Instagram Apostasy Stirs Controversy Over Christian ‘Influencers’

Joshua Harris delivers a TEDx Talk in 2017. Video screenshot

In the photo accompanying the announcement of his “massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus,” posted on Instagram in late July, Christian pastor Joshua Harris stands at the edge of aquamarine waters, resolutely looking ahead.

In the caption, the author of the hugely influential 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” told his followers, “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.”

When, weeks later, Marty Sampson of the popular Christian music group Hillsong Worship, posted a similar statement on the popular social media platform, saying he is “genuinely losing my faith,” apostasy suddenly seemed to be, well, trending.

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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.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

A post shared by Joshua Harris (@harrisjosh) on

Deconstructing or denouncing one’s faith isn’t new, pointed out pastor-turned-secular humanist speaker and author Bart Campolo.

“What’s new is that they’re doing it on social media, and so the response that they’re getting and the way it’s being spread around is very different,” he said.

Many of those responses have come from other Christians.

That includes John Cooper of the Christian metal band Skillet, who followed Harris and Sampson with his own Instagram post, asking, “What in God’s name is happening in Christianity?”

“More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once ‘faces’ of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it,” wrote Cooper, who, along with sleeve tattoos and a footlong wedge of beard, has the bearing of an evangelical senior statesman.

The fact that a former Christian “influencer” would continue to want to influence followers even after leaving the faith is “sad and depressing and even upsetting,” he added.

Adult influencers “should know that social media is not your diary,” the musician told Religion News Service, saying it can be confusing and even hurtful to those followers who look to influencers for guidance.

“If you are a leader and you have been leading people in the faith for 20 years, you don’t throw that out on the Internet,” he said.

Cooper also worries about the influence Christians give to “worship leaders and Christian thought leaders,” he said.

“Let’s just face it, some of this is all of our faults, because as Christians we have more of an appetite for entertainment than we do for what I would call pressing into God.”

Trillia Newbell, author and director of community outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, also responded on social media to both Harris’ and Sampson’s announcements.

Newbell, too, was disappointed that both leaders chose to make statements publicly. What’s more, she said, their statements didn’t seem to be questioning, but rather proud, telling people not to feel bad for them.

In his post, Harris said he doesn’t “view this moment negatively”; Sampson assured followers he is “so happy now, so at peace with the world.”

Newbell stressed that she feels sorrow and compassion for them.

“I don’t know what they are experiencing or what they’re going through. And I just think if they are God’s, if they truly are his, they’re gonna come back — like you cannot outrun the Lord,” she said.

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Source: Religion News Service