A Partial Transcript From Covenant Life Church’s Recent Members’ Meeting

August 20, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

[Kris says:  Covenant Life Church recently posted a partial transcript from their August 17 “Members Meeting.”  In the interest of free discussion, I thought I would post the transcript excerpt here, along with my commentary, which appears in blue.]


Josh Harris speaking:

I want to take some time to address the issue of Brian Chesmore and Mike Bradshaw’s resignations.  I want to just say, again, how saddened I am by their departure and how grateful I am for their years of service and their friendship.

When they wrote their letters they expressed to us as a pastoral team that they understood that we would need to explain our perspective and to share where we saw things differently. They invited that just as we were inviting them to share their perspective.

We chose not to go into great detail when we wrote our letter, but from the questions that we received, we think it is important to just speak to some of these issues and try to talk about this.

But before I share where we disagree, I want to just state, again, where we agree with Mike and Brian.  I have already shared two weeks ago on a Sunday morning where I now regret how I led that first member’s meeting where we first addressed the [Brent Detwiler’s] documents. But I want to state this again, and I want to be even more specific. I failed you that night in not providing clear biblical definition and guidance in how to view the documents written by Brent Detwiler as well as the blogs.  And there is just no excuse for me for not having clearly warned you in that moment of the dangers of gossip and slander.  [Kris says:  I just don’t understand this.  I’ve interacted with a lot of people who are members of CLC, and they’ve all seemed like intelligent people with a very deep and sincere desire to please God.  Many (if not most) have been believers for decades.  Is there really such spiritual immaturity among CLC’s members, that Josh Harris and the others think that these members needed “guidance in how to view the documents written by Brent Detwiler as well as the blogs”?  Really?  If so, then I’m thinking that’s just another nail in the coffin, in terms of how CLCers should view their church.  Clearly, if CLC’s pastors believe their membership is so spiritually stupid and immature as to not be able to read Brent’s documents and the blogs without express pastoral guidance, then either the pastors are failures at their job (because they aren’t training and equipping their people to be able to read and discern truth for themselves), or else these pastors have a seriously disrespectful and patronizing view of their members.]

In my desire to avoid any appearance of a cover up or avoid the appearance of spin, I failed to faithfully pastor you with Scripture.  I didn’t turn to God’s Word in that moment. I had not prepared a clear presentation that I think would have protected you.  In a desire to demonstrate that we are not hiding  anything, I encouraged you to expose yourself to accusations against many people who have no process for defending themselves.  [Kris says:  No process for defending themselves?  How so?  It’s really not that difficult to interact with people on blogs.  In the initial glasnost that followed C.J.’s stepping down, Dave Harvey blogged and permitted comments, and then a CLC staff person would respond on SGM’s behalf.  They seemed to catch on rather quickly to the concept of “defending themselves.”  All these men are perfectly free to post whatever they’d like both here and at SGM Refuge, too.  This “no process for defending themselves” is sheer tomfoolery.]

This week a faithful member of this church wrote me and the pastors a letter that God really used to convict me and clarify the issue for me. And I have been getting a lot of letters. I have been getting a lot of criticism for how I have processed different things, but the clear reasoning—and maybe it was just the timing of the Lord… but the clear reasoning from Scripture and what he shared really helped me to see this more clearly.  And in it he pointed out that Brent’s documents expose or allege the sin of many people, many lay people, not just pastors, but members of churches by name, in some cases kids. And these people have no way for their side of the story to be told. They have no process for clearing their name.  And that really is true. And as I reflected on Brent’s documents and even the specific examples that this brother shared with me, Brent shares letters and information about many people that were gained through his role as a pastor and, in doing so, he harmed their reputations. [Kris says:  Again – I am astounded that Josh Harris thinks so little of his people that he actually assumes they wouldn’t pick up on this without his explicit instructions?  CLC people, do you really consider yourselves to be that dumb?  If not, then why are you content to be part of a church where your pastors think so little of your discernment and judgment?

It seems like Josh Harris and the other CLC pastors don’t really trust the Holy Spirit to do His job.  Or – worse – maybe they’re not confident in the fact that their membership are really believers.  Otherwise, they would be able to rest in the fact that their congregation can read anything and discern truth for themselves.

After all, the Bible tells us that New Testament believers are equipped with everything they need to grow in wisdom and godliness. Believers have the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit enables them to understand and discern truth.

John 16:13 tells us, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”  Romans 8:11 says, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of  his Spirit who lives in you.”

Honestly, to me, all this stuff Josh says about his regret over not offering the people more guidance sounds  a whole lot more like Josh Harris himself got “spanked” by some other pastors and maybe a powerful member or two for not doing more to control the flow of information and control people’s perceptions of and reactions to that information.]

I just … I want you to imagine the impact it would have on you if personal letters and confessions that you shared in confidence were made public like this.  And what just hit me in this is: I would never want to do that to you as a pastor, no matter how wrong I thought somebody else was, that would be wrong for me to do against you.

I am sorry to say that I didn’t consider the impact on all these other people when I encouraged you to read these documents. I was thinking, primarily, of C.J. who was humbly confessing his sin and who is committed to be evaluated by a panel.  I was thinking of our pastoral team and our desire to be open about our faults. I mean, the mindset that I brought into that moment was, “Let’s just open up the doors and all the windows and just come in and look around. We have got nothing to hide.”

But I failed to consider all the other people, pastors and lay people, who are accused in these documents and I believe I owe these people an apology, and I am going to take the steps to contact as many of them personally as I can and specifically ask their forgiveness for this.

[Kris says:  What’s interesting is that Josh Harris is acting like the emails Brent Detwiler shared were personal in nature, written privately on the various pastors’ own time.  That is not true.  Primarily, those documents contain stuff that was written by leaders/pastors as they operated in their official capacity, on either CLC’s or SGM’s dime.  The emails and letters were in essence written “on the clock,” and CLC’s members played a part in paying these guys’ salaries while they were writing these things.  In my view, there is therefore nothing private about any of these documents.  There’s nothing private about business communications written while being paid by the company…which in this case is funded by the members.  It’s not like Brent published C.J.’s secret love letters to Carolyn.  This is another bogus point.]

And the same applies to the blogs.  You know, I shared this on that night and I think I have talked about this in different contexts. We should have talked about the blogs a long time ago.  We should have brought biblical teaching to bear on what is taking place there and we should have led you as pastors in saying, “Let’s create a clear plan that you can have total confidence in and even involving the help of members where we can be addressing any person that writes something on a blog about Covenant Life.” How can we pursue them?  Find out if we have done something wrong and pursue reconciliation. That is part of the reason I am excited about one of these ad hoc committees being devoted to the issue of processing grievances. I believe they are going to be able to help us in growing in this way.

[Kris says:  Oy.  I am so very weary of hearing SGM leaders talk about the stories on the blogs as though the main issues are personal and relational…and that SGM pastors’ primary activity should be seeking out victims and apologizing and “reconciling.”  Yes, no doubt, many (if not most) of SGM’s victims would appreciate an apology.  But I can say with confidence that most people have moved on and don’t really care so much anymore about “reconciling” on a personal level with their SGM pastors.  Most people who have shared their experiences on the blogs have done so because their stories illustrate larger structural and organizational problems, and because they want SGM to address those structural and organizational problems!

What is the matter with Josh and these other pastors, that they refuse to see this and grasp this?  Why do they continue to insist that it’s all about tracking people down and seeing IF they’ve done something wrong?  And then reconciling?  Why can’t they just take what people have shared and use it to examine themselves and their organization and make changes where called for?

I just don’t understand this, and hearing “the blogs” misrepresented over and over again – as though they are primarily about hurt individuals who are seeking private reconciliation – is extremely frustrating.  The blogs are mainly about offering another perspective of what can happen when SGM’s dysfunctional system goes awry.  Either fix the system or don’t, but quit trying to make it personal.  It’s not!]

But we didn’t do that. And that, again, is a failure of my leadership to not have clearly addressed this earlier on. And so when this crisis hits with these documents being posted and all these questions about trust and so on being, you know, exposed in these ways, my impulse was to say, “Listen.  We are not afraid of you reading anything.  We want you to be able to ask us any questions.  If you are reading these blogs and you have got questions, bring that to us. Don’t feel that you can’t come to us with specific questions.”

But in communicating in that way, I really validated these blogs, and I didn’t think about all the people on these blogs that are being talked about. I just want you to put yourself in their shoes, if it was your family that was being talked about by other people or your marriage and the deep hurt that you would feel if I stood up and said, “Yeah, read the blogs.”

That is not to say that there aren’t real issues that need to be dealt with there. I didn’t carefully consider the impact that has on real people, real brothers and sisters in Christ and for that I am sorry.

We, as your pastors, we need to create a plan and involve you, the members of this church, so that you can not only give input for how we can adequately address grievances, but you can be confident that concerns are being addressed.

This doesn’t mean, though, that it is healthy or right for all of us to expose ourselves to the gossip about other people in a forum like this. You know, as I talked about on one of the Sundays a few weeks ago, this really is an issue of us loving each other as we would want others to love us, doing unto others as we would want them to do unto us. We … if it was our family, if it was our marriage that was being writ-ten about publicly, we wouldn’t want people who had no direct involvement to be reading about it. We want people who hear about things to come directly to us.  And so, again, I just want to apologize for ways that my public statements have hurt people who are being maligned on these blogs.

[Kris says:  “Maligning” is an interesting choice of words.  The definition of “malign” is “to utter injurous or misleading false reports.”  I would appreciate it if Josh Harris would weigh in on what, exactly, is so false or misleading about what is on the blogs?

Nobody is getting “maligned” over here, except those of us who are now being accused of uttering injurous or misleading false reports.]

Now let me just take a moment to assure those of you who are hearing all that I am saying and who are thinking that this means that a cone of silence is now descending upon Covenant Life Church. I know all the statements that will be made about what I said.  We are not circling the wagons. We are not shutting down dissent. We are not silencing critics.  Covenant Life, we have got problems that we need to deal with in our church.  I hope that your pastors have proven to you that we want to face these head on, that we want to deal with these with God’s Word.  There are areas of our church’s culture, the way that we have practiced things, the way that we have emphasized things, the way that we have taught things that we need to evaluate, that we need to examine, mistakes that we have made as your pastors that we need to own. We talked about that at our members’ meeting in May. We need to press into these things even more.  We need to honestly confront these things.

But the fact that these problems exist doesn’t mean that we can fix them by disobeying God’s Word.   Two wrongs don’t make a right.  The fact that we have had problems with communication, the fact that we haven’t listened enough to the congregation in the past, those things are real. We are seeking to address those things.  But we can’t move forward into a better, more God glorifying future by doing things that dishonor the Word of God. And I feel that my leadership has contributed to some of those wrongs steps. We won’t fix the problems of Covenant Life using the tools of gossip and slander. We will only fix them as we put on the armor of God, as we press forward in prayer and dependence and deep humility.

[Kris says:  Oh great.  Now the “gossip and slander” card has been played.  Josh Harris has now segued neatly from saying that the blogs are “maligning” people – uttering false or injurous misleading reports – to implying that the blogs contain too much gossip and slander and therefore represent a “sinful” approach to solving CLC’s problems.  Hmm.  I think that such a statement is probably more slanderous than anything shared on the SGM Survivors site.]

Let me just tell you.  I still believe God wants to humble us, and he is doing something really deep right now in our church.  I still believe that he is lovingly shaking us as a church, and I don’t want us to get our … I don’t want us to take our eyes off of that.

In the coming months I believe the Lord wants us to humble ourselves through prayer and fasting.  I be-lieve he wants us all to be saying, “What do we need to change? Where have we been a part of this problem?”

You know, I am just so aware of the fact that the issues in this church are not going to be fixed by this independent panel.  C.J. being reconciled to Brent is not going fix the issues that we need to deal with as a church.  And so I … we are committed, as your pastors, to pressing into these matters, to listening to you, to talking to you about these things and talking about areas of self righteousness, talking about where there has been legalism, talking about where we have “reduced to one practice,” talking about all of these matters and opening up the Word of God.  And I don’t want us to take our eyes off of what God is speaking to us as a church and what he wants to address in us as pastors where we have made mis-takes, where we have failed, where we have sinned.

But that is the pathway for us. The pathway is a pathway of humility, humbling ourselves before God and each other.

This is a defining moment in the history of this church.  How we press forward together guided by the Word of God is going to shape all of our futures, no matter what church we are a part of in the days to come.  Getting this right before the Lord is going to shape the futures of our kids. There is so much that is messed up right now. There [are] so many layers of this being messed up.  And I am so tempted to just want to turn this into a huge game of blaming one another.  God help us to invite the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

This independent panel is not our salvation.  These ad hoc committees are not our salvation.  Our polity is messed up.  We need a new church constitution. That is not our salvation. We need the power of God to help us be the people of God.

And I will tell you something. Standing up here before you and sharing these places that I have gotten these things wrong … it is hard for me, because I am proud.  And there have been so many things warring in my soul … wanting to defend myself, wanting to say, “I didn’t create this.” That is not going to help any of us move forward.

And so I just want to ask you not only to forgive me for ways that my leadership has contributed to the problem, but I want to ask all of you to join me and join these men in trying to be a part of a Spirit-led solution and a Spirit-led … solution is going to involve all of us walking humbly.

[Kris says:  These paragraphs here are, in my opinion, the strongest and most realistic and in-touch-with-reality portion of Josh’s presentation.]

I just want to talk about the issue of C.J. going to CHBC because it just ties in so much with this.  CHBC is Capitol Hill Baptist Church pastored by Mark Dever.  I understand why some of you view C.J. going to Capitol Hill as some sort of abandonment. I want to ask you not to view it that way.

You know, in an ideal world it would be best for C.J. to stay here. I think he agrees with that. I think he would want that. But I want you to try to put yourself in his shoes and how hard it is for him during this leave of absence—and that is the only period of time that he is at Capitol Hill. That is what he has communicated and that is what the Sovereign Grace board has stated. It is just a matter of his leave of ab-sence.  But I want you to try to imagine how difficult it is for him to be here right now, not just because of these documents landing and all that has taken place, but because of the ways in which I have led in this process.

[Kris says:  So really, what it boils down to is that C.J. considers himself above Josh Harris and doesn’t see Josh Harris as his own authority, his own pastor.  This isn’t some sort of flaw in Josh Harris.  Instead, this speaks volumes about C.J. and about the very issues that Brent Detwiler’s documents addressed!  This actually totally validates and verifies the main issue that Brent was trying to point out – that nobody at CLC or within the SGM organization could actually hold C.J. accountable, and that C.J. was submitted to nobody and was a law unto himself.

C.J.’s departure from CLC provides his people with yet another illustration – a living, breathing, walking, in-real-time illustration – of what Brent was trying to say.

And since when is it A-OK to skip out when the going gets tough?  Would C.J. have EVER, in all of his history as a pastor, accepted this kind of reasoning from any other member?  I kind of doubt it.]

He has real concerns with the way in which I have led. I have concerns with the way in which I have led. I have made mistakes in the process that I think in some cases may have added to the problem. And I don’t know how to parse all those things. It doesn’t matter. But he is in a place where he just doesn’t feel that he can be here until these issues are worked out between me and him and the pastoral team and him.  And I can understand that.  He is not turning his back on this church. As he communicated to me, he wants to be supportive of Covenant Life, and if he is here and people ask him, “What do you think of what is going on?” he doesn’t want to be divisive in any way.  [Kris says:  Please!  Sometimes I want to go all gangsta and use slang and ask C.J. and his pals what they’re smoking!  Because, this “don’t want to be divisive” excuse is ludicrous.  I pretty much can’t think of anything more “divisive” than C.J.’s decision to ditch the church he founded and run away from being confronted in his sin by the ordinary members who have finally learned of it.  I can’t think of anything more divisive than C.J.’s voting with his feet and making these powerful symbolic statements about his lack of confidence in Josh Harris’ leadership.  For C.J. to try to pass this off as his effort at being less “divisive” is so much bunk that it’s breathtaking!]  And so I think we can extend understanding to C.J. and Carolyn as they go to this church during this time. What I want you to hear very clearly is that C.J. has expressed his desire to work though these things with us, and we have the same desire.  He has communicated that he wants to pursue reconciliation with us with the help of a mediator. So we have communicated with Ted Kober [President of Ambassadors of Reconciliation] that we would love his help in doing this. We want to sit down and talk through these matters. We all feel this desire.  We are all going to be pursuing this.

I just want us all to remember that this story is not over yet, ok? The story is not over yet.  God is at work in all of us. We are going to press forward in these matters. God is going to help us.  I have a great confidence in that.

We are not facing an ideal situation.  All of us can look at this and say how it should be, but it is not how it should be.  It is where it is, and it is a big mess, and we need to bear with one another, and we need to have compassion, and we need to trust God together.

© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.