Both Jeff Owens and his wife Sarah recently sent out a thread of tweets regarding a recent experience they had at their former (unidentified) Sovereign Grace church. I think these tweets deserve a wider audience.
What you will read is not healthy at all, and people need to understand the dismissive and bullying behavior employed by Sovereign Grace church leaders when they are encouraged or questioned about having an independent investigation of the decades-old sexual abuse allegations involving many children, many churches, and the mishandling of these cases by church leaders.
Sovereign Grace leaders are still using the same tactics that we’ve heard from personal accounts for years: no one gets to question authority or criticize authority without repercussion. Folks, this is spiritual abuse. Let’s call it what it is.
I have copied the tweets below for easier reading, but if you would like to see the original tweet threads, click on the hyperlink in Jeff Owens’ tweet below, or Sarah’s link within his tweet.
In the tweet thread, there is a reference to Rachael Denhollander. If you are unfamiliar with Rachael Denhollander and her experience in exposing Sovereign Grace ministries mishandling of sex abuse cases, here’s a good article to start: My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.
Before we get to the tweets by Jeff and Sarah Owens, I wanted to share a section of the Sovereign Grace Local Church Polity with you. I have bolded parts pertinent to the communication by congregants to elders and leaders:
Section 11 – The Role of the Congregation (Page 53)
Although authority in the local church is given to elders, they are not to be
insulated from the congregation’s appropriate observations and concerns and even responsibility to ensure the fidelity of their leaders. Because Scripture affirms the right of church members to bring legitimate allegations concerning an elder (1 Tim. 5:19-21), a church’s local polity in conjunction with the Sovereign Grace Rules of Discipline (which follow) outline the relevant policies and procedures by which such allegations can be evaluated. Clear communication about such avenues of recourse will foster both a healthy accountability and an atmosphere of trust. Additionally, the roles and responsibilities of the congregation may be worked out in Sovereign Grace churches by the following pursuits:
• Seeking input from the congregation for any pastoral candidate for ordination.
• Seeking input from the congregation for any deacon candidate for installation.
• Creating a church environment where there are vital relationships, active
discussion, and cooperation between the elders and the whole church with a
clear, comprehensive, and welcoming feedback system
It is important to note that the Owens were shut down before any formal process could take place.
Tweet Thread by Jeff and Sarah Owens
2 months ago we approached our Sovereign Grace Church pastors about the SGC response to
@R_Denhollander ’s statements about SGC. We asked them to encourage the family of churches to consider the independent investigation that Rachael called for. We did not do this flippantly.
We spent a great deal of time in prayer and searching before approaching them. We also made clear we had no concerns about our local church and affirmed how they as leaders handled children’s ministry and ensured safety of children at church functions.
Their response was to claim there were factual errors in our concern. (We stated no facts, other than that we were concerned.) They wanted to meet in person to discuss, which we agreed to.
However before that meeting took place they told us we had been “sharing our opinion” and causing mistrust of the pastors by doing so. Because of this they shut down the women’s group I was leading. This was without coming to me to see if there was any validity to those concerns
Because of this they shut down the women’s group Sarah was leading. This was without coming to us to see if there was any validity to those concerns.
We had shared our opinion (the need for an independent investigation) with no one outside of our family. The claim that Sarah had been “sharing her opinion” was false.
After attempting to discuss the issue further and only being told that we needed to not share our opinion, that we had factual errors, and that they needed to know that we could “submit and commit” to their leadership, we requested to meet with a 3rd party for peacemaking.
We asked a trusted member of the congregation to be a 3rd party, and he agreed. But the pastors refused to meet with a 3rd party present. We expressed our confusion and hurt over their response and continued to request a meeting with a 3rd party but were repeatedly rejected.
***JA note: Why would they not welcome a respected 3rd party to be present?
We ended up leaving the church. We were told by the pastors that we were unable to fulfill the commands of Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them.”
***JA note: This I believe is the most widely used verse by leaders to instill fear and guilt in congregants. It is meant to elevate their position and use it to control. Using the verse in this fashion is spiritually abusive.
Responses to Tweets
Tom is right. Those who are in SGC churches need to question what is going on in their family of churches. If you are part of an SGC church are not satisfied with your responses, if your ministry position is pulled from you without communication, if your attempts at communication get shut down, if you are told you “just don’t understand,” these are not acceptable responses. Leaders are going against their own polity which claims they welcome communication from congregants.
If church leaders are disregarding their own polity, and you have exhausted all reasonable methods of communication, then it’s important to let others know as Sarah and Jeff have done. Congregants and future congregants need to know what they are up against if they have an issue they would like to bring up to church leadership.
I asked Jeff Owens if I could use his public comments and respond to them, not as an attempt to attack, but to shine a light on the methods by which some SGC churches maintain control and prohibit congregants from asking legitimate questions and criticisms. This is not a healthy church environment. Elders are using their assumed position of authority in ungodly ways.
This is yet another family who has had to leave their church family and friends. I’m not sure how long they were members of this SGC church, but there is much sadness and heartache when one leaves a church under these circumstances. This is wrong.