After the United Nations Group of Experts delivered its interim report on the crisis in the Eastern Congo in 2012 and prior to the issuance of the final report, the Government of Rwanda issued its usual attacks on the facts, methods and conclusions of the report. On November 6th, 2012, an “Ecumenical Letter” ostensibly authored by several Rwandan clergy was sent to the UN. The letter was signed by, among others, Archbishop Rwaje and Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo, both Anglicans.
We were not aware of the UN report or any involvement of our retired Bishops as contained in the report. PEAR is in the Proclamation of the Gospel and not in politics between two countries or simply put in politics. We are not able to comment on the report or the names therein.
As you will see, the letter to the UN is very involved in politics, and takes a typical line in critiquing the Group of Experts report, saying: “this unsubstantiated report continues to cause confusion about the situation in the Eastern DRC.”
Roman Catholic Bishops Refuse to Sign the Letter
It is notable that the Catholic bishops of Rwanda refused to sign the letter. A Google translation of a story on their refusal says in part:
According to our colleagues at the journal “Cross”, the Catholic Church in Rwanda would not have signed the letter disputing the report of the UN…the Catholic Church has not joined other religious leaders…Rwanda recently sent a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. In this letter they doubted “the integrity” of experts…
Father Célestin Hakizimana, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda sees a “pure lie” [in] the claim that the Catholic Church would be appended to the signatures of this document. “Other religious leaders have prepared the message only without involving the Catholic Church, after they gave this message to the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda to make it our own by signing and [the] bishops have not accepted or signed because the language was political and not suitable for church Catholic in Rwanda.” As a result, “the Catholic Bishops of Rwanda [did not send] any message to the Secretary General of the UN.”
With this background in mind, I will post the full text of the letter next, and hope to add some commentary later, as well as to compare it with the official response of the Government of Rwanda.
The latest interim report of the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC has leaked online. The report shows dissension between two factions of M23, one led by Bosco Ntaganda and the other by Sultani Makenga. The Makenga faction was supported by Rwanda, while the Ntagada faction lost Rwanda’s support, and of course Bosco eventually fled to the US embassy. Rwanda dismantled Ntaganda’s support network inside Rwanda, and it seems that Bishop John Rucyahana was a part of that network, because he was also sidelined. The report says:
A former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) member, two former RDF officers and a politician loyal to Ntaganda, told the Group that Bishop John Rucyahana, a Ntaganda ally in Rwanda who recruited politicians and raised funds for M23, had to stop his collaboration. The Group has sought clarification from the Government of Rwanda on the matter and is awaiting a response.
Let the skeptical note that this is four witnesses to Rucyahana raising money and recruiting politicians for M23! And yet there is complete silence on the issue from PEAR USA, ACNA and GAFCON. Shameful.
About a decade ago, Ligon Duncan attacked a swath of evangelicals who “fell” for the New Perspective on Paul. He said:
Second, there are evangelicals who are social conservatives but who are bent on Christianity expressing itself societally. Among these are theonomists, reconstructionists, “ex-theonomists and reconstructionists” and other miscreants. It is amazing how quick they are to discard reformational soteriological teaching in order to advance their neo-sacerdotalism, kingdom ecclesiology/eschatology, and dreams of Christendom.
This claim of his was uncharitable, ill-informed and wrong. The word “miscreant” means “a wretch; a villain.” Presumably, he thought throwing this word around was funny, as he used it again in a footnote: “The Eschatological Aspect of Justification by James T. Dennison, Jr (formerly of WTS-California), is a short lecture on Romans 4:25, published in Kerux, criticizing Sanders, Dunn, and various other miscreants.” Who did Duncan have in mind with this ridiculous term? Probably men like Peter Leithart, James Jordan, Mark Horne, Rich Lusk and Joel Garver, who at that time had interacted with Wright’s work to varying degrees. Rich Lusk had this to say of Duncan’s charge:
Duncan barely even engages the mass of evidence that we put together to support our interpretation of Calvin’s high sacramental theology. He lists perceived errors, but never shows in detail how these are our errors or why our interpretation of the Reformed tradition is off-base. More than that, though, I must ask why Duncan thinks these students of Reformed theology are not worthy of respectful, loving interaction. Elsewhere, Duncan has referred to a similar group of Presbyterian pastors and scholars as “miscreants” (see his essay, “The Attractions of New Perspective(s) on Paul”). Those of us on the receiving end of Duncan’s attacks do not feel like he has adequately understood our views or accurately stated what we believe. But surely this is because he has determined from the outset to give us an unsympathetic reading. Why should anyone trust an interpretation that is so admittedly biased? Personally, I would like to know why Duncan thinks Joel Garver and Peter Leithart (to take two examples) are impious scholars. I’d like to know why he finds their theological work less than substantial. Surely it cannot be because these men present themselves in an arrogant, haughty fashion. Anyone who knows them would laugh at the charges. Surely it is not because they lack serious academic credentials. They both have doctorates from top flight institutions. I could further speculate as to Duncan’s motivations, but love restrains me.
A little later, during an interview with Mark Dever at a Sovereign Grace conference, Duncan lobbed some more shells at N.T. Wright, accusing him of Socinianism and saying:
So there is a doctrine of Scripture problem, I would assert, that underlies Dunn’s doctrine of justification problem. You can see this same kind of thing, actually, in N. T. Wright’s when he articulates his philosophy of knowledge. Wright’s epistemology is very much indebted to some 20th century epistemological thinking that I think, in my view, buttresses a Kantian relativism and an unknowing of the noumenal and hence a reductionism. So I think that once again you see how things will go back to a faulty doctrine of scripture.
Wright himself responded to this, writing:
Thanks again. I’ve read it through and it’s a sad and sorry thing of course… he simply hasn’t heard the question, hasn’t taken the trouble to read what I say in the light of what Paul says. Actually the view he describes me holding towards the end of his piece – a remarkable little outburst! – is quite close to the reformed view which he seems not to know much about either. On scripture and epistemology, it’s remarkable how he can wave his arms around and say `Kant – relativism — reductionism’ as though that proves anything (and as though it’s accurate!). And then, when he reads the text, isn’t it interesting that he stops at verse 28? Had he gone on (`Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not of Gentiles also… etc’) he might have been forced, by attention to the text he so reveres, to reconsider whether there is, to put it mildly, something missing in his exegesis of the passage to which that is the proper conclusion.
Fast forward to today: Lig is now best buddies with a group of pastors that include C.J. Mahaney, who is accused of some serious cover ups of sexual abuse. Furthermore, Mahaney admitted to blackmailing a former pastoral colleague of his. You might say that these actions could make one a miscreant. And yet, these very serious offenses have not caused Ligon’s faith in Mahaney to waver:
A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. We believe this lawsuit failed that test. For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many Gospel-minded people.
Note that this doesn’t in any way address the previous blackmail that Mahaney admitted to. My belief is that the measure that Ligon used to judge Wright and all the other “ex-theonomists” is now coming back on his own head as he stands by an ethically compromised leader due to being part of a movement that has provided him with visibility and celebrity. It would be wise for him to reassess both his attitude towards Mahaney and his previous rash statements towards a group of men with whom he disagreed theologically, but branded with a wildly out of proportion term.
UPDATE: I have Duncan’s SGM presentation paper here.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa served as the Secretary General of Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), as Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States, and as President Paul Kagame’s Director of Cabinet (Chief of Staff). He has authored a book about Rwanda called Healing A Nation: A Testimony: Waging And Winning A Peaceful Revolution To Unite And Heal A Broken Rwanda. He defected when he could not take the continual killing of Rwandans by Kagame. He has put his life on the line and testified about Kagame and his role in shooting down the plane of Pres. Habyarimana. He is a devout Roman Catholic and calls what he is doing a confession of his guilt to God and to Rwandans.
I spoke to Dr. Rudasingwa about the Anglican Church in Rwanda and asked him how it relates to the oppressive Kagame regime. He told me that after 1994, the goal of the RPF was to make the international community feel guilty for what happened – the “you did nothing” narrative. He said that Kagame has co-opted evangelical churches, such as the Anglicans, as tools of his own corruption. He specifically mentioned Bishops Rucyahana and Kolini and how they talk to “unsuspecting Americans” with their narrative. He mentioned that Kolini was the head of the National Commission for the Fight Against HIV/AIDS and how Rucyahana is now the head of National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), government positions that not just anyone gets.
Rudasingwa told me that Bishop Kolini was “very pro Tutsi” and that we (meaning Kagame’s inner circle) considered him to be “one of us.”
He says that the bishops could not operate without the RPFs’ permission and that the RPF likely decides on who is a bishop, where they serve, etc. I asked Rudasingwa how to explain that Archbishop Rwaje, a Hutu, is Archbishop. He said that Kagame allows these kinds of things as PR moves, more or less. He said that some of the bishops are good men who are afraid, but he went on to say that there is no excuse for silence or neutrality in the face of the evil occurring in Rwanda.
The Anglican Church in Rwanda, one cannot even say it has been compromised by the State, it has basically made itself an arm of the State. It has…you remember what the, the role that the Catholic Church had during the Colonial period and the time of the monarchy? How the Catholic Church was very close to the State and how this continued even during the post-independence period? The Anglican Church has basically taken the role of the Catholic Church as being the chief apologist of the RPF and that has taken away a lot of the credibility that the Church should have and because of this the …I don’t think the Anglican Church would be a viable, a useful contributor to the process of reconciliation in Rwanda because it has taken sides.
If the West knows about ethnicity in Rwanda at all, it is in the familiar form of the Hutu and Tutsi. However, there are further sub-groups and clans within these broader configurations. One clan that features prominently in the story of Bishop John Rucyahana and his support for M23 is the Bagogwe clan.
Who are the Bagogwe? This article (in French) explains the roots of the Bagogwe ethnicity inside Rwanda:
Bagogwe are Tutsi whole hand. Indeed, in the former Rwanda, Bagogwe families regrouped into clans. The family clan was more than an ethnic identity. It is recognized by clan membership. The most important lineages were “abega” the “abahumuro” and “abatsobe.” …The identity was also related to the area occupied by a population. Thus, Bagogwe assumed the name of the region they occupied, the Bagogwe, the namesake of a rocky hill “in Iberia rya Bagogwe” …It is far from a designation of a sub-ethnic group or a sub-race. (Note that this is a Google translation and could be improved upon).
Jason Stearns says of the Bagogwe that “clan identity amongst the Tutsi does play a difference, as does their socialization within the RPF. We currently see some divides between the Bagogwe, mostly from Masisi, and what is usually referred to as Banyanduga or Bajomba, many of whom are from Bwisha in Rutshuru. This is reinforced by a class divide – Bagogwe are often poor cattle-herders.”
Stearns is referring to divisions among the Bagogwe from the Congo who have participated in rebel movements fomented by Rwanda, but there is a strong Bagogwe presence inside Rwanda itself. In fact, prior to the outbreak of the genocide in 1994, the Bagogwe were themselves targeted for genocide by the Habyiramana regime in the towns of Ruhengeri and Bigogwe. Amnesty International wrote that the Bagogwe clan “was targeted for elimination”(AFR 47/02/92).
The Bagogwe as Soldiers for Kagame
It seems that after the RPF took over in Rwanda, the Bagogwe were often used to do Kagame’s dirty work. According to former Kagame bodyguard Aloys Ruyenzi:
In 1996, many Banyamulenge and Bagogwe were recruited by the DMI and integrated into RPA battalions (for example, the 59th Battalion) and the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL-CZ) forces to participate in the mass killings in Zaire. The murder of Hutu refugees located near Kisangani started on the “Live Goshe” road near Lubutu. The next massacre occurred on Gafasende Road, located 59 kilometers from Kisangani. The RPA feared these killings would be detected by the human rights organizations that were pressing for an on-site investigation. The DMI staff was ordered to exhume the all the bodies from the mass graves, burn them, and then throw all the ashes into the fast-flowing waters of the Congo River.”
In November 2009, Jason Stearns talked about unrest brewing in the DRC again, and said that “…previously the Tutsi faction was represented mostly by upper class Tutsi from Goma and Jomba, while this time they seem to be mostly from the lower class Bagogwe clan from Masisi.
The leader of the Bagogwe faction inside both M23 and the CNDP, which was the precursor to M23, was Bosco Ntaganda. Some of this ethnic background is explained in this story:
…Rwanda is aware that although it can influence M23, it does not have control over it. For example, one of the factors behind the current infighting in the rebel group is clan politics and rivalries. Ntaganda is from the Bagogwe clan alongside Baudouin Ngaruye. Meanwhile Makenga is also from the same Bagogwe clan but grew up in Rucuru among Banyejomba clan of former CNDP leader, Laurent Nkunda. Ntaganda has always seen himself as a rival to Nkunda and enjoys large support among the Bagogwe. This meant that Makenga could never rival him for support in the clan which made him court the Banyejomba. Ntaganda has since used his identity to wrestle control from Makenga.
Ntaganda, a hardliner, has the support of the Bagogwe Tutsi clan from the mountainous Masisi region, who have tired of the dominance of Nkunda’s Rutshuru-based Tutsis in the rebel leadership. Support for both CNDP and M23 came from Bagogwe inside Rwanda. During the CNDP rebellion, the US embassy in Kigali sent a cable pointing out that there was fundraising for Laurent Nkunda and CNDP occurring among the Bagogwe in Rwanda: Reports of financial contributions to the CNDP by private individuals come as no great surprise. Mission recently heard reports of informal collections of funds for Nkunda among the Bagogwe, a Tutsi clan that straddles the Rwanda – DRC border, and which claims him as a member. Reports of CNDP recruiting in the refugee camps also continue, as do reports of demobilized Rwandan soldiers “re-mobilizing” themselves by voluntarily crossing to join Nkunda.
The following table outlines the backgrounds of three rebel leaders who operated for Rwanda in the DRC.
Bagogwe, Banyejomba clan
Bagogwe, Banyejomba clan
Rucyahana’s Bagogwe Connection
Where does Bishop John Rucyahana fit into this picture? In 2012, the UN said that Rucyahana was the “president of the Bagogwe community”:
John Rucyahana has been the head of the Anglican Church at Ruhengeri, president of the Bagogwe community from Rwanda, and President of the Rwandan National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.
Details about this role in the Bagogwe community are lacking, but Rucyahana’s fundraising and recruiting efforts for M23 were clearly in support of the Ntaganda faction, as subsequent evidence makes clear.
…Rwandan officials who had previously supported Ntaganda, and who could no longer control his network in Rwanda or his actions in the DRC, decided to sideline him from M23 and to dismantle his support in Rwanda. In late December 2012, Rwandan authorities arrested RDF Col. Jomba Gakumba, due to his close ties with Ntaganda, according to former RDF officers and an M23 collaborator. A former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) member, two former RDF officers and a politician loyal to Ntaganda, told the Group that Bishop John Rucyahana, a Ntaganda ally in Rwanda who recruited politicians and raised funds for M23, had to stop his collaboration (emphasis added). The Group has sought clarification from the Government of Rwanda on the matter and is awaiting a response.
A “civil war” of sorts broke out between the two factions within M23, with Bosco’s faction losing badly because Rwanda was determined to eliminate him. Anyone who helped him was arrested:
…on 10 March 2013, Rwandan authorities arrested Gafishi Semikore and Theo Bitwayiki, while they attempted to help Ntaganda from Rwanda by supplying him with small quantities of ammunition, food and medical supplies during the hostilities between the two factions in Kibumba.
With Rwanda hunting him, Bosco Ntaganda had to flee for his life. How he was able to do so is laid out for us by the UN and sources such as this:
Hailing from Northwestern Rwanda and from the reclusive Tutsi Bagogwe’s ethnics, generally hostile to the current Rwandan government dominated by Tutsis from Uganda and Burundi, General Ntaganda could rely on a network of incorruptible clansmen. So he was moving from relative to relative, avoiding highly circulated areas and moving in trucks carrying staples to the capital city Kigali. While the DMI killing squad was looking for him in Gisenyi, the volcanoes and Masisi, he had already crossed Kinigi on his way to Kigali. He reached Kigali late at night on Sunday, where a trusted relative was waiting for him. Early morning, the relative dropped him off close to the US Embassy (emphasis added), to where he walked in and asked for being sent to the International Criminal Court.
The UN’s account of Bosco’s flight says:
On 15 March 2013, Ntaganda clandestinely crossed the border into Rwanda using a small path in the Gasizi area, with one escort…he reached Kigali with the help of his family, and arrived at the United States embassy on 18 March where he requested to be transferred to the ICC, without the prior knowledge of Rwandan authorities. Subsequently, Rwandan authorities arrested an individual suspected of having aided Ntaganda’s escape, and interrogated Ntaganda’s wife and brother.
According to confidential sources, the situation of bishops Rucyahana and Kolini is bad because since (a) the escape of Bosco Ntaganda into the American embassy in Rwanda and (b) intense external pressure to end support for M23, Paul Kagame has abandoned the bishops. A sign of this abandonment is his open admission that churches support M23 as a Tutsi self-protection campaign. A source says that Bishop Rucyahana cannot travel outside Rwanda on orders of the Government (or without its explicit permission); and that in fact Rucyahana’s own driver assisted Bosco Ntaganda to escape to the American embassy. If true, this means that Rucyahana’s driver is or was a relative of Bosco’s all along.
In short, Rucyahana (a) had a driver related to Bosco Ntaganda, (b) was the President of the Bagogwe community in Rwanda, and (c) was sidelined when Bosco’s support network was eliminated as part of the M23 civil war.
The civil war between Bosco’s faction and the Makenga faction may have hurt Bagogwe support for M23, since many native sons of the Bagogwe were betrayed by Paul Kagame.
The UN says: The Group notes that M23 recruitment in Rwanda has decreased since the dismantling of Ntaganda’s recruitment network; community leaders in northern Rwanda who supported Ntaganda have ceased collaborating with the M23. […] Demobilized Rwandan soldiers have been killed on M23 frontlines in the DRC. The Group obtained the identities and addresses of seven families residing in the northern Rwandan villages of Bigogwe and Mukamira, whose sons fought in the ranks of M23 as demobilized soldiers and died during the fighting between Makenga and Ntaganda.
It is not as clear why Bishop Kolini would support M23, although he preached and served among the Bagogwe in the eastern Congo for many years, and his support for Paul Kagame is probably unwavering. He is also connected to the current bishop of Boga, the Rt Revd William Bahemuka Mugenyi. He has connected the severely weakened AMiA to Bishop William which means that Kolini has ongoing contact with clergy in the DRC.
Rucyahana has appeared in the US recently as part of Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council. Presumably, he is engaged in what Rwanda calls, “Kwicazwa ku gatebe” – literally “being made to sit on a small chair.” When you fall out of favor with Paul Kagame, you must keep silence and wait, hoping that someone else will soon fall out of favor and a replacement will be needed.
Gerald Gahima was “central to the rebuilding of Rwanda’s justice system in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, first as the chief of staff to the Rwandan Minister of Justice from 1996-1999, and subsequently as the country’s Attorney General from 1999-2003.” He has just written a book called Transitional Justice in Rwanda: Accountability for Atrocity and was interviewed tonight by Jennifer Fierberg. She asked him his opinion of the Anglican Church in Rwanda regarding reconciliation, and this is what he said:
OK I have very strong opinions about the Anglican Church in Rwanda. The Anglican Church in Rwanda, one cannot even say it has been compromised by the State, it has basically made itself an arm of the State. It has…you remember what the, the role that the Catholic Church had during the Colonial period and the time of the monarchy? How the Catholic Church was very close to the State and how this continued even during the post independence period? The Anglican Church has basically taken the role of the Catholic Church as being the chief apologist of the RPF and that has taken away a lot of the credibility that the Church should have and because of this the …I don’t think the Anglican Church would be a viable, a useful contributor to the process of reconciliation in Rwanda because it has taken sides.
The interview is here, and his comments come at 2:03 in to the interview. These are strong words: “the chief apologist of the RPF.” And they are spoken by someone who was on the inside of the Kagame regime. Anglican leaders in the West need to take a long look at their allies, and listen to voices like Gahima’s.
Roger W. Bowen has an essay called “Genocide in Rwanda 1994 – An Anglican Perspective” in the book “Genocide in Rwanda Complicity of the Churches.” Bowen served in Rwanda at the time leading up to the genocide as the representative “of the main Anglican mission society relating to the Anglican Church in Rwanda.”
He traces the surface level “apolitical” stance of the Anglican Church in Rwanda to conflicts over higher criticism of the Scripture back in England during the early part of the last century:
They were heirs of theological controversy at home, which focused around the authority of Scripture and attitudes to Biblical criticism. It was the background to the splits between the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) and the Student Christian Movement (SCM) in 1910, the separation of the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (BCMS) from the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1922, and the establishing of the special relationship between the Rwanda Mission and its parent society, the CMS, in 1926. The more conservative attitude to Scripture, and the associated controversy, led to an emphasis on evangelism rather than any engagement with the public life of the nation or critique of the sociopolitical context. Indeed, the missionaries were dependent on the goodwill of the colonial administration and sought to be apolitical.
I must protest here that “a conservative attitude towards scripture” does not necessitate being apolitical, quite the contrary! But Bowen is correct to say that for this group of British evangelicals (Keswick influenced) it did.
Bowen says that the early missionaries were also under the influence of the dispensationalist Scofield Bible. Bowen says that the premillenialism in Scofield’s notes:
…can lead to one of two reactions: either the withdrawal from the public life of the nation into a spiritual ghetto, or a naïve and uncritical support of whoever is in power, with Biblical justification being frequently drawn from Romans chapter 13. Both these reactions are discernible within the life of the Anglican Church in Rwanda.
Bowen points out that the pre-genocide Anglican Church did not speak up for the Tutsi exile from the early 60’s who were never allowed to return to Rwanda. He says, “The Church in Rwanda failed to plead their cause, perhaps because, in the Anglican Church at least, the leadership was exclusively Hutu.”
He says that the Rwandan Anglicans used a canon within a canon based on the revival template:
In some cases, all Scripture in interpreted to give the same message, often interpreted through the lens of the revival experience, rather than letting the diversity within the Bible be heard. Inadequate exposure to the whole counsel of God has meant that Church leaders were often left without the theological tools to engage with the complexities of relating to newly independent African states, to issues of economics, development, justice, human rights, and ethnicity.
Bowen says that the practice of sharing testimonies from the East African Revival led “to a lack of Biblical input and instruction, with the danger that personal experience becomes more important than the Word of God.”
He also points to a culture of obedience that went too far, violating the Apostles’ injunction in Acts 5.29 to obey God rather than man. He says:
In Rwanda, people killed because they were told to do so by the government, local burgomasters and the radio. Obedience to authority is inculcated within African culture and we need to ask whether the Churches have adopted the same approach. Within the Catholic tradition, there has been an unquestioning submission to Papal authority. Within the Protestant tradition in Rwanda, you are wise to obey your Bishop because your livelihood depends on his goodwill.
Bowen also turns the blame on himself and on the Churches of the West who wanted to avoid offending their African partners:
Partnership in mission is the dominant theme in Anglican relationships. But one may ask in the context of Rwanda, as perhaps elsewhere in Africa, whether the mission agencies at least have so leaned over backwards to avoid the charge of colonialism that they have failed to challenge their partner Churches? Within both Rwanda and the Rwandan Church, we were aware of many of these issues and yet, as their partners, we largely failed to challenge them as equal partners and to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). In Ezekiel 33 the prophet is challenged to be a watchman for the House of Israel to warn the people of God of impending danger. Both the national Church of Rwanda and its partners overseas have largely failed in this role of watchmen.
Reading this essay is sobering. On almost every issue that Bowen raises, I have to ask if we are repeating the same mistakes?
Tim Challies says in regard to the travails of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries:
If I am going to believe and hope all things, if I am going to be slow to pass judgment, then I also need to understand that neither side has publicized all of the facts. These things may be known in time and I do well to wait for that time if it comes.
This is an issue of greater urgency to some than others. The way each of us thinks through it will depend on the extent to which we are stakeholders, to our relational proximity to those involved and even geographic proximity. If you are a member at a SGM church this issue is very urgent, and particularly so if your church is considering withdrawing from the association. However, the majority of us are far on the outside with very little at stake. For this reason many of us simply do not need to have an opinion.
Really? We do not need to have an opinion about the leader of an organization who has ensured that he has a very high profile publicly for at least the past 13 years? A man who publicly admitted to blackmail (aka ‘coercion’) on one of his fellow pastors:
It grieves me to report to you that in a particular phone conversation I sought to coerce Larry to present his leaving as I thought was right.
Quite the contrary, we are supposed to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Christians get really tripped up about the difference between public figures and Joe Q. Christian who goes to church with you. It wouldn’t be proper for me to blog about how Joe was caught blackmailing Suzie at his office due to their affair. But it is just fine for me or anyone else to write about baptized Christian Barack Obama, or the Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahony who covered up for pedophile priests, or C.J. Mahaney, the public leader of SGM. D.A. Carson helpfully puts the matter like this:
The sin described in the context of Matt 18:15–17 takes place on the small scale of what transpires in a local church (which is certainly what is envisaged in the words “tell it to the church”). It is not talking about a widely circulated publication designed to turn large numbers of people in many parts of the world away from historic confessionalism. This latter sort of sin is very public and is already doing damage; it needs to be confronted and its damage undone in an equally public way. This is quite different from, say, the situation where a believer discovers that a brother has been breaking his marriage vows by sleeping with someone other than his wife, and goes to him privately, then with one other, in the hope of bringing about genuine repentance and contrition, and only then brings the matter to the church.
To put the matter differently, the impression one derives from reading Matt 18 is that the sin in question is not, at first, publicly noticed (unlike the publication of a foolish but influential book). It is relatively private, noticed by one or two believers, yet serious enough to be brought to the attention of the church if the offender refuses to turn away from it. By contrast, when NT writers have to deal with false teaching, another note is struck: the godly elder “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9 NIV).
I would add that these principles apply every bit as much to orthopraxy as to orthodoxy. Also, we should not expect that public discussions of the foibles of Christian leaders are going to be neat, tidy and Biblical. Once discussion spills into the public, there is every reason to expect rough and tumble, no holds barred treatment from all sides. This doesn’t excuse our own response, but to just expect Christians to tune it all out and ignore it sounds quite a bit like what cult leaders would suggest.
And where was this restraint of Challies when he was writing about Ted Haggard? Should he have approached Haggard before writing anything about him? Of course not, and to suggest so would be absurd.
I’d also point out to Challies that SGM and Mahaney have had well over a year to present the other side of the argument. They could clear it all up by explaining how blackmail really wasn’t blackmail, or how blackmail doesn’t disqualify someone from leadership, or how all the alleged sexual abuse cover-ups are misunderstood by the public. Instead, they have blamed blogs and told members not to read them or to engage in gossip – a foolish approach that makes them sound even worse.
In closing, the problems I and others saw with SGM pre-dated any of this and were more cultural and theological. As I wrote in 2011:
My observation of SGM over the years and what I’ve heard from insiders have raised the following concerns:
* Acting like clones. From shaved heads to speech inflections and cadence, the pastors at various SGM churches sound very much like CJ. Folks in the movement tend to use the same terms like affection, passion, serve and appropriate. One example of this is from the document “A Final Appeal” that quotes CJ in an October, 2005 email to Brent Detwiler saying, “From the first e-mail I have informed Pat about my support but in his desire to serve me he has continued to pursue this” and “I will be glad to explain my perspective on this if that would serve you.” The verb “serve” is something that you hear constantly from SGM folks and if you pay attention, it becomes like an in-group code word.
Christians need to be real, living in the real world with the transforming grace of the gospel, but also without falling into systems of jargon, denial, happy talk and sectarianism. When talking to another Christian, I want to be able to honestly discuss life without having to use phrases that end up meaning nothing because they are so overused.
* The gradual removal or “un-friending” of people who don’t toe the line theologically. Someone described this to me as “a hang-over from the charismatic shepherding movement, though in a less overtly authoritarian modality, a sort of soft-despotism” and I think that is an accurate description of what you read in Detwiler’s documents.
I’ve heard stories over the years including a guy who was on the inside at Covenant Life and whose WIFE had a theological view that was considered aberrant. This was enough to begin the gradual removal of the man from the inner circle and he eventually resigned his position. I grant that it can be hard to maintain friendships with people who have theological convictions different from our own, but a real love towards them should make it possible to continue in relationship, and not ice them out due to a Stepford wives type of conformity. Further, if we believe in the catholicity of the Church at all, it demands that we learn how to accept some degree of doctrinal variance within local churches. Someone I know was essentially asked to leave the church due to hesitation over the excessive demands for self-disclosure at small group. Add to this the many “de-giftings” where pastors are suddenly removed from their position with little or no explanation given to the congregation.
* Institutional arrogance / lack of Catholicity. Jesus said in John 17, “that I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The exact implication of what this verse demands are of course debated, but the failure to listen to warnings to change on the part of SGM sets a bad precedent. The SGM practice of rebaptism for people baptized as infants is a grievous affront to the catholicity of the Church.
I question why SGM cannot merge or cross-pollinate with groups like Acts 29, the Grace Network, and others. Does it really require a SGM church in every city, even if there is already a strong Calvinist and/or Reformed Baptist presence?
* A flawed polity. As I mentioned several months ago, SGM’s structure of church governance is skewed. It is similar to Calvary Chapel, where the pastor is Moses to his congregation and Chuck Smith is the Pope. The emails do show that CJ is treated akin to the Pope of SGM. He functions as an Archbishop, but without the time-honored constraints of a true Episcopalian system (vestry, church courts, and so forth). In the emails, leadership group members don’t want to be the one to confront him or deliver bad tidings to him. Local pastors are removed from on-high with no explanation. Systems of government do not solve problems, bad people can be in any system, but they can make it easier to correct problems.
* Morbid introspection and an incorrect understanding of “the Gospel.” Someone I know put it better than I can: “SGM deemphasizes the resurrection and overemphasizes introspection and “the cross”, which becomes morbid; they also decidedly deemphasize bible study; their view of culture is truncated as is their view of the Gospel: “Jesus died for my sins” v. “The good news is that the King has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
This introspection is constant in these documents and in the lives of SGM churches. Every motive must be scrutinized at absurd lengths and a neo-Puritan desire to constantly work into emotional distress over being the chief of sinners and returning to the cross is modeled from on high. A view of glorification and Christian maturity give way to probing motives for pride, no matter what we do. SGM does not see the Gospel as the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus and union with Him (a more Calvinist approach), rather, it is simply imputation, which seems to be the hill that SGM always wants to die on.
The fact that the other Reformed “big dogs” like Piper, Dever and Mohler seemingly had no problem with any of this goes to show the weaknesses inherent to the entire T4G camp. The way they treated proponents of the New Perspective with dismissal and misrepresentation is now coming back to bite them. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
In his essay, “Christianity, Revival and the Rwandan Genocide,” Kevin Ward takes a historical look at the East African Revival and the role of the Anglican Church of Rwanda in the genocide of 1994. The essay is an excellent piece of historical work that should be required reading for everyone in PEAR USA. Ward writes:
Between 1965 and 1990,the Eglise Episcopale au Rwanda (EER) built itself up as a predominantly Hutu church. From being a small group, numerically insignificant, it expanded rapidly, establishing a mass following in the years after independence. The leadership was overwhelmingly Hutu. The relations with the government were close. Protestants were glad that the new regime, while heavily Catholic, was freer with regard to the Protestant churches than during the colonial regime. A close working relationship was formed. By 1992 this had become far too close for the good of the church, especially as Habyarimana’s regime became discredited and was seen as excessively narrowly based on a small clique of Hutu from the north west of Rwanda. Bishop Sebunuguru became closely identified with this regime, as did a large proportion of the bishops and pastors.
Moreover, by 1990, the Anglican church was deeply involved in internal wrangling and divisions. They were focused on jealousies and bitterness between Adoniya Sebununguri, bishop of Kigali, and John Ndandali, bishop of the second diocese of Butare, created in 1978. The conflict was focused on who would become the first Archbishop of the new Anglican province of Rwanda created in 1992. Although personal factors were paramount in this conflict, it did strangely parallel political divisions between the ‘north,’ where the deeply unpopular president came from, and a ‘south,’ which felt excluded. A series of other conflicts among the leadership of the churches began to disfigure the Anglican church: based on personal and family rivalries, regional differences, political disputes (as a multi-party system was introduced). Hutu-Tutsi divisions were only one of many factors fueling and sustaining these disputes. Often the rhetoric of the Revival was introduced into the disputes. At high-profile meetings of reconciliation, church leaders confessed and sang Tukutenderza in the old spirit of the Balokole [Balokole means ‘saved’ – editor] fellowship, but these occasions did not seem to have the power to transform the faction-riven nature of the church. The form of Revival had replaced its genuine spirit.
One of many interesting takeaways from this essay is that the reconciliation narrative was actually in place prior to the genocide of 94, and was in fact an artifact of the East African Revival (which seems to have been a Keswick phenomenon by the way). The narrative then went national after the 94 genocide and was somewhat stripped of its overtly Christian foundation. Also, this constant harping on reconciliation even prior to the genocide did nothing to avert the genocide or change the behavior of this highly Christianized nation.