SGM Seeks “Peace” With Noel And Family

January 9, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Yesterday, Noel’s husband Grizzly received a phone call from Ken Sande’s “Peacemakers” organization. Sovereign Grace Ministries wants to “reconcile” with them.

For some of you out there reading this, that fact is the only answer you need.  With Peacemakers involved, you feel that all your questions are now answered and that you can put Noel’s story out of your thoughts.

In that way, Sovereign Grace Ministries’ decision to involve Sande’s organization is a true stroke of genius.  Many people – many current SGM members – have written me to share how disturbed they were when they read Noel’s story, and many of them have had questions that they wish to ask their SGM leaders.  But now, if SGM can point to initiating the whole “peace-making” process, and suggest that this story is nobody else’s business since it is now being handled as a private “Matthew 18” matter, pastors can effectively shut down any member who has questions about it.

Plus, SGM can now point to the fact that they “initiated” this peace-making process, another point apparently in their favor.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad that SGM finally got around to taking an action – involving Sande and his organization – that apparently acknowledges that they may not have handled Noel’s situation appropriately.

But so many questions remain.

First of all, how many of you out there join me in thinking that what happened to Noel and her family, and how her Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors responded, is so much bigger than the mere individuals involved?  If the essential facts of her story are true – and apparently, SGM is not disputing any of these facts, aside from a few insignificant timeline issues – then what Noel has shared with us, horrific though it was for her family personally and privately as the primary victims, is also merely an illustration of so many deeper problems that SGM has on a lot of other levels.

So I think that SGM’s move to involve Peacemakers actually raises far more issues than it settles.  I have more questions now than ever before – and if you are a current member of a Sovereign Grace church, you should, too.

To start with, Noel and her husband have made it clear that they have moved on and reached a place of personal healing.  They say they are ALREADY “at peace” with SGM in the broadest sense, in that they are perfectly OK with their current relationship with the pastors who mishandled their situation.  They are “at peace” with where they are now.

They have made it clear from the beginning that they are telling their story now – ten years after the fact – only because they want to speak out in a broader and public way against the kinds of abuses that took place in their situation.

So yes, while it would be nice if Noel’s former pastors were to apologize to her family for attempting to minimize the crime that was committed against them and for attempting to protect a child rapist, Noel and her husband did not come forward with their story because they were seeking an apology…or “peace” with Sovereign Grace Ministries.

So my first question is, why is SGM trying to turn this back into a personal issue, an issue about “peace” between the specific people involved? 

In so doing, it seems like SGM is attempting to redefine the terms and still seek to be the authority in charge, even as they once again minimize Noel’s situation by boiling it down to just the initial small group of individuals involved.

Why must SGM try to assume the superior position and insinuate that THEY have more accurate knowledge about what is going on in Noel’s and her husband’s hearts?  Why can’t SGM just take Noel and Grizzly at their word and accept what they say about where they are with respect to “peace”?  Wouldn’t that demonstrate more true repentance and humility?

Why not just meet Noel and her husband on THEIR terms?  Why institute a “peace-making” process, when Noel and her husband have already expressed no need for “peace” (as they believe they have already ARRIVED at “peace”)?  Why not instead first address the real issues that Noel’s story raises?

Secondly, if SGM is truly interested in pursuing “peace” with Noel and her husband, are Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders going to quit minimizing what happened and actually deal with the root causes – root causes that are organization-wide! – that led to the pastors’ really strange and terrible responses to a clear case of child sex abuse?

For instance, in this “peace-making” process, is SGM going to address the strange way that they downplayed the sins of the criminal and instead focused on the suspected sins of the victims?  Is SGM going to address its deeply held and organization-wide tendency to deflect real concerns and criticisms by turning the conversation around so that the person pointing out the concerns or making the criticisms then finds himself suddenly talking about his OWN possible sins?

Will a “peace-making” process involve SGM “opening the vaults” and now disclosing just how many other victims of sexual abuse have been handled in the exact same way as Noel and her family were treated?  Will they go back and consult all the copious records they keep on their members and refresh their memories as to all the other similar cases, and then make a clean breast of what they’ve done?

Will the “peace-making” process include changing their policies about reporting sexual abuse to the appropriate civil authorities?  Whether or not they can legally take cover behind some sort of “pastor-parishioner privilege” (similar to attorney-client privilege), will they continue to seek protection under such a “privilege,” or will they now report cases of molestation to Child Protective Services, as anyone else in good conscience would, EVEN IF the perpetrators happen to be people with very visible connections to Sovereign Grace Ministries?

Will the “peace-making” process include a complete overhaul of Sovereign Grace Ministries’ deep-seated sense of superiority?  A key piece of how Noel’s situation was mishandled – and a key reason why a lot of other situations, situations that have not yet been publicized, have been mishandled – is SGM’s belief in dealing with all problems “in house.”  Noel’s pastors appear to have been laboring under the assumption that as the perpetrator’s “spiritual authorities,” THEY were better equipped to help him deal with his problems than any outside agency – even the LAW.  Despite the fact that the Bible tells us clearly in many places to honor the laws of our land, SGM seems to have a policy in place that goes out of its way to keep a lid on the problems that could embarrass them as an organization, EVEN WHEN those problems involve sex crimes that are in almost all other situations required by law to be reported to the appropriate state agency.

Also, despite the fact that most SGM pastors have scant training in the area of mental health issues, SGM teaches its pastors that their advice and counsel is far superior to that of professional psychologists, even Christian psychologists.

Will “making peace” with Noel include any sort of repentance or change on this position?

Moreover, will the “peace-making” process include openness and repentance about all the people whom SGM may have endangered by their practices of harboring known sex offenders without forcing them to seek treatment?  Will SGM notify every parent of every child who was exposed to known child molesters because SGM sought to demonstrate its “forgiveness” by allowing those molesters to work in children’s ministry?

I have additional questions, too, that aren’t specifically related to what might occur in the “peace-making” process in Noel’s situation.

I also have questions about what Sovereign Grace Ministries will now teach about its pastors’ “authority.”

An attitude pervasive among SGM members is that their pastors have the final word.  We saw this in operation even with respect to Noel’s story.  The general response among a lot of SGM members, after reading Noel’s story, was to assure themselves (and anyone else) that the pastors probably had “good reasons” for behaving in the way they did.  Many of these SGMers did ask their pastors questions about Noel’s story, but they did so with this assumption (an assumption that seems really crazy to an outsider) that if they would just ask the pastors involved what happened, those pastors would tell them the full and complete truth – and all would be well.

(By the way – to all you SGM members who think this way – let me tell you, it is HIGHLY ILLOGICAL to depend solely upon the word of a person suspected of lying and dissembling and covering up…ESPECIALLY when asking said person IF they lied and dissembled and covered up.  If the person did lie, why would you assume that they’d suddenly come clean with you about it, just because you ask them?)

Is Sovereign Grace Ministries going to acknowledge that no human being is infallible in this way?  That despite believing themselves to have “apostolic authority” over their people, and – consequently –  despite believing themselves to have supreme judgment over all matters involving their church members, there is still the potential for SGM pastors to make grave mistakes?

Will they now actively seek to undo nearly 30 years of teaching on this matter?  Will they now seek to re-educate people not to assume that the “buck always stops” with their pastors?  Will they put procedures and policies in place to address the very real possibility that pastors can (and do!) make mistakes, DO sometimes SIN AGAINST the members entrusted into their care?  Will they make provisions for members to seek mediation for these sorts of situations?

Will they ditch the concept – rooted in the old 1980s “Shepherding Movement” – of teaching members that it is normal and expected for them to have their pastors weigh in on all important decisions?  Will they can the idea that pastors have the authority to, for instance, “release” a family to move to another state, or to “counsel against” such a move?

I mean, if SGM pastors’ judgment can be so poor in situations like Noel’s – situations that would seem like “no-brainers” to normal people – how reliable can their discernment actually be on LESS OBVIOUS matters?

Closely related to that is this question:  will they institute a ministry-wide overhaul of their practice of ferreting out vague “sins” such as the “fear of man” and “pride” and “arrogance” and instead first deal with the really BIG sins that actually put children at risk?  Again, if SGM pastors can “miss it” in such a big-time way when a terrible crime – a sin that they can SEE – crosses their path, why would anyone trust a pastor’s assessment about one’s private and personal “sin issues” that CANNOT be seen?

And finally, will Sovereign Grace Ministries initiate the peace-making process with others now?  Many folks have shared their stories here.  Most of those stories do not involve anything potentially illegal, such as seeking to cover up child molestation.  But nonetheless, SGM has hurt a lot of people through its harsh, authoritarian ways over the years.  Will SGM now seek to “make peace” with all those folks? 

Or do they only do this with the cases that have legal ramifications, the cases that could truly come back to embarrass them in the eyes of the rest of the Reformed Christian world whose opinion is so valuable to them?