“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James link
It depends on how you assess the situation.
I am spending a week on Sanibel Island, Florida, in the vacation home of my generous brother in law. I have been teased by some folks for our choice of vacation spot since John Piper called out a couple who retired to Punta Gorda, Florida. which is just north of Sanibel Island and is known for its beautiful sea shells. In 2007, Timmy Brister, a fan of John Piper wrote John Piper Ruined My Vacation. First he quotes John Piper.
I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest (Feb. 2000, p. 98) what a tragedy is: “Bob and Penny… took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” The American Dream: come to the end of your life – your one and only life – and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator, be “I collected shells. See my shells.” THAT is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it.
This is what Brister had to say.
Friday afternoon, my wife and I saw the shells.
We decided to go to the beach, and it was recommended that we check out Sanibel Island (just a few miles south of Punta Gorda), “the seashell capital of the world.” My wife and I walked just a short distance down the beach and saw the scores of people walking away with buckets of shells and loads of smiles.
I wasn’t smiling.
I couldn’t smile because all I could think about was that message seven years ago that Piper preached on that open field outside Memphis, Tennessee. My mind was taken to the judgment seat of Christ and the picture of my life epitomized by the offer of seashells! I know this sounds funny, and I did laugh at myself about this (no, I did not take any shells home). But in the midst of a ruined vacation, I began to praise God for the influence of such an illustration.
I was sad to see how Brister, without question, accepted the assumptions of John Piper. Piper formed unprovable conjectures about Bob and Penny. Let me retell the story from another plausible set of assumptions.
Bob and Penny spent years working for Kraft Foods and Johnson and Johnson. They worked very hard to earn enough money to retire earlier than other folks. During that time, they tithed to their local church which permitted the local church to expand and buy fog machines and an awesome Gospel™ coffee shoppe. Bob and Penny were in church most Sundays and led a small group in their home.
However, they found their Christian walk a bit of a bore and wondered how much they were truly serving their neighbors and the poor. So, they retired early. Instead of spending 10 hours a day at their job, they enjoyed collecting shells and sailing, spending a number of hours enjoying God's beautiful creation and thanked Him for the time to appreciate it. They played softball in order to actively exercise as well as develop relationships with others on their team. They had extra time which they used to volunteer at the local homeless shelter and they took underprivileged children for marvelous trips on their sailboat.
Assuming the worst about people who collect shells.
John Piper made some assumptions about Bob and Penny in the story. Somehow, they are serving God if they work hard at a John Piper approved job. So, if they stay at their corporate jobs and give money to the church, they are "serving God." However, if they retire from corporate America and move to Florida, then they are wasting their lives.
Piper is assuming that Bob and Penny are behaving in an unGospel™ fashion. He doesn't even bother to find out anything about about them except that they collect shells, go sailing and play softball. I read dystopian fiction, I like to travel, and I love to cook. I do lots more than that as well. But, naughty me, I guess.
Maybe kindness is the key.
Years ago, I read an article in Christianity Today called "Being Nice Is Not the Point." I have been unable to find it online and my copy of it is back in Raleigh. However, the point of the article was something like this. Christianity is not about being kind and nice. It is about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. I got the point.
However, the article seemed to downplay the importance of kindness. Yes, Christianity is more than kindness. However, kindness is a virtue that I have come to believe is being downplayed, especially in this new wave of arrogant, young, know-it-all dude-bros.
Last week, I listened to a panel of Christian physicians and dentists discuss the role faith played in their lives. A medical student asked them how they demonstrated their faith in their work. One physician answered this question in an unusual way. He is a nationally known head of a section of medicine in a large university setting. He is known for being an expert clinician, researcher as well as a Christian.
His response startled me. He said:
I know this is going to sound a bit odd but I think one of the best ways to demonstrate your faith is to be nice to the people around you.
At first, I thought his answer was trite as I though back to that Christianity Today article. But, I knew this man and I know how well he is thought of by his peers. The more I thought about his answer, the more it began to make sense to me. He is involved in a high stress clinical specialty. It is not uncommon for people to blame each other when a patient is not doing well. But he is known to be different. He is always kind in the midst of high level stress. The medical staff enjoys being around him and his patients love him.
How do Christian leaders exhibit kindness and grace in their everyday lives?
Jesus was quite big on turning the other cheek. He had this to say in Matthew 5:39 NIV
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
Jesus showed grace and love to those who questioned Him with the intent to understand what He was saying. He was not very big on the Pharisees (the religious leaders) who He said were leading his beloved people astray.
Over the last 10 years or so, I have witnessed a deterioration of kindness in the evangelical Christian faith. One needs only look at the blowhard statements of Mark Driscoll and others to understand that kindness is not longer seen as virtue in some Christian circles.
For a number of years prior to blogging, I followed the stories at ExChristian.Net The folks taught me quite a bit about listening to them. Some were angry by how they were treated by the church. They used strong language to convey their disgust, some of it justified, at the church. I know that if I wanted to reach out to people, I would have to be willing to overlook difficult accusations and strong language in order to get to heart of the person who was writing me. I would need to exhibit kindness, even when I felt threatened or misunderstood. It isn't easy and I fail regularly but I keep trying.
Words have consequences
One of those people was Eagle. He challenged me on issues regarding pain and suffering and did not let me get away with trite answers. The reason that I was able to do this was directly due to the people at ExChristian.Net. They taught me to look beyond the communication style and get to the heart of the matter.
I am not saying that I am there yet but I am getting better as each day passes. This post is to urge Christians to be aware that their words are being read and, in this case, seem by many, many people all over the place.
CRU-George Mason University
Eagle became concerned when he found out that the CRU ministry at George Mason University was actively encouraging their members to attend SGM Fairfax. He wrote a post and sent it along with this following email to the CRU chapter at George Mason University. Eagle has been a stalwart supporter of those who have been deeply wounded by the group formerly know as Sovereign Grace Ministries. He has come to know some of the SGM Survivors and believes their stories as do many others. Eagle cares about the victims and is often surprised by those who seem to blow it off.
I wrote a post at Wondering Eagle asking why does Cru at George Mason University recommend Sovereign Grace Fairfax. In the post I discussed how:
1. Sovereign Grace Fairfax was at ground zero for the largest lawsuit in evangelical Christian history for allegedly covering up child sex abuse. Is it the Gospel to cover up child sex abuse?
2. The history of the shepherding movement
3. Retold the stories of some of the spiritual abuse hemorrhaging out of SG Fairfax. Including of a SG Fairfax Pastor who told a wife to have more sex with her husband in response to him molesting his daughter. And to put a lock on the door to keep him out at night.
4. The struggle evangelical Christians have with discernment and critical thinking skills.
5. Wondered why Cru would recommend a church that is in a movement (9 Marks) that doesn't believe that organizations like Cru should even exist. I attached an article from Jonathan Leeman for you to read.
6. Wondered why Brett & Krista Miller and other Cru staff are not protecting the sheep but leading the sheep to a wolf (Mark Mullery), and reminding Cru of their responsibility to protect the sheep.
As always you are free to leave a comment. This was written by a guy who was involved in Cru for years and planted a chapter in the Midwest. This post will probably show up in SGM Survivors where I imagine Cru and SG Fairfax will be discussed.
Here is the response from B.M. a CRU leader. I have decided not to embarrass him by posting his full name. Character and kindness is seen when it is neither expected or when one believe that it won't be seen by others. Unfortunately, this individual has a long way to go.
Subject: Re: Wondering Eagle – Why is Cru at George Mason Recommending Sovereign Grace Fairfax? Is that Wise?
To: "Eagle ." <email@example.com>
Respectfully sir I have no idea who you are. You don't know my wife and I and we don't know what you're talking about. Your email appears at the very least disrespectful and cowardly.
A more loving, effective and biblical approach would have been to contact me privately to set a time for a face to face conversation if you truly have concerns.
B.M.(my real name)
Unfortunately, BM turns Eagle's concerns about SGM Fairfax into Eagle being the problem. BM does not address the issue whatsoever and commences to name call Eagle as "disrespectful" and "cowardly."
Since George Mason's CRU posts recommendations for churches on a public website, it is perfectly appropriate for someone to approach them both through the internet and in a public setting.
Finally, the way the BM strikes out at Eagle demonstrates the need for those who confront a problem to do so in an anonymous fashion. Why would anyone want to subject themselves to name calling by a CRU leader?
Sadly, I would not be able to recommend CRU at George Mason University to anyone who is questioning the faith. It appears that the leaders are not interested in being kind or turning the other cheek. It would have been so easy for BM to answer Eagle kindly. He could have asked for a time to talk with him. He might have engaged him with questions. Instead, he name calls which is usually found in spiritually abusive ministries. Note that BM never once asks about the victims, another red flag.
CRU's goal, on the surface, seems to be to push churches that line up to a certain doctrinal standard and to broach no question on the choice of these churches. This response causes me to question how CRU chapters choose their churches. I would recommend that all prospective participants in CRU at any university check out their recommended churches. If all they recommend are SGM/SGC, 9 Marks, or ACTS 29 churches, I would say that an agenda is afoot and that kindness may take a back seat to gospel™ doctrine.
Note to Timmy Brister: I am enjoying my vacation. Stop listening to John Piper and discover the beauty around you.Tomorrow, I shall waste me life and collect a bucket of shells in honor of John Piper.
Addendum (9/24/15, 2:15 p.m.) by Deb
Regarding the response Eagle received from a CRU leader at George Mason University, specifically his statement:
Respectfully sir I have no idea who you are. You don't know my wife and I and we don't know what you're talking about. Your email appears at the very least disrespectful and cowardly
I believe a post we published over four years ago (July 29, 2011) should go a long way in explaining Eagle's great concerns about Sovereign Grace Church Fairfax. Here is that post in its entirety. After reading it, you may want to go over to the original post and read through the comments, which are also eye opening.
Confessions of an SGM Pastor (link)
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. " Leo Buscaglia
Sovereign Grace Ministries has been experiencing tremendous upheaval since C.J. Mahaney stepped down earlier this month. Almighty God appears to be bringing conviction to the hearts of some SGM leaders, and only time will tell whether these “heart changes” are the real deal.
Mark Mullery, senior pastor of the Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, made a public confession of his sins when he addressed the congregation last Sunday (July 24th) at a Family Meeting. These confessions were directed toward former members of the church, namely Noel and Wallace.
For those not familiar with these individuals and their testimonies, Noel is a wife and mother who discovered that her three year old daughter had been molested by a 15 year old boy who attended SGM Fairfax along with his family. Her story has been archived at SGM Survivors in three installments. You can begin reading here.
Wallace and his wife Happymom are also former members of SGM Fairfax, and their two children were sexually abused. We featured their story here at TWW on April 12, 2011. (link) SGM Survivors has also archived Wallace’s Story here.
Each of these families has suffered terribly in the aftermath of their children’s sexual abuse, but what’s even more devastating is that they were spiritually abused by their own pastors!
Last Sunday evening Mark Mullery gave an emotional confession that confirmed the testimonies of Noel and Wallace. You can access the audio of the Fairfax Family Meeting at this link. http://media.sovgracefairfax.org/mp3/07-24-11%20Family%20Meeting.mp3 Because we have followed both of these stories so closely, we wanted to update our readers with Mark Mullery's remarks regarding Noel and Wallace. Here is a transcript of Mullery’s confession.
“We are in a time when Sovereign Grace Ministries and Sovereign Grace Church here in Fairfax are being critiqued for the way pastors have led. As I mentioned earlier, there are several blogs that have focused on these issues. Two stories in particular have appeared on those blogs that address situations in this church and address our pastors in particular. What follows is a confession in response to these stories entitled Noel’s Story and Wallace’s Story.
Romans 12:15, the second half simply says: “Weep with those who weep.” This is a good place to start when it comes to the topic of sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of children. By now many of you have become aware of two stories on Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivor blog and the Refuge blog as well I believe — one called Noel’s Story, the other Wallace’s Story. Both of these individuals were at one time members of our church, and both have sad stories to tell.
Noel, a pen name, recounts the tragic story of the sexual assault of her young daughter, which occurred in 1998. Wallace, also a pen name, tells of having two children molested – the incidents coming to light in 1998 and 2007. In each of these cases the perpetrators were young men whose families were also part of our church.
These incidents are still exceedingly painful for these families and understandably so. No parent, no compassionate person can learn of these sins without experiencing sorrow, grief, and heartache over the violation of these innocent children.
But as sad as this is, it gets worse. When these incidents came to light, these families were in trouble. These were children who were victims who had been horribly sinned against. “Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says, and moments like this require extraordinary amounts of tender care, of merciful comfort. This is a time to bind up the brokenhearted and to weep with those who weep.
And that’s just what your pastors did, right? Well, with deep regret I confess, we didn’t. Noel and Wallace are justified in critiquing the pastoral care they received through their trials and afflictions. Sadly, and it breaks my heart to tell you this, sadly in seeking to care for them, we became part of their trial. Like Job’s counselors, we came in a time of need and made things worse. Looking back, we made many mistakes. Here are a few.
We lost sight of the victim. These are complicated moments in the swirl of all the other things to think about, we lost sight of the simple fact that an innocent victim had been grievously sinned against and was in need of constant care. One of the moms reflected to me later and said for us this was 24/7.
We should have followed up more and over a longer period of time. We failed to surround the victims and their families with care. Failed to SURROUND them. Our instincts were to keep the circle of those who knew about this small. We weren’t trying to cover anything up, but we did want to protect the identity of the victim.
Sadly, this left the victim’s parents without the support system they needed at the time when they most needed it. We should have made sure more people knew and knew quickly. Both people in their care group where they needed to be able to work these things through and close trusted friends as well. Many more people were needed to be in place to extend care to the victim’s family. We failed.
These were situations where the family of the victim and the family of the perpetrator were friends. There were pre-existing, close relationships. As they’re trying to sort these things through, when relational conflicts arose between the victim’s family and the perpetrator’s family, we unwisely used a Peacemaker model for conflict resolution. This resulted, put them on an equal plane – get the log out of your eye, get the log out of your eye, go for the speck, go for the speck – this resulted in the victim’s family being corrected when they should have been gently cared for as sufferers.
Oh, I’m so sad. We allowed that to happen and led and participated in that way. I did that. Our aversion to therapeutic thinking kept us from language and people and resources that would have helped these families and that would have helped us help these families. We didn’t give hurting people room to air their emotions.
How in the world is somebody whose child has just been cruelly sexually abused gonna process that flawlessly? Of course, it’s gonna be raw. But instead of giving them the room to work things through, we corrected them, and they expressed themselves in ways that we deemed incorrect. I’m so sorry. We were proud. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We were ignorant.
The hurts from these sins, the effect of sexual abuse of a child runs deeper and lasts longer than any of us could have imagined. We’ve been accused of not getting it. Guilty as charged. We didn’t get it. I’m so sorry. (Long tearful pause)
These aren’t just stories or statistics; these are people. As an elder and the senior pastor, I had opportunities to bring mercy and grace, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort the suffering. I was trying. I was attempting to be helpful, but it pains me to see how often in retrospect I wasn’t. I deeply regret my impatience, self-righteousness, pride, hardheartedness. These things compounded their suffering instead of easing it.
We’ve reached out to Noel, to Wallace, their spouses and families. It pains me to say, it grieves me to say, that our attempts to be reconciled to them have not proven successful so far. Please pray that this might happen.
Now for some of you, this may hit home because you may feel that you too have been hurt or mistreated by your pastors here. If that’s the case, sorry. And we want to humble ourselves, and we want to make things right.
If you don’t feel safe talking to us, please bring a friend, write a note, reach out to us in some way. We really want to hear from you. We want to listen to you. We want to learn from you. We don’t want to correct you. We want to discover where we’ve hurt you, where we’ve sinned against you and seek your forgiveness so we can change.
We deeply regret our failures with these families. We deeply regret the pain that we have caused, but we do thank God that we have a risen Savior in heaven. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. By God’s grace we commit ourselves to learning, growing, and changing so that no parent ever has this experience in this church again.
We can’t agree with everything that’s written about us on the blogs, but we’ve tried to go to school on what we can agree with. We want our children to be safe. We want children who are hurt, victimized, and abused to be well cared for and their families as well. We’ve tried to learn from our mistakes. We’ve tried to learn from these experiences and to make substantive changes in response.”
Earlier this week a former SGM pastor speculated over at SGM Survivors that Mark Mullery did not contact Noel and Wallace prior to the Family Meeting to let them know he would be discussing their stories and issuing a confession. Here is his comment. (link)
Rom828 (comment #211) July 27th, 2011 at 10:46 pm
"All this is quite overwhelming to someone new like myself. I entered like most sharing my two cents worth on arrival but really it takes time to absorb all that is said, felt and expressed on this site. Hard to keep up with which testimony is whose. So I am sitting back, listening, reading and learning what I can. One thought on Mark Mullery… if I am an SGM pastor (which I was) I would at least call the people I would be talking about in the meeting (hopefully he did but it does not sound like it) expressing that I would be following up with them on this. I would say please take what we will say as a teeny attempt at expressing our horror, sadness and regret for all that transpired. Please let’s get together and talk so that the pastors involved can adequately confess our sin to you and then more clearly and definitively confess our sin before the church. Just my thought… hopefully this happened… we’ll see. As someone mentioned… I would not want to hear from friends or mp3 or video what was said about me to a congregation by a pastor without hearing from him first."
Then yesterday morning Wallace’s wife, whose moniker is “happymom”, confirmed Rom828's theory in a comment on the Survivors blog (same link as Rom828’s): happymom (comment #245) July 28th, 2011 at 6:48 am
"Something I find interesting. Fairfax posted their response to the SGM issues on their Facebook account. July 10, 2011, Mark refers to us as “voices on the internet…speaking to the issues and OUR CHURCH IN PARTICULAR.” If not Noel, Grizzly, Wallace and myself, who else could he be referencing, since we have been the ones seeking to expose how they handle abuse? So how did he transition from labeling us as “voices” to the group of people he is now tearful over in front of his church? Why were we not informed of this sudden acknowledgment of wrongdoing? (emphasis mine) Their final summary letter to us dated September 30, 2010, clearly lays out that we were wrong and pastor lg is right. Are they now willing to hear our questions and allow pastor lg to answer them? This is not a family issue if the staff continues to ignore our challenges to lg’s apologies and cover him. I am appalled that pastor lg mentioned child b’s name when the behavior and abandonment of him and his family have caused as much emotional pain and suffering as the incident itself."
At the Fairfax Family Meeting, two other pastors (Vince and Lou) addressed the congregation. Lou is HappyMom's brother-in-law. Yes, the uncle of Wallace and HappyMom's children confessed that he sinned against his own flesh and blood by not comforting them in their time of tremendous need. You can hear Lou's apology in the audio link above.
I am continuing to follow the comments over at SGM Survivors, and last night Noel posted her initial response to Mark Mullery’s confession. She shares that she "cried as Mark confessed to the church and was so encouraged that he was finally trying to do something right."
However, the remarks made by Vince and Lou upset her terribly. Based on her candid reaction, it appears Vince and Lou spoke in such generalities that they misled the congregation about what really happened. She concludes her reaction with these words:
"Tell the truth about who tried to reconcile……tell the truth about why these families are not reconciled. Stop with the "damage control" already! Tell the truth." Sadly, it appears there is much more work that needs to be done before any kind of reconciliation can take place between the SGM Fairfax pastors and these victimized families. May God's will be done in this tragic situation.