Further reactions to Brent Detwiler’s comments

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.

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Reaction to Brent Detwiler’s documents – highlights

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.


Documents that led to C.J. Mahaney stepping down?

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.


Confirmed: SGM leader C.J. Mahaney to temporarily step down

ETA: This news has now been confirmed on C.J.’s blog. I’ve moved my previous disclaimer to the comments to avoid it cluttering up this post.

So apparently the top leader of SGM is temporarily stepping down in light of charges “[including] various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.” More at SGM Survivors (usual warnings apply about the comments not being safe space in various ways). It’s a sudden and somewhat shocking development, at least to me; my reaction to it is mixed and will take some time to process. It’s definitely unexpected given how much of a cult of personality SGM is – one that specifically revolved around C.J. more than anyone else.

A couple things strike me off the bat – one, he focuses exclusively on grievances that former SGM pastors and leaders have with him and SGM, and only talks about other leaders who are friends of SGM as having any role in providing him with “counsel and correction” in considering these charges. This is not the best sign. A huge part of the complaint against SGM has been that leaders are treated as though they have some special extra-godly status while “regular” members are expected to unquestioningly submit to and practically worship them. This doesn’t really alleviate concerns about SGM’s pyramid-like hierarchical and authoritarian culture, especially since most (not all) of the complaints brought against the group have been from regular members, not former pastors or otherwise influential members.

The way he name drops about the bigwigs (for the tiny reformed evangelical world, anyway) who will be helping him (not doing an unbiased assessment, in other words) through this process is particularly disturbing:

I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible.

He’s enlisted them? To serve him personally? That just sounds weird. It really doesn’t sound like he’s going through a period of “discipline.” It sounds more like he’s simultaneously trying to score points for being so humble to voluntarily step down and invite “correction,” while also trying to impress people by his ability to personally summon important reformed leaders to pow wow with him. Bleh.

On the plus side, they are bringing in an outside group with (supposedly) no history with SGM to evaluate the situation, and C.J. says he’s stepping down to make sure there’s no conflict of interest created by his continuing to lead SGM while this group conducts their investigation. That’s good. I’m sure the group is extremely conservative and fundamentalist, which will limit the degree to which they can really see the wrong that’s been done by SGM (e.g., with their queer hating theology). ETA: Not an outside group. The group is linked to Peacemakers, a ministry that has a long, ugly history with SGM, including attempting to “reconcile” a family whose child had been traumatized at an SGM church to the pastors who attempted to cover up the trauma (see here, trigger warning and also not a safe space).

I also gotta point out that it was only a few weeks ago that Josh Harris credited C.J. with the insights that led to the his weak sauce apology to CLC:

For several years now C.J. Mahaney, who was one of the founding pastors of Covenant Life and now serves as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has been leading the pastors of Sovereign Grace to recognize the difference between principle and practice…

C.J. shared something with me recently that turned the light on for me. He quoted J.I. Packer who wrote that the Puritans were known for their ability to “reduce to practice”—in other words, they took biblical principles and reduced them to specific choices and decisions in their lives. This is a good thing. God’s Word, handled rightly, leads to humble and skillful application.

But C.J. pointed out that there can be a problem when we “reduce to only one practice”—and give the impression that there is only one godly way to honor a given principle.

So just six weeks ago C.J. was a great leader who helped the pastors see how wrong they’d gotten things (as it turns out, not that wrong! shocking!). And now he’s the target of accusations so serious that an outside body needs to come in to evaluate them. Accusations that he’s been aware of for years, by his own admission, but has said nothing about, allowing himself to be continually held up as the paragon of perfect leadership and godliness the whole time:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.

Golly. Well. Things sure do change quickly in SGM! “Constant change is always with us,” indeed.


 


Damage control at Covenant Life Church, pt. 2

Trigger warning for child sex abuse, spousal/domestic abuse, spiritual abuse.

Part 1

The problems Josh addresses in his comments (and those he fails to acknowledge) are characteristic of SGM as a whole. A single apology to a single church is inadequate. CLC teachings are funneled to and reproduced at every other SGM church through conferences, podcasts, books, sermon recordings, visits from CLC pastors, blogs, on and on. Books by CJ and Josh and CJ’s wife and daughters are virtually required reading for SGM church members. The typical SGM church member outside CLC has heard several sermons by CJ in particular, along with other top-level SGM leaders, and has heard each of those sermons more than once. The typical SGM church member, in fact, is familiar with CJ’s catchphrases, and can and will repeat them with little prompting (“I’m doing better than I deserve!” and “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”). People across SGM read the same books, listen to the same music, make the same lifestyle and educational choices, only marry people from their own or other SGM churches, have a religious vocabulary unique to SGM, even among other evangelical reformed groups, etc., etc. But don’t worry, just because almost everyone happens to conform to a very narrow set of lifestyles and behaviors, just because everyone looks and talks the same, doesn’t mean SGM is a high control cultic group.

This raises a set of related problems with this “apology”: in various ways it’s a perfect illustration of the high control/cultic aspects of SGM’s church culture.

1) This “apology” does not at all address the established pattern of SGM leaders covering up child molestation, promoting teachings that foster, enable, and excuse domestic spousal and child abuse, and bullying women in particular into staying with abusive husbands. These are allegations that in a healthy church with responsible leadership would be addressed in a transparent and direct fashion. Instead the leaders at CLC and other SGM churches privately deny that these incidents ever took place (even though at least one of them involved a registered sex offender) and publicly pretend as though the allegations don’t exist.

A church that doesn’t tolerate or enable abusive behavior is one where the leaders don’t hesitate to say so publicly, and loudly, and to be very clear about the measures they have in place to minimize abuse, to report abusers, and to help survivors. SGM couldn’t be farther from this; they don’t deal honestly with the issue of abuse. They in fact give the impression that SGM is some sort of abuse-free nirvana: CJ calls CLC “the happiest place on earth” while Josh claims that spousal abuse is “very rare” (more lies). SGM cultivates a culture of silence and secrecy around abuse, a culture in which abuse and abusers thrive.

2) Josh doesn’t address allegations that children of pastors at Covenant Life School are have been held to a lower standard of behavior and faced much less harsh consequences for breaking school rules than children of “regular” members, who are frequently expelled for serious infractions (again, totally not culty).

3) The problems at Covenant Life LONG predate Josh’s presence there. Josh isn’t the one responsible for creating these problems, though he’s certainly had a huge hand in perpetuating them. The longtime leaders of SGM – Dave Harvey, Steve Shank, Brent Detwiler, among others, and most especially beloved leader and “apostle” CJ Mahaney – are the ones who should be giving this apology. Why leave it up to one of the youngest and least culpable members of the leadership to handle? Why isn’t CJ stepping up and taking responsibility for the toxic culture he’s micromanaged for the past 30 years? Instead Josh effusively praises CJ – who’s known for his narcissistic and controlling style of leadership and his encouragement of a cult of personality with himself and his family at the center – for showing the pastors where they went wrong with reducing holiness to a single practice. Ugh. Again, this is how cults work. CJ is being held up yet again as the paragon of perfection despite the fact that as CLC’s leader from its founding, he bears main responsibility for CLC being what it is today.

4) Throughout his comments Josh undermines in various ways the seriousness of the mistakes he’s supposedly apologizing for. He says he understands that these mistakes have caused people deep pain, but simultaneously makes light of them by cracking jokes and laughing inappropriately (this is more obvious in the audio of his comments, which isn’t 100% identical to transcript). He attributes the high level of group conformity at CLC to the fact that they care so much about being holy. He feels the need to assert that the CLC pastoral team hasn’t been wrong about “everything” – as though the pastors would have to be wrong about everything to do serious, long-term damage by abusing the trust people have in them. He uses the manipulative language of “our church isn’t perfect/no church is perfect” – as though calls for accountability are identical to expecting perfection.

5) Relatedly, Josh claims to understand that there’s been a longterm established pattern of high pressure to conform, and that the pastors themselves have perpetuated this culture. Yet he expects his audience to continue to invest complete trust in the pastors that NOW they really understand what the problem is and things will be very different in the future. If the pastors were so unable to see that these things were issues for so many years, why should they be trusted to understand them now?

6) Finally, and also relatedly, from start to finish the apology is a carefully orchestrated performance completely controlled by Josh and the pastoral team behind him. No actual victims of CLC’s abusive practices were allowed to share their stories with the church. All discussions of negative experiences have taken place behind closed doors, on turf firmly controlled by CLC: e.g., Josh’s home. We have to take it on his word that people have truly been quick to extend forgiveness for the damage done, as he claims. Further, Josh gives numerous verbal cues to the congregation about how they should interpret his admission and apology. His comments aren’t evidence of a serious, endemic problem exposed by blogs critical of SGM, but rather “realignments” and “refinements” (in other words, minor adjustments) that are God’s answer to prayer for revival. They’re “not an indictment of [CLC’s] history,” but part of an ongoing growth in the church. And on and on. The whole thing is deeply manipulative in how it attempts to direct and control the congregation’s reaction.

This is not an adequate apology. In my opinion, it’s not even an adequate first step. It’s damage control. It’s a vague, minimizing, manipulative, blame-shifting, micromanaging, incredibly dishonest attempt at damage control. People are leaving several SGM churches in droves. Enrollments at Covenant Life School have dropped significantly. Josh and the rest of the pastoral team want people to believe it’s purely coincidental they’ve just now figured out that they’ve made some serious mistakes. In a high control cult of personality like CLC, such a transparently convenient excuse just might fly.


Damage control at Covenant Life Church, pt. 1

I mistakenly scheduled this the post before I was done drafting it – so this post may change pretty dramatically in the next few days. Just FYI! :p

Trigger warning for child sex abuse, spiritual abuse.

After over two years of mostly ignoring accusations of widespread dysfunction and abuse in their churches, Sovereign Grace Ministries is finally paying attention. In recent months, Joshua Harris, current senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, the SGM motherflagship church, has been meeting with present and former members of the church to hear their grievances. This past Sunday, he led a church-wide “family meeting” in which he apologized for “where we’ve gotten things wrong” and pledged to “grow as leaders and as a church.”

Well, it sounds nice, but I’m not buying this “apology.” For a lot of reasons. Just for starters:

1) It’s framed dishonestly from the very beginning. There’s no acknowledgement that this is the result of increasing pressure and bad press from ex-members’ blogs, particularly Survivors and Refuge. They’re sticking to their policy of closely monitoring the blogs in secret while publicly pretending that they don’t exist. Instead Josh claims that “God has been showing the pastors about where we’ve gotten things wrong” and “answering our prayer that he would revive us and refine us.” Well. God works in mysterious ways, I guess, including online callouts for covering up child molestation. “His” timing in bringing correction and revival also curiously coincides with declining enrollments at Covenant Life School and loss of members in several SGM churches.

2) Josh acknowledges mistakes in a vague and unsatisfying manner. He glosses over huge issues in a matter of minutes. This would be fine if there were any indication that there will be future meetings to discuss these issues in more detail, but there isn’t. This is a church culture that hammers home to its members that when someone sins, they should make a specific confession of sin, and a specific plan to do differently (you know, repentance). There’s no specificity here, only running down a list of things people have been saying for years in a superficial, parroting fashion that doesn’t give much indication that Josh or the other pastors truly comprehend or care about the problems at hand. Once again the pastors hold themselves to a far lower standard of ‘holiness’ than they expect of their members.

For example, Josh states that in at least one case where a pastor was having “problems” with a teenage child, he (Josh) didn’t respond in a caring way. Which pastor? What was wrong about his response? Wouldn’t more transparency and specificity show he’s really serious about recognizing where things were done wrong and about changing in the future? It seems to me that the pastors want all the benefits of making an apology without having to take on all the self-sacrifice and pain that comes with making a sincere admission of wrongdoing.

3) Relatedly, he refuses to take proper responsibility for problems at CLC (which are characteristic of SGM as a whole). He uses passive language, admitting only that the pastors “allowed” a toxic culture to develop at CLC, or “could have worked harder” to prevent such a culture from developing. He repeatedly denies any pastoral responsibility for communicating narrow-minded and oppressive beliefs to the congregation, e.g.: “If you went back and listened to past messages, I don’t think you’d find us teaching, ‘There’s only one godly way to do this or that'” and “I don’t think the ‘good parents = good kids’ idea has characterized our teaching on parenting.” In effect he casts the problems at CLC as being the primary fault of the lay members (for what, being too stupid to understand what the pastors really meant?). The root problem is that members weren’t listening carefully enough.

This is utter nonsense. Whatever Joshua Harris might be, he’s neither unintelligent nor completely naive, and he would have to be to fail to recognize that SGM’s oppressive and abusive culture is a direct product of what its pastors have clearly communicated to members from its earliest years. Take an issue that I’ve been directly affected by: Josh implies that the pastors “unintentionally” gave the impression that “to practice biblical femininity, [women] shouldn’t pursue higher education or work outside the home.” This is simply not true.

Josh is probably technically correct that one is unlikely to find any recorded sermons in which an SGM pastor says that women shouldn’t go to college, or work outside the home. Like most complementarians, SGM’s leaders are very careful to avoid communicating their misogyny so explicitly. But there’s no mistaking their consistent pattern of undermining higher education or out of home employment for women, for example, in Brent Detwiler’s teaching (particularly “Thoughts on Vocation”*) on how young adults should prepare for (straight) marriage and parenthood, which he was teaching as recently as 2006 and which is still posted on his former church’s website:

YOUNG LADIES MUST PREPARE TO BE HOMEMAKERS…Prepare to Marry Young If God’s Will; Don’t accept cultural norms and practices…Don’t Assume College or Career:
1) Be aware of serving the cultural idol of education and career.
2) Be willing to lay aside the pursuit of higher education if marriage comes early.
3) Be willing to lay aside a career when married.
4) Think of a non-paying (but very rewarding and important) “career” in the home related to your husband and children.
5) If unmarried, consider a “feminine” vocation or job that will benefit family later.

Detwiler further divides reasons married women work outside the home into “necessary” reasons and “wordly” reasons. The only “necessary” reasons are a husband’s unemployment or disability, or to save up money or pay off debts. The clear implication is that any woman who works outside of the home when her husband is also employed is sinning if her work is not indispensable to family finances. Meanwhile, worldly reasons for a woman to work outside of the home include:

6) Identity and fulfillment primarily in work outside the home. Not content with obscurity of being a wife, mother and homemaker… [my emphasis] 8) Husband and wife may think she can work outside home with little or no harm to the marriage and family. 9) Realization by a woman that it may be easier to work outside the home than in the home as a wife, mother and homemaker.

There’s an obvious disdain here for women and especially mothers who have outside employment. Detwiler clearly implies that such women are lazy, self-absorbed, and unwise parents. He clearly associates a woman working outside the home with “harm” to her marriage and family. He states that there is “lack of biblical support” for women to work full-time outside of the home. This is official SGM teaching – or if it’s not current official teaching, it’s not been clearly repudiated, and it needs to be.

That’s even without the fact that the pastors send an unmistakable message by “leading” the vast majority of their wives to be homeschooling, stay at home moms and “leading” the vast majority of their daughters to live with their parents until they marry, to attend local community colleges if they go to college at all, to pursue stereotypically feminine careers as secretaries, teachers, or nurses, and to become homemakers when they marry. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these lifestyles (and it’s worth keeping in mind that choice in these matters is a luxury that many, many people around the world don’t have). But when practically every immediate female relative of an SGM pastor makes the same choices, it’s not a free choice, and it sends a clear message to SGM members that truly “godly” women should, barring a few exceptions, always conform to one narrowly defined lifestyle.

Yet Joshua Harris would have us believe that any impression CLC members might have that it’s less godly for Christian women to have college degrees (or heaven forbid, post-bac degrees) or full-time careers was a complete misinterpretation on the members’ parts and never intended by the pastors.

What a load of crap. Memo to Josh: sincere apologies don’t involve lying or insulting your audience’s listening comprehension.


*Just in case this page is taken down later – I have copies of this and other outlines documenting Detwiler’s extremely sexist teachings.


An Open Letter to SGMS [Guest Post]

Written by Max, a fellow Sovereign Grace escapee, and originally posted at Gender-NOS. Trigger warning for suicidality and eating disorders.

SGM Survivors or SGMS is one of the two main sites for former or questioning members of Sovereign Grace Ministries churches. It’s been a space for healing and recovery for many people, but as I’ve noted here before, there’s a lot of homophobia and transphobia in the comments, and it’s far from safe space for anyone who isn’t a straight, cisgender, conservative evangelical.


Dear Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors:

I’m gay.

Yep. I’m gay, always have been, and not only that my lover and I have been together, in a committed and supportive relationship for almost seven years. We got married in October, 2009, in the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

Oh, before I go on I suppose I should offer some further explanation about who I am and why you should care, or at least pretend to care. On SGMS, I go by the handle of “platypus” now, on the rare occasions I still participate in discussion. I used to go by “prodigal daughter”, and in my earliest days I used my real name, T. M@lament. I’m Larry’s niece, actually, and my family attended CLC from ’94 to, I think, ’08. I stopped attending sometime in ’04, when I was eighteen. Actually, my attendance dropped off slowly from seventeen to eighteen as my depression got worse and CLC seemed determined to exacerbate it rather than offer any form of comfort or beneficial support. By the time I was eighteen I gave up the sham entirely and fully ceased attendance rather than apply for a membership I didn’t want and knew would be denied, anyway. I was too deep in my “sins” of mental illness: depression, anorexia nervosa, cutting myself.

It was also when I was eighteen that my parents, still loyal CLC members, found out about my girlfriend. I never had the luxury of coming out. I was intrusively found out – if the choice had been given, I never would have come out. I knew how it would go. Long story short, two weeks after being outed I was homeless, community-less, family-less. For the record, they do insist that this was all my choice since I “chose” to be gay and therefore “chose the consequences”… But that is definitely a matter of argument, and not one I’m going to tackle here.

I’ve been on SGMS since its very early days. In fact, I found the site about two or three months after its birth on wordpress (I think that was the original host? For some reason I’m blanking) by googling “SGM” and “cult”. Actually, I performed the search on a computer in the patients’ lounge where I was being treated inpatient for my anorexia. It was my sixth hospitalization, the others had been for suicide attempts and medical stabilization from anorexia complications.

When I found SGMS and started reading Kris’s first few posts (there were only seven or eight total, then), I couldn’t even type a comment of my own because I was shaking so hard. When I had to go back in for another session, I looked at my therapist and told her through tears, “I’m not alone any more. And I’m not crazy!”

SGMS became a hugely important part of my recovery as I found validation for all the things I’d experienced but forced to deny from years of gaslighting. I reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in years, compared stories, realized I wasn’t, in fact, alone. Basically, I enjoyed all the great things that all the survivors get out of that community. It was amazing, and powerful, and I really believe it helped save my life.

The only problem, and it was actually a pretty big one, is that soon after starting to participate in discussions I realized that I’d left SGM, yes, but SGMS was not the safe haven I had initially believed. The people, while overall very welcoming and supportive to other survivors, by and large held to the same Christian, conservative, reformed views they always had. They were absolutely most supportive and sympathetic to survivors who still believed like them.

Often, I witnessed a commenter, hurting and scared and in need of an understanding ear, come on, share their story, and at some point reveal they had left Christianity along with SGM… Instead of the love and support they needed, they would be pushed to the fringes of the group discussion and “reminded of the savior’s love”. Encouraged to come back to the fold, not throw the baby out with the bath water. Really, non-Christians there receive the same allegedly well-intentioned shunning that those who question SGM’s practices are subject to.

Because of this, I didn’t reveal that I’ve left religion entirely and now identify as an atheist. I felt I had important things to add to the discussion and knew that if I outed myself my arguments would be discounted based solely on my differing beliefs. After witnessing constant, not always subtle jabs about ‘effeminacy’ and gender policing and other homophobia I also didn’t reveal my sexuality. I was forced to make the painful, self-betraying decision that I needed the support the group offered more than my dignity.

Now, I’ve come to the conclusion, after three years of participating with a practiced filter and hiding the truth in shame, that I can’t and won’t do it any more. I’ve been trying to think of a single succinct reason why, but an easy answer isn’t presenting itself. There are a number of reasons.

First, I’m speaking out because something the gay community has long known is it’s much easier to hate a faceless threat. If you know someone gay, it’s harder to maintain the lie that all homosexuals are perverts, deviants, a menace to all that is good and wholesome and straight. You’re forced to see us as real, normal, average people who you interact with every day and not just some abstract, monstrous concept who at least have the decency to hide their faces from civilized society.

Some of us are effeminate. Some of us are butch. Some fall in between or just don’t really give a shit how their gender manifests. Some sleep around and some, like me, have been in the same loving relationship since highschool. And yes, some of us (as has come up frequently on SGMS lately) sexually abuse children. But frankly, as far as that one goes?The number of gay people who sexually abuse children is far lower than that oheterosexual men. Statistically speaking, the greatest danger to your kids is your husband, ladies. And anyway, that’s really not my point so I don’t want to dwell on it, but it fucking needed to be said. That lie is probably the single most pernicious, dangerous, and disgusting stereotype ever to have been perpetuated against gays and yes, it makes me absolutely outraged.

The real point here is I want to challenge you. Open your eyes. Get your heads out of your asses and realize that lots of people have been seriously injured by SGM and just because they don’t all still think like you doesn’t mean they are in any less need, or are any less deserving, of support. It also doesn’t mean that they have less a right to participate in your discussions or that their  arguments are less valid or their points less intelligently made.

If you are truly a group for survivors then you should be willing to offer that support to anyone who bears the survivor label. Period. Simple. End of story.

If you don’t want that inclusivity, if you’d rather keep it safe and sanitized for others who still think like you, that’s honestly fine too – but maybe you need to do what you’re always trying to get SGM to do and come clean about it. Be frank about your intentions and your target audience. Don’t act like you’re better than those of us who have left the faith, or are gay, or do drugs, or are holding on to our bitterness and anger, or vote liberal.

Finally, a simple challenge to you. If you are truly concerned for any of us who fall into those aforementioned categories (or any others I didn’t think of) consider this: shunning us, making fun of us, or perpetuating lies about us, is not going to help us see the savior’s love and return to church. You may not want to hear this, but you are the exact same hideous animal as SGM. You’ve just managed to hide it a little better.

I’m not sure if I’ll be around on SGMS much from now on. Especially after the latest round of gay-bashing, I’m feeling nauseous. I wish you guys all the best in your recovery from SGM and thank you for what you have done for me, but I can’t fake it enough to be a part of your hate any more. I hope that you reconsider how you handle some of the issues that come up, because SGMS has truly been such a help to so, so many people, and there are so many others out there! The biggest reason I hope you amend your talk is them: how many people has SGM left for dead who will feel unable to find refuge in your community because they don’t fit?

Sincerely,

Platypus