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.
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.
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.
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.
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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