Well, the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) has responded to events of the past week and the quickening pace of statements and counter-statements by issuing a statement of its own. Further, we have seen statements from Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan and others telling us all to stand down, quit talking and let SGM handle this. I disagree.
Concerning the SGM statement, I cannot adequately judge whether or not Brent Detwiler’s refusal to use the mediation process put forward by SGM is right or not. It seems to me that he has an excessively high standard for what C.J. needs to do and that his standard is based on the aberrant theology of SGM with regard to introspection and hunting sin down in every corner. However, I do have some sympathy for Mr. Detwiler in that he doesn’t want to play this game on their terms. He has asked for up to 25 additional witnesses to be allowed in the process, and I don’t know what the status of that request is.
Another problem that is apparent is that since SGM tried to re-invent the wheel and create a real “New Testament church”, they have no courts, canon law, or ecclesiastical process to handle situations like this. Therefore, their answer to every problem is Ken Sandee and Peacemaker. That is a real failure.
The board accuses Brent of public slander of Mahaney’s reputation. My dictionary defines slander as “a malicious, false, and injurious statement spoken about a person.” Detwiler repeatedly assures us that he has no malice towards CJ, I can’t be the judge of that. Are his statements false? Certainly the emails in the documents are actual records, and are not false. Perhaps the judgements he makes are false, such as that CJ lords it over other men, but these judgements are matters of opinion. Are the documents injurious to CJ? Certainly. But I would venture to say that what is injurious are CJ’s own words and actions as outlined in the documents, not what Brent says about him. Granted, they are one side of the story. CJ has not really presented his case other than to say that he disagrees. But does what Detwiler did rise to the level of slander? I don’t think so.
The SGM board, in their point number 3, says that there is no reason to deem CJ unfit for ministry at this time. How they can say this when he blackmailed/coerced Larry Tomczak to resign back in the 90’s is beyond me! He and Tomczak have reconciled and CJ has repented of his actions, but HE DID DO IT!Note his own words:
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.
He can be forgiven, for sure, and thank God for it, but is it at all in keeping with Paul’s charges in the New Testament to have a minister who blackmails others? This is open and shut to me. He has not denied it, he has owned it, and yet SGM says that is just fine for now.
The board goes on to say that they will determine CJ’s future fitness for ministry by evaluating charges against him. Given that they have already said “no problem” to blackmailing Tomczak, and have smashed Detwiler as a slanderer and defamer, it is difficult to imagine that they will do anything beyond slapping CJ on the wrist when all is said and done. CJ benefits from not responding publicly and allowing “the process” to work itself out. But since this is all now out for public consumption, I see no reason why he couldn’t write a lengthy response to Detwiler’s charges, outlining where he agrees and disagrees, and presenting evidence for his side of the case. Perhaps that is what will happen privately, but it would sure help to make it public now.
And why it has taken him this long to respond is obvious to see. Imagine that you are Detwiler and you agree to the mediation proposed by SGM last year or whenever. You have arrayed against you the entire institutional apparatus of a denomination founded by the man you are accusing. Further, the ministry leading the mediation is one constantly promoted by said denomination, with a vested interest in seeing the denomination continue in stability. Essentially, the best result you can probably get is to admit that “we are both wrong”, hug and let CJ go on his way. Meanwhile, the problems that SGM is shot through with go unaddressed and the laity are never the wiser about what has been transacted behind the scenes. No, as Josh Harris preached last Sunday, God in his providence has used this conflict to expose greater problems in SGM as a whole. Would CJ have responded at all if Detwiler had simply picked up his ball and walked away a couple years ago?
What disturbs me is what looks like two responses to the situation: one from Harris (who did not sign this statement), consisting of repentance, remorse, an openness to critique and an acknowledgement that things need to change. The second response, from the SGM board, many of the pastors and of course the T4G crowd is to unite behind CJ, declare him a great guy, shut down conversation about the documents by talking “gossip” and “slander.” The future of SGM may hinge on what approach wins out. Will Harris cave in and toe the line, or will his perspective influence the wider group? Look, I have no faith in guys like Dever (who has a similar cult of personality church), Mohler and Ligon Duncan to fairly adjudicate anything. Ask N.T. Wright about how fair these guys are. Or Mark Horne, Peter Leithart, etc. They have a rabid fanbase of ESV-reading, Piper quoting, conference attending men who treat them as a near magesterium on theological issues. They are, it must continue to be said, brothers in Jesus Christ, but they are brothers who have not treated their own opponents with the grace and caution that they now want to lavish on Mahaney.