“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. " Leo Buscaglia
sunset over the Sahara (NASA)
Sovereign Grace Ministries has been experiencing tremendous upheaval since C.J. Mahaney stepped down earlier this month. Almighty God appears to be bringing conviction to the hearts of some SGM leaders, and only time will tell whether these “heart changes” are the real deal.
Mark Mullery, senior pastor of the Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, made a public confession of his sins when he addressed the congregation last Sunday (July 24th) at a Family Meeting. These confessions were directed toward former members of the church, namely Noel and Wallace.
For those not familiar with these individuals and their testimonies, Noel is a wife and mother who discovered that her three year old daughter had been molested by a 15 year old boy who attended SGM Fairfax along with his family. Her story has been archived at SGM Survivors in three installments. You can begin reading here.
Wallace and his wife Happymom are also former members of SGM Fairfax, and their two children were sexually abused. We featured their story here at TWW on April 12, 2011. (link) SGM Survivors has also archived Wallace’s Story here.
Each of these families has suffered terribly in the aftermath of their children’s sexual abuse, but what’s even more devastating is that they were spiritually abused by their own pastors!
Last Sunday evening Mark Mullery gave an emotional confession that confirmed the testimonies of Noel and Wallace. You can access the audio of the Fairfax Family Meeting at this link. http://media.sovgracefairfax.org/mp3/07-24-11%20Family%20Meeting.mp3 Because we have followed both of these stories so closely, we wanted to update our readers with Mark Mullery's remarks regarding Noel and Wallace. Here is a transcript of Mullery’s confession.
“We are in a time when Sovereign Grace Ministries and Sovereign Grace Church here in Fairfax are being critiqued for the way pastors have led. As I mentioned earlier, there are several blogs that have focused on these issues. Two stories in particular have appeared on those blogs that address situations in this church and address our pastors in particular. What follows is a confession in response to these stories entitled Noel’s Story and Wallace’s Story.
Romans 12:15, the second half simply says: “Weep with those who weep.” This is a good place to start when it comes to the topic of sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of children. By now many of you have become aware of two stories on Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivor blog and the Refuge blog as well I believe — one called Noel’s Story, the other Wallace’s Story. Both of these individuals were at one time members of our church, and both have sad stories to tell.
Noel, a pen name, recounts the tragic story of the sexual assault of her young daughter, which occurred in 1998. Wallace, also a pen name, tells of having two children molested – the incidents coming to light in 1998 and 2007. In each of these cases the perpetrators were young men whose families were also part of our church.
These incidents are still exceedingly painful for these families and understandably so. No parent, no compassionate person can learn of these sins without experiencing sorrow, grief, and heartache over the violation of these innocent children.
But as sad as this is, it gets worse. When these incidents came to light, these families were in trouble. These were children who were victims who had been horribly sinned against. “Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says, and moments like this require extraordinary amounts of tender care, of merciful comfort. This is a time to bind up the brokenhearted and to weep with those who weep.
And that’s just what your pastors did, right? Well, with deep regret I confess, we didn’t. Noel and Wallace are justified in critiquing the pastoral care they received through their trials and afflictions. Sadly, and it breaks my heart to tell you this, sadly in seeking to care for them, we became part of their trial. Like Job’s counselors, we came in a time of need and made things worse. Looking back, we made many mistakes. Here are a few.
We lost sight of the victim. These are complicated moments in the swirl of all the other things to think about, we lost sight of the simple fact that an innocent victim had been grievously sinned against and was in need of constant care. One of the moms reflected to me later and said for us this was 24/7.
We should have followed up more and over a longer period of time. We failed to surround the victims and their families with care. Failed to SURROUND them. Our instincts were to keep the circle of those who knew about this small. We weren’t trying to cover anything up, but we did want to protect the identity of the victim.
Sadly, this left the victim’s parents without the support system they needed at the time when they most needed it. We should have made sure more people knew and knew quickly. Both people in their care group where they needed to be able to work these things through and close trusted friends as well. Many more people were needed to be in place to extend care to the victim’s family. We failed.
These were situations where the family of the victim and the family of the perpetrator were friends. There were pre-existing, close relationships. As they’re trying to sort these things through, when relational conflicts arose between the victim’s family and the perpetrator’s family, we unwisely used a Peacemaker model for conflict resolution. This resulted, put them on an equal plane – get the log out of your eye, get the log out of your eye, go for the speck, go for the speck – this resulted in the victim’s family being corrected when they should have been gently cared for as sufferers.
Oh, I’m so sad. We allowed that to happen and led and participated in that way. I did that. Our aversion to therapeutic thinking kept us from language and people and resources that would have helped these families and that would have helped us help these families. We didn’t give hurting people room to air their emotions.
How in the world is somebody whose child has just been cruelly sexually abused gonna process that flawlessly? Of course, it’s gonna be raw. But instead of giving them the room to work things through, we corrected them, and they expressed themselves in ways that we deemed incorrect. I’m so sorry. We were proud. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We were ignorant.
The hurts from these sins, the effect of sexual abuse of a child runs deeper and lasts longer than any of us could have imagined. We’ve been accused of not getting it. Guilty as charged. We didn’t get it. I’m so sorry. (Long tearful pause)
These aren’t just stories or statistics; these are people. As an elder and the senior pastor, I had opportunities to bring mercy and grace, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort the suffering. I was trying. I was attempting to be helpful, but it pains me to see how often in retrospect I wasn’t. I deeply regret my impatience, self-righteousness, pride, hardheartedness. These things compounded their suffering instead of easing it.
We’ve reached out to Noel, to Wallace, their spouses and families. It pains me to say, it grieves me to say, that our attempts to be reconciled to them have not proven successful so far. Please pray that this might happen.
Now for some of you, this may hit home because you may feel that you too have been hurt or mistreated by your pastors here. If that’s the case, sorry. And we want to humble ourselves, and we want to make things right.
If you don’t feel safe talking to us, please bring a friend, write a note, reach out to us in some way. We really want to hear from you. We want to listen to you. We want to learn from you. We don’t want to correct you. We want to discover where we’ve hurt you, where we’ve sinned against you and seek your forgiveness so we can change.
We deeply regret our failures with these families. We deeply regret the pain that we have caused, but we do thank God that we have a risen Savior in heaven. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. By God’s grace we commit ourselves to learning, growing, and changing so that no parent ever has this experience in this church again.
We can’t agree with everything that’s written about us on the blogs, but we’ve tried to go to school on what we can agree with. We want our children to be safe. We want children who are hurt, victimized, and abused to be well cared for and their families as well. We’ve tried to learn from our mistakes. We’ve tried to learn from these experiences and to make substantive changes in response.”
Earlier this week a former SGM pastor speculated over at SGM Survivors that Mark Mullery did not contact Noel and Wallace prior to the Family Meeting to let them know he would be discussing their stories and issuing a confession. Here is his comment. (link)
Rom828 (comment #211) July 27th, 2011 at 10:46 pm
"All this is quite overwhelming to someone new like myself. I entered like most sharing my two cents worth on arrival but really it takes time to absorb all that is said, felt and expressed on this site. Hard to keep up with which testimony is whose. So I am sitting back, listening, reading and learning what I can. One thought on Mark Mullery… if I am an SGM pastor (which I was) I would at least call the people I would be talking about in the meeting (hopefully he did but it does not sound like it) expressing that I would be following up with them on this. I would say please take what we will say as a teeny attempt at expressing our horror, sadness and regret for all that transpired. Please let’s get together and talk so that the pastors involved can adequately confess our sin to you and then more clearly and definitively confess our sin before the church. Just my thought… hopefully this happened… we’ll see. As someone mentioned… I would not want to hear from friends or mp3 or video what was said about me to a congregation by a pastor without hearing from him first."
Then yesterday morning Wallace’s wife, whose moniker is “happymom”, confirmed Rom828's theory in a comment on the Survivors blog (same link as Rom828’s): happymom (comment #245) July 28th, 2011 at 6:48 am
"Something I find interesting. Fairfax posted their response to the SGM issues on their Facebook account. July 10, 2011, Mark refers to us as “voices on the internet…speaking to the issues and OUR CHURCH IN PARTICULAR.” If not Noel, Grizzly, Wallace and myself, who else could he be referencing, since we have been the ones seeking to expose how they handle abuse? So how did he transition from labeling us as “voices” to the group of people he is now tearful over in front of his church? Why were we not informed of this sudden acknowledgment of wrongdoing? (emphasis mine) Their final summary letter to us dated September 30, 2010, clearly lays out that we were wrong and pastor lg is right. Are they now willing to hear our questions and allow pastor lg to answer them? This is not a family issue if the staff continues to ignore our challenges to lg’s apologies and cover him. I am appalled that pastor lg mentioned child b’s name when the behavior and abandonment of him and his family have caused as much emotional pain and suffering as the incident itself."
At the Fairfax Family Meeting, two other pastors (Vince and Lou) addressed the congregation. Lou is HappyMom's brother-in-law. Yes, the uncle of Wallace and HappyMom's children confessed that he sinned against his own flesh and blood by not comforting them in their time of tremendous need. You can hear Lou's apology in the audio link above.
I am continuing to follow the comments over at SGM Survivors, and last night Noel posted her initial response to Mark Mullery’s confession. She shares that she "cried as Mark confessed to the church and was so encouraged that he was finally trying to do something right."
However, the remarks made by Vince and Lou upset her terribly. Based on her candid reaction, it appears Vince and Lou spoke in such generalities that they misled the congregation about what really happened. She concludes her reaction with these words:
"Tell the truth about who tried to reconcile……tell the truth about why these families are not reconciled. Stop with the "damage control" already! Tell the truth." Sadly, it appears there is much more work that needs to be done before any kind of reconciliation can take place between the SGM Fairfax pastors and these victimized families. May God's will be done in this tragic situation.
Lydia’s Corner: 1 Kings 5:1-6:38 Acts 7:1-29 Psalm 127:1-5 Proverbs 16:28-30