Kids As Proof…Kids As Pawns

March 7, 2012 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

A reader directed my attention over to what “IntheNICKoftime” posted this morning on the SGM Refuge site:

Pointing something out here about SGM families and kids.

Bridget is appalled that Detwiler would mention Harvey’s kids. But SGM uses the kids as pawns all the time. It is actually a symbiotic relationship where both SGM and the kids benefit from the relationship. SGM has the kids prance out in front of people to show was Godly men they are and how well they handle their family. They also strut them out to demonstrate the effectiveness and veracity of their teaching. So SGM Pastors have little compunction in using their children to further their career or their teaching or their control over the congregation. We see it all over SGM. The kids get preferential treatment from the church and in the case of sons, they get jobs in SGM churches.

Jared Melinger, Lord and master of CFC is the son of Ken Melinger, who is Lord and master up in Harrisburg, Pa. So there is a little bit of nepotism or influence pedaling there.

Father/son duos can be seen with the Kauflins at CLC, with the Shorey men from the Philly area, with the Sassers down in Apex, N.C. and the Richardsons out in Gilbert, Az. There is Benny Phillips and his sons in south Orlando and Danny Jones and his son in north Orlando.

A bit of a different family connection is the Donohue brothers, Bob in Ashburn, Va., and Jim at CovFel with Harvey. Likewise, the two Hinders boys, Dave and Vince down in Fairfax.

You have a similar “relationship” through marriages with the THREE sons-in-law of CJ that were employed by SGM churches (CLC and FCC/Fairfax). Ditto for Ricucci, Layman, Boisvert, Glass, Altrogges, & Mays. Kind of like a family business!

What’s up with all that?

SGM/CJ/Harvey recognizes the control they get when they employ members of the family. There is absolute fealty. But, if one relative should step off the reservation, the other can bring them back. If that doesn’t work, SGM can threaten the remaining family member to coerce the rebellious one back. Leaving the reservation, however, is rare. Father and son often have the same temperament. If dad was controlling and lording, it is extremely likely son will be as well. And why not, he learned, from the earliest age, at the hands of a master! Like father, like son!

And the two can share information and be in informal meetings anytime they are together, at home or during holidays and birthdays. They can play good cop, bad cop with aplomb because of their close connection with one another. They can connect/chat/gossip/conference with twice as many peole outside of the office. And…the father/son cache’ is multiplied because now you have a three generation display model to hold up in front of the people…”Wow, look what we have done!”

And on the flip side, when one father/son/brother/cousin/in-law messes up, as half of the above mentioned names have, the other half of the duo can be used to mitigate the fall out, mop up the mess, and spin the PR so that the sheeple in the pew think everything is alright. SGM makes on half of the pair the counselee and the other half the counselor. One is the problem, the other is the solution. Quite convenient.

So, while I don’t condone everyone’s kids being part of this, when pastors have used them as a cudgel to beat us with for many years, they don’t automatically become off limits when the kids mess up. It’s like Harvey sending out his daughter to do battle for him and then claiming you can’t hit back because she is a girl! The “kids” sword cuts both ways. The sad fact is that the pastors have used their kids as tools for so long. (There must be something in the bible against this.)

I think this comment contains many good observations.

For a long while, we’ve been discussing various aspects of what happens when leaders’ offspring themselves become leaders.  One older post that continues to generate traffic here is The Mahaney Ladies And Their Truman Show.  In that post (which I’ll warn you in advance is somewhat meandering and LONG), I talk about how the daughters’ seemingly pretty, pleasant lives and lifestyles are used to validate certain rather specific teachings about women and what the Mahaney family (and by extension SGM) would believe to be a woman’s “highest calling”…when the reality is that if their dad had not been C.J. Mahaney, celebrity leader of the SGM family of churches, it’s highly possible that they would not have had the luxury to make the “home arts” their full-time “highest calling.”

Here is an excerpt of that post, part of the conclusion:

I wonder how much harm the Mahaney ladies’ blog has done to the women who read there and come away with the impression – as I initially did – that it all comes down to “right doctrine” (that is, SGM doctrine) and nothing more…that if they just implement SGM’s teachings on “Biblical Womanhood,” they too can have glossy hair, sparkling eyes, and husbands who make enough money so they can stay home and focus on the “truly important” stuff like homemaking?

How many women are inspired by the Mahaney ladies’ teachings, are following all the SGM mandates, are doing everything correctly, and yet are still stymied by lives that will never, by any stretch of the imagination, be quite so wonderful?

Especially because as we all know, there IS only one CJ, and the Mahaney ladies have the corner on THAT market?

So I’m in full agreement with commenter “intheNICKoftime,” in that Sovereign Grace Ministries has for decades been a place where being a leader’s child is a position that can be a huge burden…but can also have huge, self-serving benefits.

I’m still of the opinion that the “sins of the children” – particularly the sins of adult “children” – ought to be off the table in discussions about a man’s fitness for ministry.  From one perspective, it’s actually a good thing that Dave Harvey, SGM’s recent acting president who oversaw C.J. Mahaney’s absolution and reinstatement, was let off the hook for his family’s issues.  Perhaps that is an indication that SGM has finally decided to embrace grace in a real way.

BUT, if that is really the case, then it’s like everything else that changes within SGM.  I wrote the following yesterday, as a comment on the previous post:

The way that SGM’s leaders shift and change things really bugs me. I mean, it’s nice that life might not be so graceless and judgmental for the oblivious members who have only joined recently. But there’s something patently dishonest and untrustworthy about an organization that will emphasize a topic enough that it becomes a lifestyle trend for the majority of its members…and then, when that lifestyle trend proves not to be as perfect or ideal as leaders thought it would be – particularly when it makes the organization look bad – leaders initially engage in denial that the trend ever really existed, even as they are working fast and furious behind the scenes to back away from the teachings that produced the trend.

Then they present their new ideas in kind of an off-the-cuff manner, like the new thinking has already been in place for an undetermined length of time and people just need to get with the program. They portray any extreme application of their old ideas as just a big misunderstanding, which would be primarily the fault of the member anyway.

I can remember when this site was new, I talked quite a bit about SGM’s rigid embrace of parentally-controlled courtship. It seemed pretty obvious to me that courtship had been taught and portrayed by SGM pastors to be the spiritually superior process of finding a spouse.

Back in those early days, SGMers would come around and try to claim that young people were actually free to date and that nobody was really that hung up on courtship. They would point to a recent teaching from Josh Harris where he said stuff about how it was OK for a guy and girl to go out for coffee without there being a formal courtship relationship…and how his Boy Meets Girl book had been misapplied and that he’d never actually meant to set up some hard-and-fast system.

Yet it’s obvious that there WAS some sort of hard-and-fast system, at least among pastors and their own kids. How many pastors’ kids ended up with their spouses through dating? And how many got married through courtship? The vast majority of pastors’ kids who got married did so by doing some form of courtship. As did the vast majority of young people from families who had been part of SGM for a long time.

So, sure – maybe things changed. But if something can change, doesn’t that mean there must be some sort of open and public acknowledgement of the fact that the previous conditions actually did exist?

(And when is anyone going to apologize to us here for trying to claim to us that we were wrong and there were no legalistic trends? :D )

I think a big reason for this slithery sneaky approach to change is concern for SGM’s image in the eyes of the non-SGM Christian world. Because SGM’s leaders always have one eye on how things might “play” to the rest of their Reformed Big Dog cronies, they are prevented from dealing genuinely and honestly with the damage to their own people, damage the leaders caused with their faulty teachings and legalistic approach to those teachings.

SGM leaders really need to stop being so concerned with protecting the organization’s image. They ought to direct that concern toward the people in their churches. Yes, it may be a bit uncomfortable initially, for the outside world to gain an awareness of just how wacky the SGM culture has been. But in the end, honesty can breathe new life into the organization – really, it’s the only way new life is possible.

To try and wrap up all the pieces of this rather scattered and lengthy post, I will reiterate what I said a couple of days ago:

It’s about the hypocrisy!

And, this:

I hope that SGMers focus on the important questions, rather than upon whatever personal issues may be revealed. I hope people think long and hard about what they’ve been taught to expect out of their leaders – and what it means when it comes to light that leaders don’t live up to those expectations but are nonetheless enabled by the pyramid structure of the organization’s government to turn around and demand that those beneath them continue to follow the expectations.

What is this culture that C.J. Mahaney has created and presided over for so long, anyway? Should C.J. be starting a new church? Would SGM really be any different in a new location? What does it mean for an organization, when one of its defining characteristics – the authority of its pastors, conferred upon them in large part because of their exemplary “biblical” lifestyle – is revealed to be more about image and perceptions rather than rooted in reality?

What do YOU think?

© 2012, Kris. All rights reserved.