who can talk just about anyone into anything. Victims say and do things they later regret. This can happen with spiritual abuse too. It’s rare that adults realize the extent of the spiritual abuse they have endured. I’ve seen it first hand. And as with domestic abuse, the victim often believes they are the one to blame. Add in the discovery that your ministry/job, close friendships, and the ‘faith’/religion in your life have been built on and around a lie. I don’t know with certainty this is any part of the explanation for what is taking place with this case, but it is highly probable.
I hope Harris does come forward and deal with the SGM sexual abuse cover-up with sincerity and truth. He needs to speak out about it.
As for his faith, I pray he can find his way out of legalism and realize it had nothing to do with who God is, and legalism is not the heart and will of Jesus; nor is lawlessness. I hope he finds it was legalism he was finished with; not Jesus.This road he is walking will be long as many survivors can attest. When the Bible is used to control you and destroy you that last thing that brings healing to your life is the Bible. Unless you’ve experienced this you might not be able to understand it, but please, believe it.
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The below commentary is shared with permission.
Written by Elle Renee, Mom 🖥 Graphic Designer 🎨 ✝️Art & Ministry Director🎗DV Survivor Advocate 🙋♀️INFP/4w5 Below photo credit: Elle Renee Facebook profile picture.
This story just makes me so sad, especially in light of my previous post on spiritual abuse. Indulge me an extra long post as I wrestle aloud with some thoughts on this one here on FB (Facebook).
This is Joshua Harris.
If you’re familiar with the uber conservative, homeschooling, evangelical movement, you know his wildly popular book from the 90s, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
If you’re familiar with the current conservative, Together 4 the Gospel, Gospel Coalition, neo-Calvinist, reformed, charismatic & specifically Sovereign Grace network of churches, you’ll recognize him as ex-Senior Pastor at SGC flagship church in Maryland.
He was groomed for leadership by SGC founder/president/lead pastor, CJ Mahaney. His name is familiar if you’ve followed any of the sex abuse scandals in Sovereign Grace churches in the news from 2011-2014.
I am particularly interested & grieved over this story for a number of reasons. One, I attended a Sovereign Grace church from 2002-2011. Two, my life exploded in 2011 (to include within this church & faith) at the same time “the documents” & the beginning of the sex abuse info & significant issues with CJ, et al, was being exposed. (unrelated circumstances, but crazy to have so much of my personal SGC exposed to me at the same time it was happening at a national level!) This also affected Joshua Harris, who, by this time, was senior pastor in MD.
I read a lot of the documents & paid close attention to the numerous news stories for several reasons. One thing that jumped out at me as a couple of the earlier years went by was Joshua Harris’ attitude. I noticed a mark difference between him & some of the other leaders in SGC. I won’t pretend he did everything right – I don’t know the details enough to comment on that. However, he seemed to shift & present a spirit of humility.
He began making some HARD decisions, choices that were not going to ingratiate himself with CJ or other SG leaders. He started to do some REAL reflecting & what he discovered was that he & the church had made some significant mistakes over the years. He began to listen to the people, really listen, & was willing to do some inner gutting.
He talks about inspecting his actions, his thoughts, his feelings, his words, his counsel, etc. – and as he shares in this article & other places, what he found wasn’t super lovely. In fact, some things were plain ugly & grievous to have to admit. The amount of shame & guilt that must have plagued him in various seasons, I can only imagine.
Y’all, they had IT ALL. A.L.L. They were wildly successful, beautiful young couple, three children. Both creatives (writer, singer) besides being ministry leaders. He was tapped by THE “denomination” leader. I’m assuming up until 2011 they figured they had found the golden groove of Christianity.
Yet, when it all exploded – and they had the option & power to side with the “safe” leaders (CJ Mahaney & others), they appear to have sided with Truth. Even though it jeopardized their church family, their standing with SGC, their friends, their community, their support… and as time continued, even their book sales & income & careers. Over the last few years, Josh has recounted his advice in his book & asked forgiveness for much of the content & especially how it was weaponized & used to oppress young people, and especially women. I cannot even imagine what that was like for him, his wife Shannon & their children at this time.
And this guy – he was just a kid when some charismatic, powerful christian leader back in the 90s told him he was “special” & began to take him under his wing. They like to call it discipling or mentoring and evidence of grace & love. But if you dig a little deeper, I’d call it taking advantage of a naive, idealistic 19 yo kid. I’d say he was love bombed & groomed & unless he was a PhD student armed with info on personality disorders, he wouldn’t have had any idea. He was selected because he was moldable & easy to manipulate into what CJ though he should be, for CJs purposes, under the guise of “God’s purposes.” Tons of rewards for behaving the way he was “supposed” to as a “good” christian.
I can’t imagine the level of psychological trauma, pain & horror as Joshua (and Shannon) began to discover a lot of their framework for their life was built on religion & false fears & manipulated, pseudo acts of “love.” And like anyone coming out of spiritual brainwashing, you ask yourself, if you could be duped or simply wrong in one area, where else are you wrong? If you can’t trust this particular spiritual leader, who else can’t you trust? If I believed one thing about God, was so sure I was right but now am confident I am wrong about a part of God, well, what else could I be wrong about with God?
I would imagine these are just some of the conversations & anguish Joshua has been wrestling with.
I’m not justifying any of his decisions – I’m actually choosing not to judge any of them at any level, certainly not here on FB. Sometimes, we are called to just show mercy – this guy doesn’t even know me & he’s certainly not accountable to me so I think mercy makes more sense.
So, with that perspective, OF COURSE everything is falling down around him 😞. Of course nothing is the same as it once was & he has no answer in the moment for how to move forward.
I think he needs our genuine love & support (they both do, I think, in this case) – not a weird, “I’ll support you by praying that God wakes you back up & you’ll see how you’ve gone off the deep end & turn your life back to Jesus but until then we either won’t hang out or when we do, it will always be to bring this back up & push you back to God/church/religion.”
Maybe they just need an “of course” from us – empathy, grace, space to grieve & process & heal.
*Maybe they need us to not fear their actions right now, but to love them enough to trust the God that’s in them to handle & redeem it all.*
Spiritual abuse is evil. He & Shannon have already been caught up in so much of this nonsense, from many sides, for decades. I pray they both find a season of rest, compassion, gentleness, tenderness, healing & hope from the Presence who showed up in the very same way when my faith was shattered. He is so very Kind & Patient in this process.
I hope we can be the same towards them, and others who are detoxing spiritual abuse.
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