This is a hard article to write. I’m torn in several different directions, but compelled to bring focus in one way: people are hurting. Let that point be the fulcrum on which you balance what you’re about to read. Let’s begin with a story that succinctly makes the point I want to make here. The Savior said,
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:30-37 (ESV)
All in the family
In 2011 over one thousand pages of documentation were sent out to the greater body of Christ to blow the whistle on some things going on in Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). I’m not linking you to those documents or to any of the arguers on either side of the discussion. You can Google those things if you desire. They’re public and easily accessed.
It has been said the documents were leaked, but they weren’t. Brent Detwiler, a former Sovereign Grace Ministries “apostle,” sent them to current SGM pastors and from there the public conflagration began.
Part of the main debate has been on the ethics of sending internal documents about a small ministry to the greater Christian public. That is a worthy discussion to have, but not at this time or in this article. There is a greater story here which needs to be discussed.
Also don’t over-read the Savior’s use of the word robbers as meaning SGM. That’s pushing the analogy too far. I’m not making an overt or even a backhanded opinion about Sovereign Grace Ministries. They are my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ and I love them. I have many wonderful friends in that movement.
The point of this story is the guy who is hurting and the one who helped the guy who is hurting. We can talk later about how to tell others about the hurting brother (or sister), what is right and wrong when it comes to familial laundry in a public world, and whatever else we want to discuss.
It saddens me this mess about Sovereign Grace Ministries is in the public domain as well as the gnat straining about public laundry. It also saddens me one of the main reasons it continues in the public domain is because the arguments have been mostly about the gnats and not the big fat camel in the room.
The big point which keeps getting marginalized is people have been hurt and they are still hurting. A man is down and the body of Christ is skirting around him, while fighting about the secondary issue of ethics. 
Band of Bloggers
Recently the band of bloggers warned us about participating in something we don’t know anything about. The Bloggers are the presumed gatekeepers for the Evangelical community–one of the implications by their reminding us of their blog traffic.
To whom much blog traffic is given, much more responsibility should be required. Their stance, by their response or lack thereof, is to not speak to or care for the hurting, while telling you to keep out of the SGM affair. That should not be the role of popular good neighbors who have the capacity to steer hearts and minds, even in a cyber way.
Maybe you were not involved in what took place, but you are involved now. Maybe you were walking down the street minding your own business. I get that. Then there was a car wreck. You are now involved. You cannot ignore this while telling others to ignore it too. God’s fame is at stake here, as well as a lot of hurting people.
It has been called a family squabble which is true, but the family is God’s family and we’re all in it. If these issues had not been ignored in the first place, they would have never been made public before the greater family of God. Making the same mistake a second time is not going to make things right.
Though this was an Army matter, it was also a public American matter and, rightfully, many people from both sides spoke out. That’s normal and expected. If Pat was my son, I would want a public discussion, if only for the hope it does not happen to someone else’s son.
The proper response here is not to continue ignoring these issues in Sovereign Grace Ministries. That lesson should have been learned the first time these things were swept under the rug. I’m confused and dismayed when national pastoral leaders (shepherds) are more interested in public discretion than seeking to help hurting sheep.
As a pastor, when someone came to me with a story of pain and sorrow, my main response was not to tell them to keep quiet while ignoring their hurts. A pastor does not say, “This is a family matter and your family needs to deal with it.” If the family knew how to deal with it, the victims would never feel compelled to speak out in the first place.
The hurt and the angry
The main group of people in this story are the hurting and the angry. I understand them on two levels: (1) I was one of them; and (2) I help these types of people every week of my life.
There is no doubt many of the people in this group are sinning. You can spend 15 minutes on their sites and the anger and bitterness bleeds through like a stain under white paint.
Some of them have acknowledged and owned their personal sin. Good for them. That is right and biblical. Unfortunately, when most folks talk about these hurt sheep, it is the sheep’s sinful attitudes which seem to get the most publicity.
While there is definitely sin present, in this case it is not the main point. These people have been wounded and they are hurting. Every counselor who has ever counseled the hurting understands the temptation to sin back when sinned against. I’m not promoting allowance here, but understanding.
People who have been sinned against will be tempted to sin in return. Have you ever sinned back when you were sinned against? Okay, let’s move on. We’re all guilty – every one of us.
I never condone my sin and I don’t condone the sin of others, but I do understand why it happens. When people are hurting, more than likely they will respond sinfully. In such cases I listen to them. I’m more interested in the real story, the hurt, not the sin coming out of their mouths.
I want to help them. In time, after they have been heard, helped, and are on the road to being healed, you can begin to address their sinful reactions. If I rebuked them or marginalized them because they did not say it the way I wanted them to say it, I would never be able to help them.
One of the many wonderful things I learned while pastoring a SGM church was if someone comes to you imperfectly, you should have the grace to hear the critique more than the imperfect approach from the person who brought you the critique.
My friends, there is a critique being brought imperfectly to SGM, but the most important part of the critique is generally being marginalized or ignored. We’re being asked to ignore it, and the argument has instead focused on the methodology of how to bring critiques.
This is not the critique of one disgruntled former “apostle.” Consider this:
- Over 100 pastors stepped up to the invitation to critique SGM ministries during the AoR involvement.
- Seventy current pastors have expressed their concerns to SGM.
- The worst of all are the sexual abuse victims who have been marginalized.
This is our family. This is friendly fire. We are the body of Christ. When part of the body is hurting, the whole body is hurting.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
Then there is Brent
I’ve known Brent Detwiler for several years and consider him a friend. He is a good man who loves his Lord and his family. He also loves SGM. I think this is one of the things which gets missed in all of this: part of the hurt of the hurting is only because people like Brent love SGM.
If a person did not care about something, he would not react so strongly when it goes bad. A person responds viscerally when they care–even sinful responses can be indicators of affection for something.
The thing with Brent is he was one of the main architects of the ministry he is fighting against today – a conundrum to be sure. He helped create this culture-gone-awry and did not act for many years, even when people were being hurt and change seemed stymied.
While I understand his argument and agree with some of his assessments, he’s going to have to learn what many others have learned – SGM has the support of all the right people, his approach is not going to work, and it’s time to move on. Leave this to God. Sin will be found out.
If this ministry changes internally, God will have to do it. He and others have stated their cases. If half of what this large group of dissenters has said is true, it’s an abysmal testimony about a once shining luminary in the Evangelical community.
Sovereign Grace Ministries
I was part of SGM for over five years. Four of those years I served as a pastor within the movement. I’m familiar with many of the players in this drama. Sadly, I have experienced some of the sins.
I’m not going to throw my few little sparks on this flame. There are enough accusations already out there. My two cents would continue to take us down the digression which keeps us from appropriately helping the hurting.
One of the harder things I have had to come to terms with is how some people in this ministry believe. You have to understand, SGM has been a sub-culture within Evangelicalism for thirty years.
Before their popularization through C. J. Mahaney’s books and the rise of Josh Harris, they had their own ingrown community. They were like the fundamentalists, who live in a closed community, while being strongly committed to their belief system.
When C. J. gave the reins of the mother church (Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, MD) to Josh Harris and hit the book writing and conference circuit, SGM went big time. As the lyrics about George Jefferson said, “We’re moving on up.”
I was sitting in a pre-conference meeting of the first Together for the Gospel (TG4) conference a few years ago, when Mark Dever addressed a private group of SGM pastors. He said one of the main reasons he wanted TG4 to exist was so we (SGM pastors) could spread our culture among the other people who would be attending TG4.
I humbly and smugly knew he was right. We had something the Christian world needed. We were a sub-culture about to go large. What I did not know was there was a ton of garbage about to rise to the surface, along with all of our goodness.
It’s like the politician who is not fully vetted. Only after his fifth campaign speech do we learn about the private laundry. And, true to form, his knee jerk response is to sweep the mess under the rug, regardless of the bodies which get swept along with the unmentionables that have come to light.
The cheer of the crowd is like perfume. You should smell it, but not drink it. – J. C. Watts
Many SGM leaders have willingly placed themselves in their hermetically sealed system. They have been there for so long they cannot see anything else. They are institutionalized, but now moving about in the larger Evangelical world.
We are a half-dozen years from the popularization of SGM and the stain which preexisted is quite public. My appeal to the Evangelical community is not to do what SGM has done for years–they ignored it.
- Can we see this as God’s mercy to this ministry?
- Can the larger-than-life leaders in the Evangelical community take a bold stand for those who have been hurt?
- Can we make the main thing the main thing: Christ came for the hurting? This is the Gospel.
May the Gospel go forth, please
My hope and prayer is for people like Josh Harris, who resigned from the SGM board last year, to either build from within or start another group.
I don’t want some of the ideas of SGM to go away. I agree with Mark Dever. There is much to thank God about in this ministry. I pray God does not set them aside. It would be good if the Evangelical community received a refreshed Gospel-centered influence which has not been corrupted by the current SGM debacle.
I also pray people like the Bloggers and other Evangelical elite will set aside the issues of how the laundry got out there and how we are to talk about dirty laundry–at least for now, and show practical compassion for their fellow brothers and sisters who have been undeniably hurt.
The main thing…for now
For the sake of Christ we have men, women, and children hurting. And the main discussion is stuck on important, but secondary and tertiary issues. We’re missing the main thing–people are hurting and the body of Christ should be making a B-line to them, to help them, even while they are sinning (Romans 5:8)
- You can also read my article, When the Gospel Becomes Just Another Behavior on our Member Site, to gain a perspective on how the Gospel can become just another form of legalism.
-  Anybody who sends over 1000 controversial well-documented pages to several hundred people knows he is beginning a public war. ↩
-  The side issues are the ethics about publicly rebuking a brother in the Lord and a call for governance changes within Sovereign Grace Ministries. ↩
-  You can listen to the audio from the Bloggers at the TG4 conference where they mention the SGM debacle HERE. ↩
-  Though there are many complicated angles to the debacle, the fact people were and are hurting has never been denied. ↩
-  This is not meant to marginalize the dissenters. It is meant to draw attention to the voluminousness of the allegations–even if someone could prove half of them wrong, it would still be an abysmal testimony about this ministry. ↩
-  Maybe God is moving them aside. Maybe the Gospel has been lifted up and God has used SGM, in part, to hoist the Gospel flag and now it’s time for them to drift off in their hermetically sealed bubble.. ↩
-  These are my first public comments about SGM since leaving the ministry nearly four years ago. I have counseled dozens of current and former SGM people who have been struggling with various ministry related issues. I’m asking others to do the same. Let’s help the hurting. ↩
-  As of 10.15.12 five SGM churches have left this family of churches. ↩