Pain in the Pew

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.The Lord of the Rings  Haldir, Chapter 'Lothlórien'.




When I came to my faith in Jesus, I was grateful for the love and forgiveness that I experienced, first from Jesus, and secondly from pastors and other Christians.  I remember reading Lord of the Rings and having discussions into the wee hours of the morning of the many allegories of the Christian life found there.  Over the years, God led me to wonderful churches with deeply committed pastors who taught me the deep truths of the Scripture.  From them I learned a guiding principle… In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty, and in all, charity.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe in careful elucidation of the Bible and am considered conservative in all but churches that lean towards the Calvinista (the New Calvinism) view of life.


I recently left a church in which the Senior Pastor did not believe in the above principle.  For example, he told me he had never heard of “A” and “B” issues!  Is this possible?  Or was there something, unexpressed, that I didn’t understand?  Unfortunately, there was, but it took me a while to understand it.


So many caring Christians are crushed by lies, callousness, and disinterest; however, as time passes, it is not merely a few.  Due to the rapid ascension of the Calvinistas, the unbiblical leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the growing prominence of Sovereign Grace Ministries, reports of spiritual abuse are skyrocketing.


We are here to tell those of you who are discouraged and downtrodden that you are not alone.  We intend to share stories and analysis to give words to your experiences.  Today we tell a few stories that will give voice to a few of these concerns.


We tip our hats to Wade Burleson and his exposure of the foolishness occurring in the SBC.  We thank those at and for allowing those abused by Sovereign Grace Ministries to share their heartbreaking testimonies in a public forum.  We hope to add to the growing voices against abusive church movements.  Remember what happened to Martin Luther when he exposed the sins of the Catholic Church?  They tried to silence him but were incredibly unsuccessful.  Today’s “admirals of rowboats” are trying to shut down blogs as a way of communicating the truth.  They will be sadly unsuccessful because God's truth ALWAYS prevails!

We leave you with the following stories. We bet many of you have been in similar positions.
Story One from Wade Burleson’s Blog


Doug Pittman, a former member of Prays Mill Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Church just west of Atlanta, Georgia, called me at the office yesterday to thank me for my blog, which he said had been a source of encouragement to him. It seems that Doug, a man in his late forties, had been a member of Prays Mill Baptist Church his entire life. Yet in early 2007 PMBC church leaders, led by Pastor Mike Everson, forcibly removed Doug from membership. Doug and his family had been attending another SBC church prior to the disciplinary action, and Doug himself had personally informed Pastor Everson weeks earlier that he and his family would be joining a sister church. Nobody from Prays Mill Baptist Church had informed Doug that he was "under discipline," and Doug discovered that he had been forcibly "removed" from membership when PMBC members called to tell him after the business meeting where the action had occurred.


Doug had been a star athlete at the local high school, a baseball player for Auburn University, highly respected in the community and his church, and had never been one to ruffle feathers or rock the boat. But Doug's conscience had led him to leave his home church and attend another church because he had discovered that church leaders, led by Pastor Mike Everson, were deceiving church members about multiple indiscretions involving staff members, church computers and pornography. Doug spoke out against Pastor Everson's decision to cover up the moral indiscretions by multiple staff members. Doug had first hand knowledge of the pornography problems because he was the computer specialist at PMBC, and it was he who had performed the forensic tests. He believed the church should know the truth, that there should be full transparency and no cover-up. He spoke his convictions to leadership, including Pastor Mike Everson. When leadership informed Doug that they intended to continue with the subterfuge, Doug made the decision to leave.


Doug believes that the surprise move against him was intended to punish him for daring to speak out against church leaders. It was only after he was informed, after the fact, that he had been removed from the membership at PMBC that Doug began, on May 4, 2007, his blog. Doug told the reasons, in full detail, that led to his decision to leave the church and his shock that he was being "disciplined" for simply following his conscience and speaking out against what he believed to be intentional deception by church leaders. As stated above, Doug had intended to simply leave the church, but the blog was necessary to reveal what he believed to be an ecclesiastical abuse of authority, several acts of deception by church leadership, and a blatant attempt to ruin Doug's reputation for speaking out in opposition to church leadership actions.


Doug signed his name to everything he wrote on the blog. He used the blog to expose the truth and fight the falsehood intentionally being spread. He also told me over the phone yesterday that when he began to write he received multiple threats. But he continued. He felt his home church needed, and Christ even demanded, full transparency, honesty and integrity. But according to Doug Pittman, friends of Pastor Mike Everson, including some large mega-church pastors in Georgia and Florida, circled the wagons to protect their friend who was now "under attack."


(At this point, Georgia Baptist Convention passes an antiblogging resolution)


When the resolution "passed," I'm sure that many Southern Baptists thought those evil "bloggers" had it coming. Most Southern Baptists, including me, had absolutely no knowledge of Doug Pittman and the saga at Pray Mills Baptist Church. It is quite possible that SBC agency trustees, contrary to the statement in the resolution, actually need someone to be critical of their decisions. It is also quite reasonable to believe that the "disharmony" mentioned in the resolution is not caused by a blogger following his conscience, but by church leaders following a path of deception…


Pastor Everson resigned his church leadership position in December 2007. Doug Pittman also shut down his blog. The hurt, however, continues. Doug told me yesterday that he has no desire for he or his family to ever again be associated with anything Southern Baptist. I encouraged Doug to realize that there are a great many Southern Baptists just like him. People who know that truth and transparency is always best, and we will not be snowed by any religious “state of play.” In short, when any outside agency is used by a local Southern Baptist church to strike back at someone who is attempting to present the truth, then we Southern Baptists have an obligation to not just assume that the church leadership is always acting with integrity.


At this point, we will include two stories from former members of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) churches.  This "family of churches", headed by C.J. Mahaney, is having a tremendous influence on quite a few Southern Baptist churches, particularly those that lean in the Reformed direction.  PCA churches may be coming under SGM's influence as well. 


We are stunned to discover that the following well-known Christian leaders are endorsing Mahaney:  John Piper, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, and Wayne Grudem, among others.  Due to the number of serious allegations against Sovereign Grace Ministries and its leader, we believe anyone considering involvement in SGM should exercise extreme caution.
Story Two From Former Sovereign Grace Ministry Members


 "I am new to this site. I left SGM 13 years ago after being involved deeply for 14 years (’81-’95). I left under good terms, but am still troubled by what I experienced. I am wondering how many people noticed or experienced the following treatment:

1. Demand for complete devotion and obedience


2. Complete conformity in everything from doctrine to dress


3. Any views contrary to those of leadership are wrong (not to mention that those views change)


4. If you disagree with correction you are prideful an unteachable


5. Summary dismissal or reassignment of leadership responsibilities for any reason with out discussion


6. Gathering information on people to build a case against them


7. Lying


8. Leadership reserves the right to tell someone what their “gift” is. This can be used to accomplish # 5 if no damning evidence is found. Note that your gift definition can be changed at any time to suit the goals of leadership


9. “Passive excommunication” Those that do not agree with leadership or simply want to do something different (than the current ministry model) are not chosen for leadership and are encouraged to leave SGM.


10. Be quiet. You cannot discuss any opinion, idea, project, or issue not approved by SGM leadership. Members often support the hush policy. 


11. Pride. Other churches are not as good as we are. Para-church organizations are bad. Leaders are elevated to an unhealthy position.


12, Curses. You won’t do well if you leave. If you do not submit (to extra-biblical rules), you are out of God’s will and will face consequences…Pain. (He left the church) 


Finally, can any one help me understand why after so long, the experience at SGM hurts so badly? I have continued to attend church but have never regained my confidence. 

Story Three From Former SGM Members


"Hello Everyone- Here is our STORY-  My wife and I (And 4-6 other families, including the former worship leader) left a SG Church less than a year ago, after seven years. We were a part of starting the church, were in leadership as Care Group Leaders, and served in other areas of service leadership. Our experience is similar to what I have been reading here and in other blogs. The leadership structure was sinfully authoritarian and controlling. We first noticed this when several families (friends) abruptly left years before we did. I was at that time stunned that anyone would leave what I considered to be the perfect church, so I reached out to these families to better understand what they were going through. The pastor was extremely irritated that I had the audacity to go and talk with these former members without notifying him. Other members asked me if I had gotten the pastor’s permission before I went and talked to them.


At first I didn’t understand and just felt like, “What do you mean ‘permission’?” It turns out that the families all left in response to the control and abuse they experienced, though I didn’t understand what they were talking about at the time and I guess I blamed them. Our story began when my wife and I initiated a friendly meeting with our pastor/friend about what seemed to us to be a subtle shift in the church away from grace and toward legalism (The sermons, Care Group themes, etc.) It seemed like we were beginning to “drop the ball,” to quote CJ, when it came to the gospel. Well, we left the meeting 3-hours later, feeling well corrected, as the pastor and assistant pastor tag teamed us. This started a series of forced meetings with the pastors, over the course of a year or more, where our hearts were examined and we were denied attendance at the care group of our choice and warned to not talk to others about anything.


Eventually, I was told that I could not count the offering anymore (I was the lead guy), then could not be on the Greeting Team, and finally, we were told we could not attend Care Group at all. Many people were shocked, but assumed the pastors knew what they were doing so didn’t ask questions. It was at this time that sermons from the pulpit were about, “protecting your pastors,” and “submitting to their authority and making it a joy to lead you.” I was determined to stay with my church family, His Body, and not succumb to the bullying by the pastors, but after receiving an absurd e-mail with accusations from the pastor, and feeling somewhat shunned by some others, we decided to leave peacefully to avoid a fight. I am concerned that this is not a local problem, but SGM-wide. I am sure that our pastors’ behavior was either condoned or overlooked by the regional SGM leadership team here. I think I will post this in other blogs, as this is the first time I have summarized our experience."
We would like to leave you with a smile on your face. We bet most of you can relate!

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