Josh Harris: Reminding Christians that No One has a Corner on Truth

Josh Harris: Reminding Christians that No One has a Corner on Truth August 5, 2019

By Cindy Kunsman

I watched with awe over the interest in Josh Harris after the I Kissed Dating Goodbye author disclosed new details about his crisis of faith and the end of his marriage. I understand the unpleasant reactions from people who suffer(ed) devastating consequences because of the purity culture. The thoughts that follow pertain to those Christians who rushed to express cruel sentiment and seemingly terminal epitaphs instead of compassion for Harris as he traverses many crises.

  1. Neither doctrine nor good intentions shield Christians from errors in judgement or their consequences. (Fear that we are not as safe as we’d like to believe.)

Evangelical Christians love to think that strong knowledge of Scripture and solid understanding of sound doctrine provides an impenetrable defense against error and deception. (Religious groups concerned with cults often examine only doctrine and avoid discussion of works and fruit and motive for this same reason.) While Protestants strive to ‘ground’ their faith in knowledge and understanding of Scripture, they often neglect the fact that they can also be influenced by their human need.

Those well-meaning parents and wise guys in Christianity who approved of the message of I Kissed Dating Goodbye suddenly they realized that they were just as vulnerable to error as everyone else. Their good intentions resulted in something that they never intended, so they all had some hand in the negative consequences that resulted.

Rather than sit with and feel their disappointment over being a limited and fallible creature in an imperfect world, they decided to unload their distress on to Josh Harris through condemnation and blame.

  1. When a person draws too much of their identity from a group instead of from their own sense of self and personal faith, the mistakes of someone in their group can feel intensely threatening.

No human being likes to be unfairly categorized or lumped in with the worst common denominator. This becomes more of a problem when group identity overrides concerns for the well-being of someone in the group.

  1. Fear that any expression of compassion to someone in the midst of a religious crisis might be misinterpreted as a blanket approval for their actions. That fear outweighs their compassion to such a degree that it becomes more important to alienate the person instead of showing them kindness.

I always come back to the idea that we need love most desperately when we deserve it the least. Too many Christians feel so ashamed that they trusted Josh Harris and his book that his statements last week inspired more condemnation than sorrow and love.

Due to my age, I completely missed out on the purity movement. I understood it to be a well-developed practice before Harris ever published his book, and I’ve never been that impressed with him or his family. That said, I take no pleasure in the suffering or downfall of another, be they friend or foe.

If your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t use that emergency as an opportunity to express your anger at him for breaking your favorite tool when you loaned it to them. You rush to do whatever you can to help save the lives of the people whom you know are trapped in that house. If you are unable to do so, you do what you can by calling 911, or you take a blanket over to the scene to help the family stay warm and to offer comfort. Do you really stop and consider their profession of faith before you rush to help save their lives?

I always thought that, while painful, crises often bring out the very best in Christians. Perhaps this challenge in life will become the crucible in which Josh Harris will come to the end of himself and will truly reckon with the mistakes he’s made. He’s expressed he’s rethinking his understanding of Christianity and how it manifests, and for anyone, that can be the best thing that ever happens to them. It is in such crucibles that impurities burn away, metals are purified, and steel becomes tempered.

While we all have opinions that can be as flawed as they are informed, I see this quick rush to ‘cut and run’ from Harris as a manifestation of fear as well. When we are in crisis, people around us tend to give us a wide berth because we expect people to say ridiculous things at such times. We understand that things uttered don’t give us a circumspect view of who the person is now, who they were, or who they will become in the future.

Out of fear, I think that too many Christians rushed to alienate Harris to save their own faces. Too quickly, they took a statement made in crisis as the summation of Harris is and will ultimately be. If fear is truly the fruit of a lack of faith, I think that too many people have revealed themselves as faithless. Their own fears or desire to save their ‘brand’ weigh more heavily than their sorrow, if they have any. It also seems that their belief in a God who is supposed to be with us in the deepest pit of hell falls flat.

In the parable, the Good Shepherd goes after one lost and wayward sheep out of love and concern for them. Sheep wander off, and the story illustrates that when our good deeds do not merit it, we still deserve love and great effort to restore us to safety. If I am a beneficiary of that great love and patience, why on earth would I want anyone else to receive anything less in my time of greatest need? May Harris become common knowledge of the principle of the parable and not the exclusion. Time will tell us soon enough if he has.


Cindy is a nurse who was raised in Word of Faith, a Second Generation Adult of cultic Christianity. She and her husband dabbled in Calvinism and Theonomy as a foil to Christian anti-intellectualism, and they were exit counseled together when the walked away from a church that embraced Gothard’s teachings. Cindy escaped many Quiverfull pitfalls but became a social pariah for failing to birth a family. She’s been decrying the abuses of the Patriarchy Movement since 2004, and she writes about spiritual abuse at her blog, Under Much Grace. Read more about her here.

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  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Damage Control.
    It hurts to prop someone up as an Authority, only to have to discredit that person once they contradict the Authority. “Christians should listen to this person” easily becomes “Christians shouldn’t listen to this person”.

    Beware when anyone wants to give you a an award.

    Ultimately, this is more acting as their God would. Name anything compassionate God had done. Rewarding sycophants isn’t compassion.

  • Tawreos

    I think there is something that you are not factoring in to your conclusions. They are not giving him condemnation and blame because the purity culture he helped to push didn’t work out like they wanted it too, but because he turned his back on that culture and is making noises about falling away from christianity. Often when people leave the faith they get demonized in order to keep people still on the inside from questioning their faith. It doesn’t matter if it is Josh Harris or your next door neighbor. They want people to avoid listening to the ones that left because they fear that people may find their reasons for leaving to be sensible and follow them out the door. They have already lost one person from their control and do not want to lose anymore.

  • Jim Jones

    > Out of fear, I think that too many Christians rushed to alienate Harris to save their own faces.

    Virtue signaling.

  • Mimc

    He’s not really set himself up to be liked by anyone. The people who were hurt by how books were hopeful when he pulled them from publication, but then disappointed by how non-apology decumentory. The people that loved his books of course are angry about his deconversion and devorce. Personally I’m keeping my expectations pretty low.

  • Tawreos,

    My focus was not meant to be a rounded assessment of what Harris did or didn’t do. I think that he made some very open ended comments that could be taken in a few different ways. He may have said as much to leave himself an open path to go either away from or pursue Christianity later — in statements that I find nebulous. To me, it speaks more to a crisis of faith (which I find to be good experiences for all people, especially if they were raised in a particular tradition).

    If Christians are admonished to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath,” why is it that I hear ‘crisis of faith’ and others hear ‘complete and utter denial of Christianity’?

    I don’t know that people really rush to the far end of condemnation without a powerful motive.

  • Friend

    I feel limited compassion for Josh Harris right now. He is certainly in a difficult transition, with his life and probably his beliefs in flux. Thus far he has apologized for fear-based religion and specifically asked forgiveness from the GLBTQ+ community. But he has only partially repudiated his own ruinous book. He has not addressed his own role as leader of a church where s#xu@l abuse allegedly occurred. Possibly a non-disclosure agreement is keeping him quiet, but that is not clear. Moreover, he himself is allegedly a survivor of child s#xu@l abuse, and this could 1) give him the standing to discuss the topic, 2) give him a special obligation to do so, but 3) make that topic impossible to address according to anybody else’s acceptable timetable.

    So no, I do not condemn him. I do rather wish he would either speak out or quiet down a little more, instead of posting stuff to Instagram while saying he needs to opt out of public statements and positions.

  • Friend

    Personally I’m keeping my expectations pretty low.

    Wise words!

  • Friend

    Right. You can’t just walk away from that subculture. They have to hound you and condemn you as a w@rning to others.

  • I don’t think that he did repudiate his own book. It struck me as something of a self-justification, along with an attempt to make sure that people knew that he didn’t do anything with malice. He didn’t intend to hurt anyone. (ETA: Those things do not express sorrow over injustice or harm that someone suffered.)

  • lady_black

    I feel compassion for Josh Harris, I really do. The end of a marriage is always difficult, and carries heartbreak, even if the marriage itself wasn’t worthy of being saved. It still represents a failure, and I take no pleasure in his suffering. I hope he learns a few things from it.
    I don’t feel compassion at all about the blowback from his books, and NO, I don’t think many *good* intentions had anything to do with it. They would be more aptly described as not-fully-developed thinking masquerading as “good intentions.” He can be forgiven for not knowing anything about relationships, but not for pretending he did, and that goes double for those parents who bought his nonsense, hook, line and sinker. Presumably they weren’t 21 and had reason to know better.
    When one seeks to control others (even their own families) under the guise of it being “for their own good” that never really springs from good intentions. How many evil happenings sprang from such roots?

  • I don’t really think that he stated one way or the other what he intends with his beliefs. It all seems so strategically non-committal. I guess I’m waiting for the “new brand” to drop, waiting for it like the sound of the other shoe.

  • lady_black

    I’m not sure about that. How do you tell young women they’re sinning by having feelings for anyone other than their husbands, because they’re cheating HIM out of something that’s rightfully his, without intending to hurt them? I tend not to believe misogynists when they claim to be acting out of benign concern for women,

  • Friend used the term “limited compassion” below. That’s pretty fitting with the book business, I think. The fact that the film didn’t feature anyone giving any details, that there were no tears. Don’t you hold someone’s hand when you listen to them tell you about what they suffered because of something you believed and sold to them? Everything was a blanket statement about generalities, and those are never apologies. Now, as a prelude to a better one after some soul searching because your life continues to unravel? That’s different.

    He’s just got so much to sort. I don’t expect anything from anyone that quickly.

  • SAO

    I wish more people would condemn virtue signalling. It’s basically a really easy way to pretend to have virtue and too often, it boils down to condemning people who do something ‘bad’ rather than actually thinking about how you can *do* good.

  • Jim Jones

    Never heard Fred Rogers do it.

  • What I heard at church concerning Harris-like ideas (the church promoted similar ideas before Harris’s book came out) was that it was supposedly to save us young people from the pain the older people endured, and some of the older people said they’d wished they’d had what we had, and they got annoyed when we didn’t want it, accusing us of trying things that failed for them.

    For me, it strikes me as paternalism, as we didn’t get a choice in the matter: it was CRAMMED down our throats. (I am a bit wary of claims that “it’s only for your good”.)

  • Ruthitchka

    I certainly have had some crises of faith myself. I recently was so upset about the mistreatment my sister-in-law received from her husband and her sudden death that I expressed to God (in prayer) that I wanted to “slap Him in the face”. I did apologize (in prayer) later on, but I feel that a little honesty with God is okay. If He exists, than surely He is big enough not to be upset about much.

    There was some purity stuff being taught in the youth groups I was in, but I was fortunate not to be in the Josh Harris no-dating movement. That said, I picked the wrong man, stayed for too long, and when his abuse became too frightening, I filed for divorce, so there is no way I can judge or pick on Josh Harris EVER.

  • Ruthitchka

    Yep, that whole “giving away pieces of your heart” thing is BANANAS. I love both my sons equally. I didn’t give a way a piece of my heart to my firstborn and then wind up not loving the second boy as much. That’s ludicrous. I think the very same applies to dating. Love can be infinite.

  • Ruthitchka

    The limited dose of “purity” I received certainly didn’t save me from any pain. But…as Fanny1 Brice once said, “You’ve got to take the bitter with the better.”

  • Friend

    I largely agree, but man, that’s complicated, considering the suffering from which he profited in fame and wealth. He did make sure the book will not be published again, which is partial repudiation. At the time, as I recall, he was still staying inside the boundaries of Purity: no excuse for not waiting till marriage, etc.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I agree, but I think too that it’s baby steps. We haven’t heard the last of him yet, and I want to see what his journey is going to be now. Will it dawn on him how much harm he’s caused, and will he repent in a meaningful way? He could just be the one pulling down the whole nasty patriarchal ball of wax.

  • Friend

    That would be excellent!

  • I keep returning to the story of Saul Paulus on the way to Damascus. I don’t think that Harris rises to the level of the Pharisee’s Pharisee that Paul did in terms of his knowledge or the impact that he had up until the moment that he was knocked off his high horse and blinded. But his own history contributed to who he would become — the foremost apostle who became known to the Greeks as Paul (which means “little” or “humble”).

    Who is this kid going to end up becoming when it all settles down to a dull roar for him? Religion loves long shots and true transformations. Sunrises follow dark nights of the soul, and I hope for that, maybe because people always seem to be long shots, and it’s so cool when it happens. I don’t lose a thing by hoping that he becomes an example for his children and anyone else that happens to be around to see him grow. That’s the best kind of fame to earn anyway.

  • This. Two generations of role models set out to bypass the pain and difficulty of living by use of special strategies, often relying on anachronism to accomplish their goal. That’s all that many people who grew up in the advertising age know and how so many made a good living when there was money to be had. Chewing on the whole concept that there is no “Get out of jail free card” may be something that never occurred to some. Bitter and better are interwoven. It’s ironic that we then get to make a choice whether we will be one or the other (or that we can spend the bulk of our lifetimes avoiding the decision). We all need time to sort that one out.

  • Friend

    Yes, the idea of cheat1ng on a future husband, especially when the “che@ter” is a teenage church girl who just wants to please, is crue1 and 1d1ot1c.

  • lady_black

    Funny you should bring that up. I said years ago, that if someone told you that you should only have one child, or one friend, lest you rob the others of something they’re owed, you would look at them like they had two heads.
    It’s no different for romantic love. You can have more than one spouse in a lifetime, and love them all (maybe for different reasons). But, love is love. It doesn’t run out.

  • lady_black

    (I am a bit wary of claims that “it’s only for your good”.)
    Hold onto that thought. 🙂

  • Douglas

    Harris isn’t likely to quiet down. For heaven’s sake (so to speak!), he’s made a lucrative career out of not quieting down. Even when he didn’t know what he was talking about and didn’t have the wisdom to know he didn’t know it. If you watch some of his very recent videos, he’s the same mega-church preacher, just saying different words. Too slick for me.

  • Friend

    His business website is all about how he’s a professional story teller. He wants to use his expertise to help companies sell their stories.

    I’d be less queasy about him if he chose obscurity and worked in a field unrelated to his ability to spin a tale.

  • lady_black

    Indeed. I cannot see how it’s NOT intentionally hurtful to anyone who isn’t completely self-absorbed and tone-deaf. I get the impression he *had to* know that, and just didn’t give a damn.

  • smrnda

    Why did older people think some 20 year old had a magic bullet ‘solution’? Life means making mistakes. You can warn people away from the worst ones by explaining what you did and why, in retrospect, you should have known better but didn’t.

    There’s also the issue of older people putting their mistakes in perspective. If they turned out okay in the end, maybe these new and untested ideas aren’t needed at all?

  • argyranthemum

    You’ve made me think how interesting it would be to have Fred Rogers around in the age of social media.

  • argyranthemum

    What skills does he have unrelated to his ability to spin a tale? He’s going to have alimony/child support to pay, so living a monk-like existence is probably not in the cards.

    I left the church long before Josh Harris (so thankful to be OLD!) but he only propagated stuff that he was taught, so there are more people to blame than him. And it’s early days — those of us who have left fundamentalism (which I assume means most of us) know how long it can take to reevaluate our worldviews.

  • Friend

    Here’s his business website, up since 2018. What do you think?

  • argyranthemum

    Thanks — I checked out his website and then his Wikipedia page. He was homeschooled (his parents were leaders in the movement). No secondary education as far as I can see. His only employment appears to have been in the church. If he wasn’t doing what he’s doing, he’d be a prime candidate for help from the Clergy Project. Since the website has been up since 2018, it’s possible that leaving the church may cause him to lose clients — he may yet need help from the Clergy Project.
    As I said, I’m not a victim of pvr1ty culture, but I think Josh Harris is a v. I ctim as well as a p#rp#tr@tor in modern fvndy world. I get if people who did go thru it don’t want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Considering how difficult it is for chvrch leaders to publicly leave the faith, I personally want to wait and see.

  • Friend

    Good insight, thanks. (He did have some further education when he left the pulpit to attend seminary a few years back.)

    Fundagelical Christianity has way too many preachers who under-educate their children and then set the son up in the family business. Joshua Harris is a product of this mindset. He will need to make some money, as you point out.

    To play devi1’s advocate, though: he is also a grown man, and he does not need to found a company. I’m sure plenty of corporations would take him on as a marketing executive.

    Would he do work that did not feature his own name and face? In this age of social media, I don’t even know if that’s a fair question.

  • argyranthemum

    After reccing your comment, I went to check out other Patheos Nonreligious content. thefreethinker posted yesterday: “Evangelical who ditched Christianity surfaces at Vancouver Gay Pride.” It ends with this:

    Harris most recently said that while he’s refusing to “disappear’,
    he plans to “sit in quietness and be silent” over the following months.

    The inner journey that I’m on isn’t something that I need to broadcast. Which is why I’m not engaging in public arguments online. It’s why I’m not doing any interviews with the media. It’s why I’m not writing a book or starting a podcast. I want connection and relationships and dialogue with real people. But I need to avoid audiences and the pressure of becoming a spokesperson for anyone or any cause. That has gotten me into trouble in the past.

  • Friend

    Posing with a rainbow-colored donut =/= sitting in quietness.

    He’s just driving people nuts, regardless of his own virtuous acts.

  • argyranthemum

    I think for him this is probably the equivalent of sitting in quietness.

    Joshua Harris has always been a lightning rod. That’s been doubled since he left the church. He’s going to drive people nuts no matter what he does. He may just be virtue signaling, or he may actually be trying to make amends to the LGBTQI community. Only time will tell.

    I’ll admit, I’m far past peak social media age, and I give younger people the benefit of the doubt for being far more public than I’d ever be comfortable with.

  • Raging Bee

    And we should feel absolutely ZERO compassion for the older people who knowingly advertized and published a book they knew had been written by someone with zero expertise or experience in the subject-matter; and who egged him on and assured him that writing such a book would be perfectly appropriate. A publisher with any integrity would have told him, in advance, that he wasn’t the person to write such a book.

  • lady_black

    I’ve stated many times that I blame the parents more than I blame Josh. They’re the ones who knew, or should have known better.

  • Jennifer

    I think he acknowledged his take on ideas of emotional purity, especially, were wrong and that’s greatly why he had so many people testify on how it made no sense and/or hurt them personally. I do not think he did anything with malice, bc this is how he was raised, with the absurd idea that you’re hurt if you invest emotionally before marriage.

  • Jennifer

    They thought he had the magic bullet because they were the ones who invented it. Josh was a naive little parrot.

  • 24CaratHooligan

    But of course he didn’t need expertise or experience, god was speaking directly through him and who were they to deny the word of god…