The sgmnation blog features a guest post from “Ozymandias,” who ponders the question of what has been driving the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries to respond to their denomination’s problems the way they have responded over the past 10 months or so. Ozymandias suggests that the leaders’ primary concern is not so much about what would best serve the people of SGM’s churches but instead is about what the rest of the “Young, Restless, & Reformed” Christian world will think of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Ozymandias says,
It [the focus of leaders' concerns] isn’t first and foremost about who is at the denomination’s helm, or how a new Partnership Agreement will define HQ-to-field operations, but about how public discussion affects the denomination’s reputation in conservative evangelical circles. As has been referenced here and there on “the blogs,” the center of gravity revolves around the (psychological) fear of what the public airing of SGM’s systemic problems would mean for its reputation in the YRR world, or in social science and business terms, the public diminution of the denomination’s overall brand among co-religionists.
Ozymandias then goes on to demonstrate how his hypothesis – that SGM leaders are mostly concerned about the organization’s image and reputation with the larger Christian world – makes perfect sense in light of SGM leaders’ actions and statements.
For the sake of a working hypothesis, let’s see how this particular way of defining center of gravity might explain just a few of the decisions since last July:
– It can explain why the interim board’s first order of business was the establishment of the fitness panel, involving three well-known conservative evangelical personalities: Kevin DeYoung, Carl Trueman and Ray Ortland. It also helps to explain the rapid turnaround and public release of the report’s findings.
– It can explain the overarching theme of SGMHQ’s November 2011 denominational letter, written in the wake of Covenant Life Church’s internet release of its 30 October 2011 Family Meeting. Note the sheer number of times the letter repeats the words “public” vs. “private,” as well as the highlighting of Josh Harris’ influence and CLC’s public example [emphasis added]:
“we have taken the approach of privately engaging with CLC…”
“It has been our hope from the beginning that these disagreements could get worked out privately…”
“we would not engage in critiquing each other beyond the private realm”
“Our goal has been to interact privately and through conversation, withholding public critique.”
“…the CLC pastors have chosen to broadcast their differences and disagreements in public meetings and through the internet“
“CLC has always functioned as something of a model of SGM belief and practice. Pastors throughout our churches could assume CLC and SGM are on the same page, and look to CLC to observe the direction and positions of SGM.”
“…public statements continue to be made from CLC pastors that seem to us to significantly misrepresent SGM and have the potential to implicate and cast suspicion upon you and the churches you serve.”
“CLC pastors have publicly voiced their concerns and criticisms for SGM broadly..”
“In their most recent family meeting, made public through Josh’s Facebook and on their website, CLC openly shared their negative assessment of SGM leadership.”
“…the sweeping and pejorative assessments he is making of SGM…”
“…because of the public nature of Josh’s comments and our concerns for how SGM is being portrayed.” “Our disagreement lies with aspects of their assessment, their presentation of these issues, and the impression their public statements can have.”
“We have communicated to Josh that his broad critique of Sovereign Grace in public forums, while identifying certain weaknesses with which we all agree, is having the effect of raising suspicions in local churches against local church pastoral teams”
“Our request to them at this point is to confine their public pronouncements concerning reform to issues CLC is facing, although we have urged them to please continue to share concerns for SGM privately with the board, just as we have sought to share our concerns for them privately.”
– It can help to explain, following CJ’s reinstatement, the discernible move away from regular posts about the denomination’s issues on SGM’s Plant and Build blog. Related to this, it can also explain why, recently, all of the previous comments to older posts at the Plant and Build blog have been deleted and are no longer available for public review. It can also help to explain why earlier statements by denominational leaders have also been removed, and why, in the new board’s first public statement, it made itself clear that, among other things, it would not involve itself in “day-to-day communication.”
– It may explain why there has been no specific response to Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax’s 7 March 2012 letter to the interim board – a letter signed by multiple SGM churches and subsequently made public.
– It may help to explain the rush to affirm and seat a new board, as SGM’s 13 March 2012 letter describes, “[in the] small window of time before the release of the [Ambassadors of Reconciliation] report.” If – and I emphasize if – the goal is to lessen the impact of the report’s findings among the conservative evangelical crowd by releasing it simultaneously with some statement about “how the denomination has already addressed AoR’s more salient points,” then it is understandable how, as the 13 March letter continues, “it was important to get a new board in place in order to respond promptly to [AoR’s] report.”
– It could also explain the decision to hold off any public release of the AoR report until after this week’s Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, rather than release it in the run-up to the event.
I think Ozymandias is absolutely correct in his assertion that if his hypothesis is true – which seems rather obvious, especially in light of the multitude of statements from SGM that show such nonsensical determination to frame up the organization’s problems as primarily interpersonal conflicts that have to be dealt with privately – then SGM’s issues will never really be addressed without input from those whose opinions matter so much to SGM’s leaders. Ozymandias says,
I would argue that significant reform is just not possible without public YRR discussion of the denomination’s historical, systemic problems. And unfortunately, there has been a noticeable unwillingness on the part of YRR outlets to engage in any such discussion. If you regularly read conservative evangelical bloggers or personally interact with conservative evangelical publishers, you may wish to bring this up with them. Shying away completely from the conflict’s immediate proximate cause (i.e. the Mahaney/Detwiler conflict) I might recommend a polite letter, especially to those who have historically highlighted SGM, its books and its music to their audiences, asking if they are aware of how the denomination is currently facing division, and if they have any concerns that they have – either through commission or omission – perpetuated the conflict rather than helped to ameliorate it.
Check out the full post over at sgmnation. It’s a good one.
Also, in light of the fact that C.J. Mahaney is a featured speaker, several people have written to ask for a specific post about T4G (the “Together for the Gospel” conference taking place right now). I thought “Praise Warrior” said it well when he wrote,
We find it ironic that CJ Mahaney will preach a session called “When A Pastor Loses Heart” at the T4G (Together For The Gospel) conference soon. Perhaps before stepping up to the plate to hit his homerun, CJ might consider interviewing the many pastors and church members who have lost heart and left Sovereign Grace Ministries.
It might surprise the many that will be gathered to hear the strength of the arguments that CJ might not be the best choice to deliver a message on this topic. In fact, many of us would call it downright rude – an ‘in-your-face’ blow to those who are convinced that CJ charging ahead in his public ministry poses a significant lack of integrity on his part and the part of those around him.
Let the discussion panels be comprised of just 4 pastors who have lost heart under CJ’s leadership and the conversation would become quite lively.
CJ, would you please consider recusing yourself from speaking at this conference? Don’t you think you might have a slight conflict of interest here? Here is a suggestion: rather than taking your cues from your buddies Mohler, Duncan and Dever, why don’t you simply ask all the remaining pastors in your family of churches if they think it is wise for you to continue in public ministry at this time?
No one is out to destroy you. Most of us feel sorrow for you. It might be time for you to consider the following:
1) Have you failed to both teach about AND PRACTICE meaningful membership at Covenant Life Church?
2) Doesn’t the nature of a church covenant require the church’s consent to both enter and leave the membership of the church?
3) Do you have unresolved conflicts with your family of churches and their leaders?
4) Are you aware your flock (the one you pastored for so many years) is studying you?
5) How many people are struggling with you because your teaching does not line up with your practice?
Answer these questions and we will be happy to not walk out when you begin to speak at T4G. If you get around to answering these, maybe clue us in as to why Dave Harvey is continuing in his ministry as well. Not that you owe us anything. You might have already forgotten about us.