ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Josh Harris, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Sovereign Grace Ministries Lawsuit

Another SGM Survivor Speaks out Regarding Josh Harris

A friend of mine referred me to another public Facebook post from Beggar’s Daughter Facebook page. The author attended Covenant Life Church (then, a Sovereign Grace Ministries church) while Josh Harris was senior pastor.

I am noticing again and again that the people who are survivors of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) churches, survivors of the culture at SGM churches, survivors of the spiritual abuse there, are the ones who are extending an olive branch to Josh Harris in grace and love. They are not demanding apologies about the sex abuse scandal; nor are they saying dismissing the atrocities surrounding it. They are simply saying: let him heal first, give him time.

I agree 100%. I wonder if those who are upset (because he has not sufficiently apologized) have ever dealt with the trauma of spiritual abuse? It seems if anyone should be demanding apologies, it would be those directly affected by him when he was their pastor. But it’s not turning out that way.

On the About page at Beggar’s Daughter website, the blog owner, Jessica Harris (not related to Josh Harris), shares that she is an author, speaker, and former porn addict. Her ministry is to help women know they are not alone if they are suffering from pornography addiction and shares about “porn, sex, singleness, sexual exploitation, and grace.” I am grateful to Jessica for allowing me to share her personal story here. ~ja


By Jessica Harris

I tried to write this yesterday but it got deleted and didn’t save. Given the latest “trending news” though, I wanted to try again.

Josh Harris (no relation to me, just a friend) recently announced that he’s no longer Christian days after announcing he and his wife are separating.

Perhaps this news confused you. Perhaps it disappointed you, made you sad, or made you question what you yourself believe.

For me, it made me sad, it made me hurt for him because the journey to this place for him couldn’t have been without pain and confusion and a lot of seeking and, honestly, the Christian community isn’t always the best at extending grace. 

But there are a few things that are really important for us to remember:

1- People with platforms are not perfect

We tend to idolize Christian “celebrities,” placing them on pedestals high above ourselves. We do this with pastors, authors, speakers, singers.

I’m a nobody author compared to Josh, but I can assure you of this, anyone who stands on a stage bleeds red. We’re broken people. Our platforms are not cures for brokenness or proof we are no longer broken. We didn’t pass some master course in perfection that allows us the platforms we have.

What that means is, do not ever base your worldview or theology on the ideas of someone with a stage. You take that idea- no matter how warm, fuzzy, or revolutionary it is- back to Scripture. If it doesn’t match up there, it’s garbage, no matter how cool the can.

Basically, Josh’s walking from his faith should not be shaking the faith of so many others. We don’t base our faith on men.

2- Imperfect people can still speak truth

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water either. I remember watching this happen when Ray Boltz left his family and came out as gay. It was like his classic song “Thank You” which had been sung in churches for years, ceased to exist. Singing it would mean endorsing his new lifestyle.

Did the message of the song change? No. If there were truth in the song, did the truth change? No.

Truth doesn’t change.

I sat under Josh’s pastorship for several years and his messages on grace were some of the best I’ve ever heard. His messages on sex, some of the most grace-filled. The truths presented in those sermons, in his books, doesn’t change just because he walks away from the faith. I don’t care how big the platform, none of us are capable of untruthing truth. 

That’s why point #1 is so important. Truth isn’t truth because a person says it is. Truth is truth because God says it is and if you’re always going back to that base, the messenger can go as rogue as they would like and it won’t change truth. 

So don’t go burning all the Josh Harris books just yet.

3- Wanting to learn does not equal backsliding 

I fear this fallout the most, simply because I’ve seen it. Just over a year ago, a documentary was released in which Josh essentially picks apart the message of his breakaway best selling book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” 

This was a conversation that needed to be had. But now I fear it will be a conversation forever linked to losing faith. When teenagers or young adults question the standards of a purity culture, the immediate knee jerk overreaction will be that they are turning their back on God. Which, in a sense, lands us back in the same mess the documentary tried to clean up.

Don’t forget that every platform has a behind the scenes.

Josh is a person with a childhood, with a past, with a family of origin, who had the weight of an entire Christian movement saddled on him while he was still a teenager/young adult. Then he was tasked with pastoring a large church with little to no theological training and, from what I can gather, not the best mentors.

I watched him weather a storm of abuse scandals that hit our church, acknowledging where he had failed to protect the victims and acknowledging that he, himself, had once been a victim. That’s no light thing, and anyone around him could tell the situation was wearing on him.

So, his family moved to Canada where he went to seminary. My husband is a seminary grad and was the first to let me know that seminary messes with your head and heart a bit. He confesses that partway through his seminary career, he questioned if God even existed. He had been “deconstructed” down to nothing.

Josh was in seminary when he launched into his documentary, discovering that his book had unintentionally hurt a lot of people. The book that essentially laid the foundation for his entire life was deconstructed. In a sense, the framework of his identity was stripped down to nothing.

Any one of us would have an identity crisis or a crisis in faith when faced with that same situation. But here’s what we know:

1- Truth doesn’t change
2- God doesn’t stop being God
3- God isn’t afraid of our questions 

And…
We don’t eat our wounded.

Josh, just like each and every one of us, is in need of grace- a grace that allowed the prodigal son to wander away and squander a living, a grace that allowed Jonah to get on the boat going in the wrong direction, a grace that allows us to question, to wrestle with questions of identity and faith. We all need it, authors not exempt.

I have heard Josh speak on grace. His heart knows it. Even in his announcement, he has held to grace, and I firmly believe that grace will pave the way for truth that heals, restores, and sets free.

—-

And Josh, if you read this, I love you, brother. And I pray that, in time, you will come to experience the Father the way you so clearly demonstrated Him to me. I was a new visitor to church, desperately looking for my pastor when I ran into you in the lobby, tears streaming down my face. You told me where he might be. The next week, I walked through the lobby, feeling lost and overwhelmed in a crowd of thousands. I was staring at the ground when these shoes stopped in front of me. You said my name and asked if I was ok because I had been so upset the week before. I felt seen and known. 

It happened again last year at an airport in Chicago. As I waited for popcorn in a crowded corridor, I heard my name. That’s when we snapped this picture.

I am praying for you, brother, not that you would snap out of it or change your mind, but that you would continue searching, because He says when we seek Him, we find Him, and that you will hear Him call your name- not Josh Harris the author or Josh Harris the former pastor, but Josh Harris, a beloved son.

We think we’re free when we’re searching, but the truth is we’re set free from searching when we’re found.

21 thoughts on “Another SGM Survivor Speaks out Regarding Josh Harris”

  1. “When teenagers or young adults question the standards of a purity culture, the immediate knee jerk overreaction will be that they are turning their back on God.”

    So insightful! I think that is why the purity culture guardians are coming down so hard on him. They probably fear showing grace for him and his journey because they want the narrative to be linking his questioning of the purity culture with his divorce and loss of faith. They are separate things altogether.

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  2. Josh had a great life, in many respects, growing up. All of us who were saturated in fundamentalism experienced much of what he did in the line of confusion and dictatorial instruction. The difference is that his came with great opportunities for advancement. Most of us are/were poor people with our noses to the grindstone.

    So I struggle with his confession of struggles with Christianity that he is now sharing with the masses. No one put the pen in his hand to write a book, claim the fame, No one forced him to put on executive privilege and stand in the pulpit.

    It would seem more reasonable to me for him to try a quieter way than the way he is exiting his former life. Put down his pen, put away the mass media approach to his new life. Give back every penny he made on his old life of writing, teaching, preaching. Give it back if indeed he truly apologizes, refutes, repents, grieves.

    I wonder if remaining in silence for two years, then never try to earn another penny telling about his new life would serve to affirm his credibility. It would allow a lot of wounded people time to set their own lives in order.

    I feel over saturated with this 21st century trend of tell all by every means available. Then walk away from the carnage left behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think some people are counting sharing something on social media as the same as a press conference, which is maybe a reason for these differing opinions? His sharing stuff on instagram doesn’t really twig me as him being UN-‘quiet’.

    Give back every penny he made on his old life of writing, teaching, preaching.

    Ah. See, I don’t know his finances but I suspect that this would be impossible. He has had a wife and kids and a life to lead. How much money does he have squirreled away? How much did he actually make beyond a normal salary/on his book? DC area is an expensive place to live if that’s where he was pastoring.

    So I struggle with his confession of struggles with Christianity that he is now sharing with the masses. No one put the pen in his hand to write a book, claim the fame, No one forced him to put on executive privilege and stand in the pulpit.

    Celeste, can you walk me through why you think these things are related? Many people struggle with Christianity for all sorts of reasons, is it merely the public expression of such that bothers you?

    JulieAnne, I appreciate this additional commentary, thanks.

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  4. It is the public expression with all of its dangling nuances that concerns me.
    I have had, and continue to struggle with “Christianity”, as well. Much of it stems from the big generic word, Abuse, that has greatly impacted me. I would never consider it an essential statement to make public.

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  5. It would seem more reasonable to me for him to try a quieter way than the way he is exiting his former life. Put down his pen, put away the mass media approach to his new life.

    It’s probably the only way he knows.
    Remember he grew up a CELEBRITY plus Famous Father Syndrome in the Bubble. So I expect the rules and tropes of a CELEBRITY will be in effect. And “a quieter way” isn’t one of them.

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  6. The line I appreciated but red-flagged was “3- Wanting to learn does not equal backsliding”.

    On the one hand, I believe this to be true.

    On the other, I think there are certain religious traditions, including the branch he is from, that considers exploration abandoning their faith which they believe to be the ONLY version of faith.

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  7. Regarding the public aspect of his announcement, I think he was kinda stuck with it, given how well known he is. Can you imagine him just sharing the news with family and a few close friends? The friends would then likely let the news slip to “just a couple” of their besties, who would reveal the news (confidentially of course) to a couple of others, and on and on.
    Meanwhile each of these people are probably contacting Joshua, asking for verification or further details… one by one by one. Eventually the whole interested world knows, just like they do now, but I can understand why he may have thought it best to brave the firestorm all at once, instead of a slow-leak approach.

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  8. Celeste said, “No one put the pen in his hand to write a book, claim the fame, No one forced him to put on executive privilege and stand in the pulpit.”

    Now, this is something I’m not so sure about. I think we all put a lot of pressure on our kids in the homeschooling movement, but his father being who he is, I’m guessing he got more than his share. It still strikes me as strange that the book hit the big time the way it did. How many young guys could write such a dumb book and have it go over the way it did?

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  9. Yes, he grew up in a crucible. They really got inside his head and fed his ego. I observed close family members shaping their children’s teen years with this book for a prototype.

    Just now, I wonder if parents bought this book and lifestyle to simplify their job of managing their teens dating years. It deleted the issues surrounding rebellious kids who stayed out too late on a date, went to the wrong places, drank the wrong things………. Perfect parents with perfect kids. It was the golden ticket with a guarantee. They bought into a lie. It is very easy, for many, to buy into the deception of perfection.

    Josh’s life speaks to me of the children (including him) raised in a culture ruled by power and success, all in the guise of godliness. In so many facets of life, followers bought into their lies and crazy teachings, longing to be the best people and the best parents we could be. It has, instead, created decades of disallusionment, brokenness and life long struggle for so many precious people.

    Sometimes I now wonder if the demise of churches is a means to silence ministers and end this power culture. Many are out of jobs. This type of evil will not stop until all church doors are locked and the lights go out.

    God’s love and truths will never totally be hidden. Hopefully, there will be many like Josh, who come to the truth of how they were brainwashed. In time, they will be the outward expressions of God’s love and truth to a new generation.

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  10. “No one forced him to put on executive privilege and stand in the pulpit.”

    I think this is the same as saying, ‘why didn’t you walk away when your husband was beating you?’ There are many dynamics in coercive relationships that are designed to remove victims’ abilities to see clearly.

    Unwinding it another level, no one was forced to buy his books or tithe to his church. The tax collector who agreed to refund money was using the threat of violence to fraudulently steal money from taxpayers.

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  11. I agree Mark. It is such a tangled web. Coercion is a crime that is left untouched in the US, for sure, in the church. I spoke in black and white terms in my initial comment about Josh. I fear that he will, somewhat unknowingly, use the same tactics that were used on him to move forward in the public media as he knows it. It would be understandable for him to use coercion to get his followers to buy into a path of “now I am ……..Christianity”. It is the most familiar means of communication that he knows. He would do it in innocence, but that is why careful silence might be a friend of his.

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  12. One of the differences between introverts and extraverts is how they process. I think many of us who are attracted to blogs are introverts, and in many ways, we’ve already processed and are just coming to share the results of that processing and convince others of what we’ve already processed. Extraverts tend to process things externally. There are interesting ways this works out. For example, in a meeting, introverts ideate internally, then pose their one solution that has gone through all their internal skepticism. Extraverts tend to brainstorm – throwing out multiple ideas for the group and listen to feedback and pose more ideas.

    Josh strikes me as an extravert, so I’m not surprised that he is using social media like that… I don’t think it’s as wise as surrounding him with people to support his journey, but I can see why he would innocently talk through his struggles that way.

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  13. Not just “not the best mentors”, but a list of mentors that reads like a rogues’ gallery of corruption and control-freakery behind Angel of Light masks. An in-the-bubble Official Reality as twisted as Screwtape’s or Kim Jong-Un’s. An Official Reality where White is Black, Down is Up, War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Ignorance Is Strength, and 2 +2 = 5 DEUS VULT!

    Not only does JH have to deprogram himself from such Official Reality DEUS VULT, but has to find 2 + 2 = 4 reality without much experience in recognizing it. Plus he was raised Highborn, one of the Inner Ring.

    This will not be a smooth or easy process. I would expect JH to screw up many-many times and do a lot of dumb things while trying to sort things out.

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  14. I think the patience presented in this post is the sort of patience Joshua may need. Sanctification is a spiritual war on two fronts. On one hand, we are fighting the evil that tempts us, while also fighting God as we wrestle to understand the realities of Scripture. This post speaks a lot about wrestling with the lost faith of a fellow brother and what that means for his legacy, from the truth he’s shared in the past, to the heart that he has now.

    I mean, goodness, imagine the heart of those who met the Lord through Joshua Harris now seeing this man fall away? The joy is that the Lord can snatch any of his people up like the prodigal son, but to wrestle with those who we once thought trustworthy now denying what they’ve taught is one helluva’n existential crisis.

    I think that’s what makes the first point so insightful. I have a close friend who leans on my every word, constantly says he yearns for my wisdom, and is always asking me what I think about this passage or that, but I constantly assert that he can’t always lean on what I say. In fact, recently, he’s been having a lot of difficulty and I worry that it’s because he’s trusted everything I’ve said, not scripture, which means whenever I’ve said something wrong, he’s trusted it entirely.

    That’s a REALLY scary experience, but a necessary one.

    But ultimately, I think if Harris felt the willingness to wrestle with these truths rather than simply stop, accept alternative faiths, and give in to the enemies temptations, he might find that, although he may step away with a life-long wound (like Jacob’s hip), he continues in the presence of God.

    Idunno, this whole stuff is wack, though.

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  15. Great comment, Melvin! Welcome to SSB, btw. You have a lot of insight. I think it’s healthy for Josh to be wrestling. God is okay with wrestling, and there are examples of it in the Bible: Job, Joshua, David, Paul.

    I like how you are concerned about your friend and his reliance on you. I wonder what he would say if you turned the questions around to him: “what is God telling YOU?” I think you have a great opportunity to help him build his own faith.

    Overall, Josh’s story and other stories of people abandoning their faith might be a good opportunity for us to self-reflect on our own faith journey. Perhaps we need to wrestle with certain issues that have been challenging.

    Can we be real with our own faith and share with someone else where we are spiritually? Maybe that’s what Josh was doing by going public – saying, “hey, it’s not working for me anymore, I can’t fake it anymore.” This seems honest to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I think that’s what makes this sort of hard. It’s good that he’s being honest, but it’s scary to think he’s not only being honest but also giving up. Ultimately, it’s a cowardice thing. He’s no longer willing to continue the fight and at some point it’s not just honesty, it’s dangerous.

    I think a healthy form of honesty demands community. To be able to be honest and seek encouragement from others to continue persevering despite the difficulty. That’s really hard to come by, though. Some people are so comfortable where they are and aren’t aware that the things they do, the people around them, and their future aspirations may be things that negatively contribute to cowardice rather than bravery.

    Crazy stuff, and to think we just heard about the guy from Hillsong (forget his name. Never really listened/liked their stuff anyway) stepping away and the stuff he stepped away for was perplexing. His questions about why people weren’t talking about certain subjects, despite, you know, healthy, good churches actually talking about all of the things he said.

    If anything, all of this sort of stuff enforces how much more we need to pray since there’s SO much out of our hands. Both scary AND encouraging.

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  17. Melvin wrote: “It’s good that he’s being honest, but it’s scary to think he’s not only being honest but also giving up. Ultimately, it’s a cowardice thing.”

    Zoe: From my own experience, changing your mind about what you once believed is anything but cowardice. You knowingly go on facing those who don’t understand or often are unwilling to listen and through their immediate threats of hell’s fire, shut down all communication with you.

    It takes courage to continue on and has nothing to do with giving up.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Melvin, just remember that his religion was completely tied to works. You aren’t a Christian if you don’t read the Bible every day, pray every day, live for worship and Bible studies, and so on. So, somewhat what I’m struggling with is whether Harris is walking away from Christianity, or just walking away from the works-based religion and frowning, judgmental god he grew up with.

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