“There is a much greater skepticism toward the memories of those who claim abuse than toward the memories of those who deny it.” ― Sue Campbell, Relational Remembering: Rethinking the Memory Wars
When I began this blog about 10 years ago, I spoke with Barbara Dorris from SNAP about my thoughts. She gave me a simple piece of advice that I continue to heed. It was really quite simple but I have discovered how profound it is. It goes basically like this. I used this advice for this post.
You are going to hear a lot of stories and get involved in complex situations. Never forget to keep the vicim in front of you.
You don’t know about the sex abuse scandal in Sovereign Grace Ministries?
Here is the perfect article so that you will understand my views in this post. The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the rise and fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Joshua Harris claims he might not be a Christian anymore and slips in the words *divorce* and *forgive me* into the mix.
Here is his statement on Instagram. I highlighted some portions that stood out to me.
My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.
I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)
The information that was left out of our announcement is that 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.
Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.
- He now admits that his initial statement was not about *separation* but about divorce. I wish he had said so in the first place.
- We have no way of knowing the standards by which he defines Christianity in the here and now. I know what he affirmed as a leader in Sovereign Grace Ministries with CJ Mahaney and Covenant Life Church after CJ Mahaney but not how he defines it today. He was taught by Mahaney who appeared to believe that being a chameleon in one’s faith expressions is convenient.
- He repents for all sorts of things but does not repent for the many reports of sex abuse coverup which came out of SGM while he was there. For many of us who’ve followed and written about those sex abuse scandals, sex abuse is the first thing we think of when we hear the words *Sovereign Grace Ministries” (now going by Sovereign Grace Churches as if it matters.) His omission is unconscionable, in my opinion.
- He asks for forgiveness for many things but overlooks the need for forgiveness for the elephant in the room-. That is the sex abuse cover up scandal for which he holds some responsibility as a leader in the ministry.
Some of us who remember this sex abuse have been reminding folks this is not just about deconstruction and has everything to do with with victims of sex abuse and coverup in Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Todd Wilhelm from Thou Art the Man called me to talk about Harris’ statement on deconstruction. The very first thing he mentioned was that Harris didn’t say anything about sex abuse in SGM.
Ashley Easter was asked to be part of the Harris documentary about his changed views on his book, I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Here is the trailer from the video.
It appears that shortly after I posted this trailer, it has been removed from public viewing. I checked a number of websites.
Just found one at Amazon. Let’s see how long this one lasts. I have a feeling scrubbing is occurring.
In subsequent communications with Josh Harris, she stressed the need to tie the purity teaching in with the allegations of sexual abuse in Sovereign Grace. This did not happen as you will see if you watch the entire film.
What has Harris said about the sex abuse scandal at Sovereign Grace Ministries?
Sandi Villarreal in Sojourners Magazine 7/19/19, wrote QUESTIONING FAITH AFTER PURITY CULTURE: IN CONVERSATION WITH JOSHUA HARRIS.
… And then we left our denomination and right at that time, our church and the movement was hit with a lawsuit related to sex abuse and it was just total chaos. I was in crisis mode for about five years — which, I think it was all tied together, even the issues of how sex abuse was reported with regards to pastors feeling like they had all the answers and that they could handle things when really we didn’t know what we were doing.
…When it comes to something like sex abuse, we just did not have the training. We needed to be calling in other people, we needed to be, obviously, making sure that — and we did report many cases of sexual abuse, but in some cases obviously we made huge mistakes.
So there’s sort of a web of problems. But I do think that a very patriarchal, male-centered, low view of women has connections to sexual abuse in different cases.
“We left the denomination and our church and movement was hit by a lawsuit and it was chaos for 5 years”
This occurred in 2012, shortly after Mahaney, realizing that he was in trouble, took off to Louisville where Al Mohler of SBTS attempted to protect Mahaney from his past. There’s little question in my mind that all of this movement occurred due to the impending lawsuit. Other leaders left like Dave Harvey who still hasn’t take ownership for his role in this fiasco.
This lawsuit was actually a lawsuit comprising a number of victims. Go to this page to read about some of those victims. However, there were other criminal convictions of abusers, the most telling was the trial of Nate Morales. CJ Mahaney’s brother in law, Grant Layman, another pastor at Covenant Life Church, said he did not report the abuse to the police even though he knew he should.
I believe that there was chaos because all of these pastors, including Harrs, spent their time figuring out how to cover their butts. The lawsuit got thrown out due to a state of limitations issue but the church kept claiming it was due to insufficient evidence and far too many people believed them.
Now what might happen if the state of limitations is changed Maryland…?
It may have been chaos for him. So sad… I wonder if he wonders what it was for those who suffered the abuse?
“Pastors got reports of sex abuse and the pastors felt they could handle things handle even when really they didn’t know what they were doing.”
I believe that in many instances that they knew exactly what they were doing. Read Grant Layman’s confession under oath in court. This confession causes me to believe that CLC, Mahane, and others were well aware of a some sort of belief that the police should not be involved in such cases.
If that is so, then they knew exactly what they were doing. They were not going to law enforcement in some cases. Actually we don’t know how many but my guess is that the word *many* rathe than one or two would be closer to the truth.
“We just didn’t have the training.”
If Josh was a kid in high school, Id give him a break. However, he was in his 30s (b.1974) when this stuff was happening. He also was a leader and could have demanded that training occur. It appeared to not be a priority for him or for anyone else in leadership. Ignorance of the law is not excuse. Ignoring the pain and suffering of children and parents is beyond ignorant. Some might say it is downright evil.
“We needed to be calling in other people, we needed to be, obviously, making sure that — and we did report many cases of sexual abuse, but in some cases obviously we made huge mistakes.”
I’m afraid that this is an admission of guilt here. He did not say they reported all cases of of sexual abuse. he says they reported many. I would love to know how many is *many.*
“We made huge mistakes.”
This was in the same paragraph as sex abuse not being reported in all instances.
In the end, Harris got out of Dodge and ran to Canada to attend seminary. He was still beloved by The Gospel Coalition and Al Mohler at SBTS at that time. He would have been warmly welcomed by the CJ Mahaney apologists at the SBC seminaries. Some believe he was attempting to avoid potential litigation. Some believed he was running from his mess. No one but Harris knows.
Harris’ deconstruction pales in comparison to the sex abuse scandal of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
It appears that Harris knew there was sex abuse going unreported if he is being accurately quoted and that is the real problem for me. I am more concerned about that than I am about his wavering or supposed lack of faith and his playing games with the words of separation and divorce.
I once asked a friend who had a doctorate in economics how things were going *belief wise.* He said it was like the stock market (years ago) in that it had its ups and down. Many years ago I went through a brief period of doubts surrounding issues like the veracity of Scripture, etc. It was the best thing that happened to me. It forced me to look at exactly what I believed and I did so by studying just about anything I could find which dealt with the difficulties of faith and Scripture. I emerged a stronger Christian. Doubt can be a kick in the pants to get a move on and learn.
In my years on this earth, I have seen people I would have bet would stay far away from the faith become deeply committed Christians. Then, there are those who I thought are far more thoughtful and committed Christians than I am, clearly and logically deny their former faith.
The longer we live, the more most of us realize that life rarely works out the way we predict. There is only One who sees the now and the future and I’m content to let it rest in His Hands. None of us know where Harris will be in the years left to him.
In the meantime, I will continue to press him to come clean about the child sex abuse cover up allegations in former ministry. I hope I”m wrong but I bet he stays largely silent.
The email sent to members of Harris’ old church-Covenant Life Church. What a history when it comes to their lead pastors!
Covenant Life Church has lurched from pastor to pastor with all sorts of problems. The most recent fail was PJ Smyth who is the son of John Smyth who died before the UK could convict him. Cj Mahaney to Josh Harris to PJ Smyth…what a history!
Dear Covenant Life family,
This week our former Lead Pastor, Josh Harris, shared some significant news. First, he and his wife Shannon announced that they’re separated. Then in a follow up post, he said “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
These updates are hard to hear. We love Josh and Shannon. For most of us, Josh isn’t just some distant public figure. He’s a beloved former pastor and friend. So this news isn’t just a lot to process theoretically. It hits home personally.
How do we process the news that someone who was a spiritual leader in our community, who taught us God’s Word, who ministered to us, no longer considers himself a follower of Christ?
Today, after I got the news, I read through Paul’s first letter to Timothy and found it very grounding. Several times Paul mentions former Christian leaders “swerving from,” “wandering from,” or “making shipwreck” of their faith. So while this is sad and confusing, it isn’t new. Christian leaders occasionally veered from faith at the very beginning. Paul says some had gone off course theologically. Others behaved in ways that violated Christian conscience. For others, it was greed. In every case, Paul’s hope was for redemption and restoration. That these leaders would develop “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5) That should be our hope and prayer for Josh as well.
Paul’s primary instruction for us when leaders swerve from faith is that we make it an opportunity for greater resolve in our own faith, not less. Seeing leaders who taught us the gospel veer from it should deepen our commitment to “guard the good deposit” entrusted to us. And “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Tim 6:11)
So, Covenant Life, pray for our friend Josh. Pray with sincere hope for a redemptive end. And ask the God of all grace and power for fresh resolve in your own fight of faith. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Tim 6:12)
P.S. – If you’re having particular trouble processing this, any of the pastors would be glad to talk with you. If you’re specifically wrestling with how to process teaching you heard from Josh, you may find this video from John Piper helpful.