Dear Mr. Sande,
Thank you for your email.
Since your initial request was for me to provide you with what I saw as the main issues in “Noel’s story,” I will get that out of the way first.
Noel’s story, as horrific as it is, is merely one story of MANY that illustrates all of the following:
- Sovereign Grace Ministries’ (“SGM’s”) deep-seated distrust of any outside intervention, from either mental health professionals or even law enforcement, when appropriate.
- Closely connected with that, SGM’s sense of themselves as superior and “above” other organizations (again, including law enforcement and/or mental health professionals), which leads them to attempt to handle all problems “in house,” no matter how deep or outside the pastor’s field of expertise the problem might be.
- SGM’s continual drive to redirect questions about real issues and real concerns back onto the questioner, to where the conversation eventually devolves into a discussion about the questioner’s own “sin issues” and the need for the questioner to “submit” to whatever it is the pastor is saying – with heavy-handed and unreasonable church discipline eventually following if such submission does not occur.
- A culture of secrecy, where what goes on behind closed doors is rarely the same as what is communicated to the average SGM member.
- SGM pastors’ overblown ideas about the finality of their own authority, and their dual identities as (supposedly) the “worst sinners they know,” and yet, somehow, also God’s emissaries who will never make any real mistakes or sin against their parishioners. Normal ministries have real and formal avenues in place so that members’ grievances can be addressed. The very fact that SGM needed to call Peacemaker Ministries into Noel’s situation is enough evidence to prove that members with grievances ultimately have nowhere to turn if their pastors prove to be unaccommodating.
I have to say, I was quite amazed to have been contacted by the founder and president of an organization that I have heard currently has more than enough cases brought to its attention, something you yourself even alluded to in your email when you expressed your concern about overburdening your small staff with “disorganized” and “disconnected emails” from the readers of this blog. Certainly you’re not in the position of needing to “drum up business.” So it seems more than a little unusual for someone of your stature within your organization to feel the need to get involved in this situation, especially given the skepticism you expressed in your email about the credibility of blogs.
Also, I am confused because even as you acknowledge that you would not be qualified to participate in this sort of intervention, due to your close ties with Sovereign Grace Ministries, you nonetheless are asking me to communicate privately via telephone with you and reveal further information to you so that you can somehow take this information and…do WHAT with it? I appreciate that you wish to help, but since by your own admission you need to recuse yourself from any role as a mediator between SGM and its former parishioners, why would you still be seeking additional information about those parishioners from me?
I am further confused about how the phone conversation you’re requesting leaves less room for misunderstandings than does written communication, where every word exchanged is recorded. That really makes no sense. With a phone conversation, there is always room for memories to fail, or for words to be transposed or even changed in future re-tellings, so that meanings can be altered and confusion results. In these respects, the written word is a much more reliable and trustworthy form of communication than the (non-recorded) spoken word.
Most importantly, I am not interested in ANY process that cannot be entered into on a completely open and public basis, with communications made available for all to see. I believe this level of accountability to the interested public is absolutely crucial in any serious attempt to address SGM’s aberrant practices. Your request for all our communications to be private is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this whole thing. I am very bothered by what seems to be an effort on your part (or on behalf of SGM?) to reduce what has been a broad and public discussion of SGM’s organization-wide problems into specific private “grievances” between specific individuals that then must be handled privately, behind closed doors.
I’m trusting that you must see how such a request would merely appear to perpetuate SGM’s culture of secrecy. Further, by suggesting that these instances are NOT reflective of widespread problems within SGM that need to be addressed “company-wide,” but are instead merely isolated events that can be solved in isolated, private ways, the push for secrecy seems to do one of the very things that SGM is said to have done in the first place: marginalize the abused families’ experiences.
Especially in my own case, there is literally NOTHING that I need to see “resolved” between Sovereign Grace Ministries and myself personally. This is simply NOT, in any way, shape or form, a “Matthew 18″ situation. All that my husband and I have done is set up a blog that set forth our opinions of the “cultural oddities” that we noticed at the SGM church we attended. At the time the original blog was established, we had absolutely no knowledge of the deeper problems inherent in SGM’s structure of governance and church polity. We had no knowledge that anyone had ever been hurt or manipulated or controlled by SGM leaders. All we’ve ever done is provide a forum for people to share their own stories about SGM.
Anything that any “peacemaker” or Sovereign Grace leader needs to know is already there on the blog. For well over a year, we have discussed SGM’s issues plainly. I do not believe that I can provide any further clarification in a private conversation that cannot already be found on the blog.
SGM (and Peacemaker Ministries) are free to do with this information what they will. There is no need to “make peace” with me on any level that would require my personal involvement.
Interestingly enough, I am convinced that SGM already has all the pertinent information they need regarding other cases of sexual abuse that may have been “swept under the rug,” as well as the MYRIAD of cases where members were spiritually abused in other ways. All SGM would need to do is consult the copious records that they maintain on all their members. Those records would provide them with the names and identities they crave, actually probably for far more individuals than have ever written to me under the cloak of anonymity.
But…what everyone who is concerned about SGM’s problems still needs to realize, though, is that in the end, SGM simply does not even NEED all these specific identities to figure out if they’re “guilty as charged.” Especially if SGM’s purported victims have already moved on from SGM and have expressed no interest in re-entering any sort of relationship with the organization – thereby nullifying any need for personal “reconciliation.”
All SGM leaders really need to do is take a good look at themselves and see if there’s any truth to the observations made on the blog about their organization.
For instance, DO THEY, as an organization, have a system of church governance in place that is too heavy on the notion of “authority,” with no recourse for the common member should a disagreement arise? HAVE THEY, as an organization, caused their pastors to view themselves as the final arbiters of God’s truth, even for non-essential matters? HAVE THEY, as an organization, taught their pastors to turn every confrontation back around onto the questioner, so that the questioner is then left defending himself and his own sinfulness that caused him to have a difference of opinion in the first place? HAVE THEY, as an organization, fostered a culture of secrecy, where decisions are made from the top down and then imposed upon the people in the pews, often with little clear explanation to these people about the changes imposed upon them? HAVE THEY, as an organization, come to view themselves as better than all other organizations? DO THEY, as an organization, hold themselves and the counseling their pastors offer as superior to any sort of professional mental health or law enforcement intervention?
Finally, HAVE THEY EVER minimized a case of sexual abuse by – say – having the admitted abuser merely place a phone call to apologize to his victim, and then permitting the abuser to remain a member in good standing?
Nobody here at this blog needs to somehow prove his or her “credibility,” because a “credible” blog (however that would be defined) is not necessary. Neither does SGM need specific cases, with specific identities and names and addresses, in order to determine if these things are true.
All they need to do is look in the mirror and dare to ask themselves the hard questions.
I do appreciate your interest in this matter. I join you in praying for this situation, and yet I’m guessing that my prayers are a bit different than yours. I pray that SGM would repent of its current “authority” structure. I pray that SGM would change every one of its policies that leads to the problems evidenced in Noel’s story. I pray that SGM members would be empowered with some format with which their grievances (and even simple differences of opinion) could be addressed. And I pray that God’s real peace – possible only after honesty and true repentance – would then prevail.