We’re writing to share our thoughts concerning the recent panels’ findings released by the Board of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Thank you for your patience and encouragement during this unique season in our church. Many of you have shared your questions and concerns with us for which we are grateful. We value your ongoing partnership in the gospel.
As a pastoral team, we’ve spent significant time considering the difficult issues addressed by the panels. As you will recall, last summer hundreds of pages of documents were released by Brent Detwiler. We sought to care for our members through the initial shock caused by this release. Given the charges he made against our friend and former Senior Pastor, C.J. Mahaney, we asked the church to allow a thorough process of evaluation to unfold.
The hope of having a completely independent, outside organization review and adjudicate Brent’s charges against C.J. never materialized, but based on the counsel of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, the Sovereign Grace Board did establish an internal process to evaluate the charges and have now released findings from three panels. Each was made up of two Sovereign Grace pastors and one SGM Board member along with a facilitator, Bryce Thomas. While we wish the questions assigned the panels had been broader in scope and would have preferred a selection process for the panel members that avoided any appearance of partiality (e.g., a blind draw instead of ones chosen by the Board), we view these panel reports as a good step toward more openly addressing questions raised by the documents.
We believe the men selected for these panels acted with integrity to address the questions assigned them by the SGM Board, and we thank these men for their sacrificial efforts.
In regard to the first panel, those of us who were directly involved with these events (Kenneth, Grant and Joshua) each communicated to the panel when they interviewed us that we felt C.J.’s written confession to Brent in the fall of 2010 (referenced in the first panel report) was a specific, humble acknowledgement of his sins. We also agree with the panel’s recommendations and trust they will be followed. (We’ve appended all the recommendations from the three panels to this letter.)
In regard to the second panel, Covenant Life had no personal involvement with Brent’s dismissal, and we are not in a position to question the panel’s findings. But we hope that improvements in polity and procedures may help prevent future occurrences of the types of problems the report describes. And it is our prayer that reconciliation among offended brothers will be pursued.
The third panel’s findings regarding Larry Tomczak were arguably the most important of the three panels because of the seriousness of the charges leveled against C.J., Steve Shank and Dave Harvey, and because Larry was a founding pastor of Covenant Life. Reading this report left us deeply grieved by the sin committed against the Tomczak family. We regard the panel’s report to be a rebuke of the men involved in this action. We are grateful that the panel did not gloss over the sin but acknowledged the damage created by the coercive threat and lack of pursuing reconciliation. We agree that honoring the Tomczaks would be appropriate. We also agree that this panel’s recommendations for further reconciliation between C.J., Steve, Dave and Larry should be pursued as a good faith effort in assuring member churches that this type of sin will not be tolerated in the future.
While the Board was functioning within its purview to reinstate C.J. as President, we believe that it would have been better for the Board to have carried out the panel’s recommendations prior to reinstating C.J. and forming a new Board.
We share these points of disagreement out of desire to participate in a constructive dialogue about the future of our movement. We love all the men involved and count them as brothers and gospel partners.
It’s important for us to state that the ways that we disagree about the Board’s handling of this process are distinct from issues of personal forgiveness. God’s forgiveness has been purchased for us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Whether or not we agree on all the details of these matters, may we all remember that our God has shown each of us undeserved mercy and grace in pardoning our sins.
Extending personal forgiveness toward our brothers is vital as followers of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:13). But it does not mean that we can’t respectfully disagree with the decisions of an organization or express concerns about how leaders are appointed and positioned or ask questions about what authority they hold. Right now for example, the SGM Board is working on a new membership agreement for the churches. They are also appointing a new permanent Board. Both of these issues are very important to us as a church. While we strongly desire to maintain our connection and relationship with other Sovereign Grace churches, we won’t feel comfortable signing a new membership agreement with SGM until the Board has clearly defined how it is accountable to member churches and the nature of its authority and relationship to them. The Board has stated its commitment to clarifying these issues, and we are grateful.
Some additional factors are also in play:
We expect the report from Ambassadors of Reconciliation scheduled to be released in March will give further opportunity to clarify how God is calling for reform in our movement.
We have asked the SGM Board to publish benchmarks for follow-through on the panel’s recommendations.
We want to close this letter with a call to pray for your pastors in Covenant Life and all of the leaders of SGM, asking the Lord to continue to bring conviction and reform any sinful patterns of leadership in the past or present, while also praising God for the good fruit in our church and across the movement as we partner together in days ahead. We believe God wants to do a reviving work among us and position us for greater fruitfulness for his glory.
We appreciate you taking the time to read through this and welcome your thoughts. Feel free to contact your pastor if you have any questions.
The Pastors of Covenant Life Church