The evangelical Christian community has been buzzing following the announcement Joshua Harris gave last month that he is separating from his wife and from his identity as a Christian. Responses to Josh’s decisions have been mixed, and many prominent figures in the Christian community have chosen to speak out. Among those to give a response was Eric Ludy, a leader of the Christian purity movement around the same time Josh Harris was gaining attention for his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Eric Ludy and his wife, Leslie, are the authors of more than a dozen books on the subjects of Christian relationships and dating. Since the 1999 release of their best-selling book, When God Writes Your Love Story, they have become leading speakers on the topics of biblical purity, masculinity, and femininity.
I personally read and was heavily influenced by the work of Eric Ludy and his wife, Leslie, and I was intrigued to read Eric’s take on Josh Harris’s recent announcements. Below is a summary of the five-part series Eric published in response to Josh Harris, along with my thoughts as someone who, like Josh, has gone through a deconstruction of my former evangelical beliefs.
Twelve years after retiring from the subject of Christian sexual purity, Eric Ludy is getting back in the game. Having both stood for a higher standard of Christian sexual purity during the 1990s and 2000s, Eric does not take Josh’s divorce and abandonment of his faith lightly. While affirming his “brotherly love for [Josh] has not diminished” in light of recent events, Eric pulls no punches calling Josh out and speaks his mind about what he believes Josh’s divorce and departure from the faith really is:
An attack on purity, heteronormativity, godly masculinity/ femininity, God’s character, and marriage.
Although both Josh and the Ludy’s were leaders in the purity movement, Eric is quick to distance himself from Josh by saying Josh’s version of purity promoted legalism and formulas—a ‘purity prosperity gospel,’ so to speak. Give God a-b-c, and get x-y-z as a result. Eric and Leslie, on the other hand, promoted “true purity as God intended it to be,” a total surrender of one’s will to Jesus, including one’s love life, with no promises of any certain outcome in return.
Eric writes, “We did not want our message or our own story to be made into a formula,” and believes he is innocent of promoting the formula-based version of purity he alleges Josh must have championed. If Josh had been teaching God’s true purity like the Ludy’s, Eric reasons, he wouldn’t be kissing his wife and his faith goodbye.
All that being said, Eric’s major shortcoming in this first article is his lack of questioning what role he and his wife possibly had in promoting unhealthy views of purity like Josh. He seems to be heavily under the impression that neither he or Leslie preached any hint of formula-based sexual purity. I heartily disagree.
This entire second article is about Eric’s obsession with the principle “there are always two.”
An Esau, and a Jacob. A goat, and a sheep. In other words, you’re either on God’s bad side, or you’re on God’s good side. You either do things your own selfish way, or you do things God’s glorious way. According to Eric Ludy, everyone falls into one of these two camps. No exceptions.
Eric accuses Josh of forgetting this concept of twos, or never having learned it to begin with, but that’s not the most unsettling part of this article to me. Eric writes,
There are always two. Now, right before your eyes this maxim has once again been proven true. There is Joshua Harris’s take on the purity movement and there is Eric Ludy’s take. One of these guys is kissing his marriage and his Christianity goodbye, while the other has barrels of heavenly oil sloshing about inside him, a buoyant laughter always leaping in his soul, and a deeper love for his wife than should be legal this side of Heaven.
Does anyone else find this unashamed statement a bit disturbing? Perhaps Eric’s marriage and faith in Jesus remain unwavering, but I think he’d be better off dumping out some of that heavenly oil he’s evidently so filled with to make room for a few large gulps of humility.
It’s true that Josh Harris is getting a divorce and leaving his Christian identity while Eric Ludy is seemingly the polar opposite, but that doesn’t mean Josh is choosing a lesser life. On the contrary, Josh stated in the same post announcing his departure from Christianity that “I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.”
It would seem Eric’s principle that “there are always two” doesn’t take into account thirds, fourths, or anything beyond the possibility of staunch dualism. I believe narrow-minded is the appropriate word to describe this principle of twos.
The principle of twos returns again in article three, this time in the form of two kinds of apologies. According to Eric, when in a position to speak the truth one can:
1. Stifle the truth to save face and retain political correctness, or
2. Act like a real apologist by refusing to stand down on an unpopular view.
Of course, Eric believes Josh embodies the former and is abandoning his previous views for the purpose of gaining popularity. Alternatively, Eric calls himself “an apologist for sexual purity” and makes clear he has no shame in preaching what he believes to be the truth.
What Eric fails to consider here is why Josh is leaving behind his previous beliefs about purity. Having taken a hard look at the impact of his teachings, Josh’s apology and shift in views are appropriate responses to realizing his responsibility in causing harm to many people. Given the harsh backlash he’s received from many in the Christian community (Eric Ludy being among them) in light of his announcements, Josh’s decision to go public with these major life changes indicates anything BUT a desire to save face.
The fourth installment of Eric Ludy’s response begins oddly with Eric blaming the devil for the downfall of Josh’s marriage and faith (rather than blaming, say, growing personal differences between Josh and his wife). Ultimately, Eric believes Josh succumbed to what he can only imagine was a constant barrage of spiritual warfare resulting from his devil-opposing teaching of godly sexuality.
In other words, in a leaking boat struggling to stay afloat without 24/7 effort to bail the water out, Josh chose to abandon ship.
Rather than call it quits when the going gets too rough, Eric again returns to his idea that “there are always two!” You can either, one, suffer and grow stronger in your faith through difficult trials, or you can, two, complain about your suffering and tap out when situations don’t turn out the way you wanted.
Eric believes Josh has ditched his marriage and faith because the purity prosperity gospel Josh believed in didn’t work. Eric’s diagnosis of Josh’s problem is succinct: “Joshua Harris has suffered great difficulties, but these difficulties beat down his faith instead of building him up in Christ. I can’t tell you why, but he has been suffering incorrectly.” [emphasis added]
The correct way to deal with suffering? Cleary, it’s to wait upon the Lord in the midst of suffering and experience God’s promise of renewed strength. Unsurprisingly, Eric doesn’t explain in practical terms what this looks like or how to do this.
Eric might like to think everything in life can be boiled down to two distinct options, but anyone who has any knowledge of psychology (or has lived any length of time on earth as a human being) knows dealing with suffering is not as cut-and-dried as Eric would like to think it is. Based on his view of suffering, I’d bet Eric believes self-care and personal boundaries are of the devil as well.
Readers beware: Eric wraps up his Joshua Harris response series with heavy spiritual guilt-tripping.
Drawing from his and Leslie’s less-than-perfect experience of adopting two of their children, Eric at least admits in this final article there are indeed those who follow “God’s pattern” for dating and don’t end up with a happily ever after like he and Leslie did.
He dances around answering why this is, and instead urges readers to rely on God’s promise that he will bring “beauty from ashes” (Isaiah 61:3).
How does God bring beauty from the ashes of human suffering? Eric believes that’s largely up to you. Choose to let your pain and trauma turn into cynicism, and you risk losing your faith (aka, become another Josh Harris). But choose to take your suffering to Jesus to be restored, and you’ll walk out the other side with loyalty to God and faith still intact.
That’s what every truly devoted believer should be capable of doing, right?
The massive problem with Eric’s message in this fifth and final article is this: he asks ad nauseam whether his readers will stay stuck focusing on life’s pain, or if they’ll choose to lift their eyes to heaven during times of inexplicable difficulty. This is the ultimatum. You can imagine which decision Eric pushes readers to make (because remember, there are always two!).
What disturbed me the most about Eric’s conclusion to this Josh Harris response series is how familiar it all felt. As I read, I was taken back to the days of my former relationship and how my ex tried to diminish my feelings by admonishing me to focus harder on my faith. Just as my human suffering was belittled back then in the name of Christ, so is Eric sweeping the suffering of real, hurting people under the rug of extreme religious devotion.
There was a time I would’ve listened to words like Eric Ludy’s, swallowed my ‘selfishness,’ and devoted myself harder to Jesus. Eric’s words are eloquent. Metaphorical. Convicting even. However, the beauty that God brought out of my ashes was an ability to call out spiritual manipulation for what it is when I see it. And what I see in Eric’s writing here is nothing short of full-on spiritual manipulation.
Eric would like to woo his readers with appeals to emotion and metaphors about staring at mud (a symbol for suffering) when one could be looking up at the stars instead (metaphorically, surrendering to Jesus), and even claims to recognize there is a lot of real mud in the world. But if Eric truly recognized the scope of hurt and trauma countless people have endured—especially those injured by the Christian faith itself—he would be begging people to seek professional help to heal, not telling them to essentially ignore their pain and slap a spiritual Band-Aid on their problems.
In the version of Christianity Eric Ludy preaches, there is no room for what I call “the third.” In his determination to dichotomize Christianity, he ignores the existence of anyone who does not spiritually fit into one of his two recognized camps. Joshua Harris is a “third.” I am a “third.” And so are thousands of other Christian progressives, agnostics, ex-evangelicals, and mystics.
Sure, you can attempt to broadly split Christianity into those who follow Jesus and those who do not. However, where is the beauty and nuance in that? Consider those like me who did follow Jesus, with our whole hearts even, and now find ourselves for one reason or another on the outskirts of the Christian faith. By limiting Christianity to two categories—in or out—you miss the entire spectrum of the Christian faith that exists in between.
While not everyone is satisfied with Josh’s apologies and attempts to right his wrongs, he has at least acknowledged that harm has been caused because of his work, and he’s opened himself up to receive feedback. That is more than Eric Ludy has done in his five-part response, especially given the fact there is not even a place to comment on his articles.
Eric and Leslie Ludy, you do not have to follow Josh Harris down the same path of “deconstruction.” I would like to challenge you, however, to learn from Josh’s example of humility. The purity movement as a whole hurt thousands of people worldwide, and I believe it’s time you considered what impact your work specifically had in contributing to that harm.
I am planning a video series where I reread and review the most personally damaging of the Ludy’s books, Answering the Guy Questions by Leslie Ludy. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to not miss out!