There is a trend in progressive Christianity that I don’t quite understand. It seems to have a very defined culture but it’s source seems elusive. Its the deconstruction and reconstruction part of the movement. I don’t know that it is a movement, but I’ll call it one because it seems to be such to me. I hear people talking about their deconstructions, but I haven’t really gotten what I felt was a clear answer why or where from the terminology has become so uniform in such a disparate movement. It reminds me of the whispers of the tea party movement and the Glenn Beck cult prior to his epiphany. No one knew where they heard these ideas, but they were very uniform, specific and nutty. The deconstructionist movement seems to not be nutty on the whole; however, every assortment has its nuts. What interests me today is Joshua Harris and his disavowal of faith. This must send shock waves through a significant portion of my generation because his books about marriage, dating, purity and such, contributed to the purity culture which was very en vogue while I was coming of age. My church was far too fundamental to come into contact with any of this deconstruction stuff. We were Bob Jones construction all the way. See, progressive was practically a swear word. These two opposing viewpoints were fighting it out on the national stage with us teens growing in one or the other perhaps largely unaware the other side existed. For me, I was oblivious.
The two movements: progressive Christianity and purity culture, rose in the Christian consciousness as if in a coin flip, inseparable and the same in so many ways, but you can only see one side at a time. We ask ourselves, why has the church become so centered on sex? Why is the doctrine of sexuality always at the forefront? The emergence of these movements is part of the reason why, in my opinion.
I suppose that most people would put me in the progressive Christian camp. As for me, I don’t identify as such. Our communities seem to relish in these labels that distinguish the true from the false as though it’s our place to weigh that. Both camps believe that the ‘true way’ is not the other person’s way. It’s how we stave off doubt. Doubt that maybe that racist conservative Trump supporter is still a Christian. Doubt that maybe that gay couple has a more vivid and real faith than we’ve ever known. Doubt that someone else might know something that we don’t. Doubt that we can learn from someone who is also wrong on some very important points. We can’t sit in a pew next to people who don’t see the world the same way we do and that stifles our imagination and we start to believe that what we know is all there is to know. That what the Holy Spirit tells us, is the only thing the Holy Spirit can say.
The eight points are wonderfully purposefully vague but include an emphasis on questioning that will never be part of the conservative repertoire. “We believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes.” Conservatives relish in certainty. In knowing. My in laws in the knowing camp. They’ve grown into it as many of us who grew up in church have grown out of it. Somehow the times that they have questioned or had their faith dashed haven’t made them malleable, but impermeable. When they have a question of God, they don’t look for answers, they look for certainty. Those of us who have had to face the black and white and hard lines of purity culture and failed to measure up, haven’t had that luxury. We weren’t taught that we could still fail and be… be what… whole…just be… be Christian? Our whole selves were lost unable to be recovered. Those of us who found ourselves standing at these crossroads between true and fake, virgin and slut, whole and ruined don’t have the ability to accept the gray. We were constructed not to.
And so Joshua Harris has left the faith. Or has he? My pastor mourned his setting down the ‘shield of faith’. I hadn’t heard and a quick google showed me what the conservative Christian camp thought about his defection. This was the first article that came up of my search ‘pastor renounces faith’. That’s right, “caves to LGBT mafia”. See Joshua Harris is going through a divorce. After preaching and teaching the way to practice marriage so yours could be successful, he’s getting a divorce. This must be rocking the very bedrock of his faith. The faith he spent many years building. I’m sure he’s embarrassed. I’m sure he’s humbled. I know he’s looking at his teachings and finally hearing the people who cried out their pain. He now feels empathy. What I don’t know is that he’s no longer a Christian, or that he has set his faith aside. He perhaps doesn’t yet know that God is still there and Jesus is Jesus even after those things we were so certain of crumble and fall away before our very eyes. His world is crashing down, and he feels the weight of those expectations he thought he’d always be able to meet. Those of us who fell short long ago have all been there. Many of us who have laid on the ground of our subconscious and wept to a God we weren’t sure even liked us, know what it feels like. I am with Joshua Harris there. I feel for him and I pray that Jesus will wrap his arms around him and not let go as I have felt in my own life. I hope he has people who lift him up, and most of all I pray he finds the faith in the gray. You see, it’s not so simple as we once believed. There aren’t the pious and the damned. There are gay Christians and it’s not an oxymoron by any stretch. There are hateful Christians as much as being hateful is antithetical to our chief command. There are Christians who don’t speak English and so have never read the KJV. There are Christians who only read the KJV. There are Christians who are wealthy and homeless and educated and ignorant. Our failings aren’t insignificant or meaningless, but they are inevitable, ubiquitous. It doesn’t make us any less God’s children. We hurt people sometimes, with our theology or words or actions. That doesn’t mean we don’t have faith. It means we failed.
Perhaps Harris has some apologies to hand out. His tweet certainly points out his conviction of that. As for me, someone who felt my world rocked by the trial and failure to adhere to his and others like his ideas of what it means to be a true Christian, what it means to be whole, he owes me nothing. We have each had beliefs that need to change. I am no exception. For those who lifted him up as an icon, I only hope they have that empathy for him as well. We will each be rocked some day. We will each crumble. We will all owe apologies somewhere. Certainty is not our goal nor is questioning, it shouldn’t be. Our goal should be malleability. We’ll find some answers and have some questions. What we need is to be able to be moved by relationships. Christ came to Earth and was so moved by our plight and our stories, the relationships he had with us, that He persuaded God the Father on our behalf and does so today. Christ is empathy. These idols of certainty, of sexuality, of purity, they’ll only eat away at our foundations. When they crumble, what is left? When we fail, where do we belong? When we’re broken, can we be made whole?
I may not know much about progressive Christianity or deconstruction, but I do know a lot about when your faith is shaken. When you have been met by the same challenges you spoke vehemently against and you find yourself lacking the same conviction you spurred on in others. I know about the questions that you’re pretty sure are heretical pinging around the corners of your mind getting so cacophonous that you can’t even hear the pastor in church. I know what it is to hold beliefs that hurt people. Maybe you were always kind to them, but you feel that prick in your heart toward the thoughts you once held condemning them. I know what it is to hear their stories of pain and finally allow your heart to break for them. That’s the moment my piety fell away, the idol I’d constructed, the one I thought I could live up to. That’s the moment my foundation settled in to the humility of being wrong. That’s the moment I grew uncertain and for the first time in my life I needed the faith that I talked about for so long. When my certainty shriveled, the seed of faith had space to grow, and it was gracious. It caused a different kind of fierceness in me. A fierce urge to defend those I’d hurt, the ones I was supposed to be reaching. It made me fiercely oppose those who, like I had, continued to have all the opportunity in the world to help and instead hurt. Let’s hope Joshua Harris finds the faith that only love can bring, the faith that knowing never will.
*There is no equivalence in my mind between homosexuality and being hateful. This part is written with a certain type of doctrine in mind as one side and the other point to.