But My Church Is Different!

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?

459 comments to But My Church Is Different!

  • Diego

    SGMnot, thank you for making your points. I see in you the work of God.
    Through a tough time, God stands with you and your family.
    Those stained by SG mindcrap will feel that they just need to get through this and continue on. I don’t think God will let that mindcrap continue. He will put His people through the fire to purify them. Draw them close to Him. God loves His people. I think we will hear less and less of this Move On…, things have changed…, But we will actually see change as peoples hearts melt, and we feel the love of Jesus for the injured, orphans, widows, and lost from people who were previously inward focused. He will not let things stay the same. He is after our hearts and our love. He has a jealous love for us. We will know of change at churches as passion for Jesus and hearts for the injured bear fruit. SGM will be gone, but His people will be comforted and go forward strong in Christ.

  • Waters

    SgmNot and Kris —– TRUE TRUE TRUE

    The poem written by Lover of the Church, clearly exemplifies the warped culture of SGM. SGMites focus on sin, roots of sin, motivations of sin–all the while hearing and chanting the mantra “we are all sinners” (I must say I donot as often hear CJ’s mantra ‘I’m the worse sinner I know’ — perhaps due to the outcry on the blogs?)—Therefore, the DISCERNMENT and COMMON SENSE for the danger of pedophiles and sexual perversions is lost on the SGM culture.

    Yes, Loverofthe church—Jesus IS at work—exposing deeds of darkness —and some deeds, we donot link arms with and sing kum-ba-yah…. God loves justice—He doesnot see raping and molesting children and practicing sexual perversion the same as the first grader who stole a pencil from a store. Sexual sins, as SgmNot pointed out, bring layers and years of spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds. This would be why God has seen fit to bring SGM into the internet and media light.
    We are ALL “imperfect”. EVERY church is “imperfect”. Imperfect is oceans apart from protecting sexual abusers.

  • 5yearsinPDI

    Enjoying freedom 443….good link, thanks!

  • 5yearsinPDI

    Balaam’s Donkey and Ellie-Thank you very much for finding that!!!

    SgmNot- really good post. And by the way, I am so very sorry.

    About Josh- what remaining blindness in any of us thinks that by leaving SGM, many years of indoctrination will instantly end completely in him or any other ex SGM pastor? It will take years! Not saying anybody should leave, and Josh is making a great start, but it is going to take a long while.

    Paul, you seem like a really sweet guy with a great big heart for God and the people of God, and I am glad you joined us. I think we all agree that Josh has broken with SGM and CJ and showed significant understanding of major problems. It is wonderful and we thank God and pray for him and CLC. But Paul, it is only a very good start and the detoxing is going to need to go deep, and that will take much time. It will take time for you too. It took most of us here quite a while.

    The desire to be special and close to people we put on pedestals, and in the church that is just a little bit better than every other church, and to feel like our imput matters to somebody on a “higher level”, is a lurking addiction that we have to fight for the rest of our life, even after we see it and repent. No offense brother, but I think you still have it, it oozes out of your posting here and there. That is OK, I still have it and I’ve been out over a decade…it just crops up again elsewhere. It is called the old man and the flesh, and it’ll always be something to resist. But SGM leaders had it bad, and it’ll take a while to clear the cobwebs. Years probably. If they are not getting help outside SGM, like from Dixon or somebody similar, they may never ever get free.

  • turtle

    I am a mother who was at a youth retreat about 4 years ago where Josh Harris had his book (ikdg) in his hand and held it out and said something to the affect that he wished he had not named it that and showed some regret for all the controversy around it. Then he dropped it on the floor. Later cj got up and made some angry (in my opinion) remarks about how any believer would dare distrust this book. I think looking back there were problems with the two of them at that time.

  • Mommy2boo

    SgmNot #452: Yes! Thank you for writing that!

  • SgmNot,

    Excellent comment! I want to emphasize this bit:

    You are mistakenly equaling sins. Not all sin is equal. Jesus died for all sin, but not all sins are equal. I personally believe that the emphasis in SGM all these years of how “we are all sinners” and how “we all need to look at own sin” has polluted sincere Christians’ minds causing confusion and blindness to the legitimate differences between sins, to the point where, otherwise intelligent people, even to this day, can not call crime or psychosis for what it is — they instead speak of it as equal to a person speeding or a child telling a fib! The fact is that SOME SINS ARE CRIMES and should be prosecuted to serve earthly justice — this is the will of God. Please read Romans 13.

    I think SGM’s long emphasis on sinfulness and the equality of all sin has caused a tremendous amount of confusion. Yes, it is true, in God’s eyes we are all sinners. But at the same time, it is also true that certain sins have different long-term ramifications than other sins. Moreover, true conviction and repentance for the sins with more grievous consequences will look different. The pedophile who has taken full responsibility for his crime will 1) embrace whatever punishment society (through the law) places upon him; 2) grasp the ickiness of his behavior and do all in his power to inform others of what he has done so that he can have safeguards around him; and 3) do all in his power to avoid putting himself in situations where he might be tempted.

    The pedophile who shows up at church and doesn’t request that the pastors inform parents of his past or the pedophile who even dares to volunteer for the children’s ministry – this sort of person is showing that he hasn’t fully grasped the seriousness of his past behavior and will likely become a repeat offender. This person is not actually behaving like someone who has repented.

    So, yeah – we’re all sinners. But if you gossiped about me, that’s going to bother me a whole lot less than if you molested my child. Gossip and sexual perversion are both sins in God’s eyes, but one sin has far graver consequences than the other.

  • SgmNot

    Lover of the Church #370 I am a mother of one of the sex abuse victims from CLC. I know intimately the trauma that some of the sex abuse victims have endured from the adult pedophiles at CLC. These child-victims were scarred emotionally as little children, and now as young women and men, they are battling through into healing — and many have not even started that overwhelming battle because up until now, they have thought that they were the only ones! They have felt the shame, heartache, confusion, even suicidal thoughts as a child-victim left alone in a prison of wretched memories, unable and unequipped to cope with the twisted evil that was forced upon them destroying their innocence. I completely reject your romanticized version of the church:

    My church is oh so imperfect
    Filled with old druggies
    And floaters through life’s difficulties
    And even a pedophile or two
    Who knows, maybe even a murderer
    People like me.


    My church is oh so imperfect
    But Jesus is at work
    Filling old druggies with love
    Turning ashes and tears into joy
    Bringing life to pedophiles and murderers
    People like me.

    Forgive me for my bluntness, but you have no idea of the lifetime — years and years, decades — of hidden pain that these sex abuse victims have endured! The reason I state this is because you would not have glowingly penned something like “And even a pedophile or two…” as if they add a little character and charm of your congregation! You are being foolishly romantic and nostalgic in the face of horror and CRIME. Pedophiles are not harmless doddering, old men now turned religious and “safe” — They are crafty, manipulative MONSTERS. They are LIARS. They are CRIMINALS.
    Have you read the Legal Complaint in its entirety? If not, please do.
    If any adult pedophile IS convicted of his sinful crimes, then he should voluntarily turn himself in to the police to protect all the children of CLC and all of Gaithersburg! If a pedophile has served a sentence already, he should not be hanging around thousands of vulnerable children! If God has truly changed his life, there are plenty of other ministries and churches to fellowship at where children would not be at risk. By stating:

    My church is CLC
    Of which much is written in these pages
    But we are no different than you
    Sinners lost in their way
    Saints growing in joy, peace, and righteousness
    People like you and me.

    You are mistakenly equaling sins. Not all sin is equal. Jesus died for all sin, but not all sins are equal. I personally believe that the emphasis in SGM all these years of how “we are all sinners” and how “we all need to look at own sin” has polluted sincere Christians’ minds causing confusion and blindness to the legitimate differences between sins, to the point where, otherwise intelligent people, even to this day, can not call crime or psychosis for what it is — they instead speak of it as equal to a person speeding or a child telling a fib! The fact is that SOME SINS ARE CRIMES and should be prosecuted to serve earthly justice — this is the will of God. Please read Romans 13.

  • Stunned said:

    Jenn, it’s, also, important to point out that Josh didn’t create the idea. This junk has roots in Gothard and other extreme legalists, probably dating back to the beginning of religion.

    To add to what Stunned and Kris said, CLC taught various forms of “kissing dating goodbye(KDG)” and “courtship” starting in 1978 which was way before Josh Harris came out with his “kissing dating goodbye” book and then “boy meets girl” book.

    There were problems caused by KDG since it was first started. What I find ironic is hat Josh Harris wrote his book when was at CLC (correct me if I am wrong). If the church had experienced problems with KDG then Josh should have been made aware by other leaders etc.

    What I have seen (and probably what happened with Josh)is that the CLC Leaders heard what they wanted to hear about how well their form of KDG was working. They didn’t want to hear (and thus admit) the problems it caused.

    Still shocking that Josh has never come back and admitted and published (like on his blog) the problems and warn against misapplication. Josh never really defined even what he was “kissing goodbye!” If you read his book and “Dating” can mean a lot of things and sadly a number of people took the meaning to mean little interaction with those of the opposite sex.

    Here is my blog entry about this:

    Josh Harris did indicate in his latest IKDG “update” message, “Romance Revisited”, that the title of his book was “confusing.” He said that he could have said I kissed “short term premature selfish directionless romantic relationships” goodbye but that would be too long of a title for a book. Here is one of my blog entries that discusses this:

    One thing I will say is that I wouldn’t go too hard on Josh right now. He has gone through a lot but the again he shouldn’t be ignoring the problems his book has caused. It certainly needs to be addressed. Maybe the difference is that this is more his issue that he caused while the other issues were more C.J.’s issues? It is easier to bring up and correct problems that you weren’t the primary cause of.

    According to Amazon Josh’s KDG book hasn’t been republished. Unless he revises it, one would wonder why it would be reissued when you can buy copies of his book for $1.00 plus postage online.