I hope I can call you Josh, though we’ve never met and I was way too old in the 90s to get caught up in “purity culture.” (Heck, even my son was a bit too old.)
What I have to offer, despite that, is the different way to practice Christian faith that you reportedly are looking for and most certainly need. I was discovering that different way when purity culture was turning into a big deal, and I’ve been following it for more than twenty years now.
I thought of your recent announcements as a kind of “apostasy,” though I hadn’t focused on what you actually said. Still, since I was no longer in the Evangelical world, I wasn’t threatened by it. I had no “horse in that race” so to speak. I’ve known for a long time now that “Christian” doesn’t have a very clear, agreed meaning in the U.S., and leaving some kinds of “Christianity” may be a very good move (especially if you move toward the right kind).
I felt kindly toward you for honesty: not reinterpreting scripture so you could go on being a megachurch pastor and Christian celebrity. From the way I see you telling your story now, that may not even have been existentially possible for you.
In fact, I’m dropping the label “apostasy.” “Rehab.” “Recovery from PTSD.” Those seem more apt.
Not all those who wander are lost, J.R.R. Tolkien observed. The corollary is that not all who lead know where they’re going. Both these statements are true of Joshua Harris, the former pastor and author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (1997), who acknowledged on Instagram last week that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
[*I Kissed Dating Goodbye]’s message became “a big part of my identity, and almost my own sense of self-worth,” Mr. Harris told me last December. “So to even open the door to think that maybe it was, on the whole, unhelpful, and hurt people—it was just hard to go there.”
Jillian Kay Melchior, Wall Street Journal (emphasis added).
Apparently you did open the door and go there, and got an earful that would shake up any conscientious person. I’ve read some of them, and my godson is one of those who got poisoned (he’s recovering well).
In July, Mr. Harris made two personal announcements on Instagram: He and his wife were separating, and he had “undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus,” he wrote. “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.”
Many Christians responded with mourning, but I’m hopeful. Abandoning untrue beliefs is progress ….
(Emphasis added again)
I can whole-heartedly recommend “a different way to practice faith” than you’ve ever known, and of which you may even have no clue (having a clue and knowing something are not the same).
Ignore any “different way to practice faith” that baptizes the sexual revolution. Doing that would harm people as much or more than anything you’ve done before.
Ignore (I’m sure you will) any way that permanently anathematizes all who’ve ever sinned sexually. Ignore them if the first sexual sin gets you kicked out or branded with a scarlet letter of some sort.
Get thee to an Orthodox Church, with a capital-O, and just observe for a few months.
The Orthodox Church is probably a mystery to you because you grew up in the West, where the only visible claimant to the title The Church was Roman Catholicism. We Orthodox know that body well, because a thousand years ago, Roman Catholicism was Orthodox (and, to be fair, Orthodoxy more freely used the moniker “catholic”). We were one big family, with a few minor quarrels and personality differences. But then the Bishop of Rome, one of five Patriarchs of the Church, got too big for his britches (a crude shorthand, I know, but I’m not writing a theological treatise or Church history here) and eventually split — went into schism — from the other four Patriarchs and the Churches they represented.
That schism has never been healed. The Bishop of Rome increasingly took his church off the rails, adding doctrines that didn’t belong and tying down things that needed to remain freer.
The other four Patriarchs (Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch) never closed up shop, but they’ve been concentrated mostly east of Rome’s turf. They have preserved the ancient Christian faith without innovations and defining everything to death.
So Orthodoxy will probably look a lot like Roman Catholicism to you. (They’ve screwed up the Mass, bless their hearts, but it’s still recognizable.)
Like I say: Don’t commit. Just go and observe for a while. Russian, Greek, Romanian, Antiochian, even my own obscure Carpatho-Rusyn — Orthodox is Orthodox, and we’re working on shedding those ethnic labels in the U.S., since they don’t really belong.
That reminds me: If you stumble onto an Orthodox Church that doesn’t worship in English, keep moving. They’re not “wrong,” but you probably won’t get much out of it. There are plenty that use English now.
When you get there, open your heart and your mind. Those icons that may trouble you are stand-ins (and more) for the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews.
Talk to the Priest with your questions. The people around you may be less knowledgeable, in a Protestant doctrinal sense, than you’re used to, because the center of the worship is Christ and His Eucharist, not the sermon. But the Priest almost certainly has formal education and has some idea where a Protestant inquirer is coming from. Odds are, he was once a Protestant, too, if you’re in the U.S.
Then settle in for the long haul. There will be some formal catechism and then a formal reception service if you decide to stay. They may even conclude that you should be baptized again (though we don’t re-baptize if a prior baptism was done more or less as we baptize, as mine was, for instance).
Don’t count on being a leader again. Maybe, maybe not. But do expect that some well-meaning someone-or-other will make a big deal of it if you officially become Orthodox. We are in America, after all, and we’re sadly susceptible to celebrity culture. I wish it weren’t so. People can be destroyed by getting elevated too fast, as the Apostle Paul knew.
My advice: Say something like “I’m still healing from my past life and I don’t think it would be helpful for me to get into the limelight again.” Because that’s probably true, and I think you know it now.
Don’t let any elation about entering Orthodoxy make you think you’ve arrived. It means you’ve started in earnest. There’s going to be some serious interior remodeling, not just rearranging some furniture.
This is, after all, a really different way of practicing faith.
* * * * *
I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).