I recently linked to an article about a former evangelical superstar who now describes himself as an ex-Christian. Now, since I have been describing myself as both an ex-evangelical and an ex-Christian for many years, you would expect that I would be totally in this guy’s corner. And when I linked to the previous post I did say that I am happy that he is renouncing his previous views and specifically that he asked his publisher to not issue more print runs of his advice books… but if you know me, you probably understood that I wasn’t giving him a full-throated endorsement with those statements.
And let’s be perfectly clear: I am not yet willing to embrace him into the ally fold. Because so far his “apologies” and his repudiations of his former stances have fallen far short of the minimal acceptable act of contrition.
In order to explain that, I have to give you some background. Mr Harris was raised by two of the founders of the evangelical home-schooling movement. I know that there are non-evangelical families that participate in home-schooling, but the largest of the home-school movements are run by very conservative so-called Christians. All of the statistics indicate that the majority of students in those programs, at least, do not receive minimal science education while their history curriculum fall far short of any reasonable expectation of accuracy. And the sex education would be laughable if it wasn’t causing so much harm.
But let’s get back to Mr. Harris. Harris came to prominence in evangelical circles for writing a book called. I Kissed Dating Goodbye which was about how modern dating culture was merely thinly disguised promiscuity. He promulgated all the usual arguments fundamental to purity culture, which is pushed by many churches as a biblical reaction to immorality, when it is actually a codification of practices that victimize natural feelings women experience, while excusing immoral impulses of heterosexual men.
Harris supported an alternative to dating called “courtship,” where a young man—feeling that god has pointed out his intended bride to him—approaches her and her father, and if the father approves, they begin courting. This is different than dating mostly in that everyone agrees there will be no kissing ever, and that they will also spend their time together in chaperoned (usually church-sponsored) activities until such time that that families deem it is time for the two to marry.
You will note that it is the young woman’s father who approves in that description, not the young woman herself. If you bring that up to the folks who push this particular brand of purity culture, they will insist that of course the father consults with his daughter before giving his approval. But counsellors who have worked with young people who feel they are being railroaded by their family’s beliefs on this, as well as the accounts of adults who have fled those churches, report that the majority of the time the young woman’s wishes are not taken into account.
The entire process is built around assumptions that men naturally are imbued by god with insatiable lust, while women are tasked by that same god with ensuring that lust doesn’t become inflamed. The upshot of which is that boys and young men aren’t taught to respect boundaries or take responsibility for their own feelings and actions. And if any so-called sexual sin happens, it is always the fault of the girl or young woman, because it’s her job not to tempt the young man, right?
Harris made a lot of money from that book and subsequent writings, going on to become a pastor in a very anti-gay denomination. Which comes as a surprise to no one.
What has pushed him into the spotlight in recent years are first, his repudiations of his past teachings. It began a few years ago when he said he no longer supported many of the ideas in his first book. Oddly, it was quite some time later before he asked the publisher of his first book to stop selling the book. He and the publisher reached an agreement whereby they would not pursue any further reprints, but they would continue to promote and sell his book until the existing inventory was sold… and they would continue to pay him his royalties throughout this period.
Next, he worked with a documentarian to produce a film and then go an a so-called apology tour for the communities that were harmed by his sex-negative, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-trans rhetoric. The problem is, the documentary and the tour was all about him (and selling his new apology merchandise) and not about the communities that have been harmed for many years by his anti-gay and anti-feminist teachings and his books.
Since then, he and his wife have announced that they are getting a divorce. Shortly after that he announced that he no longer considered himself a Christian and he specifically issued an apology to the LGBT community. That sounds great. But when he made this last announcement on Instagram, in as accompanied by a pretentious photo of himself gazing out at a lake. A photo was was taken by a professional he hired for the purpose. Which is totally what you would expect an ordinary person to do when issuing an apology about your years of being a leader of a bigoted movement, right? [/sarcasm]
And then, this weekend what did he do? Why he traveled from Ohio to Vancouver, British Columbia and marched in the Gay Pride Parade there. We know this because he posted a number of pictures of himself wearing a rainbow t-shirt to his Instagram account. We see him posing with people at the parade. We see him eating a rainbow donut. We see him standing on a sidewalk with the rainbow-clad crowd applauding the parade in the background, and so on.
All of which seems very… calculated. Joe Jervis over on his blog, Joe.My.God snarkily observed: “I guess we can give him props for at least doing this on his own before a Grindr account or something similar goes public.” I don’t suspect that Harris is going to come out as gay anytime soon—though he certainly wouldn’t be the first conservative pastor whose sermons focused a disproportionate time on sexual matters to be found out to be a closet case. I’m more concerned with how he has found ways to monetize his so-called transformation.
Take that documentary: a blogger named Elizabeth Esther who had written about her own escape from a purity-culture church, participated in Harris’s documentary. Later, when Harris started selling copies of the documentary while doing his apology tour, she saw how her interview with him was edited in a very distorting way. As she says, the whole thing came across as Harris proclaiming, “I had good intentions. I need you to know how good my intentions were!” That’s not an adequate apology to queer kids who were abused and/or kicked out on the street by their religious parents following advice from Harris’ books. It is not an adequate apology to women who were shamed about their own bodies from early childhood. It is not an adequate apology to kids of all genders who were pushed into relationships without adequate understandings of how real relationships work. And so on.
I could rant some more, but Patrick L. Green, who for many years was a pastor at a liberal church near Chicago that ran a youth outreach program which, among other things, tried to support kid who were being victimized in the purity-culture obsessed churches in their community. His post includes a lot of interesting (and sometimes disturbing) information: Joshua Harris’ Creation And What We Need to Consider.
Maybe Harris really is trying to find a way to make amends, but given that he first half-heartedly repudiated his most famous book (and had to be called out many times by ex-evangelicals before he actually asked the publisher to stop selling it), then made a documentary that he sold along with other merchandise on that so-called apology tour, then hiring a professional photographer for his instagram post announcing that he was leaving the church, and then those Pride Parade photos that look staged…
…well, let’s just say, I’m expecting a new book or something similar to go on sale soon. I’m not planning on buying it.