Tim Challies, a huge name in the reformed evangelical blogosphere, finally weighed in on the controversy surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries today. Challies has long been associated with the “young, restless, reformed” crowd – i.e., the very same mash up of Calvinist doctrine and “biblical” patriarchal masculinity that C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris are seen as models of.
So it’s not too surprising that the main point of Challies’ post was to warn like-minded Christians off reading Brent Detwiler’s documents. The documents, he says, deal with an interpersonal conflict between Brent and C.J. alone. Brent has an agenda, and reading his biased, slanderous take allows him to “tell us who C.J.Mahaney, one of our brothers in Christ, really is” (wait…isn’t Brent his brother in Christ, too? Hmm). Christians should guard their hearts from slander and passing judgment by not involving themselves in a personal conflict.
Except there’s that small matter of C.J. admitting to trying to blackmail Larry Tomczak, which would seem to go far beyond the level of mere “interpersonal conflict.” I left a comment on Challies’ post asking if he thought attempted blackmail counted as a strictly personal conflict, and guess what?
My comment was deleted.
I left another comment asking why my comment was deleted when I simply asked a question about factual information. Challies response: the focus of his post was on “the morality of the documents” and any discussion of “issues…contained in the documents” that didn’t pertain to the morality of those documents was a sidetrack.
In other words, let’s not talk about the fact that C.J. blackmailed someone. Let’s not talk about the ridiculous dysfunctionality of the SGM and CLC leadership teams – the unbelievably petty nitpicking and in-fighting, the inability to communicate honestly and clearly, the outright lies. Let’s definitely not talk about the large and still growing number of allegations on the blogs of sexual abuse coverups and abuse of pastoral authority.
In other words, let’s not talk about whether these serious charges are true or not; let’s talk about how mean and sinful it was of Brent to make them in the first place.
It other words, it doesn’t matter how bad the alleged behavior is; the real sinner is always the person who makes that behavior public – and people who listen to them or take them seriously. Or to put it in Challies’ words, “Let’s be sure that we do not begin to celebrate Christian whistleblowers.”
The truly Christian thing to do is just to look the other way.
This how accountability in evangelical communities is squashed, how silence and complicity become the watchwords of other evangelical leaders. It’s no wonder evangelical leaders are able to run amuck in how they exercise their “authority.”
Again, it’s no mystery why BJU was able to have a ban on interracial dating until 2000, why Mark Driscoll has gotten away with spouting hatred against anyone who isn’t male, or his idea of what a man should be, why C.J. Mahaney and his fellow “apostles” have been able to get away with controlling and cultic “leadership” for so long.
This is why. Because it’s almost always considered a worse sin in conservative evangelical culture to call someone out for doing something truly harmful that it is to do harm in the first place. It’s almost always a worse sin to look seriously into charges of wrongdoing than to actually do something wrong.
Don’t even read these criticisms, or you’re opening your heart to slander. Don’t share them with anyone, that’s gossip. Don’t take the person making the criticisms seriously, they’re committing slander and libel and not dealing “biblically” (privately, discreetly) with conflicts.
How can any real wrong done in the church be addressed if it’s an awful sin to even consider such allegations? This is why abusers find a haven in so many churches.
And here’s another reason: evangelical leaders and influencers get status and concrete financial benefits from being associated with each other, and as such are not exactly disinterested parties when one of their own is accused.
Challies says he has no “formal” connections to Sovereign Grace Ministries. He says he has nothing to lose by criticizing C.J. Mahaney. If by this he means any formal institutional, legal, or financial connections to SGM, that’s true.
However, he is a frequent attendee and live blogger at Sovereign Grace conferences, and other conferences where C.J. and other SGM leaders have been prominently featured. He quotes C.J. on his blog, and in his books. His blog is one of the very few written by non-SGM members that have been recommended by SGM pastors for their members to read, and his books are sold at SGM conferences and stores.
So is it really any surprise that he’s able to look at the by now overwhelming evidence that SGM as an organization is going through a period of serious stress and division, and has managed to alienate numerous members and former members with their approach to “leadership,” and still conclude despite all that that all of this fuss is only about a private, personal conflict between two men?
WORLD Magazine’s Anthony Bradley, slamming the campaign by Rachel Held Evans (RHE) against Driscoll’s bullying, perfectly exemplifies these tendencies to enable hateful behavior and attack anyone who dares to challenge it:
One sign of the declining state of Christianity in America is the way in which believers publicly slander one another, which can do violence to love and undermine the witness of the Church to nonbelievers. A recent example occurred when a Christian blogger took offensive [sic] to a comment made by a prominent pastor, and then, sadly, the blogger’s rant went viral on the internet.
Dear Anthony Bradley: let me assure you, Mark Driscoll’s repeated, public misogyny is what’s doing violence to love and undermining the witness of the Church to nonbelievers. Evangelicals who are trying to hold him accountable for his speech are doing your church a huge favor.
Also, did we read the same post by Rachel? She gave a measured recounting of Mark’s long-standing pattern of verbal abuse and called on other Christians to take responsibility to end bullying behavior and stand up for the least of these. I’m struggling to see how anything she wrote counts as a “rant.” But hey, if you want to read a rant, you can check out my post on the subject.
Just goes to show you how taking even the most measured tone when calling someone out is no protection whatsoever from someone trying to derail a discussion with a tone argument.
Bradley claims that people dislike Driscoll because he “[speaks] boldly against feminism in our society and paganism in the media. Well, guilty as charged on the first count, but paganism in the media? Is there a cabal of Wiccan newscasters I don’t know about?
He continues: “I am not here to defend Driscoll’s post and would personally challenge him over what he wrote.” He makes no attempt to elaborate why he would privately challenge Driscoll over what he wrote, and apparently he’s not so concerned about that: “My concern is how Christians handle conflict with other Christians in public.”
In sum: Bradley would handle a conflict with Driscoll in private, but feels no qualms about taking a conflict with RHE public. And his conflict with RHE is that he disagrees with her decision to make her criticism of Mark Driscoll public. That’s not confusing or contradictory at all!
And I suppose gender has nothing to do with the fact that Bradley considers Driscoll, and not RHE, worthy of the deference of a completely private correction. Now, Bradley says he emailed RHE to express his disagreement with her approach. But she never replied to him, and obviously women owe men with whom they’re not acquainted replies to their out-of-the-blue emails. Clearly Bradley had no choice but to write about her on the internets!
Funny how Bradley doesn’t say anything about privately emailing Driscoll about the post that started this in the first place, given that he claims he would privately challenge Driscoll over it. Funny how he so clearly approves of the fact that Driscoll “speaks boldly,” but has his knickers in a twist over a woman speaking out in a similarly bold fashion against Driscoll’s hate. Nah, couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that RHE is a woman voicing a strong opinion on the internet.
There is nothing loving about calling a pastor a “bully” – that is, “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” That is a serious charge.
And Driscoll doesn’t fit that definition of a bully how, exactly…?
While it is more than reasonable to understand why someone would take issue with Driscoll’s post, Evans’ way of responding cannot and should not be encouraged. What was even more disturbing was the way in which many other believers jumped on the slander bandwagon to feed on the carnage once it went viral. [Emphasis mine]
Again, the double standard is amazing in its total shamelessness. Driscoll calling on people to make fun of effeminate men is barely worth a word, but RHE and others calling it the latest in a pattern of public bullying is not simply slander, but carnage. Good grief.
Bradley goes so far as to completely redefine slander and libel in criticizing RHE’s posts:
Jacob W. Ehrlich…explains that because of the oral culture of the world of the Bible there is no difference between slander and libel in christianity. And according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, slander in the Bible is understood as an “accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge…but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose.”
Interestingly, some defenders of SGM have been sharing an article by Tim Keller and David Powlison that similarly redefines “slander” based on a literal translation of biblical Hebrew, taking it entirely out of its current linguistic, legal, and cultural context. These SGM apologists use this argument to claim that not only are Brent’s documents slander, simply discussing them or passing them on is also slander.
So slander now simply means to say or discuss anything that reflects negatively on another person’s reputation, no matter how true it may be, and slander is now the same thing as libel. In other news, Hebrew is now English and we live in the 4th century BCE. The more you know!
Evans’ slanderous post also represents one of the things that God finds detestable, “a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (Proverbs 6:19). Additionally, the Bible teachers that if someone offends us we should go to the person directly first (Matthew 18:15-20).
Christians publicly defaming the character of other Christians by name is not the way of love. But Bradley publicly calling RHE a “false witness,” accusing her of libel AND slander, and “stirring up” conflict and dissension is somehow totally different RHE calling Driscoll a bully.
Thanks to the dissension that has now been stirred up, atheist websites are applauding Evans’ response to Driscoll. What type of Christianity are we displaying before the world if slander is our response to the words of leaders we find offensive?” Evans maintains that “Mark’s bullying is unacceptable,” and I would add that so is ungodly public speech against another Christian.”
Calling someone a bully is ungodly speech, but calling people “effeminate anatomically male” is NOT ungodly public speech? And apparently in Bradley’s world, nontheists are just sitting around waiting for Christians to stir shit up with each other. Wrong again, sir. People inside and outside the church applaud RHE because she had the courage and integrity to stand up to an incredibly influential man in her community, despite the potential cost to herself, and state clearly that his harmful behavior needs to stop. We applaud her because she chose to stand up for people who are being hurt by Driscoll’s bigotry, instead of siding with those who use their power to oppress, as so many other influential Christians do, whether through silence and complicity, or by actively enabling and making excuses for abuse as Bradley does.
Anthony Bradley needs to ask himself what kind of Christianity he’s displaying before the world when he argues that Driscoll’s behavior merits only a private rebuke, while RHE’s call out of his behavior is “ungodly.” From where I stand, the kind of Christianity he’s displaying is one that shelters abusers and silences survivors and those who are in solidarity with them.
This story is moving pretty quickly, and there have been a lot of developments just in the past couple days – most notably that reformed evangelical bigwigs Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan are circling the wagons to defend Mahaney, and the SGM board (with the interesting exception of Joshua Harris) is now claiming they think C.J. is perfectly fit for leadership. These responses directly contradict C.J.’s “confession” of sin and Joshua Harris’s comments on the situation. Mohler’s and Duncan’s comments in particular are dismissive and minimizing of the situation and victim-blaming. More comments on those later.
A few more thoughts about Brent Detwiler’s documentation of his grievances against CJ and SGM:
– The almost total absence of women in the correspondence is really striking. This is an artificially constructed, all male world where the women are all assistants – secretaries, wives – there to be ‘helpmeets’ to men and to boost their importance. Women have no direct role, agency or personal investment in the events described, except through their husbands. And at one point Brent even asks permission from C.J. to email C.J.’s wife Carolyn. Pathetic.
– Given all that I have to wonder what will happen to the wives and daughters of these pastors if this controversy sticks, especially Mahaney’s wife and three adult daughters, “the “Girltalk girls.” The Mahaney women have built a significant following and quite successful brand and business based almost entirely on their acquired celebrity as C.J.’s female relatives. Their entire identity and livelihood revolves around his role in CLC and SGM. Every single one of C.J.’s sons-in-law is a pastor in an SGM church, two of them at CLC. What happens if his leave of absence becomes permanent (which seems increasingly unlikely, given the doubling down of famous friends of SGM and the SGM board)?
Well, they probably won’t hurt for money ; C.J. has done quite well with books and conferences and that success isn’t going to disappear overnight. He’ll land on his feet, surely. But Carolyn has been a preacher’s wife since she was 19, and their daughers have been pastor’s kids their entire lives. That’s why they’re famous. That’s why people look up to them. It must be disturbing to deal with such a sudden change in their identity and fortunes. Even though I think what Carolyn and her daughters teach women is incredibly harmful and deeply wrong, I still feel very sorry for them. The sudden scrutiny and uncertainty can’t be easy to deal with.
– It’s a bit ironic to see Brent criticizing C.J. and CLC for promoting “legalistic” gender roles for women given that he’s the one responsible for one of the most explicit statements of SGM’s incredibly regressive stance on women’s education and employment. Brent is the one who explicitly says that financial reasons are more or less the only legitimate reasons for a woman to have a job outside the home. Brent is the one who explicitly encourages women – preaching to a white upper middle class demographic in which college would ordinarily be taken as a given – not to assume that they should or will get a college education. He has no leg to stand on here.
– Brent is also one of the most frequently complained about leaders with respect to spiritual abuse, so again, it’s hard to take his finger pointing seriously. There are indications from the other blogs that he’s open to hearing from people who have been hurt by his leadership, so perhaps he’s changed or is willing to change on some of these issues.
– Brent doesn’t come off well in these documents at all. He’s just as implicated as any other pastors in the culture of tattling, constant high level and frankly stalkerish scrutiny of others’ lives, and enabling of bad behavior. Further, he frequently presents himself in a self-congratulatory light, e.g., there’s a lot of language about how he’s tried for years to help C.J. and others to “see their sin,” but they won’t let him. Meanwhile he seems totally clueless to his own fairly obvious grudge-holding and obsessive attention to various ways big and very, very small he’s been offended or slighted.
– These men haven’t the slightest clue how to handle conflict or disagreement. They’re constantly dancing around what they’re really trying to say, couching it in flowery and disingenuous language, never really coming out and saying what they mean. They all have to pretend not to be angry and not to be offended, even when they obviously are. They have to assure each other of how wonderful they are and what great friends and brothers in Chrsit they are, even as they’re following this with absolutely withering critique of each other’s character and behavior.
It takes pages and pages of emails for Brent to try to communicate to C.J. that it’s not fair for him to take more vacation time than other pastors and expect exemptions to SGM’s policy of not covering children on pastor’s vacations – and in fact, Brent never actually comes out and says that, even though it’s clear he thinks C.J. wants to be treated with favoritism and is being dishonest about his vacation record. Nor does C.J. ever come out and clearly say that he thinks Brent is accusing him of wanting special treatment and fudging his travel record. It’s sad to watch two grown adults not be able to conduct a conversation in an adult manner – instead it’s full of passive-aggressive nonsense and manipulative language.
There’s a clear dance they all have to do when they’re working through a conflict. It’s shedding a lot of light on some of the issues I’ve seen in my own family and personal life when it comes to dealing with conflict in a healthy way – there’s SO MUCH suppression of real emotion, so much denial of what people are clearly feeling. You can see in the documents how it makes it impossible to make any progress towards resolving problems.
After skimming through Brent Detwiler’s, ahem, copious comments on his numerous issues with C.J. Mahaney, my overall impression is that they corroborate pretty much all of the issues that various blogs and individuals have raised about SGM, and shed new light on how those issues manifested in the inner circles of SGM leadership. It’s not a pretty picture. No one comes out looking very good, not even Brent himself.
Much of my reaction to the documents echoes what people have already commented on at length on the SGM Survivors and Refuge blogs. For those who don’t read there or don’t want to wade through the comments, the highlights are below. I’ll post some of my thoughts that haven’t been discussed as much on the other blogs in another post.
The main issues, in summary [Trigger warning: sexual assault]:
– A long-standing pattern of narcissistic and egotistical behavior on C.J.’s part: passive aggressive or outright aggressive responses to the slightest criticism or questioning, expectations of special treatment, unilateral decision making, intense scrutiny and interrogation of the lives and work of his fellow pastors, all the while routinely being dishonest or secretive about his work and home life.
– This was coupled with extreme enabling behavior on the part of basically everyone around C.J. Despite their numerous statements effectively damning C.J. as a poor leader (see the above), they were continually praising him for being an amazing and wonderful a leader: “CJ is an exceptional leader and this summary does not provide the opportunity to celebrate all of the ways in which he excels.” They consistently stated that the thought of him stepping down never crossed their minds: “There is no one we would rather have leading the apostolic team than CJ”. Despite over 10 YEARS of attempting to persuade C.J. to be less difficult, despite the fact that even the most basic of tasks (e.g., keeping track of his vacation time) were made inordinately difficult by his insistence on being treated as perfect and special. The cognitive dissonance is kind of mindblowing.
– The fact that 6 men – at the very least – weren’t able over 10 years to keep C.J. from running amok makes the CLC pastors and apostolic team look very, very weak and cowardly.
– The interactions between the men leading CLC and SGM are stilted and highly scripted – and incredibly uncomfortable to read. There’s page after page of interrogation of the tiniest details of each others’ words, and motives behinds words, and motives behind questioning words or motives… Constant “loving challenges” to each other over “sin” and confession of “sin” that really amounted to unrelenting examination and policing of each others emotional, spiritual, and personal lives. I can’t imagine how exhausting it must have been to live like this every day, having people constantly in one’s business and constantly being in other people’s business, all while claiming to be the closest of friends…
This. is. not. friendship. It’s not. I feel sad for these men who clearly have no concept of how joyful and affirming real friendship can be.
– Worse, the correspondence reveals the leadership teams to be a big nasty circle of bickering, backbiting, backstabbing, and thinly veiled jostling for power and approval. Meanwhile, the whole time these men are presenting themselves as a totally united front and CJ as the most humble and wonderful leader ever. The man literally WROTE A BOOK on humility – and they knew the whole time that they were lying through their teeth to CLC and all of SGM.
C.J. wasn’t humble. The men who worked most closely with him unanimously observed this. They routinely presented unilateral decisions on C.J.’s part – about handing the leadership of CLC over to Joshua Harris, e.g., or changing CLC’s doctrinal stance on baptism and communion – as unified decisions the pastoral team arrived at after lots of prayer and discussion together. Bottom line, they were lying to everyone for YEARS. Years.
– Oh yea, and there’s the whole part about C.J. trying to blackmail Larry Tomczak, co-founder of what eventually became SGM, into not leaving the group. This is the most serious allegation, with potential legal ramifications for C.J. and SGM. The story is that C.J. threatened to reveal information about his teenage son’s “youthful sin” (as Larry Tomczak puts it) to the church. It seems pretty clear that this was some sort of sexual “sin.” What’s less clear is whether this was participation in a consensual act, or, as has been alleged on the Survivors blog, a case of Tomczak’s son sexually assaulting a teenage girl in the church. If the latter, then not only is C.J. guilty of blackmail, he and everyone who knew about this incident are guilty of keeping a sexual crime from the authorities.
Narcissism. Enabling. Lying in order to maintain their influence over the congregation. Power grabbing. Blackmail. Coverups. Wonderful pastors for you. Again, that’s what Jesus was all about, right? Self-aggrandizement and dirty politics for personal gain? Yep.
It appears that Brent Detwiler, a former pastor and “apostolic team” member who was ousted from SGM a year or so ago, has written a lengthy account of his grievance against SGM and C.J. Mahaney specifically. It can be found here: SGM Wikileaks (an amusing name).
I haven’t had a chance to look through the documents, obviously, but even without reading it I can say that this is pretty big. All previous occasions of oustings or shakeups like this – and there have been MANY in SGM’s very brief history – have remained private and very shrouded in secrecy. The fact that this has come out is pretty remarkable and is probably the reason C.J. was forced to step down after years of being basically untouchable.
Apparently these documents have been in the hands of some of the SGM leadership for some time now…Joshua Harris’s email to CLC indicating that “personal matters” involving C.J. may come out in the wake of his statement suggests that the pastors knew that this document was about to go public.
Still processing this stunning turn of events…more when I have a chance to look through Brent’s letter.