There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. Willa Cather
Storm Clouds over Brent Hill-UK -Adrian Platt-Creative Commons
Today we begin with a story from a former member of SGM. This story is one which corroborates Noelle's story link. Some of the stories in this series will be from the grown up child victims, others will be from family members. Some will be new stories. Others will be from those whose stories have been told but will be retold from a different perspective. Some will be deeply disturbing. Others, like this one, will provide needed insights into a formerly tightly controlled group.
Why is TWW publishing these stories?
First and foremost, this blog is dedicated to defending and helping the victims of any sort of abuse on the part of churches. Many of these victims have felt marginalized by Christians. Some have been told, by church leaders, not to tell anyone what happened. Consequently, they have felt alone and rejected. We want to provide a forum in which victims will be believed and comforted.
How do we know the stories are true?
Some of the perpetrators have been tried and convicted. That is a matter of public court records. In other situations, the stories had a ring of authenticity to them. Long before we started this blog, Deb and I would spend hours discussing the stories that we read on the SGM Survivor and SGM Refuge blogs. Combined with other blogs, which also discussed horrific stories of church abuse, we decided that these stories shared similar elements that, in the big picture, gave credence to the accounts.
I had a discussion with Fendrel on this blog. He asked for evidence for my contention that Jesus is the Son of God. I presented evidence of the testimony of the disciples along with their willingness to go to their deaths, vigorously defending their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Fendrel challenged me, saying the evidence that I presented was weak.
I told him that I disagreed with his contention and referred him to the example of our trial system. Take the OJ Simpson case. Evidence was presented and the jury decided to acquit. I may disagree with their conclusions but I do respect that they assessed the evidence of his involvement and found it lacking. If I had been present, I might have hung the jury. Two people might view the evidence and come out with opposite opinions. In other words, Fendrel can disagree with my interpretation of the evidence but I have a right to interpret what I see from my view "in the cheap seats."
Deb and I were confronted with a pedophile situation in a former church. We wanted to know if we were allowed to present our view of the issue. Thankfully, SNAP (Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests) put us in touch with Jeff Anderson, the internationally renowned attorney who has been involved in the lawsuits against the pedophile priests in the Catholic church. He gave us a great piece of advice. He said we are allowed to say what we believe to be true but that we must never knowingly make up a story. So, we may choose to believe the story of a victim and disbelieve a pastor's story but we cannot make up a story, let's say, that said pastor is a transvestite.
Don't you trust church leaders?
No more than we would trust any member of a church. All are sinners. When trust must be demanded, something is amiss. Trust is earned.
Do you know the victims?
Deb and I have had phone conversations with the victims and their families and more will be forthcoming. We met with one mother in the restaurant of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. We will be making a trip to Virginia in the near future to meet with other families. We also know the identities of those who publish under the pseudonyms but hold those in confidence.
Shouldn't the presumptive leaders of the Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, etc. intervene?
Color me stunned. Not only do they not intervene, they continue to push the books of CJ Mahaney and other leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries, seemingly in the face of the revelations. Not one of them has expressed any concern for the victims. They appear to be unimportant to the bigwigs. These men are invited to conferences and are held up as role models. Al Mohler even told the Louisville Courier Journal here that the allegations against Mahaney, when he stepped down a 1 1/2 years ago, were merely those of people who do not like strong leadership. Does that sound like something Jesus would say?
Certain Christian leaders claim they are concerned about pedophilia and domestic violence but, when push comes to shove, the victims get the "shove" out the door while the pastors (especially the designated "cool" leaders) are "pushed" by the very leaders who say they are "against" violence and abuse. (Day 67 of silence, by the way). Pedophilia is bad unless it happens in a friend's church then it must be studiously ignored. After all, the conferences, book endorsements and donations must go on.
Deb and I had a unique opportunity when a pastor, closely connected with one of these national groups, contacted us to correct our perspective on his ministry. We knew that he was friendly with the leaders of SGM. So, we took a chance and begged him to talk with the leaders of SGM about the stories told on SGM Survivors. We said that there were so many stories with common elements in them that there must be some truth to them.
Was he concerned? Yep-about us! He accused us of "character assassination." This was a few months before Mahaney stepped down. I wonder what he thinks when he sees the Detweiler papers, the involvement of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, the churches who are leaving SGM and the lawsuit? How can these leaders ignore so many stories over so long a period? Shame on all of those who have coddled the leaders and ignored the pain of the people. Do they not remember that Jesus hung around the little guy and had harsh words to say about the Pharisees?
Are we part of a vast conspiracy to "take down" SGM?
We believe these stories that we post have a ring of authenticity to them. Time will tell. Could these stories really be a vast conspiracy against the leadership of SGM? We doubt it. Dee hates conspiracy theories. Are we part of a conspiracy? I talk too much to keep any conspiracy quiet. Everyone will get their day in court, including the leaders. One thing is certain. The SGM entity will have to face the court of public opinion. The door and windows of this ministry are being flung wide open and the pain is being exposed. We predict that this will be the major religious story of 2013
If any pastor from SGM wishes to publicly refute any information contained in these stories, they are welcome to contact us. We would be happy to publish their rebuttal, just as we allowed Chuck O'Neal to comment on this blog prior to his defrocking.
The sad part of all of this is that it could have been prevented. If only the author of the book on humility had applied his own principles, this could have gone away. But, in SGM land, I guess that love means never, ever, ever having to say you're sorry.
A Story That Might Be Worth Telling…
This is a story that might be worth telling. In any case, it is my story. It doesn’t contain a dramatic climax that will make people gasp, as Noel’s story does. And I think it will leave me a marginally sympathetic and somewhat morally ambiguous character for some (myself perhaps included) not to mention throwing harsh light on some impressive stupidity.
My favorite character in the Bible has been Joseph for a long time. I love his story because it takes such sudden turns – like a fairy tale – and because at the beginning he was a gifted kid and a major doofus. In the late 80’s I was a happy Christian wife and mother (there were issues – more to come on that.) I had two little girls and I lived in a very secure community – the military. I was part of a close-knit independent and charismatic church (that met, by the way, in a converted Sears warehouse across from a K-Mart strip mall.) My older child attended school at the church and my younger went to preschool at a church across town. I worked part-time at the school as a tutor. At Halloween I took my kids to a Harvest Festival at the church and put a poster on my door with a Bible verse and a brief explanation of why we didn’t celebrate it. At Easter I participated in a Passion Play. My greatest challenge was perhaps that their father (and this was in peacetime) was deployed much of the time. I once calculated that he was gone almost three years of my baby’s first five. But, as I said, I was happy.
My children’s father completed his deployment cycle and had the opportunity for a sweetheart assignment as a college professor in our home state. It was lovely to go home and be close to family; but I was very lonely and homesick for my church and for our little military town where I had lived for 10 years and had my babies. The owner of the local Christian bookstore had known my name and had given me books to read and review.
As I said, it was a sweetheart assignment and you might have thought that my children’s father would be happy (although that was never something he was good at.) But he wasn’t. He was very unhappy. I was really worried about him. I don’t really remember that part very clearly now, but I’m sure I must have done everything I could think of to make things easier for him and to cheer him up. Because that’s what I had always done. I couldn’t fix this. A few months after our move we were planning to be with my family a couple of hours away for Thanksgiving. He told me to go without him. We had missed a lot of holidays together and had certainly not always been able to be with family but this was the first time one of us had chosen to stay home alone. I took my girls and went. I tried to enjoy myself, but my dear mother told me later that I looked so sad she didn’t want to look at my face. On the trip back I was terribly anxious about him – this was before cell phones, of course. I pictured him hanging – a suicide. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody that. He wasn’t. He was at home. He was ready to talk about what was wrong. “It’s you. I don’t love you anymore.” We had been married almost 13 years.
By Christmas he had decided that he was going to move out; although he still wanted to spend time together as a family and do our Christmas shopping together. I was able, by the grace of God through a book He sent my way (Love Must be Tough by James Dobson) to let him leave without clinging. He didn’t want our families to know and so I agreed not to tell them that we were separated. He didn’t do any visitation with the children (that I recall) but we saw him on Sundays at the little Episcopal Church we attended together. We did try counseling, by the way, with our priest and with a professional he recommended. His parents lived the closest – within about 30 minutes, actually, but we didn’t see them often and they never came to our home, so it wasn’t difficult to keep the separation quiet. But early that spring his mother called and said that she wanted to take the girls to the circus. Well, she wasn’t going to spend an entire evening with my girls without them mentioning that Daddy had his own apartment. He came home so that his parents wouldn’t know he had left. And we didn’t deal with any of the issues.
Here comes the (first) part where I might be a morally ambiguous and marginally sympathetic character. During this time I had become very active in the little Episcopal Church, although it was never home like my previous church had been. Because it was very small, this meant that I spent lots of time with the priest. I fell in love with him. He said he loved me, too. And it’s important to say that when I am in love –with a marriage, with a church, with a man, with a hobby (and I’m not suggesting these are equivalent) I fall in love all the way. All the way. In particular, I had always experienced very passionate infatuations. But I also had a very strict upbringing that I had thoroughly embraced, so that my high libido and my feckless passions gave me great pain. It’s all many years ago and the priest was then a few years younger than I am now. I think I understand somewhat where he was coming from; though I was angrier with him than I have ever been with anyone for many months. He was, of course, flattered by all this attention from a younger woman who was much prettier and more winning than I gave myself credit for at the time. He was also married with a young son and had no intention of screwing up his life and his career. When my children’s father questioned our relationship he shut it down and pretty much denied that it had ever existed. All the panic, desperation, and clinging that I had managed to avoid when my children’s father left us I dived into then. And I left the church. This wasn’t the first time this kind of thing had cropped up in our marriage, although I had never been actively unfaithful (I had also never said no to him sexually — never.) Morally ambiguous and marginally sympathetic.
We were coming to the end of the college duty and my children’s father would be returning to a military base in northern Virginia that summer. I was finishing graduate school with a teaching degree and starting to look for a job. He told me that he didn’t want us to come when he moved. He didn’t know whether he was going to divorce me or not, but he didn’t plan to live with us, at least for the summer. But when the summer was over the children had to start school somewhere and I needed to be working somewhere. I decided to move to northern Virginia, put the children in school, find a job, and give our marriage the best chance for reconciliation. I wasn’t just going to disappear.
That was in 1991. That’s how my ambiguous, second, and much longer marital separation began and how I ended up in a PDI church. I was blessed with a friend who shared both the military connection (we were stationed together several times) and the church connection, and she invited/directed me to then Fairfax Covenant Church (“FCC”). I wanted a community and I wanted my girls to have a community. And I wanted to be with people who would support my faith for reconciliation in my marriage. And I was broken. My girls, especially the older one, then 11, were broken as well.
I’m going to finish the story of my first marriage here, because I want to continue with the story of my second bad marriage, which is how I think of my time (11 years) at Fairfax Covenant Church. After 6 years of the ambiguous separation my children’s father was retiring from the military. He finalized our divorce (financially pretty unfavorable to me – my goal had always been to reconcile.) We had been married 22 years and I had been celibate through the entire separation (and remain so at this writing.) Shortly after that he announced that he was getting married and wanted the children to meet his fiancée. And shortly after that I found out they had been having an affair and/or living together since just after he came home from the first separation. She was his high school girlfriend and I had actually met her years before. (I was his college girlfriend.) OK.
The best thing about FCC was always my home group, which was like family. My girls and I settled in Prince William County (mostly because we had been stationed at Quantico and the area was familiar.) There were some changes over the years – leaders came and went and the group split and reunited a couple of times. But there was a core group that was together for years. Those people saw my children grow up and helped me move at least four times. At least twice they arranged rides to Celebration for us so that I wouldn’t be on the road with my unreliable car. They prayed for me and kept my children in the summer when I left teaching and started working year round.
I was (until a marriage in the home group came apart) the only single most of the time; although a few other single women and even a couple of guys came and went. The weekly home group meeting was the tent peg of our week for years. We had a lot of fun together. And when leadership changes were made in the home group or a split occurred I was always left with the leaders to whom I was closest. I wasn’t able to homeschool my children (who were older than most of the kids as I was older than most of the parents) and I was working during the day when the other ladies were freer to socialize, so I remained somewhat isolated but I felt accepted. That remained true until almost the very end. I loved my home group.
And I loved our sphere pastor and his wife. They were just special. I know now that the pastor failed Noel and her family very badly (to put it quite mildly) when things were coming apart. But I loved them. In fact, I fell in love with him – a gentle man with an amazing sense of humor and very, very much in love with his wife. That went on for years and caused me enormous pain. It was known by my home group leaders and others who helped me but the pastor and his wife never knew.
My dear mother also said, over these years, that my life was really three things: my growing children, the church, and my work. My work. That’s a factor that I haven’t seen addressed in the stories I’ve read on the blogs; but for me it was a major factor in my eventual disillusionment with this church – a major element of my bad marriage. There were two reasons for this; one an aspect of the FCC/PDI culture that I didn’t really become aware of or question until later and the other – more on that to come. Much has been written about the culture as regards marriage, child-rearing, courtship, home-schooling, big families, traditional gender roles. But I haven’t seen much about paid work as a necessary part of many women’s lives. I was unusual, I think, and unusually blessed, as I see it now.
As I mentioned above, my divorce settlement was much less favorable to me that it would have been if I had made that a goal. I would have worked in any case, I think. Except for a few years when my girls were babies, I’ve worked since I was 15 years old. But I also had to. A more traditional way for a single mom to survive was to live with her children in someone’s basement – a married couple, of course! No two situations were alike, but this usually meant that the single mom was under the husband’s authority to some degree, as were her children. I’m sure that this was God’s provision for some women, but it was never really an option for me, at least, I never asked and no one asked me. I think there was probably a reluctance to expose children to my public-schooled (and therefore questionable) and beautiful daughters. They are both now wonderful women and mothers, by the way.
But what I realized toward the end of my time at FCC was that there was NO support for a woman trying to be faithful to God in the secular workplace. None. I don’t think there was much for men, either, but for women there was just none. A woman working full-time by choice (especially in secular business) just did not fit the mold and was best ignored. A young woman working until she got married was acceptable, although there was definitely a tacit understanding that she should be working in some kind of Christian ministry if at all possible. I worked four years as a teacher in Fairfax County schools. When I was laid off, I took an entry level office job because I couldn’t afford not to work. I was made a manager after only a few months and in fact, was offered big promotions twice that I turned down because it would have meant moving to Boston. (I didn’t particularly want to move farther north, but more than that I didn’t want to uproot my children.) Also, of course, when I sought counsel about this, I was reminded that there wasn’t a PDI church in Boston.
About two years into that job, I got a call from a former home group leader. He owned (still owns, I think) a business that was then about two degrees away from being a subsidiary of Fairfax Covenant Church and PDI –a small, media-related business that did audio and video production and duplication work for Christian and conservative groups. As far as I know, with maybe one exception (and that didn’t work out) every employee was part of FCC. If you have any familiarity with FCC during the 90’s (probably still, but I left in 2002) you can probably figure out what business I am speaking of. Anyway, former HGL (“D”) asked me to leave my current job and come to work for him as his Office Manager. This is very important to the part of my story that follows, because D was very given to mercy hires. When people in his home group were out of work he would give them jobs whether or not they were actually qualified.
I was an exception – he asked me to leave a job and come to work for him and it set the dynamic of the relationship. Also, he was not my HGL during the time I worked for him. Looking back, it strikes me as an example of God’s sense of humor. D said that he and his wife had been praying about a replacement for the current Office Manager, who was leaving. God gave them my name. And although I think he would still sincerely praise my administrative abilities – I am good at my work– I gave him so much grief. He was used to being the unquestioned Boss in every area of his life – a Home Group Leader, a business owner, husband to a geisha wife and authoritative father. He had only ever had a boss in the traditional sense for a couple of years. He is also almost exactly my age, although he generally hired younger people.
This meant that I thought he ought to be walking the talk in his business AND that I was uncomfortable with business practices that seemed substandard – or even illegal. I knew that he asked questions in job interviews about marital status, family plans, church affiliations (when he didn’t already know all this because the person was part of FCC.) And women were paid less than men for very similar work, although of course the titles were different. And I saw him stiff little guy “Christian” vendors while making major purchases many, many times. While preaching that accumulating credit card debt should be avoided; he ran up huge credit card bills that the business paid. As far as I could tell he was a favorite of the pastoral staff and was never addressed about these issues.
I learned a lot for which I am now grateful during those years. I did work I love – administration – under very adverse conditions. And of course, what you learn to do under adverse conditions you can do quickly and easily under more favorable ones. That experience stood me in good stead over the next many years as I worked in demanding (“secular”) businesses as an administrator. I left that job about a year before I left FCC.
Meanwhile, in the home group I loved so there was a shunning. A gifted, brilliant, loving father of several children was also severely bipolar. No question there was a lot of bizarre behavior – he made me very uncomfortable. And he was married to an angel — ethereally beautiful with a soft voice, huge blue eyes, and a carefully cultivated air of fragility and innocence. No one believed him when he tried to share what she had done – we all wanted him to be the bad guy. So (directed by the HGL) we shunned him. Sometime later he committed suicide; although we were told not to call it that.
And then one night a dear home group friend (A) left a very distressed message on my answering machine. I didn’t call her back; I just went to her home. That night she told me that her teenage son had “been inappropriate” with Noel’s baby daughter. Her brother was also there and by her answers to his pointed questions I learned that “inappropriate” meant penetration—rape. I also learned that her very bright son was perfectly well-aware that he “could go to jail.” By the time I got there she had called the pastors. They were all preparing to leave in the next day or so for a Pastor’s Conference in Virginia Beach and (it took years for this to sink in as very strange) apparently didn’t think that one of them should stay back to help deal with this tragedy. This was after Benny Phillips had stepped down and before Mark Mullery arrived so Dave Hinders was acting Senior Pastor. The next day Dave Hinders called me at work to ask me to be responsible for ministering to A. Yes, you read that right, a single woman. I was happy to say yes. That same day Noel and her husband were called to the church and told what A’s son had confessed. They were also told that I knew. (And, I believe, told not to tell anyone else.)
I can’t describe how difficult the next few weeks/months were for me. (It wasn’t about me, of course, but this is my story.) Noel and A were my two best friends and both needed me. And I needed them. I didn’t think the story was mine to share so I didn’t tell anyone else. My beloved pastor talked to me about it early but shortly after said that he couldn’t discuss it. One Sunday morning another friend asked how I was and I said, “Things are difficult in Prince William County.” By Monday I received a call on Dave Hinders’ behalf demanding to know how I knew about the situation, accusing me of gossiping, and telling me not to mention it again so that I wouldn’t find myself in court.
The ensuing months/years have been described by Noel. I’ll just add that over that time there were more and more revelations about how deeply the problem of child molestation ran in A’s family. More situations in her extended family were covered up and more perps were protected by PDI from the consequences of their actions. Also, over time, the home group I loved was allowed to disintegrate and disappear by the FCC pastors.
What finally compelled me to follow my conscience out of FCC/SGCF/PDI/SGM?
Increasingly, I sat during messages thinking “What the heck does any of this have to do with Jesus?” or even “What a load of crap.” When the home group was shut down and I got a call to ask what group I would be attending (I hadn’t been invited) I said I needed some time. Just a few weeks later I got a form letter from Dave Hinders telling me that home group attendance was mandatory and I would be dropped from membership.
In a discussion about my imminent empty nest, another friend told me to “Think outside the box.” She said that I should spend my time being a mommy’s helper for the young mothers in the church.
My beloved pastor stepped down and my oldest friends in FCC left on a church plant.
I attended a single’s conference and listened to a condescending lecture by a twenty-something pastor about how in heaven we’ll all be single so stop whining and serve in children’s ministry.
I was serving in children’s ministry and in several other ministries so I picked the first Sunday of a month (May, as I recall) when I had no commitments to say good-bye to certain people. I walked out the door and I’ve never been back. Not even for the wedding of my oldest friends’ daughter.
And for the denouement of “my” story. About four years ago, I reconnected with my oldest friend. By that time, she had also left PDI/SGM. We got together with my oldest daughter and hers. In the far-reaching conversation we shared that day, her daughter told us about the SGM Survivors website. I visited it and told Noel about it. Noel visited it and shared her story. Through the website she connected with other families who had been victims of child molestation and pastoral abuse/botched handling. As a result of their shared passion for justice and desire to protect other children they decided to file the lawsuit. And I believe along with many that it will be used by God to bring down the corrupt structure that is SGM and to rock today’s corrupt evangelical church to its foundations for his glory and our good.
I’m so thankful that God has woven the silly, sad, painful, and oddball threads of my story into a larger story for his glory. Just like Joseph, my favorite.
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 19:1-20:29 Luke 1:1-25 Psalm 56:1-13 Proverbs 11:8