I get a lot of email that would fall into one of two categories. People will frequently write to ask if I am aware of any abuse situations at a particular Sovereign Grace Ministries location. Or, they will write to assure me that while some SGM churches may be dysfunctional, their particular church is different.
As a rule, I don’t make pronouncements about whether or not a specific SGM congregation is connected to any abuse. I think that on a lot of levels, it would be irresponsible of me to do that. I do, though, tend to believe, after everything I’ve learned from interacting with the Sovereign Grace situation for the past five years, that the underlying twisted doctrines and the foundational cultural norms within SGM have far-reaching effects.
Yesterday, a commenter wanted to know if he should be concerned about his sibling’s involvement with a specific SGM church. A couple of people responded to this commenter by saying that they were not aware of any abusive situations at that SGM location. Commenter “Hope in Him” then said,
Please, people responding to “Concerned Sibling”, be aware that just because you don’t know of any incidents, does not mean it has not happened. Is it typical of SGM culture to keep members blissfully unaware?
To which I responded,
From what I’ve observed, the answer to that question is “Absolutely!” I might be generalizing a little, but after everything I’ve learned, almost all of SGM’s dysfunction has flowed out of a desire to keep things looking as close to perfect as possible. Anything that could be construed as reflecting negatively on the organization (or the individual congregation, or the pastors) is shared on a strictly need-to-know basis…and the rule of thumb seems to be that pretty much nobody needs to know anything negative…even if it might impact their own safety.
So rest assured that if a church is still controlled by the pastors, with no formal mutual accountability and/or no formal congregational input, the pastors are still likely following the ways of the culture in which they were raised to leadership. One of the cornerstones of SGM culture is information control, particularly control of negative information.
Just because you haven’t heard of it does NOT mean that it hasn’t happened. If any of your pastors were trained within SGM and had to subscribe to SGM’s rules for being recognized as possessing leadership qualities, it’s highly unlikely they’ve avoided the kinds of problems brought about by the SGM culture…and it’s highly unlikely they’ve been able to truly ditch the culture, especially if they are reluctant to speak out and repent of specific things that were wrong with the culture.
What do you think? Do you believe that there are SGM churches out there that can retain their affiliation with the organization and yet be completely unaffected by SGM’s long history of legalism and concern for the organization’s image?
For the congregations that have departed from Sovereign Grace Ministries, what does it take to become healthy? How much of SGM’s practices and unique culture must be rejected? How much overt, specific repentance needs to take place?