SGM still doesn’t get it: Some background and context

It’s clear from the rapid and contradictory developments and statements that have come in the aftermath of C.J. Mahaney stepping down that there’s a lot of turmoil among SGM leadership, and a lot of disagreement about how to proceed.

Long story short, there appears to be a serious split between SGM leaders and pastors on whether they should should circle wagons around C.J, or instead treat the accusations raised in Brent Detwiler’s documents and on the ex-SGM blogs as credible and legitimate. The wagon-circling camp appears to include all of the current SGM board of directors, since Joshua Harris has resigned from membership of the board over “disagreements” on “how best to proceed.” Meanwhile the remaining members of the board have issued statements describing Brent Detwiler’s documents as “slander” (that word again!) and insisting that they’re only seeking outside evaluation to confirm what they already know – i.e., that C.J. is “fit for ministry.”

The second camp, on the other hand, has been making overtures for the past year towards disaffected members and former members of Sovereign Grace churches (see Joshua Harris’s “apology” to CLC). Since C.J. stepped down these overtures have also been extended towards towards the ex-member blogs and commenters there. The camp supporting this strategy appears to include all of CLC’s pastoral staff except, conveniently, the two men who are married to daughters of C.J. Mahaney, and also includes the senior pastor of Fairfax Covenant Church, Mark Mullery.

Over the past year, Joshua Harris has been holding meetings with current and former members of CLC to hear their grievances with the church. A few months ago he gave an apology to CLC for some of the issues that have been raised on the blog. Most recently, Joshua Harris has described the outing of Brent’s documents and the subsequent fall out as SGM as a whole movement being “disciplined” and “publicly spanked” for its mistakes and bad church government, and held several family meetings to answer questions about the allegations against C.J. The CLC pastoral team has been unusually communicative and transparent (for them) about what’s going on behind the scenes with the pastors, e.g., informing the congregation about C.J.’s decision to attend a different, non-SGM church while this controversy brews.

People have different opinions on whether or not these overtures are sincere. It will perhaps not come as a surprise to readers that I very much doubt that the pastors really understand that they’ve done anything wrong. They certainly understand that people are upset, and they’ve absorbed enough of the criticisms to be able to parrot back some of the reasons why people feel that way. They certainly want people to no longer be upset with them. But do they really believe, for themselves, that they’ve done wrong? Do they really understand why their teachings, practices, and the culture they fostered have done so much harm?

I don’t believe they do. As I’ve said before, their efforts to fix the harm they’ve done are both *long overdue* and are coming only when they’ve been forced by external circumstances to do something. Had it not been for pushback from the blogs and others – and for the tenacious and somewhat bizarre grudge held by Brent Detwiler against C.J. Mahaney – their abusive behavior could have gone on indefinitely.

It’s also worth pointing out that many of the problems in Sovereign Grace are institutional and can’t be fixed by just trying to mend bridges with specific people who have been hurt. Really addressing these issues would require changing the organization as a whole and rejecting or rethinking much of what they’ve taught is “biblical doctrine.”

Their adherence to complementarianism is a prime (but not the only) example of this – it’s an inherently abusive and misogynistic theology, and a major contributor to SGM’s culture of abuse. Christian patriarchy sets up a narrative in which God “himself” is abusive and thus provides a model for abuse and enabling of abuse in Christian churches and families. Furthermore, exclusion of women and gender or sexually nonconforming people from leadership in the church sends the message that people fitting into those categories are less than gender conforming men, and creates an environment where the abuse of those groups can flourish.

The pastors have given no indication that they recognize this as a factor in the “mistakes” they’ve made, nor that they have any intention of rethinking doctrines that have demonstrably caused harm. They reject any kind of practical theology that would weigh the concrete effects when evaluating whether their teachings are good or bad. They believe they are obligated to preach a patriarchal, misogynist, abusive God. That hasn’t changed. It’s very unlikely to change.

Their core doctrines haven’t changed – in fact, Joshua Harris makes this very clear in his doublespeaking, blameshifting, and minimizing apology to CLC. Their apologies and overtures are almost entirely in response to negative publicity and pressure.

All this is important context for parsing the latest attempts by SGM pastors at “reconciliation” with those they have harmed, as the camp that favors the approach of communicating with critics of SGM appears to be turning their attentions towards allegations of sexual abuse and pastoral coverups.

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