Fear and Loathing in my “In” Box

March 3, 2008 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Every day, I get a lot of interesting email.  Some people write to ask questions.  Some people write to tell me how horribly sinful the site is.  Some folks – for whatever reason – want advice.  But mostly, people write to tell me their stories.

I read every one of these emails, and even when someone sees fit to give me a good tongue-lashing (or would that be “keyboard-lashing”?  :-) ), I really do enjoy hearing from people.  I’m a fairly speedy typist and love to write, so if you email me, you’ll probably get at least one reply.  And if your original email strikes my fancy for whatever reason, you might even find that I have quite a lot to say in response.

So anyway, over the past few months, I’ve had many conversations with folks about their Sovereign Grace experiences.  I’ve never done an official tally, but I know I’ve heard far more SGM stories via email than have been shared on the site itself. 

One striking aspect of so many of the stories people have told me is the almost palpable fear that lurks behind their words.  Often, their entire reason for sending email rather than posting their stories to the blog is because they are afraid that if they share publicly, even if they do so anonymously, they might be recognized.  Apparently, if their fellow SGM-ers were to find out that they are dissatisfied with aspects of their Sovereign Grace experience, and are sharing about these on a website, terrible things could befall them.

I have to say, for a long time, I never gave these writers’ fear much thought.  I understand what it’s like to worry about disappointing people.  I have my own reasons for not blogging under my full identity.  Because we did not have a bad experience at our Sovereign Grace church but were instead treated very kindly by our SGM pastors, we’ve always believed that they do not deserve to have this site reflect personally on them or their particular church, especially because we’d still like to believe that their congregation is far more grace-based than some and does not manifest the problems that others have described here.  Why should they have to suffer because we were bothered by nagging undercurrents, had questions, and then blogged about them?

So I can understand the desire for secrecy. 

But the other day, after receiving email from four different individuals who all, in one way or another, expressed their desire to maintain even more anonymity than the website affords, I got to thinking about just how strange it is that a Christian organization could engender so much fear in its people.  What, after all, could befall your average Sovereign Grace person if it were discovered that he or she had expressed dissatisfaction online? 

Certainly I could not imagine anything truly sinister.  I couldn’t picture CJ Mahaney or any other pastor sending out his goons to rough up the individual who had, for instance, shared that she’d been castigated and reprimanded by church leadership for daring to pray for a married woman when she herself is still single.  I couldn’t see an angry mob of men with shaved heads and oversized shirts all wielding baseball bats and coming after the gentleman who told of being disciplined for not tithing.  I certainly couldn’t envision what was so scandalous about the story of the family who had decided to leave because they’d been rebuked for asking hard questions about their church’s ambitious building program. 

Why were they so desperate to keep the stories of their dissatisfaction anonymous?

What power does Sovereign Grace Ministries have over all these folks, especially now, as many of them have already left?

I really don’t know.

I am aware, of course, that many SGM families worry about losing their social lives, which, after some years, tend to revolve around the church and its activities.  Some writers have told of extended family whose livelihoods depend upon maintaining good relations with SGM.  I guess many people feel like they just have too much to lose, and that it’s too risky for them to come out and even semi-publicly express any dissatisfaction.

Like I said, I can understand this, to a point.

But isn’t it a little odd that a Christian organization could exert such control over its people?

The other day, my sister and I were talking about how many emails I receive from frightened people.  That’s when it suddenly hit me that this sort of fear is a very obvious sign that SGM is NOT a normal Christian organization.  My sister and I reminisced about how many people we knew during our growing-up years who sort of “made the rounds” of the different churches in our small town.  They’d be loyal and involved members of our church, and then something would happen and they’d show up at the church down the street…soon to be loyal and involved there.  And then something again would happen, and they’d come back to our church, where it didn’t take a terribly long time for them to be back to their same level of involvement.

Although of course these folks received their share of patronizing smiles, and although some people jokingly referred to them as “church tramps,” their personal embarrassment was really the ONLY consequence of their leaving.  Nobody ever spoke ill of them or tried to frame stories about their departure.  To the best of my knowledge, they retained their standing in the community and did not see any disruptions in their significant relationships.  It was relatively easy for them to return, and they did not have to work to “re-earn” their “credibility” so that they could once again be considered “qualified” for service. 

Doubtless, lack of commitment is not a desirable trait in a church member.  I’m not in any way saying that it’s good for a church to encourage its people to be flaky.  But the level of fear that comes through in the emails I receive is all out of proportion to what’s actually at stake, if Sovereign Grace Ministries is truly a family of “regular” churches.  The body of Christ – the “church universal” – is a wonderfully varied and diverse group these days.  No single Bible-believing, Bible-teaching denomination or group has a corner on the market of “correct” doctrine or proper methods of fostering fellowship.  If you are having serious doubts about your church, or if you have been hurt or harmed by church discipline run amuck, you can find another place to worship and to serve.

If you find yourself irrationally fearing otherwise – if you find yourself laboring under the notion that you cannot leave your current church without horrible harm befalling you and your family – that might be the most obvious sign that it’s time to get out of Dodge.

© 2008, Kris. All rights reserved.