I have to say, this blog has been a wild ride.
I began it with basically no “purpose” whatsoever, beyond providing a place to share my impressions of our Sovereign Grace experience. And since our experience had not involved anything particularly negative – or more importantly, anything definitively unscriptural – I had (as I’ve repeated ad infinitum) no ax to grind. I just thought there ought to be SOME place online where curious folks could read perhaps another perspective on what I thought of as Sovereign Grace’s “cultural oddities.”
But then a very surprising thing happened. This site began getting quite a few hits, and people began leaving comments about their own experiences with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Although these stories were all different as to details, most of them contained very similar trends. These trends were as follows:
- A person has a difference of opinion, a question, or a problem.
As he’s been trained to do, he approaches leadership with this issue.
Leadership is, for whatever reason, not receptive to this person’s point of view, or not equipped (in the professional sense) to deal with the person’s problem. (Here, actually, is where this process hangs on one rusty nail, like my dad would say. As satisfied SGM-ers have pointed out, oftentimes leadership IS approachable and happy to take a seemingly “negative” observation under advisement…or offers up approaches to the member’s problem that the member finds useful and acceptable. When this happens, all is well, and the rest of the steps do not occur. But when the observation is NOT well-received, or the member is NOT helped, we move on to step 4.)
Since leadership did not receive the question or negative observation well, or since “indwelling sin” is essentially the only counseling tool in leadership’s toolbox, leadership turns things around and offers up “observations” of its own, directed at the questioning member’s motives, heart, and eventually, sinfulness.
At this point, the member is left with two choices. Either he “receives” what leadership says and accepts leadership’s assessment of his sinful motives, or he holds out for his original point. Again, the SGM folks who are satisfied with their church’s structure have found themselves ending the process at this stage, if they weren’t already finished at step #3. However, if the member does NOT accept leadership’s assessment of his sinful motives, and if he does NOT choose to “repent” and give the issue a rest, then he moves on to step #6.
Leadership gives the member something of an ultimatum. Either the member submits to what leadership says, or the member is placed on some sort of discipline plan. Failure to submit to the discipline plan will result in step #7.
The member is disfellowshipped until he chooses to submit to leadership’s “restoration plan.”
After reading so many stories (stories either posted on the site or shared with me via email) that follow this same pattern, I’ve grown quite concerned that Sovereign Grace Ministries has what amounts to a “fatal design flaw” in how it handles conflicts between its members and its leadership. While I’ve sought to remain fair to SGM in everything I’ve written, I now have reached a point where I’m concerned enough to think that SGM members ought to share my alarm about their church’s discipline process and its potential to turn into a tool of spiritual abuse – since THEY (and not I) are still part of the system and could have a voice.
What’s been so interesting has been this site’s pro-SGM readers’ responses to my observations.
While I want to clearly state that many pro-SGM folks have been polite and kind and have engaged with the issues raised here, the majority have eventually turned the focus back around to either MY sinfulness or the sinfulness of the ex-SGM people who have shared their stories.
This is something that I don’t understand.
I particularly don’t understand those readers who find the site, read a few articles, and then barrel in to declare what a bad person I am, and how idiotic and sinful I must be for having a different view of their church organization than they have.
I mean, I don’t go around to pro-SGM blogs (and there are thousands out there) and leave comments about what fools they are for suffering a church structure that is so heavy on submitting to authority that it’s like a spiritual abuse train wreck waiting to happen. I don’t go looking for fights.
(But if I did…well, would I express my shock and dismay if other commenters on these “SGM Happy” sites would take exception to what I said? Would I post comments where I publicly licked my wounds and talked about what big, bad, mean people they were for daring to “fight back” and answer my accusations? No, I would not. And if I did, those pro-SGM folks would laugh me off the internet. As they rightfully should.)
Another thing that I don’t get is why the pro-SGM folks think that it is their right and their duty to offer me (and the other posters) spiritual guidance…especially when most of them barely bother to say “Hello” or “Nice to ‘meet’ you” before launching into their sermons. Again, I don’t go poking around THEIR blogs, spewing Scripture that discusses discernment, or Pharisaical tendencies, or legalism…and then expressing shocked dismay that they aren’t properly “loving their enemy” when they reject my abrupt rebukes.
I think what puzzles me most of all is, WHY is it such a big deal to these people that one tiny little blog – nestled among the thousands of pro-SGM blogs and sites out there – has been set up to provide a different view of SGM? Why is such vitriol and angst (always cloaked in “concern,” of course) directed my way? Why do I get the sense from these folks that it’s so vital that ZERO negative information be posted about Sovereign Grace? Why do these people think that their denomination – er, “family of churches” – is somehow deserving of total and unquestioning approval, with no dissent allowed?
I really don’t have the answers to these questions…except to say that possibly, the answer lies in what they’ve been taught to think the Christian life is supposed to look like. If the answer to every conflict is for the person beneath to submit and accept the point of view of the person in authority above them, and if the answer to every problem is to first of all obsess over one’s own contributing sinfulness, then I suppose I can understand the “advice” and “concern” various SGM folks have “shared” with me.
(I can’t help but wonder, though, if these people even realize how closely their responses to this blog follow the pattern that their leadership follows – as outlined through steps 1-7 above. Do they understand how their reactions and words here have served to validate and authenticate what people have described in their stories of spiritual abuse?)
Of course, according to Mahaney’s own teachings, SGM’s bottom-line answer to everything is that we’re supposed to submit to our authorities and offer them unquestioning allegiance, because this is simply our duty to make them successful in their role as leaders.
Since, following Mahaney’s logic, even Martin Luther and the other Reformers would have been “in sinful rebellion,” I guess I can understand why this blog bugs so many folks.
But it still doesn’t make much sense. Not in the real world.