Feedback For The “Ambassadors Of Reconciliation”

October 19, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

A couple of days ago, in the comments of the previous post, I asked people to consider the following question and provide their feedback for Ted Kober and the other “Ambassadors of Reconciliation”:

What do you think Mr. Kober and his associates ought to know about SGM that might not be readily apparent on the surface?

A lot of readers shared some really good thoughts. Here are some of the highlights.
From “Mrs. Stretch”:

AoR, Take a long hard look at SGM’s teaching against professional counsel and medications for psychiatric conditions. I think there are many of us who suffered for years longer than we needed to because the pastors thought that after only 10 mths of pastor’s college (or the precursor “school of ministry”) they were qualified to give counsel to folks struggling with serious mental/emotional issues.

From “Foot”:

Why does CLC allow teaching IF YOU DON’T TITHE, YOU ARE SINNING???

Also from “Mrs. Stretch”:

AoR, take a look at the individual church’s teaching on baptism and communion– see how many have followed the lead of CLC. They are adding works (teens needing to show fruit and be “seasoned” before they are baptized — forget anyone under 13 even being considered) and that one should be baptized BEFORE he/she participates in communion. Our local SGM pastor stated personal observations as to why this is “wise”, but could not give any scriptural support to this position. It was in challenging teachings on these issues, that we found out how quickly one gets marginalized when questions are asked that show you are not in full agreement with the pastors. AoR, is this normal and healthy in the life of a church?

From “Unassimilated”:

Call SGM unique or as Kris would say, nuanced, but this, the notion that the SGM Church, and it’s leaders are the purveyors, providers, and deciders of the bulk of our much needed salvation/sanctification is a detail that hits like a sledge-hammer when one even begins to contemplate things outside SGM.

We are taught and shown that any and all things that are of any meaning to the Kingdom happen only in the context of the local ‘SGM’ church. There have been specific teachings on how the local church, our Pastors and Care group leaders are part of Gods covering. Leave that, and you are in the enemies domain and unprotected from satans will.

That is outside of SGM church membership, there is only questionable salvation at best.

It is the how we are kept in line, it is why we ignore past friends and family members, and how many got to a place where God becomes the orchestrations of men, leaving many to question their faith and for some the existence of God. Let’s face it, we either are or were ‘scared’, because of SGM teaching and example, to some degree that we may walk into some ‘heresy’ that could have lifelong eternal effects if we –

– Talked to our ‘unsaved sibling’ and or Mom/Dad for too long.
– Went to our High School reunion.
– Spent more than a few minutes with someone who is not part of an SGM church.
– etc…

Or as it is taught & known within SGM, “Doing God’s best.” Yes, if Dad is not part of SGM, you really should not spend too much time with him, less he lead you astray. Besides, SGM is our new family, our “God intended” family. Therefore spending time with lifelong family and friends was NOT doing God’s best. Not the ‘biblical’ way to spend your time. (It’s ok though, chances are ‘they” (the outsiders) were not pre-destined to be in heaven anyway, not like you would recognize them if they were, so stop stressing, and give your two weeks off for serving the big CLC holiday extravaganza.)

Stay in line and obey, and things can be rosy, almost blissful as the weight and responsibility for your walk with the lord is in the hands of a rigid program of attendance and checklist. They are skilled micro managers and more than happy to keep you on the SGM path and program. As an SGM member you should ‘joyfully’ rest with the assurance that these men will always make sure you are exactly where God wants you to be.

One thing that we all have learned, many the hard way, is that God is more concerned with the reputation of the SGM church over and above what seems right, legal, fair just, Christ example, and the real kicker, what SGM itself promotes as “Biblical.”

There is most definitely a different book and set of standards that apply to the SGM apostles. They, of course, are higher up the spiritual ladder, not accountable to the congregation, and are from time to time, allowed to commit sins that would have ordinary members excommunicated. As an apostle, ones sin can be for the glory of God.

That is due to the apostles “larger body of work,” grievous sins become small bumps against the bigger SGM picture.

The SGM church is Christ bride, and when, the members or even former members we step out of line, we are staining her, and SGM will deal with us swiftly and usually harshly.

When apostles/certain pastors cross even legal lines, well that is “something God is trying to teach.” or ‘show’ them.

Hope that helps clear up some of the “Oddities.”

From Michael:

My own addition to information that I think Ted Kober needs to know (I’ll try to articulate this more myself and send it to him directly) is that a hallmark of how SGM works as a “family of churches” as opposed to a denomination is that there is an unhealthy focus on the authority of leaders, particularly as examples. I’m thinking about the way that 1 Corinthians 11:1 is applied, in particular.

In my own old SGM church, which has certain particular strengths and weaknesses, around the time C.J. Mahaney retired as senior pastor of CLC and became solely acting President of SGM, there was a concerted effort to become “more like” the Sovereign Grace churches back east that was led by my old church’s senior pastor. He mentioned as an illustration of what he was hoping for that Starbucks coffee shops everywhere give you the same experience no matter where you are at, and that he wanted my old church to be similar in providing the “Sovereign Grace” experience that could be found in any other SGM church.

I found great fault with this perspective, and I feel it has led to an increase in insularity in the church over the years. As far as the pastor himself is concerned, I have a lot of respect for his character and his humility (he has made unilateral decisions that were bad but has not “stuck to his guns” as some other SGM pastors have been reported to do, has been willing to alter his plans based on input of others), but I think that his own efforts to imitate the leaders overseeing him have definitely given him some avoidable blind spots because certain things brought up are not “what Sovereign Grace is about.”

I think Ted Kober should be aware that, though ostensibly SGM churches have a lot of individual freedom since they are not bound by the rules of being an official denomination, these churches tend to function with a deference to regional and organizational leadership that would really only be appropriate with clearly defined and ratified polity.

From Vivian Louise:

Dear Mr. Kober,

Things about SGM and former SGM members you should know, from my perspective:

1. That the suspicion you were met with by us has EVERYTHING to do with how we were manipulated by SGM pastors and the SGM system. We have been berated, belittled, hounded and castigated by teachings and by smiling pastors “helping” us see our sin. We have had our friends and families turned against us by teachings we HAD to sit through. This is a non-starter. You’ve already lost me.

2. Some of us are so damaged and pummeled by SGM’s treatment that we will NEVER willingly walk through the doors of an SGM church again. That is not negotiable.

3. Some of us were so abused that, even years later, just the thought of having to sit through a teaching related to SGM makes our insides clench and our bodies shake.

4. Some of us are so angry at what we witnessed happening to friends in the name of Jesus that we will never darken SGM’s doors again. Samey same on the whole teaching by or about them. Not in this life time.

5. We have seen time and time again this whole ‘reconciliation’ thing with SGM play out and have no interest in being fooled again. Or for the 40th time. We’ve been down this road, Mr. Kober. We’ve seen CJ and gang wriggle out of responsibility for physical assaults and rape, also emotional, spiritual and mental abuse. Forgive us if our responses aren’t phrased in gracious and melodic Christianese. Usually people slashed open, bleeding out on the floor are not judged on the language they use to get help.

6. You need to look hard at the testimony here and at SGM Refuge. This effort has to be less about how leaders like Brent were abused than how in the hell a 3 year old child is raped repeatedly and the RAPIST is the one who gets the church’s support and protection. That lack of common sense response is systemic in SGM. Issues/stories/experiences like this enrage us. CJ and gang, not so much apparently. That’s a HUGE issue.

7. We need to see specific and detailed recognition of the hateful and hurtful policies/practices developed, enacted and enforced by SGM leadership from CJ on down that made women and children victims of not just their rapists and abusers, but of the church. Just exactly when will CJ, Dave, Steve and all the others explain where they came up with these insane policies? Like, can someone explain why my friend had to report to a group of men (care group leaders) what exactly she did during sex acts with her husband? In detail. Why? What purpose did this serve?

8. We’ve been silenced by “confidentiality” issues. So much so that felonies have been covered up and the perpetrators have been loosed with the freedom to re-offend because “confidentiality” is invoked. So, again forgive us, but the sacredness of confidentiality isn’t so sacred after it’s used as a bludgeon to cover up a crime. We are deeply suspicious when this issue comes up.

9. Mr. Kober, all I am seeing in this process so far is blame shifting and some fake bleating from CJ about how he’s attempting to “perceive” sin in his life. (Whatever that means, it’s like it’s not even English it has so little actual meaning.) If I see SGM publicly acknowledge it’s abuses towards women and children, former members and former leaders, I will certainly be in contact to detail my experiences, to share my part in some one else’s story. Until then, I’m waiting to see if this is yet one more song and dance paying minimal tribute to the idea of reconciliation but not accomplishing much other than entrenching men acting above their seminary level.

10. Any acknowledgment of wrong on the part of SGM absolutely MUST be detailed, specific and include how they have corrected their policies. It must expose completely the wrong thinking/wrong theology and doctrine that led to enacting that policy and then how that doctrine/theology and thinking has been corrected. Bible verses and the interpretation must be included in both the wrong stuff and the new right stuff. Period. This must happen. The wrong stuff has got to be thoroughly and fully repudiated, openly and clearly.

I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Kober. But SGM’s abuses are far beyond a weekend group meeting and a few letters. To be brutally honest, I trust those men so little that no amount of convincing or assurances would be enough to put me in the same room with someone they hired to reconcile me to the group. Not until after I see some actual repentance for abusive leadership.

From “Muckraker”:

Mr. Kober:
If you hang around long enough at a typical SGM church and “scratch the surface” with some discernment, here are some things that you will see/hear/experience (not any particular order):

Pastors will lead (corral?) members by verbal pressure that stems first from “friendly” advice and flattery, which then escalates to quoting of scripture in firm, persuasive admonishment and insistent argument, which then erupts if necessary in the condemning reprimand–they have all the power, at least in their minds, and the minds of those they control.

Care Group Leaders are considered “extensions of pastoral care” (sounds great, but…) this means to whatever varying degree the CG Leader understands this concept, they too will exert the same controlling fashion of pastoral leadership, as will there wives, as will anyone aspiring to be a Pastor/CGL etc.

If you are “good” and do the expected things (show up to various meetings/read certain books) and lead your family (wife and kids to do the same) then you will be considered “an upstanding member”. If you do “really, really good” (above and beyond everything THEY require/recommend, then you will get honor (flattery) in some group situation. Honor/Flattery is their Pavlov dogs’ bell.

If you don’t do what they say, for instance, if you don’t see eye-to-eye on a doctrinal specific or if you vary in your family leading choices (for instance have your boys in Boy Scouts, instead of the church scouting program…) then you will be marginalized in various ways, such as, not asked to lead anything, no matter your age or maturity as a Christian or basically ignored at meetings, except for a quick nod. [I mention these details not because I’m rife with bitterness, but as examples I’ve observed in my own life and others’.]

This social-spiritual-tiered status is also carried out in such obviousness in the Youth Ministry that the teens joke about behind the leadership’s back. (You can’t pull the wool over kids eyes…THEY tell it like it is!) Pastors’ kids are always the ones called upon, used to lead games, to be interviewed, to or honored etc.! Believe me there are plenty of other more quiet, more faithful teens that are loving God and blatantly overlooked by the leadership…why? because the leadership values this tiered status quo!

Critical thinking about deeper theological and social issues (and doesn’t our current civilization have a lot of them!!) appears to me to be completely non-existent in SGM culture and conversation. There is no free discussion of race relations or developing world economies and the effects of our society upon the rest of the world, politically, economically, militarily, etc. What is emphasized and trained through meeting, after small group meeting, after conference is group-think. (Everyone is encouraged (strongly influenced/demanded?) to read ALL the same books, authors, etc. No one (but the rare bird) read anything else!! Whatever happened to a broad education, critical evaluation, cultural influence? We have been schooled to be lemmings and you KNOW what they do!

In a desire (originally couched) to be “excellent” in the things pertaining to SGM, we have become cookie-cutter (non-chocolate), upper-middle class, suburban CLUBS–with strict membership guidelines and requirements, that replicate and dictate the “type” of person wanted for membership; it is a “Seeker” church in reverse, Only-the-reputable-need-apply (with their education and pocketbooks along with them)! Where does the drug dealer, prostitute, the uneducated, or the immigrant (the non-intellectual ones that is) fit into all of this? Isn’t the Gospel for them too?

From “Persona”:

Dear Mr. Kober,

I would like to recommend that you investigate the myriad of legal cases that the Pastors of SGM have interfered with over the years. I am aware of specific cases in several SGM churches but, I am sure there are others.

One case had to do with a member accused of theft of $5000 worth of merchandise. CJ became his ‘chief SGM counselor-protector’ and he showed up with him in court. There was never any doubt of the member’s guilt since his acts were caught on video. Still, long before the trial, Josh told reporters he did not believe the man was guilty. Should Pastors ever weigh-in on such matters?

Another case, was an attempted un-adoption by the parents of an SGM youth. Since it was illegal to un-adopt, the SGM Pastor then advised the family to give the youth over as a ward of the state. Should SGM Pastors hold such sway, especially if they live in the same neighborhood as the person in question?
I know of several sexual molestation cases; some involving neighbor children and some in-house. In all, SGM Pastors were highly involved in a primary way.
First, they contained information (thereby silencing perps and victims). Then, they discouraged the use of outside lawyers and social workers. And at times, they protected the perps in such a way that it enabled them to resume molestation during the period they were being ‘counseled and overseen’ by the Pastor.

The success of the cases seemed determined by the Pastor being able to deter outside intervention and protect the reputation of the church. Unfortunately, protection of the molested children seemed to be a low priority.

I am also aware of grossly mismanaged physical and emotional abuse cases of female members. Some of the cases were left hanging in limbo for years without resolution. One wife, had a dislocated jaw and bruised body, from her husband. He remained in the church while she had to leave to get the help she needed. If she had gone immediately to civil authorities she might have received protection.

I know of at least one Federal case where a Pastor was heavily involved. He influenced each step of the process, hiding significant details of the case, while encouraging sacrificial aid from the congregation. The only way to obtain the truth of the matter was from public records or newspapers.

I have many more stories but, I will not labor the point.

You are the detective Mr. Kober and I will leave the forensics to you. But, here are some key questions I think you should ask:

Was there ever an instance when an SGM Pastor recused himself from a legal case?

How many cases have SGM Pastors knowingly allowed SGM member-lawyers to use deceit in fighting their cases?

When SGM Pastors involved themselves in legal cases, in what ways did they fancy themselves part of the solution?

With their woeful deficit of medical, legal, psychological training in what ways have they failed to truly help their members?

Will they repent publicly of any errant beliefs or practices?

What if anything, would they do differently in the future?

Thank you for any help you can give toward reform in SGM.

From “Defended”:

The doctrine and doctrinal position looks or sounds ok but the APPLICATION to the lifestyle and membership, or community is where the pressure and conformity are applied, to the point of SGM members thinking they are qualified to judge someone’s standing with Jesus Christ and His atonement for that person in question (i.e. salvation).

To which “Muckraker” replied:

I can not stress enough that there are many cultural-social-religious unspoken rules and expectations that stem from the peculiar application of what appears to be typical Christian doctrine. That is why AoR needs to dig and discern, not be satisfied with the shine of SGM. Some of those unspoken rules, that can easily be confirmed by interviewing a wide selection of members are (in no particular order):

shunning: if a member leaves SGM for whatever reason, they often experience some form of shunning, that can be as bad as, a complete break of all relationship or repeated persecution and confrontation (for whatever sin or even perceived sin they are guilty/accused of) OR it can merely mean a partial break of relationship with a cooling of any friendship or trust. When a person chooses to leave, i.e. they are now “on the outside”, then they are “not to be fully trusted” personally, doctrinally, etc.

This applies to persons who have left and are NOT under any excommunication, not that excommunication should ever include any form of shunning! (Excommunication means only “treating a brother/sister whom you have repeatedly tried to help come to a place of repentance as if they are no longer an actual believer, if they are to be treated as a non-believer, shouldn’t they be treated with open arms and greater love as an example of the grace of Jesus to them??) Even in the worst cases of excommunication, shunning (a breaking of all relationship) should NEVER happen. And certainly it should not happen with a brother or sister, who has chosen to become a member of another church!!

confrontation/meddling/sin-sniffing: Again, interview a wide selection of members (not leaders only). Regular, invasive license to confront, meddle, and sin-sniff (as it has been called here) is completely allowed and openly facilitated in any small group/Care Group and in any relationship within the church. Members (women are often the worst, IMO) get into extremely personal business of anyone else, that they may know or have been in CG with, or used to be in CG with. Everything and anything is free game–members confront each other or gang up on one person–with liberality, believing that no matter how intrusive it is, they have the religious freedom and duty to do so!

Confrontation can be anywhere, anytime and to some members it can be very frightening. Men’s meetings can often be the worst, because the “gloves are taken off” and intrusive confrontation is valued as manly in SGM!

An example of intrusive meddling includes: A woman I knew, who a few days after having a miscarriage, while serving in Children’s ministry, and dealing with the grief of that loss, was asked by a man she barely knew “what is God teaching you through this?”

Motives are regularly questioned in the process of sin-sniffing. I guess a working definition of sin-sniffing could include looking for “what sin is that?” “what sin is in your heart right now?” Members, become intimidated after repeated questioning of anything, merely because their motive or hidden indwelling sin will become the focus, and not the problem that they are trying to discuss.

It is a subtle form of control. No one wants to have their sin constantly pointed out and discussed. This type of  immediate dissecting of sin and motive often occurs within a FEW MINUTES of ANY counseling or deeper conversation with any committed member/leader/pastor.

Implied Domination: What I mean by this is that everyone knows their place. It has been taught and written about very clearly by SGM. And some of the concepts taught are Biblically-based and grounded in wisdom, however, if a person gets out of line, they will know it. There is an unspoken domination (a pecking order) SGM “apostles”/board members/SGM pastors, then pastors (in their divisions, not sure of all that), CGL (men), CGL (wives), then regular male members, (not sure if CGL wives are above men in their minds theologically, but in practice it sometimes is like that!) women, single women, PKs (Pastors Kids a commonly-known nickname given to them by other teens), other non-leader teens, little children.

Step out of your place and you will feel the implied domination by the subtle and not-so-subtle reprimands or disapproval.

From “sgmnot”:

Mr. Kober:

Shouldn’t you evaluate and investigate all the openly posted child sex abuse cases? How they were handled and in some cases not prosecuted? And poke around, rather press in, because there are others that have been inferred but not revealed here?

I think that given the history of this pattern of child sex abuse in SGM, that has become now public, I think you should be evaluating why SGM does not have a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy implemented as a requirement for all their churches.

They have many policies that are commonly set up in every church they plant or adopt–financial ones, legal ones, polity ones, even common rules and regulations on how church buildings are run, etc. Why not a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy that would address and stop the very egregious pastoral mishandling of child sex abuse within their midst?!

I recently spoke with Greg S of CLC, who confirmed that CLC is reviewing their Discovery Land (Children’s Ministry) policy, which partially discusses some child protection issues (only within the confines of the building and children’s ministry functions), which I am very glad about–however, when pressed by me about an SGM-wide policy being implemented, he expressed that most likely that would not happen. Why not? (I don’t want to imply that GS was against this, perhaps he was just being realistic, or perhaps he knows something that we don’t!)
So Mr. Kober, please add this to your list.

Many denominations and individual churches have implemented sexual misconduct policies. Many of these policies discuss mandatory reporting by pastors, when finding out about child sex abuse within their congregation. Some policies have loop-holes that seem to me to waffle about reporting, if their state law emphasizes clergy-member confidentiality.

As a mother of a child sex abuse victim, I’d like to ask–shouldn’t the leaders of ANY church, SGM in particular, given the scope of this discussion–go above and beyond integrity to report any and all child sex abuse, no matter what the law in their jurisdiction may or may not minimize by a loop-hole such as that??
Matt. 18:6 “But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

1 Tim. 3:2 “So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach…”

1 Pet. 2:13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

I challenge SGM and AofR to frankly and honestly deal with this issue of a lack of comprehensive sexual misconduct policy throughout SGM churches, so that children will be better protected in the future.

So, to Mr. Kober and the other “Ambassadors of Reconciliation,” there’s some food for thought. To the readers – feel free to comment with anything you think was missed.

© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.