They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace.
Jeremiah 6:14 NKJV
Earth-The Blue Marble-NASA
Deb and I are both excited and grateful to have Cynthia Kunsman write a post for TWW. We have long been admirers of Kunsman's blog. Here is proof. Not only do we link to her excellent blog, we wrote about her when this blog was in it's infancy in a post called, The Patriarchs Are Coming. LINK Back then, we did not know her. Can you imagine our excitement when she began to visit our blog and commenting here? We asked her if she would be willing to do a guest post for us and she graciously obliged.
At first glance, the Peacemaker Ministries (PM) model of conflict resolution seems virtuous, blessed, and benign. What Christian would resist the urging of Jesus to emulate the Beatitudes? Who would not want to pursue peace with a fellow believer? But closer examination of the foundational principles and practices of PM should give all Christians ample reason for concern. And though many have enjoyed a favorable experience through the use of the PM process of conflict resolution, this does not negate what many orthodox, conservative, traditional Evangelical Christians consider to be problematic. To some degree, even Sovereign Grace Ministries' (SGM) pastor Mark Mullery recently admitted to the limitations of the PM process by stating his church “unwisely used a Peacemaker model for conflict resolution” when finally addressing the harm, neglect, and abuse suffered by his parishioners in his Fairfax, Virgina SGM congregation LINK and Transcript LINK
Mullery's July 2011 statement addresses events that took place several years ago and follow a more recent and allegedly unrelated eruption of controversy within SGM. LINK Early in 2009, a member of Mullery's church came forward online to tell of their painful experience of how the church and denomination revictimized them LINK after their child was sexually abused by a church member. LINK Ken Sande, founder and president of Peacemaker Ministries, contacted the family personally (parents “Noel” and “Wallace”) to allegedly seek “peace” between their family and SGM. Sande also contacted the host of the SGM Survivors website (where the family’s personal account appeared online) in order to discuss “peace” through PM's interpretation of Matthew 18. “Kris,” the host of that website, declined to participate because she deemed the PM model and the use of Matthew 18 to be inappropriate for her situation. She also cites the obvious and gross conflict of interest presented by the longstanding personal relationship between CJ Mahaney of SGM and Mr. Sande.
In her online open letter to Mr. Sande in response, Kris presents an excellent summary of the primary concerns regarding the prototypical example of Noel's experience with SGM. LINKThe nature of Noel's situation demonstrates problems that PM intervention would likely exacerbate, merely serving the desires of SGM at the expense of the needs and basic rights of SGM members. Kris describes her perception of SGM's “deep-seated distrust” of and sense of superiority over any outside agents (e.g., mental health professionals and law enforcement), SGM’s desire to maintain a positive public image at all costs, their pattern of redirecting any problem back onto members as “sin issues” and lack of “submission” to their unquestionable authorities, and the tendency of SGM leadership to use humility as a cloak of justification to alleviate themselves of responsibility when grievances occur.
Much ongoing discussion exists among Protestants about the proper exegesis and application of the principles found in Matthew 18:15-17 as a formula that can be applied beyond the germane intent of the passage. This definitely factors into the manner in which PM approaches such conflict. LINK (The discussion of the interpretation and application of Matthew 18 concerning offenses among Christians poses a related universe of discussion of its own. LINK ) In addition to these specific matters concerning SGM, the fact that Sande and PM apparently receive fiduciary benefit from the relationship with SGM adds to the existing conflict of interest of the personal relationship Sande shares with Mahaney. But what of the more obvious foundational problems within the PM paradigm concerning conflicts among Christians?
Is it appropriate to involve attorneys in matters concerning church life?
When I looked at the PM website for the first time a couple of years ago, I had a great deal of difficulty finding Mr. Sande's specific credentials. He presented himself to Kris as a neutral party (not as an attorney) who was interested in resolving conflict and promoting “peace." The PM website does not specifically state that Sande is an attorney, but it does state that their group also provide services of legally binding arbitration with mediation as a preliminary course of action as is necessary. LINK
After much searching, I finally learned that Sande was both an engineer and an attorney – not by reading the website, but through an article in Christianity Today. I found the lack of full disclosure on Sande's part which would allow for true informed consent to be a bit disturbing from the perspective of a layperson.
Signing of Covenants
PM recommends that churches require members to sign Covenants when they join, a practice that was very popular among the participants of Shepherding and Discipleship during the 1970s, prior to the disbanding of most formal groups who followed the practice. In several documents including the longer document entitled “Relational Commitments,” PM offers a sample covenant that can be tailored to an individual church's needs, “to promote peace, preserve relationships, reduce a church’s exposure to legal liability, and ultimately to improve a church’s ability to model and proclaim the gospel of Christ.” LINK Why would a verbal commitment to Christian conduct be considered insufficient?
Should a church be concerned with having a new member sign a statement that reduces the church's exposure to legal liability, and shouldn't such a request be a red flag to a new member at the beginning of their relationship with a new church? As a layperson, would the knowledge that a group of attorneys crafted the church membership document that you were about to sign give you some pause? I suppose that it depends on your perception and what you see as the role of the local church in the life of a Believer. Manipulators often use such commitments against their targets to get people to make stubborn commitment to some course of action that eventually causes them to act against their own best interests. LINKThis was very true of the Shepherding/Discipleship movement of which Sovereign Grace Ministries was a part in its former incarnation as the spiritually abusive “People of Destiny.” LINK (Would that fact also give you pause if asked to sign a Church Covenant by SGM?)
Ambiguous definition of the term “forgiveness”
In Chapter 10 of Ken Sande’s book “The Peacemaker,” Sande does present a definition of aphiemi, the NT Greek word for “forgive” (to remit or release). However, he chooses to blend the definition of the word forgiveness with that of “reconciliation” and argues that Christians are not only required to release others from their debts, they are also required to reconcile. In the context of the culture and the original language of the New Testament, the word forgiveness was a term that was usually applied to money. If someone owes you money and does not pay it, you have the right to go to them to demand the debt from them. If you forgive them, you waive your rights to collect on the debt. LINK
Reconciliation is a different NT Greek word altogether, katallage. This is also a term used to describe financial transactions, and it is very different from simply forgiving a debt. Reconciliation is a reckoning and agreement that the parties make that essentially wipes away all history of the debt. You reconcile the books and start new ones. LINK
Consider that you go to market and pay $1 for a pound of meal. You get home, and you realize that you’ve only been given half of a pound. It is your right to go back to that vendor to demand that they either give some money back or give you a half pound of meal. When you forgive that debt, you agree to not demand anything of that vendor. You just let it go.
When you go back to the vendor again, what happens if they repeat this error and fail to take responsibility for their error? You may again decide that you will forgive the vendor, releasing your right to go back to demand justice. But consider that when you need more meal, are you going to go back to this same vendor to do business, or are you going to take your business somewhere else? Would it be wise to give place to strife, knowing that you will likely be cheated again and again?
If you were wronged and decided to reconcile with this vendor (above and beyond forgiveness of debt), that is a decision to forget that any wrong was ever done, and you affirm them as a legitimate party who has done right by you. You agree contractually to go do business with them, behaving as though they’d never cheated you before. That is quite different than forgiving a debt.
Paul did not declare the Gospel of Forgiveness to us in 2 Corinthians 5. He declared the Gospel of Reconciliation to us, a far more powerful act. Forgiveness means that we don’t have to pay the debt we owe to God. Reconciliation means that Jesus not only pays our debt, He declares us righteous before God, and then He goes to prison for us, too. We get His righteousness and He gets our sin, and then by the power of His Blood, He wipes those sins completely off the books. That is far more than just forgiving a debt but is atonement, expiation, and a complete extinguishing of the wrong.
God requires us to forgive our enemies, but He does not require us to reconcile if there is no contrition. PM merges forgiveness with reconciliation, describing “forgiveness as a decision to make four promises”: LINK
1. I will not dwell on this incident.
2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
Points 1 & 2 are essential for true forgiveness; however points 3 & 4 which define reconciliation and are not required for forgiveness alone. Point 4 also suggests and infers that pragmatic considerations, e.g., avoiding someone who assaulted you, though you may have forgiven them in earnest, should not be considered as separate from personal considerations. The personal accounts of families of molested children demonstrates that SGM interpreted such pragmatic concerns as personal ones, requiring families to allow their children and other children to mingle with their abusers as a demonstration of forgiveness.
If your child was molested, you can forgive the offender, but is it right to never speak about the incident with others or to be required to have intimate contact or unhindered contact with the offender? Sometimes peace is maintained by avoidance, a measure that resists the development of strife. Should your child be forbidden to work through the long lasting and profound effects that the incident created for them through discussion? Should they be forbidden to take measures in the interests of their own safety through forced social interaction with their abuser? That’s appropriate? It is if you’ve been following shepherding and were raised to believe that this is proper conduct and what the Bible demands of a Christian.
Promotion of an Inequitable Balance of Power
In the event of a conflict between church leaders and a 'rank and file' parishioner, the previously stated concern over the church's interest in “reducing exposure to legal liability” suggests if not predicates an inequitable balance of power. The parishioner has already agreed to relinquish some rights and privileges which might allow them legal recourse in the event of legitimate mistreatment. LINK
More specifically, parishioners are required to sign a commitment to church discipline and submission to church leadership in their Covenant when they join and again when they agree to use the conflict resolution services of PM. In an ideal situation when leadership is well qualified and legitimate, this system should work well; but not all situations are ideal, particularly the volatile ones. What if your leader is corrupt or has repeatedly refused to deal with your situation appropriately? What if they are lacking in true moral character and the PM mediator does not recognize your concerns?
If a pastor or a favored member of a congregation spiritually abuses another member, that leader already holds an upper hand over the abused member. Without any kind of pre-existing formal commitment to submit to authority, it is quite easy for the leadership to exploit their position to get what they want and to cover their errors. How more powerful do they become if the member is also asked to sign a formal commitment which guarantees their submission to their church authority? Does that balance power to provide the opportunity for the member to find justice, or does it stack the power against them? Does not the benefit of the doubt formally and informally then fall to the church leadership?
If you're a member of SGM who must present disturbing and unpleasant problems that leadership would rather ignore, do you believe that Ken Sande (the attorney) can be fair, considering that he gets paid by Mahaney, derives business from Mahaney, and is personal friends with Mahaney, and that Mahaney has been very satisfied with the PM system for many years?
Commitment to accept PM's paradigm, principles, and decisions
Complexity of the Paradigm
It is certainly important to commit to resolve conflict amicably, especially among Christians who are in disagreement; however, just a cursory review of the myriad of documents and statements and principles on the PM website alone is quite overwhelming. Imagine the burden of a layperson who must review such information while under the duress resulting from a personal conflict with your church. The purpose of the group involves resolution of conflict to avoid legal recourse but with legal recourse as a tool that the mediators take into consideration from the beginning of their intervention. Given all of the documents and books and other materials, should a layperson employ their own attorney to help them? Must you hire a lawyer to review the membership covenant document before you join the church as well?
Control of Milieu and Criticism
One of the foundational principles of the PM model that can be found in “The Four Promises of Forgiveness” states that those involved in PM intervention will never talk to others about the incident. LINK The paradigm deems discussion of such matters to be gossip and against Christian principle when discussion of certain matters may actually be highly appropriate.
I know a pastor who became so angry at a church member that he picked up a metal chair and hurled it at her (about 5 feet to the side of her), with such force that it broke the chair and damaged the wall. If your child was molested by a teenager who often works for many families in your congregation as a babysitter, should that matter not be discussed among those others who place their children in the care of this teen? Under such circumstances involving a lack of character which disqualifies a church leader from their position or a situation that threatens the safety of lambs, should such matters really be kept private? Should church members be sworn to silence regarding these types of events? Why should there be any need to enlist a paternalistic organization like PM to make those decisions for mature believers?
Declaring others unbelievers to trigger the option to sue
Despite the safeguards of a blanket pledge to uphold PM principles, commitments, and covenants, the PM paradigm does NOT likewise require a blanket commitment to the principle of 1 Corinthians 6 which requires Christians to handle their disagreements outside of the court of the State. In the book “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande, Appendix D lists conditions that Sande believes satisfy a Christian's right to take another Christian to court. Page 282 states that “if your opponent still refuses to cooperate [with church discipline measures], and if these advisors conclude that your opponent is behaving 'as a nonbeliever' and that your action is worth pursing, you may be able to proceed with a lawsuit.” This tactic is well known within Reformed homeschooling circles as a means of keeping controversy quiet and threatening others into compliance through not only legal threats but through archaic and legalistic ecclesial court procedures wherein individuals are deemed nonbelievers and are even discharged from their churches.
How simple would it be for someone in leadership at a church use their influence the church to declare a problematic member a nonbeliever? Is it not ironic that in the early process of negotiations, parties must commit to certain rigid principles and standards of conduct, but in the end, parties are also afforded the option to abandon the proceedings? I've known of several incidences where manipulators used the PM process to not only silence critics, but to also play out the statute of limitations so that it became impossible to pursue legal action when the PM failed to produce reconciliation.
Please also note that the requirement to seek the advisors within the one's church to gain permission to pursue legal action found in Sande's book suggests a Shepherding Discipleship style model of ecclesiocentricity (church-centeredness). Is it necessary for a church member to submit such decisions to church leaders to deem an action “worth pursuing” for permission to follow that course of action? In that case, are these church leaders advisors, or are they paternalistic overseers?
Peacemaker Ministries follows a model which requires all participants to surrender to what is much like what Robert Lifton described as the Sacred Science: neither a leader nor the group’s doctrine can ever be wrong or misguided because PM's model suggests an a priori preference for the authority of leadership over the rights of a member. LINK The group also demands perfection and purity from participants, as well as a willingness to assume blame, even when such blame is inappropriate. LINK and LINK
As Kris of SGM Survivors pointed out in her open letter to Ken Sande, SGM has historically favored the manipulative practices that were and are common within the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement LINK and their overt focus on submission doctrine LINK , factors which the PM model seem to magnify. Any problem suffered by a church member is assumed to be ultimately created by that member who must therefore bear the stigma of failure and sin, usually through some lack of submission or failed compliance with unwritten and unofficial cultural demands and expectations of the church. The initial commitments required by PM puts a heaver weight of value on the virtuous and lofty end of the global mission of the larger church which seems to justify any injustices suffered by the individual member.
One must also understand the shame-based culture of SGM and the grid through which it articulates the PM process. The principles of PM may work within a healthy church that does not capitalize on shame and does not use heavy-handed means of control. One must understand the connotation and the loaded language as it is understood by the member which creates informal double messages and moral imperatives from the “Biblical” language and unique terms used within SGM.
- “Don’t spread discord among the brethren.” (Understood: You’re never allowed to voice legitimate complaints or problems, even if people are grievously sinning and harming one another.)
- “Touch not mine anointed (ministers), and do my prophets no harm.” (Understood: It is a sin to criticize any minister or voice anything remotely problematic concerning them.)
- “The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.” (Understood: Your anointed apostles have a higher connection with God and gifts to minister, permanent offices that are not dependent on their behavior, so it is sinful to do anything which might cause them to be removed from their position.)
Rise to the challenge and compare the practices of both SGM and PM to David Henke's model of Spiritual Abuse. LINK Decide for yourself whether the paradigms employed by both groups correspond to the characteristics of spiritually abusive systems and the behaviors of their leadership. The choice is yours.
- Authoritarian: Over-emphasis on authority, submission, and chain of command and anointed leaders assume the right to command members because of their special identity and their relationship with God
- Image Conscious: Appearances validate members' and the group's specialness to God which creates a sense of elitism within the group
- Suppresses Criticism: Questioning doctrine and leadership are forbidden and punished
- Perfectionistic: Performance and conformity to group expectations and norms is rewarded while noncompliance is punished
- Unbalanced: Group majors on minor doctrines, displacing central and core Christian beliefs which become secondary to the pet doctrines and interests of the group
Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Joshua 24:14-15 ESV
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman, RN, BSN, MMin , ND
(Discussing the phenomenon of
Spiritual Abuse in Evangelical Churches)