Many years ago, back in the 1970s, one-hit wonder Debby Boone had a hit song called You Light Up My Life that spent a then-record ten weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She went on to win the Grammy for Best New Artist. Recently, she’s been making the rounds of infomercials as spokesperson for something called a “Lifestyle Lift.”
What does this have to do with Sovereign Grace Ministries, you ask?
Well, years after You Light Up My Life was no longer on the Billboard charts, I can remember sitting through junior high meetings (at my non-SGM Reformed/Evangelical church) where our youth pastor hammered away at the bad, unbiblical philosophy contained in one of the lines of the lyrics of that song. The line?
It can’t be wrong if it feels so right
Yes, even in an otherwise innocuous song from the daughter of squeaky-clean 1950s teen idol and well-known Christian television personality Pat Boone lurked the godless, hedonistic philosophy of our modern times. We kids were taught – rightly, I would still say – that the Bible teaches the opposite truth: that often, what’s easy and feels good is not right, while what requires self-denial and is challenging is actually God’s best for us.
And here’s how this relates to Sovereign Grace Ministries…
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it is that for such a long time made SGM’s culture so dysfunctional. I mean, most of us would probably agree that on paper, at least, SGM’s stated doctrinal beliefs are biblically sound. What the organization says its churches stand for does not appear to be the cause of the abuses recounted in the recent lawsuit filings against the ministry and several of its key leaders.
So what is the problem?
Well, I think it comes down to the way the leaders took certain essentially correct doctrines about sin to extremes. In addition to the twisted thinking behind the “worst sinner I know” stuff, there’s another element at work: the idea that is the exact opposite of the line from the Debby Boone song, the idea that if something feels right or natural, then it simply must be wrong.
I posted the following as a comment today, when the discussion touched upon how SGM always seemed to make marriage so much work:
From what I’ve gathered since leaving SGM and interacting with others here is that there was a sort of upside-down belief about a lot of things having to do with the human experience, which was that we should embrace the difficult and the uncomfortable, as those feelings probably indicated that we were pushing ourselves and overcoming our sinful inclinations. If something felt easy and fun and came naturally, it was likely tainted with sin and not forcing us to grow and become more holy.
You can see this principle at work in the way a lot of SGM churches handled their small groups. Especially at CLC, the former flagship church, care groups were assigned and subject to random changes. If you felt awkward with your assigned group and went to your pastor to request a different group, you’d likely be given an outright “no” or else urged to stick it out in your awkward group, as the fact that you were looking for social comfort was a sign that your priorities were all messed up and you were in sin. The assumption was that if it felt like more work and involved trying harder and having to set aside your real feelings, it was more spiritual.
The same held true for the way young people were taught to view romance. Feeling a spontaneous attraction to someone was a really low priority in the spouse-finding process. The “mature” Christian was supposed to look at a dozen other qualifications first, things like whether or not the person was godly, and whether or not the person met with parental and pastoral approval. If everything else lined up but the gut-level attraction was not there, that wasn’t supposed to matter. This was the whole premise behind Josh Harris’ book Boy Meets Girl, wherein he shared several real couples’ stories of how they met and married. (One such story was that of Megan and Kerrin, which included lengthy excerpts from Megan’s journals, excerpts in which she baldly states that she initially did not feel any interest in Kerrin, but after discussing him with friends — “getting godly counsel” — she changed her mind and decided to give things a go.)
The idea was always that when it came to the human experience, what did not come naturally or feel easy was likely more spiritual. You might feel an inclination toward helping with the worship ministry, but that was just a sign that you needed to stifle that urge and instead serve in the children’s ministry. Or…you might feel an inclination to call the cops and report your child’s molestation, but that was just a sign that you needed to instead forgive the perpetrator.
Within SGM, marriage, like everything else, was viewed as just another vehicle for becoming more spiritual, and the more you had to work at it, the more spiritual you were.
What do you think? Those of you who are or used to be members of SGM churches, was that your experience? Did the, “If it feels difficult, it must be right” thinking affect you?