Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Josh Harris, once one of America's most famous evangelical pastors, admitted in his first interview since renouncing Christianity that he ruined lives and marriages, so he excommunicated himself from the faith that made him famous.

  • "If you're not living according to the teaching of the Bible, and you're living in unrepentant sin, then you have to be put out of the church," Harris told "Axios on HBO" during an interview near his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. "I excommunicated myself, essentially."

Harris stunned his tightknit world by going on Instagram in July and announcing that he was leaving his marriage and — nine days later — that he was no longer a Christian.

Many of his former followers "are angry — understandably," he told me.

  • As for the bad advice in his books, one of which sold more than 1 million copies, he said: "I apologized for it. I unpublished the books. I pulled the books off the market. But you can't give people [back], you know, years of their life."
  • "It was a long process for me. I started seeing that the book really had misled a lot of people."

Why it matters: Harris, 44, is emblematic of a generational split among evangelical Christians. Those older than him tended to live according to a rigid fundamentalism, and they often insisted their kids do the same.

  • Many younger Christians think they can better adhere to modern society while sacrificing no teachings of God or Jesus.

The big picture: Harris — whose parents were among the nation's leading proponents of homeschooling, putting him in the spotlight early — was a leading face and voice of the old school.

  • At 21, he published "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," a manual for conservative young Christians that sold 1.2 million copies. He has since renounced the book and withdrawn it from publication: "[I]n an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts ... that are not in the Bible." At the time, he followed his own advice: He says the first time he kissed his wife was at the altar.
  • At 30, he became the lead pastor of the massive Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which at its height drew 4,000 worshippers each Sunday. About 50 staff and pastors reported to Harris. Covenant Life and its parent, Sovereign Grace Ministries, were later hit with a child abuse scandal. Harris told me that the church tried to handle cases internally when the authorities should have been called. Amid a church split, Harris left in 2015.

Now, Harris is the father of three teenagers, will be divorcing his wife of 20 years, spends some Sunday morning doing yoga — and thinks he made massive mistakes.

  • "I was a leader and a spokesman and I called people to live in very particular ways, to sacrifice in very particular ways," he said. "And so for me to change in my thinking feels like a betrayal to them."
  • "I was really just trying to be honest about the fact that all the ways that I had defined faith and Christianity, that I was no longer choosing to live according to those."

Between the lines: Harris — who has started a company called Clear & Loud to help businesses tell their stories — chose not to say what his "unrepentant sin" is, although he noted that "oftentimes, that's related to sexuality."

  • He didn't want to be more specific: "It's like if the answer to the question of my sexuality puts me inside or outside of your circle, accepted or unaccepted, ... I don't want to be friends, you know? F--- you and f--- your circle. That's how I feel. And so that's why I don't feel any need to answer that question."

Asked how much of a connection he sees between the fundamentalist doctrine of fear and the current political climate, Harris replied: "Fear is easily manipulated by political leaders."

  • "The more chaotic the world is, the more people want someone to tell them what to do. And when people are afraid, they latch on to people who say, 'I have the answers.'"

The bottom line: Harris once was one of those people. But no more.

  • "Someone said, 'I don't believe in God, but I miss Him.' I can relate to that."
Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
Please enter a valid email.
Please enter a valid email.
Server error. Please try a different email.
Subscribed! Look for Axios AM and PM in your inbox tomorrow or read the latest Axios AM now.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

U.S. ahead of pace on vaccines

A health care worker administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Ruleville, Mississippi. Photo: Rory Doyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is now vaccinating an average of 2 million people a day, up from 1.3 million in early February.

Why it matters: That puts us on track to hit President Biden's goal of 100 million doses a month ahead of schedule.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is forcing the Senate clerk to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, a procedural move that will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate.

4 hours ago - World

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Netanyahu campaigns at a gym last month. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.