Maintaining a False Unity (A Commentary on the SGM Scandals)

CJ Mahaney, former head of Sovereign Grace Ministries

I’m learning about some pretty horrific stuff that’s been allegedly going on in the Sovereign Grace Ministries circles. Not that I was unfamiliar with the problems there—SGM Survivors have been blogging since about 2007, and I’ve known about the blogs and occasionally looked at them. But recently the details have been described more graphically, and the case is going to court. With Facebook, especially, the situation has become ever more public.

At the same time, I’m studying Ephesians, in chapter 4 about maintaining unity in the bond of peace.

At the same time I’m researching for Hidden Heroes #6, based in Colombia. Reading about believers who refused to take up arms against those who came against them and joyfully, gladly gave their lives for the cause of Christ. Christians who give all their time, effort, money so that the gospel could go forward, seeing amazing results as lives were truly transformed.

As usual, as I cogitate, and as the Holy Spirit reveals, seemingly unrelated areas of my life tend to intersect.

Suppose a church or ministry says to its people,

“Don’t say anything about _____________ [fill in the blank with a scandalous, heinous activity within the church], because if you do, the ministry will suffer. The cause of Christ will suffer. The outside world won’t understand. People will go to hell.”

The unspoken message is,

“If our lives are a mess, we can’t let anyone know. We’ve got to keep giving the impression that we’re unified in love and cheerful obedience.”

What they don’t say, and what many church people don’t catch, is that they’re demanding unity on the basis of what a man says rather than what Christ had done. They’re maintaining a façade of unity, a veneer of the Christian life, when there’s a rot at the core that desperately needs to be torn out and replaced with a good strong foundation.

A foundation like the one the Colombian believers so obviously had in the midst of their terrible persecution.

What’s going on when a young woman finally has enough courage to take her rapist to court, but he happens to be a pastor . . . or a missionary . . . or a ministry leader . . . and in the courtroom not a single Christian is sitting with that young woman—they’re all maintaining their unity by sitting with the accused?

Is this the kind of unity David talked about, Jesus talked about, Paul talked about?

What’s going on when some absolutely shockingly heinous accusations are being brought against a ministry that has been able to maintain a good reputation among evangelicals (in spite of a rumbling amongst the bloggers) and almost no one in the larger Christian community calls them to account? Is that considered an admirable unity?

I’m not talking about claiming their guilt before a trial. I’m talking about people saying “Abuse is wrong. Horribly wrong. Sovereign Grace needs to be willing to let this case move forward. They need to show the transparency that they demand of others. The leaders cannot be at a different level of accountability.”

Where is the outcry? Why the deafening silence among those who have rubbed shoulders with Sovereign Grace leaders? Do they think they’re maintaining unity in the bond of peace? Do they realize that they are the ones hurting the cause of Christ?

They may start an organization called “Together for the Gospel,” emphasizing their unity, but the people who so desperately need this gospel—alleged victims of some of the very men in positions of leadership in some of these “Together” organizations—are being shunned.

Some of them have said, “If this is your Christianity, if this is your Jesus, I’m not interested.”

Some of them have said far worse.

What kind of unity is this? It’s the difference between being unified around the Savior, an eternal Cause, like the Colombian believers, and being unified around a “Leader,” a cause made by man.

The unity that truly together lifts up the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ will show an outpouring of love to the weakest among us (and who is weaker than our children?) rather than keeping silence so that a “ministry” won’t be toppled.

Do we think that the “outside world” can’t tell the difference?


Update: Lights in a Dark Place: True Stories of God at Work in Colombia is published and can be seen here.

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9 years ago

I am still stunned days after learning about the details of the Sovereign Grace case. The responses documented are what I have known as normal in my christian experience, however, my experience was in fundamentalism and with BJU. I thought these things were part of fundamentalism, NOT part of Christianity in general. The silence on the part of the Christian community at large is shocking to me.
The reaction I have seen and heard from so many others that were searching for healing and wondering if God cares, is devastation. The conclusion many are finding is that churches are the last place to find safety or healing.

9 years ago

Thank you so much for adding your voice publicly. I became aware of these horrific allegations not only at SGM but also ABWE just a few months ago thanks to the voices of courageous survivors on this website: No more of this “The cause of Christ will suffer if the ‘world’ find out.” No more white washing of tombs. No more shaming victims into silence. We must weep with those who weep and act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Simply me
Simply me
9 years ago

I could write and write about all the examples I have seen of Christian churches, missions, schools and universities covering up sexual abuse. I could write pages and pages of all who heaped shame and blame on the victims, of those who praised the “repentant” offenders and placed them back in ministry. I can list out the verses that were used to protect offenders and to silence and humiliate their victims. I can list out names of sexual offenders currently in ministry protected by the silence forced on their victims, protected by Christian ministries who immediately surround the perpetrator ensuring that he never has to face any consequence. Those same groups shun the victims, despise them, sese them as dangerous to the “ministry”. Offenders are protected by christianity. The Christian world is a safe place for them – the safest of places. It is the one place they have complete freedom to do as they wish, to “repent” and do it again, guaranteed that the victim will be shamed into silence, guaranteed that the victim will be kept silent by the “church”. A victim who speaks out is shunned even in the best of churches. There are always those who are part of the church who hold to the ideas that a victim is “in sin” if she should speak out. Speaking truth must indicate a heart of bitterness, of unforgiveness.
I hope that one day churches will be a safe place for victims of sexual abuse and not such a safe place for the offenders.
Why is church such a battleground for a victim? Why is that the place where she still finds herself condemned the most?

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