From the Sovereign Grace Ministries website comes the following letter, posted a couple of days ago:
September 12, 2012
Dear Friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries,
Thank you for your care for our family of churches and your patience with our leadership. We’re writing to you about a conflict that arose over the past year between the pastors of Covenant Life Church and the Sovereign Grace Leadership Team and Interim Board.
When we convened as a new board earlier this year and began to learn of all that has taken place during the previous nine months, one of the things we heard of was a disagreement between the pastors of Covenant Life Church (CLC) and the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) Leadership Team and Interim Board.
Because we are responsible for the oversight of the Leadership Team we drew them out about their perspectives on this conflict in our initial board meetings, and then, on July 6, the entire Board traveled to Baltimore with the sole purpose of listening to the CLC pastors and deciding how to respond.
This is what we found: while both parties are looking at the same events, they have widely differing interpretations of those events and their effects on Covenant Life Church and SGM churches broadly. We have decided not to report on the specifics of those differences, nor do we think it appropriate to render any opinion about this dispute.
Here is why: as the events of 2011 unfolded, the Leadership Team and previous Board came to recognize what the AOR report only confirmed—we have a history of evaluating leaders and disciplining them (formally or informally) based on our evaluations without affording those leaders a previously agreed-upon process for their evaluation. Moreover, we have lacked polity guidance as to how to provide such a process. As the AOR report informed us, this has been true for a number of SGM pastors in the past. And this continued to be a weakness in our ministry as the events of the past year played out.
We are of the opinion that to criticize anyone involved in this dispute for alleged wrongdoing over the past year without affording due process would only perpetuate our past failings and continue the wrong and harmful practices of some people over the past year in making public and private critique of SGM pastors and leaders. We’ve come to this conclusion constrained by what we have learned—especially regarding the application of 1 Timothy 5:19ff in which “charges” are to be brought against an elder in a fair and impartial manner.
We are also of the opinion that any continued evaluation of the CLC pastors’ actions in regards to SGM or of C.J. or the Leaderships Team’s actions in regards to CLC only perpetuates our past failings of judging motive and denying these leaders a fair and even-handed process of review. Let’s pray that the Lord bring this to resolution by working as he sees fit.
In the future, we expect that our polity will give guidance as to an appropriate process for bringing a complaint against a pastor, a pastoral team, or a SGM Leadership Team member. As the Interim Board did for C.J. last year, we could, for this conflict, create such a process. But that is not necessary, nor is it appropriate because, to our knowledge, no one in SGM, including the Leadership Team and the CLC pastors, is calling for us to hear “charges” (the term used in 1 Tim. 5:19) against either the CLC pastors or the Leadership Team.
In view of this, we believe that the operative passage of Scripture in this conflict is Philippians 4:2. We are entreating both sides of this conflict to “agree in the Lord.” In other words, we are asking them to move toward each other on the basis of our common commitments to Jesus and his gospel. All of us need to consider this injunction. We have so much in common in our love for our Savior and his gospel with all its entailments that we have richly enjoyed together. We have a long history of fruitful ministry together. And for the sake of that gospel and the unity that it should produce in our family of churches, we think it is time to stress our agreement on fundamentals and to move beyond evaluating or criticizing the actions of the CLC pastors or the Leadership Team. And so we invite everyone who is a part of SGM to consider applying the principle behind Philippians 4:2 to this disagreement—let’s agree in the Lord.
During this season in our history as a family of churches we deeply desire your prayers and your commitment to maintaining unity based on truth and love—a unity we have enjoyed in nearly 30 years of ministry together.
Much grace to you all,
The SGM Board
Several people have already shared their thoughts in the later comments on the previous post here. One commenter, “Cult Watcher,” made some remarks in which he cited various documents that had been distributed by SGM and Covenant Life Church. “Cult Watcher” is someone who has not been part of a Sovereign Grace Ministries church but has nonetheless become interested in the topic, reading whatever he can find so as to piece together a chronological sense of what’s been happening over the past year-and-some.
Commenter “Unassimilated” posted the following response to “CW,” a response I thought contained very good advice for the outsider who might be interested in the topic of SGM’s issues. Here is “Unassimilated’s” comment:
I think your #233 helps to underscore how SGM survives, and why this blog was started in the first place. For someone who was not a SGM member, or did not live out or through a personal SGM debacle, all that is really out there to put together the pieces of the who, what, when, or why of SGM is the written or recorded word. And for decades that written word was controlled and micro-managed by SGM. This blog sprang up when the few critical comments that arose on the internet would quickly disappear once SGM had located them. (The threat of legal action typically did the trick.)
Most of SGM’s transgression happened off the record, in small groups, behind closed doors, or in a private counseling session. If you really hope to grasp the SGM story, you should go through all that is available on the blogs, and see if you can correspond with some SGM Survivors. What SGM puts out to the public always has a purpose driven spin, and is reviewed by others before it is fit for release. I would not be surprised if Brian’s letter was not reviewed by the SGM board and CJ. Nothing hits an SGM pulpit, stage, or publishing outlet without multiple reviews.
So just because Brian said A, does not mean it is true, or that B or C, etc become irrelevant or wrong.
I would like to add that we all have our own tendencies to color our statements with our own agendas, and with some emotional zeal. To put our perspectives and thoughts in a more flattering light than they deserve, that is human nature. The propaganda that is SGM in written or recorded word is a much more sophisticated animal. It is intentional distortion, it is intentionally vague when it serves them, it is horribly specific when they seek to distract, and at times what they have to say is just outright lies.
If you doubt this, look at the public praises Brent was singing for CJ, then look at his e-mails from the same dates. Two different CJ’s, two different Brent’s.
Even when SGM was 20-30 years of your life, it can still be difficult to make sense of it all. I would suggest a more inquisitive approach to you postings if you really desire to learn about SGM, and spend more time going through all the material available on Survivors and Refuge. The Wartburg watch has some gems as well.
And yes, it was not uncommon for someone to put on a show for CJ, even Josh. Look what CJ did to Larry Tomczak when he went against CJ. No one wanted to be next, and unfortunately for Josh, and many others, they did not realize what they has stepped in until they were waist deep in it.
I thought this piece of “Unassimilated’s” comment was especially insightful, particularly after reading the latest communication from the SGM board:
…we all have our own tendencies to color our statements with our own agendas, and with some emotional zeal. To put our perspectives and thoughts in a more flattering light than they deserve, that is human nature. The propaganda that is SGM in written or recorded word is a much more sophisticated animal. It is intentional distortion, it is intentionally vague when it serves them, it is horribly specific when they seek to distract, and at times what they have to say is just outright lies.