Posted in Abuse, Church, Communication, faith, LGBT, Love, Marriage & Family

My Thoughts on Letter from Farris to Harris

This letter was published on July 27, 2019, open to the public, on Michael Farris’ Facebook page. See my comments below.

Josh,

My first memory of you was in Olympia, Washington standing in my driveway as a grinning kid when you were about nine years old. I saw you many times as your dad and I spoke at many conferences over the years.

How can I forget that meeting in the lobby of a hotel in Rochester, New York when you told me you had signed a book deal for “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”? I told you it was a bad title and wouldn’t sell. Of course, it outsold everything I have ever written by a wide margin.

The last time I saw you was at your dear mother’s funeral. (I can’t recall if you were at your brothers’ graduation from Patrick Henry College.)

We knew each other very well for many years. And I loved you like a younger brother. And still do.

It is established here that their friendship goes back a long way. It was a caring relationship. The writer is older. This makes what follows altogether more painful.

I don’t think I can reach you in private and what you have said and done is very public, so I am reaching out to you in this way.

First mistake. If you can’t reach someone privately, then don’t do it publicly. You think this is compassion or brotherly love? It is not.

You have walked away from your marriage. That’s not right. You have walked away from your faith in Christ. That’s even worse.

The writer fails to ask the most important question, “What happened?” I’ve made this mistake and I’ve regretted my insensitivity.

This says nothing about Jesus and a great deal about you.

That is a loaded accusation if I ever heard one.

Jesus told us there would be false prophets and teachers among us. Your story doesn’t invalidate Christ’s message because He predicted that people would do exactly what you have done. I just didn’t expect it would ever be you.

Now the writer is calling his friend a false prophet and expressing surprise and shock. Harris has made some adjustments in his thinking and he’s probably not through making adjustments. Yes, there is also pain and disappointment in the statement, “I just didn’t expect it would ever be you.” The writer had high expectations. But maybe this was part of the problem to begin with. Lofty ideals that were a bit unrealistic.

I do commend you for the intellectual integrity for recognizing that your secondary views (embracing the LGBT agenda, etc.) are utterly inconsistent with Christianity—as is your view that it is ok to walk away from your marriage for the reasons you have stated. Both of these proved that you had renounced Christianity before you said so publicly.

A lot of people are really struggling with how to respond to the LGBT lifestyle. We cannot condemn them for not wanting to condemn others or finding the biblical view difficult to embrace. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree on points. I think this writer felt compelled to carry out a mandate of correction.

As to Harris walking away from his marriage. That is one of the most painful and conflicting experiences a person will ever go through. Again, ask the question, “What happened?” This is much more helpful.

My heart aches for you in so many ways. It seems that you thought that Christianity was a series of formulas. Formulas for marriage. Formulas for systematic theology. Fear of choosing the wrong formula. Fear of failing to live up to your formula.

Of course his heart aches. But I think Harris will feel shattered when he reads this because someone he deeply trusted is not willing to sit with him and listen to his thought process and feelings.

So, if Harris really did think Christianity was a system of formulas, (maybe the writer knows something) then it may indeed be a very good thing that he is de-constructing his “formula” and trying to find out what it is he actually believes. People need space and time to do this. We as Christians can offer this to them and say, “Take your time. Seek God. He will show you.”

If his was a fear-based “faith” maybe by making some changes he can go deeper and find the true basis of faith, that goes beyond fear.

Having said that, it is not wrong to fear God, or to fear doing wrong. But there is so much more context we have to include. It sounds to me like the writer may be living according to formulas and fears. The two men did come from similar backgrounds.

You know that I believe in the general approach to courtship that made you famous and pretty rich. You included the story of my oldest daughter and her husband in your second book.

I still believe that purity of mind and body before marriage is the right ideal. But it is not a formula for a happy marriage. It is simply a guiding principle that has to be applied with wisdom, grace, and often forgiveness.

Here is a kernel of truth, but a truth-speaker may not be what Harris is in need of during his time of crisis, and I observe this as a crisis when his former close friend cannot reach him to speak to him in private. I think the writer is genuinely trying to be helpful and as Christians this is where we fail so often, and then we end up being offended, when it was our approach that caused the offense.

I would never reach this conclusion about you on my own but what you have said yourself can be fairly summarized as this: you thought your faith and your marriage were based on formulas. They never went deeper than that.

Jesus says about people like you that in the last judgment, He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

You know that this means you never actually knew Him.

As immersed as you were in Christian culture and a career as a pastor, you never actually knew Jesus.

It gives me only heart ache to say these things to you. And Jesus will take no pleasure in pronouncing those words in judgment of you or anyone.

Ouch! Even if Harris said that, to repeat it in this way is just not kind. And what follows is not really our place to say. God is the one who judges our hearts. Of course, this is a conclusion I have come to after many years and making many errors. For someone trained in theology, the Calvinist view is that if you are once a Christian you cannot fall away, so the writer explains to himself that Harris “never actually knew Him.” I don’t believe this is true. It is also not consistent with what he wrote earlier. The writer clearly thought Harris was a Christian at one time. Now he calls him a false prophet, but says his message is still valid. Lots of contradictions here.

Quite simply, Harris is re-thinking his faith. He might throw it away. I don’t think he has done that yet. From what I have observed he is seeking for a more comprehensive truth. This is a scary place to be. But he can come forth as gold, after he is tried. This is the hope we need to hold out for someone we love as a “brother.”

You haven’t walked away from a relationship with Jesus. You have walked away from the culture you were raised in.

So, as I said, another contradiction. But this may be the only message the writer actually needed to communicate. Harris has walked away from a culture.

Jesus still loves you at this moment. And so do I and countless others. And I will love you no matter what in the days ahead. But my love is tinged in deep sadness.

Josh, you and your story are not the measure of the validity of Christianity.

Jesus is real. He doesn’t want you to return to your prior formulas. He wants you to come to Him for the first time and learn to love.

I can hear the heartfelt love in this letter, but the sad thing is that it will not be perceived as loving, at least I don’t think so. So I hurt for both parties. And I see that I have done what the writer has done, provided a critique. Finding the balance between correction and simple compassion is tricky. But I think none of the above was news to Harris and most of it didn’t bear repeating and was actually offensive because it showed a lack of understanding and a lack of support. It was motivated by fear, fear of Harris falling away and maybe fear of him taking others with him. Our God is bigger. He can handle the questions and struggles we have. Maybe it will lead to error at times. Maybe it will lead to greater understanding of truth. Let’s look at the whole person, all Harris has strived to do. That person is still there, wanting what is best. I believe this. And I believe God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. Let’s come alongside the seekers. It’s not about our disappointment. It’s about offering hope.

I am praying for you, Josh.

With love and sorrow.

Mike Farris

Posted in Children, Communication, Home, Marriage & Family, parenting

What I Would Change if I Could Parent My Children Again

leo-rivas-wtxcaDIdOCM-unsplash
Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

If I had the chance to go back and parent my children again, what I would change?

When thinking about what I would change, I have to look at my values. What is most important to me? What was most important to me when I was raising my children? What mattered most and why was that so important? Was I true to what was important to me? And were my methods effective?

We tend to follow the model set by our own parents. It is all we know, as children, but later we begin to examine other models. We watch other families, we read books, listen to podcasts or sermons, watch videos, and attend parenting seminars. Some of the input I gleaned from these sources was very helpful to me.

Here are the things that I wanted and were important to me as a parent.

  1. I wanted my children to like me.
  2. I wanted my children to respect me.
  3. I wanted my children to be happy.
  4. I wanted other children and adults to like my children.
  5. I wanted my children to like and respect other children and adults.
  6. I wanted my children to be healthy and safe from harm and injury.
  7. I wanted to train my children in such a way that they would have a successful future as adults.
  8. I wanted to train my children in such a way that we would have a good relationship as adults.
  9. I wanted to pass on my values to my children.

I look back, now, and ask myself if I accomplished my objectives. How well did I do? Were the methods I chose the best ones I could have used? Could I have done some things differently and possibly had a better outcome?

With any responsibility there is daily opportunity for success and failure. Each day requires an evaluation of what went right and what went wrong and from these evaluations we can determine how to make more suitable choices and how to carry out a more effective plan the next day or the next week. As someone has said, the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. For a different outcome, there must be a new input. A change—large or small—is necessary.

Wanting my children to like me and respect me

The first and most important thing I realized in parenting was that who I was would determine how I would act, as a mother, and whether my children would like me and respect me. They were watching me. They would see my flaws. They would benefit from my strengths.

I saw that these little people needed me to be a strong and wise and consistent person in their lives. If I was this kind of person then they would feel confident in my leadership. They would like me, and they would respect me.

Parenting is about leadership. We show our children a pattern of behavior that we want them to follow. We care for them. We plan activities. We play with them. All this time we are teaching them how to respond to life. From our approach to life they determine how to engage with life and even whether life itself is worth living. They pick up our hope for the future, and, conversely, our hopelessness.

Wanting my children to be happy

There are discussions going on these days about whether or not it is a wise thing to pursue happiness. I wanted happiness for my children. I don’ t think it was a bad thing to want for them. I wanted each day to be happy. I made a point of being cheerful in the morning when I awoke them. I tried to maintain my cheerfulness and optimism throughout the day. Bedtime needed to be a happy time as I put them to rest with sweet thoughts and feelings. The reason I did this was because I heard from someone that as adults our happy childhood memories will sustain us through the difficult times. We had regular “happy family times” that we looked forward to when we would do fun things as a family, such as play a game or have popcorn with a movie in the living room. We took pleasure in simple, ordinary things like a good meal or snack, or a family walk in the neighborhood, or camping, or gardening in our small backyard. I tried to model enthusiasm and instill wonder and curiosity–traits that contribute to happiness.

Wanting my children to respect others and have others like them

I wanted others to like our children, so I treated other adults with respect and spoke respectfully about them. I especially treated their father with respect and required that they did the same, even in times when I disagreed with him.

We were delighted to host other families and have them over for meals. This was a highlight for me and for our children. My culinary skills were put to the test and honed. Our children saw this. They shared my pleasure. Children are encouraged by the risks we take and the competence we show. It gives them confidence that they can do the same, and confident, adventurous children are more likable.

Wanting my children to have a successful future

I knew that work would always be an important part of our children’s lives. If they could hold a job and be good employees that would greatly impact their success as adults. So I started giving them small responsibilities early and I modeled a positive attitude towards work. They might do the dishes grudgingly some days, but it was required. They might not clean up their rooms as regularly as I wished, but I modeled tidiness in the home. They learned personal discipline through weekly chores like cleaning bathrooms. When we were offered the job of vacuuming the hallways in our small apartment building, we realized that our sons were old enough to do this and we gave them the job, along with the income. They saved the money to buy bikes and had their first sense of the power of work to give them what they wanted. This was a lesson in responsibility. They each held part time jobs while they were still in school. Work would not always be fun, but it was an unavoidable fact and a means to an important end, that end being to put food on the table and pay the bills. Growing up, my parents required that I give 90% of my income to them. We did not expect this of our sons because we wanted them to learn to be responsible with their money and see that they could accomplish their goals. We did, however, incorporate a very realistic aspect into their financial responsibility training. Once they had full time jobs they contributed to the expenses of the family by paying a minimal amount in rent which essentially covered their food costs.

We encouraged our children to explore music and art and technology, anything that might round out their skills and better equip them as adults.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

So, what would I change in how I raised my family, if I could do it again? I think my values are still very much the same, but I know I would pay attention to a few areas where I could have done better.

I would reach out more

If I had it to do over again, I would still focus on a happy childhood. But I would reach out more to others and teach my children to observe needs and meet them. I was so focused on meeting their needs that I did not teach this very well.

In a small family of two children my sons missed out on the opportunity of caring for infants and small children under my supervision. I was the eldest of seven siblings and gained a lot of experience as a result. I did not see that my sons were not benefiting from the same experience.

I also did not teach them the value of visiting and looking after the elderly or the infirm because I was so caught up with my job and volunteer responsibilities.

I would speak more openly about suffering and injustice and our response

Although it is important to have a happy home, I would be more realistic with my children and talk more openly about the pain and suffering and evil in the world, at an appropriate age. I would share coping skills with them, and possible ways of thinking about and responding to what happens in the world.

I would include warnings about abusive behavior and train them in assertiveness

In teaching our children about respect for others, I would also include warnings about when blind respect can go wrong. I would be more open, once again, at an appropriate age, about signs of abuse. I would teach them about discernment and what emotional abuse looks and feels like. I would teach them how to say no and set boundaries.

I would be involved in talking about sex

I left the sex talks to my husband and I would be involved in this important area if I had it to do over again. A wife and mother has much to contribute and I missed my chance.

I would emphasize the importance of good communication skills

All of our lives we are going to be communicating with people and our success will depend to a great degree on our relational skills. We must model good communication skills to our children and I fell short in this area. Our sons turned out to be fairly good communicators, however, I notice areas where they could have benefited from skills such as negotiation and conflict resolution. Later in life I took helpful training in these areas. I wish this training would have been available to me much earlier because then my family might have enjoyed the long term benefits.

Those are a few of the things I would change. There is little point in living with remorse, as a parent. I know I did the best I knew to do at the time and I was aware that I wouldn’t be a perfect parent. None of us are. But we can still learn, even later in life, and become more effective in our various leadership roles. Maybe others can even learn from the areas where we failed. I’m hopeful that in some way what I have gleaned will be helpful to others. I have a undying admiration for those who take on the life-long responsibility of parenting.