“Being used greatly by God almost always comes with making a great mess for God as well.”
Michael Newham/Phoenix Preacher October 4, 2013 on Twitter
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
Later tonight, or early tomorrow, we will be discussing an update in the JD Hall situation. We believe our readers will find this interesting.
In the past two weeks, much has been discussed on the Internet as to what constitutes a real apology. The debate has centered around Mark Driscoll's apologies. Are his apologies truly contrite, truthful or are they perfunctory? Well, our good friend Eagle is going to show all of us what true repentance is all about.There will be no doubt that this is what constitutes a real apology.
I remembers the day that Eagle called her, deeply distressed and broken. I felt sure he would walk away from the faith and I prayed hard. My prayer was answered in a most amazing way. Both Deb and I were truly challenged by the humility expressed by Eagle in his subsequent actions.
We doubt many of you have ever heard anyone going to these lengths to be at peace with all men and women. Dee and Deb walked through this with him, one at a time. He would have us review his emails and letters before they were sent. He wanted them to be just right. He would say, time and time again, "Please pray for me. Please pray that they would accept my apology."
Then, we would look forward to each day as we opened up emails from Eagle and read about the kind responses from a #38, a #42 or a #56. He was excited over each one. So were we. There are some awesome Christians out there. These are Christians who know how to respond to a guy who is seeking reconciliation. Dee and Deb thank you all. You were an answer to our prayers.
But, there was one response that never seemed to come. Eagle would ask us to pray that he would hear from Andrew. Months and months went by. We asked our friends, churches and Bible studies to pray that Andrew would respond. We waited to post Eagle's story because we were waiting for Andrew.
And then there was that day. The subject line in the email said "It's done." I had tears running down my face. Our dear friend Eagle had achieved something that few have attempted.
So, if anyone asks you what true repentance looks like, we offer you Exhibit A.
Eagle's Story – Part 3
The unthinkable happened in early May 2013, and while my faith crisis was bleak, the door opened to the darkest season in my life. I had hit bottom through an ugly and personal betrayal. I can’t put in words how unsettling it became in my life.
Andrew had many options he could have used if he wanted to change or end the relationship. Some of those options included asking a mutual Christian friend to engage in discipline since he once explained to me that I was a Christian, just angry at God. He also could have approached me and just asked me to end the relationship. Another option could have been a request for a temporary break in the relationship. Now Jesus teaches in scripture that if you are not welcome you leave, dust your sandals and move on (Matthew 10:14). I believe that some of the above options would have honored what Jesus taught.
Despite all these alternatives, Andrew used what I would call the “nuclear” option. After visiting California with his Navigator director to whom he is close and speaking at a Christian event, he came back to Washington, D.C. and made a serious false accusation. Overnight my life was turned upside down. In the process he took back all the previous times he claimed to have forgiven me. He was angry that I called Sovereign Grace a cult and that I embarrassed him. And he said he wanted to devote more time to his family, thus having to cut me off.
The false accusation could have harmed my name, reputation, etc… and could have brought great harm into my life. It was horrifying. Andrew did the ugliest thing I have ever seen a Christian do. When I heard what Andrew had alleged, I couldn’t believe this was the same guy who shortly beforehand invited into the privacy of his home, showed me countless pictures of his daughter, and walked me through his wedding album. When Andrew did this, I thought he was just a proud husband and father…who was bragging. Don’t get me wrong, yes, there were mistakes that were made. And I own my part of this mess. But what Andrew alleged was not one of them. From early May I worked at avoiding Andrew White and structured my life in such a way that our paths would not cross.
Dealing with the False Accusation
The betrayal was so traumatic that it sent me into physical shock. I cried, lost my desire to eat, and had a difficult time crawling out of bed. I also struggled with knowing whom I could trust. Later on someone who was a medical professional told me that I was exhibiting classic symptoms of shock. The betrayal was so ugly that I became fearful of contacting other friends. Would James Crestwood or Scott do the same thing? I didn’t know.
And then the most divine thing happened, which could not have occurred sooner. The weekend of May 10-12, 2013, I was sitting on my couch at home dealing with incredible shock. Suddenly, I received a text message from James Crestwood asking me if I was doing anything and that he missed me. That text was a rescue buoy. With that I suddenly reached out to him and explained what had happened. He wanted to get together immediately, and we did.
We talked over the situation; he was stunned and told me he didn't know how he would be able to deal with a similar accusation in his life. Or how he would be able to walk out of it. He was puzzled by what Andrew did and called it strange because the relationship was reciprocal. James listened to Andrew’s voicemails, especially the one asking me to stay over at his place. He thought it odd and shocking. But in the conversation, James also asked me what I said to Andrew, and as I told him, he pointed out how some of the words said were mean. He asked me why I said a couple of things to him, thereby confronting me and calling me out on the carpet. This was the first time I began to realize how I had hurt Andrew from time to time, and I realized that I had to bear my portion of this mess. Plus, I had to own my responsibility.
In time I opened up to other people as well. Many of the Christians I spoke with were shocked — one even called what Andrew did evil. As I had earlier indicated, in the process I learned how I said some things to him in the heat of the moment and how some things were mean and uncalled for. I realized that I needed to own that part of the conflict. And I will not shift the blame entirely to Andrew — a good chunk of this mess is mine. However, I also had people who looked over our communications and determined that Andrew had sent mixed messages and led me on, or that he was disingenuous. Andrew did struggle with communication, leaving me puzzled at times.
I also discussed the situation with a couple of people who have their stories posted at SGM Survivors. I was reminded that Sovereign Grace plays hardball. After I had been railroaded and shut down, Andrew (in the course of time) turned his attention to another person and started to focus on recruiting and pursuing this person and bringing them into Redeemer of Arlington. But for me after the betrayal, it was the start of managing a difficult situation for the next fourteen months.
Also, I must confess given my past experience with Christianity, I don’t know why I didn’t become a raging atheist….that will forever remain a mystery. I was slowly coming out of a prolonged, multi-year faith crisis when I suddenly had to deal with Andrew’s spiritual abuse. I spent an intense amount of time asking myself why not permanently close the door to Christian faith…especially given what seemed to be a reoccurring theme? As I said, Andrew did the ugliest thing I had ever seen a Christian do. Despite this, something else happened, and it would help me find peace, come to terms with my evangelical past and find a way back into the Christian faith.
It is for this and other reasons that I have no hatred or contempt for Andrew. You may think I’m crazy, but I started to pray that one day I would be able to sit down before Andrew and thank him for the incredible gift that was given. Pain sometimes can be a gift. However, I firmly reject reformed theology because it makes the Problem of Evil worse. This is something that people need to discuss because it’s missing from the entire debate on reformed theology. And no, I don’t believe God caused this pain, and I would disagree sharply with many of the “Christian Taliban” on God foreordaining pain and suffering. But God does redeem pain and suffering, and what happened over the next series of months was amazing. It literally took my breath away and allowed me a way to find my way back to the Christian faith in a different, yet beautiful, journey.
Forgiveness is the Answer
I wasn’t getting the answers I wanted, my doubts had torn me apart, I had a personal betrayal and I hit bottom. As I processed everything I wondered, “How did I get here?” I asked myself further questions like, “Where is this going?”, “How did this happen?” and “Is this who I want to be?” On May 12 James asked me to come to National Community Church. I was in a tremendous amount of emotional pain. As I was walking down the steps of my apartment building, the word “forgiveness” popped into my head. It was so clear, so bold and unlike anything I experienced in my life. I have no idea where it came from, and I stopped walking. It was in that moment that I thought about what happened and realized I needed to forgive Andrew for the horrific betrayal and for his behavior. I had never felt more convicted about forgiveness. And I realized that love was the way to respond — not hate or anger. I wanted to de-escalate the situation and respond by showing him grace. I became convinced of this even if Andrew didn’t understand, know or comprehend grace. Many evangelicals I would suggest have no idea what grace is.
While I stood there in front of my apartment building, I also began to think about the prior five years and other people in my life. I realized that I had walked away from entire communities, friendships and acquaintances, and it deeply bothered me. I realized that I needed to seek forgiveness from those people whom I had hurt and forgive those who caused the pain that helped feed my faith crisis. While I didn’t know where the thought came from at the time, I felt like I had to follow it. Almost fourteen months later, I know that the thought came from the Lord, especially when everything unfolded in my life. Plus, it was the start of the Lord pushing back against what Andrew claimed, and in my life I never saw such divine pushback happen before. Others who knew me and watched what happened also claimed something similar.
I began walking again, got to my car and headed to National Community Church. During the service, I sat beside James and did not pick apart the message, as I had done in the past.
That Sunday I decided to attend the late morning service at Fairfax Community Church (FCC). They were starting a new sermon series about finding The Gospel in Hollywood Movies. The first sermon was based on Victor’s Hugo’s classic novel, which has become a Broadway musical and now a movie "Les Miserables". I’m trying to recall, but I believed Rod Stafford preached out of Romans. (I should have journaled this…)
In the sermon Rod compared and contrasted an individual who accepts grace versus someone who rejects grace. In what became an event that started to develop for me, I began to feel like I was the only one in the service and that the message was geared to me and what I had endured. The FCC Senior Pastor compared Jean Val Jean (a man who accepted God’s grace) to Javert (someone who rejected God’s grace). When challenged, I realized I needed to accept God’s grace for the previous five to six years, especially for some of the stuff I said to Andrew and so many others. I just broke down and wept, and with that I asked God to forgive me.
Over the next few days, thinking about how to proceed with asking forgiveness, I slowly built a list of all the Christians and others whom I rubbed shoulders or crossed paths with, not only over the past five years but nearly going back to college. Names started to pop in my head, and specific things I had said came to the forefront of my mind. I compiled a list that kept growing, growing, and growing. It originally was a list of 70 names, 90, 115 and has finally settled at about 140 people. Those people consisted of individuals from California, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. It included people from Campus Crusade, individual churches that I was a part of, Bible study leaders, a Catholic priest, different pastors all across the spectrum, an atheist – and yes one day hopefully even Andrew though that rested exclusively with him. Some of these individuals I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade or more. Some people didn’t want to be contacted. It was a huge challenge as I thought about it. Yet, I felt so convicted in doing the right thing. I then composed the following letter.
I hope you are okay with this message. If you would like to hear this in person I am more than happy to sit down face to face and discuss.
Over the last 5 years I went through a faith meltdown and probably reached the lowest point of my life. It came about through doubts, past church experiences, and it resulted in an incredible amount of anger and rage.
I have treated many people in ways that they should not have been treated.
In short I denied them the respect, dignity and love that they deserve.
I’ve tried to do this in my past but stopped out of pride. Plus I also realized that one cannot selectively forgive, one has to go all the
way. So with that I made a determination to contact a number of people that I once interacted with from California, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. I need to learn to love and forgive, and I need to learn to let go of anger and hate.
Through this experience I learned an ugly side to me that I never knew existed. And I’ve learned how painful anger and hate can be; not just to myself but toward others as well. I guess you can say that I’ve started the process of figuring out my way back into Christianity again after walking away years ago. It hasn’t been perfect and as I re-engage at Fairfax Community Church I see a lot of what drove me away. I am working hard to wrestle through these feelings, and doubts. My doubts which also gave birth to rage were something that I could not shake. But after exploring secular humanism I feel like I have come full circle. Christianity does make sense when you think of the big picture. Trying to separate the Lord from humanity, and human action is incredibly difficult. But it’s something that I need to do.
I’m trying to write this in a way as to do what is right. My soul needs peace, hope, and a new morning. It’s with that Jonathan that I ask for your forgiveness. If I have angered, or offended you with my anger, or other behavior I ask for your forgiveness. I so desperately want to do what is right, and I realized I can’t move forward with faith again unless I let go of my past. That is why I am taking this action. I was wrong in how I acted and I am hoping you can forgive me.
On May 15 I kicked it off and sent my first letter to Marisol, a person from my UK Mission Team in 2007. My evenings and weekends became consumed by sending out letters, praying and following up with correspondence. It became a job which consumed my life. In a few cases I met with a couple of people individually and asked for forgiveness directly. In other cases, I followed up with phone calls or emails, asking to be forgiven. If I worked out things by email with someone who lived in the DC area, I had tried to meet with them in person and follow-up to make sure that we were at peace and that no bad blood existed. A number of people got a free dinner! Honestly, I had no idea how this would turn out, but what happened was surely astounding! One by one so many people responded. People were amazed that I was repenting of what had happened, and so many people started to respond with forgiveness. In what became a time consuming event, I would write a personal response to each person and ask them to pray for two things — one was my overall goal (final total 140) and that one day I could reach that; and second was for the three most difficult situations to repair and mend. Those three were someone I knew from Milwaukee, Rob (a guy in an Acts 29 church in Georgia who I burned bridges with), and Archie Griffen. But in the early stages, I focused on all the other people and worked through the list.
Fairfax Community Church Crowded House
On May 16 FCC had an event called “Crowded House”, which was an opportunity for people to connect with local ministries and serve the community. In talking with an FCC pastor, I was encouraged to attend. It was a hard hour and one that had me eating a lot of crow. Ministry after ministry asked for volunteers to help in a nursing home, in a juvenile detention facility, with special needs children, at a homeless shelter, in a crisis pregnancy center, etc… I sat there in the room listening to story after story, and I thought of all the times I ranted about how Christianity is a cancer. It was too much! For the entire time I was there, I wept silently and kept wiping tears from my face. I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. For some of the things I said, my shame felt so deep. And I was also wondering what I would do if someone asked why I was crying. After some quick thought, my plan was to tell them that my allergies were acting up, but that never happened. After all the presentations had been made, I signed up to work with the homeless. It was at Crowded House that I met a guy named Jeremy Kuhlenbeck, and in a few weeks I would learn something deeply amazing. I would see how the Lord used my past (which I was struggling with) to help me move forward.
Resolving the Doubt of Prayer
On May 19 at FCC, they talked about some Gospel related themes from the movie The Impossible. The Impossible is a movie about a family who survived the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. As I sat there Senior Pastor Rod Stafford drew a comparison to a spiritual tsunami that comes in a person’s life. As he spoke he said, “Perhaps you went to the doctor’s office and received a difficult diagnosis, or perhaps you were betrayed by someone you thought was a close friend, or perhaps you were the subject of a false accusation. Or perhaps there was a moral failure.” I sat there amazed by what I was hearing because Rod Stafford was describing the exact situation in which I found myself and was stating what Andrew had done just two weeks prior. Then Rod Stafford continued, “Many people in such situations are often uncomfortable due to where they’re at, and yet God has you exactly where he wants you. If you’re in that situation, don’t run. Just let the Lord sanctify you where you’re at.” I knew exactly what Rod was talking about as I was neck deep in such a situation, and then he continued and spoke about the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. I wept in my seat and realized that in many ways I had become a Prodigal Son. Rod continued and spoke about the spiritual capability of the Prodigal Son to serve the Lord and others after coming home. While there I made a decision to embrace the pain and not run from the situation but work through the problem at hand.
Prayer was one of the doubts with which I struggled, and yet it was one of the doubts that was resolved by this mess. Whereas even a few weeks earlier I struggled to pray, now I was praying constantly. As I was sending out letters to people whom I had walked away from, I had responded by praying for the people I had not heard from or was waiting to hear from. I prayed while I swam, in my cube at work, and during almost every single lunch for the next 14 months. I prayed while driving, and I prayed while I lay in bed. There were a few times that I woke up in the middle of the night and felt compelled to pray. And yes, when an infection on my leg returned on July 2013, I prayed for people as I was in the Emergency Room and ambulance. I also submitted prayer requests to about 200 churches in California, Montana and Wisconsin. I don’t have an answer as to why certain prayers are answered and others are not. However, after reflecting on this situation, I think these prayers were answered because what I was trying to do is get to the heart of the matter.
At its core Christianity is about reconciliation — it’s what separates it from other faith systems. The entire Bible is a story of God reaching out and then reconciling himself to sinful man. So given the core Gospel message, I do think that when I prayed hard for reconciliation and forgiveness amongst all these people I think this is one of the reasons why it worked so well. I believe the Lord honored it. It was a very different prayer request, and I think it got to the heart of the Lord.
During this time I asked a number of people to pray that this would work. And I prayed hard for people along the way. At Fairfax Community Church, you can leave notes of prayer at two large crosses in the front of the sanctuary. And each Sunday and Saturday I would do that — leave notes asking for prayer. When I met with people to pray, I prayed so much at times that some people on the FCC prayer team knew what I was going to request before I even asked. A couple of times people said, “Are you still praying to reconcile with a large number of people?” In addition, during this time I also started to go to FCC twice in a weekend. In one service I’d go hang around in the back and just listen to the message. The other time I’d go just to pray for Andrew, Archie and so many other people from my past in Wisconsin, California and elsewhere in the US. And with that I continued moving forward.
Repentance Leads to Freedom
On May 21, 2013, I spoke with my former Campus Crusade director in Milwaukee. It was the first time I had spoken with him in over five years. We spoke, I explained what happened, I forgave him, and he forgave me. He said that reaching out to him and admitting my error showed my character. We spoke for about an hour, and I asked if we could re-open the communication and stay in touch. After that conversation with my former Crusade director, I felt the knot of hate I had internally vanish. As I crawled into bed that night, I felt like a very different man with a growing sense of peace.
Another amazing thing happened a couple of days after this situation. One of the people on my list was a guy whom I asked years previously never to contact me. I was rough with this guy. It was during the early stages of my faith crisis, and he was one of the many people I pulled back from. I tried to contact him through Facebook, and it had not worked. I was also unsure of what to do; if he didn’t want me to contact him, then I was committed to honor that request. So that Wednesday afternoon, I went to the Fairfax County Recreation Center. Before swimming I decided I would attempt to reach him one last time. I sent the following text message to his old phone number. Remember I was working off five year old information.
“Tim, I hope we can speak. I’ve been a fool and did a lot of stupid actions. I hurt many people out of confusion and raw pain. You are one of them. I wish I could take back what I have said. After screwing up so much in a 5 year period I so desperately want to do what is right. What can I do to help repair what I have said? Is there anything I can do? I love you Tim! Please let me know what I can do to right the wrong I have committed against you. I’m trying to be as sincere as I can Tim (Eagle)”
That afternoon I swam and did breaststroke and freestyle and prayed hard that I would hear from this guy. I was in knots, but as I swam laps I prayed that there would be a response. After swimming I went to the car and turned on my cell phone and soon it started to light up with a text message. This is what I got.
“Hey Eagle! It’s great to hear from you my friend. I would love to catch up very soon. Can we get coffee one morning? God bless!”
Sitting in my Honda, I wept with pure joy at the response, as I was unsure if this would even happen. And when I could compose myself I responded…
“Absolutely Tim! It was good to hear from you. I love you brother and I am so very sorry to have hurt you. Coffee is on me!”
Which led to this….
“Any disrespectful words you’ve used towards me in the past is a distant memory. I forgave you a long time ago, just as the Lord forgives me. It is so great to hear from you and I think we should get together soon.”
I couldn’t tell you what it was like to reconnect person by person. I had some well-needed and difficult conversations. It was powerful and with each response, it was like I felt a weight drop. Sometimes I would go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and have another response by email or Facebook message waiting for me. What really drove me as I dove deeper and deeper into this were two verses of scripture that deeply haunted me. The first one is Matthew 5:23-24 and the second is the Parable of the unmerciful servant. It’s the story of the man who accepts grace but denies it to others. The more that I received grace from other people, the more determined I became to reach out to others and give them grace. In some cases I offered to do something sacrificial, such as drive down to Charlottesville, VA and work things out in person or travel to St. Louis or Denver and ask for forgiveness in person. And as the weeks progressed, I heard some amazing stories that just blew my mind. These are some of them:
1. In some cases people told me how shook up or shocked they were that I walked away and how they struggled with a discipline of prayer and how my walking away led to them praying for me.
2. It had helped with some people’s faith and gave them encouragement for other’s in their life that had walked away and they didn’t know if they would come back or not.
3. I heard one story of a guy I shunned and withdrew from who put me on his prayer list and prayed for me regularly to come back to the Christian faith. Years later when I reached out to him to ask for forgiveness, he crossed it off as an answered prayer.
4. I heard a couple of situations of people who opened up my email while they were at work, unsuspecting of the email that I had sent. I heard some amazing stories of people crying and being blown away, and co-workers asking “What happened are you okay?”
5. I had learned from several people that they had hoped that one day I would reach out to them and bring closure, and the day that I contacted them was the day that they had waited for. For those who I created an unsettled and painful situation it brought about joy, peace, and closure.
6. Sadly for myself, I learned how far I had drifted and became a Prodigal. This had opened my eyes in a very different way. It was also difficult for me to listen to some of the ways I hurt people, as in a few cases the pain went beyond the scope of what I thought. But as a part of repentance and being committed to atone and work things out, I had to listen to people and take in their thoughts and feelings. This was not easy at all…but deeply hard.
The Crestwoods Return to Kansas
I tried to spend as much time as possible with James and his wife, especially since they were leaving Washington, D.C. and moving back to Kansas. So during the month of May and up to June 9, I attended NCC in the morning to see James Crestwood and his wife. Since I have a history at NCC, I saw some people I had not seen in years. I used to work with the homeless at NCC in a program called “Inservice”. One Sunday morning at NCC someone came up and hugged me. I had no idea who this person was, and I later learned that it was one of the homeless people I had helped take care of years earlier. He was happy to see me back. On June 9 at NCC, Donald Miller spoke and like FCC the message that was given was very unique for my particular situation. During his talk Donald Miller spent time explaining how to overcome conflict. He spent some time speaking about who you are as a person. He continued speak about how people are taken out by lies and how people aren’t defined by their failures or successes. Donald talked about how lies can and do hijack a person’s life and how that threatens a person’s identity and how Christians should not believe the lies that were told about them.
I sat there just amazed by what I was hearing. At the end of the service, James commented about how applicable the message was to what was happening in my life. Again, given what happened earlier with Andrew, the timing of the message was incredible! Since it was James Crestwood and his wife’s last service at National Community Church, a couple of friends drove up from North Carolina to help them pack and prepare to move. I knew both, and one of them I had just reconciled with a couple of weeks earlier – he was one of the names that popped up in my noodle when my list kept growing and growing. When I saw Michael walking down the stairs, I hugged him and I was happy to see him. It bothered me deeply as to why during the previous five to six years I avoided so many people like Michael.
"The Refuge" and the End of a Faith Crisis
At FCC I had signed up to work at an event called The Refuge. It was at another Church of God in Anderson, IN, in NW Washington, D.C., within the same denomination. This was the first time I would be working with the homeless in years. The kickoff event was called “Grace in the City” where you worked with the homeless, and then spent the night in the church. This took place at Northwest Community Church on June 15, 2013. That morning I was scheduled to attend, my glasses broke and it turned into a wild goose chase just to get them fixed. That afternoon I made it to the church and saw the homeless being helped. I participated in feeding, talking, and helping where I could. After discussing the difficult topic of inner city poverty, we were hanging around in the kitchen processing food donations by local restaurants. Knowing that Jeremy was from Milwaukee, I was curious and asked him, “What church did you attend in Milwaukee?” Jeremy didn’t think I had heard of it and said it was in the Germantown area. When I heard this, my interest only increased. I had told him that I was a member of Wooded Hills Bible and he says, “I’ve heard of that place…” and then he asks me if I knew Kevin Byrum. I laughed and started to explain how he was my worship leader when I was at Wooded Hills. Jeremy lit up and exclaimed, “I can’t believe this!” He was amazed that I knew Kevin. Truly it was fascinating for me…the fact that a couple of guys with roots to Milwaukee would happen to know the same person and cross paths in this small kitchen in a church in Washington, D.C. It stunned me. That night I spoke with my old worship leader for the first time in eight years. With this I began to realize that as much as I struggled with my evangelical past, I had the feeling that it was being used by the Lord to redeem the present. With this event and with the reconciliation, I began to feel more and more at peace.
That night while Jeremy and the others were talking in the kitchen downstairs, I retreated upstairs into the sanctuary of Northwest Community Church. It’s an old style church with stained glass windows and wooden carvings and was built prior to World War II. I sat there in the dark – alone just reflecting upon everything. I thought of the mess I created with Andrew, some of the words that left my mouth, and how I hurt him. I thought of the people I still was hoping to reach. And I couldn’t believe some of what had already transpired. As I sat there in the chapel, mostly in the dark, Jeremy comes walking in. He sat down in a pew across the aisle from me and said, “Is there something you want to talk about?” So in a condensed version, I explain what happened. Things I had said, mistakes I had made. I told him about this rocky relationship with Andrew and how ashamed I was over some of the things I did. Jeremy listened and he said something to the effect, “Do you know that you are taking responsibility for your part of this mess…and that God will honor that…that’s significant.” Jeremy said that the situation presented a lot of opportunities for redemption. In many ways that was already under way. The hard thing was living with the mistakes I had made. So in this darkened chapel just two guys prayed that this mess would somehow resolve itself.
When I went to bed that night, I realized that in many ways this felt like a church retreat, and the first one I had in over six years. I woke up early in the morning, about 4-5 a.m. I went back in the sanctuary and the only thing I heard was the air conditioner blowing. In the dark I just spent a lot of time praying for Andrew and wrestling with where I was spiritually. It was quite beautiful. I sat in the chapel, and the sun slowly started to rise, beaming through the stained glass windows. During this time in the early morning I realized that my struggle — my faith crisis that had gone on since 2008 — had finally come to a close. It was time to move on and figure out a way forward and keep walking ahead one step at a time. Later that morning, I attended church with the other people who worked with the homeless. While I sat through a service at DC Metro Church, I got another response from someone in Wisconsin who accepted my offer of forgiveness. All these people who kept responding to my request for forgiveness….they just kept coming! What had been set in place continued to play out, and I was grateful and amazed. Names were dropping off the list.
On July 20 I went to a wedding at Vienna Presbyterian Church for Rebekah. I can’t tell you how many wedding invitations I spurned when I was in my faith crisis. In the reception I saw people I had not seen in years, and it was hitting me hard. Rebekah was happy to see me and commented about how thrilled she was. As I was reconnecting with people, there were times I had to step away. It was just too much! On two different occasions I retreated to the men’s restroom and sat in a stall and sobbed. I had spent five years walking in the unknown, wrestling with the Problem of Evil and other doubts, and it had hit me as to how much of my life had passed me by. But when I started attending events again, I felt like I was slowly coming alive and online again. There was much for me to be grateful for as well.
Seeking Forgiveness From Sovereign Grace
In asking for all this forgiveness, there was something that I came to realize a couple of months later. It slowly dawned on me… One night in August I was reading SGM Survivors, and I noticed that Stephen Altrogge of Sovereign Grace in Indiana, Pennsylvania popped up and announced that he was leaving his pastorship. He opened up about personal difficulties and reminded the people there that real people were being discussed. In the past I fumed at this guy, and Iremember when he would pop up on Rachel Held Evans’ blog to defend SGM. But that night I had realized that Stephen was a real person with feelings and emotions. And I had hatred for him in my heart. So in my kitchen in front of my computer, I cried. It was during this time that I remembered something Andrew had once told me in an email in the previous year. He told me that I hated Sovereign Grace. So that night in August I realized that Andrew was correct. I couldn’t see this at the time, but finally I could. Now I want to be clear that I am not getting soft on excusing child abuse or criminal behavior, but there is a difference between disagreement and hate, and I had crossed the line.
That night I sat down and wrote Stephen Altrogge a long personal email. I told him the brief story of Andrew, and I confessed to him the hatred I had toward Sovereign Grace, asking to be forgiven of the hatred I had against the organization. I got a response the following morning, and I was forgiven. This was also helpful! It was during this time when I realized some of the hate I had for Sovereign Grace that the words I said against Andrew started to weigh on me more and more. There were times I wept in my condo where I was just sad and angry at myself for some of what I said. It felt like I was mourning something. I don’t know how else to describe it, but I was struck with overwhelming grief for what I said. In many ways that grief was just beginning. I also realized that while I had stayed away from Sovereign Grace, the effort at which I fought was too much.
In many ways the prayers and praying for a resolution to this mess took a life of its own. And something unique happened which gave me pause. Jeremy Kuhlenbeck traveled up to Milwaukee and at a church function or event, heard me being discussed. Word had gotten around as to what had happened to me and how I was trying to resolve it. When Jeremy came back he told me this, and I was stunned. Right then and there; given how much I was pushing the prayer issue, I knew that it was only a matter of time before Andrew White would learn what I had done. The evangelical community is small, and people know people, and people talk. But I took comfort that day in knowing that Andrew had heard what I had done, or would soon hear what I had done.
As I reopened relationships with people and started talking with them again, I began to be haunted by the entire scope of what had happened. It began to dawn upon me as to how severe this faith crisis was and how much of my life it has consumed. As I reconnected with people, I learned that some had gotten married, had a child, changed jobs, lost a parent or loved one, or relocated. In 2013 much of the information I had about people was still from a 2008-2009 context…and a lot can change in five years.
Personally, a lot had happened in my private life. During lunch from mid-May until today, I would spend time reading James. Back in May I thought I should read James, given how much it addresses speech and anger. So after reading it daily, there are a number of things I have learned. One is of the power of words and how words can build up or tear down. And while I deeply disagree with Sovereign Grace, I have come to realize the effect of some of my sarcasm toward Andrew. Furthermore, I realized that I am guilty of favoritism. How? Well….I showed those who were not in Sovereign Grace preference, and as such I looked down upon Andrew. Granted I had an agnostic mindset during most of this time, but I wish I had realized this earlier.
One thing that did get to me was in an FCC service Rod Stafford spoke about how to deal with doubt, as well as the importance of doubting your doubts. The timing of this message was unique, as another person was tying to explain this to me as well. But continuing with the message Rod spoke about how when you don’t doubt your doubts, what you are actually doing is worshiping those doubts. And with that I discovered one of my biggest blind spots that I had had for years; and it put a unique spin on what had happened the last few years. So for all the time I had hammered others’ blind spots and exploited them, I was oblivious to my own. I wept in the car for an extended period of time in contemplating this issue. However, while saying all this as time goes on I also realize that I am going to be a doubter.
Andrew White's False Accusation Hurts My Family
When the false accusation was made in early summer 2013, I decided to keep it to myself. In my mind there was no need to have my parents worry or be upset. In addition, my family already had enough on their hands, especially with my Dad having gone though a stage 3 brain tumor and still doing an MRI scan every other month. But my Mom knew something had happened and call it Mother’s intuition, a hunch, whatever…in late September my Mom asked what happened. This was a conversation that I didn’t want to have. Before I told them on the phone, I asked them to sit down because this was going to be a long conversation. I also knew it would be hard for my parents to understand since they were Catholic. And with that I told them the story,….I told them about Andrew’s false accusation, what Sovereign Grace was, etc…. My Mom feared for her son and on the phone she wept at what Andrew White did. My Mom told me that “this is a guy who you stay away from” and with that my family was deeply hurt. I was in personal anguish over how Andrew’s sin had now affected my family. It’s sad….my family has a low view of evangelicalism and it’s largely been fed by personal experiences. For example, when I was growing up from time to time my Dad, who is Irish Catholic recalled what it was like being at Duke University when the news came in from Dallas that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated on November 22, 1963. My Dad was horrified, but he was confused and bewildered by the fact that some of the Baptists he knew were pleased. This was at a time when Baptists and other evangelicals thought a Catholic President would take orders from Rome, and they didn't want a Catholic in the White House. The Catholic issue dogged JFK in the 1960 Presidential race. And it was a time when Baptists and other evangelicals resisted de-segregation efforts in the south and used the Bible to justify segregation. So with that, Andrew’s behavior only contributed to my parents’ experiences and fed their thoughts about evangelicalism.
Later in 2013 a thought popped in my head as I was analyzing the situation I was still managing with Andrew. It actually gave me great encouragement. As I was reflecting on the betrayal that Andrew White committed, one of the things that dawned upon me is the following. I realized that some of the key individuals in the Bible at one point or another had been betrayed by a close friend, family member or someone else in their proximity. And I actually began to think that being betrayed is a sign of spiritual maturity because it puts me in company with people like Jesus, Joseph, Peter, Jeremiah, etc… Allow me to share some examples of betrayal:
1. In 2nd Samuel you have Absalom betraying David, and this betrayal led to the death of Ahithopheli who committed suicide. This betrayal is what led to the 41st Psalm.
2. You have the most infamous betrayal in human history – all for 30 pieces of silver. I find it amazing that Jesus in his omniscience picked the guy who betrayed him and who would hand him over to the Romans. The story of Judas is found in John 18.
3. You have the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:18-36) who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt.
4. Then there is the story of Peter who denied and betrayed Jesus three times. I would suggest this betrayal came at the hour of Jesus’ greatest need. (Matthew 26:69-75)
5. Jeremiah also experienced betrayal, and this is captured in Jeremiah 20:10. As a result of his preaching Jeremiah found himself increasingly isolated until his close friend finally turned against him.
There are other examples in scripture as well, but those are the ones off the top of my head. Now betrayal can lead to spiritual growth or it can lead to one’s spiritual demise. This is the dilemma that Andrew White faces. With this story still playing out, I wondered who is Andrew White going to be? Is he going to be like Peter? Or spiritually is he going to be like Judas? I’ve actually spent a chunk of time praying and hoping that Andrew will be like Peter. While Peter’s betrayal by denying the Lord was horrific, in the end he became a much better person, a stalwart of the faith and someone who served the Lord with intensity. Up until the time that he was killed in Rome, Peter never betrayed the Lord again. And I would argue that while Jesus forgave Peter for the betrayal, in the end Peter needed that moral failure so he could learn and grow. In the greater context of Peter's life, the betrayal helped him become a towering figure of the faith. That failure by Peter was redeemed, and the church benefited as a result. And as for Judas I am not going to explore or write about that because I have been spending a lot of time praying for Andrew to become like Peter.
During this time I was still praying and working through my list of 140 people. I was praying hard for a resolution and peace with Andrew White, Archie Griffen and an old connection from Milwaukee. Having reconciled with slightly more than a 100 people at this time, I thought it was good to try and see if I could resolve one of the top three difficult situations. My focus was Archie, and I was unsure how to proceed. This was risky in the sense that this bridge was burned horrifically, and he told me that he didn’t want to be contacted. But as a man I felt like I had to resolve the situation and take ownership for the pain that I caused him. And in this case having been forgiven by a little more than a 100 I didn’t think Archie could question my motivations or doubt my efforts to have peace with him. So I asked someone in October 2013, if he could be the bridge, and if he could reach out to Archie and see if we could talk and work things out. I was hoping for just one conversation. I was already praying hard for Archie during this time, plus I was so nervous. This was a calculated, but necessary risk as I saw it. On Thursday November 14, I was at work just plugging away when I got an email from the guy who was the go between. He told me that there was an opportunity to exchange a message in an email. I read that email in my cube and almost fainted. I went into the bathroom at work and wanted to scream with joy.
The following evening, November 15, I was in a sandwich shop ordering something for dinner, and my Android notified me that I had an email. I was about to order when I looked at the new email and saw that it was from Archie. I was stunned, and I walked away from the order I was about to place. I strolled around the sandwich shop almost looking like I was high on drugs. I remember there were a couple of police officers from Fairfax County having dinner, and I wondered what they thought of me wandering around in a daze. In his email Archie said he heard what I had done and that I had repented and gone around the country working things out. He explained to me that this was the hardest email he had ever written…but he wanted me to know that I was forgiven of what I wrote on his Facebook wall a year previously. In the same message he appreciated that I respected his boundaries, which I am always committed to do. But he wanted to talk. I was overwhelmed with joy. I had prayed for this moment so hard for months, and was stunned that it had occurred because I didn’t think it would. But I was also nervous at contacting Archie. I sent him the letters that people had written me and he contacted me again. We then spoke by phone. Over several conversations, we discussed and worked everything out. This actually is one of the many highlights for me. Things came back in time and today we trade texts, talk on the phone, etc… I met him in Washington, D.C. a few months afterward and bought him dinner. I remember driving home and talking with James Crestwood who was fascinated by my story. Archie asked me how things were going on my list, and I told him about Andrew White and of my determination to somehow bring an end to that situation and find peace. Archie joined the many other people who were praying for Andrew, plus Archie also offered to be a character reference that Andrew could contact if he wanted to discuss the way I reconciled and worked things out with him. Successfully resolving one of the top three difficult relationships a week and a half before my baptism was amazing.
Baptism at Fairfax Community Church
One other thing that was fun for me was that on my personal Facebook wall during this entire season I left random numbers. For example I’d post the numbers 27, 35, 64, 78, 120, etc… as I resolved things with each person. In my social circles among friends, co-workers and acquaintances, it was tearing people apart. I’d get Facebook messages by people asking, “What are the numbers on your Facebook page?” Some people asked me if it was how many laps I swam? How much weight I lost? etc… For the most part I kept people guessing and just joked around. However toward the end as my baptism approached on Facebook, I wrote the following message on my wall.
For those of you wondering about the numbers….here is what they mean. From 2008 until earlier this year I went through a prolonged faith crisis. I burned some bridges and walked away from some of the communities I was previously involved. Next Sunday at Fairfax Community Church I'm getting baptized, but before I got baptized I wanted to go back and work things out with a large number of people. I did so and was forgiven by 122 people and am grateful for how things turned out. But I don't think this story is over yet, as the Lord is at work!
This was received by a lot of people in an amazing way. I even had a co-worker that stopped me in the hall at work who read that and said, “That’s just amazing you went back and sought forgiveness from people that you hurt! Christians just don’t do that today. You don’t hear people doing that today” He was stunned. For me it was pretty sweet, but I tell you it made baptism all the more exciting and freeing. For me the end of my faith crisis came on November 24, 2013, when I was baptized at Fairfax Community Church. Really, it was a symbolic end. I was very nervous that day, as I still had many uncertainties that ran through me. Before the service I was amazed as to how many people who couldn’t attend texted me and wished me well. Personally, I was touched by so many people. My original goal was to complete and restore as many relationships as possible by November 24. In the process I had hoped that many people could be reconciled and that all hurts, pain, and difficulties that I alone had created during my faith crisis could be cleared up and resolved. For me it was important to resolve as much as possible.
At the service I was amazed by how many people showed up. A large number of people from Fairfax Community Church turned out, along with my small group, and the homeless ministry I was involved in. People from other churches that I reconciled and sought forgiveness from also turned out. And after my baptism what also surprised me was that a number of people from SGM Survivors would also show up. That morning as I processed everything I was still uncomfortable that the situation with Andrew White was not resolved. That tore me apart. As I prepared for the baptism itself, while I was grateful for resolving things with nearly 122 people, Andrew and a couple of other people weighed heavily on my mind.
As I got into the baptismal pool at Fairfax Community Church, I decided that I would use my baptism to pray for Andrew and that there could one day be peace between us. And as I was dunked, that’s what I did. After I got out of the water, Dee in all her designer clothes hugged me. She didn’t care that she was getting soaked. And after that I went and changed and put on some dry clothes. After I walked out of the restroom, someone approached me and stuck out their hand for a handshake. As this person did that they said, “I’m so grateful you never got involved in Redeemer of Arlington, it’s not a healthy church at all.” I realized that this was someone from SGM Survivors who had reached out to me behind the scenes and encouraged me to stay away. I thanked that person for their concern for me. Then I met a number of other people from SGM Survivors who showed up. One of them gave me a Charles Spurgeon devotional, which touched me.
Something I learned that weekend really stuck with me and hangs me with me today. And it’s this simple fact…whether it be Dee or Deb or Happymom and other people from Survivors…many of these people are individuals who did not want the attention. They are people who were living their lives and raising their families when they found themselves caught up in an unhealthy church situation. I was deeply impressed by the faith of Happymom and Wallace and the love that they showed. Likewise, I was impressed with both Dee and her husband Bill Parsons. The previous night before my baptism both Bill and Dee told me their story at the Baptist Church they were a part of in Raleigh-Durham. They recounted how hard it was to teach a Sunday school class with people who insisted on making literal six day creationism a primary issue and how secondary issues began to divide the church. They also shared how someone in the church confided to them that a child had been sexually abused by a seminary student. They talked about how they confronted their pastor and elders, all while dealing with the fundamentalist takeover/hijacking of a church. They also detailed how they left and how at least 50% of the congregation walked away. In getting to know Dee and her husband, as well as others the lesson I learned is that none of these people are difficult or wanted any attention. All they wanted to do was raise their family, live their life, take their kids to soccer games, make grocery store runs, and practice their faith. These were people that I would think any Pastor or church would want to have in their congregation. And that is something that I want to convey in this posting.
Meeting My Milwaukee Cru Director in the DC Area
From November 2013 until June, nothing much happened. I worked things out with a few more people. My list was now at 136 going into June 2014. It looked like the situation with Andrew was going to remain unresolved. There was no movement and in me, my inner turmoil was just increasing. There were times that I wept in my bed or in my condo due to the unresolved pain. What made the situation so difficult was that so many responded and so many situations were resolved, and my list of 140 names largely came down to just Andrew White and a couple of people whom I didn’t know what was going on. I felt the pressure from all the other people in my desire to resolve things with Andrew. To me it made no sense for a Christian to not forgive or attempt to work things out.
On June 19 I drove to work, and as I was getting ready to turn off my Android after I parked I was surprised when I checked my text messages and noticed I got a text from my former Cru director in Milwaukee. He was in DC visiting and offered to get together. I was overjoyed, as he was one of the people to whom I repented and from whom I sought forgiveness the previous year. We actually met in a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia (in the DC suburbs). I think we spoke for about three hours, but in reality it felt like fifteen minutes. We caught up, discussed theology, and I learned about his family. A lot changes in almost ten years!
During the conversation my former Cru director asked me, what happened with Andrew White and was the situation resolved? I told him no, it was not resolved and that it looked like he was leaving DC with the situation remaining estranged. My Cru director spoke about the importance of letting go and illustrated by a couple of examples from his own life. I told him that I couldn’t let go after the mess I helped create and some of the things I said. I explained that I feel a moral imperative to help resolve the situation, so I told him that I will continue to pray for Andrew. After that we parted, and I got home at about 1:00 a.m. It was an emotional day.
Brief Conversation With Andrew White
The following day — June 20 — my path crossed with Andrew White, and he asked if I wanted to grab a coffee and talk. I almost fainted. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I was nervous speaking with him, especially after what he previously accused me of in the false accusation. I had prayed fourteen months for this conversation, and the discussion, while promising, also had issues. This is a highlight of the conversation.
One thing that struck me as odd is that Andrew started talking to me like nothing was wrong and that we were not estranged for fourteen months. I was puzzled and nervous as he spoke. Andrew explained that he knew part of the story. In the discussion which I believe lasted about forty minutes, he said someone texted him and told him that I was repenting in the hundreds. That made his day, but even as he learned the news he decided to sit on the information and do nothing. This was in November-December 2013. He also said that he was confronted while out in Colorado when someone asked him, “Do you know Eagle?” It startled him, and they asked him if he needed to resolve anything. Andrew replied by saying that it was a “sensitive issue”.
During most of the conversation, I was glazed over and not prepared for much of it. What distressed and discouraged me was that I raised the issue of the false accusation, and Andrew looked at me funny. I realized that Andrew didn’t fully realize the enormity of what he did. He spoke and told me that he didn’t mean for the events to take the course that they ultimately did. For me this privately confirmed a hunch that I had all along — that Andrew had made a mistake and that he didn’t mean for things to go the way that they did. For me while that was encouraging, what undermined that thought was that Andrew told me that even while knowing the full course of events and what happened, he said that he had no regrets about what he did and that if he could, he’d do the exact same thing all over and try and get a different outcome.
Personally, I was crushed. I realized that some of the peace I had hoped for would not materialize because Andrew did not see the harm in his false accusation and his role in making this mess between us. Plus, I realized that it was going to be futile to raise the issue of how Andrew’s sin deeply hurt my family in California. In the conversation Andrew did say that he forgave me and that I can be at peace. He mentioned that I can sleep at peace knowing that I am forgiven. However, since Andrew didn’t repent of the false accusation or take responsibility for his role in this mess, that peace felt pretty shallow. Then I briefly explained how much grace I showed Andrew, and he didn’t seem to comprehend that grace at all. This was very frustrating! I confessed to Andrew how I was mean and said things I never should have said. I also confessed that I showed others favoritism at his expense and told him that he was right in that I did hate Sovereign Grace. I gave him the paperwork showing my letter of apology to another Sovereign Grace pastor and the accompanying correspondence. I was also concerned that his wife was affected. In a short amount of time, I tried to confess my part in how I hurt him. While I could confess my role in the mess, I was flustered that he didn't see his role in he conflict.
Immediately after the conversation, I felt like I was profoundly lost. I had prayed so hard for this day, and now that it happened I didn’t know what to do. The peace I so desperately craved became elusive because Andrew didn’t see his sin at all. Given my personal desire to own my part of this mess and to repent, I offered to attend Redeemer of Arlington on June 22. I did so as a peace offering and a way to show respect and love for Andrew. I thought given how many times he invited and even pressured me, I believed going there would please him. At first Andrew was startled about me coming, but then he said that would be fine. The last I saw him, I shook his hand and gave him the remaining John Piper books I had. Andrew smiled, reminded me of the church time, and jokingly said, “Leave the wooden spoon at home.”
Emotionally, while I was grateful for the conversation Andrew’s next actions only left me more confused. On Sunday, June 22, a couple of hours before church Andrew sent me a text in which he asked me not to come to church. He claimed that while he forgave me; he was nervous and uncomfortable about worshiping the Lord with me. I was baffled and personally crushed. He wrote, “I wish it was different, I truly do”, and I was disappointed. After what I did with nearly 140 people going to church that Sunday was something that I was really looking forward to. I saw it as part of the process in trying to smooth things over with Andrew. Not knowing what to do, I texted him back saying that I would not go to Redeemer and honor his wishes. When I told this to other people, it really raised some eyebrows. Who asks someone not to go to church? What type of Christian who claims they are in the “healthiest church they know” would want to keep someone away? For me it seemed to undermine the conversation we had on June 20. That conversation had deep issues, and Andrew didn't repent or take ownership for his role in the mess. I was the one asking for all the forgiveness and being deeply concerned for how he was hurt by our conflict. But to Andrew it appeared as if he had little concern in return. Furthermore, I don’t think Andrew’s behavior reflected very well on Redeemer of Arlington at all. As I analyzed the situation, there were two things that were gnawing at me in the days following the conversation.
1. I don’t think Andrew could really comprehend how much inner turmoil I had when I hit bottom. I don’t think he knew how serious I was to bringing peace to my part of the mess I created. Other people did, and I think that's why so many people responded in the way that they did. Likewise, I don’t think he knew how many times over the past year in how I wept privately in my home for the pain that I felt. When I was working through my list, one person observed over coffee that I acted like another situation he saw years ago where he saw a father who was estranged from his child praying desperately to resolve the estrangement. In my case I felt shame like I had never felt before, and I wanted to redeem a mess and correct it. Whereas I felt like other messes were redeemed, the situation with Andrew left me confused. If Andrew honestly knew how much turmoil I was in, I don’t think he would have acted the way he did. I personally think this is the kind of turmoil you read about on SGM Survivors, and I think this is why many people who exit Sovereign Grace and former Sovereign Grace churches are in deep pain.
2. The next thing that happened really irritated me. Before I start let me phrase this going forward. And I am not trying to be sly or mocking; I am just trying to ask some hard questions. Here was a guy who called Redeemer the “healthiest church he knew”. That was how he always described it. So here is what happens…in November-December 2013 he learns about what I was doing and claimed that he was amazed and made his day with the news. So what was Andrew’s response; to take the information and sit on it and not do anything? So for the next 7 or 8 months, I would whip myself into frenzy, praying harder, and harder, and bang my head against the wall harder and harder. In the process I increased the pressure on myself to right the wrong. Meanwhile, Andrew just sat on the information. So my question is this….what kind of healthy Christian behaves like that? What kind of Christian who is boasting of how healthy his church is sits on the information that someone who was a Prodigal returned? What kind of person sits on the information at all? In the grand scheme of things when other people learned or heard the news, most of them responded either immediately or in a short amount of time. Andrew’s response was just the opposite of the nearly 140 people contacted, and it baffled me because it seemed so strange. And it stood apart from what nearly everyone else — even how an atheist responded — much quicker than Andrew.
So with Andrew I am confused…the peace was elusive. He didn’t see the harm his false accusation did to me, my family, and my life. He also probably doesn’t see how the false accusation also hurt himself, his family and his wife. But I will reflect on this a little more in closing. That brings me to today, and yes I am still working out forgiveness with people I hurt during my faith meltdown and other past situations in my life. So where do I stand today? Out of 140 people on my list 137 have forgiven me or told me that there is nothing to forgive. The forgiveness helped me deal with my doubts, and it helped bring me back to faith in the Lord.
Here’s why…the Problem of Evil still exists and will always exist. I’m never going to get the answer as to what happens spiritually to someone who was born and lived before The Gospel even existed. But while I wrestled with what to make of God, the parts of the Christianity that are true, that I can experience helped point a way home for me. Receiving grace from so many people and experiencing forgiveness face to face, or in a phone conversation, helped reveal to me why Jesus was so adamant about forgiveness. As a Christian it’s the only way to live. The guy who stopped me in the hallway at work was correct; Christians don’t repent today and don’t practice forgiveness. I think that’s part of the reason why Christianity is so ugly to the world. It is one of the reasons why Evangelicals come across as being so arrogant.
We Need Honest Unity
Honestly, we need to find a way to get along and work together. If the Andrews and the others with whom my life crossed paths cannot get along on earth, then how are we going to get along in heaven when we are spending eternity together? So yes, the members of Redeemer of Arlington and Sovereign Grace in Indiana, Pennsylvania are my brothers. However, where I draw the line is with the leaders in the reformed camp, that they are not excused and that they need to be called out. This is called discernment, and for that reason I will not excuse the John Pipers, Mark Driscolls, Mark Devers, D.A Carsons, etc., for their bad theology or hypocrisy. And I will be an equal opportunity offender if need be for while I will point out hypocrisy in Sovereign Grace and other churches. I will also point out hypocrisy in my own church — Fairfax Community Church — if I ever see it. But the way I treated Andrew will be the last time I ever treat someone in that manner. If Andrew was WW III there will not be a WW IV. Furthermore, as I learned in my position, as someone deeply hurt and wounded, I have a unique opportunity to show grace and unleash the power of forgiveness. If Jesus commands us to forgive 70 times 7, then that is to be followed. And in reflecting upon the situation, I came to realize that the best thing for me was to hit spiritual bottom in May of 2013.
Eric Simmons, SGM Survivors and Forgiveness
Since much of evangelicalism is nothing but sin management, I learned that in some ways it’s best to be crushed and broken. It’s when you are at the bottom that you have the unique opportunity to draw near to the Lord. It’s why the spiritual capability of all the wounded and hurting people who have posted at Wartburg, SGM Survivors, SGM Refuge, and Spiritual Sounding Board is immense. For those of you hurt by horrific churches, awry para-church ministries, or sexually abused by someone who you trusted you have the unique capability to show grace, love and redeem a painful situation. You can empathize. Your spiritual capability is much greater than the professional Christians who dominate fundagelicalism today. It’s why I love hanging around with the homeless and those crushed by drug addiction, alcoholism, etc… Their spiritual potential is profound and God has much more in store for them than those who “have it all together” and spend their time arguing doctrine over pizza and beer at a pizza restaurant in Arlington. Christianity in the United States has missed the boat on this issue. That’s part of what I learned over the past few year and a half as I watched the Lord redeem a mess that I helped create.
Also, we all need to forgive and give each other grace. The bigger the mess, the more of an opportunity to show grace and show the power of forgiveness. This is why I like the quote from Phoenix Preacher which is at the start of this post. Honestly, I don’t know why each SGM Pastor and each church that has broken away from SGM has not repented of their issues or their past association of SGM. Why have they not repented of shepherding theology and reached out to those who are broken? People like Eric Simmons have a unique capability of reaching out to people on SGM Survivors and helping to slowly restore hurt people. Andrew once told me that the reason why Eric Simmons became involved in the SGM church plant in Arlington, Virginia is because he was nervous about the existence of blogs like SGM Survivors. According to Andrew, Eric Simmons raised the issue of the blogs when he was in leadership at CLC, and SGM just dismissed them and thought the blogs were not worth any concern. And with that Eric Simmons wanted to distance himself supposedly from SGM. Also, according to Andrew, Eric Simmons when questioned said that he wanted to reach out to the people on blogs like SGM Survivors. My question to Andrew is why hasn’t he? Why haven’t many SG pastors? I’ll use myself as an example…if I just talked about how I needed to forgive and repent of past mistakes but did not…have I repented? Having personally and sacrificially approached nearly 140 people in repenting of past mistakes and asking for forgiveness is that indicative of repentance? You be the judge….
But it brings me back to my question why don’t any of the SGM leaders take this course of action? How could a Sovereign Grace pastor or any Care Group Leader or any person in a position of authority worship God and approach the altar while being aware of the people they have hurt in their life? How could Andrew take communion and worship the Lord from November-December 2013 up until June 20, 2014 while knowing he was leaving a brother in spiritual bondage by withholding forgiveness? Don’t they realize that they are going against what Jesus taught in Matthew about how he wants people to worship him?
The Real Power of Forgiveness
But returning to the train of thought we all need to forgive each other. During the height of my faith crisis sometimes I was up around the clock reading about issues like the Problem of Evil. Now that it’s over I’ve toned down my life significantly. Today I’m researching and looking into forgiveness to see how its lived out. As I said earlier my doubts remain, however what helped bring peace to those doubts and help me rediscover faith in the Lord is the small things like love, grace, and forgiveness. Jesus commanded that a Christian forgive. When the Lord commands to forgive all…as a Christian you are to forgive that person. Today I can understand the power of forgiveness, and it was forgiveness that helped me walk away from my faith crisis and show the power and strength of the teaching of the Lord. But consider the following situations, and read the articles or watch the links:
– You have a Renee Napier, a mother in Florida who speaks at drunk driving seminars with Eric Smallridge, the drunk driver who killed her daughter Meagan and Lisa Dickson. In the process they also talk about forgiveness. Together they tour, talk and discuss the pain and consequences of drunk driving. As Christians they have forgiven each other and use their pain to help each other and teach what forgiveness truly is. They have not walked away from each other or let that pain remain an issue.
– You have a mother in Minneapolis who has forgiven a murderer for killing her only son. Then she showers him with love and draws near to him in the process. She helps him get back on her feet and after he fully repented speaks in prisons and churches about what forgiveness truly is.
– You have the amazing story of Jacob DeShazer, famed raider in the Jimmy Doolitte squadron who bombed Japan in April 1942. Captured by the Japanese he endured incredible torture in a Japanese POW camp, but through the power of the Gospel learned to show his Japanese torturers love and forgive them. And it didn’t stop there, he learned to love and forgive Mituso Fuchida the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941. When Fuchida died Jacob DeShazer led to the funeral for his Christian brother and former nemesis. I must ask …how many Christians today would do that? DeShazer lived out his life as a Methodist missionary in Japan and dedicated his life to serving the Japanese people.
– You also have another amazing story dealing with World War II. You have the story of Louie Zamperini. This 1936 athlete who competed in the Berlin Olympics served in the Army Air Corps. Captured he was tortured by a man known as Mutsuhiro Watanabe. He was one of the top war criminals in Postwar Japan that Douglas MacArthur wanted to capture and try. Known for his physical and psychological torture after the war Zamperini forgave him and his other guards for their mistreatment. This story moved Laura Hillenbrand (who wrote Seabiscuit) to write "Unbroken" and discuss Zamperini and his views on forgiveness.
– Then you have Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott who was killed in the Columbine school shootings in April 20, 1999. Darrell Scott talks about how he forgave the shooters – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and how importance forgiveness was to his daughter.
– Then there is grace and forgiveness being shown in a Seattle courtroom in 2003 to Gary Ridgeway. Ridgeway, the worst serial killer in U.S. history was known as the Green River Killer for murdering 71 young women over 2 decades. But even in that courtroom Ridgeway was shown grace and forgiveness by Robert Rule for murdering his daughter Linda Rule. Why did he forgive? God commands that we forgive all people.
And it’s for the above reasons why I harbor no hate, anger, bitterness, malice or resentment to Andrew. Even though we had a short conversation on June 20, 2014, we both have the unique opportunity to clean up a mess and show grace to each other and show the world the strength and power of the Gospel. And the other situations I ranted about on Internet Monk or The Wartburg Watch in the past? Many of those have been resolved, and they don’t cross my mind as much. The guilt has been erased by forgiveness. I have forgiven and asked for forgiveness and that has occurred. So with that it’s over, it’s in the past and no longer drives me.
Forgiveness is the most unique and beautiful act in Christianity. It's only been in the past few months that I have truly come to appreciate and understand how it works. Many Christians are confused about forgiveness. They incorrectly think it's letting a person off the hook or saying, “That’s okay that you molested me…” No…far from it, forgiveness is basically saying that you won’t hold a situation against someone anymore. You’re not forgetting it, there is still pain, but by letting it go it can be the most healing act of grace that can exist. If you’re going to be a Christian, then you must learn to forgive because to do otherwise is inconsistent with the heart of the Lord. The sooner people forgive, the more peace they can find. Likewise when people have deeply repented (which I think is rare today) why should Christians shun and build up walls. This is one of the things that baffles me about Andrew, and has also baffled others who watched this story unfold.
Seriously, I wish I had known this years ago. It would have brought so much closure and peace. So what will I do for the remaining few people? Simple….I’ll pray for them. Prayer is powerful and effective, and I have to confess that when I walked away I actually felt people praying for me at times. Plus, after all that has transpired…I just have to say this. I think the Lord has moved mountains and worked in an amazing way from May until today, and with all that has transpired I think the Lord has the remaining ones planned out one day. Too much has happened not to include them at some point, and for that I’ll just rest in the providence of the Lord.
And in closing, here is where I am theologically along with some final thoughts about Andrew. I cannot be labeled…the fundamentalists will accuse me of being emergent, the emergent will accuse me of being fundamentalist. Evangelical Christianity in the United States is a sick and diseased movement. Parts of it are hurting from prosperity theology; parts of it are hurting from Hyper-Calvinist fundamentalism. And the entire movement is hurting since it lacks an intellectual capacity. I believe Mark Noll is correct when he wrote his landmark work two decades ago about the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”. Evangelical theology lacks any intellectual component to it. The way evangelicalism is structured today, it would have chased away C.S Lewis because of how he thought and processed information. I came back to faith in a slow, intellectual way, and I feel more to the edge and less associated with the movement. So why be here? I also realized that atheism has its problems and flaws, and I decided to choose the lesser of two evils. And I came to realize I do believe in God. What makes it hard for me is that I am a firm believer in science, academia, and history…and some of those fields are at odds with the current evangelical system. So in many ways I am my own.
As for Andrew, these are my parting thoughts. I came to realize after deep reflection that yes, as a skeptic, I waged war in my own way by embarrassing, humiliating, and tearing him down. In our partial conversation on June 20, I felt like I could confess some of that to Andrew. That said, we didn’t have time to talk about it, and his behavior afterwards has raised some eyebrows as I retold this story to others. Andrew needs to come clean about the ways he embarrassed, pressured, and treated me at times. We both hurt each other, and we both bear responsibility for that mess. In many ways the person claiming to be reborn and sanctified should know much more than the person who plants his flag in the agnostic camp. But I have done all that I can in owning my part of the mess. I did that for Andrew White’s benefit. He will need to repent and come clean of not only the behavior I alluded to a few sentences above, but also the false accusation he made, the pain he caused my family, and also sitting on the information that I had repented for 7 to 8 months. That behavior I find very disturbing from someone claiming that they were in the “healthiest church they ever known” If someone who boasts of his sanctification can make a false accusation, I am left wondering….what can a sinner do?
But all that aside, it’s for Andrew’s benefit to clean up the mess and take ownership for it. His behavior not only hurt me, but it hurt his wife and daughter as well. In the process the way forward for Andrew is just to confess and work out his responsibility for his part. For a Christian nothing less should be expected. And if Andrew for some reason disagrees with me on the claim of a false accusation, then I would be open to hearing his view. I could be wrong also but withdrawing, shunning and building a wall is not the way to handle it. The weird thing about this situation is that there are many people who have offered to act as go-betweens. I have people who have offered to help and tell them about what I did in reconciling with them or build bridges with them.
My hope is that he doesn’t close the door. I still would be puzzled as to why a person would spend so much time and effort with someone in a faith crisis and then abandon that person when he pulls out if it. That is not right either. Andrew still needs to own his part of this mess because unless he does this, it will follow him as he moves through life. You can not run from sin, or hide it. David learned that with Bathsheba. Mark Driscoll is learning that now in how he treated Paul Petry and Bent Meyer and plagiarizing eight books, and Andrew White will learn that as well. And for the record, let me also state that for all the stuff you hear from the Hyper-Reformed camp about the role of the man in society or family, I must ask…why leave this wound open and not cleaned up? I firmly reject reformed theology, but as a man I still believe that it was my responsibility to clean up my part of this mess. And to the best of my ability, I have done all that I can. Andrew needs to do the same thing from his side.
I don’t want to seem like I am coming down to hard on Andrew. There were things I was hoping I could thank him for, but our conversation was cut short. I’m grateful that he pursued these discussions with me. I am grateful that a particular conversation with him helped me solved one of my bigger doubts. I am grateful for the time we spent together. Likewise, I want him to repent because I also believe that Andrew has spiritual caliber that could be amazing. He could learn grace in an amazing way. I’m not out to hurt him; I too am concerned with his spiritual growth. After all, we are brothers now…and I couldn’t say that in the past. If Andrew approaches me and says, “Eagle I was wrong, I screwed up…” and did some serious repentance, I would forgive him. How could I not give him grace? According to the parable of the unmerciful servant, if I accept grace from 136 people and deny it to Andrew, then I should be damned. But Andrew has nothing to fear, nothing to be anxious about, no reason to be nervous, no reason to be uncomfortable and no reason to evade me. My response to him would be nothing but grace. You can erase guilt; you can erase some pain. I learned that in the process of repenting and seeking forgiveness from nearly 140 people. There’s no reason to be nervous or afraid. But I will leave the ball in his court, and I will continue to pray for him.
My repentance and efforts to reconcile on such a large scale actually led to some interesting situations. It become the basis for a Sunday school lesson in a Baptist church in North Carolina. And it was worked into part of a sermon at an evangelical church outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And my gut tells me that likely that will happen some more. To listen to the message, go to this link and scroll down to the June 29, 2014 sermon entitled David Dances Before the Lord, delivered by Greg Marshall.
In closing, I found peace with God in being forgiven by 137 people. I can understand why peace is important. I also came to find peace with my evangelical past and bad theology. There is hope, and there is joy, and yes there is such a thing as a new morning.
And for that I am thankful…..
I have over 85 letters that I received from people. That said, I wanted to share some of what I received. These are stories of grace and stories of redemption.
Samples of letters received:
Eagle, this was a WONDERFUL, INCREDIBLE message to receive! Wow! I was blown away when I first read it on Sunday and am just getting a chance to sit down and write a good response.
I appreciate your openness and honesty, both here and over the past several years of knowing you since 2007. I always admired that you were willing to put your thoughts and emotions out there, and I always felt that my interactions with you were genuine.
I could tell that you were wrestling quite a bit, from the Facebook posts you made and the emails you sent to me and others. At times, sure, I got frustrated with the conversations, but that was probably more about my own impatience or feelings of inadequacy as I felt like my words back to you in those posts/responses weren't being effective. Nonetheless, it sounds like much of that wrestling you did was helpful for you. I'm glad that you think deeply and critically about God, the Bible, and your faith (so many people do not!), and I hope that you will continue to do so as you move forward/onward.
I don't recall any instances where I was personally offended or angered, but I do cheerfully accept your forgiveness without any hesitation! Likewise, I hope I was not someone who caused you to become jaded or angered in your faith (I recall you mentioning general issues with previous church peers and/or Bible study leaders), and I ask forgiveness from you if I was. I am far from perfect and have many faults and flaws, but I do strive to live a life increasingly characterized by love and grace toward others. I hope it is so.
If you ever want to chat or are struggling again, don't hesitate to drop me a line. I'm happy to converse. Blessings to you, Eagle. Again, it was so wonderful to hear from you.
Thanks so much for the thoughtful words. As I already felt with your post about a new day, my biggest reaction is joy for you that you are finding some peace and a way forward in your own life. I really respect your courage in facing, and asking forgiveness for, the ways this anger affected people.
In my own case, I only found myself infrequently feeling injured by the ways you lashed out, and in fact, while I was concerned that you find a way to deal with all this, I was also blessed many times by your honesty in spelling out what was frustrating you, and as I've mentioned, you helped me to be more honest with myself about my own issues at the time. I forgive you 100% for all of this, and I pray that you can find reconciliation and mutual trust with everyone else you are writing, too.
I am glad to hear you are finding fresh hope in Christianity, and doing that hard work of drawing that dividing line between the Lord and imperfect people. I encourage you to keep it up even when it's hard, and to seek out people who are doing their level best to live up to what you're sensing the Lord is about, even when they may be rocking the boat or it's hard to understand the way forward.
As I probably told you, I've had a similar journey, getting frustrated with Christianity as a young adult and being a secular humanist for a while before getting an unexpected new direction of returning to faith in a new way a couple of years later. Given my experience, I'd encourage you to be gentle with yourself and other people, and to not treat any phase of your past journey as wasted time or wrong, just incomplete. The passions and concerns we all have are gifts from God. Even when we don't use these gifts perfectly, or we are confused or angry or doubting or fighting, God is working to make his story unfold in our lives.
I am inspired by, and will be thinking about and praying for, this new morning in your life.
Eagle, I'll definitely accept your apology. Consider yourself forgiven. I hope you can find the peace you're looking for – it's not easy to ask for forgiveness and it means a lot to me for you to reach out this way. Your comments never made me angry as much as sad. It was hard for me to see the fun-loving and happy guy I knew at Marquette so obviously hurt and angry. I consider you one of my closer friends from college – there will never be a canoe trip quite the same as the Cru fiasco
I'm not as consistent of a pray-er as I could be, but you've been in my prayers on and off over the last several years. You can bet that I'll be continuing to pray as you sort through faith again. I'm in a group from my church that is reading through Tim Keller's "The Reason for God" which has some interesting things to say about common issues that people have with Christianity. Maybe it would be helpful for you.
I'm so glad to hear from you, and encouraged about your decision to give God another shot. Keep me posted!
DUDE! You have absolutely made my day!!! Of course I forgive you. I've been praying for you for a long time, and I never took personally anything you posted. And if I ever did or said anything that hurt you, please accept my sincere apologies.
None of us is perfect, and we all fail at times to live the way God wants us to. I'm really glad that you're beginning to separate people's sin from God's holiness. He is so GOOD, and I'm thrilled to hear that you're taking steps back to him. You have such a big heart. Only God can fill it!
Please keep in touch and let me know if there's anything I can do or pray for you.
Love you, man.
Sorry for the delay in responding. I was out coaching some baseball.
First, I want to commend you on your efforts to find new peace and seek God out. It's the right move…the only move, in fact.
I really enjoyed living with you for those brief 3 months. You were someone I really looked up to. You provided good advice when I sought it out. You introduced me to a church that I really liked. In fact, I still to this day listen to the sermons of Frontline's old pastor, Todd Philips. Also, our pre- and post-church service discussions let me grow a little bit more in the faith and knowledge of Christ. This is why it was such a shock to see on Facebook the evidence that you have lost your faith. I didn't know the reasons, but I was very concerned. It also had me personally worried. I thought, if a man I only knew as a Christ follower with a burning passion for growth and a closer relationship lost his faith, what was to come of me?
However, I was confident that you would find your way back. Having graduated from a Christian school and attended Christian colleges, I have seen many people turn away from God only to come crawling back when they see how evil and destructive the world really is. Maybe God let's us do this to help us understand how much we really need Him??
You have never angered or offended me. Even if you have, you'd always be forgiven. I am hopeful for you. You're a good man who knows a great God. I'll be praying for you. Keep in touch!
It is with tears flowing down my cheeks that I want to say this:
There is nothing that I can think of that I need to forgive you of. God is SO good Eagle, He is faithful & w/this msg, He is showing that once again. Why He allows us to walk away in destructive ways; I dunno, other than He has a purpose to change us & makes us stronger & better in the process. I am beyond happy right now! These tears are of joy & such praise that God is allowing me to see this day, which I've prayed for so many times! Thank you! Thanks for sharing this very, very good news w/me. I am in awe of our Savior, His love is so vast — it's bigger than all our sins, Eagle, so glad He is guiding you back to that! Allow Him to love you, to care for you, to soothe the sores that still exist in ur heart, He will cleanse you, restore you & make you shine again!!!
I have so much I want to say but I am at work so I better cut it here. Please, keep in touch & know that I never doubted for one second that you've always belonged in our family in Christ, not b/c of u but b/c of HIM!!! I'm living proof of the miracles HE continues to perform, so I knew He would bring you back! Welcome back to your family brother!
Yes, I forgive you. I admire your transparency and doing what scripture asks us to do. It's not easy coming before so many people in your life and I appreciate that. I am doing a devotion on the book of Hosea currently and at the end of chapter 5 I read yesterday it talks of God waiting for us to acknowledge wrong and seeking him and that in our distress we earnestly seek him.
I'm so sorry to hear all that you are going through, but I praise God that even though it took this terrible time it brought you back on the path toward Him. I remember in the fall of 2008 when I heard from you that you were stepping away from the faith. I have been praying and asking a few close others to pray since then. I will continue to pray for the current situation.
Your sister in Christ