Today I’m Proud of Joshua Harris

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Josh Harris.

 

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 2, 2015.

So, have you heard the news? Joshua Harris is stepping down from his role of head pastor of Covenant Life Church and heading to Vancouver to attend seminary at Regent College. I don’t know much about Regent, though the Washington Post described it as “mainstream.” Not only that, but Josh is planning to send his kids to public school while he attends seminary. Public school. This is huge, and it’s hard to describe how much it means to me.

Josh Harris was the oldest child of Gregg Harris, a well known early Christian homeschool leader who traveled the country speaking at conferences and convincing people that homeschooling was God’s plan for families and the best way to raise children. Because of his father’s ideas, Josh did not go to either college or seminary, and instead went straight into ministry, including both writing and preaching.

Josh published I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997, and the book took the Christian homeschooling world by storm. Suddenly “courtship” became the word of the hour, and parents of children like myself were deciding that they would not let their children date—and indeed, would teach us that dating is akin to adultery, or worse. Josh Harris singlehandedly created the atmosphere I grew up in with regards to romance and marriage. I not only read his book, I lived and breathed it—as did countless other fundamentalist and evangelical homeschooled teens.

Ten years ago, Josh became the pastor of Covenant Life Church, a nondenominational evangelical megachurch with 3000 members, all without formal theological training. But in recent years, his church and others in its loose association became mired in scandal. The words “Sovereign Grace Ministries” may be familiar to you. The upshot of it all was that Josh and other pastors (most prominently C.J. Mahoney) were dealing with sex abuse allegations internally and not reporting anything to the authorities. Josh himself was not accused of sex abuse, and when everything started going down Josh disassociated his church from the association and made changes.

And now this. It seems that the scandal has made Josh realize that he was not adequately prepared for the position of authority he held, and that formal educational training actually has some merit. This is a huge admission to make as the son of one of the most prominent Christian homeschooling pioneers. I’m sure Josh is doing his best to mollify his father and bring him around, but in making this decision he is admitting that his father was wrong. Not wrong about homeschooling necessarily, but wrong in his opposition to formal education writ large.

And the whole sending his kids to public school while he’s in seminary thing? You have to understand that leaders like Gregg Harris made homeschooling part of the gospel. To be a true Christian, for them, was to homeschool. That and that alone was God’s will for families. I felt great trepidation about how my mother would react to me sending my own children to public school, and my mother has never been a prominent homeschooling leader on the scale of Gregg Harris. For many Christian homeschooling parents (my mother included) having a child grow up to put their own children in public school is a sign of failure. So for Josh to do what he’s doing—that takes guts.

Even going to seminary takes guts for someone like him! Why? Because of this:

For most of his career, Joshua Harris was the kind of evangelical pastor who chuckled at the joke that “seminary” should really be called “cemetery.”

There is a strong anti-seminary bent in the circles Josh runs in. Josh himself admits that he probably would not have been hired on as head pastor at Covenant Life Church if he had been to seminary. Seminary is almost a dirty word. All you need is the Bible! You don’t need to be taught by professors! Biblical criticism? Who needs that! Just listen to the Holy Spirit, read the Bible, and you’re good! And here Josh is, admitting that he does need that, and heading off to seminary.

Here is Josh’s own description of what’s going on:

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” (Maybe you saw the movie starring Brad Pitt). It’s about a man who ages in reverse—he is born old and with each passing day becomes younger.

In reflecting on my own story, I can’t help but think that I have lived a sort of backwards life. Without meaning to, I have experienced life out of the normal order and sequence of events.

At the end of last year I turned 40 years old. Yet it is only now that I am going to school. I haven’t completed any post-graduate study. I don’t even have an undergraduate degree. In fact, I have never attended a formal school full-time in my life.

I’ve been on a unique educational path my whole life. For the first 17 years of my life I was homeschooled by my mother. My father was a well-known homeschool advocate who traveled the country teaching parents the biblical principles for and advantages of home education. I was “Exhibit A” of my dad’s philosophy that you could learn by doing, be directed in study by your delights and succeed outside of the “system.”

At age 17, when most kids my age were going off to college, I started a ministry called New Attitude. I began publishing a magazine and putting on conferences for teenagers. I felt a clear sense of calling from God to speak to my generation and call them to a passionate pursuit of God. When I was 21, I wrote my first book [I Kissed Dating Goodbye], which met with a good deal of success.

That’s when I met C.J. Mahaney, who was the previous Senior Pastor of our church. In C.J. I found someone who understood me and who was willing to train me. He was a charismatic pastor (in all senses of the word) who pastored a mega-church, led a national network of churches, and embraced both reformed theology and charismatic practice.

Like me, C.J. got his start on the conference circuit before becoming a pastor. Like me he had never received formal theological training, and the group of churches he led, which grew out of the Jesus Movement in the 1970s, at that time didn’t place a high value on seminary training. So instead of attending seminary before becoming a pastor, I moved into C.J.’s basement, worked as an intern in the church, traveled the country with him and began preaching. It was on the job training and I soaked up everything C.J. taught me.

Seven years after I arrived at the church, I was set in as the hand-picked replacement for C.J. I was 30 years old, with no formal theological training and no formal training in organizational leadership, and I was the Senior Pastor of a 3,000 member church. That my friends is a crazy, backwards life!

Yes. Yes.

And so here I am, feeling proud of Josh Harris. What he’s doing is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing. He’s not the only one who feels he led a backward life. I and many others feel the same way too. As teens, we were expected to have the maturity of 30-year-old adults, and only later, as young adults ourselves, were we able to let the facade drop and finally go through adolescence.

Forging our own paths after the level of parental control homeschooling afforded our parents isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I wish Josh the best as he leaves the conveyer belt he was set on—by both his father and evangelical leaders like C.J. Mahoney—and makes his own decisions and chooses his own path.

Note: It’s probably worth mentioning that Josh has also walked back his ideas about dating and courtship. I hope to write more about this later, once I’ve had time to listen to his sermons on the topic, which seem to be available only as audio files. 

Enough Already with the Modesty and Purity Hype

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 27, 2013.

The other day my 18-yr old daughter posted this picture on my Facebook with the comment, “What I tell you every time”:

modesty

It cracked me up. But what was interesting to me was noticing the large amount of Facebook friends, also former homeschool kids, who were clicking the “like” button. It was as if they were saying, “Yea, what she said!” I loved some of the exchange in the comments.

Our good friend who acts like our adopted son, who opens our front door without knocking, and raids our fridge commented:

Was he a beautiful black man like myself?

His comment got a few likes. I laughed. My 23-yr old son replied:

Yet when guys do that it’s looked down upon…sinful…creeper status…et cetera. Oh the irony.

Ouch! I think he’s right. There does seem to be a distinction that it’s semi-okay for girls to look at guys, but not the other way around.

Several years ago in 2007, there was a modesty survey put out by homeschoolers, Brett and Alex Harris (Brett and Alex’s dad is Gregg Harris’ son, homeschooling pioneer and ther older brother is Pastor Josh Harris, of Covenant Life Church in MD).

Here’s an excerpt from the survey page:

The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007. For more information, click here.

It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author,Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author ofEvery Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).

TheRebelution.com is the home of Alex and Brett Harris and online headquarters for the Rebelution, defined as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”

This survey started out in homeschool circles and quickly spread throughout young teens and adults in Christendom all over the internet, denominations, states, and even the world. I believe the modesty survey was well-intentioned, but the results have not been all positive. Instead, we have discovered a host of other issues that lie beneath the church’s sometimes over-emphasis on modesty and purity.

In the aftermath of the modesty survey, some young men policed the clothing of their female friends and graded the way she dressed by a modesty scale in their head. The way she dressed became a distraction, interfering with relationships. Young ladies were told that they might cause a man to stumble by the way she dressed and this created a lot of pain for young ladies who were burdened with a responsibility they really had no business carrying. And then we had the issue of what to do with young ladies who had curvy figures and no matter what clothes were worn, the curves could not be hidden. Some young ladies resorted to changing eating habits which led to eating disorders to lose weight in order to minimize those curves. Didn’t God create those beautiful curves? Wow, this modesty thing was now crossing the lines into intentionally altering one’s appearance because of not passing a “modesty” scale.

I don’t want to get into all of the problems that came out of this survey because it is very easy to do a Google search and you could spend days reading blog articles and sometimes hundreds of comments on particular popular articles. I really was hoping that after 6 years and hundreds of articles that this subject would die down.

Wouldn’t you know it, the same authors of the infamous modesty survey at the Rebelution blog just last week published a new article: The Other Side of Modesty, this time dealing with guys and how they dress. Really? Do we need to go there? I suppose maybe the young ladies might appreciate a little pushback or balance from their sisters in Christ, but come on. Can we be done with this already?

At our former church, there was almost an obsession on modesty and the topic of sexual immorality came up quite a bit. This was a common verse we heard and probably most of us have it memorized just because we heard it so often:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

I think sometimes we confuse looking with lusting. And that is important to note.

I have a funny story from several years ago. Now, this is “my” version because my young adult kids have a slightly different version. But until they have their own blogs, you get to read my version.

My daughter, Hannah, was probably around 19 yrs old or so and driving with her learner’s permit, so I was in the passenger seat, and my other daughter who was around 12 years old was in the back seat. A police officer pulled us over because of a burned out brake light. Let me be straight up. The police officer was a fine-looking human specimen and while my kids were used to hearing from the pulpit about how evil and lustful our eyes are, after the police officer went back to his patrol car, I said aloud to my daughters that I wouldn’t mind being pulled over again by that officer. If I remember correctly, there was a pause and then some surprised laughter coming from the girls. Their mother, a married woman said that? They were not expecting that comment from me and frankly, I don’t know if I was expecting that comment to slip out, either. Oh well, it came out loud and clear.

Did I cross the line? Some might think so. I don’t agree. You see, there seems to be a fuzzy line that brings confusion and can start to border on legalism, if not into full-fledge legalism. We were created in God’s image. God saw that what He created was good. At that moment, when I noticed that cop, and acknowledged what God had created was good and called it as such, some people have a problem with that because they think of verses like this:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Was I looking at this guy with lust? No! He was just nice looking guy. Don’t you think everyone from teens all the way through adulthood know when we are looking at someone with lust? Everybody knows what that feels like — you know – – those feelings we get in our body, the places our mind goes. It’s a no-brainer. My brain did none of those things when I looked at that fine specimen.

I have read of men being physically attracted to women dressed in full Muslim attire with burqa and head coverings. Isn’t that something? We need to realize that women and men, no matter how they dress, will be eye candy for someone. We’ve got two issues going on and I think if we look at these two issues in a non-legalistic way, we can find some helpful guidelines.

• Looking is not the same as lusting. It’s okay to appreciate God’s creation. The key is to do it without lusting. We all know when we have crossed that line. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us those signs that are happening in our body. If you happened to cross that line, acknowledge it, ask God to forgive you, and move on knowing that His grace is sufficient for you and me.

• Dress modestly. I think most of us can figure out what that means and I also think that as we mature in Christ, the boundary lines may change from time to time. We all know when we are dressing with the intent to attract the opposite sex and we all know what it’s like to dress when we are going to see grandma and grandpa. This is pretty simple. We can figure this out.

As a homeschooling mom of 20+ years, I fell into the modesty/purity hype and created all sorts of rules for my kids. I regret that it had negative consequences in my family. I’ve stopped obsessing about hemlines, etc. When I stopped obsessing about my boys walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall and turning the television channel when we saw a young lady wearing a bikini on television, amazingly, my children stopped obsessing.

So, in conclusion, I hope we can learn to treat one another with love and grace on this topic… and appreciate God’s creation