I ran across this note from Elle Renee on Facebook and asked permission to share it here. I have lost track of how many blog posts and articles are currently posted about Josh abandoning his faith and divorcing his wife, Shannon – I’m talking CNN, New York Times, Washington Post – this thing is big!! Major news sources are sharing a bit of his background and informing people of what he has shared openly on his public Instagram posts. However, many bloggers are going further, and in my opinion, adding fuel to the flames unnecessarily.
It’s interesting to note that Elle is not the only SGM survivor I have communicated with who shares similar feelings and concerns about Josh and Shannon. I think that is important. These are people who were in the thick of spiritual abuse at SGM – they get it, yet they are not demanding apologies or anything from Josh.
Here is Elle’s post. I find it more balancing and agree with her completely. ~JA
Note: Elle’s Facebook post links to the ChurchLeaders.com article, Josh Harris Says He’s ‘fallen away’ From Faith
This story just makes me so sad, especially in light of my previous post on spiritual abuse. Indulge me an extra long post as I wrestle aloud with some thoughts on this one here on FB.
This is Joshua Harris.
If you’re familiar with the uber conservative, homeschooling, evangelical movement, you know his wildly popular book from the 90s, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
If you’re familiar with the current conservative, Together 4 the Gospel, Gospel Coalition, neo-Calvinist, reformed, charismatic & specifically Sovereign Grace network of churches, you’ll recognize him as ex-Senior Pastor at SGC flagship church in Maryland.
He was groomed for leadership by SGC founder/president/lead pastor, CJ Mahaney. His name is familiar if you’ve followed any of the sex abuse scandals in Sovereign Grace churches in the news from 2011-2014.
I am particularly interested & grieved over this story for a number of reasons. One, I attended a Sovereign Grace church from 2002-2011. Two, my life exploded in 2011 (to include within this church & faith) at the same time “the documents” & the beginning of the sex abuse info & significant issues with CJ, et al, was being exposed. (unrelated circumstances, but crazy to have so much of my personal SGC exposed to me at the same time it was happening at a national level!) This also affected Joshua Harris, who, by this time, was senior pastor in MD.
I read a lot of the documents & paid close attention to the numerous news stories for several reasons. One thing that jumped out at me as a couple of the earlier years went by was Joshua Harris’ attitude. I noticed a mark difference between him & some of the other leaders in SGC. I won’t pretend he did everything right – I don’t know the details enough to comment on that. However, he seemed to shift & present a spirit of humility.
He began making some HARD decisions, choices that were not going to ingratiate himself with CJ or other SG leaders. He started to do some REAL reflecting & what he discovered was that he & the church had made some significant mistakes over the years. He began to listen to the people, really listen, & was willing to do some inner gutting.
He talks about inspecting his actions, his thoughts, his feelings, his words, his counsel, etc. – and as he shares in this article & other places, what he found wasn’t super lovely. In fact, some things were plain ugly & grievous to have to admit. The amount of shame & guilt that must have plagued him in various seasons, I can only imagine.
Y’all, they had IT ALL. A.L.L. They were wildly successful, beautiful young couple, three children. Both creatives (writer, singer) besides being ministry leaders. He was tapped by THE “denomination” leader. I’m assuming up until 2011 they figured they had found the golden groove of Christianity.
Yet, when it all exploded – and they had the option & power to side with the “safe” leaders (CJ Mahaney & others), they appear to have sided with Truth. Even though it jeopardized their church family, their standing with SGC, their friends, their community, their support… and as time continued, even their book sales & income & careers. Over the last few years, Josh has recounted his advice in his book & asked forgiveness for much of the content & especially how it was weaponized & used to oppress young people, and especially women. I cannot even imagine what that was like for him, his wife Shannon & their children at this time.
And this guy – he was just a kid when some charismatic, powerful christian leader back in the 90s told him he was “special” & began to take him under his wing. They like to call it discipling or mentoring and evidence of grace & love. But if you dig a little deeper, I’d call it taking advantage of a naive, idealistic 19 yo kid. I’d say he was love bombed & groomed & unless he was a PhD student armed with info on personality disorders, he wouldn’t have had any idea. He was selected because he was moldable & easy to manipulate into what CJ though he should be, for CJs purposes, under the guise of “God’s purposes.” Tons of rewards for behaving the way he was “supposed” to as a “good” christian.
I can’t imagine the level of psychological trauma, pain & horror as Joshua (and Shannon) began to discover a lot of their framework for their life was built on religion & false fears & manipulated, pseudo acts of “love.” And like anyone coming out of spiritual brainwashing, you ask yourself, if you could be duped or simply wrong in one area, where else are you wrong? If you can’t trust this particular spiritual leader, who else can’t you trust? If I believed one thing about God, was so sure I was right but now am confident I am wrong about a part of God, well, what else could I be wrong about with God?
I would imagine these are just some of the conversations & anguish Joshua has been wrestling with.
I’m not justifying any of his decisions – I’m actually choosing not to judge any of them at any level, certainly not here on FB. Sometimes, we are called to just show mercy – this guy doesn’t even know me & he’s certainly not accountable to me so I think mercy makes more sense.
So, with that perspective, OF COURSE everything is falling down around him 😞. Of course nothing is the same as it once was & he has no answer in the moment for how to move forward.
I think he needs our genuine love & support (they both do, I think, in this case) – not a weird, “I’ll support you by praying that God wakes you back up & you’ll see how you’ve gone off the deep end & turn your life back to Jesus but until then we either won’t hang out or when we do, it will always be to bring this back up & push you back to God/church/religion.”
Maybe they just need an “of course” from us – empathy, grace, space to grieve & process & heal.
*Maybe they need us to not fear their actions right now, but to love them enough to trust the God that’s in them to handle & redeem it all.*
Spiritual abuse is evil. He & Shannon have already been caught up in so much of this nonsense, from many sides, for decades. I pray they both find a season of rest, compassion, gentleness, tenderness, healing & hope from the Presence who showed up in the very same way when my faith was shattered. He is so very Kind & Patient in this process.
I hope we can be the same towards them, and others who are detoxing spiritual abuse.