Larry Tomczak on the SGM Whitewash

An email revealed today from the co-founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries minced no words with the attempt at whitewashing the behavior of C.J. Mahaney. Tomczak says in part:

Addressing the illegal, immoral and documented blackmail plus the reprehensible conduct that shattered our reputation, relationships and family ties (plus our livelihood) was afforded a dismissive SIX sentences in the report!  Unbelievable.

I couldn’t agree more. I searched the PDF of the AOR report for Larry’s name and was surprised to see nothing about the blackmail imposed on him. And the Reformed “big dogs” Piper, Mohler, Duncan and Dever seem to think that C.J. is just fine, despite his attempted blackmail. They shouldn’t be taken seriously on much of anything.

C.J. Mahaney: Good to Go!

In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, Sovereign Grace Ministries has re-instated C.J. Mahaney as their President. As Brent Detwiler recounted:

You (CJ) continued by saying that Larry “must confine [himself] to the that point in order to leave peacefully.” In other words, you could accept Larry telling the movement he was abruptly and prematurely pulling out of the disciplinary process because he disagreed with our assessment of his character. You would not allow him to explain his departure in terms of doctrinal differences. But then you went further. You told Larry if he included doctrine as a basis for leaving “we will go into more detail regarding your sin and if necessary Justin’s sin.”

C.J. then went on to blackmail the Tomczak’s in a phone call where he threatened releasing details of their son’s confessions to him as a pastor to the public; this was in 1997. Mahaney acknowledged this in a confession to Covenant Life Church, but he called it ‘coercion’:

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.

Sovereign Grace has looked at this and many other things and essentially said “no problem”! Get back in the saddle and go get them big guy! Mahaney has repented of this sin and has confessed it, let’s be clear. But that does not mean that he is fit to serve any more. Imagine confessing your sins to a pastor and then having him use them against you or your family to get you to act in a certain way. Is someone who does that fit to be a pastor let alone a functional bishop?

But, C.J. is a Reformed big wig so he gets a pass. Disgusting, reprehensible and arrogant.

Meanwhile, back at Sovereign Grace…

C.J. goes on the warpath:

I think the days ahead are going to require more discernment as it relates to the identification of slander and the influence of slander in our churches. I think the days ahead are going to require courage on the part of pastors and when necessary publicly identify those who are divisive.  I think the days ahead are not only going to require, I think they are going to require courage. I think in some ways in SG we have more humility than courage. And we are going to need more courage. Humble courage. It doesn’t mean we don’t learn from critique, we do. But there is a difference between learning from critique and allowing critics to define you. We are [not?] capitulating to slander in the name of humility.

Hmmmm.

SGM Makes it to the Washington Post

The Post has been looking around for a couple weeks and has put out a fairly even-handed article for the general public here. Excerpt:

The Web is playing a powerful role in Mahaney’s woes even as his movement owes much of its popularity to it. His wife and three daughters co-write a chatty, hipster-looking blog about“biblical womanhood,” and Harris is something of a rock star in conservative evangelical circles for his book about dating and the importance of traditional courtship.

What happens next is unclear. Sovereign Grace officials emphasize they are deep into a period of spiritual reflection and management nit-picking. They clarified that he remains on staff. He joined with some other Sovereign Grace pastors at a retreat this summer, and some experts say he is too popular a figure in a thriving movement to disappear over the controversy.

The Local Church is the Best…until it Disciplines Me!

So after all these years of sermons, books and conferences on loving the local church, Pastor Mahaney and his son in law pastors up and leave their local church because things aren’t going the way they like. Wow! Can you say “congregationalism”? Things are fine until they don’t go my way at which point I go down the road where the pastor is my buddy. What kind of message does this send to Joe Pew Sitter?

This situation reminds me so much of a local church I was part of that collapsed that it isn’t funny. Incidentally, we were moving towards SGM at the time and heavily into the Peacemaker. None of it helped. My pastor fled and a couple weeks later was somewhere else where he was never made accountable. He made sweeping statements about being the chief of sinners and being guilty of all sin (rather than acknowledging specifics) and he is now back in the pulpit having never fixed the issues that caused him to resign. This seems to be the template that Mahaney is fitting into. Discipline becomes impossible, people are forced to choose sides and believe who they like while demonizing the other side. Pastors write over-emotional letters about how they are “forced” to resign due to Biblical violations, and so forth and so on.

Really, if you have been around the church block a few times, none of this is new. It just destroys the integrity of Mahaney et al. Who can listen to him and believe him about his “passion” for the local church after this? And yet, there will always be the gullible, willing to follow no matter what. Absurd.

What’s Wrong with Written Communication?

C.J. Mahaney is continually telling Brent Detwiler that he prefers to meet face to face instead of communicating by email. I have heard similar things from pastors. It has become a truism that email doesn’t communicate tone, facial expressions and body language like in person communication does, and so it is inferior. Contrary to this view is a little book we use called the Bible.

You would think that of all people, Christians would respect written communication the most! We have an entire library of books bound together as one which are a written communication to us of the highest authority. We don’t know what Moses or Paul looked like when they preached, wrote or confronted someone. We have no idea what their tone or facial expressions were. And yet we expect all believers to be perfectly capable of receiving the message communicated via the written word and to live based on that message.

So it doesn’t make sense to me for Christians to knock written forms of communication. Of course, more can be conveyed in person than via email, but that doesn’t make it inferior. And in cases where emotions are charged, people may lose self-control, ideas may be forgotten in the heat of the moment, and fear may silence us, email may be a far superior way to communicate so as to get thoughts down on paper, be polite and remain self-controlled. A religion that reverences a written Scripture should not be so down on “written communication.”

Theological Change at Covenant Life Church?

Josh Harris began his sermon this Sunday with a proclamation that Jesus is risen from the dead, ascended on high and reigning. He went on to preach a sermon about the primacy of love in the life of the Christian.

Now, it is not as if Josh and SGM did not believe these things before, but they were not emphasized. “The gospel” was basically double imputation, rather than the declaration that Jesus is Lord through his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. So we may discern that the message of change has gotten through to Josh and that he will be changing theological emphases, at least at his church. I did not hear the call to introspection and constant agonizing over the cross like you would typically hear in an SGM sermon. This seems like a positive development.

Josh Harris Resigns

Events are in the saddle and the landscape is changing fast at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Josh Harris is now stepping down from the SGM board, per this announcement. It is probably a wise move by Harris, allowing him to disassociate himself from what is beginning to look like a circle the wagons mentality on the part of the SGM board. It also helps him be a pastor – his main duty – during a crisis for his denomination.

Again and again this points out to me that we need small parishes of 150-300 people, coupled with faithful pastors and a clear structure. The whole big shot, super-star, cult of personality model of ministry should be put to death.

The SGM Board Responds

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.