July 29, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries
Yes, we know. C.J. Mahaney has temporarily stepped down for a paid “season of reflection” (whatever that means) while an “independent” panel is coming in to spend hundreds of hours looking through Brent Detwiler’s documents and examining everything in order to determine whether or not C.J. actually did anything wrong.
Sovereign Grace Ministries churches across the country are holding family meetings where pastors are now shedding tears and admitting that they made mistakes.
Some SGM churches have even promised new polity. Apparently, Covenant Life Church is contemplating allowing ordinary members to nominate men for consideration as candidates for some sort of “ad hoc committee” that will assist pastors with reviewing the process of addressing grievances, pastoral financial compensation, and situations of church discipline. For the first time ever, ordinary SGM members might actually be permitted to have a voice in the decisions made by their pastors.
All of these things are good developments.
But are they enough?
Or is it a case of “too little, too late?”
Are confessions that happen only after irrefutable proof is posted online real confessions? Or are they merely begrudging acknowledgements, wrung out only because leaders have been presented with no other choice, if they want to have any hope at all of preserving their livelihoods?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I know that many present-day SGM members are feeling very hopeful that things within their church organization are changing. I pray that to be the case.
In the meantime, though, we continue to hear stories from former members. Here is one – from someone posting under the handle of “exCLCer” – which landed in the comments of the previous post:
My mother got involved with CLC (Tag,GOB,PDI,whatever) beginning with a festival called Jesus’76, got pregnant by one of the church members, and was advised to marry him. She did. So I along with my siblings were all in this church by default.
We all attended the school CLS from what may have been the first year it opened in the lower level of the frost center in Aspen Hill. As a child, not knowing any different, I didn’t think it odd that field trips were actually “Right to Life Picketing” sessions, or that the children were routinely spanked by the principal for any and every little thing — perceived attitude, fidgeting in class, running in the hall, etc. I didn’t think at the time, it was odd to have required reading like the “Pilgrims Progress” in second grade, with issues like despondence, suicide, and legality, with atheists and giants who are out to abduct and murder pilgrims (christians) and then being instructed on the severe burden of sin being so great that our life’s purpose was to carry that despondent burden on a path of deliverance. I didnt know kids in other schools were reading “The prince and the pauper”.
I didnt really understand why the library in the school was so small, and most of the books had several pages stapled together, and why when I checked a book out and pulled the staples out of those pages I was a sinner and severely punished at the school when they saw the book came back un-stapled.
And I certainly didn’t understand the true cost of attending this school — how parents had to be members in good standing, and tuition depended on their level of involvement with the church (“oh, you’re short on tuition this month? Well you can clean the pastors house, or babysit for one of them— did you tithe this month? Have you missed any homegroup meetings this month?).
I thought it was normal that we couldn’t listen to the radio – it was secular and an outside influence from sinners trying to D**n us to hell along with them – and that TV was the same. It was a childhood wary and afraid of anything outside of the church since it surely meant hell fire and D**nation.
I often mused to myself how sneaky and smart all these outsiders must be because they put on SUCH a convincing show of being really good nice people – but they must be wicked since the church says so. I remember asking my teacher once “Will Catholics go to hell too?” She said they would. I asked her then why didn’t we tell them that when we shared a bus ride with their kids to the last rally. I was sent to the office for punishment. Apparently, asking questions is a sin, and god wants the church to beat the sin out of us.
Fast forward through more than 10 years of this indoctrination, sin picking, and being limited to the CLC circle in school, church, homegroup, youth group,…. (hell, even vacation was to these church sponsored retreats).The secular world was something to be afraid of.
My mother was concerned when her 11 year old daughter had been “acting out”, having a “bad attitude” towards her husband, and the church had advised my mother to admonish her and demand she respect him as godly children should. When she found out a few years later that actually he had been sexually abusing her since age 11, she immediately called the pastors (John Loftness and Gary Riccucci). They handled this situation in the worst ways possible.
I could detail a hundred things they did next which only made the situation worse by blaming the victims, covering up the crime, and supporting the pedophile financially and legally. They even sent my mother to her care group leader for counseling who told her to god wanted her to send her daughter away so that this man could stay in the house as the head of the household.
Despite all of their pleadings my mother insisted on justice and pressed charges. They had claimed they were looking for counseling for my mother and her child, when really they were biding time, retaining legal counsel for this man, to allow him to turn himself in as a show of repentance. They pressured her to ask the court for leniency for this man who had abused her child. They testified as character witnesses for him in court. He had repented and been forgiven, just like that. We were all warned not to tell anyone in the church, even though the abuser was still attending — it would be gossip.
But my mother was not submissive enough and since she refused to ask the court to not send this tithing man to jail, we were all put out of the church, out of the school, and the pastors told my mother, our “poverty was self induced” because she had not been submissive to their guidance. My mother pleaded with the church for help, but they only further demonized her.
Having been a homemaker and mother for years in the church approved way, she had little means of providing for her 9 children. She went and got a minimum wage job and worked until it almost killed her. Our electricity was cut off, our house was in foreclosure, we were pretty much starving, and she came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized. Having offered no help so far, the same pastors showed up to let her know they would make sure all of us children were taken care of while she was in the hospital.
We ended up all split apart, turned over to the state child welfare division, and spent the next several years separated in foster homes, institutions and shelters. But the pastors care and concern only ever was for the molester — they arranged for the kids to “visit their father”, and arranged for my sister, the victim, to have to sit down in a meeting to accept his apology, so he could be forgiven and resume membership in the church.
There’s a long list of decisions they made that negatively affected and re-victimized my family. Once I got older, I started sending a letter to them both, every year, listing the things they had done, telling them I wanted to be a constant reminder of their actions. They NEVER once responded or acknowledged these letters (and later emails). I would drive by their building (locals call the MALL OF JESUS laughingly) and spit out the window at it. Years went by and I continued to send the letters, even when I knew they would never respond.
One day last year I ran into someone I had gone to school at CLS with. He asked about the family and I told him what had actually happened. He asked if he could go to the pastors to question them about it, and I of course said yes. He did just that, and the initial response much later TO HIM from Gary was:
“Please forgive my long overdue response.
Thank you for making me aware of your conversation… and for your obvious heart for the care of anyone drifting from fellowship with Christ…for whatever reason.
Yes, John and I had primary pastoral responsibility for the family during what was certainly a most tragic, grieving and painful experience.
The sin committed and subsequent fragmentation of their family was one of the saddest experiences of our ministry. Because of the sin and alienation there was a need for separation, so John provided care for the mother and children while I walked the father through the necessary legal process in taking responsibility for his actions.
As she got older, no doubt much discussion took place between her and her Mom about that very difficult season. I would be glad to talk personally to you, to answer any questions and to explain the steps we took and why, as this tragedy unfolded.”
Maybe I’m pessimistic, but it sounded like an offer to take the opportunity to justify and rewrite history from an advantageous viewpoint. I have no reason to suspect any different. If they felt they had done something wrong, surely they would have responded to MY letters over the years. I wrote an excruciatingly long email and sent it to both John and Gary suggesting an apology would at least help thier reputations since they cared so much about that. After this church member again followed up about it with them, and in the midst of all this CJ stepping down chaos, they finally responded to me. Gary, in part, wrote:
“It appears that, at least in some of your comments, there may be some misunderstanding of what we did and why. Our hope is that a conversation and some clarification about the past may be a means of God’s comfort and grace to you for the future.Please contact John or me if you feel that a conversation might be helpful.”
John, in part, wrote:
“Our care (or lack of care as the case may be) for your family during those years was one of the most challenging tasks that we have encountered as pastors in more than 30 years. That is not to excuse any failures on our part, but to let you know that, in the light of today and what we have learned since then, and especially in light of getting your perspective, we would see deficiencies in our care. There are gaps that we may be able to fill in and things we remember that may broaden your understanding, but please don’t take that as making any defense or let it take away from the deep sadness we feel for your experiences in the aftermath of Dave’s sin against your sister and mother, and beyond that, to your entire family.”
Both replies ended with an offer to meet and discuss everything. I have really struggled with wanting to believe they would have the decency and integrity to actually acknowledge and admit to their wrongs, apologize, and leave it at that if we met. But the words that keep jumping out at me are: “misunderstanding” and “broaden your understanding” and “gaps we may be able to fill in” and “sadness we feel for your experience” (as opposed to sadness we feel for our actions). I don’t trust them. I also feel like now as an adult I have a CHOICE I didn’t have as a child. I can choose to not sit and hear a whole cockamamie roundabout justification with a good dose of biblical rhetoric thrown in, especially since I feel like that would only serve to royally piss me off. And since I’m not a christian, I am not bound by by doctrine to react with humility or reverence. And, by the way, I know they read these blogs, and I don’t care if they know its me on here, and I don’t care if that offends them. I realized that my intention all along was to attempt to have them acknowledge what they did, hoping that if they actually SEE it, I mean really GET IT, it wont happen to anyone else. My entire life was negatively affected for years, by their decisions, in ways that would make you cringe to know,and if they don’t “get it” then maybe others will. So I will decide whether to have this meeting or whatever, but if I do, and if they are reading this, just know that I will NOT sit through a justification session. I’m not looking for the truth — I already have it — I was there – I have all the documents to prove it — I KNOW. I just feel like they are sorry it came out, sorry it was told, not sorry they did what they did. I dont know if their apology is forthcoming in a meeting, or if it will be more like damage control — like “sorry you were hurt, not shut up about it already”. I guess theres only one way to find out.