The “Sin” of Anonymous Blogging?

March 21, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Last night I got to thinking about how one of the main criticisms of this blog is that people are permitted to post here anonymously. 

For some reason, the “Powers That Be” within Sovereign Grace Ministries have decided that anything communicated anonymously is sinful.

Now, I can understand why, where relationships are concerned, anonymity can cause problems.  For instance, in a true “Matthew 18” situation (one in which “your brother [not an organization, not a system of thought, not a large group of people, but a brother] has sinned against you”) , it is biblical and productive to go to that specific individual and address that person’s offense face to face.  In such a case, speaking out anonymously would not be so godly, helpful, or appropriate.

But most of the situations discussed here on Sovereign Grace Survivors do not involve mere individuals.  Most of the situations discussed here involve people who have been “offended” (hurt, disillusioned, disfellowshipped) by an organization, by the organization’s teachings and rigid, graceless system of doing things.  

More importantly, for the situations to truly be made right, an entire system – the SGM system of thinking and of leadership structure – would need to change.   It would not be enough for Pastor X to ring up Ex-Member Y on the phone and express his sincere regret for whatever happened.  Sure, that might be nice.  But most “Ex-Member Ys” have moved way beyond caring about “nice” and really don’t have much of a desire for such a personal, one-on-one apology.  Plus, in the majority of the stories shared on this site, the people who had the bad experiences with SGM have already attempted to address these issues on a more personal, one-on-one basis, and essentially got nowhere, except to be shown the door.

People are discussing their bad SGM experiences on this site not because they wish, for the very first time, to inform their offenders (for lack of a better term) of what they did wrong.  No.  Rather, people are discussing their bad SGM experiences here in order to provide illustrations for what they believe needs to change within the SGM system, so that SGM leaders can take note and make the appropriate changes and can avoid hurting more people in the same old ways.

Matter of fact, most folks who comment here have moved on completely from Sovereign Grace Ministries (or PDI, as it used to be known a few years ago).  Most have found new church homes and a measure of healing.  And almost ALL our commenters would expressly say that they want nothing more to do with SGM except, as noted above, to provide SGM with feedback that SGM should regard as helpful and instructive.

So…all that being the case…there is absolutely no reason for anybody – not me, not you, not Sovereign Grace pastors, nor anyone else – to be hung up on knowing the precise identities of the folks who comment here.  There’s no need for names, for photos, for addresses and phone numbers. 

Nobody wants anything from Sovereign Grace Ministries anymore – except for them to take note of what they did, and change things.

No doubt, some of the SGM defenders are still reading this and sputtering, “But without knowing precisely who is saying these things, how will our pastors know whether or not what they say is accurate?”

How, indeed?

Well, for starters, as I’ve pointed out before, while nobody expects SGM pastors to possess super-human memory capabilities, it’s highly unlikely that most of them can’t remember what they no doubt think of as the “hard cases.”  I mean, are there really that many instances of church discipline run amuck within Sovereign Grace churches?  Are there really so many instances of bad counseling sessions that end up as clashes of will between pastors and their counselees, where the counselee/member is ultimately excommunicated?

I’m pretty sure that most SGM pastors can remember, with ease, precisely how they behaved in the stickier situations they’ve encountered over the years.

And if they can’t remember? 

Well, Sovereign Grace Ministries is an organization that most definitely believes in taking notes and keeping records.  Pastors typically maintain extensive files on their church members, with all sorts of detailed information about the members’ various struggles, issues, and sins.  Especially in cases where members are in conflict with their pastors, copious notes are kept.  There are veritable filing cabinets full of memory-joggers for the unfortunate pastors who suddenly have developed memory failure.  All they’d have to do is leaf through the thicker manilla folders and refresh themselves as to precisely what went down and what they did.

So we’ve established that there’s no practical reason why SGM leadership needs to contact the former members for the purposes of re-establishing relationships or expressing their regrets.  Again, such a thing might be nice, but it’s not at all important to those who have been offended.  Plus, true respect for the offended person’s wishes and feelings would, in fact, preclude such contact in the majority of cases.

We’re clear, too, on the fact that SGM leadership doesn’t need to contact the former members to clear up their own hazy memories.

We’ve further established that, in the case of non-Matthew 18 situations, where people are objecting to the way an organization has put together its systems and its methods and its teachings, and NOT to the behavior of specific individuals within that organization, there’s no need or purpose for personal one-on-one confrontation.

So what is up with SGM’s obsession with anonymity?  If they don’t need to set up personal meetings with individuals, why should they care whether or not people are posting here under their full real names?

In almost any other context, information provided anonymously is not automatically viewed so suspiciously or immediately considered unreliable. 

For example, if you were across the street at your neighbor’s house one afternoon, and your cell phone rings and somebody on the other end tells you frantically that your house is on fire, your first reaction typically is NOT going to be to obsess over who is calling you and what their character or history might be.  No, your first reaction is going to be to step outside your neighbor’s front door and take a good look at your house for yourself.  And if you were to see little whisps of smoke curling up out of one of the windows, you’d no doubt call 911 and ask for the fire department.  Maybe later you’d puzzle over who it was that rang you up with the news, but that simply wouldn’t be your primary response.  There is just something in us that knows instinctively that anonymous voices can be sharing valuable, and sometimes even vital, information.

The FBI obviously has a handle on this concept.  They’ve recognized that anonymous sources can speak the truth, no matter who or what they are.  Otherwise, why would they spend millions of your tax dollars establishing anonymous tip lines to gather information that they then use to nab criminals?

Then there’s the whole strange element of painting anonymity as sinful.  The Bible doesn’t teach that anonymous sources are sinful.  After all, several books of the Bible have come to us from anonymous authors, either in part or in whole.  Many SGM folks’ favorite book of the Bible – Proverbs – was penned by several other anonymous wise men, and not just Solomon.  And we aren’t 100% sure of the human authorship of some of the books in the New Testament.

Certainly, the Bible would be Exhibit A for the obvious fact that God can use anonymous writers to speak truth and get His message across.

Why can’t SGM get this?  Why can’t they just EXAMINE THEMSELVES, examine their organization, and ask themselves if they’ve ever done the things that have been discussed here? Are they guilty of these things?

And if they ARE guilty of these things, why can’t they admit it, and then change what needs to be changed?

Why would they need to know my name, or your name, or Commenter XYZ’s name, in order to change what needs to be changed?

See, I think that SGM leadership’s obsession with knowing names is much more about CONTROL.  Their critics have said, again and again, that SGM’s system of thought and leadership structure is all about control in the first place.  And you know, SGM’s apparent hang-up with anonymity would simply serve to further prove this point.

After all, anonymity prevents them from maintaining control, and if their critics are correct, these guys cannot give up control.

With anonymity, they can’t pinpoint precisely which person they can pick apart or condemn so as to avoid dealing with the truth of the criticisms the anonymous person is leveling at them.  They can’t go after an anonymous commenter’s character, or head on over to the anonymous person’s current pastor to threaten retribution.

All they can do is listen to what the person has to say.

Why – WHY – is that a sin to these guys?  Why is that so difficult for them?

And Their Point Was…?

March 18, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Once upon a time, there was a group of guys who all went to church together.   And they didn’t attend just ANY church.  No.  They were members of the Dearest Place On Earth, a Sovereign Grace Ministries church.

In fact, these guys had grown up in Sovereign Grace together.  Part of the group had even attended a Sovereign Grace church-sponsored school.  Such tight bonds were formed that they remained close throughout their college years, and when it was time for them to be good SGM boys and begin their kissless courtships, they earnestly worked together to find themselves appropriate wives.

So they shared a lot, but the most important thing they shared was a loyalty and commitment to SGM.  At least one of the guys was even an employee of the organization, so the group enjoyed a level of up-close-and-personal elbow-rubbing with SGM’s leaders.

Life was good.

But then, one day, someone in the group discovered this blog, and for some reason, these guys just could not wrap their minds around the notion that SGM was NOT the “Dearest Place On Earth” to everyone who had ever been a member.  Rather than confront the idea that perhaps their church organization had serious problems that needed to be solved, these guys immediately went into a defensive mode, their minds racing for ways to poke holes in the criticisms that SGM’s “survivors” were leveling at SGM on this blog.

Our guys seemed to fixate on the idea that the stories shared here could be fake.  That seemed to be the main criticism they could level at the blog.  Never mind that it was highly unlikely that there’d be hundreds of people from all over the country who would have enough of a vendetta against what is, after all, a relatively minor and small “family of churches” that they’d take the time to cast Sovereign Grace Ministries in a bad light by fabricating intricate tales of abuse – the young men in our story today were hung up on pointing out that we hadn’t investigated every comment left on the blog and couldn’t establish that every single abusive situation had happened precisely the way the commenter said.

I always thought that if these guys were going to take the time to read this blog, their energies could have been put to far better use if they had been directed at taking the ideas discussed here and using them to effect change within Sovereign Grace Ministries.   Rather than being so automatically skeptical, in such a knee-jerk kind of way, wouldn’t it be smarter to take a good hard look around the Dearest Place On Earth and ask themselves the following questions about SGM?

Does SGM, as an organization, have a system of church governance in place that is too heavy on the notion of “authority,” with no recourse for the common member should a disagreement arise?  Has SGM, as an organization, caused their pastors to view themselves as the final arbiters of God’s truth, even for non-essential matters?  Has SGM, as an organization, taught their pastors to turn every confrontation back around onto the questioner, so that the questioner is then left defending himself and his own sinfulness that caused him to have a difference of opinion in the first place?  Has SGM, as an organization, fostered a culture of secrecy, where decisions are made from the top down and then imposed upon the people in the pews, often with little clear explanation to these people about the changes imposed upon them?  Has SGM, as an organization, come to view themselves as better than all other organizations?  Does SGM, as an organization, hold themselves and the counseling their pastors offer as superior to any sort of professional mental health or law enforcement intervention?  

Finally, has Sovereign Grace Ministries EVER minimized a case of sexual abuse by – say – having the admitted abuser merely place a phone call to apologize to his victim, and then permitting the abuser to remain a member in good standing?

But no.  Our boys in this good fairy story couldn’t seem to entertain the idea of taking a hard look at the Dearest Place on Earth and asking themselves (and maybe even their leaders) the tough questions.

Instead, they decided they’d rather cast doubt on the veracity of the stories shared on our site.

Their first efforts were fairly straightforward.  In various ways, and from various places – including Sovereign Grace Ministries’ own office computers, once – these guys posted comments in which they harped on how we verify the stories told here.  But as I stated back when they first began this campaign,

The real truth is that directing attention toward the identities and the truthfulness of the people who post here is a red herring.

For one thing, it’s silly to think that all of us have nothing better to do than sit around and make up stories about how a Christian ministry practices heavy-handed leadership and teaches people to focus on their own unworthy sinfulness to the neglect of victorious living…stories about how they’ve abused people…stories about how we came to see the truth…

But it’s a red herring – something used to distract people from the real issues – because it simply doesn’t make a bit of difference if people’s stories here have been properly “vetted.”

The real issue, the one that SGM ought to be dealing with openly, is that – whether they’ve abused people or not, whether half these stories are false or whether each and every one is true – it is still a FACT that Sovereign Grace Ministries’ system of governance is all about submission to the leaders above one on the leadership pyramid…till you get to the top and there’s NOBODY left to hold leaders accountable.  This system directly contradicts what they claim to believe about man’s innate sinfulness and hopeless condition (even after conversion).  If they actually believed that all humans are prone to fall into sin, then they would have a system of appeals and accountability in place.

But instead of dealing with the structural issues and errors in thinking/teaching and admitting that abuses could occur (and probably HAVE occurred), they want people to instead get all hung up on who is talking and if they’re posting under their real names and whether or not proper procedure has been followed to insure that SGM has received fair treatment.

So the guys’ more obvious attempts at discrediting this site didn’t do a thing to stop folks from reading here…or finding the stories believable…or continuing to post new stories.  Like Noel’s story.  Which, incidentally, was shared so precisely with us that even when Noel and her husband met just recently with the pastors involved (at the pastors’ request), NOBODY could point to a single fact that Noel had not reported correctly.

That’s when our group of gentlemen, to use the term loosely, hatched a new plan.

This plan was more devious, more underhanded.  No doubt it held special appeal for one of the guys, the one who fancies himself a writer, as it would involve creative fiction.

Our born-‘n’-raised Sovereign Grace boys decided that it would be a stellar move to invent a character who would post an ongoing story of SGM abuse.  They’d be patient about it, too, seeming to allow their fictional character’s story to unfold over the course of several months.  Concurrently, they would establish their own blog, wherein they’d attempt to lampoon sites like “SGM Survivors” and “SGM Refuge” by – and this part of our fairy tale never quite made sense to me – rambling incoherently about how funny they were and how the “anti-SGM” sites were nothing but sinful and bitter. 

Sad to say, our heroes’ severely substandard communication abilities did not make their “satirical” website a raving success.  But they nonetheless persevered, because they were eagerly awaiting the day when they could go in for the kill and reveal their Big Scheme involving their deceptive postings.  Then they’d be able to tell the world how all of us over here at SGM Survivors had been fooled into extending their fictional character prayer, care, and support as he faced poor treatment from his SGM church.

But unfortunately for the guys in our little story here, they lacked a basic understanding of what the supposedly “anti”-SGM sites are really all about.

You see, we are actually NOT all about believing the worst about Sovereign Grace Ministries.

And when our boys’ fictional character shared some details which did not ring true – because the details deviated from the norm of SGM’s typical bad behavior and would have indicated that SGM had sunk to new and outrageous lows – I asked that the commenter (their fictional character) email me with some supporting information.

When I did not receive the supporting information, I did some additional investigation.  And that’s when IP addresses revealed the full scope of the boys’ deception.

At the moment, that is how our fairy story ends.  Our Sovereign Grace boys – well past their chronological youth, of course, but obviously still fixated on immature shenanigans – have had the rug of their little prank pulled out from beneath them.  Sad to say, their “satirical” blog won’t be packing quite the same punch now (if, indeed, it would ever have managed to pack any punch at all, given the limitations of its contributors’ writing abilities).

But – let’s just imagine, for a moment, that our SGM frat boys hadn’t been caught.  Let’s say that they’d been fully successful at pulling off their deception.

What, precisely, would that have proved?

That the people here are caring, concerned individuals who are eager to offer up support and prayer when folks come along and ask for it?  That our commenters are essentially trusting, good-hearted people who have an automatic tendency to believe the best of people and take their words at face value?  That our commenters, having gone through their own extremely painful SGM situations, now have a special heart for those who have similar experiences?

Since when are those bad things?

Of course, I’m sure our custodians authors would say that they have “proven” that the other anonymous stories here could not be true.  But – as you might expect – I would say that they have proven no such thing.

First of all, after having been at this blogging thing for well over a year, I have a veritable treasure trove of stories that have been shared with me via email by verifiable people who have used their verifiable real names, verifiable real places, and verifiable real churches.  There are several folks, too, who have posted under their real identities on the site.  And at least two of the stories have been so grave and grievous (and potentially litigious) as to warrant face-to-face meetings with some of the biggest names in the SGM organization. 

So it’s not like SGM can deny every single story that has ever been posted here.

And what’s interesting about the stories that our fairy tale boys were so obsessed with disproving is that even those stories authenticate themselves because of how they followed certain patterns…patterns that helped me sniff out what felt false about the fabricated story, even back in the earliest days of the fictional character’s first comments.

No, I don’t think our fairy tale frat boys proved much at all, beyond the fact that Sovereign Grace’s culture can produce immature men with too much time on their hands, men who cannot express themselves clearly via the written word, men who have made such an idol out of protecting their church organization that their analytical thinking skills have become compromised, and – worst of all – men who do not hesitate to stoop to telling lies and perpetrating deception to make what they think is their point.

We’ve learned, now, that we no longer need to keep praying for their fictional character.  But I think it’s obvious that we need to keep praying for these other men of SGM.

The Awareness Test

March 14, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

So many former SGMers have shared with me that during the time they spent in their SGM churches, they NEVER saw the problems that have been discussed on this site…till one day, when something happened to them.  And then they saw EVERYTHING.

Lots of these folks have talked about this process in terms of having the “scales drop off their eyes.”  One person even described his realizations about SGM as being similar to looking “into” one of those 3-D posters from the 90s, where suddenly you are able to see the hidden image.

Recently, reader and commenter username deleted shared this with us:

…When I saw what was going on, the first thing that changed was it was impossible for me to sing along with them.  All I could do was look around and wonder why I hadn’t seen it sooner.  Watch this video:

username deleted continues:

It’s astonishing how easily we can allow things that are dangerous to sneak right into the middle of our religious lives.  SGM trains you to keep your eye on the players in white so that you never see the beast in the middle of everything.  If you notice the bear, you are to blame for not seeing things correctly!  Keep your eye on the SGM ball, please.  It’s gossip to mention the bear!