Thursday, July 28, 2011

Confessions at Sovereign Grace Fairfax

I have been aware of a church in the USA called Sovereign Grace Fairfax where one of C J's son-in-laws is on staff there. It is a church that has come under heavy criticism from the Survivors and Refuge blog quite fairly I think. Some extremely sad stories of sexual abuse of children have occured at the church - this is something that I react against very strongly. I've made my life's work protecting and defending children as a nurse and I HATE the thought of any child in pain or grief. So to read these stories where child abuse happened in the church and find pastors not defending the children - it's hard to read.

I was interested that the church held a "Family Meeting" this week and was considerably impressed with their transparency, honesty and openness on their flaws. Again I think it's important to give credit where credit is due. Here's some comments on what the senior pastor Mark said;

"The blog post from SGM that contained resolutions - I found that blog post to be unacceptable in tone and content. It seemed defensive, it seemed heavy-handed and for me it raised serious questions about the integrity and the legitimacy of the evaluation process that has been entered into with C J. It failed to invite dialogue and critique. The post that followed a couple of days later entitled; "Listening" was better - but overall I was disappointed and surprised by that blog post. Personal observation number 2 - there is a need for a through review of the leadership practice inside Sovereign Grace Ministries. Key questions are undefined or unclear. What does it mean to be a member church? Does SGM have any authority over it's churches or is it simply a para-church organisation? Are their deficiencies in conflict resolution that C J references in his blog post? How can communication between the SGM Board and pastors and member churches be improved?

These are not small items. A new coat of paint won't do.

Observation number 3. Let's slow down and take a deep breath. We are not talking about adultery. The matters before SGM are quite serious but on another level they are not that unusual. This is not in anyway to make light of anyone who has been sinned against. Personally I love C J - I love SGM. I hope that partnership continues for decades to come - let's be patient and let's pray.

Four personal questions. 1. What role does the SGM board have in addressing sins in C J's life? Were Dave, Jeff and Josh enabling him or questioning him? 2. How seriously does the SGM board see what we see? We need some more queues and understanding. The blog posts have not helped me see it's worse that we think. 3. What will the process of assessing look like for SGM? Will it involve ex-pastors who have been hurt or disenfranchised? What will the process look like? 4. How is SGM reaching out to ex-pastors and leaders who have been hurt and disenfranchised by the deficiencies that C J has described?

We are at a time when SGM has been critiqued for the way pastors have led. There are several blogs that have focused on these issues. Two stories in particular have appeared on those blogs that address situations in this church. What follows is a confession in response to what is called Noel's story and Wallace's story. Romans says "Weep with those who weep" - by now many of you are aware of two stories on Survivors and Refuge - both were members of this church and both have sad stories to tell. Noel (a pen name) tells of the sad sexual abuse of her young daughter in 1998. Wallace tells the same. In both cases the young men were perpetrators who were members of this church. These incidents are exceedingly painful for these families. No compassionate person can learn of these sins without grief, sorrow and heartache of the violation of these young children.

But it gets worse - when these incidents came to light these children were victims who were sinned against. Moments like this require extraordinary amounts of tender care. This is a time to bind up the broken hearted and weep with those who weep - and that's what your pastors did right? With deep regret I confess - we didn't. Noel and Wallace are justified in critiquing the pastoral care they received.

Sadly in seeking to care for them - we became part of their trial. We unwisely used a Peacemaker model for conflict resolution - this resulted in the victims families being corrected when they should have been cared for. I am so sad I did that. Our aversion to therapeutic thinking kept us from people and resources that would have helped these families and helped us to help these families. We didn't give hurting people room to help these people.

We have been accused of not getting it. Guilty as charged. I am so sorry (*breaks down in tears*)".

We are all human. And I know I can testify that the one word; "Sorry" - goes a massive way to heal a multitude of sins. I know not all will be satisfied with these comments but I really am encouraged by the honesty and openness characterizing the church leaders - may God use this to keep moving SGM towards healing.


Irv said...

Dan -- just clicked on your name on Survivors. I post as Irv. Thanks for your latest blog on the situation with Fairfax and with SGM. I look forward to reading your other articles. Back in the mid 70s, John Stott was one the authors who helped me as a brand new Christian. I will be back!! Irv

Dan Bowen said...

Hey Irv, great to hear from you! I've appreciated your comments on Survivors - look forward to chatting more!

Keith 'Irv' Rushing said...

Hi Dan --- I see many names that I haven't recalled in some time. I was disappointed not having the opportunity to meet him personally. I really liked Mumford and Simpson and even considered lining up with them back in 81 but joined up with PDI. Met some great guys along the way but was glad to be gone after 14 years with them.

I am wondering if we don't have some mutual friends. Some of my closest friends are in the UK part of New Frontiers. One of my closest is Ray Lowe for over 25 years.

I have been out of PDI for 15 years now. I started reading and commenting on Refuge and Survivors since the first part of last year - and I must say I am very surprised at what has taken place in the last couple of months. It has needed to happen a long time ago.

It is difficult for me because I genuinely like most of the guys with SGM but I absolutely detest what they do and what they have done to a lot of good men, men of God. It seems God is feeling the same :).

I really like your blog - great information and well done.

Dan Bowen said...

Hi Keith,

Thanks again for the quick reply! Great to hear from you - your history sounds very similar to mine and you're right I am sure we know similar people!

I very much understand why many on the Survivors and Refuge blog are cautious and even dislike Ern, Charles and the other brothers - I have no doubt that the Shepherding Movement helped shape C J Mahaney's thinking. However my problem is I have heard Ern teach true discipling and it can't be further from the excesses we see in SGM. Loving fatherly care surely is the right expression.

Ray Lowe is a great guy!

Like you say, I am amazed at the quick developments in SGM and I must say it presents a real sense of vindication for those of us who have been hurt and yet wondered as we were told - if it was our fault.

Interesting days.