I grew up in the shadow of Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” The parents all around us were ecstatic and excited about this reverent and holy new way of dating, while I gazed on in horror and watched the future of my dating life crumble in the flames. You might think that sounds melodramatic, and, to be fair, this was my teen self, so it may have been, but if you knew the nights that my mom and I spent crying and screaming at each other, and how much time I spent crying into my pillow in confusion about sexuality and chastity, you would understand that it isn’t dramatic, if anything, it’s an understatement. I still deal with repercussions of the confusing anti-sex but pro-marriage theology put forth by those who adored Josh Harris and others like him.
When Harris came forward and renounced what he taught, admitting it’s flaws and being honest about the struggles and defeat it caused in his own life, I was devastated to hear the pain he is going through, but it healed my heart to hear him renounce it. I had lived by it because that’s what my parents and faith community believed was God’s word on dating, but I could see the damage it was doing while it was happening and I felt so helpless and confused by it. Harris humility in coming forward healed a part of me that had felt so ashamed of my own anger and confusion.
Much to my dismay, soon afterwards a singer I admire for his authenticity and raw honesty came out against Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson(the lead singer of Hillsong United who also admitted his struggles of faith.)
“Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once ‘faces’ of the faith are falling away. And at the same time, they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”
I was so disappointed in this. First of all, because I really like Skillet and I felt personally misunderstood because this was such a deep part of my experience. More importantly though, this is very dangerous thing for a Christian to say.
Here John Cooper is showing a profound misunderstanding of what Joshua Harris is experiencing, and giving way to some ways of thinking that could be very damaging to Christianity.
Something I find very powerful and admirable about what Joshua Harris did is that once he believed he had done something wrong, he did not repent and slink into darkness. Instead, he did everything he could do to right what he believed was wrong. John Cooper’s mockery of his ‘announcement’ completely takes for granted the pain that must have come along Joshua Harris’ experience. As someone who experienced a great deal of suffering because of him, it meant so much to me to hear him admit the problems in his work. What he gave everyone who had ever been hurt by him permission to do is to stop battling the fear that he was right, because he wasn’t so they can rest. That is so incredibly valuable and Cooper is devaluing it.
Cooper’s words about how people who ‘abandon’ their faith shouldn’t go talking about it is similarly insensitive and actually dangerous. On a human level, it is cruel to suggest that if you lose your faith after being an evangelist you should then be sentenced to a life of silence like some sort of permanent punishment for not believing.
More importantly, though, saying something like that calls into question the integrity of those who are teaching Christianity. Genuine testimony comes from the heart, from a real experience of God, especially in Protestant circles which is something I love about them. Cooper seems to be saying that those who are in ministry should only be public about certain experiences. That immediately makes me want to ask, is he being honest? If he believes he can’t speak out if he disagrees, can I trust when he says he does agree?
Now, I know on some level this isn’t really what he is trying to say. However, it does give an impression of cultivated truth that has been a struggle for me in the Church. Painting over Christian lives to make them look perfect and free of any doubt ever hurts ministry because people who are not of faith or who are struggling with faith can see this lack of authenticity. They may not know what it is or why, but they can feel it. I can feel it. When people push a Catholic to only write the positive things about godliness, or when people edited saints biographies to make them look perfect, or when authority figures tell teachers not to tell the truth, this all adds up to create a narrative of Christianity as full of unreliable narrators.
I would rather praise Joshua Harris for being genuine and authentic and pray that he keeps seeking truth than to condemn him for coming to a different truth than me. I believe God is truth and He will bring good out of our authenticity. On another level, part of the beauty of the Christian life is in conversion, and if one is not allowed to admit the feelings of doubt, or the suffering one is feeling in relation to the faith, it negates the possibility of sharing that story with others.bAfter my own miscarriage and some other trials, I was very honest about my trials with faith for a long, long time. These people also knew when I was fighting to get closer and when I felt like giving up. When I share my stories now, the know the blood, sweat, and tears that went into my conversion, and they understand that I am different than I was when I first believed. I had my phase of “la la la God is good,” Christianity, and a phase of “FEAR God” Christianity, and I am always journeying through deeper and newer understandings of faith and lacks of faith, but I could not share that story if I believed I could only share it when I was right. In fact, and a little ironically, for a long time I couldn’t write this post for that very reason.
Overall, I think something that Christians need to understand is that there is a profound value to allowing someone their own real life experience. God has given us free will for a reason and we all pursue truth in different ways and from different angles. There is something beautiful and perfect in that even when it scares us. I am not saying that everyone is right about everything, but we can’t just force everyone to share our opinions, instead we should encounter them where they are at, and try to help them through their experience. What if John Cooper were to put down his high horse, and write to Joshua Harris and say, “Hey man, I cannot imagine the pain you must be going through. More than a lot of other people I can understand what it feels like to be held up on a pedestal for my faith. Can I be here for you through this?” Maybe they could actually learn from each other and experience a profound community instead of Cooper seeming to shove Harris into forced isolation for struggling with faith the way that every Christian does at some point in their faith life.
Note: This post is not about John Cooper, I don’t know him he could be perfectly non-judgemental in real life. However, this particular incident is an example of the kind of things I have heard Christians say a million times and it is a great example to explain why this attitude is damaging. Please do not hate on John Cooper if you read this. If you are in a position to Joshua Harris some comfort and love though, be my guest. 🖤