Who Should Speak Up?

Recently, my twitter feed and blog reader contained numerous articles related to recent incidents of spiritual abuse, particularly the latest turmoil surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministry. Too often, victims of spiritual abuse have been disregarded and ignored while the religious system and its leaders are protected, allowing the abuse to continue. The questions I raised nine months ago seem particularly relevant to this situation:

“When evidence of ongoing spiritual abuse begins to stack up, what role will the body of Christ play in the story? The pattern has often been to ignore, or worse yet, to blame victims who dare to speak up. We are uneasy about how to bring light to toxic ministry situations. How many victims must come forward? When does their devastation outweigh the abuser’s respectability and success? Those with the ability to confront a toxic situation cannot afford to protect the system at the expense of victims whose lives have been shattered.”

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown said, “Cover-up cultures depend on shame to keep folks quiet. When the culture of an organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of individuals, you can be certain that shame is systemic, money drives ethics, and accountability is dead.”

Matt B. Redmond said, “There has been no leader in the Reformed community who has spoke up for the victims of sexual abuse in SGM. Not one.” He asked, “Is there no man with a ready hammer and nail willing to heave his weight and influence into the silence?”

T.F. Charlton identified the underlying theology that enables religious abuse of authority:

“At its root, abuse is the harmful exercise of power over others. Submission theology protects the privileges of the powerful; as a result, abuse survivors in submission cultures are not able to fight effectively for support or accountability. It is possible that victim advocacy is inherently impossible in a culture like SGM’s.”

Addressing another issue, Bryan Loritts spoke into the vacuum of silence, asking for an advocate regarding Doug Wilson’s book Black and Tan.

“How does racial insensitivity continue to flourish, especially in the evangelical world? . . You know what saddens me as I write these words? Once again, it’s a black man who is crying for help here, wondering where my white evangelical advocates are?”

Next week, Bryan Loritts, as a fellow keynote speaker, will share a platform with John Piper (a public proponent of Doug Wilson) and other Gospel Coalition men at Advance13.

I do not know how either of these situations will play out. The best possible outcome would be if those who have influence in these particular tribes would become the most vocal advocates for disclosure, repentance, and justice.

Although many of us are not directly affected by these situations, we all must become cognizant of toxic organizational cultures, dangerous leadership personalities, and faulty theologies that perpetuate environments of abuse.

Brad Sargent is in the trenches doing important work on deconstruction of malignant ministry. Following are examples of the types of questions he suggested we must be asking:

“How do we dismantle a toxic culture that grew up around spiritually abusive leaders, their faulty doctrines (authoritarianism, patriarchalism, legalism, perfectionism, etc.), and the organizational structures that institutionalized those anti-biblical rules?

How do we best help people who are exiting out of long-term involvement in malignant ministries as they begin to realize different aspects of how it victimized them – and how they, unwittingly and perhaps even unwillingly, victimized others through the faulty values, beliefs, and practices promoted by that toxic organization?”

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer


  1. Hi Linda

    A most timely article, for much spiritual abuse continues with leaders turning a blind eye. In my experience it is hard for such leaders to acknowledge that such abuse can take place within their theological stream of influence. Bizarre but, I believe, sadly true.

    It is those who have suffered spiritual manipulation and abuse within Christian expressions who truly understand the phenomenon. Theirs is the voice crying in the ecclesiastical wilderness.

    A few weeks back I wrote a 5 part Blog Series on the dynamics and results of spiritual abuse. My experiences may be very similar to those now departing the Sovereign Grace Ministry bandwagon.
    Linda please feel free to send your readers and any victims of abuse along to my site. I believe that they may receive some authentication and encouragement there that it would appear is presently lacking from the big named ministries.

    x Dylan Morrison


  2. ~7 years ago I had some contact with Craig Cabanis of SGM. At the time the church I was part of was looking for “apostolic covering” and SGM was approached. My experience with Craig was positive. My research into SGM led me to appreciate much of what they were doing–with the cavaet that at the time I was at the height of my Calvinistic propensity. Then I came to know an individual who in college had been a member of a SGM congregation who had been “burned” by authoritarianism. Thought it was an isolated event or a misunderstanding. Since then I’ve encountered too many of those “isolated incidences”.

    The essential problem of why there has been no hue and cry about SGM from the calvinista establishment is that Calvinism is more important than the Gospel and structures/systems are more important that people. Reading Robert Capon with his take on institutions being “angelic” forced my eyes wide open on this problem. Thanks, Linda, for adding your spaner in the gears.

    To quote our friend Joseph…”Lord have mercy.”


  3. There is nothing gospel centered about turning a blind eye to abuse. Piper may a public proponent of Doug Wilson and may speak up when it comes to Black and Tan, (an important issue) but if the way he has handled the SGM movement is any indication then it looks grim. On February 22nd he visited CJ Mahaney at his flagship church to endorse the whole movement in light of class action lawsuits that have brought to light more sex abuse in that movement and caused CJ Mahaney and others to step down. Instead of anyone speaking up they are showing undeserving endorsing support that turns a blind eye to abuse. Although this is well documented to have been going on for a long time. It is sad when key leaders of the gospel coalition are more concerned with their own status and that of a school of thought or a neo-reformed camp then the abuse of human beings. This will be one of the down falls of the whole “gospel coalition” movement. Just like the Catholic church has come unraveled with an unwillingness to address or admit to abuse, wielding too much power and influence- it did not last! God does discipline. Trust becomes eroded when authority and influenced are used for wrong rather then the type or pure religion referred to in the bible (of looking after vulnerable children and peoples), this will happen with all other Christians who follow that pattern. Too bad it is our Lord Jesus that gets dragged through the mud with this! When maintaining relationships with your chums doing wrong against children is your MO there is a problem. I do not dispute that this is never the intention, it becomes inevitable when people who carry a big responsibility turn a blind eye to injustices or try to cover them up. That is no longer centered on the gospel. That is always the problem with movements that get so big and influential like this. Pastors need to take sabbaticals because of their “pride”. Key leaders (bloggers and preachers) are not willing to look beyond selling books/ or readership, so they must back their buddies of the movement at all costs for fear that they may loose out on profits or following. It saddens my heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 195 other followers

%d bloggers like this: