ETA: This news has now been confirmed on C.J.’s blog. I’ve moved my previous disclaimer to the comments to avoid it cluttering up this post.
So apparently the top leader of SGM is temporarily stepping down in light of charges “[including] various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.” More at SGM Survivors (usual warnings apply about the comments not being safe space in various ways). It’s a sudden and somewhat shocking development, at least to me; my reaction to it is mixed and will take some time to process. It’s definitely unexpected given how much of a cult of personality SGM is – one that specifically revolved around C.J. more than anyone else.
A couple things strike me off the bat – one, he focuses exclusively on grievances that former SGM pastors and leaders have with him and SGM, and only talks about other leaders who are friends of SGM as having any role in providing him with “counsel and correction” in considering these charges. This is not the best sign. A huge part of the complaint against SGM has been that leaders are treated as though they have some special extra-godly status while “regular” members are expected to unquestioningly submit to and practically worship them. This doesn’t really alleviate concerns about SGM’s pyramid-like hierarchical and authoritarian culture, especially since most (not all) of the complaints brought against the group have been from regular members, not former pastors or otherwise influential members.
The way he name drops about the bigwigs (for the tiny reformed evangelical world, anyway) who will be helping him (not doing an unbiased assessment, in other words) through this process is particularly disturbing:
I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible.
He’s enlisted them? To serve him personally? That just sounds weird. It really doesn’t sound like he’s going through a period of “discipline.” It sounds more like he’s simultaneously trying to score points for being so humble to voluntarily step down and invite “correction,” while also trying to impress people by his ability to personally summon important reformed leaders to pow wow with him. Bleh.
On the plus side, they are bringing in an outside group with (supposedly) no history with SGM to evaluate the situation, and C.J. says he’s stepping down to make sure there’s no conflict of interest created by his continuing to lead SGM while this group conducts their investigation. That’s good. I’m sure the group is extremely conservative and fundamentalist, which will limit the degree to which they can really see the wrong that’s been done by SGM (e.g., with their queer hating theology). ETA: Not an outside group. The group is linked to Peacemakers, a ministry that has a long, ugly history with SGM, including attempting to “reconcile” a family whose child had been traumatized at an SGM church to the pastors who attempted to cover up the trauma (see here, trigger warning and also not a safe space).
I also gotta point out that it was only a few weeks ago that Josh Harris credited C.J. with the insights that led to the his weak sauce apology to CLC:
For several years now C.J. Mahaney, who was one of the founding pastors of Covenant Life and now serves as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has been leading the pastors of Sovereign Grace to recognize the difference between principle and practice…
C.J. shared something with me recently that turned the light on for me. He quoted J.I. Packer who wrote that the Puritans were known for their ability to “reduce to practice”—in other words, they took biblical principles and reduced them to specific choices and decisions in their lives. This is a good thing. God’s Word, handled rightly, leads to humble and skillful application.
But C.J. pointed out that there can be a problem when we “reduce to only one practice”—and give the impression that there is only one godly way to honor a given principle.
So just six weeks ago C.J. was a great leader who helped the pastors see how wrong they’d gotten things (as it turns out, not that wrong! shocking!). And now he’s the target of accusations so serious that an outside body needs to come in to evaluate them. Accusations that he’s been aware of for years, by his own admission, but has said nothing about, allowing himself to be continually held up as the paragon of perfect leadership and godliness the whole time:
Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.
Golly. Well. Things sure do change quickly in SGM! “Constant change is always with us,” indeed.