Monday, October 22, 2012

Spousal Abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries Churches?

“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.  

There's another problem that has been surfacing which hasn't generated a whole lot of attention.  Hopefully, people will take note of this issue because it is a problem - the problem of spousal abuse.  What is this "thing" that causes SGM leaders to behave this way with regard to abuse?  I want to take a look at that key issue.  

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.  

Remember - in Sovereign Grace church environments both sexual abuse and spousal abuse were not labeled as "crimes" - they were issues of "sin" which was to be dealt with at church and under the guidance of church leaders/pastors.  People were told they should not go to authorities to report any incidences. Once the leaders felt the issue was "resolved" at church, the matter was considered a thing of the past.   

It is vital to look at the mindset of how SGM leaders view sin in order to see how they respond to victims of abuse.  Kris, the co-moderator at seems to have a good grasp of how SGM views sin with regard to abuse.  Her thoughts also match up with what I have observed in reading the many personal accounts at her site as well as personal communications I have had with SGM victims and former members in the past year.  Reading this brief summary below (Source) will help explain in SGM-speak why a 3-yr old who was sexually abused at the age of 2 "needed" to meet with the perpetrator for reconciliation.  ACKKKKKKK - I still have a hard time typing this.  It is just MIND-BOGGLING!!  Who DOES THIS!!!  Anyway, check this out and you will see why wives who are abused would have a really tough time getting adequate help or care in the SGM environment.  Noel's story is referred to in the article. 

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: 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.

10/17/2012 6:35 PM PDT
I would love to know who to contact regarding abuse in SGM ministries. I was a member there for over 20 years and just recently left. The counsel from the pastors I received after going to them for help was criminal. I was involved in Spousal abuse and they questioned me on whether I had forgiven my spouse or not. They questioned me and never called authorities. They told me I could not call the police. No counseling was offered to us and no one questioned him. I went to them numerous times.  (Source)

JA note:  "PDI" mentioned below is the former name of Sovereign Grace Ministries - People of Destiny International.  I took the liberty to add paragraphs for readability.  The following comment is taken from   

Pia says:October 20, 2012 at 10:54 pm
Just finished listening to the interview.  I have been far removed from PDI/SGM for many years now but hearing about all this is bringing up so many painful memories for me.  One thing Susan said was that people who need professional help are often discouraged from going to secular counselors and to mistrust anyone who is a secular authority.  Boy do I remember that PDI/SGM rule really well!  For almost 10 years in the ’80s and ’90s, I endured domestic abuse from my husband and was continually told by my pastors to just “forgive” and just “continue to submit.”  Instead of re-telling my story here, I went back to a blog entry I submitted to SGM Survivors on July 18, 2011, and I hope it’s OK if I re-post part of it here.  I believe the message I gave at the end of my post is more relevant than ever and I really want those who are still afraid of coming out into the open to realize that NOW IS THE GOD-APPOINTED TIME FOR JUSTICE!
“I remember calling John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, Larry Tomczak,etc.–men I looked up to and who were my pastors at CLC and bosses when I was a loyal employee at PDI. ‘What do I do if I’m being physically abused by my husband?’ was what I wanted to ask them.  Only John Loftness (whom I so respected and loved) bothered to call me back.  And even he could not give me a straight answer. For years, even after I left PDI, I carried my shame and guilt in secret for obviously not “cutting it” as the perfect PDI wife and being unceremoniously kicked out (after my divorce).
I also carried so much hurt and anger because no leader…not anyone I reached out to anyway…bothered to really help me or give me wise counsel during that crucial period in my life. The best help eventually came from a secular counselling center for battered wives. For years, it was ingrained into me by my leaders, ‘Do not go to secular counselors or professionals…come to us, we have a corner on God’s truth, we will tell you exactly what you need to do.’  For almost 10 years, I followed their instructions to the T and still got abused.
The first time I went to a therapist, my sisters had to trick me into seeing him, saying I was going there for the sake of one of my sisters. That man probably saved my life! That my PDI leaders acted like they were the experts on every single area and could tell me how to live my own life (because only they could accurately hear from God for me) was a lie I cannot now believe that I completely bought into. I was a magna cum laude graduate with a degree in Economics from George Washington University (I am now an Economics teacher). But that was before I sold my soul to PDI. By the time I left the system, I was a completely broken woman. Lost all my fire and passion for the Lord. Lost all my trust in church leaders. Lost my self-respect, dignity, sense of worth, etc., etc. I thought I was stupid and I thought I was going crazy.
Now that these latest events are unfolding and the big Humpty Dumpty (C.J.) who sat on his high lofty wall (whom I once thought was simply untouchable) is finally falling…and as I watch all the king’s horses and all the king’s men desperately trying to put Humpty together again…I do have to say, “Thank you God!”  Thank you, on behalf of all the faceless, nameless victims of this once “powerful empire” for validating all our voices…finally!  Thank you for showing so many of us that we weren’t crazy, wrong or sinful just because we didn’t agree with the system. In fact, in my case and in the case of so many, we were dying a slow death…and leaving was a matter of our survival–and that of our kids!  Thank you that there are finally intelligent and caring lawyers, journalists, high-profile Christian leaders, professional counselors–sane, normal, healthy people–who are now peering into the hell hole I was once a part of and are starting to blow the whistle and crying out loudly, “Foul!” for all to hear.
For me, of course, it is many, many years too late. I can put my name out there, without hiding behind anonymity, and freely state names of my former leaders–because all this is so so behind me. None of them can ever touch me again. But for all those–the many, many silent victims who are still in so much pain because of sexual abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, etc. that were allowed to continue within the powerful “no-talk” system of PDI/SGM, silently suffering still behind closed doors–let these latest events be an encouragement to all of you.
This is the time of your vindication! Speak up and tell your story! No one can shut you up now! No one can tell you you are crazy and you’re just “exagerrating” or “seeing things.” No one can accuse you of gossiping when all you ever wanted was just for people to know how much you were hurt and damaged by your leaders. I know more people are reading these blogs than there were back in 2007. Many people here are hearing my story for the first time perhaps. Here is what I want you all to know: the stories here, at least mine and so many others that I personally have heard from, are all true! In fact, if you go back and read them all (which will take you days and days), you will hear horrendous details of all kinds of abuses at the hands of pastors and leaders who, in my opinion, need to finally be held accountable.
My last words are reserved for any victim who might still be living in this bizarre, crazy and painful world created by the once mighty PDI/SGM empire: someday, you will no longer be a victim. Someday, you will be completely free. Someday, you will be truly joyful and your passion for the Lord will return. And someday you will embrace the full gospel…that Jesus died on the cross for your sins…AND HE RESURRECTED so that you might live the abundant John 10:10 free and healed life and experience the power of that glorious resurrection within you so that you no longer fear any man but can truly have joy pulsating within every fiber of your being! Yes…you can really be that happy and free!
But first, you must speak the truth about your current captivity…ask for help in all the right and safe places (this blog is one of them)…trust the real God (not the man-made one that PDI/SGM has erected)…and follow Him OUT of there! I urge you…I implore you…come out and join the rest of us…it’s going to feel so good to breathe again!


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.  

photo credit: Hibr via photopin cc


  1. I was in three different SGM churches spanning 30 years. I left for good last year after having my eyes opened to the hypocrisy of the leadership and their utter failure to repent of and deal with the abuses. I was never abused personally, but I know a number of people who were. I didn't know about the abuses when they were happening, but only found out later in the weeks leading up to my departure and especially after I left and started talking with people who had also left. I have been appalled at what I have heard from these dear people about how they were treated. For example, one of my friends who suffered tremendously at the hands of her narcissistic sociopathic husband went to her pastors for help. She was told that "there is no such thing as emotional abuse" and took the side of the husband, even though he was an unbeliever and not even a member of the church.

    1. Moniker - Thanks for sharing your story. 30 years is a l-o-n-g time to invest in a church group and I'm sure it must have been a difficult to leave after that much time. One of the saddest things for me to hear about is the isolation that goes on for the abused and their families. When abuse occurs, you need support and who better to support than the Body of Christ? This did not happen. How would Christ handle these abuse situations? I don't believe He would turn a blind eye. He called out sin and he comforted those who were hurt. The poor victims and families are shamed into silence, reminded about their own sin, told if they tell anyone, it is "gossip", divisive to the church body. Appalling is the right word. This pattern is not isolated to Sovereign Grace, however, I am seeing the pattern in other churches (like my own former church, BGBC) and many others. That's why it is so important to identify these patterns. It must be stopped.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience.

  2. This does not surprise me at all. Since they highly value and strongly teach courting, the daughter having the heart of the father and then moving to the covering of her husband sets the stage early for abuse. It's sets the men in position of power and the women with no identity except through a man.

    In my few years that I taught ministry students about domestic violence, I found these two wonderful books:

    Dangerous Marriage: Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence, S.R. McDill and Linda McDill

    No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark

    Most of the ministry students were unaware that domestic violence would be an issue in the church. They had their eyes opened to the subject by reading these books. These are great books for people to read who are in domestic abuse relationship. Hopefully they can help someone who may be reading here.

    1. Thank you, Kathi, for these references. It's hard to fathom this much abuse going on in churches. So sad!

  3. When you delve into any one abuse, you quickly find that there is relationship with other abuses--physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual.

    When it comes to sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence, these are crimes that must be reported. Failing to do so goes against the law and brings further anguish to those harmed.

    When it comes to sexual abuse and domestic violence, there seems to be a problem in understanding what exactly is a 'crime' that needs to be reported to the police.

    When people, especially Christians, can comprehend the 'crime' factor and the need to take appropriate action in reporting crimes, then the keeping it 'in house' and dealing with individuals through the church, as a tradition of the past, can stop. There is a better chance of helping the victims and seeing that justice is served when a violation of the law committed against an individual is reported without delay.

    A helpful online resource on Abuse issues is:

    This website was designed to be a resource available for people seeking information on abuse. Abuse covers a range of topics. The main abuse topics that are categorized and defined on this site include the following:

    1. Sexual Abuse
    2. Sexual Abuse of Children
    3. Sexual Abuse of Adults
    4. Sexual Abuse by Clergy
    5. Physical Abuse/Domestic Violence
    6. Spiritual Abuse

    The need for a one-stop website, with resources for both victims and those who desire to help victims, was an identified need. Out of that mutual vision, this resource website was birthed.

    The Abuse Resource Network strives to raise awareness about abuse and to help to motivate and train the church to respond to abuse in a biblical way.

  4. Julie Anne, thanks for the comment on my blog. Although my article on domestic violence did not mention SGM, I am a former longtime SGM member and well aware of the dynamics and expectations there.

    1. Hi Virginia,

      Thanks for sharing about your blog. You have done a super job to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence. Good to know that you understand the dynamics in the SGM group from being a member.

      You are right: We Can't Ignore Domestic Violence!

    2. Virginia - I appreciate what you are doing to highlight abuse and providing resources. Thank you!

  5. This whole lawsuit stuff caused me to send a long email to a pastor as a sgm church with how they have dealt with my family. My dad has a very long history of pornography addiction, and through that has physically abused the rest of my siblings, probably sexually abused my mom, and has emotionally/verbally abused and manipulated me and my siblings all of my life. Through his addiction, he has also exposed my siblings to porn as well. My family has been going to this sgm church for 4 years, and all the pastors have done is counsel my dad to repent. Meanwhile, one of my sisters started cutting herself, and has just about gone off the deep end, another one of my brothers is and has gotten involved with gangs and has quite a rap sheet. I got kicked out of the house, and my next oldest sibling is at college and refuses to come home on break. I have challenged the pastors many times in how they are supposedly caring for my family, my siblings, and others who are in abusive situations. I really hope something comes of this time go-round with talking to the pastors. But I honestly don't expect much to happen.

    1. Hi Chryssie Rose: Ugh - what a story - it's so painful to even read what you wrote - I'm so sorry. Did you get a response back from the SGM pastor? I'm glad you are out of the house, but it must weigh so heavily on your heart knowing what your mom and siblings are living with. I wish there was some magic fix for all of this abuse mess in churches. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. I got an almost immediate answer, and one that we've gotten before when bringing up my concerns for my siblings. I've been contacted by my parents pastors and they want to meet to talk about my concerns and to give me a chance to tell them anything that I know but that my mom hasn't told them yet. I told them I'm not comfortable meeting because I don't want to walk out feeling like there is nothing that is going to happen, and there will be no resolution to the issues. I've been bringing up my major concerns for my siblings for 6 years now, and being the oldest, it's been hard. I definitely have a huge weight to carry with me, because no one else is fighting for my siblings. I have a lot of other people backing me up, but it wasn't until I got out that I actually got support. (p.s. i'm in the middle of writing a blog post about this specifically and will be posting it soonish)

    1. Have you considered getting outside help, ie, going to authorities, Chryssie? You've already seen the pattern from pastors involved and in this post I discussed (and you've already witnessed) the mindset of sin verses crime among SGM churches. Maybe that's the next step to finally getting some positive direction. Focusing on "sin" is pretty lame if that's all that is done considering the history you've posted here (and I've read on your blog). Last I checked, exposing children to porn is illegal. I suppose different states have different laws. You are really in a tough situation and I can see that you are carrying such a big burden for your family. That's so difficult. I am going to be praying for you and your family.

    2. I have considered that, and honestly, several people have called CPS on my family, and they have been investigated once. I am being encouraged to report my dad to them again. I seriously want to see my mom leave my dad and get my siblings away from him, but she is in such denial of the issues at home, she's not going to leave. Even after him losing five jobs (because of the internet addiction) in the past three years, she still will insist that my dad is changing. :shrug: i don't know what else to do besides what I'm already doing. thanks for praying!

    3. Chryssie Rose - I am sorry to hear about your family situation. I feel for you for the burden that you feel for your siblings. It is wonderful for them that they have someone like you who cares so much. Given the family history that you have shared, if I were you, I would not hesitate to call Family Services or the police. If there are still minors in the home, they need to be in a safe place. You need to be prepared to offer specifics to what is going on in the home, which will most likely not be easy.

      As for your mom, you could also call the police immediately after an episode of abuse happens. Unfortunately, sometimes the police need to be able to see something physical in order to make an arrest. The other issue is that your mom needs to be willing to leave the home. She may not want to. That is very difficult for someone else to understand . She may fully understand what is happening, but is afraid to leave because of the unknown of how she will make it without her husband. It is heartbreaking to watch someone intentionally stay in an abusive relationship.

      At this point, I think that the main concern is the safety of other children in the house. I, too, will pray for you. If there are other needs that we can pray for, please let us know.

  7. Kathi, thanks for those resources. It's good to know of books that actually acknowledge and address this huge problem. Those will be helpful for me as I am walking through this with someone in that situation.

    Chryssie Rose, I am praying for you and for this situation. Way to stand strong and be an advocate for your siblings.

  8. Kathi, thank you for your thoughts. For right now, I am getting as many opinions as I can and seeking advice from those who have been in shoes before, or have helped others.

    Thank you everyone else for praying. I appreciate it, and I think the biggest need right now is that it will be clear to me how I should go about this, and for my mom to get how serious things are.

    Thanks again everyone.

  9. For those of you who may not be aware yet, there is a blog specifically for domestic abuse (spousal abuse) in a Christian context.

    It's called A Cry For Justice and you can find it at cryingoutforjustice dot wordpress dot com.
    A Cry for Justice is also by clicking on my name, that will take you to the blog.

    The blog is a safe place for victims and survivors. It's adminisitered by me (Barbara Roberts - a survivor) and Ps Jeff Crippen ( a pastor who really GETS IT about domestic abuse). We weed out any comments from perpetrators so they don't get published. We seek to untangle scriptural confusions that contribute to the Christian victim's dilemma, we support each other, we are trying to wake up the Evangelical Church to the scourge of domestic abuse in it's midst.
    And BTW, we define abuse as any or all of the following methods of abuse: emotional/ verbal/ financial/ social/ sexual/ spiritual/ physical and systemic (using the legal and child protection system as tools in the abuser's arsenal). Abuse is any pattern of power and control over the other party.

    1. Barbara - Thank you for commenting. I've had your blog linked on my sidebar for a while now and posted Jeff's letter to pastors. It is so good. I have learned a lot from your blog and have interacted with Jeff a bit. He really does get it. Your blog is much-needed, especially in sorting out the confusing situations where a pastor tells a wife she must remain with an abusive husband.


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