There’s a very rigid, narrow script that you have to follow if you want to “do things right” in white American evangelicalism. It’s a script that covers everything from the utterly mundane to huge, life-altering decisions. Evangelical God, you see, has a lot of very specific and strongly-held opinions about all manner of things.
What you wear. Whether you use makeup. How much makeup you use. What words you can or can’t use. What you read, watch, listen to, and what you shun. You may think God has too much to keep track of to be worried about such pesky details, but evangelicals are here to tell you how very wrong you are.
And of course, God sweats the bigger stuff, too. Who your friends are. Whether you go to college (if you’re a girl, do you really need a college degree, or are you just looking for wordly gain/approval?). What kind of job you get and where. Whom you date and how (courtship is really more godly, you know). Whether your parents approve of them or not. How long you date or court. How long between the engagement and the wedding. Whether or not you have kids. How many kids you have. Homeschool or Christian school. When you buy a house. What church you go to. Just for starters.
Small wonder Evangelical God has such a hard time keeping things running smoothly down here. God must be exhausted from all the effort it takes to micromanage every last detail of evangelicals’ lives. That whole “I’m completely sovereign over every last molecule of space and microsecond of time so no matter how terrible things may seem, I’m in control” business? Clearly all a ruse to keep us all from worrying that God’s bitten off more than God can chew.
And really, that’s a short list of the many things God wants us to do the “right” way. The “biblical” or “godly” way. There “biblical” manhood, womanhood, parenthood, childhood, relationships, marriage, fellowship, hospitality, modesty, careers, politics, even sports (the dear leader of my former church group has a book out called Don’t’ Waste Your Sports – seriously). Between all of those, there’s a lot of ink spilled and breath expended by evangelicals telling each other exactly how to live and what to think at all times.
And again, it’s an incredibly potent method of mind and behavioral control. Every moment of your life is scripted. You become so busy trying to apply a million (and growing!) different rules on how to be “godly” and have a “biblical worldview” that you eventually have no room to think or be, much less question why you’re spending all your energy trying to be more biblical than the next person. You have no time to be reflective about yourself or the world around you, no time to actually invest in people and issues outside your narrow evangelical world, because all your time is taken up with being a “good Christian” – which has little to do with being a good person.
All of this is done in the name and under the authority of “God.” But the terrifying truth is it’s just regular people telling other people what to do. People who are just as fallible as the next person, often quite ignorant, with extremely limited experience of the world and even of themselves. People who don’t even know what they want for themselves – are not allowed to indulge thoughts about what they really want, as they’re clearly selfish and sinful – telling other people how to live.
This is the open secret no one acknowledges. All these people who parade themselves in front of churches as the experts in godliness, the ones who seem to have the key to a magically contented godly life all figured out? They don’t have any special insight or life wisdom. And who knows whether or not their lives are all so blessed as they claim. It’s not as though there’s any room to be godly and not content with one’s lot in life. It’s a virtue, perhaps the highest of all of them, to put on a happy face no matter what.
Nobody has a damn clue what they’re doing. And nobody is allowed to speak the truth about any pain or imperfection or discontentment in their lives. Of course it goes horribly wrong.
Only day 4 of NaBloPoMo (or NaBloWriMo if you prefer), and I’m already having to write my first post that isn’t pre-scheduled or closely edited. Well, the idea was to get me to write more spontaneously and get my thoughts out quickly, so I guess it’s working! Anyone else doing Nano/nablowrimo or some other variant of it?
One of the things that does huge damage to individuals, families, and communities in evangelicalism is the idea that the most important thing is being completely “right” in what you believe and how you go about making decisions. Everything else is secondary to that, and follows from that. People and families who don’t do things the right way are all secretly falling apart and miserable and have “something missing from their lives,” no matter how much they might feel otherwise. People who live “biblically” always have “God-honoring” marriages and families and lives that are complete and blessed, no matter what kind of horror show plays out when there’s no one to perform holiness for. People who follow the rules have blessed lives.
It’s one of the things I’ve really struggled with in my adult life, as someone who mostly tried to follow the script for what I was supposed to do, and how. I didn’t follow it absolutely perfectly. And believe me, I felt plenty of guilt over the various ways I deviated from the rules. Constant guilt.
Which in retrospect seems like another unhealthy and oppressive aspect of this obsession with doing things right – the focus is always on what you’ve done wrong, what you could do better, no matter how much you might have done right the rest of the time. There’s no satisfaction in doing things well, in doing things the right way, because that’s what you were supposed to do in the first pace. You don’t get credit for good things. Only blame for the bad.
Funny enough, it turns out that being able to give oneself credit for the things one has accomplished is actually a sort of important part of maintaining emotional and mental health. Turns out that after a while of focusing on only the bad things about yourself, after years of being trained to talk and write and sing and think about how sinful you are and how even the worst things that happen to you are still better than you deserve…
It becomes really easy to only ever see the “bad” things about yourself (or to realize that the people you trust have a kind of warped sense of what’s “bad” and what’s “good”). And eventually it becomes easy to see yourself as bad. As evil. Not just someone who does bad things, but inherently and solely bad.
I think that keeping people in such a state of constant psychological self-flagellation – and in a state of constantly pointing out the faults of others in the name of “accountability – is a really powerful method of controlling people. When you get people to fundamentally distrust themselves, you make them vulnerable and pliable. Never sure of whether what they see, think, or feel is reflective in any way of reality, and as a result, reliant on others to tell them what they should see, think and feel.
This is what life was like growing up evangelical. It was made explicit that I could never trust myself or my perception of the world, not even my own feelings. Especiallynot my own feelings, actually, because feelings were fickle and rooted in the flesh, not in the spirit. Because, as we were frequently reminded, “the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]
This didn’t give me a complex about myself, or anything.
I mean, it’s true, feelings are subjective and they can be fickle. On their own they’re not the most reliable indicator of what the world is really like or how we should behave. Sometimes our feelings lead us the wrong way. But what I was taught went in the opposite direction – the pastors and care group leaders and my parents not only taught me to ignore and suppress my feelings, but often implied if not outright advised that doing the exact opposite of what my feelings told me was the “godly” thing to do.
Turns out running away from one’s feelings isn’t the best way of dealing with them. Turns out growing up to be an adult whose reflex is to constantly question and distrust her feelings and instincts in every situation kind of sucks.
Trigger warning: sexual abuse, spiritual abuse.
SGM leaders who want to reach out to the blogs appear to be turning their attentions more specifically towards the allegations of sexual abuse. A few weeks ago Mark Mullery “confessed” to FCC that the pastors had mishandled (to put it lightly) two cases of child sexual abuse in the church. Now Greg Somerville, a family life pastor at CLC, has reached out through the SGM Survivors blog to try to establish communication with the exCLCer and SGMnot, the people to come forward most recently with accounts of abuse and coverup at CLC.
Both Mullery’s “confession” and Greg Somerville’s letter show that, at best, SGM leadership still don’t understand what they did wrong – and at worst, don’t care. Their comments are largely about themselves and their fellow pastors, not the survivors of abuse they claim to be apologizing to. And they’re still approaching these cases as though they are relational conflicts or estrangements, as though all that’s necessary is for the pastors and those they’ve abused to be “reconciled” – or worse, as though they’re cases of inexplicable, even irrational customer dissatisfaction.
Their responses don’t reflect an understanding that they did enormous damage that needs to be fully and publicly acknowledged. That would mean stating clearly what was done wrong, why it was wrong, making a real apology and real restitution as appropriate (legal, monetary), and stating clearly what the pastors’ plans are to make sure this never happens on their watch again (frankly, the thought of any abuse survivors being *ever* under their watch and “care” makes me feel ill, but it’s too much to hope that all of the pastors will voluntarily step down).
Take Somerville’s letter to victims of abuse at CLC: it’s the sort of thing someone writes when they want to sound as though they’re apologizing, but really are trying to extract forgiveness without actually doing the hard work of admitting to or understanding what they did wrong. SGMnot, whose daughter was abused as a child at CLC and one of the people addressed in the letter, makes this point and other criticisms of the pastors’ continued failure to address issues of abuse head on in her response to Somerville here.
To be quite clear, I’m not making any claims about Somerville’s personal feelings or opinions on these cases. He could very well believe the pastors screwed up and understand how they did so. But he’s writing on the behalf of the CLC pastoral team, as their representative. This is about how the pastors have chosen to present themselves as a group to the people they’ve abused, not a criticism of one pastor. They think they’re being conciliatory, but in reality, their approach is extremely self-serving and self-absorbed.
This is clear from the outset of Somerville’s letter:
The details are heartbreaking for me, the pastors of Covenant Life, and the members of our church. I cannot imagine the anguish these events have caused for you and your families.
While he does address the trauma survivors have experienced, he describes it in passive language. This is slippery language that glosses over the fact that actual people caused exCLCer, SGMnot, and their families anguish. Abusers and the pastors who enabled them and further abused victims caused anguish. Not “events.”
I am doubly grieved to know how deeply disappointed you are with the pastoral care you received during that crisis and in the years following.
Wow. Does Somerville really think the problem is that survivors are “disappointed” in the “care” they received? That’s what “grieves” him about this situation?
This is not the language someone uses when they really understand that they’ve been complicit in a horrible wrong against another person. This is language a customer service representative uses when responding to a customer who is dissatisfied with their company’s product. Take away the “grieved” comment and that’s all you have left – “I’m sorry to hear that you were disappointed in the service we provided.” REALLY?
Did he miss the part where pastors tried to force a woman to remain married to a man who abused her children, and told her that the poverty she endured after divorcing this man was “self-induced?” Or the part where pastors testified as character witnesses for abusers and tried to obstruct and subvert the legal process? In what way, exactly, were these actions “care” for victims and their families?
In my 14 years of pastoral ministry at Covenant Life Church, I have so often failed to love and care for God’s people the way I should. If it weren’t for the grace of our Lord Jesus and the forgiveness of the saints, this pastor would not have the faith to keep caring for God’s precious church. Stories like yours cause me to cry out for more of God’s Spirit, more of God’s heart. I do not want to fail his children in their time of deepest need!
Um…way to make this all about you? Seriously, who cares? This isn’t about anyone being an imperfect pastor. This is about pastors consistently deciding that abusers are worth protecting and caring for over victims. What does this have to do with crying out for more of God’s spirit? What does it have to do with Somerville’s or anyone’s faith for caring for “God’s precious church?”
Sorry, I just read this paragraph and all I hear is “me me me me me.” It’s an attempt to sound humble – quite possibly sincere – but what it actually does is center Somerville and make this all about *his* faith to serve others and *his* failings and *his* desire not to fail – not about the people that his fellow pastors hurt and traumatized.
I realize you don’t have much confidence in the pastors of Covenant Life Church right now, and I can understand that. But would you be willing to talk with me about your experience? Though I am sure it would be painful to review the details, I want to make sure our pastoral team learns all we can from your experience so that we can better serve other families in the future. And if nothing else, I hope I could express the grief we feel for the suffering you have endured.
To my mind this is the most unbelievable and egregious part of Somerville’s comments. I’m willing to believe that he and the pastors genuinely think that extending this “offer” is a compassionate and thoughtful response and an attempt to set things right. But if that’s what they believe, that only demonstrates just how little they understand what they’ve done wrong or why people are angry and upset with them.
First off, it is ignorant and entitled for the pastors to respond to people who have made it abundantly clear that they were abused by the pastors by asking them to come in and “review the details” of their case. It’s entitled because you’re asking someone to revisit pain that you’ve inflicted on them. It’s particularly entitled in this case because the pastors mst know perfectly well what they’ve done – SGM keeps METICULOUS records on its members – and they know perfectly well how exCLCer and SGMnot feel about it. On top of all that, exCLCer has been writing letters to the pastors reminding them of the details of her family’s case for the past 20 years. There are numerous comments on the SGM Survivors blog recounting in painful detail how the pastors “cared” for survivors and their families. What is there to “review?” Either they agree that they did was wrong, or they don’t. Period.
And clearly, they don’t. “I hope I could express the grief we feel for the suffering you have endured” – in plain speech, that’s “I’m sorry you suffered,” not “I’m sorry we hurt you.”
Furthermore, who exactly would be served by such a “review?” Its purpose is almost entirely self-centered. What would survivors get out of rehashing the details of their spiritual and emotional abuse with the organization that abused them in the first place? For whom exactly would it be most “painful” to do this? The survivors. It could even trigger renewed feelings of traumatization. What he’s asking for is a huge leap of trust – but who does it benefit?
“I want to make sure our pastoral team learns all we can from your experience so that we can better serve other families in the future” – well, there you have it. Who it really benefits is the pastors. They want survivors of abuse to be the ones to educate *them* on how to handle abuse better. IT IS NOT THEIR JOB TO DO THIS. If they truly want to learn how a church should handle abuse and care for survivors, there are MANY MANY resources online and offline that they can consult, and organizations that specifically address this issue. They don’t need survivors to come in and relive their stories to learn how to do better.
And once again Somerville uses language that sounds more like a customer satisfaction inquirity than an attempt to redress mishandling of child abuse. Oh, you weren’t happy with our product? What can we do to improve it in the future?
To quote a response someone tweeted me about this letter, this is “the definition of privilege: demanding the time, energy, input of survivors to bolster yourself, not them. How dare they?”
They dare because they continue to think this should be all about them, their wants, their church, their reputation. They want reconciliation because that will make them look better – it’s to their benefit to be able to say they patched things up even with sexual abuse victims. No matter that many of their victims have made it plain that they neither want nor need any reconciliation – or any contact at all – with the pastors.
They continue to ignore repeated and clear demands for honesty, openness, and accountability when it comes to sexual and other kinds of abuse, because that doesn’t benefit them. It makes them look bad. So they keep asking for things that survivors of abuse don’t want, and denying the things they do want, because it’s All. About. Them.
Trigger warning – sexual abuse, spousal abuse.
Today is, more or less, my first blogoversary. I published my first real post on Are Women Human? one year ago today. That post was about John Piper’s advice on how women who are being abused by their husbands can still “submit” and affirm their husband’s leadership and should “endure” abuse “for a season.”
Comparing that post to my most recent post on child sexual abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries, there’s an obvious common denominator of Christianized patriarchy. Piper’s response to abused wives and CLC and FCC’s responses to abused children and their families share in common an assumption that the world should be ordered around the belief that the authority of straight, gender conforming men over all other human beings should be universal and unquestioned.
Women should “endure being smacked around for a night” so as not to “disrespect” or be “unsubmissive” to to their husband – their leader. Children who have been abused should be sent away from home so that their molester fathers can “stay in the house as the head of the household.” Survivors and their families should shut up and tell no one about the abuse or the identity of the abusers so as to preserve the reputations of the men “leading” the church. Everything is set up so that men who abuse (not that only men abuse) are coddled, protected, enabled.
This is all about Christian patriarchy. It’s all about defending a worldview that God cares about straight cisgender (white) men more than anyone else, that they are worth more than everyone else no matter how disgusting or evil their behavior.
The devastating effects of these teachings on queer people, trans and gender variant people, women, gender people of color, and children are many. And As I’ve written over the past year, this kind of Christian patriarchy is incredibly toxic to men as well. It imposes a standard of perfect leadership and providing that no man can ever live up to. It teaches men that they aren’t “real” men if they don’t live up to this standard, if they are not able to dominate everyone around them (including other men) and thus turns everyone into challenges to be subdued. It primes men to lash out at any threat to their complete control over others with anger and abuse.
As I’ve blogged about these issues over the past year I’ve become even more convinced that they are entrenched, pressing issues that desperately need addressing. To a lot of people, the effects of Christian patriarchy might seem far removed from their lives. But the reality is that Christian patriarchy is just a more explicitly articulated, more extreme, spiritualized form of plain old patriarchy. Its response to rape is a theology that enshrines and sanctifies rape culture. Its response to female, queer, and trans sexuality and bodily autonomy is bigoted, paternalist, and based a belief in the supremacy of straight gender normative white men – just like our culture at large. The only difference is that in Christian patriarchy straight cis white men are held up as spokesmen and stand-ins for God, who is presented as the ultimate possessive, angry, abusive patriarch.
As I wrote in my introduction to the blog a year ago, many feminists and progressives who haven’t had much contact with evangelical communities don’t fully understand the context for evangelical teachings on gender on sexuality:
I decided to start this blog because I noticed that, while there are a number of blogs and books out there that bring attention to issues of gender and sexuality in traditionalist Christian communities, most are written either by people who are still in these communities or very similar ones, or by people who have never been part of these communities. Many of the blogs by evangelical Christians speaking out against patriarchy in the church still support homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity. Meanwhile, non-evangelical feminist and progressive critics of religious patriarchy are often puzzled by evangelical beliefs, or don’t take them seriously.
As I read more about Christian patriarchy, I was frustrated by the lack of resources that balanced a feminist and progressive perspective on Christian patriarchy with understanding and empathy for people who grew up in patriarchal communities. I wanted resources that situated Christian patriarchy in the broader context of gender and sexual discrimination, but also addressed why these beliefs can be appealing, and recognized that it’s a long and often arduous process to work to root out these beliefs from one’s life, and to learn to think about gender and sexuality in more humane and loving ways.
I hope and think what I’ve written over the past year has contributed in some small way to illuminating these issues from a feminist and theologically informed perspective, but I’m also very aware that there’s so much I haven’t touched on yet, much more to be said, much more work to be done. I’ve found writing here to be incredibly fulfilling work and am looking forward to another year of doing it.
Extreme trigger warning: child sexual abuse, details of child molestation, spiritual abuse, victim blaming, and enabling of abuse perpetrators.
I don’t really know where to start with this, so I’ll just cut to the chase. In the past week, two more accounts of sexual abuse of children at SGM churches – this time at Covenant Life Church (CLC) – have been made public. In both cases, CLC pastors were primarily concerned with the preserving the comfort and reputation of the perpetrators, as well as the reputation of their own church. In both cases the pastors put pressure on the victims’ families to handle the abuse “internally” – i.e., within the church and without the involvement of the police – and, when charges were pressed in both cases, to make statements in support of “leniency” for the perps. In both cases the pastors pressured the victims and their families to forgive and pursue “reconciliation” with the abusers.
Both accounts are at SGM Survivors. I’ve linked them below and have also posted, below the jump, excerpts that highlight the most egregious abuses of pastoral authority in these cases.
- ExCLCer’s account of her mother’s husband’s sexual abuse of his 11 year old daughter (and ExCLCer’s half-sister) in the late 1980s.
- SGMnot’s account of a teenage boy’s sexual abuse of her 3 year old daughter, 1993.
In one case, the perpetrator, a man who abused his preteen daughter and went to jail for it, is now out of jail and back in membership at CLC. He’s remarried in the church and has regular access to children and teenagers – his children with his current wife, and teenagers in a band that he manages. In the other case, the perpetrator was a teenage boy who is now an adult and, as of a few years ago, was still a member of CLC as an adult.
In other words, there are at least two child molesters who are/have recently been in membership at CLC without the informed consent of the congregation. One of them has regular access to teenagers who most likely have no knowledge of his history of abusing children.
Additionally, this whole time, SGM leaders have been “preaching into people’s lives” and “modeling godliness for them” – i.e., lecturing people about how they should live their lives, down to the last detail, and manipulating and terrorizing people with teachings that turn the most harmless preferences, emotions, and actions into horrible sins. This whole time they’ve been disciplining people and making people feel like crap for the smallest infractions, in the name of “pastoral care.”
And over the same time, they’ve been concealing knowledge of sexual abuse in their church. They’ve imposed gags and forced forgiveness on victims and their families. They’ve exposed their congregations to unbelievable risk by hiding the presence of rapists and predators in the church. They’ve decided that when it comes to sexual abuse, the reputation of the church and the perpetrators are what need protecting, not victims, not their families, not the congregation.
They’ve been keeping people under fear and control with their bullshit on living holy lives the whole time they were working hard to make rapists feel more comfortable in their churches.
These incidents took place around 20-25 years ago. Cue the defenses from SGM leaders that they happened “a long time ago” and were “mistakes,” but now they’ve changed. No. This is bullshit.
First off, 20 years is NOT that long ago. Secondly, time is not a defense for evil actions when the perpetrators have never willingly acknowledged their actions or that they were evil. Most importantly, these “long ago” incidents are part of an ongoing pattern of pastoral victim blaming and abuse enabling in SGM. The responses of the pastors at CLC are very similar to incidents as recent as 2007 of pastoral mismanagement of abuse cases at SGM’s Fairfax Covenant Church (FCC): Noel and Grizzly’s story, 1998 and Happymom and Wallace’s story, 1998 and 2007.
Once again, after years of pretending the ex-SGM blogs didn’t exist in public while smearing them as lies, gossip, and slander in private, SGM pastors have now been forced to admit that the blog’s accounts of sexual abuse at the Fairfax church are substantially true. Mark Mullery, the senior pastor at FCC, recently “confessed” to his congregation that the pastors did, in fact, isolate victims and their families and fail to provide them with support, treat them as being in a “conflict” with the perpetrators that needed to be “reconciled,” and pressure them into concealing the identity of perpetrators and even that someone perpetrated any abuse in the first place.
Mullery, of course, doesn’t quite state things in these terms. He doesn’t touch the allegations that the pastors pressured victims into avoiding legal recourse or being character witnesses for the perpetrators. He glosses over the real implications of the actions of the pastors. He puts on a performance about how sad and full of regret he is – and before anyone calls me judgmental or a cynic for saying his sadness is insincere, please keep in mind that FCC pastors and other SGM leaders have, for the past two years, been telling members who raised questions about these cases that the victims’ families were lying, and that the blogs were slander. Please keep in mind that Mullery is only “confessing” some of the truth at a time when SGM is in the middle of a scandal that has countless members angry, seriously questioning their leaders, and ready to leave their churches en mass. Please keep in mind that not only all of SGM, but much of the evangelical blogosphere is now aware of the ex-SGM blogs and reading accounts like SGMnot and exCLCer’s stories – and aware that these blogs have far more credibility than SGM leadership has claimed.
This is the context for this “apology.” SGM and FCC are being forced by internal pressure from members and negative external publicity to finally acknowledge these issues. Confessing “mistakes” when you no longer have a choice but to address them is not a sincere apology.
This is an apology and promise of change that is forced by negative pressure and attention. Two questions: How can anyone know the pastors actually believe they did anything wrong? How can anyone know the pastors actually understand why what they did was wrong?
The answer to both is that we can’t know. But I would bet money that they don’t believe they did anything terribly wrong, and they don’t have any clue why anyone would think otherwise. There’s nothing in Mullery’s statement that indicates anything beyond superficial understanding that they finally got caught, that people are angry and want to hear that they are sorry and will change.
This is not good enough. Not by a long shot.
Here’s the thing. Pastors have real power, influence, and authority over their congregations, and this is especially true in authoritarian and hierarchical organizations like Sovereign Grace. People look to their pastors for support and guidance in getting through difficult periods in their lives. People trust their pastors to tell them how to live in general, how to relate to others, how to raise their children and relate to their spouses and families, how to make huge life decisions. And they trust that their pastors aren’t just like any old friend they’d go to for advice, but people who have knowledge of higher spiritual truths, knowledge of God – and therefore to some extent speak FOR God.
This is a HUGE amount of power. It’s a virtually unparalleled level of trust.
So when pastors deal with victims of sexual abuse and their families, they’re coming into a situation where the things they say and do have incredible power and influence behind them, and have incredible potential to either support and help victims, or further traumatize them. By the same token, their actions can weigh powerfully in favor of bringing perpetrators to justice and whatever rehabilitation is possible, and keeping other members of the church safe from them, or in favor of protecting rapists and predators, enabling their abuse, and preserving their access to unwitting future victims.
Here is what pastors at FCC and CLC have used this power to tell victims and their families:
– Keep abuse secret and protect the identities of abusers.
– Naming your abuser is gossip and slander and unforgiveness.
– Don’t go to the police. Don’t pursue legal recourse.
– The legal and personal ramifications for the abuser are more important than the damage the abuser did to you.
– You are obligated to forgive abusers, and do so virtually instantly.
– You are sinning if you remain angry about their abuse for more than a matter of days.
– Sexual abuse doesn’t really cause long-term psychological trauma (and therefore you don’t really need care or help from us and you might even be sinning by still experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, and other effects).
Again, this is coming from people who victims and families have been taught to believe speak on behalf of God. That they are men of God. When pastors say all this, the implication is that God is saying this. Some families will believe this and accept it. But even for families who don’t accept that God, e.g., cares more about an abuser’s reputation than about their trauma, these messages add to their trauma them by forcing them to choose between their faith (as presented by people they have trusted to instruct them in the faith) and their healing and wellbeing.
This is spiritual abuse. It is a real form of abuse. I can’t state strongly enough that it is a real form of abuse to tell people who have invested unbelievable levels of trust in pastors as their spiritual leaders that their trauma doesn’t matter to God – not as much as the comfort of their abusers or their ability to “get over” the trauma, anyway. This is actual abuse and it causes further trauma to people who have experienced abuse.
And it’s rampant in Christian churches. It’s endemic in Sovereign Grace Ministries. It’s not an accident, and it’s not a mistake. This keeps happening because this is what the pastors really believe about abuse. This is the culture they have fostered – one where survivors of abuse are hounded out of the church, and abusers are perfectly happy staying.
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.