This story is moving pretty quickly, and there have been a lot of developments just in the past couple days – most notably that reformed evangelical bigwigs Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan are circling the wagons to defend Mahaney, and the SGM board (with the interesting exception of Joshua Harris) is now claiming they think C.J. is perfectly fit for leadership. These responses directly contradict C.J.’s “confession” of sin and Joshua Harris’s comments on the situation. Mohler’s and Duncan’s comments in particular are dismissive and minimizing of the situation and victim-blaming. More comments on those later.
A few more thoughts about Brent Detwiler’s documentation of his grievances against CJ and SGM:
– The almost total absence of women in the correspondence is really striking. This is an artificially constructed, all male world where the women are all assistants – secretaries, wives – there to be ‘helpmeets’ to men and to boost their importance. Women have no direct role, agency or personal investment in the events described, except through their husbands. And at one point Brent even asks permission from C.J. to email C.J.’s wife Carolyn. Pathetic.
– Given all that I have to wonder what will happen to the wives and daughters of these pastors if this controversy sticks, especially Mahaney’s wife and three adult daughters, “the “Girltalk girls.” The Mahaney women have built a significant following and quite successful brand and business based almost entirely on their acquired celebrity as C.J.’s female relatives. Their entire identity and livelihood revolves around his role in CLC and SGM. Every single one of C.J.’s sons-in-law is a pastor in an SGM church, two of them at CLC. What happens if his leave of absence becomes permanent (which seems increasingly unlikely, given the doubling down of famous friends of SGM and the SGM board)?
Well, they probably won’t hurt for money ; C.J. has done quite well with books and conferences and that success isn’t going to disappear overnight. He’ll land on his feet, surely. But Carolyn has been a preacher’s wife since she was 19, and their daughers have been pastor’s kids their entire lives. That’s why they’re famous. That’s why people look up to them. It must be disturbing to deal with such a sudden change in their identity and fortunes. Even though I think what Carolyn and her daughters teach women is incredibly harmful and deeply wrong, I still feel very sorry for them. The sudden scrutiny and uncertainty can’t be easy to deal with.
– It’s a bit ironic to see Brent criticizing C.J. and CLC for promoting “legalistic” gender roles for women given that he’s the one responsible for one of the most explicit statements of SGM’s incredibly regressive stance on women’s education and employment. Brent is the one who explicitly says that financial reasons are more or less the only legitimate reasons for a woman to have a job outside the home. Brent is the one who explicitly encourages women – preaching to a white upper middle class demographic in which college would ordinarily be taken as a given – not to assume that they should or will get a college education. He has no leg to stand on here.
– Brent is also one of the most frequently complained about leaders with respect to spiritual abuse, so again, it’s hard to take his finger pointing seriously. There are indications from the other blogs that he’s open to hearing from people who have been hurt by his leadership, so perhaps he’s changed or is willing to change on some of these issues.
– Brent doesn’t come off well in these documents at all. He’s just as implicated as any other pastors in the culture of tattling, constant high level and frankly stalkerish scrutiny of others’ lives, and enabling of bad behavior. Further, he frequently presents himself in a self-congratulatory light, e.g., there’s a lot of language about how he’s tried for years to help C.J. and others to “see their sin,” but they won’t let him. Meanwhile he seems totally clueless to his own fairly obvious grudge-holding and obsessive attention to various ways big and very, very small he’s been offended or slighted.
– These men haven’t the slightest clue how to handle conflict or disagreement. They’re constantly dancing around what they’re really trying to say, couching it in flowery and disingenuous language, never really coming out and saying what they mean. They all have to pretend not to be angry and not to be offended, even when they obviously are. They have to assure each other of how wonderful they are and what great friends and brothers in Chrsit they are, even as they’re following this with absolutely withering critique of each other’s character and behavior.
It takes pages and pages of emails for Brent to try to communicate to C.J. that it’s not fair for him to take more vacation time than other pastors and expect exemptions to SGM’s policy of not covering children on pastor’s vacations – and in fact, Brent never actually comes out and says that, even though it’s clear he thinks C.J. wants to be treated with favoritism and is being dishonest about his vacation record. Nor does C.J. ever come out and clearly say that he thinks Brent is accusing him of wanting special treatment and fudging his travel record. It’s sad to watch two grown adults not be able to conduct a conversation in an adult manner – instead it’s full of passive-aggressive nonsense and manipulative language.
There’s a clear dance they all have to do when they’re working through a conflict. It’s shedding a lot of light on some of the issues I’ve seen in my own family and personal life when it comes to dealing with conflict in a healthy way – there’s SO MUCH suppression of real emotion, so much denial of what people are clearly feeling. You can see in the documents how it makes it impossible to make any progress towards resolving problems.