Hi, everybody –
One question that seems to come up again and again has to do with Guy (my husband) and me, and why it is that we are running what some people think is an “anti-SGM” site. We have also fielded MANY comments and emails from people who are convinced that we must just be bitter and “need to forgive” or otherwise seek reconciliation.
I thought it would be good for me to share a bit about our own SGM experience and then explain how SGM Survivors came to be.
Here is a summary of our time in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church:
Guy and I attended an SGM church (not Covenant Life Church) for a little less than a year. (We have never talked specifically about which SGM church, because we have always maintained that we don’t want our SGM pastors to experience any fallout from the fact that we started this site.)
We did not actually have a bad SGM experience. We liked many aspects of our SGM church and thought the pastors were some of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.
We thought our SGM church did a great job of reaching out to newcomers. We very quickly were made to feel welcomed and at home, with a definite sense of “instant intimacy.”
We were allowed to attend a small group and really enjoyed it. (Our church apparently did not tightly control who was permitted to join. In our case, membership was not required.) At our small group, we did NOT routinely go around and confess our sins (as so many others have described). Our group leader did NOT ask us intrusive questions or put us on the “hot seat.” It was mostly a pleasant time…a time to hang out and socialize…and then we’d have some prayer and talk about the previous Sunday’s message. I did find the lack of real Bible study, as I’d always known it in other churches, to be odd and a bit disturbing after awhile. Nothing wrong with discussing the Sunday sermons, but it was just odd.
We probably would have become members at some point, if we hadn’t started feeling nagged by several little things. We were troubled by the resolute sameness, where everyone seemed to think and read the same things. Far more families homeschooled than not. Many of the young adult girls were living at home with their parents, and most of them had not gone on to college. Some worked at menial jobs, while some were stay-at-home daughters. The general feeling, though, was that they were waiting for Mr. Right to come a-courtin’. As I watched these young women interact, I was bothered by how there was a VERY definite undercurrent of the idea that the only “truly biblical” vocation – the only “truly biblical” thing they were put on this earth to do – was be a wife and a mother. It was as if life were in some sort of holding pattern for them.
But at the same time, it seemed like they were hampered in breaking out of this holding pattern because of the restrictions of the courtship system. Although there might have been exceptions, the general feeling was that the only worthy potential courters had to be guys who shared the girls’ commitment to the “local church” – which meant the “local” SGM church.
As I observed the culture at our SGM church (because I do love to watch people), I got the impression that young women were really boxed in, in a way that was unhealthy and not nearly as “biblical” as they were taught it was.
So, the cultural homogeneity, with such an emphasis on homeschooling as “God’s best choice” (it was largely unspoken, but it was there nonetheless), along with the courtship system and such a heavy sense that everyone read and thought the same things…that if it came down from “on high” (Gaithersburg), everyone did it – all of that weighed on Guy and me and made us wonder if we could ever fit in.
We were also put off by the music. I know that many of you have been hugely blessed by SGM’s worship music, and I do believe that there are some wonderful SGM songs. I am not criticizing the music, necessarily. But for people who have been part of the larger Evangelical/Reformed world for many years, there’s this vast treasure trove of music that transcends denominational boundaries. We often felt “homesick” for that music during worship time, as we listened to the unfamiliar tunes (many of which did seem rather dark, with a tremendous emphasis on our guilt and sin and what “the Savior” suffered).
And that contributed to another nagging feeling – that SGM saw itself as set apart from the rest of the Christian world. Even the way our SGM friends gave their “testimonies” was different. Rather than focusing on how they met Jesus, they instead told stories about how they ended up at a Sovereign Grace church. This was disturbing. We also felt uncomfortable with the distinct impression that a lot of people had issues with control and with being controlled. People seemed to have a knee-jerk response to any question, which was, “You need to talk to the pastor about that,” or, “I will ask Pastor Bob about that.”
So after a little less than a year of going back and forth in our thoughts, Guy and I decided one day that we needed to move on. We did not immediately meet with anyone to explain why we were leaving, although eventually Guy did have a conversation with one of the pastors that ended with the pastor’s asking us to have a meeting with him. Guy (being the way that he is) just sort of casually blew off this request, as we saw no point in dragging things out further…plus, there was this odd feeling that the pastor was taking our leaving in the wrong way, like there was some sort of personal conflict that had to be resolved…when there absolutely was nothing of the sort.
And that is our story. Really, it’s a non-story. We had no issues with our SGM church on a personal level, no conflicts with anyone on a personal level. There are no relationships that need mending, no one with whom we ought to “reconcile.” We were mostly outsiders looking in, participating but always evaluating and questioning, and in the end our questions led us out the door.
We didn’t EVER intend to start an “exposé” site. During our time at our SGM church, we had lots of questions about what we were seeing. I searched and searched online for ANYTHING that reflected my own questions and ambivalence. About the only thing out there was an old blog post where the conversation in the comments had taken a turn and discussed SGM
somewhat objectively (as opposed to over-the-top positively). A couple of former members had posted about their impressions. One shared a bunch about SGM’s history (including the then-unacknowledged fact that SGM had actually had TWO founders rather than one).
After we left SGM, I posted our own story on that site. Within days, there was a bunch more discussion, where others had shared their own stories and people had begun to call SGM a cult. I actually argued that SGM was NOT a cult…
Then a few days after that, I happened to visit that old blog post again, only to find that it had been wiped away. I was sitting here telling my husband how odd I thought that was, when he suggested I put up my own blog. I coincidentally happened to have copied and pasted my own
comments, as well as the ones about SGM’s secret history (now fully acknowledged by SGM officials but back then mysteriously “cleansed” from all of SGM’s P.R. materials) into a Word document. I’d never done that before, so that seemed a bit fortuitous. Within an hour, my husband had put up a site and I’d posted a few things. I figured that would be that. The only thing I wanted to do was preserve the secret history and provide a place where others who might be experiencing my same ambivalence could know they weren’t the only ones out there who had questions.
A day or so later, I checked that blog and was shocked to find I’d gotten a bunch of hits – and comments! Within weeks, I’d heard dozens of stories from others whose SGM experiences had been a lot worse than ours – downright abusive, in fact. Meanwhile, seemingly crazy rabid SGMers were coming around and accusing us of gossip, when all we were doing was stating opinions about our own personal church experiences.
Now, more than five years later, I think I can say that in some ways, I have “been there, seen it all,” in a much broader sense than even someone who has spent decades with SGM. I have heard from quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of disenfranchised people who were spiritually manipulated, controlled, and abused. Only a fraction of these stories involves really dramatic stuff, like child abuse. Most are much more subtle. But I believe I have gained a very good sense of SGM’s issues.
So, no – Guy and I were not longtime members. But we never intended to start an “exposé” site or put ourselves out there as “SGM experts.” It all just sort of happened, sort of unfolded. And interacting with SGMers who were so uncomfortable with the truth – well, that has definitely shaped my perceptions of SGM. I actually think that it was our very LACK of history, our very LACK of any personal anger or bitterness, that made us the people God used to be a voice for the abused and to reveal the behind-the-scenes reality of what has gone on within the ministry.
Anyway, this site has never been about us. We don’t really have an SGM story. We chose to remain anonymous initially because we didn’t want to do anything or say anything that would hurt our SGM pastors’ feelings, in case they would find the site. We felt like they absolutely had the right to “do church” their own weird way, if that’s what they wanted to do. They didn’t need to be made to feel like they should change.
Later, as we dealt with more and more stories of downright abuse and authoritarian control, and as we gained a much better understanding of SGM’s issues, we realized that our pastors could face retribution for our activities. Again, the idea was to protect them. Why should people who had done us no personal wrong deal with the fallout of our observations?
Then, when some of the SGM defenders started coming around, I began to realize that the whole anonymous thing was nothing more than a red herring – a basically irrelevant topic thrown in to distract people from the real issues. Since there’s nothing for which anyone needs to apologize, and there’s no relationship that needs mending, why would it matter who we are?
I actually think that SGM’s extreme discomfort with anonymity has much more to do with losing control than anything else.
But the bottom line is that almost nothing on the SGM Survivors site is about us…except for this page…so now you know where we’re coming from.