Two weeks ago, prominent Evangelical writer Joshua Harris (of “I’ve Kissed Dating Goodbye” fame) created an Instagram post where he described something very familiar to Exvangelicals–a shift in worldviews.
“…I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
He concluded his post asking for forgiveness for how he treated LGBTQ people and describing how invigorated and alive he felt–which is an oddly Christian end to the post, in my opinion.
And then, the Hillsong songwriter Marty Sampson wrote a FB post explaining his own uncertainties with Christianity:
“Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy…This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me. I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others. All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”
You can read the rest here.
Which prompted John L. Cooper, of the band Skillet, to quite vehemently write a big long rather tart response to Sampson, that you can check out for yourself. I’m just going to post what stood out to me:
“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’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them…when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God…I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed? My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking. Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!”
It’s times like this that I wish more than ever that Rachel was still alive. No doubt she would know exactly what to say, no doubt she’d have an insightful and loving blogpost about this, no doubt she’d be reaching out to Harris and Sampson and hell, even Cooper with her words of wisdom and love.
I miss her so badly it aches.
There are a lot of things I could say to Harris and Sampson–point them to podcasts, books, music, etc. I could tell Joshua Harris that there is more than one way to be a Christian, that the Evangelical formula he espoused was indeed toxic, but it’s not the way to Jesus, and there is so much more to Christianity than he could ever imagine. I could tell Sampson that there is holiness in doubt, there is sacredness in uncertainty, and that science was never something to be afraid of. But I’m not going to. Because I’m beginning to believe that everyone needs to be in the Wilderness for a while.
I’ve been in the Wilderness for most of my life. When I was Evangelical, I challenged the leaders about women’s roles. When I was a child first going to church, I challenged the pastors about evolution vs. Genesis. (Spoiler–there’s no versus! Read The Evolution of Adam by Pete Enns, it’s fabulous) When I recommitted myself to Christianity in 2011, I challenged my leaders about the inclusion of LGBTQ. And now, in 2019, I still feel separate from most of my fellow Christians. Solitary…but not alone.
Perhaps the Wilderness was where I was meant to be all along.
I’m not worried about Harris and Sampson. They were conceived and grew up in some of the more toxic elements of Evangelicalism and I believe the Wilderness will be healthier for them and they will find Jesus there, more than they ever did in the Evangelical culture.
But Cooper’s message gets on my nerves.
There is a dangerous pride and arrogance to assume that a leader being honest about their struggles means they’re trying to “influence” their followers. Joshua Harris was brutally confronted with the damage and pain caused by his teachings and books. Purity culture is and always has been toxic theology that poisons the soul and though I had my doubts, (his documentary was unimpressive) it seems he’s finally reconciled the harm he’s caused. And is asking for forgiveness for that. I don’t think anyone knows better than Harris about “influencing” people.
Sampson is a singer. He’s a songwriter. He’s not a minister or teacher. Hell, Cooper even points that out in his post. So wherefore comes this judgmental idea that he’s trying to “influence” others by being honest about who he is? Is it not better that Sampson is being honest about losing his faith rather than keeping up a charade for appearances?
Cooper snaps out, “Basically saying, ‘I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.'”
Is that what they’re doing? I see no evidence of this. Josh Harris isn’t “leading people to his next truth”. He isn’t suddenly telling his followers to buy Richard Dawkins books and telling everyone they should become atheists because religion is stupid. Sampson isn’t loudly telling people that science disproves religion neener neener neener. They’re…they’re just being honest. Sampson is having trouble reconciling science and Christianity (understandable, when you’ve been taught Genesis is literal and then start learning about the literal truth of evolution). Harris attended a Pride parade in Vancouver and apologized for the harm his teachings caused LGBTQ. That’s not leading anyone to anywhere, it’s just being honest.
And his demand if they’re embarrassed, ashamed, fearful or confused…OF COURSE THEY ARE. Good lord, man! OF COURSE Joshua Harris is embarrassed and ashamed of his teachings, once he realized how many people they’d hurt. OF COURSE Sampson is confused. OF COURSE they’ll have moments where they’re afraid. That’s what being human is all about.
Does Cooper think that Jesus was never embarrassed or ashamed? I think he was. I think the Syrophoenician woman embarrassed and shamed him. Obviously in Gethsemane Jesus was fearful and confused. And when He was in the Wilderness Himself…how are we to know how He felt? When confronted with Satan, with the temptations of the world, I find it hard to believe that Jesus wasn’t the least bit afraid or confused.
“My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier.”
Harris and Sampson both gave up platforms, profitable careers, and a place in the Evangelical Kingdom of Commerce in order to be honest with themselves and others. If that’s not courage, I don’t know what is.
It is a scary thing to admit you don’t know. It is a scary thing to retract something you once believed wholeheartedly. It is a lesson in humility that Cooper could learn from.
“Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
It isn’t flatly false.
It just isn’t.
How can it be? When you have Franklin Graham supporting a president who imprisons children and assaults women? When black people ask for support from the Evangelical church and are chastised for being “divisive”? When LGBTQ kids are kicked out of their homes by Evangelical parents and the Church does not rebuke those parents? You’re not talking about the real stuff, Cooper. You’re throwing Evangelical formulas in our faces and getting mad when it doesn’t work for us.
Of course Harris and Sampson don’t think they’re the only ones to wonder about Hell. That’s ludicrous. But just because we’ve been wrestling with the doctrine of Hell for 1500 years doesn’t mean we’re no longer allowed to be disturbed by it. Yeah, of course children talk about it in Sunday school and basically the only doctrine of Hell I accept was given to me by a six year old. We’re not demanding the answer we want, we’re genuinely confused by an ultimate being, a force that is supposed to be the source of love and goodness as being synonymous by a force that sends people to be tortured for eternity. And I’m sorry, but wrestling with Scripture “until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds” isn’t wrestling. Being confused by something until you’re able to ignore the confusion successfully isn’t renewing your mind.
And finally, I want to get to perhaps the cruelest line in Cooper’s diatribe.
“Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart?”
Obviously, Cooper is referring to Harris and his ex-wife’s separation.
I cannot stress this enough. Harris’ divorce is none of your damn business, Cooper. It is no one’s business but Harris and his ex-wife. It is outrageously nasty to blame the end of his marriage for “letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible”. Divorce is an intensely personal thing and particularly when you have a platform that was built on your teachings about sex and marriage…I can’t imagine how painful that would be.
And this idea that if only we stuck to the “absolute truth of the Bible” (whatever that is), our marriages won’t fall apart? Our lives won’t be afflicted with depression? We won’t suffer catastrophic grief, disappointments, fear?
I can’t tell you the amount of Exvangelicals I speak to on a daily basis, Christian and non-Christian, whose lives were destroyed by fundamentalist teachings of the Bible. Temporarily destroyed, I ought to add–most are picking up the pieces and rebuilding, coming out stronger and healthier for it. Sometimes that means leaving Christianity all together.
And so, I’d like to propose an answer to John L. Cooper about what exactly is happening in Christianity–and why it’s best it happen sooner rather than later.
- What is happening in Christianity? We’re sick of being told our LGBTQ friends aren’t welcome in our churches. We’re angry about how they’ve been treated, abused, and condemned by the people who were supposed to protect them. We are angry at leaders equating their existence to adultery and evil.
- What is happening in Christianity? Women are finding their voice. We are tired of the lies purity culture told us, we are tired of believing our worth comes from our vaginas, we are tired of being objectified and abused in the name of the church. Complementarian theology is no longer killing us. We are prophets and warriors and we will not stand silent any longer.
- What is happening Christianity? The old prosperity gospels and formulas aren’t working. Waiting until marriage to have sex does not mean we will automatically have a healthy marriage and sex life. “Trusting in God” does not mean we won’t suffer debilitating loss and grief. Praying every day, reading Scripture every day, going to church every Sunday, does not mean we will be “blessed” with material prosperity.
What is happening in Christianity?
We don’t need the Evangelical formulas. We don’t need “I Kissed Dating Good Bye”. We don’t need to tell our LGBTQ friends that their orientations are sinful and unnatural. We don’t need purity culture, with its rings and balls and ‘modest is hottest’ T-shirts.
Sometimes what we need is a little bit of time in the Wilderness. The Church is changing and I believe it is changing for the better. That shift may be scary for those who’ve held a lot of power in the Church in the past (looking at you, straight white male John L. Cooper), but a more inclusive and safe Church, a place where women who love women, men who love men, trans people, and gender fluid people can feel loved, can feel God and know that they were made fearfully and wonderfully, that their genders and orientations are unique reflections of the many modes of love from God, a Church where women lead, where POC are valued, where diversity is championed, where justice is sought–that is the Church I dream of.
That is the church of Jesus.
I’ll leave you with a quote of Rachel Held Evans that I think about whenever Evangelical leaders start fretting about the cultural shift of the Church.
“Death is something empires worry about, not something resurrection people worry about.”–Searching for Sunday