Tim Challies on SGM: Nothing to see here

Tim Challies, a huge name in the reformed evangelical blogosphere, finally weighed in on the controversy surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries today. Challies has long been associated with the “young, restless, reformed” crowd – i.e., the very same mash up of Calvinist doctrine and “biblical” patriarchal masculinity that C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris are seen as models of.

So it’s not too surprising that the main point of Challies’ post was to warn like-minded Christians off reading Brent Detwiler’s documents. The documents, he says, deal with an interpersonal conflict between Brent and C.J. alone. Brent has an agenda, and reading his biased, slanderous take allows him to “tell us who C.J.Mahaney, one of our brothers in Christ, really is” (wait…isn’t Brent his brother in Christ, too? Hmm). Christians should guard their hearts from slander and passing judgment by not involving themselves in a personal conflict.

Except there’s that small matter of C.J. admitting to trying to blackmail Larry Tomczak, which would seem to go far beyond the level of mere “interpersonal conflict.” I left a comment on Challies’ post asking if he thought attempted blackmail counted as a strictly personal conflict, and guess what?

My comment was deleted.

I left another comment asking why my comment was deleted when I simply asked a question about factual information. Challies response: the focus of his post was on “the morality of the documents” and any discussion of “issues…contained in the documents” that didn’t pertain to the morality of those documents was a sidetrack.

In other words, let’s not talk about the fact that C.J. blackmailed someone. Let’s not talk about the ridiculous dysfunctionality of the SGM and CLC leadership teams – the unbelievably petty nitpicking and in-fighting, the inability to communicate honestly and clearly, the outright lies. Let’s definitely not talk about the large and still growing number of allegations on the blogs of sexual abuse coverups and abuse of pastoral authority.

In other words, let’s not talk about whether these serious charges are true or not; let’s talk about how mean and sinful it was of Brent to make them in the first place.

It other words, it doesn’t matter how bad the alleged behavior is; the real sinner is always the person who makes that behavior public – and people who listen to them or take them seriously. Or to put it in Challies’ words, “Let’s be sure that we do not begin to celebrate Christian whistleblowers.”

The truly Christian thing to do is just to look the other way.

This how accountability in evangelical communities is squashed, how silence and complicity become the watchwords of other evangelical leaders. It’s no wonder evangelical leaders are able to run amuck in how they exercise their “authority.”

Again, it’s no mystery why BJU was able to have a ban on interracial dating until 2000, why Mark Driscoll has gotten away with spouting hatred against anyone who isn’t male, or his idea of what a man should be, why  C.J. Mahaney and his fellow “apostles” have been able to get away with controlling and cultic “leadership” for so long.

This is why. Because it’s almost always considered a worse sin in conservative evangelical culture to call someone out for doing something truly harmful that it is to do harm in the first place. It’s almost always a worse sin to look seriously into charges of wrongdoing than to actually do something wrong.

Don’t even read these criticisms, or you’re opening your heart to slander. Don’t share them with anyone, that’s gossip. Don’t take the person making the criticisms seriously, they’re committing slander and libel and not dealing “biblically” (privately, discreetly) with conflicts.

How can any real wrong done in the church be addressed if it’s an awful sin to even consider such allegations? This is why abusers find a haven in so many churches.

And here’s another reason: evangelical leaders and influencers get status and concrete financial benefits from being associated with each other, and as such are not exactly disinterested parties when one of their own is accused.

Challies says he has no “formal” connections to Sovereign Grace Ministries. He says he has nothing to lose by criticizing C.J. Mahaney. If by this he means any formal institutional, legal, or financial connections to SGM, that’s true.

However, he is a frequent attendee and live blogger at Sovereign Grace conferences, and other conferences where C.J. and other SGM leaders have been prominently featured. He quotes C.J. on his blog, and in his books. His blog is one of the very few written by non-SGM members that have been recommended by SGM pastors for their members to read, and his books are sold at SGM conferences and stores.

So is it really any surprise that he’s able to look at the by now overwhelming evidence that SGM as an organization is going through a period of serious stress and division, and has managed to alienate numerous members and former members with their approach to “leadership,” and still conclude despite all that that all of this fuss is only about a private, personal conflict between two men?

10 Comments

  1. Probably the thing that’s irritated me the most about the reactions to the CJ Mahaney scandal and the recent exposure of abuses in other churches is the emphasis on protecting the leaders and the total disregard for protecting and helping the victims. It’s all about protecting those in power, even if it means re-victimizing the victims in the process.

    As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant. Exposing and talking about abuses in SGM and other churches (IFB, Catholic, or wherever the case may be) doesn’t hurt Christianity. Covering it up does. The person who exposes the abuses isn’t the one in the wrong, nor is the victim. The abusers (and those who helped cover up their abuses) are!

    (A little off topic, but as a long time reader, first commenter with plenty of triggers of my own, I really do appreciate the trigger warnings you put on potentially triggering posts.)

    • Hi Gabi – thanks for the comment and for reading the blog!

      I agree, the more these situations are exposed the better for everyone – including the church! – except abusers and those who enable them. When leaders make excuses for this kind of stuff they show that their concern isn’t really for the church, but for themselves.

      On the one hand there are all these posts and sermons and hand-wringing about “gossip” and when/whether it’s right to go public with accusations; on the other they spend little to no time talking about the actual behaviors that are being criticized, whether or not they’re wrong, and whether or not they in fact happened. It’s a crystal clear message that raising an allegation of wrong is more likely to be scrutinized for being “sinful” than investigated for whether it’s truthful or not, especially when it’s effectively a sin to even listen to such allegations….

      Thanks again for posting your first comment! I’m sorry that trigger warnings are necessary, but it’s good to know that they’re helpful.

  2. Tim Challies had no right to even comment on Brent’s documents since Tim didn’t even bother to read all of them. This CYA attitude of all CJ’s cohorts is unbelievable and shows that they don’t have a true servant’s heart towards the sheep.

    • Karren – thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog! Yes, they’ve made it quite clear that their primary concern is for themselves and pastors/leaders like them. Amazing.

  3. I find the politics of “slander” to be very interesting and troubling here. The slippages evident in Challies’ use of the term seem glaringly obvious to me, though they are certainly not unique to him. So many evangelical Christians seem to think (when it is convenient) that slander is any public information that damages the reputation of another Christian. It certainly doesn’t apply to public discussion of someone like Barack Obama, whom many have decided is not really a Christian and is therefore not entitled to have accusations against his character to be as carefully checked as someone like Mahaney.

    The problem here is that they often leave out the element of falsehood that I see in my dictionary and in the Bible as being a key element of slanderous talk. In fact, Challies’ frequent insinuation that Brent Detwiler leaked the documents knowing that they would be made public – thereby speculatively questioning Detwiler’s character and intentions– seems closer to slander than whatever SGM wikileaks is. Does Challies know for a fact what Detwiler intended? If this is just an interpersonal conflict between Christians that is not anyone else’s business, why is he speculating so forcefully about anyone’s intentions? Grace, I think that your post does an excellent job of showing some reasons why Challies feels it is right to protect dear leaders like Mahaney from slander with misdirection while (by a definition even more narrow than his own) slandering the other party.

    If, in the end,it comes out that Detwiler fabricated most or all of the documents, then yes, what he did is indeed slander. But if everything here is true, and we cannot know Detwiler’s intentions at this time, as odd and obsessive as he appears to be, then we’re dealing with something else entirely that has been private for long enough. The free and disingenuous accusations of “slander” that I see here betray a disregard for truth and justice in the name of power and reputation that troubles me greatly. Thank you for talking about it.

    • Thanks for the comment! Great points. It is interesting how these standards never apply to President Obama, just as they didn’t apply to President Clinton, who also clearly professed Christian faith. But if you dared criticize President Bush, look out for the inevitable response that he’s our brother and we should just be praying for him and we have no idea how hard his job is 0_o

      Joshua Harris has told CLC that none of the correspondence Brent shared in his documents have been doctored. So the only possible “slander” is Brent’s commentary on those correspondences – which is his opinion, not a factually false assertion. As you say, that doesn’t meet the criteria of slander, and the labeling of it as such is definitely disingenuous.

  4. I grew up in a (different, but slightly more subtly nuts) evangelical church and you are over 9000% right about this culture they have which treats making abuses known as a worse thing than the actual abuse. In my family at least, the worst thing you could do is say something to a stranger ( stranger = anyone who isn’t kin, by their definitions) that could cause them to think badly of the family. Emotional abuse? A-okay! Nothing to see here, move along! It’s sickening, the way the church can get these ideas into your head and make them sound normal and right. Takes a long time after getting out of there to pick them apart and understand why I reacted how I did, why I didn’t leave earlier. Thanks for writing this blog, it is a big help to thinking things through to read your posts.

    • Even after growing up within a similar culture (like anise), I do not understand this mentality. We’ve come to value a group reputation over an individual person.

  5. Tim Challies… another example of unethical blogging. aka comment deleter. He most often does not appear to be looking for an honest discussion especially if you disagree (ie the whole Ann Voskamp wrote a book that may or may not have mentioned making love to God, slam her but we can’t debate truth).

    I read Brent’s papers… that dude had a lot of dirt. It left me wondering how often as a member of the churched culture we continue to beat each other over the head for prideful sin matters, while completely ignoring some MAJOR issues (ie abuse of children, etc) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this same theme. Focus on that little itty bitty plank of greed, pride, and completely ignore that giant life altering issue of pedophilia or physical/emotional abuse.

    And let’s not forget the blackmail. So sovereign grace flies under the rader in Challies’ eyes? Nothing to see here? Really? God bringing the smack down is nothing to see? Sounds like the false prophets of Israel claiming peace while the real prophets were screaming, “Foul.”

    These people have learned absolutely nothing…

    • The verse that often comes to mind with this kind of church culture is “straining at gnats and swallowing camels” – you can see the nitpicking at every little word and expression in Brent’s documents, at every little sign of “pride” – while all these much bigger issues are going on. It’s very sad. And I agree, they don’t appear to have learned anything from the public scrutiny and humiliation they’re facing.