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Doing hard things

A former homeschool rising star reflects on the polarizing ideologies that shaped a generation of young people


Illustration by John Jay Cabuay

Doing hard things

Attorney Alex Harris is a Patrick Henry College and Harvard Law School graduate. His father, Gregg Harris, was an early homeschool pioneer, and brother Josh Harris is a former pastor and author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In 2008, at age 19, Alex and his twin Brett published Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. We’ve edited this interview for length and clarity.

How did your family homeschool? A lot of exploring the woods, climbing trees, doing things I can’t imagine letting my 9-year-old daughter do today. Reading. We put on a lot of plays and skits and made home movies with elaborate costumes. We did school year-round, so Brett and I were pretty much done with our formal high-school education at 16, which allowed us to launch our website and ministry.

You rocketed to a kind of celebrity. How did that affect you? The actual experience at the time was almost a sense of destiny. Because of our parents, virtually all the kids we knew were homeschooled. Most were not allowed to date because of our older brother. We thought if God can use Mom, Dad, and big brother Josh, he can use us, too. Thankfully our parents and people in our lives recognized the fast-track hazards, so at the height of the popularity of Do Hard Things and the speaking invitations, we went to college. We were able to just be students, to learn, “Oh wow, I don’t know how to write an essay.” Being in a classroom setting for the first time in our lives was in retrospect exactly what we needed.

Your brother Josh didn’t have that escape from celebrity and has deconstructed publicly. He went from being home­schooled and getting onto the conference speaking circuit, to writing this best-selling book at age 21, to becoming a pastor and the heir apparent for a megachurch, becoming the senior pastor at age 30—even though he’s never gone to college and didn’t have a seminary degree. At no point was his identity not wrapped up in his position of influence. It’s very hard to have genuine friendship with people who view you as a celebrity.

A lot of pressure? You don’t feel like you can express doubt or vulnerability because that could be devastating to the person you’re talking to, could threaten the church, the gospel movement. That’s a weight of authority and pressure I don’t think any believer should carry, let alone someone who went straight from high school to being a senior pastor. That didn’t serve Josh. “Deconstruction” is a slippery term. Complete rejection? Cleansing, reforming? I don’t know exactly where Josh is on that spectrum, but he still, I think, has a heart for the church and a desire to see it be healthier. I have a lot of hope. I don’t think his story is over.

Your book, Do Hard Things, urged young people to take on responsibility. Has Josh’s trajectory added nuance? There was some nuance from the beginning. When Brett and I took a step back to go to college, we were trying to be an example to our readers that doing hard things doesn’t always mean pursuing the most exciting thing. But in the book, you read these examples of kids changing the world, raising tens of thousands of dollars, getting on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. The message many people got was that doing hard things is building to the most prestigious accomplishment. That’s not the truth.

The message many people got was that doing hard things is building to the most prestigious accomplishment. That’s not the truth.

What have been your hard things? Often, the hardest things in my life have been what no one sees. Faithfulness is very different than pursuing the limelight or achieving the highest position you can achieve. Often turning down those positions because that’s the path of wisdom and faithfulness is the much harder thing and the right thing.

In March you wrote a Twitter thread about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, homeschooling, and “Christian nationalism.” How would you define that term? It’s idolatry of country, which crosses the line from patriotism to putting our hope and even our sense of spiritual salvation in policies, parties, or politicians. The Bible says not to put your hope in princes: Our kingdom is a future kingdom. Christian nationalism twists that into putting our hope in our country either remaining or returning to its roots as a Christian nation.

What’s the relationship between home­schooling and Christian nationalism in the United States? The homeschooling movement has many streams, but one is influenced by Christian Reconstructionism: the view that God’s kingdom will be established on earth before Christ’s return, that God’s law remains the proper law to govern even modern civil society, and that true Christians should be working to bring that about. Some early Christian homeschooling curriculum talks about America as a chosen Christian nation. The implication is to fight to keep it a Christian nation.

The idea of a Joshua Generation? In this analogy, Christian homeschool parents were like Moses in the Old Testament: They fled out of the public-school systems and the moral depravity of secular culture to raise their children in the wilderness. Their children, like Joshua, the heir to Moses, would rise up and take America back for God. We would have more babies than the atheists, but more than that, Christian homeschool graduates would be an elite strike force steeped in a thoroughly conservative view of politics, law, science, history, and apologetics, and trained in debate, public speaking, and political campaigning.

When homeschoolers grew up? We would be the presidents and the Supreme Court justices and the leading Hollywood directors. Many Christian homeschooling parents did not buy into these ideas, but they were widespread and many people viewed homeschooling as key to winning the culture wars. Children became weapons, “like arrows in the hand of a warrior,” to quote Psalm 127. That’s a very unhealthy approach to politics, culture, homeschooling, childrearing. It’s very fear driven. It’s very Christian nationalist.

You would not expect to see any major party platform perfectly aligned with Biblical principles in the 21st century.

Did it succeed? It’s too early to say what the end of the story is. I have many friends who have achieved remarkable success early in life. They’re walking the halls of Congress, they’re in the West Wing, at the Supreme Court, with top defense contractors, in mainstream media outlets. Yet those raised to be that Joshua Generation have continued to read the Bible and have started to question this project.

How? We see the fruits of a Christian nationalist way of viewing politics. We see some in our parents’ generation equate faith and the Republican Party platform in ways that seem forced and not fully Biblical. You would not expect to see any major party platform perfectly aligned with Biblical principles in the 21st century, yet that’s how many Christians view politics and their faith. In January, after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I publicly called for the impeachment of President Trump. Many homeschool parents, members of the Moses Generation, weren’t thrilled with my doing that. When I was in high school, some people promised to vote for me when I was running for president someday. Some now view me as seduced by the world because I’m not supporting President Trump.

How did others react? Other Joshua Generation homeschool graduates sent messages of encouragement and agreement. They are still committed believers and often conservative, but they were the most concerned about mixing faith and politics and using Christianity as a political prop. These are young men and women who’ve been taught to think critically, to seek the truth. They’ve been taught that character counts, and not to just go along with the culture around them. They are putting into practice what they learned, with the beautiful irony that they’re doing this even to the Christian subculture that they were raised in.

Some homeschool graduates embrace a Christian nationalist vision? The fruit of Christian homeschooling is mixed. Many Christian homeschool graduates have embraced that approach to politics. One speaker at the Stop the Steal rally [held Jan. 6 before some attendees participated in the Capitol riot] was Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., a homeschool graduate who participated in homeschool debate. He’s one of the youngest members of Congress, which indicates the impact from these ways of training and raising homeschool graduates. But what’s encouraging to me is that the vast majority of those who have achieved the prized influence have by and large rejected the project. Many are seeking to be faithful, yet are not trying to “take America back for God.”

If critical thinking, learning to read and communicate well, and going against the grain are the baby in the bathwater of homeschooling, how can current homeschool parents ditch the bathwater and keep the baby? There’s so much baby, so much good. The key insight of the homeschooling movement was recognizing that, as parents, we have a responsibility for our children’s education. My wife and I have homeschooled our daughter, and we try to be very thoughtful about what curriculum we use. That’s a big part of the baby in the bathwater process for us.

Do you plan to continue homeschooling or are you looking at other options? As long as we are seeking to be faithful, there’s no right way to do it as a Christian. That’s a very freeing thing. We take it a year at a time.


Esther Eaton

Esther reports on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.

@EstherJay10

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MSMI4089

Kevin DeYoung has a timely article on Christian Nationalism in World Opinions (https://wng.org/opinions), https://wng.org/opinions/what-to-do-with-christian-nationalism-1637239282. Alex would do well to read it. Christian Nationalism is an easy straw man that you can knock down to distinguish yourself from those "bad" kind of Christians.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among home schooled kids recently. They want to escape from being identified as home schooled. It was hilariously exemplified to us by an occurrence on my son's home school basketball team. One of the boys on the team told my son, "You're home-schooled!" My son said, "So are you!?". To which the boy replied, "But you're more home schooled than I am".

Alex apparently no longer wants to be identified as home schooled.

HTR

After this comment by Harris, "In January, after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I publicly called for the impeachment of President Trump," 2 good follow up questions by a solid journalist would have been:

(1) Why do you call it "the insurrection" when no one involved has been charged with insurrection?
(2) What do you consider the grounds for the impeachment of President Trump?

I would have loved to have heard his answers to that.

Elaine

Ester Eaton's interview with Alex Harris leaves much to be desired. She agreed with his opinion that the Jan 6th protest was an "insurrection" which it was not in any way and then goes on to agree with Alex that too many Believers are actually Christian nationalists - whatever that actually means. I am sorry that she and Alex have such a twisted idea of Christianity in America today. And I am sorry they paint a negative broad brush of Christian homeschoolers today.

Salty1

God has graciously brought Trump on the scene to not bring division in Christiandome, though that has happened, but to cause us to wrestle with our direction and focus as the church as the end-end* days draw nearer. Those who criticize us for engaging in the cultural war lack critical thinking, biblical thinking and are foolishly endangering the church.

We aren’t “Christian Nationalists” but believe in the Great Commission of bringing the gospel message to the world along with all things that God teaches us in the word (Matt 28:16-20). This includes promoting the standards of God in society and making the society conducive for the church to grow and prosper so we can bring the gospel to the ends of the world. It includes standing fast against the forces that are attempting to destroy the church in America and all nations of the earth. It means we aren’t seduced by the lies and deceptions of the left, but we stand against them.

When Big Tech attempts to “control the flow of data” by censoring on the internet, we don’t automatically believe what they say (e.g. the election wasn’t stolen, your kids need the vaccination, Trump was in collusion with the Russians, the push of immigrants into the USA is not done for political purposes, etc.) because all the experts and leftist MSM say this.

As Trump said so eloquently, “The left hates me because they hate you!” If you engage in discussions on the Internet about the Christian faith, you see the hatred and disdain the left have for our Christian beliefs. Here I leave out the political dynamic and look only at our Christian beliefs. Are you a creationist? They treat you as anti-scientific and ignorant. Do you believe in traditional marriage? You are a bigot and dangerous. Do you believe and respect the Constitution**? You are a radical and a threat to this nation. Do you believe that God is holy and sends unbelievers to hell for eternity? You are a sociopath and intolerant. You believe that God’s moral standards are found in the Bible? You are a racist and intolerant. Do you believe God is above the state? You are a religious nut job who is a threat to the state. You believe the Bible is good? You are a racist bigot and religious fanatic. This hatred is growing against Christians and we shouldn’t be naive that much of what we see politically is directed at us because of our faith.

Christians need to understand that the cultural war is becoming more dangerous as the left and haters of God have won over many institutions: the schools, universities, the Internet, business, many government organizations, the military, etc. They are weaponizing these institutions and seeking to destroy us no different than Haman did in Esther’s time. This is a warning but no cause to fear for we serve a powerful God who will not allow anything to happen without His will. In other words, we are not fear mongers but are honestly looking at what is happening in the world and seeking Christians to fight against the forces that seek to destroy us.

The division brought about by the election of Trump should bring us to think again how we should respond to the political front.

As the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was drawing to a close, two weeks before the election a political hit was done by the left against Trump by airing his vulgar trash tack about groping women. These words were spoken about ten years before. The response was immediate by many Christians and World magazine who said they couldn’t support a candidate who would say such things.

But all of this raised some very good questions: 1) Do the foolish words of a candidate disqualify them from the Christian vote? 2) Does a candidate have to be a Christian in order for Christians to vote for them? 3) Should a candidate for office be held to a standard of morality and what standard should that be? 4) What standards or rules should we use in voting between two or more candidates?

Notice that these above questions have nothing to do with “Christian Nationalism” but are basic questions that every Christian should wrestle with. On the one side you had the pietists who would cut their nose off to spite themselves. Either they will vote for a third party candidate who has no viability bringing a much worse candidate to power, or they won’t vote at all bringing the same result. In other words if their candidate doesn’t have the moral standards of a pastor they wouldn’t vote for them and would sit out the election letting the very worst candidate win. On the other side is the pragmatic view that we use scripture as the guide. What the Bible instructs us to pray for politically is the political ends we should seek. 1 Tim. 2:1-4 says:

“2 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Paul clues us in to what God wants for us politically, where our lives are free from entanglements preventing us from quietly living and bringing Christ to our communities. As such, we would rather have a Trump in the White House who is friendly to our Christian cause compared to a Hillary Clinton who despises the church and is a Jezebel figure. It doesn’t take much “critical thinking” to understand that we should vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton if we are concerned about living quiet lives free from an obtrusive government. With the election of Biden who is the same mold as Hillary Clinton, we should understand this now - our Christian freedoms and ability to lead quiet lives has been seriously hurt on many fronts.

The heart of this article is built on a lie. The “insurrection” was not some Christian Nationalist plot to overthrow the nation or steal an election as the left likes to portray.
Most all Christians viewed the violence negatively and few were involved with it so why is this paraded around as evidence of the evils of “Christian Nationalism”? In fact, if the writer was honest enough to look at this event, she would look at Tucker Carlson’s investigation of that day and realize that everything doesn’t quite add up.

https://m.facebook.com/TuckerCarlsonTonight/videos/jan-6-what-really-happened/596274478056076/

But it is far easier to take the left’s narrative of that day and pin it on Christians who hold that Christ’s redemption even applies to the area of politics.

The paragraph below shows how confused Alex Harris is both in understanding the political dynamics as well as the theological dimension of the “kingdom”.

The article says the following:
“In March you wrote a Twitter thread about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, homeschooling, and ‘Christian nationalism.’ How would you define that term? It’s idolatry of country, which crosses the line from patriotism to putting our hope and even our sense of spiritual salvation in policies, parties, or politicians. The Bible says not to put your hope in princes: Our kingdom is a future kingdom. Christian nationalism twists that into putting our hope in our country either remaining or returning to its roots as a Christian nation.”

First, to properly understand our response to the political attacks, we need to understand the political dimension. The left have been emboldened as they have waged a propaganda campaign against Trump from before he was even president. This started with the Russian collusion narrative that I predicted when it first came out would be peddled and used as a political club for the next four years. We recently saw the prosecution of some of the main actors who lied to the FBI and all were connected to Hillary’s people and campaign. Here is a link to Tucker Carlson’s show where the substitute host (Jesse Watters) does an excellent job of breaking it down:

https://video.foxnews.com/v/6280369193001#sp=show-clips

We see the origins of the investigation is linked back to Hillary Clinton’s people where there was no basis to go after Trump.

If we are aware of the propaganda war, we won’t automatically buy into the left’s narrative that is typically just that propaganda. We will listen to reputable news casters/personalities like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Sara Carter, Brit Hume, Mark Levin, Dan Bongino, Shannon Bream, Laura Ingraham, Dana Perino, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee. One of the characteristics that these nearly all share is a devout Christian faith. Why would you trust the left’s MSM with all their propaganda? I am not saying that a person has to be a Christian to be a good news caster or reporter but having a Christian world view definitely helps!

We put our trust in God but we recognize our responsibility to stand against evil in the political realm. The Reagan revolution was fueled by Christians who saw our failure to get into politics resulting in one of the greatest evils - Roe vs. Wade leading to the deaths of millions. Christians became involved and we began making progress with the election of Ronald Reagan. The main one who wants Christians out of politics is the devil for without the Christian influence then Satan can seriously limit the church’s effectiveness.

Another serious error of Alex Harris is the belief that the Kingdom of God only impacts the spiritual dimension. The full final Kingdom will be realized on Judgment day, but the Kingdom’s origins are earlier.

Daniel 2:44-45
New International Version

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

We see that the Kingdom of God would have much impact on the nations so we shouldn’t be surprised that we see the same impact today as we stand up to our adversaries. The Kingdom of God had precursors in the Old Testament times:

Exodus 19:3-6
New International Version

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you[a] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

So even in the Old Testament we see the beginnings of the Kingdom of God being His holy people. The Kingdom of God was more fully revealed with the coming of Jesus:

Matthew 3:1-2
New International Version

John the Baptist Prepares the Way
3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

R.C. Sproul explains the Kingdom well where it isn’t primarily a political goal or objective but as redeemed people we transform our spheres of influence, whatever they may be, to honoring the King Eternal. In this world it includes standing up to the forces, political or otherwise, that are waging war against God’s Church.

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/what-is-kingdom-god

DREN7754

Like many, I am wrestling with the interplay of politics and faith. My only hope and comfort in life and death is in the person and work of Christ, not in a human political party. At the same time, human suffering increases under corrupt big government/big tech/big pharma, etc. I pray that people will embrace Christ as they recognize the corruption of human beings in our efforts to control others. Are we at the point, though, where we are to be accused of idolatry if we advocate for conservative political principles, even though it was our founders' recognition of our corruptible nature that gave us the U.S. Constitution in the first place?

Paul

World promotes this interview with the 'Jan 6' headline.  Sadly Alex cannot identify an insurrection.  Now we have the facts of the 4 years hyped fanatic fraud from the left.  Also the Deaf Blind & Dumb media to an UNconstitutional vote process with lawyering  gymnastics creating illegal voting that was not stopped at the precinct, not evaluated  at the county, not investigated at the state, nor State legislators before  passed onto a USCongress finally attempting to address voting integrity only interrupted by pre planed LAME security invasion to stop the true LIE- yes the election was stolen.   Blasted right we are fed up with cultural war  foul play.   And you bet we must  continue to fight not  to “take America back for God.” but FOR righteousness  justice and the Biblical worldview our ancient forebearers distilled to a land of liberty that just happens to be here and requires 'eternal vigilance', prayer with participation, and yes the result are in the Sovereign Lord's hand- 'it aint a game'- it is about giving our future generations an improving civil  society.  Lets roll 

R AND S

I really appreciate the Harris family. They have done a lot to shape our own family as we have been on this homeschool journey. But I don't understand why it's considered a problem to want your nation to return to God. I would think this would be the desire of every Christian. I also was not in favor of impeaching Trump, and I don't think that was a radical position. His term was almost over, for one thing, so impeachment seems like it would have been a big waste of time and money, even if it was merited. Which I don't think it was. Everyone knows Trump always talks big. He didn't tell people to start a riot. I'm not a Trump radical. I didn't vote for him in 2016. I did in 2020. I would most likely not vote for him in the primaries in 2024, although I was pleasantly surprised with many of the things he accomplished as president. I guess I just felt that people like me, who want our country to return to God, and who didn't think Trump should have been impeached, were kind of painted as deluded, which I don't think is the case.

MSHO4155R AND S

I too have struggled to understand the interplay or Christianity and conservatism and how best to honor God in our current circumstances. I think a lot depends on what you mean when you say you want your nation to turn back to God. I don't think having a desire to see most Americans repent of their sin, submit to God, and thus create a more godly culture is wrong in itself. That should be the hope of every Christian. The problem is when people use Christianity as the means to accomplish political goals and use worldly methods to do what they see as God's will. The first believers in Jesus had absolutely no political power or influence, but they managed to turn the world upside down by preaching Jesus and living lives of obedience. God's strategy to change the world is for each of His children to faithfully and patiently love and serve the people in our sphere regardless of the visible results. When we neglect that and begin thinking that our country's problems would be solved by a particular political outcome, we've made politics into an idol. That is where the problem lies.

R AND SMSHO4155

That makes sense. I do think we have a responsibility to use the privileges we have to effect positive change, though. We should at least vote, and Christians shouldn't hesitate to run for office and influence the country in positive ways - like making laws that save the lives of the unborn, or allow schools to choose teachers with Biblical moral values. These things influence future generations, and we have the rare privilege of being able to change them for good. Good kings in the Bible didn't just do what was right, but got rid of things in the land that were evil and influencing others for evil. Christians should not use things like murder, theft, or lying to try to accomplish good, but we can vote and support godly candidates and laws.

My Two Cents

Wow. Thank you for doing this interview. Alex gives a lot of food for thought. As a homeschool parent, whose kids were in this generation, we struggled with being faithful to raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, while keeping uninfluenced by the legalism of the “Christian” homeschool movement. Christian Nationalism is a good way to describe what is happening now. I’m glad Alex seems to have his compass pointed to the True North.

Laura W

Hi Alex! It's been quite a while since I read Do Hard Things and heard you and your brother speak. It's very refreshing to find you still so thoroughly sensible. :)

SuperAndy

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