Only an Independent Investigation Can Remove the Cloud of Suspicion Over Sovereign Grace Churches

Be respectful toward all people, because all bear the image of the Lord God who made us.

But do not be a “respecter of persons” – showing partiality for, or prejudice against – based on their race, gender, social class, wealth, family connections, or other status.

~ brad/futuristguy

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I originally posted this as a Twitter thread on March 10, 2018, about Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) and its former version, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). What follows is a compilation of 15 tweets and related links in that thread, slightly edited for better readability.

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Here are some thoughts I’ve had on justifications for an independent/outside investigation in the case of Sovereign Grace, et al.

CONCLUSIONS: It IS needed, since partiality toward key players and against key victims has been spotlighted over the lengthy course of alleged failures of SGM/SGC leaders.

Their leaders’ and members’ critiques focus on abstractions of theology and polity, and negations of questioners, more than responding to the witnesses of concrete evidence and testimonies by those claiming to have been harmed.

So, if SGM/SGC wishes this perma-cloud of suspicion to be lifted, an independent investigation by a trusted external agency may be the only action that could do it. Otherwise, they should expect the Kingdom Klieg lights and national news spotlights to continue.

SOME DETAILS: The way I see it, there are at least four domains in which entities external to SGC/SGM, et al, legitimately hold authority over them.

[1] As Christians, they are bound by biblical character requirements on those they place in the public eye via SGC platform.

[2] As associates in any professional or membership groups (e.g., network, coalition, denomination, association), they are bound by all requirements for membership in good standing with that group. For instance, SGC is part of ECFA – the Evangelical Council for Fiscal Accountability.

[3] Regardless of their theology on church/state relations, as American citizens, they are bound by U.S. criminal and civil codes, including local, regional, state, federal laws. This includes state laws on mandatory reporting by clergy and/or citizens of known/suspected sexual abuse.

[4] As participants in a 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit corporation, they are bound by relevant statutes of all U.S. regulatory agencies (local, state, federal, IRS). This includes various registrations, licenses, and filings, plus specified public access information/documents.

The IRS requires fulfilling issues it deems as basic to serving in the public interest to deserve non-profit status: transparency, sound governance, and avoidance of conflicts of interest and inurement (excessive benefit to board members, staff, and/or their family/friends).

In the case of SGM/SGC, et al, there are credible allegations involving at least 3 domains: [1] character issues among leaders, [3] criminal/civil issues such as failure to report abuse, and [4] transparency, and inherent conflicts of interest due to nepotism and cronyism.

Former SGM members and others have posted specifics on these reported failures. For instance, see blogs of Brent Detwiler and SGM Survivors, and the #IStandWithSGMVictims Twitter/blog campaign. A recent extended summation comes from Rachael Denhollander.

Due to the apparent Sovereign Grace track record of (1) partiality, (2) deflecting accusations, and (3) silencing victims, it would be difficult to trust as impartial any investigation conducted by SG itself or by any external agency where SG emissaries control the reportage.

But, the choice is theirs – as it always has been. Is this association of Christians willing to clear the air with an investigation conducted by an agency that functions with transparency and impartiality? Or will they continue to leave these serious contentions unresolved?

Why do I care? I’ve experienced abuse of authority by spiritual leaders, and interviewed others who likewise have. I know its destructive impact – on individuals, institutions, and our witness as Christians/Church. For Kingdom’s sake, may SGC choose humility and transparency.

Thoughts on Abuse, Position, Power – and Restitution is an article I posted in May 2014 related to SGM. It covers: recovery for survivors, restitution by “agents of damage,” rehabilitation of toxic church system, and restoration of a besmirched testimony of the Church. This post was part of the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign.

Conducting Restitution When Our Leadership Causes Damage is an article I posted in November 2014 related to SGM. It covers: restitution versus revenge, and an expanded description of 8 suggestions for restitution/remediation (i.e., relational and organizational repair).

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