An Open Letter to “Together for the Gospel”: Don’t Tether Your Future to C.J. Mahaney’s Past

In the mid-1970s, my sister Romae [pronounced row-MAY] embarked on a journey into activism for those who survive abuse and violence. It began when a friend of hers needed help to escape a situation of physical and emotional battering. Seeing the terrible impact of domestic violence on her friend catalyzed an unknown strength inside my sister. It propelled her in the direction of advocacy for survivors and activism in society. Romae felt compelled by her faith in Jesus Christ to do something that would make a difference for the future. From that point forward, her ministry and service expanded to others who were frequently left to otherwise suffer alone — and who often found themselves abandoned by churches.

Frustratingly, for almost 40 years she found that theologically conservative, evangelical churches were the least responsive to opportunities she offered to train staff and congregations on child sexual abuse prevention, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Still, Romae persevered in this calling to support survivors and prevent more victims. Sadly, she passed away five years ago. But Romae left a legacy of help and hope, along with a fragrant awareness that her strength to carry on as an advocate and activist always came from Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and people’s prayers.

This day — April 12, 2016 — we come to a spotlight moment for “Together for the Gospel,” a theologically conservative, evangelical movement that claims to be dedicated to promoting the good news of Jesus Christ. C.J. Mahaney has been given a prominent public role as a T4G speaker and spokesman. There are protests because of Mr. Mahaney’s dominant leadership over the system of Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches, which has remained mired in criminal convictions of child sexual abusers, and additional allegations of systemic protection for abusers, failure to report known/suspected abuse, and traumatizing victims and/or neglecting them.

Despite years of documentation about the spiritually corrosive SGM/SGC system, and appeals to various organizations to stop shielding Mr. Mahaney from the consequences of his leadership, still he speaks for and at T4G. This causes great agony to SGM abuse survivors, their families, and those who stand with them. As SNAP (one of the child abuse victim advocacy organizations highlighted in the Academy Award winning movie, “Spotlight”) wrote in an open letter to Together for the Gospel:

Every time a complicit church official is honored, it discourages victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from exposing predators, warning parents and protecting kids. Giving corrupt men like Mahaney praise and visibility contributes to the already strong sense of powerlessness that many who saw, suspected and suffered sexual abuse within churches feel. It decreases the chances they’ll find the courage and hope needed to speak up about horrific wrongs. Essentially, it sanctions the concealing of sexual assaults against children.

While it may appear that T4G merely inherited controversy by their protecting and promoting Mr. Mahaney, I would suggest that this has gone far beyond controversy; it is now about institutionalizing their complicity. By continued refusal to use their influence to promote resolution through SGM taking responsibility for abuse, T4G leaders and participants adopt a posture of contempt and cronyism in standing against SGM survivors of child sexual abuse and their family members, and inside whistleblowers and outside advocates for justice.

If T4G as a movement truly believes in the saving and transforming grace of the gospel, this is the moment they can demonstrate that commitment — by removing C.J. Mahaney from both speaking at this year’s T4G event, and from active participation in future proceedings, until justice has been restored and restitution has been made. Otherwise, T4G continues to tether its future to C.J. Mahaney’s past and the abuses of his Sovereign Grace Ministries network — and T4G will orbit around this polarizing issue in the Church until it shows gospel-centered conscience and compassion, and makes things right.

I urge T4G leaders and participants to consider this request, the goodness of the gospel that will be demonstrated by remediation, and the evil that will endure in failure to take action.

~ Brad Sargent

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Petition at Change.org for T4G to Remove C.J. Mahaney from speaking at Together for the Gospel Conference.

Facebook group: We Stand with SGM Survivors.

Facebook hashtag: #‎T4GStandWithSurivors.

Twitter hashtags: .

Futuristguy posts related to SGM, IStandWithSGMVictims, and restitution/remediation: Sovereign Grace Ministries category.

The following post from Vintage73 gives a good overview of the historical background and some key theological and denominational issues involved: PCA Pastors, Celebrity Christian Conferences, and Child Protection., by Bobby Griffith (April 12, 2016).

The first post below is an investigative piece with more details on the historical background and allegations involved, and the second is an interview with the investigative reporter.

The Washingtonian, The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the rise and fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries, by Tiffany Stanley (February 14, 2016).

Time, Inside the Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries, by Elizabeth Dias (February 16, 2016).

The Boston Globe’s page on the movie, Spotlight. It includes the original investigative article published in 2002 on which the movie was based.

This article from The Wartburg Watch brings together sources leading up to the present protest. SNAP, Others ‘Protest’ Mahaney Speaking at T4G’s ‘We are Protestant’ Conference, by Deb Martin (April 1, 2016).

This report posted on The Wartburg Watch includes background information on C.J. Mahaney that was available from the protesters at the T4G conference on April 13th, along with information about who the protesters were, and some suggested actions that attenders could take. T4G2016 Features C.J. Mahaney Despite a Peaceful Protest and the PCA’s Strong Objection, by Deb Martin (April 13, 2016).

This report posted on Baptist News Global covers the protest, along with background information. Pastor in alleged sex abuse cover-up returns to preaching conference roster, by Bob Allen (April 13, 2016).

This report from The Daily Beast focuses on the protest of T4G; Dr. Albert Mohler’s introductory comments, audiences responses, and C.J. Mahaney’s presentation; and reactions from pastors, child abuse survivor advocates, and bloggers. Pastor Accused of Covering Up Abuse Returns to Spotlight, by Brandon Withrow (April 16, 2016). “Pastor C.J. Mahaney and his network of churches faced protests from victims groups this week after the controversial pastor came back in the public eye.”

In this follow-up report by Bob Allen at Global Baptist Press, C.J. Mahaney says churches should defend their pastors (April 18, 2016).

[Post edited to add links to research/resource articles.]

Today, At Last, I Became a “Screenager” as Futuristguy Blog Turns 13!

Today, April 1, 2016, I turn 13. Well, not me, exactly. But sort of. My blog turns 13, which means I am now officially a “screenager.” Kind of a long time online for somebody my (real) age. It means I’ve been blogging more than 20% of my entire lifespan! And by the massive word-count from all my writings and bloggings, it would certainly seem to be I’ve been sitting here doing nothing but writing for 13 years …

Anyway, I started blogging on April 1, 2003, mostly at the insistence of a few friends from the “emerging ministry” WabiSabi event in Austin, Texas, earlier that spring – primarily Andrew Jones, Shannon Hopkins, and Jessica Stricker. I purposely picked April Fool’s Day to launch, just because my life so frequently seems like it’s at the edge of silly. Or over the edge into the absurd, actually.

I’ve gone through different phases in the kinds of things I’ve written about. I suppose that’s normal for babybloghood. But ultimately, I’ve come to see my blog as an archive for my research and analysis on missional movements, spiritual abuse and recovery, and sustainable organizational development. I’m glad I’ve done this, and I intend to continue to process my experiences and observations online. In case interested, here are posts from blogging milestones past, which share some stats and summaries of interest:

Big Milestone – Entering My 10th Year of Blogging

My 10th Blogiversary on April Fools’ Day 2013 – No Joke!

Happy Blogiversary … 12 years in [2003-2015] and starting into #13 …

As a value-added bonus to the day, here’s some new information: I thought I would explain where my handle of “brad/futuristguy” came from. When I started blogging, there were several other Brad Sargents with blogs or websites, and at least three or four Brad Sargents living in the greater San Francisco Bay Area where I lived. So, I started using the name “brad/futuristguy” to distinguish who I was among all the local and virtual B.S.es, and make it easier to search for and re-find comments I’d made on other peoples’ blogs. That’s because I processed a lot of my thoughts on other people’s blogs back then, but I didn’t always have my own computer and so would have to print out comments I wanted to save. And now you know.

Anyway, to celebrate the milestone, I asked my long-time friend Andrew Jones – one of those who cajoled me into cyberspace – if he would write a guest post to commemorate the moment. He said yes, and offered some very kind words that I much appreciate. Here they are, from yesterday on his TallSkinnyKiwi blog:

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The Beautiful Mind of Brad Sargent

by Andrew Jones

FuturistGuy, the blog of Brad Sargent, celebrates 13 years on the internet tomorrow. Brad is a prolific researcher and writer and its been my privilege to know him back in the 90’s when he wrote a book about our ministry in San Francisco called GodSpace 4 the New Edge.

The past ten years, on his own blog and popping up in the comments of others, Brad has been a tireless champion of abuse survivors, a forensic scientist offering autopsies of failed ministries and movements, a dedicated futurist offering a glimpse into what is coming up next.

I have been saying since 2001 that the Reformation will be blogged. If I am right, the commentary on our current reformation owes much to Brad Sargent. He has tracked the new movements, warned us about toxic systems, showed us where the purging is taking place and why.

Bono from U2 once said on stage, regarding their relationship with the entertainment industry, “We ate the machine, before the machine could eat us.” Brad Sargent helps us understand the machine, both the dangers of the evangelical industrial complex and the possibilities of new life, new growth, and a potential future for the people of God.

Brad, happy 13th blogiversary! We salute you!

March 4th and MARCH FORTH!

Today and this weekend, I’ll be able to spend quite a bit of time working on my book project, Do Good Plus Do No Harm. I’ve already gotten most of the bits and pieces of text sorted into the appropriate main folders (18 chapters), and created the “stem” file to compile all the material into order within that chapter.

Next, I have to go through all the subfolders (usually 5 to 8 per chapter) to mesh all the bits and pieces of information in those, and put the results into the stem file.

Then I’ll list the articles in each stem file so I have a reference table of contents ready for when I start shifting articles around.

Then, edit the stem files.

Then sort out the individual articles into the four major compartments:

  • FIELD GUIDE (short articles on essential topics, with many art illustrations.
  • INDICATORS (how-to’s for measuring what matters for trustworthy versus toxic leaders and organizations).
  • WORKBOOK (case studies, media studies, simulation games).
  • RESOURCES (longer articles and descriptions for those who want more information).

Then, carefully catalog the numbers and titles of the 250 to 300 art illustrations I’ll need to license.

Then, carefully catalog the titles of 200-250 films, and 150-200 books I reference.

And then, voila! Just about done!

At this stage with such a complex project, a lot of “writing” actually turns out to be file management and digital glue. Who knew?

I don’t expect to be able to get this all done in one weekend, but maybe in one month. We’ll see. But regardless, this means I’m *many* steps closer to the finish line!

Hip-hip-hooray and hallelujah! And now, time for a break and an inspirational chit-chat with Mr Coffee …

RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Mars Hill Church Leaders and Alleged Co-Conspirators

Earlier today, Warren Throckmorton posted RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Leaders of Mars Hill Church. You can find a PDF of the 42-page complaint at this link. Filed by Brian and Connie Jacobsen, and Ryan and Arica Kildea, it names Mark Driscoll and John Sutton Turner, along with other alleged co-conspirators.

This RICO lawsuit against leaders of what was Mars Hill Church has been in the making for a long time. RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. This is an extremely serious matter, and I believe there is a significant amount of information about alleged wrongdoing available. I spent at least 300 hours during 2014, researching and analyzing details in order to produce a case study on Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. If I remember correctly, it’s about 70,000 words – the equivalent of about a 160-page paperbook book.

On the first blog page of that case study is a summary of my reasoning for why I believe this type of lawsuit against Mars Hill leaders is justifiable; the allegations are not trivial matters. And note that I wrote most of the material on that page December 1, 2014. I originally put it on my blog as an article: Capstone 2-6: A Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Could be a Just Cause Because … I think you’ll find the entire article informative, but here is the key section of that page and post, just as it appeared over a year ago: Continue reading

My Guest Post on Spiritual Sounding Board

This morning I did a guest post on Spiritual Sounding Board: The Legacy That a Defamation Lawsuit Left to the Survivor Community.I think it’s an important piece of history for spiritual abuse survivors.

On February 22, 2012, Julie Anne Smith was served papers about her former pastor suing her and four others for $500,000, for alleged defamation. She’d posted critical reviews online of him and his church – Beaverton Grace Bible Church. The defendants won the lawsuit and Julie Anne continued her online presence with BGBC Survivors, which eventually became Spiritual Sounding Board. In less than four years since, this blog has had nearly 1 million hits on its home page! Here’s the final paragraph in my post:

But really, who would’ve thought that a lawsuit that seemed meant to intimidate and destroy, instead sparked resources to comfort and edify? Thanks, Julie Anne, for investing yourself in finding a redemptive edge within a destructive situation, and thereby bringing light and hope to many … You.Rock.

Worth a read, and a prayer of thanksgiving to God for how Julie Anne has invested herself in ways that make a difference for the Kingdom!

Project Update ~ Manageability: Making a Mountain of Material “Accessible”

I had the opportunity this week to get out of my home office for a day and a half. This is a rarity, because it always takes a terrible toll on my stamina, and I’m feeling it this weekend. But, sometimes yuh just gotta git outta Dodge anywayz!

I got to see some old friends, meet some new people who have similar interests, and spend time in a peaceful, scenic place where I could just relax and reflect. I really needed that. Keep your nose to the grindstone for too long, and your eyes get filled with grit and block your vision. Mine had. I’d stayed too close in to my work. Getting away gave me perspective, and a chance then to iron out the last long-term, big-picture problems I’ve had: How to divide up this mountain of material into sometime manageable for readers … how to make all this complex, interconnected material accessible for them?

I’d been using a three-part framework for what “accessible” means to me:

  1. The language is understandable, meaning use shorter words that are more common, and put them together in shorter sentences more often than not.
  2. The content accommodates different learning styles, which is why I include words, pictures, movies and historical case studies, charts, discussion questions, group activities, etc.
  3. There is a consistency in format and structure that creates a type of predictability that makes things easier to digest, and easier to refer back to later.

I’ve done pretty well on the first two points, despite it taking a lot of time. But, the third part has been the bugaboo. There is so much material, and so many different kinds of it, that it’s felt impossible to figure out how to fit pieces together in a way that is both accessible and an “elegant,” creative, best-fit solution. I’ve tried multiple ways of dividing things up, but it kept being too complicated.

But, this week, it finally just clicked. I feel like I’ve got the structure accessibility strategy I needed to finish sorting out what goes where! Here’s what I came up with. Continue reading

Project Update ~ 15 Indicators for Discerning Robust versus Hazardous Systems: Who and What Deserves Our Trust?

Recently, I edited a friend’s medical research grant. It seeks funding for a follow-up study on a major public health issue in America. The research focuses on identifying specific biological indicators of a particular disease, and figuring out the mechanisms of how the interaction of body and “biomarkers” works. The core idea is that if we can discern the connections that predict the disease, then we can work on prevention and improve overall health.

That was providential timing, as I’ve been trying to finalize my list of indicators for discerning what constitutes a healthy versus malignant leader, and a trustworthy versus toxic organization. From my work with Shannon Hopkins and Andy Schofield on The Transformational Index, I know we need these kinds of project development and early warning evaluation systems. They help us “measure what matters” and be more intentional about the kinds of transformational impact we both hope to have and are actually having.

I’m aiming my forthcoming Field Guide to lead to using The Transformation Index more effectively. And, despite what seems like a very long series of “delays,” this is the year the Field Guide gets finished, Lord willing! Here’s the latest update on my progress. Continue reading