Wallace And Happymom’s Response To Fairfax’s July 24 Family Meeting

August 23, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

On July 24, 2011, the Fairfax Sovereign Grace church had a family meeting to address concerns relating to Sovereign Grace Ministries’ present issues, as well as concerns the church membership had over stories of mishandled child abuse cases shared here.  One such case was Noel’s Story.  Another was Wallace’s Story.

Many members of the Fairfax church reported that the meeting had been a very touching experience.  Pastors got up in front of the congregation and wept as they admitted that they’d made mistakes and were sorry for them.  The overall feeling from those who had attended that family meeting seemed to be that it was a huge step in the right direction…and that the pastors were doing a good job of taking responsibility for the situations in question.

Wallace and his wife Happymom, as well as Noel and her husband, were not so impressed, however.  They were dismayed by all the inaccuracies and untruths contained in what the pastors had said in the meeting.

Because of their concern for the truth, Wallace and Happymom have taken the time to identify and respond to the many false and/or misleading statements the pastors of the Fairfax Sovereign Grace Church made at the July 24 family meeting.  If you weren’t there, and if you’re interested in hearing for yourself what was said, you can access a sound file of the meeting by clicking here.

What follows is from Wallace.

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If there’s anyone who would attribute charges made by us and other voices on the internet to gossip and slander… then you’ve only heard half the story.

Words that are indented (“blockquoted”) are direct quotes from the meeting.

Mark Mullery

“Some time ago, we made a decision to stop having family meetings because they weren’t being particularly well-attended. And so, I think we’ve discovered the secret: just a little controversy, crisis…great family meeting opportunity.

Speaking for Happymom, Noel and Grizzly, we were outraged by Mark’s choice of words. Considering the severity of two child molestations and the rape of a third child Mr. Mullery, we did not find your opening statement amusing.

It appears that Mark is referencing the controversy inside his church. However, apologetic pastors who elicit public sympathy whereby key elements of the truth are obscured is the greater controversy.

Mark said:

“Sadly – and it breaks my heart to tell you this – sadly, in seeking to care for them, we became part of their trial.”

Mark paints a deceptive picture here. They never cared for us at any time during our confrontation with them. From October 2007 to February 2009 we didn’t hear from anyone from the Fairfax staff until our son contacted CJ Mahaney. During the following months, their efforts were directed towards convincing us that their assessments were the correct ones.

“We lost sight of the victim. These are complicated moments. In the swirl of all the other things to think about, we lost sight of the simple fact that an innocent victim had been grievously sinned against and was in need of constant care.

Mark and his fellow pastors also lost sight of Noel’s daughter and my son. In fact, their sights were never set on the victims. But in the swirl of all the things to think about they remembered to call their attorneys. Also, constant care was not what we expected from you and your staff Mr. Mullery. All we wanted was honest answers to our questions.

“We should have followed up more and over a longer period of time.”

Mark’s statement seems to suggest that some type of pro-active benevolent follow-up was taking place. This simply isn’t true.

“We weren’t trying to cover anything up, but we did want to protect the identity of the victim.”

Protecting the identity of a victim would suggest care and concern. Their actions don’t line up with their words. Fairfax protected the identity of the perpetrators in both our children’s cases because of the family’s status… they were not prepared to deal with a potential scandal in 1998 and then again in 2007. In 1998 our son’s case was given to a pastor primarily concerned with protecting the reputation of the perpetrator’s father. The 2007 incident would have been a significantly bigger issue had it been exposed.

“We’ve been accused of not getting it. Guilty as charged. We didn’t get it. I’m so sorry.”

You still don’t get it Mr. Mullery. This is not about you and your staff putting on an emotional show to convince your congregation how sorry you are for the way we had been treated. Picture someone running you over with a truck and then apologizing to an audience of bystanders…as you lay there in a ditch.

Much of what Happymom and I had to say during the year and a half we labored to be heard was ignored and invalidated during the process. Therefore, we consider any public apologies from you and your staff to be self-serving and lacking any real substance.

“I deeply regret my impatience, self-righteousness, pride, hard heartedness. These things compounded their suffering instead of easing it.”

Mark forgot to include, ignoring many of our emails, ignoring our hard questions, and protecting a deceptive pastor.

“We reached out to Noel and to Wallace and their spouses and families. It pains me to say, that our attempts to be reconciled to them have not proven successful so far. Please pray that this might happen.”

With reference to our family, this is an outright lie. There were no attempts to be reconciled, only legally advised defense measures to protect the reputation of the church. Mark and his crew were more concerned with protecting themselves and had no choice but to deal with us after CJ Mahaney became involved.

“We can’t agree with everything that’s written about us on the blogs, but we’ve tried to go to school on what we can agree with.”

Mark Mullery presumes to act as Judge and Jury by choosing what to accept and what not to accept from the blogs. Tell us Mark, what has been written about you and your staff that isn’t accurate?

“We’ve tried to learn from our mistakes. We’ve tried to learn from these experiences and to make substantive changes in response.”

Do these mistakes include allowing members of your staff to twist facts and omit key information to protect the church’s image?

Vince Hinders

“We failed in our care for these victims.”

Although Fairfax made this the dominant issue, lack of pastoral care in no way adequately describes our experience with them. We had forgiven the pastors numerous times for lack of care, poor leadership, etc. We forgave them for what they had apologized for. Their non-descriptive apologies however, became a smokescreen that obscured tougher issues. They used this approach in the family meeting to extract sympathy from the congregation and we found this offensive.

Vince goes on to speak about 32 years of sex-abuse free leadership, and sex-abuse Free Church property. The issue that no one wants to talk about is sex-abuse committed by minors away from church property.

He further states:

“As Mark mentioned, in the Noel story, the two families involved were family friends. They were neighbors. They were in the same care group. But there was no cover-up of these crimes. The boy’s crime was reported to the police and Social Services by the victim’s parents within 24 hours of disclosure at the urging of one of our pastors. And, over time and not soon enough, people from three different care groups in the area where these people lived were involved and knew about the situation.”

If the boy’s crime had not been reported to the police would you have reported it Vince? His last sentence is vague and misleading. Does Vince mean care group leaders, or was everyone in the three groups given this information? Which begs the question, was the identity of the perpetrator made known to people at risk…close friends of the family who interact on a social level?

Vince failed to mention that Fairfax disagreed with parts of Noel’s story. This was never resolved. Mark Mullery told Noel and her husband they had inconsistencies in their story. Mark uses the word “inconsistency” as a substitute for “lie.” Do any of you on staff in Fairfax have the guts to say Noel was lying if this is what you believed? Noel asked what the inconsistencies were but no answer was given. Is this one of the mistakes Mark Mullery learned from? Will he now go back and get this right with Noel and her family or does he still think its ok to not answer questions he doesn’t like?

In reference to our son’s case in 1998, Vince said: “This situation was never reported by the parents to the police.” It’s not clear why Vince included this bit of information. Was this statement meant to make us look bad in some way Vince? However, we regrettably failed to report the crime because we thought the church would handle the situation scripturally. Instead, we were instructed by a Fairfax pastor on how great the father of the perpetrator was and Steve Shank blasted us for our sin.

Our daughter’s case:

“And also, we just want to clarify one thing, that two days before the trial, two pastors on our staff (Dave Hinders and Steve Whitacre) were served with subpoenas. Both pastors appeared in court at the appointed date and time and were ready to testify if needed. They had never been asked by anybody to participate in that part of the process directly. However, it should also be noted that the perpetrator pled guilty, so they were never called to testify.”

Vince neglected to mention that I asked them to participate…The subpoenas were hand-delivered one day before the trial. Vince Hinders was well aware of the fact but also failed to mention that two days before the trial I was on the phone with Dave Hinders pleading with him to come to the courthouse with Steve Whitacre.

What prompted my phone call to Dave was a prior phone conversation with the detective assigned to the case. She told me it would be a “good idea” for the pastors who heard the confession to be there ready to testify if necessary. However, Dave made it clear to me they weren’t coming. During our long heated discussion Dave told me, “I have my church’s reputation to consider.” I then called our detective and asked her to issue the subpoenas.

In a future meeting Steve Whitacre said he would have personally escorted the perpetrator to the police station if he had declined turning himself in. We did not have this information at the time and we forgave Steve for not telling us. In the same meeting Dave said he didn’t remember saying these things to me during our phone conversation and we forgave him for this.

“In both stories, as appropriate, we fully cooperated with the police and the Social Services.”

Concerning our case, either the Fairfax County Police Department lied to us or Vince Hinders twisted the truth a little. Our detective expressed frustration with the Fairfax pastors and told us they were “uncooperative.”

“But the big question that people have is…Are our children safe? Is it okay to have our children here?”

Vince then goes into an impressive litany of how well protected children are in the church with the new programs in place. But the big question people should have is, “Are our children safe outside the church?” Unless the leadership discloses the identity of sexually predatory minors in the church the issue of safety remains unresolved. People at risk need to be informed particularly when it involves minors. If not, young sex-offenders in social settings outside the church, away from church property will be undetected.

During the initial stages of our ordeal with Fairfax, we revealed the identity of the perpetrator to a family with young children in the church. The family was very close to the perpetrators family and was completely unaware of the circumstances. The young man was a twice-convicted sex-felon.

Happymom presented this question to Mark Mullery concerning minors: “Why don’t you inform people at risk of a known sex- offender in the church?” His response: “That perpetrator could grow up and sue us for defamation of character.”

Clarification:

“One resource that we have found is a book by Diane Langberg. It’s called On the Threshold of Hope.”

Vince neglected to mention for some reason that Happymom was the one who recommended the book to the pastoral staff. She received emails from Dave and Mark thanking her for the recommendation.

Vince Hinders speaking for Lou Gallo

“Lou and Lisa have attempted to resolve these relational conflicts with their relatives in a humble and biblical way, most recently through an independent, professional Christian conciliator here in Fairfax. Sadly, the situation hasn’t improved over time and has, in fact, deteriorated. The other family withdrew from the mediation process, contacted the pastoral team, and made a charge against Lou that he has engaged in a pattern of deception which is still current and could possibly disqualify him from being an elder.”

We did not create this relational conflict. It remains unresolved because Lou lied to us on multiple occasions and refused to answer our questions face to face. He has a long history of turning things back on us when confronted.

We spent a year and a half trying to address this but Fairfax protected Lou by consistently invalidating our claims. Contrary to Vince’s statement, the lying issue did not suddenly emerge after the mediation process but, in fact, had been something we labored to communicate to the pastoral staff from the beginning. And we did not withdraw from the mediation process as Vince also stated. We were there for both meetings totaling 9 hours.

As a follow-up to the mediation process, Fairfax set up a meeting to give us their final conclusions based on the mediator’s assessment. We asked Vince if we could ask Lou our questions in this meeting and he said no. Given this, there was no point in going so we declined the invitation.

The mediator’s conclusion was…

“There was nothing apparent in Lou’s responses or conduct during the mediation that, in what we observed, reflected a current attempt to avoid accountability or clear himself of any wrongdoing. Rather, there was clearly apparent conviction and heartfelt grief.”

During the meetings Lou avoided our hard questions and was deceptive in some of his responses to us and the mediator as well. He was extremely relieved when I asked the mediator this question after 5 hours of frustration: “Why do we desire to have our questions answered?” His reply was, “because you are sinfully craving answers according to James 4.” With this announcement Lou began to weep. The mediator had confused heartfelt grief with extreme relief…Lou was now off the hook. At this point, we told Lou and Lisa that we had forgiven them.

“We have spoken at length with Lou and Lisa, and we believe that they have provided reasonable, humble, and honest answers and responses to the questions that they’ve been asked by their relatives.”

Vince’s statement is deceptive. Lou may have answered our list of questions but we weren’t given the opportunity to hear his responses. In fact, Fairfax blocked every attempt we made to ask Lou our questions face to face with a Fairfax pastor present. They claimed Lou had answered our questions (behind closed doors) but refused to tell us what his responses were. And the one question we did ask him in private was answered with an outright lie.

“When this conflict emerged, Lou and Lisa offered to meet with the other family’s pastor to get help with mediation because Lou and Lisa knew that they distrusted Sovereign Grace Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. So, they said, hey, we’ll go to your pastor. We’ll go to your place. Sadly, the other family declined.”

Either Vince is truly ignorant of the facts or he purposely created a deceptive picture. Yes, we declined going to our pastor; however, it was our strong desire to meet with Lou and one of his fellow Sovereign Grace pastors. (Vince was aware of this) When I suggested this to Lou, he said, “that ain’t happening.” And Fairfax backed him up on this.

We made two separate appeals to Vince Hinders and Kenneth Maresco for their participation in a meeting with Lou and they both declined. We were never given a reason why as they both ignored the question when we asked.

“…he has repeatedly reached out and gone to these family members in person. He has written letters and e-mails of apology…”

After not hearing from Lou for 10 months he appeared at our front door 2 days before a scheduled meeting with CJ Mahaney to apologize to our daughter. When asked, he could not tell us exactly what he wanted to apologize for and would not answer a few other questions we had. I told him it would not be in my daughter’s best interest at this time.

The second time Lou came to our house was after the mediation process. He apologized to our children for “not being there” and told them I was a wise man for asking that question in the mediator’s office – the question that was answered with James 4.

Lou’s two apology letters were filled with deceptive statements however; he did apologize in both letters for not being there. We tried bringing the deceptive apology issue to the pastor’s attention numerous times and they ignored us each time.

“In late 2010, the pastoral team sent a letter to the family who made the charge against Lou, and told them of our decision. Sadly, they told us, “The church will hear the truth, regardless of any conclusions you come up with on your own.”

Yes Vince, the church is now getting the opportunity to hear the truth.

“And at one point, we invited one of the bloggers from the Refuge blog – the one who manages that site – to actually come here to the church and sit in on our mediation meetings with them. We didn’t have anything to hide. We want to be reconciled to them.”

This is entirely false. Jim from the Refuge blog came to Virginia on my invitation. He came as a friend. When I informed Fairfax that he would be there for the meeting, I was questioned on what his role would be. The fact is they didn’t want him to be there. And Jim was at one meeting only, not multiple meetings as Vince seems to be indicating in his statement.

Lou Gallo

“As it was similar to other breaks in our relationship that have occurred over the past 18 years, I wanted very much to understand my contribution as to why this kept happening. Over the course of the next months and years, I made several attempts to own my sin and to ask for their forgiveness.”

The breaks in our relationship were the result of Lou’s dishonesty and failure to acknowledge specific sins beyond not caring for us. His attempts at owning his sin were selective: “I confessed to them that I was proud and selfish.”

“As I began to understand the things they were bringing to me, I confessed to them my deficiencies in caring for them and that I did not love them like Hebrews 13:3 states.”

“Deficiencies in caring for them” can more accurately be described as “family abandonment.”

“At two significant times in this family’s life, I allowed my fear of health issues Lisa faced to cloud my judgment…”

During the time leading up to my daughter’s court case, Lou made a deliberate and calculated decision to back away from our family. He was instructed by SGM lawyers to tell his wife not to discuss details of our daughter’s case with Happymom.

Lisa was not covered under the clergy-privilege statute and therefore could have been called as a witness to testify on our daughter’s behalf had she been given knowledge of any details. Lou endeavored to avoid this possibility and then lied about it when we confronted him. We had given him our daughter’s court-date months in advance, and a few days before the trial Lou told me they couldn’t be there because he had a scheduled meeting with Vince and Lisa had a doctor’s appointment.

I pleaded with him to come for our daughter’s sake. He came for a few minutes before the trial and then left. Lou’s explanation of this to the Fairfax church on 7/24 was that he allowed his fear of health issues Lisa faced to cloud his judgment.

The other issue Lou is referring to occurred in 1993 and it involved circumstances surrounding the funeral of our baby and a church split. Lou protested the funeral because we sided with the portion of the church that opposed him. He said to Happymom at the time, “This church split is sick and you don’t see it. You’re the enemy’s trophy and they’re going to shine you up and put you on their mantle and we’re not coming to your baby’s funeral.”

For 16 years Lou maintained that Lisa’s health issues were the reasons for not coming to the funeral. In his 2010 apology letter he said, anger and hard heartedness were the reasons. (He never admitted the reasons why he was angry) But Lou currently states that his fear of health issues Lisa faced clouded his judgment. Which is it Lou?

While Happymom was recovering in the hospital a day after giving birth to a dead baby, Lou called and yelled at her over the church split.

This particular issue was somewhat addressed in a 2003 meeting with Vince but never completely resolved. Lou did not own up to these things. In this meeting he said, “I don’t remember saying those things, but given the frame of mind I was in at the time, I could have said those things, and if I did, I’m sorry.” Happymom had forgiven Lou for this mostly out of a desire to end the break in the relationship with her family.

“Sadly, I stand here tonight, and we have not been reconciled. We have had a short time of reconciliation after meeting, as Vince mentioned, with the third party impartial mediator that both of our families agreed to. Forgiveness was extended, and that very night Lisa and I went to their home and asked their children’s forgiveness, and of our niece in particular. We enjoyed a wonderful and tearful reunion as families.”

“The pastoral team and a representative from Sovereign Grace Ministry received an e-mail from this family sharing the news that they had forgiven us and our relationship had been restored. After three weeks of relating again as families, the relationship suddenly deteriorated and, sadly, we find ourselves here tonight.”

Yes, this is true; we did forgive them for the things they had apologized for. But Lou forgot to mention that we had discussed getting together to work out the unresolved issues face to face. Happymom and I were eager to do this as the thought of getting all this stuff behind us was very much in our hearts.

As mentioned above, the problem occurred when I expressed the need and desire to meet with a Sovereign Grace Pastor. We believed it was important to have one of Lou’s fellow pastors witness his answers to our questions so that he might be held accountable …but Lou said, “That aint happening.…” And again, Fairfax backed him up on this.

In an environment where the accountability standard is top priority, and if godly reconciliation was truly Lou’s goal, why would meeting with a SG pastor present a major problem?

Our questions still remain unanswered.

Ending thoughts:

If there’s been a 32 year history of no molestations occurring on church property then the issue of safety on church property has never been the real problem. People at risk need to know the identity of underage sex-offenders in the church so that children will be safe in social settings away from church property. It is the pastors’ responsibility to inform people at risk.

Fairfax leadership relinquished their responsibility in dealing with a pastor who had lied to us. They relied on the testimony of a complete stranger who knew nothing of our family history and ultimately turned it all back on us. Fairfax protected Lou from having to answer our questions directly and minimized the situation by calling it a “family disagreement.” They also referred to the issue as a “difference in interpretation of the facts.”

Will they publicly confess to the charges made in this response? Will anyone step down from public ministry for integrity’s sake? And will there be restitution made to the families involved?

No amount of tears can make something right that is clearly and undeniably wrong.

“But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
1 John 1:7

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.]

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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.

Two More Responses To Tim Challies’ Condemnation Of “Christian Wikileaks”

August 18, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Kris says:  In addition to Brian Auten’s very well-done response to Tim Challies’ piece on C.J. Mahaney, we have the following from commenter “Argo.”  This is addressed to Brent Detwiler and was also posted to Brent Detwiler’s blog.  The indented (block-quoted) portions are quotes from Challies’ original article.  The parts in parentheses are “Argo’s” thoughts.

“Argo” says:

Brent, I commend you for even responding to Tim’s post, let alone being so easy on him.  I, however, am finding it very difficult to be as charitable.  I will try to keep this as nice as I can.

“What are we to think of wikileaks-style revelation? How are you and I to react? Is it public? Is it something we ought to read?”

(These are fabricated dilemmas; a set-up, to feed us a preconceived opinion. We can answer these questions on our own for ourselves; they are not hard; we do not need Tim’s opinion.)

“Tabloid culture has made us voyeuristic…”

(General, unsubstantiated claim.  Inappropriate to apply so broadly to the Christian community who reads this post.)

“Society has declared document leaks a legitimate form of…exposing those who have wronged us.”

(Debatable statement at best.  Couched in patronizing, presumptuous language.)

“We (who, the Christian readers?) tend to praise whistleblowers who advance our agendas…”

(Again, generalization, presumptuous; inferring that those who support Brent’s documents are blind sheep following passion, not reason.  This is a baseless claim.)

“Does the Bible condemn or condone whistleblowers?”

(Never seen “whistleblower” in my translation, but then, it’s not ESV.  Whistleblower is, to me, a disparaging slang term, usually not associated with honor.  We see where Tim is going.  Can I use a different word for whistleblowing? How about “exposing”, “revealing”, “enlightening”? What does the Bible say about those words?  This is an easy game to play.)

“Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate Christian whistleblowers.”

(Okay, my turn in the game:

Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate [those who reveal chronic patterns of sin and authoritarianism in our churches].

Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate [those who expose the serious concerns of church members who have been spiritually abused].

Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate [those who enlighten us as to the pitfalls of authoritarian-style church polity].

Now…do we all still agree with Tim?)

“Which in turn means that it was wrong to make these documents public.”

(Shocking that he would conclude this, especially since the ladder that led to this summit contained the following rungs:  “I have not corresponded…”, “I have no formal connection…”, “wikileaks-style revelation”, “tabloid culture”, “voyeuristic”, “whistleblowing”.  Again, I am shocked that Tim concluded that Brent was wrong to release the documents.)

“It is clear where the bias lies…”

(It is?  Really? Where? Because not even CJ or the SGM Board has enlightened the rest of us as to this little detail.  Funny how a man with no contact or formal relationship with SGM or Brent could know this when the rest of us do not.)

“[The documents were]…just written to influence us against CJ.”

(Wow.  Brent apparently has a time machine now, and Brent’s documents must have used it to influence the hundreds of people who started and commented on three anti-SGM blogs years BEFORE any of us, including SGM, knew the documents existed.)

“The Bible would tell us not to read…”

(Er…where does the Bible address wikileaks? Or menus for that matter? Or textbooks? Or phone books?  Do we just need to check with Tim to decide what type of literature/media the Bible says we can and cannot read?)

(INTERMISSION: Tim says he hesitated reading the documents at first, because he knew his motives would be OBVIOUSLY sinful.  Inference: the same is true for all of you out there in humankind-land who read the documents.  Your motives are OBVIOUSLY sinful to any true Christian.  Thanks, Tim, for knowing my heart so well.  But then, Tim said he finally read them, because…well, because lots of other people were reading them.  Okay, I guess it’s fine to sin against your own conscience as long as everyone’s doing it.)

“If they have broken the law, or are putting people in danger the situation may be different.”

(Now this is where it gets really egregious.  Let me get this straight.  We are supposed to blindly follow our church leaders, regardless of what patterns of sin and hypocrisy they are engaged in, putting aside our consciences before God, putting aside the command to test every teaching against scripture, as long as the leaders are not breaking the law…as in the, like, go-to-court, secular, legal, every citizen law?  Oh…well, I have a brand new perspective on history, then!  For example, what the heck were all those slaves doing in the South carrying on with all their stop-oppressing-us business?  The nerve!  I mean, it wasn’t like the slave owners of the time were breaking the law.  And what about that pesky Dr. Martin Luther King?  How dare he protest segregation!  It wasn’t against the law.  It wasn’t putting anyone in danger.  Perfectly fine, so what was Dr. King’s problem?)

(CONCLUSION: I am very pessimistic right now about the reformed movement.  Is this really what I’ve been following? You know, I think they run a late service at the Lutheran church up the road.  I think I’ll sleep in and the stop by.  It may not have contemporary worship, but at least I won’t have to hear a sermon on “The Evils of Whistleblowing on Wikileaks”, or “Gospel-Centered Blogging”.)

———————————————-

Kris says:  I also had an observation to add to Brian Auten’s thoughts.  I posted this as a comment earlier today.

I was actually considering writing some sort of response to Tim Challies myself. When I saw Brian’s post, I realized I didn’t need to – he pretty much said everything I would have said, and since he’s an SGM insider, his words are more powerful than mine would be.

The only thing I would consider adding would have to do with this assertion from Mr. Challies:

It was almost 6 weeks ago that this information came to light. Beyond a brief mention in an interview, this is the first I’ve written about it, despite being rebuked by a handful of bloggers and receiving many email requests for comment. I guess this is the kind of situation I typically comment on since, in some ways, that’s what I do on this blog: I try to write about what is of interest to Christians in this little slice of the Christian world. Yet I have hesitated, not because I am in any way formally connected to SGM or CLC and not because I have anything to lose. [emphasis added]

I used to have a lot of respect for Tim Challies. I discovered his blog way back in the early days, before it became his full-time occupation. (He used to work as a web designer, if memory serves, but once he’d built enough of a name for himself, and had a book contract, he was able to quit that job and focus on blogging/writing full-time. I also believe he’s now employed at least part-time by his church as one of its “teaching elders,” a position he was offered no doubt at least in part because of his blogging fame.)

I think I found his site way back in 2004 or 2005 while looking for information about Rick Warren. My parents’ church had been suddenly overtaken by “Purpose-Driven” stuff, and my dad and I had been having discussions about what was bothering him about Warren’s materials. We found Mr. Challies’ analysis of the “Purpose-Driven” movement to be very helpful. I also appreciated his various book reviews.

Also, interestingly enough, it was Challies’ live-blogging from SGM conferences – as well as his positive reviews of SGM materials and how obviously enamored he was with CJ Mahaney – that caused Guy and me to visit and then stick around our SGM church as long as we did. By the time we were attending our SGM church, I’d developed into such a Challies fan-girl that I kept telling myself, “Surely you must just be imagining that there’s something wrong here. Surely a guy like Tim Challies cannot be wrong. He’s got such great discernment about everything else!”

Later, though, after we’d left SGM and then stumbled upon SGM’s long history of spiritual abuse because of interacting with others on this blog, I began to have my doubts about Tim Challies. I’d contacted him probably 3 or 4 weeks after first hearing of some of the really bad stories, just knowing that he’d take some of the same brain power and energy he’d directed toward deconstructing Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven” materials and use it to take a closer look at SGM.

Well, I was wrong. He did answer my email, but it was the briefest and most non-committal of responses. About six months later, I think I wrote him again, and once again got something like a one-sentence email in return.

I guess I’m a little bit slow, because I still didn’t get it. I still didn’t understand why it was that Tim Challies could critique Rick Warren but seemed to be so willfully oblivious about problems with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I can’t quite remember when it was that the pieces finally began to fall into place. Maybe it was something one of the commenters here said. I don’t recall anymore. But one day I realized that – contrary to what Tim Challies asserted in his post yesterday

…Yet I have hesitated, not because I am in any way formally connected to SGM or CLC and not because I have anything to lose.

he does have a career motivation to write positive stuff about SGM.

While what Mr. Challies says here is technically true – he isn’t “formally connected to SGM” – it is nonetheless a misleading statement.  The reality is that Tim Challies does indeed have some pretty significant connections with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Sure, he’s not technically employed by SGM or on SGM’s payroll.  But whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, he does indeed have something to lose!

The “Reformed” world is pretty tight these days. Tim Challies supports his family of 5 at least in part through ad revenues from his blog, and through royalties he earns from his books. I don’t have a copy of Challies’ latest book in front of me, but I am fairly certain either CJ Mahaney himself or one or more of CJ’s close cohorts provided book blurbs (endorsements) for the cover. SGM also has an eager book-buying population. Historically, if CJ recommends a book, the book will be sold in SGM bookstores (and at SGM book tables), and SGM lemmings will stand in line to buy whatever their pastors recommend.

It’s now totally logical, why Tim Challies wouldn’t dare to break ranks with the likes of Reformed Big Dogs like Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan. Or even of the Junior Reformed Big Dogs like Kevin DeYoung. All of these men have given CJ a free pass and have declared Brent’s documents to be meaningless. Challies wouldn’t dare be the lone voice going against that crowd.  If he were, he would jeopardize a significant portion of his book endorsers and the book-buying audience he depends upon for his livelihood

So he gives us his half-hearted sermonette about the evils of Wikileaks for Christians. Even as he admits that he hasn’t read all of Brent’s documents, he pronounces judgment on them and feels free to declare that they primarily represent an “interpersonal conflict.” Mr. Challies seems grimly determined to overlook the obvious larger picture that is present in the fact that Brent Detwiler grew so frustrated over trying to call CJ to some sort of formal accountability over the course of a decade that Brent believed he had no other alternative but to send out his documents to a large circle of SGM pastors. If such a dramatic move doesn’t indicate serious organizational flaws (and not just a “largely interpersonal conflict”) I’m not sure what does.

Mr. Challies – the guy who first garnered a blog following by picking apart Rick Warren and making a name for himself as having “discernment,” even going so far as writing a book about discernment – now shows us that when his livelihood is at risk, his discernment takes a vacation.

Within the context of SGM, I now believe that Mr. Challies’ discernment is about on par with Mr. Mahaney’s humility. Both men may have “written the book” – but that doesn’t mean they actually live out what their subject matter.