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