Joshua Harris recently went on Instagram to state he is no longer a Christian. He also apologized to the LGBT community. Is it enough? Joshua Harris published a book in 1997 that kick-started Purity Culture into Evangelical culture with rituals that feel like a glimpse of Gilead.
He had a large role in creating an entire generation of young women shamed and robbed of their agency. He helped create a generation of manipulative young men and unhealthy fathers creating more #metoo stories than they resolve. Additionally this generation had LGBTQ+ teens shamed deeper into deadly closets. His initial apology came with a documentary and a tour that made the story about him.
I was a youth pastor when his book, “How I kissed Dating Goodbye” first dropped. Everything changed rapidly in Evangelical youth programs. 12 years later I would be a pastor of my own church with a youth outreach that gave safe harbor to many of Purity Culture’s young victims. I clashed with a local Independent Baptist youth pastor who ran one of these Joshua Harris inspired monstrosities. Skirmishes would lead to a showdown.
Young Adults Speak Out and Stand Up
From 2008 until 2013 I was the Senior Pastor of a Progressive Christian Church near Chicago. The church was called LifeBridge Church. We started a youth outreach called YASO (Young Adults Speaking Out). We did not have a youth group in YASO. We had a youth outreach. Our meetings were essentially group therapy meeting a pizza party for 3 hours every other Saturday night.
When we started it was 12 teens. Then 20. Then 70. Then…even more. It was a space where young people had the mic. Their voice described their problems and they partnered with us on creating solutions. Drop outs got GED’s, bullied LGBT+ youth got advocates to change school policy and get court orders of protection from bullies. Victims of domestic violence and molestation got safety in some cases (other battles we lost). Many victims of Purity Culture ended up getting free counseling to deal with trauma and break the codependency that was thrust upon them.
A lot of young ladies who were members of a Purity Culture led youth program in a nearby Independent Baptist Church became YASO members. Horror stories abounded of psycho sexual relationships with fathers. Boys who would coerce girls into “courtship” using “God’s Will” and the Bible as their weapon. Girls were shamed publicly for not being virgins at purity balls. Some of these girls were victims of
date courtship rape. Some of the girls had normal consensual sex that is part of growing up. All were shamed and told they had given away something that could never be given to their husbands.
As more of these kids came to our church, there was backlash. The Baptist church found common ground with a Catholic church in town to have prayer sessions against our program. We were Satan’s Stronghold! Threatening letters and emails were often sent anonymously.
The youth pastor and I had monologues instead of dialogues through the local paper. In the weekly paper there was a section called the Pastor’s Corner. 3 of the town’s pastors were on regular rotation with occasional inclusion from others. I wrote once a month. So did the youth pastor at the Baptist church. I never wrote about him. But he wrote a few letters to the editor about my views. He also wrote thinly veiled references to my church and youth programs.
This went on for over a year and would eventually come to a head.
The work we did at YASO needed financial support to fund it. My church attendance was smaller than the youth program. We could not fund it alone. Some local businesses helped us out, but that was not enough. So we sometimes did fundraisers.
At the space we rented for the church we hosted a car wash/thrift store/art show one summer. While your car was being washed, you could go inside and buy a few things and view some of the art on the walls. You could learn the stories told visually. We also had brochures about what we do and how we do it.
The day was extremely hot. He had cases of cold water for the kids. We also had a rotation of three stations. Sign holders, car washers and retailers inside where there was air conditioning. It was a blazing hot day with high humidity. Some of the boys were wearing swim trunks or cut offs with no shirt. Some of the girls were wearing swim suit bikini tops with shorts or one piece swimsuits.
At one point in the day I was inside talking with some adults when one of the girls holding signs came up to me. She looked scared. I asked her what was wrong. In a shaky voice she said, “Pastor Pat, you need to come outside. There’s a man out there.” She was near tears. We went outside and she pointed to a car. It was her former youth pastor from the Independent Baptist Church.
He was sitting in his car parked near the entrance. The kids with their signs were huddled away from him. I took a few deep breaths, put on my best fake smile and walked up to his car window and said, “Can I help you?”
He looked at me and said, “I knew you were sick, but I didn’t think you would use sex to sell a car wash?”
“Sell sex?” I asked, “What are you talking about?”
He raised his voice,”You have all these girls dressed like harlots using sex to sell car washes!”
My fake smile went away. “They are not dressed like harlots.”
“You are what you dress!” he retorted.
“You don’t get to call them harlots and sit on my property. Would you agree there is nothing they are wearing that you would not see at a beach or a public pool?”
“Yeah.” He said.
“And you wouldn’t think people at the beach and pool are harlots, would you?”
“Well no.” He stammered, then he said, “No…Yes. Yes that would be wrong.”
“The problem isn’t them. The problem is you. You know the passage, ‘Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.’ (Matthew 5:28-29) You need to go.”
I turned and started to walk away. He screamed that we were not done and I could hear his car door opening. I flew over to his car and slammed the car door shut. After that I pointed a finger in his face and with a raised voice said, “You don’t want to get out of that car right now. I promise you. Leave.”
He pulled out. He drove by us slowly three times. So one of the kids wrote on the back of one of the signs, “We apologize we have breasts!” All the girls held up the sign the next time he drove by. We did not see him again.
The Newspaper Column
A week after the event, I read the current edition of the paper. He had an article in there that has a title that read something like, “Should Christians Wear Bikinis?” I was sitting in my church office reading this and fuming. I was preparing to write my own response to one of his articles for the first time. During my research online I stumbled across something. I found a blog post written by a female Christian minister written months before that was virtually word for word his article. He changed a few words in the first paragraph and a few words in the closing sentences. Everything else was plagiarism.
I sent an email to the editor. I made her aware of the plagiarism that happened on her watch. She knew how things like this can effect the reputation of a newspaper. She also knew that even though I had a feud with him, this was about professionalism. I sometimes wrote staff articles and did shoots for the paper when she learned I had a photojournalism background.
She let him know that he would no longer write for the paper due to the severe breach of ethics. He told his church he was being persecuted by the mainstream media to favor liberals like me. Either the senior pastor of the Baptist church or a board member called the parent company of the paper to demand answers as to why their church was being discriminated against. When the editor was questioned on the matter, she revealed the documentation and her contact with the youth pastor.
The youth pastor was fired from the church.
After YASO events, I was often the last person to leave. I would set up the main area for Sunday service the next morning. Then I would lock up and go home. I was setting up chairs and I saw two cars pull into the lot. Three figures walked in. It is the youth pastor and two men. I decided there would be no fake smile this time.
They all stood by the entrance. I crossed my arms, kept my eyes on them and said, “What?”
He spoke. “I lost my job because of you.”
“You lost your job because of you.” I replied. “Get out.”
“I’ll leave, but I need you to know these two men and others will be watching you.” I was supposed to be intimidated by this? I asked myself.
“Bye Felicia!” was all I said. I did not move. There was a moment of complete silence as we all stood there.
He and his two escorts left.
What About Joshua Harris?
An entire generation of women were raised without agency of their bodies and their hearts. Men who do not respect women have been created. That needs to be discussed.
He kick started purity culture. Joshua created a world where woman were property and were massively shamed for not being virgins. At some purity balls, if it was known a girl is not a virgin, even if from rape, she is to carry a rose without petals because she gave her petals away. She is forever damaged goods. Her father has to carry this shame at the ball. Any man who courts this broken woman she needs to be grateful for.
Rape, shaming, reduction of person-hood.
His initial apology has a documentary about how he survived purity culture that he created and how very sorry he is. Elizabeth Esther, a professional blogger and columnist has been very vocal in how she regrets being a part of his documentary. The edits twisted her contribution and painted him in a better light than he deserves regarding LGBTQ+ people.
He took this on an apology tour and made money off victims of purity culture so he could say he had really good intentions. This was not about the victims. This was the tired trope of being I a really nice guy. This is a trope many victims with #metoo stories know all too well from those who hurt them.
Ticket sales have reduced. Screenings of his film are down and criticism of it are on the rise.
In the wake of this, a release on Instagram with a professionally shot photo in front of majestic river and trees with another apology and a claim he a christian anymore should be met with healthy skepticism.
I am seeing calls in communities where former evangelicals are healing from wounds where excited discussions are occurring about inviting Joshua Harris to their group. Until we know more, there needs to be caution and we need to defer to the refugees that have crossed into the borders of humanism and atheism seeking asylum.
I am not saying we do not take him in. I am suggesting we proceed with caution for the sake of too many victims of a philosophy he profited from.
Much of what I have written here today would not have been possible without the work of fellow Patheos Columnists in the Nonreligious Channel.
Libby Anne of “Love Joy and Feminism” has written a lot on purity culture and Joshua Harris. For more information she has a wonderful resource full of links to articles about it.
Sarahbeth Caplin has written two articles with well documented concerns regarding Joshua Harris. Special thanks to her for her contributions to “Friendly Atheist”.
Please take a few moments to read her two articles:
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