Why Sovereign Grace Ministries Doesn’t Like Victims

Awhile back, some of us got to talking about what would possibly cause pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries churches to have responded the way they did in situations like “Noel’s Story,” “Wallace’s Story,” and “Taylor’s Story.”  While Dave Harvey would like to think of these situations as a few rare and isolated incidents, the fact that the pastoral responses to victims of child sex abuse were nearly identical would seem to indicate that there is something going on in these men’s belief system and training that has caused them to be more concerned about the rights and well-being of perpetrators rather than victims.

During that discussion, I posted a comment that contained a round-up of some thoughts and observations that I thought laid out a pretty good explanation for why SGM pastors would work so hard to minimize the victim’s response to abuse, keep the situation contained within the church (not involve law enforcement, and in some situations even seem to actively work against supporting the victim in the legal system), and as quickly as possible “restore” the perpetrator.

Here’s the comment.  I apologize in advance for its length.


While I am the first to say that any coverup of sex abuse is horrific and evil, particularly when done by a church, I think it would be interesting to explore the mindset behind any such coverup.

What is it about their SGM training that would make SGM pastors respond to abusers in such a way?  Why would SGM pastors appear to extend more grace to perpetrators than to victims?  Why would SGM pastors believe that they should be the primary source of counsel and support for perpetrators?  Why would SGM pastors exhibit a reluctance to get outside help or call upon law enforcement to deal with such perpetrators?

It’s my opinion that SGM’s twisted teachings about sin and the role of the pastor – as well as SGM’s blurring of the lines between “the gospel” and “the SGM church organization” – are what have led to situations where these sorts of crimes seem to be minimized, and perpetrators quickly restored to good standing within congregations.

First of all, SGM holds to the (in my opinion essentially correct and biblical) belief that all problems faced by humanity can be traced back to sin. I say I think it’s an “essentially correct and biblical belief” because if we dig through all the layers of human suffering and misery and downright evil, we are left with almost no other choice but to conclude that humanity is messy because humanity is fallen and sinful.

However, where I would part ways with SGM’s assumption is where SGM’s essentially correct belief about sin morphs into what SGM believes is the remedy for sin.

In SGM’s teachings – and if I wanted to take more time to develop this, I could go back and dig up plenty of quotes from books like Why Small Groups and sermons like CJ’s Happiest Place On Earth, as well as plenty of other resources that are available for the whole world to read and hear – the problem of sin is seen as being addressed by not just the work of Jesus on the cross and His continued presence with us through the Holy Spirit.  SGM would say that Jesus’ work on the cross is now being “finished” or “completed” by how Christians relate to a “local” church and how Christians are affected by the work of the pastors in their lives.

In the book Why Small Groups? (available as a free download here) a case is laid out like this:

1.  Yes, salvation is through Christ alone, through his atoning sacrifice.

2.  Salvation, however, is separate from sanctification.

4.  Although, sanctification WILL result anytime someone is “truly saved.”

5.  Sanctification cannot happen apart from “biblical fellowship.”  I actually am going to go and dig up a quote to back this one up.  From Chapter 1 of Why Small Groups? comes this:

Although one’s personal responsibility for sanctification remains paramount, sanctification cannot be accomplished in isolation from the local church. Scripture clearly teaches that sanctification is intended to take place in the local church—and small groups contribute invaluably to this process.

You can read the whole chapter to get an even better feel for how thoroughly CJ and his cohorts view participation in “biblical fellowship” a completely essential element of a person’s sanctification.

6.  A key componant of “biblical fellowship” is interacting with people in a way where they freely confront you about your sin and where you humbly submit to others’ assessment of your sin.  I would strongly urge people to read Why Small Groups? if they have not already done so, and examine how narrowly and explicitly “biblical fellowship” is defined, and how it almost cannot take place anywhere but in a small group set up and run the way SGM runs small groups.

(By the way – this principle is FOUNDATIONAL if anyone wants to understand the driving force behind Brent Detwiler’s seeming obsession with confronting CJ in his sins.  In the SGM mindset, a lack of willingness to submit to others’ assessment of your sin and to acknowledge your sins when confronted with them is almost a sign that you are out of fellowship with God.  If we can grasp this, we can understand why in Brent’s mind, CJ’s unwillingness to be confronted was so utterly grievous and dismaying.  And why Brent continued his pursuit so doggedly…even as he talked about “grace,” which most Christians understand as letting someone off the hook.  In SGM thinking, true “grace” must involve sticking with the confrontation no matter what, because unwillingness to acknowledge one’s sins when confronted would be a sign that the person is not being sanctified…which is a sign that the person could maybe not even be saved!)

7.  Also, SGM believes that another essential part of “biblical fellowship” is a person’s continued oversight from his pastor, who also bears the responsibility to continue to confront the person on his sin.  SGMers are taught that pastors, by virtue of their higher calling and “gifting,” possess special abilities to perceive a person’s sins more accurately than the person himself.  You can read a transcript of C.J. Mahaney’s Happiest Place On Earth sermon here.  C.J. has traveled around the country, delivering that sermon to many SGM churches over the years.  While (once again) Dave Harvey would now apparently like people to think that SGM does not teach that pastors have special authority over people, that is simply not true.

8.  Essential to the SGM understanding of the gospel is a demonstration that one remains keenly aware of one’s “worst sinner one knows” status.  I realize that this comment is already excruciatingly long, but I really want to lay this all out in one place, so I’m going to quote from another post:

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.

9.  We have to factor in SGM’s longstanding distrust of and total disdain for the mental health profession.  SGM has long taught that “secular psychology” has absolutely nothing to offer the believer in terms of solving problems.  (You can see what was taught to SGM pastors fairly recently – in 2009 – about the “counseling process” by viewing a transcript of that talk.  Access Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.)

Anyway, to connect the dots of all this to the situations where SGM pastors were aware of sex abuse and seem to do nothing to address the problem legally…

If all problems are sin issues, and if the only solution to all sin issues (sanctification) must involve continued “biblical fellowship,” which – most importantly – includes continued confrontation from a pastor about one’s sins…

And if “secular psychology” presents no way for this to continue, but a pastor’s counsel does…

And if a perpetrator has acknowledged his sin to his pastor…

And if it is un-Christian (“sinful”) to ever feel like one has the right to be a total victim, with no corresponding need to focus on one’s own sin…

Then it makes total sense for the SGM pastor to:

1.  Appear to side with the perpetrator.

2.  Believe that his pastoral counsel is all that is needed.

3.  Believe that he is actually better serving the victim through his position, because he is making it more difficult for the victim to pursue what would be sin – i.e. being a victim and “demonstrating unforgiveness” by pursuing justice through the legal system.

4.  Consequently believe that through all of this, he is “protecting the gospel” or some such, because the SGM gospel is all about confronting and rooting out sin, never having the right to be a victim, and demonstrating one’s salvation status by the sanctification process of confessing one’s sins – which a perpetrator has already done, therefore making the perpetrator “more sanctified” than someone who is trying to get justice as a victim.

204 comments to Why Sovereign Grace Ministries Doesn’t Like Victims

  • DB

    Actually, much of our body of knowledge, particularly Math and Medicine was preserved and forwarded by Islamic universities while Europe was festering through the Dark Ages. The University system did emerge during this time but we have to acknonwledge the Islamic contribution.

  • Breeezey

    My dearest Former CLC’er while numerous facts that exclcer stated are true there are others that are not. History is really His Story. The university was a uniquely Christian invention. Science arose because of Christainity not the other way around. While it has been turned against the church it initially arose because the monks in the monistaries debated amongst themselves with the theory that God is a God of order. Therefore since He is a God of order then it stands to reason we can discover it. Many of the scientists Exclcer mentioned were devoted Christians. For instance Michael Servetus was a devoted Christian who was a doctor. Unfortunately he disagreed THEOLOGICALLY with John Calvin in Geneva when JC was the chief magistrate. It wasn’t his science that got him burnt at the stake but his theology. Sir Isaac Newton – arguably one of the most brilliant men who walked this planet was a devoted christian who wrote commentaries on every book of the bible (except for Daniel and Revelation). Christopher Columbus was a devoted christian and upon his death had the second largest personal library in Europe. His library had between 18 and 22,000 volumes. And yes, absolutely exclcer is correct; some of the worst abuses in history has been done by christians to “heretics”, witches, non-christians, etc… Nevertheless, the bible is true. God loves us, in spite of ourselves.

    (Here’s where I get into trouble…) It is a simple fact of history that persecution by christians did not begin until after Constantine made Christainity the official religion of the Roman Empire. From Constantine’s time on, persecution began, not only against the pagans, but also of non-Catholic Christians. Constantine said, “You define for us Christianity, and we’ll make it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Wherever Latin is spoken and taught, we will teach this as the official religion.” It was the most D**nable thing that ever happened to the church to make Christianity the “official” religion. The idea came that it was possible to give mental assent to a set of doctrines – without having your life changed – and be a Christian; that practice and theory were not necessarily the same thing. If you said, “Yes, I believe this statement of faith,” you were saved. You did not have to live like that statement of faith stated, as long as you believed it. If you were a pagan, you were against the official religion. And if you were non-Catholic, also you were against the state church. The slide into persecution was not, of course, without some protest from leading Catholics. Hilary of Poitiers protested really heavily against it. When in 385 A.D., Priscillian and his followers were executed on the orders of a synod, leading Catholics like Ambrose were horrified and totally dissociated themselves from these deeds. In other words, some of the men were going out in the church and executing people who would not get saved. But when Augustine came into the scene and became a major force, there was conflicting opinion over the use of persecution, though no leading church figure seems to have approved of it or defended it. There was the use of persecution in order to get people to change. In the year 396, Augustine wrote, “I would have no man brought into the Catholic communion against his will.” Yet, later on, when Augustine changed his ideas about grace, he changed his ideas about persecution. As he came to believe that God affects conversion by force on man’s wills – irresistible force – and that God uses force Himself in changing the wills from evil to good, so also Augustine came to believe that it was right for God’s servants to use force to change people’s wills.

    Overall wherever Christainity has gone more freedom has come to the people not less. You can chart it if you look at the long view of history. And you have to look at the world before the cross… Slavery was the norm, denegration of women, prejudice etc… the list of inhumanity to man is endless but here’s what I want you to see… in Acts 12 Paul and Barnabus are sent out by the church on (I think) their first missionary journey. they go out preaching and founding churches headed towards Asia. Then in Acts 16 the Holy Spirit stops them and turns them around and they head towards Europe. The Gospel over the centuries flows across Europe, jumps the ocean, and comes here to the Americas, flows across this continent and then jumps the ocean again and then goes through asia. Human rights, anti-slavery, respect for women, etc go with Christainity as it goes and florishes. This country with its unique Declaration of Independence and Constitution does not happen without Christianity. Read the UN Charter and compare it to the US Constitution. The UN Charter is man certered and the US Con is God centered. The overwhelming majority of our founders were Christians. The reason were have 3 branches of government is biblically based. God is our king – Executive Branch. God is our lawgiver – Legislative branch (congress). God is our judge – Judicial Branch.

    As for the issue of Christainity and science being at odds… There has not been one scientific or archaeological finding that disproves one word in scripture. As a matter of fact scripture is normally ahead of science for instance Isaiah 44:22 “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth…” (The world was declared round by Isaiah 700 years before Christ.) Ecclesiates 1:6 reveals that the winds move in cyclonic patterns and Job tells us that light is in motion (Job 38:19-20) thousands of years before weather satellites and Einstein’s calculations proved both to be true. Medically, the Bible tells us the chemical nature of human life (Genesis 2:7, 3:19) that the life of creatures are in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), the nature of infectious diseases (Leviticus 13:46) and the importance of sanitation to health (Numbers 19, Deuteronomy 23:12-13, Leviticus 7-9) many thousands of years before doctors were still practicing blood-letting as a treatment for disease. The Bible warns against handling dead bodies without washing under running water. It gives sanitary rules such as keeping the latrines outside the camp, proper methodology for preventing the spread of germs, and other medical information unknown to modern medicine until the 20th century.

    It wasn’t until the early 20th century that science confirmed Genesis 1:1 – the earth had a beginning. It wasn’t until this generation that science concluded that time also has both a beginning and an end, as the Bible explains in 2nd Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2. “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted.” – Stephen F Hawking

    Zechariah 12:1 and Jeremiah 51:15 both say the Universe is expanding, or stretching. Until the 20th century, it was believed the universe was static. Then Edwin Hubble discovered it was in the process of expanding. Romans 8:22 tells us the earth is in a continual state of deterioration. So does the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which creates quite a problem for evolutionary scientists. Evolution says that given enough time, it reverses itself and starts to self-improve.

    The Book of Job revealed the earth is round and that it stands on nothing, hundreds of years before, Pythagoras or Aristotle suggested it was a giant ball riding on the back of a turtle. Genesis 5:15 says the stars cannot be numbered. But the estimates run to about 10 to the 24th power, or more than the number of grains of sand on Planet Earth. In the 16th century a scientist named Bernie Pallissy first “discovered” the hydrological cycle already explained in Jeremiah 10:13 and Job 36:27-28. Job 26:8 speaks of the clouds holding water and Ecclesiastes 1:7 explains the cycle of rivers. Job 28:25 explains the wind has weight, today called ‘atmospheric pressure’ that can be measured using a barometer.

    Psalms 8:8 refers to paths in the seas, which inspired Matthew Maury to chart them, including ocean lanes for ships passing at sea. “Matthew Maury’s seagoing days came to an abrupt end at the age of 33 after a stagecoach accident broke his hip and knee. Thereafter, he devoted his time to the study of naval meteorology, navigation, charting the winds and currents, seeking the “Paths of the Seas” mentioned in Psalm 8 in the Bible.”

    I can on if you want but I think you catch my drift. Science is the the discovery of His order in creation. History is His Story as we move through the life span alloted to us.

    I know many of us here have been hurt and wonder where God was in the midst of it all. But He is here. He is on His throne. He loves us individually and cares for us intimately. He just wants us to trust Him and to lean on Him like a small child leaps into his father’s arms. He is ready, willing, and able to sustain and support you if you allow Him to.

  • Donald Philip Veitch

    Just in from Wash Post by Michelle Boorstein. She adds little to the discussion. A most modest discussion, but at least she–Michelle–is tracking on Covenant Life (by implication) and SGM…as well as His Majesty, Sir C.J. Mahaney, the Venerable, the Honourable, the Scholarly, the Reverend, the Doctor, and the Most High Primate. Unquestionably, one of the humblest, kindest, most modest, and gentle leaders in the last 30 years, if not all of church history. My sarcasm, after much reading, is justified.

  • Blue Sky

    Not only did I mess up the blockquote but it removed the entire quote I added from Rose, which was this:

    “There is a certain shallowness to the intellectualism of SGM folks. I would call them pseudo-intellectuals produced mainly through homeschooling. They are not critical thinkers, but they do read a lot, at least “the Classics” and the stuff produced by the writers among them. I think they feel very empowered intellectually by the system they espouse. It allows them to seem very learned without having to think too deeply about difficult questions. There is a good deal of power in a system like that. As far as staying when the bitter fruit is revealed, easy, the bitter fruit is identified as coming from some other source than the defective system. The shallowness of their thinking allows that sort of subterfuge. “