Thoughts on Joshua Harris
“On Joshua Harris”
Everybody on Twitter seems to have an opinion on Joshua Harris, so here’s mine:
No matter what Harris says in the next few months—no matter what he tweets or does—I think we should give the guy some space and some time to sort things through.
Sometimes life and faith are horribly messy. And sometimes grace looks like patience when somebody else is hurting.
Think about it. Harris never got a chance to be a stupid young adult. Twenty is way too young to be an expert about anything, and yet J.H. found himself at the center of a massive national movement at that age.
Was that self-inflicted pressure? After all, he wrote the book and promoted it. I guess you can make that argument.
Did his opinion mess up some lives? You can make that argument as well.
But not many of us should have been in that sort of role at that age. And not many of us knew it. A lot of us would have accepted the book deal, accepted the speaking engagements, accepted the fame and believed we were doing it for Jesus.
I’m so thankful the publishing world didn’t find me at that vulnerable place. I’m embarrassed about stuff I wrote at 35, and at 45, and at 46–-let alone fresh off my teens. It’s way too easy to be influential these days.
Does part of the blame for _I Kissed Dating Goodbye_ extremism rest on the 90’s evangelical machine? What about all those speaking platforms and publishing companies run by 90’s adults hungry for the next big thing? Those same Christian business folks still busy themselves scouting for another attractive, young, talented, died-and-came-back-from-heaven, Olympian, Idol-singer, pick-your-gimmick, just sexy-enough, pro-Jesus voice that will sell truckloads of books.
Authors need two of three things to get published In Christian world: 1. a big idea, 2. a big platform, or 3. good writing. Most often, the last of those three is the first to go.
A hot young guy deciding not to kiss girls was big news in the 90’s. But it was also a cheap sales trick. Shame on those older, supposedly-wiser adults who helped him get famous by writing about this.
Harris was too certain too young, but a lot of us were. The difference is, he was too certain too young with the whole world watching.
That’s a darned good lesson for publishing/platform world in 2019, if we will take note.
Agents—stop agenting the 20-something attractive sports star who is willing to talk about Jesus in public. Publishers—stop publishing the 20-something singer who makes faith sexy. Promoters—stop promoting books about parenting by young moms of toddlers. Stop. Stop. Stop making money off of kids who are not going to be able to handle fame if your marketing works.
Because where does all this end?
When you’re too young, spending decades in the wake of a spiritual spotlight, the complexities of real faith grow inside you like a secret cancer. God seems too quiet. God seems cruelly unaware of the real cost of your faith.
Everything on the outside is black and white. People talk in a weird evangelical dialogue of “hashtag blessing” this or that, and dividing every spiritual matter into us vs. them—while everything on your inside is suddenly a mass of toxic greys. There’s no place for sincere questions. There’s no place for the terror of uncertainty.
That’s too much pressure on a young adult. Way too much.
I absolutely think it’s wrong to have sex outside of marriage. I also think millions of Christian young people were handed a prosperity-gospel approach to relationships that wasn’t realistic at all. And at the center of all this pressure was a too-young man who was in way over his head.
That struggle calls for mercy, not severity.
Truth is, you and I cannot comprehend what that struggle was like. There’s no telling what sort of damage was done to Harris’s soul during this time. As a former pastor’s wife in an invisible church, I remember how little room there was to struggle, doubt, or fail. When I finally got free of our toxic situation, it took years (and several messy explosions) for my faith stabilize.
JH is going through something much more difficult. All that pressure. The weight of conservative evangelicalism cheering—knowing that cheering would turn to venomous seething if he flinched. He’s surviving a divorce. He’s feeling his way through the guilt/shame of feeling like he’s done things the wrong way, but not feeling safety to sort out how or why.
Do I agree with his recent conclusions about Christianity? Of course not. But I also know that he’s lived through struggles I cannot begin to imagine, and I am willing to give him time to heal.
Today I saw some “Christians” gleefully condemning Harris to hell on Twitter. They were proud, stupid, mean—probably the exact responses Joshua Harris anticipated after his announcement that he no longer identifies as a Christian.
Watching this, I remembered those times in my life when friends loved me enough to give me room to roar during a season of severe pain—sometimes even in public—without making permanent assumptions about my character or the end of my faith.
Twitter allows men like Joshua Harris and Donald Trump to unload every day’s emotion for the world to see. If we’re going to “pray for” one and “believe God can work in” one—we have to be willing to extend the same patient grace for the other.