Ascent Publication
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Ascent Publication

Re: Josh Harris — Now It’s My Turn to Apologize

My views on sexuality have changed — but the damage they did remains.

I am sitting by a pool with my boyfriend.

I am sitting by a pool with my boyfriend.

Three years ago I could never have imagined writing that sentence.

Josh Harris has last week announced his divorce, recanted his former teachings, and apologized to LGBTQ+ people for his harmful views.

Tomorrow, I’m going to see my Best Friend from college. We are going to talk about Harris, no doubt; he has already texted me an article about it.

I’ve been loosely following the Harris saga ever since his initial “I’m sorry” on Twitter in 2016. Were those two words the first drops of water that eventually broke the dam? What is it about apologies that make them so powerful? Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is here, said Jesus.

Jesus’ chosen sign of repentance was taking a dip in the Jordan River. His kingdom wasn’t a boundary stone marking who’s in and who’s out; it was an invitation to take off our burdens and swim freely. And it begins with saying “I’m sorry.”

For all its talk of love, the Christianity I waded in as a college student was stuck in the Stone Age: reinforcing the borderlines set by those who came before. Now I’m learning that the kingdom is the water, not the wall.

Now I’m learning that the kingdom is the water, not the wall.

I never actually read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but I know it well. My Best Friend was more or less a disciple of Harris, and we drove out to McLean once or twice to catch sight of him preaching. Our college evangelical fellowship had been replete with discussions on “Courtship” vs. “Casual Dating,” along with the When-Harry-Met-Sally-Question: can guys and girls ever be “just friends?”

Wherever we landed in the dating debate, we had consensus on the “purity culture” frame in which it was held. If there was dissent, it was not voiced loudly or often. Sex was reserved for marriage between a woman and a man.

Few men in our fellowship asked women on dates, and this was also a much discussed question. Where are all the Christian men? Why don’t any of them want to date [me]? In their defense, some guys did ask — and were rejected. This, for a number of good reasons including lack of interest, perceived incompatibility, and the natural right of refusal. But there were also appeals to Harris’ advice mixed in, and explanations of God-ordained “breaks from dating.”

I’m not saying those decisions were wrong. I’m just remembering how difficult it was for all of us to figure out, how much energy these conversations consumed, and the fact that Harris’ model of total abstinence was one of our leading philosophies.

In any case, the definite boundary was sex.

In any case, the definite boundary was sex. Those who transgressed this line were quietly the subject of much talk and many prayers, and sometimes the recipient of a stern and well-meant “one-on-one.” Those who dated “non-Christians” fell into a similar suspicion. Someone who doesn’t share your faith will probably lead you into sexual activity and perhaps away from God all together. That’s what happened to Solomon.

And gay people — those roommates and friends and lab partners we talked so much about loving — were across the tragic wall of sexual sin as well. After all, what defines a gay relationship other than two guys were having sex, or wanted to, eventually?

Though devastating, these actions didn’t always have to be a death sentence. There was always repentance, for those who strayed, as a way back in. But we had it backwards: we didn’t realize that repentance should rather be our way out.

But we had it backwards: we didn’t realize that repentance should rather be our way out.

Now it’s my turn to repent.

After graduating, I stayed and worked for the evangelical college ministry on my campus. Throughout my nine years with the organization — four as a student and five as staff — I hurt a lot of people.

I am sitting here sifting through memories trying to recount them all.

M. had a life-changing faith experience on our Spring Break service trip, only to quietly withdraw from our community the following year when she discovered we didn’t consider her pansexual identity a part of God’s plan. I’m sorry.

T. and M. were leaders in the fellowship until they started dating non-Christian women. In our eyes, that meant they weren’t serious enough in their faith to continue with leadership roles. I’m sorry.

C., D., and J. came out to our fellowship as queer or questioning. I didn’t have anything to offer them other than a framework of “broken” sexuality stemming from our fallen human nature. I wanted to show non-judgmental support, but my limited vision prevented me from being a true conversation partner in their process of self-discovery. I didn’t see that all options — including pursuing same-sex relationships — should be on the table. I’m sorry.

I didn’t see that all options — including pursuing same-sex relationships — should be on the table.

B. and F. courageously spoke out against the hypocrisy and homophobia in our fellowship; we shunned them and treated their concerns like a distraction from our mission. I’m sorry.

J., after graduation, sent me an email saying she had felt judged and marginalized in the fellowship because of her dating decisions. I ignored her. I’m sorry.

K., a friend of mine at a different college, was removed from a leadership role in her campus fellowship because she had publicly supported legalizing same-sex marriage. I never intervened, even though I knew her ministry staff. I’m sorry.

J., an alumna of my campus fellowship about ten years before my time, had started a relationship with another woman and been removed from a leadership role. I heard about her story, but treated it like collateral damage: I never sought restitution and failed to make the changes that would prevent her story from repeating itself in future student generations. I’m sorry.

There are others within and without our fellowship to whom I owe apologies, no doubt.

When the student government sanctioned our ministry on a charge of discrimination, I fought back. It was a complicated situation, but at no time did I consider that part of our response should be a communal reckoning with the damage our views on sexuality might be causing. Instead of taking the opportunity to lead our students in this process of honest soul-searching, I encouraged our group to defend ourselves and sought to firm up support for our organization’s positions. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry to the students who suffered in silence, afraid to tell the truth about themselves.

I’m sorry to the students who suffered in silence, afraid to tell the truth about themselves.

I’m sorry to the students who were forced to choose between accepting themselves and being accepted by us.

I’m sorry to the students who left — or never joined — because our views on sexuality made them outsiders.

I’m sorry to the students who left — or never joined — because our views on sexuality made them outsiders.

I’m sorry to the students who had their social, emotional, and spiritual growth stunted because certain topics and beliefs were out-of-bounds.

I’m sorry to the students who graduated without knowing how to understand or experience their sexuality in life-giving ways.

I’m sorry to the students who lost their faith because they were told that agreeing with our sex-ethic was a precondition to having “real” faith.

I’m sorry to the students who didn’t feel free to honestly consider if a queer relationship could be right for them.

I’m sorry to the students who didn’t feel free to honestly consider if a queer relationship could be right for them.

I’m sorry to the students who have made life-altering decisions based on a limited understanding of what it means to honor God with our sexual bodies.

I’m sorry to the students whose views on sexuality have now changed, but who feel like the process of growth has pulled their foundation out from underneath them.

I’m sorry to the students whose views on sexuality have not changed, and who feel like our faith is still defined by the boundaries we draw.

I’m sorry to the students who were never taught how to live with love and radical acceptance, or how to embrace Jesus’ invitation to repent and swim freely.

I’m sorry for all the damage I have done to LGBTQ+ people. And I’m sorry it took me becoming one of you to realize my mistakes. You, on your own, should have been reason enough for me to change. You have always been enough.

You, on your own, should have been reason enough for me to change. You have always been enough.

This is a start. I don’t know what other acts of restitution my repentance will require from me. After all, the point was always to take the water with us when we go.

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

I am sitting by a pool with my boyfriend.

I watch the light descending on the surface of the shifting water.

I think it’s time for a dip.

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Charles Skold

Charles Skold

Millennial & bi in Portland, Maine. Thinking about politics & believing in justice. @CharlesSkold

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