Saturday, October 27, 2012

Let's Discuss the Sovereign Grace Ministries' Press Release




I am posting the newest press release by Sovereign Grace Ministries about their lawsuit below, but first is a personal note to the SGM survivors and their families: 


After reading the SGM press release, I was angry.  I feel really bad for you to have to read this press release.  Please do NOT take those words personally.  The SGM church leaders are caught up in the necessity of defending themselves and their image.  They are in damage control mode.  I saw it before in my church lawsuit and it's happening now in this SGM lawsuit.  If you and your children were at the heart of the matter from the beginning, this lawsuit never would have happened.  They had years opportunities to resolve these situations, handle them appropriately; yet they chose to handle the abuse cases in their "biblical" way.   I believe the world will be shocked to see how "biblical" these cases were handled.   You must know that people believe you.  I believe you and will continue to allow my blog to be a place for your voice.  My heart grieves for what you and your families have experienced.  I trust that God will do His work in this lawsuit in bringing the truth to light and for you to have justice finally served - the justice that God clearly acknowledged in Romans 13:1 regarding civil governing authorities.  Thank you for being bold in speaking out.  I know from my lawsuit experience that people were able to connect with my story and am confident that there will be many, many victims who will connect with your story as well as churches who will see this case and evaluate the safeguards they have in place at their churches.  Your very sad stories will make a difference in the world.  I applaud you!
    


Updated Statement on Reported Lawsuit

Please be aware of the following press release.
October 26, 2012
Statement by Tommy Hill Sovereign Grace Ministries Director of Administration Re: A Civil Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries Oct. 17 in Maryland’s Montgomery County Circuit Court
Though not yet served, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) leadership has obtained a copy of the civil lawsuit filed last week against SGM and several pastors of its associational churches. This recent complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent in providing spiritual counsel and pastoral care in situations involving persons who had previously suffered child sexual abuse. It is important to note that it does not allege any act of child abuse by a pastor or staff member of SGM or of an associated church. SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but we are beginning a careful legal review of each allegation. Upon initial review it appears the complaint contains a number of untrue or misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent.
Child sexual abuse is reprehensible in any circumstance, and a violation of fundamental human dignity. We grieve deeply for any child who has been a victim of abuse. We want to minister the love, grace and healing of God to any who have suffered this horrific act.
SGM is committed to integrity and faithfulness in pastoral care, as are the pastors of local congregations.  We take seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us. These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us. SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices.
SGM churches are separately organized and constituted in their respective communities. They voluntarily partner together for certain aspects of their broader common mission: to plant churches, develop resources, train pastors and serve international ministries in order to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We ask that you please join us in praying that God guides and leads all of us in these challenging circumstances, ministering His grace, comfort and peace to all who are affected by this situation, and that His truth would prevail.


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I imagine that the attorney(s) for Sovereign Grace certainly had input into the wording of this press release, but as I have been reading it, a number of things strike me.  I will quote from the document and make comments below each quote.  



This recent complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent in providing spiritual counsel and pastoral care in situations involving persons who had previously suffered child sexual abuse. 

I'm not sure which cases they are referring to when they say "situations involving persons who had previously suffered child sexual abuse."  I find that odd.  According to the bulk of cases I am familiar with, the sex abuse incidences at SGM were first-time incidences.   If they didn't mean to imply all children, it seems they would have said "situations involving some persons who had previously suffered child sexual abuse."  Can you imagine the victims' families reading this implication that their children were "damaged goods" prior to their abuse experience at SGM?  This sure seems like they are misleading people to believe these children already were suffering from child abuse cases prior to SGM.  I find this implication troubling.  Do the officials at Sovereign Grace Ministries realize that in "not" responding in depth to the actual lawsuit (hopefully they’ve been served by now), but making statements like this, they raise even more questions about their "pastoral care" and give more evidence in the alleged pattern of their revictimizing victims?





It is important to note that it does not allege any act of child abuse by a pastor or staff member of SGM or of an associated church.  
Nobody has said that it ever did - the complaint never did, neither has it been mentioned anywhere on any of the survivor blogs that I have read.   But again, it's all about image and I understand how important image and damage control are (because of my lawsuit), so I suppose they had to issue that disclaimer.   blah, blah




SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but we are beginning a careful legal review of each allegation. 
Hmm, they could have saved themselves a whole lot of time and money if they would have taken a look at each allegation in light of the offenses being "CRIMES" instead of "SIN."  Things might be different now, eh?   It's a little too late, SGM.  But that's okay, because now the whole world is watching.  And I sure hope that your faux pas will be an example to many other churches have and are going through sex abuse cases (thinking of Calvary Chapel, etc).



Upon initial review it appears the complaint contains a number of untrue or misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent.
At this blog, I do not side with alleged abusers, but consider the allegations of the victims as truthful, and I try to put myself in the victim's shoes.  I understand abuse and the thought processes and confusion, the bargaining, justification, anger, etc., of the survivors.  This statement sends me through the roof.  It is basically saying that the victims are lying.  This is a slap in the face to the victims who are trying to say there is a process within this organization of churches that has allowed sexual crimes to be committed without real consequences to the perpetrators.




Child sexual abuse is reprehensible in any circumstance, and a violation of fundamental human dignity. 
Really???  You don't say!??   Again, if SGM truly believes that, then we would have seen action taken place.  Show me the action, people!!





We grieve deeply for any child who has been a victim of abuse. 
Grieve = cause great distress to

That is a very nice sentiment, SGM.  It's not working for me.  To grieve deeply, as a church leader, requires action.  Where was the action?  By action, I'm not meaning damage control and cover up.  



We want to minister the love, grace and healing of God to any who have suffered this horrific act.
How so?  How have they demonstrated love, grace and healing?  What I have seen mentioned in these very detailed stories is an almost obsession to get the victim and perpetrator back in the same room for forgiveness/reconciliation.  What about the care of the victim's family?  The emotional concern?  What does "healing" mean?  How would God define "grace" for a victim and their family?  




SGM is committed to integrity and faithfulness in pastoral care, as are the pastors of local congregations. 
So often we use familiar words so casually.   After having gone through a court case, I understand that attorneys use words very carefully.  Let's take a look at the definitions of these words.  A word of warning to victims of SGM  - - - - seeing this hypocrisy could make you very angry.  It's making me angry and I was not even a member of SGM.   Look at how the SGM church leaders are trying to present themselves to the world - as men of integrity and by their faithfulness in pastoral care.  I guess I'm a little biased because I have read the abuse stories and now personal e-mails and phone calls with survivors.  I just want to scream.

Integrity:  
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness 
the state of being whole and undivided 
Faithfulness:  loyal, constant, and steadfast 
Care:  1 the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something 2 serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk 



We take seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us.  These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us. 
Ok, I'm getting ticked off now.  Romans 13?   No, sorry, I don't think so.  Any quick reading of the victim's stories will show that pastors/church leaders  DISCOURAGED the victims’ families  from taking these crimes to authorities.  Assuming those are accurate (and I do), that means that SGM network pastors interfered with the reporting of crimes to authorities.  The wanted the abuse to remain in the confines of the church - taken care of  in a "godly, "biblical" fashion.  In fact, the accounts of the crimes were to be kept inside a very tight circle.  Families were told to not discuss the incidents to anyone but church leaders.  Anyone outside the victims' families and church leaders who discussed the incidents were labeled as gossips and we all know that to gossip is a sin.  This is absurd.  Actions speak louder than words and I am so glad that this is going to court because I have no doubt the world will be shown that SGM demonstrated little to NO desire to get these crimes reported to civil authorities.  

I have said it before and I will say it again and again:  the pattern in abusive churches is to theologically separate "SIN" from "CRIME."   You just don't hear the word "crime" from these pastor's mouths, because if you did, it would mean they needed to involve with civil authorities.  It's all about sin for them:  repentance and forgiveness.  What about the other "R" word:  restitution?  

I posted this comment on an early post and it fits here:

We must make note of the patterns in abusive churches so others can be warned. Surely God would not be pleased with man usurping the authority He designed in Romans 13 where it says that we are to be subject to governing authorities. It's like there is a power trip going on - - - the leaders feel they "own" their congregants and that they could do a better job in dealing with the issue than anyone else outside the church. 



SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices. 
Robust:  strong and healthy; vigorous 
• (of an object) sturdy in construction a robust metal cabinet.• (of a process or system, esp. an economic one) able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions • (of an intellectual approach or the person taking or expressing it) not perturbed by or attending to subtleties or difficulties; uncompromising and forceful the country's decision to bow to UN pressure was preceded by a robust defense of its policies he took quite a robust view of my case.• (of action) involving physical force or energy a robust game of rugby.

Whose best practices?  Best practices I have heard about include notifying parents of sex offenders in the church so they can safeguard their children.  The factual accounts I have heard or read are that parents were never notified of sex offenders.  What about the Care Groups?  What safeguards were in place for those who were watching children in care group homes?  According to what I have read have been very serious lapses of common sense AND pastoral oversight with regard to protections for children, going past to at least 1987.  If there were truly "robust" policies in place then and now, there would be no lawsuit.  Hello?!





SGM churches are separately organized and constituted in their respective communities. 
Yes, this setup we have seen among other churches outside of SGM sometimes has failed to protect congregants when leaders do not have appropriate accountability and oversight.  This can lead to all sorts of abuse among congregants.  You all get to read the fallout of this on my blog.  





We ask that you please join us in praying that God guides and leads all of us in these challenging circumstances, ministering His grace, comfort and peace to all who are affected by this situation, and that His truth would prevail.

Finally - - a statement with which I can agree.   - - including the leaders whose negligence and mishandling of the situations inflicted a revictimization of these then-children and their families. Even as I pray for justice, I pray these pastors discover the real grace of God they so desperately need, too.








photo credit: Ferran. via photopin cc

22 comments:

  1. SGM could care less about the victims.

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  2. Viva!! SGM and CJ Maheny!!!

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    1. In my best choral voice: we shall seeeeeeeee!

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  3. Julie:

    I'm being sarcastic--don't you just love anonymous supporters of SGM and CJ?

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    1. Yes, they "miss" the no-anonymous posting instructions and hide. That gives them a whole lot of credibility.

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    2. Oh, Tom, that was sarcasm, too :)

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  4. Notice choice of words - "respecting" civil authorities. That leaves out "contacting" them when a crime has been committed. Ever notice how their updates in "family meetings" for church members were filled with so much political (protectionist) speech that you wondered what the heck they said?
    Actually, they didn't say anything because the purpose was not to say anything - it was just to make it look like they were doing all they could to address an issue or issues, but in reality they were just keeping the lid on everything and applying Teflon on themselves.

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    1. So true, Marty D!

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    2. Marty D.--I am pressing the Like Button for your comment!! :-)

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    3. @Marty D. Well noted on the problematic choice of words.

      As a writer, I think I get it about how words can be used to sound good, but actually convey something bad. I looked at that sentence again: "These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us."

      As the son of a someone who worked in the sheriff's department, I think I get it about how it in reality denies full respect for the law when you fail to protect victims or fail to report crimes or you shield people you know or suspect of a felony. Sounds good, but conveys bad.

      I'm not so positively impressed with the updated statement, but then again, we'll all just have to wait. The lawsuit will demonstrate and determine through a preponderance of evidence whether the "respect" SGM promotes for civil authorities is actual or acting.

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  5. "but we are beginning a careful legal review of..."
    "We grieve deeply for any child..."
    "We want to minister the love, grace and healing of God to..."
    "SGM is committed to integrity and faithfulness in..."
    "We take seriously the biblical commands to..."
    "SGM also encourages the establishment of..."
    "They [SGM churches] voluntarily partner together for..."
    "We ask that you please join us in..."

    Julie Anne,

    Looking at this from another angle, I see the self-serving promotion of one's own righteousness in these statements. I can tell you from experience that I'm a seasoned, grizzled veteran of "biblical." Words don't impress me.

    "Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?" Proverbs 20:6

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    1. Yes, you are a seasoned veteran of "biblical" and now that you have highlighted the phrases, I can absolutely see what you are talking about, Steve. I'm still waiting for you to do a series on this stuff. You tend to see right through the muck and bring clarity at least for me and probably many others.

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    2. Yeah, I know, I know. Busy, busy, busy with some big fish of my own to fry. I take too long to write about such things.

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  6. A defensive and self justifying press release? Even if they are convinced of their own innocence--and they do not even complete their “carful legal review” before beginning to protest their innocence--why rush to make public statements that they know, or ought to know, will re-traumatize? How much better to simply and without fanfare heed our Lord’s instructions, and His accompanying warning: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar [including, maybe, a Hebrews 13:15 sacrifice of praise?] and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison [receivership? bankruptcy?]. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23-26 ESV). I must be careful not to fall into condemnation and hypocrisy, for I do not so easily follow my own advice. Yet my heart goes out to those to whom SGM’s representatives offer nothing more than empty words by which they attempt to make themselves look good.

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    1. Beautifully put, Gary, and the verse you quoted is so appropriate.

      It's interesting because my former pastor sent out a press release, too, defending himself and justifying why he had the right to sue us. It reminds me of CEOs of a corporation explaining their business dealings to the world, justifying their actions. What's sorely lacking is the sensitivity and genuine love for people involved. For those issuing the press release, it's all about them and making themselves look good.

      I only visited an SGM church, but I've been part of a couple churches that I believe have similar "thinking" (including my former church who sued me). I have a hunch they are thinking the ultimate problem is sin with the victims (not the perpetrator) and that the victims/families have not completely forgiven the perpetrator which is causing divisiveness in the church by drawing attention to the issue, gossiping, etc. If they only would have forgiven, this issue would be resolved. And if it's not about the forgiveness with the perpetrator, then it's not obeying those God has placed in authority over them (Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.). If they are not obeying their pastor's advice on how to deal with this issue, that's a sin, too. Or it may be a matter of pride that they can't move on from the abuse. Surely their pastors would have told them of this pride. Of course pride is a very bad sin. The victim/family may have told someone else in the church about the issue and then that's called "gossip". Gossip is a sin. Apparently crime is not and has never been a part of this issue or else we would have seen SGM pastors/leaders be the first to call civil authorities to address these issues. I think this really boils down to sin in their eyes, because they think they've done everything the biblical/gospel way. I'm frankly surprised that the have not pointed out the "sin" of the victims of taking them to court. They most likely have a laundry list of these sins because that is how these authoritarian-type churches work.

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  7. I'm sure that these words have been read to all of the SGM church members prior to this press release. It's the perfect example of damage control.

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    1. You know what, Kathi? I've heard that some SGM churches have had NOTHING said to them about the lawsuit at all. Crazy, huh? Pastors not speaking about the lawsuit publicly speaks volumes, doesn't it?

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    2. That is interesting. I would have thought that pastors at other churches would be saying, "that doesn't affect us!"

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    3. Oh the pastors aren't going to say anything unless it's to encourage people not to gossip, slander,and to pray that God will give guidance for the deeply grieved pastors who are involved with the situation. Pardon my cynicism. :-) I have watched it happen again and again for the past year and a half. Especially CovLife (the church my husband and I just left). Covlife is going to be leaving SGM, and one of the biggest reasons is that SGM values loyalty to themselves higher than healthy discourse between it's members. When all of Brent Detwilers stuff came out, Josh Harris encouraged people to read the documents to help understand what the real issue was, but SGM shut that down and strongly encouraged people to not read anything, because that could change peoples' loyalties.

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    4. Chryssie - you have echoed precisely what I have read elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how things change at CLC once they leave SGM.

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  8. This is really all driving me nuts with how passive-aggressive a lot of pastors are when it comes to deal with sticky issues like this. I have heard, time and time again, how the pastors are "deeply grieved" over ______ (fill in the blank) and then they don't do anything about it other than "praying" or "counseling" you for YOUR sin. A friend pointed out today, that it's really possible that if SGM loses this lawsuit, all of the pastors listed could go to prison (don't know if this is true or not) because they, I guess, obstructed justice.

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    1. I see the same thing with the "YOUR" sin. It seems to be their primary focus. If this were a criminal case, then perhaps there could be prison time if they lost the case, but in civil cases as this one is, there is no prison time. They may have to pay $$, though.

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