“Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel. The gospel is the life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth. It has more facets than a diamond. It's depths man will never exhaust.” CJ Mahaney
CJ Mahaney quoted above is the head of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and was recently named in a lawsuit along with several others by sexual abuse victims and their families for the mishandling of sex abuse cases within the church (failure to report, etc,). What kind of life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing gospel is CJ Mahaney reading in which he misses the essence of what Jesus Christ stands for: love? I often find the key ingredient missing from those who abuse their positions of authority is their capacity to truly love. Love listens to the cries of hurting people in their flock, not just the voices of their favorite celebrity pastor buddies who endorse their books and speak with them at big-name conferences.
When dealing with abuse, the secular world does not blame victims for the abuse they incur. The secular world does a pretty good job of clearly identifying abuser and victim in plain terms. The abuser is clearly the guilty party and the abused is the innocent party and victim. Yet, in SGM world, we find that they treat victims as if they play a part in the whole process, not necessarily as an innocent victim, because they, too, are sinners. You might need to re-read that again. It is hard for me to even wrap my head around such a thought.
Deeply embedded in the SGM mindset are some assumptions:
1. All sins are just as vile in the eyes of God.
2. One of the clearest signs of “rebellion” is when a person sees himself as an injured party, because no injury that can be perpetrated against the person could ever surpass the horror that the person’s own sin is in the eyes of God.
3. The clearest sign of a “repentant” person is eager confession of wrongdoing.
Taking those three SGM assumptions, let’s examine Noel’s pastors’ response to her family’s situation. In light of these assumptions, I think we can more clearly understand a bit of what went through those pastors’ minds as they offered more sympathy and support to the perp rather than the victims. Even though the pastoral responses are basically incomprehensible to a normal person, they sort of start to make sense when you think of it in this way:
Because of SGM’s belief that each of us must always be “the worst sinner that we ourselves know,” we basically give up our rights to ANY victimhood, no matter how heinous the crime committed against us.
In other words, even though what happened to Noel’s family was absolutely horrific, SGM’s foundational teachings would say that Noel’s only legitimate “biblical” response would be to examine her own sinfulness and see herself as “the worst sinner” she knows. Her pastors would see it as their duty to direct Noel’s attention first of all to her own indwelling sin, her own wretchedness in God’s eyes. I believe they sincerely think that this is “bringing the Gospel into” everything they do. For them, “the Gospel” is firstly and foremostly about our own sin.
But instinctively, we know that something is jacked up in this view. God’s own Word would tell us that He does see some sins as having broader and more lasting consequences than other sins. Yes, all sin is an abomination in God’s eyes…theoretically. But we all know the REALITY, that if I go out and kill someone, there are far more ramifications all the way around than if I lie by calling in sick to work one day when I’m not actually sick and just want to go shopping with my friends. Both the murder and the lie are sins in God’s eyes and both are wretched, but if you lie to me, I’m probably going to be less upset than if you kill someone near and dear to me.
In SGMville, though, this normal human reaction – one that the even the Bible would seem to support, if you examine how God outlined so many very specific laws and guidelines governing behavior for Old Testament Israel – is circumvented. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been the victim of a liar or a murderer. In your SGM pastor’s mind, you’ve got NO RIGHT to see yourself as a victim, of any sort. In order to “bring the Gospel in,” they’re duty-bound to remind you of your own sinfulness, like it’s some sort of tonic for the normal grief that you might feel because of the ramifications of the sin that was perpetrated against you…like somehow, if I as the victim can just focus on my own badness, I’ll forget that someone molested my child.
So OK. In SGMville, all sins are created equal.
Now, enter the perp. Perp expresses sorrow and remorse for his sin. He truly IS the “worst sinner that he knows,” so such a mindset comes easily and naturally to him. In the eyes of his SGM pastors, he automatically then becomes the “more righteous” person, since his response is the only “truly biblical” repsonse that they can find acceptable.
It gets worse if the victim stands up for himself/herself in any fashion. SGM pastors immediately see this as unforgiveness, which of course is a sin, which then makes the victim even WORSE than the remorseful (and therefore righteous) perp.
Again, I did not think of this myself. Someone else initially posted these general thoughts. But I thought these were some brilliant observations that did far more to shed light on Noel’s pastors’ really twisted and bizarre behavior than just about anything else.
To me, this helps to make sense of why, in SGMville, the victims are minimized while the perps are protected. It’s because in SGMville, the only thing that is really righteous is seeing oneself as “the worst sinner one knows.” If one has had a crime – particularly a heinous crime like child abuse – perpetrated against one, there is NO HONEST WAY that one can authentically and enthusiastically embrace “worst sinner” status in one’s thinking. One instinctively knows that someone else’s sin (in this case, one’s perp’s sin) is greater than one’s own sin. So one naturally raises objections to embracing “worst sinner” status.
SGM pastors sense this and seem to hone in on it, interpreting standing up for oneself as a sign of pride and sin and unforgiveness.
Meanwhile, the perp is over in his corner crying his genuine tears of sorrow. Because he truly IS the “worst sinner he knows” at that moment, he is more righteous, and hence more worthy of protection.
Susan Burke, the attorney representing the families of the victims in the lawsuit was recently interviewed on the Janet Mefferd radio show and has heard of other victims and expects to hear from more. (Janet Mefferd Show)
Attorney Susan Burke has mentioned above that she would like to speak to others who have experienced spousal abuse while at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church. Please contact Susan Burke: firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.386.9622
Brent Detwiler reports he, too, has had people contact him since he first reported the story:
I can vouch for this myself. Since last Wednesday when the story broke, I’ve been contacted by women whose children were sexually abused or they were physically abused by their husbands. They don’t know who to turn to for help. In their cases, the pastors did nothing to prosecute the abusers. These women experienced the same kind treatment by their pastors as alleged in the lawsuit.
I fear there are many cases of spousal abuse in Sovereign Grace Churches that have been terribly mishandled by SGM pastors. This too must be investigated. I want to encourage any woman who has been battered to get help. If your pastor did more to protect your abuser than you, or counseled you against contacting the police, or confronted you for being unforgiving, or told you not to separate, then please speak up. Such abusive pastoring must stop. I am glad to help you, confront your pastors for you, and put you in touch with people who can uphold you.
Below are a couple of comments I have found specifically regarding spousal abuse.
This mentality explains why so many cases of sexual abuse and domestic abuse went unreported. And this is not just the mindset at one SGM church, but in quite a few. I have no doubt that more stories will come out as people hear about the lawsuit and make the connection with stories they have heard or have experienced themselves. I hope that they will reach out and seek support and also notify authorities if they have suffered crimes.