He’s written best-selling books on relationships, pastored a megachurch, and been highly influential in the Western evangelical community for decades. But in the past two weeks, Joshua Harris has renounced his Christian faith, announced he is divorcing his wife of 21 years and apologized to the LGTBQ community for past words and actions.
Other than a vague statement in an Instagram post that “some significant changes have taken place in both of us,” Harris offered no specifics as to the reason for his divorce.
In another post, Harris claimed his “faith in Jesus” has undergone a “massive shift.”
“The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction, the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.'” Harris said. “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.”
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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.”
In the same post, Harris expressed “regret” for how he taught about and viewed the LGBTQ community.
“[T]o 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,” Harris said. “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.”
The revelations fell hard on Covenant Life Church, the church Harris pastored from 2004 until 2015. In a letter to the church, current pastor Kevin Rogers sympathized with members that the news was “hard to hear.”
“For most of us, Josh isn’t just some distant public figure,” Rogers wrote. “He’s a beloved former pastor and friend. So this news isn’t just a lot to process theoretically. It hits home personally.”
Rogers urged his church community to find direction by remembering the words of the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy.
“Several times Paul mentions former Christian leaders ‘swerving from,’ ‘wandering from,’ or ‘making shipwreck’ of their faith,” Rogers told his congregation. “So while this is sad and confusing, it isn’t new. Christian leaders occasionally veered from faith at the very beginning. Paul says some had gone off course theologically. Others behaved in ways that violated Christian conscience. For others, it was greed. In every case, Paul’s hope was for redemption and restoration.”
“Seeing leaders who taught us the gospel veer from it should deepen our commitment to ‘guard the good deposit’ entrusted to us,” Rogers said. He encouraged his church to heed Paul’s admonition to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”
Rogers also encouraged people to pray for Harris. “Pray with sincere hope for a redemptive end. And ask the God of all grace and power for fresh resolve in your own fight of faith.”
Michael Farris, the president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote a letter to Harris pleading for a change of heart.
“You have walked away from your marriage. That’s not right,” Farris wrote in a letter posted on Facebook. “You have walked away from your faith in Christ. That’s even worse. This says nothing about Jesus and a great deal about you.”
Farris wrote in his letter that Harris’ change of heart means the former pastor “never actually knew Jesus.”
“Jesus says about people like you that in the last judgment, He will say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you,'” Farris said. “As immersed as you were in Christian culture and a career as a pastor, you never actually knew Jesus. It gives me only heart ache to say these things to you. And Jesus will take no pleasure in pronouncing those words in judgment of you or anyone.”
Other Christians are responding to Harris’ announcements with a different message.
Although the Harrises’ story “saddens” him, Brian Bowman, pastor at Valley Life Tramonto in Phoenix, Arizona focuses more on mercy than Farris’ prediction of condemnation.
“Jude 22 tells us to show mercy to the doubters and that seems to be where Harris is right now,” Bowman told The Western Journal.
Bowman pointed out that Bible-believing Christians should be neither shocked nor surprised by the recent news about Harris. “No Christian needs to wonder, either silently or aloud, ‘How could he?'” Bowman said. “If you believe that your sins are responsible for the death of God’s son, then you are well acquainted with exactly ‘how’ people betray God. There’s nothing remarkable about that.”
Bowman believes it’s heartening to remember that seekers doubt, but that many believe. “What is remarkable, and bears deep consideration, is that there are still some who believe, by God’s grace, and are preserved by his love.”
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