Tedd Tripp and Tom Chantry: Shepherding a Child’s Heart … or Not

Tedd Tripp, Tom Chantry, Failure to Report, Mandatory Reporter, Spanking, Shepherding a Child’s Heart


tedd tripp, failure to report, mandatory reporter, spanking, Tom Chantry


In the late 1990s, I attended a parenting seminar by Tedd Tripp. It may or may not be significant to note that the seminar was held at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

The seminar covered material from Tripp’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart (1995). Among my circle of friends, this book received high praises, after the Train Up a Child (1994) parenting book by Mike and Debi Pearl made its rounds. Yes, both books influenced our parenting, sadly.

At the time, we liked a lot of what Tedd Tripp had to say about parenting. Here are some of the good quotes from the book:

  • All behavior is linked to attitudes of the heart. Therefore, discipline must address attitudes of the heart.
  • The finest art of communication is not learning how to express your thoughts. It is learning how to draw out the thoughts of another.
  • The most powerful way to keep your children from being attracted by the offers of camaraderie from the wicked is to make home an attractive place to be.
  • God is concerned with the heart—the well-spring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Parents tend to focus on the externals of behavior rather than the internal overflow of the heart.
  • You must regard parenting as one of your most important tasks while you have children at home. This is your calling. You must raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You cannot do so without investing yourself in a life of sensitive communication in which you help them understand life and God’s world.

Tripp’s focus on the child’s heart was an improvement from Mike and Debi Pearl’s teachings where greater emphasis was on spanking – even down to describing the tool used to implement discipline (a 1/4-inch flexible plumber’s line, intended to give a good painful sting, without leaving marks).

It wasn’t until many years later that I saw problem’s with Tripp’s teachings. While his emphasis was the child’s heart, he honed in on the sinfulness of cihldren, how they are born into sin, and spanking would remove the foolishness from a child’s heart:

  • The child’s problem is not an information deficit. His problem is that he is a sinner. There are things within the heart of the sweetest little baby that, allowed to blossom and grow to fruition, will bring about eventual destruction.
  • Your children’s souls are in danger of death—spiritual death. Your task is to rescue your children from death. Faithful and timely use of the rod is the means of rescue  (106).
  • God has ordained the rod of discipline for this condition. The spanking process drives foolishness from the heart of a child (106).
  • God has commanded the use of the rod in discipline and correction of children. It is not the only thing you do, but it must be used. He has told you that there are needs within your children that require use of the rod. If you are going to rescue your children from death, if you are going to root out the folly that is bound up in their hearts, if you are going to impart wisdom, you must use the rod (108).
  • I knew that failure to spank would be unfaithfulness to their souls (109).
  • The use of the rod is an act of faith. God has mandated its use (109).
  • The rod . . . is the parent, as God’s representative, undertaking on God’s behalf what God has called him to do. He is not on his own errand, but fulfilling God’s  (109).
  • When does a child need a spanking? When you have given a directive that he has heard and is within his capacity to understand and he has not obeyed without challenge, without excuse or without delay, he needs a spanking. If you fail to spank, you fail to take God’s Word seriously. You are saying you do not believe what the Bible teaches about the import of these issues. . . . If obedience is to be absolutely mandatory for him, you cannot tolerate disobedience (149).

Now, having researched people and books that influenced us over the years, I have come to similar conclusions as Anne Sokol, who wrote this review of Shepherding a Child’s Heart. If you were part of that wave of people who were reading Shepherding a Child’s Heart, I encourage you to read Anne’s review and see what you think.

If you are unfamiliar with Tripp’s teachings, I found a short YouTube video in which he discusses spanking:



So-Called Biblical Parenting Leaders

We, as parents, seemed to follow trends that so many others did – especially in the Christian homeschool movement. Unfortunately, many of those trends ended up being more harmful than helpful, such as: Doug Phillips – Vision Forum, Mike and Debbie Pearl – Train Up a Child, Gary Ezzo – Growing Kids God’s Way). Perhaps Tedd Tripp should be added to this list, too.

Harmful Results

This brings us to the case of Tom Chantry:

Tom Chantry, who occasionally wrote with Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs blog, is a former pastor with the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA), and has been in hot water in the past year or so:

Chantry, 47, was indicted in Yavapai County Superior Court on eight counts – five counts of child molestation and three of aggravated assault – for offenses committed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he worked at the Miller Valley Baptist Church. (Source)

What does Tom Chantry have to do with Tedd Tripp?

My friend and blogger, Todd Wilhelm, has been closely following this case, and it is the following information from an earlier blog post by Todd that got me interested in reporting on Tedd Tripp:

In April 2017 the ARBCA, feeling the heat from numerous bloggers (hereherehere and here), who presented credible evidence that they had covered-up the sexual abuse and physical assault of children by ARBCA pastor Thomas Chantry, published the document below. While ARBCA leadership clings to their false claim of no cover-up by the ARBCA, irrefutable evidence continues to mount which puts to flight the lies contained in their published document. (It should be noted that this document seems to have disappeared from the ARBCA website.)

You can read the document at Todd Wilhelm’s blog here, but notable quotes follow. Todd’s commentary is in green, the quoted document is indented and in italics:

“All parties agreed to the three men who would serve on the Council. Those who served in this capacity were men of integrity, elders in their respective churches, trusted in the association, and had considerable experience in the fields of law, counseling, and law enforcement.”

Who were these three men?

The three men who served on the Council were Mike McKnight, Pastor Tedd Tripp, and Pastor Richard Jensen. Yes, that Tedd Tripp, who at the time was the pastor of the Grace Fellowship Church in Hazelton, Pennsylvania.

Anyone with “considerable experience in the fields of law, counseling, and law enforcement” would know that they have a responsibility to report abuse cases to law enforcement. Evidently, this did not happen.

The document continues:

“Contrary to the recent false charges made by internet bloggers and others, from 1995 to this day there has never been a cover-up whatsoever by anyone in the Association with knowledge of these events.”

Now we’re back to Todd’s commentary:

I [Todd Wilhelm] attended an Evidentiary Hearing for the upcoming Thomas Chantry trial yesterday. One item that came out in the hearing was the fact that the ARBCA investigative three-man committee published a “sealed, confidential” report of their findings. This document was not meant for wide distribution but was intended for ARBCA leadership’s eyes only. This document stated that the spankings administered by Thomas Chantry to the victims were “punishing for the personal pleasure” of Thomas Chantry. The parents of the victims were never given this information. The prosecuting attorney, Susan Eazer said that every family stated that if they had been made aware of this information they would have reported Chantry to the Police.  Instead of reporting this information to Law Enforcement, leaders of ARBCA chose to remain silent and instead attack the bloggers for “false charges.” [JA bolded]

“Everyone has been open, as far as discretion allows, and everyone with knowledge of these events has operated within the parameters of the laws of the land.”

I was recently provided with some information which proves that ARBCA leaders did not operate “within the parameters of the laws of the land.”

Cutting to the chase, Todd Wilhelm writes:

As you can read in the highlighted section of this motion filed on behalf of Thomas Chantry, the three-man panel of Mike McKnight, Pastor Tedd Tripp, and Pastor Richard Jensen were, (among others) under the law, mandatory reporters of abuse. Further, their failure to report Chantry’s abuse to Law Enforcement was a criminal act! Yet the ARBCA document claims “everyone with knowledge of these events has operated within the parameters of the laws of the land.” (Source)

Ok, that brings me back to Tedd Tripp. So, evidently Tedd Tripp failed to report abuse by then-pastor Tom Chantry. My brain has gone wild with questions about this.

  • Why would this man fail to report child abuse when he knew it was abuse?
  • Is it because he doesn’t fully believe it is abuse?
  • Is he merely trying to protect a pastor?
  • Is he thinking that if this pastor gets in legal trouble for spanking, then it will not look good for other Christians who spank children?
  • Is he trying to protect a pastor who believes the same way he does about spanking: that it should be mandatory?
  • Does he believe that his spiritual obligation to uphold the practice of “biblical” spanking exempts him from following the laws of the land?
  • I wonder – has Tedd Tripp ever reported any cases of abuse (physical or sexual abuse) to authorities?
  • What does Tedd Tripp believe about Romans 13 and obeying civil authorities?


Here’s what I think. I think Tedd Tripp is no different from the people who believe it is spiritually wrong to intervene medically when their children are sick. I think he is putting his legalistic viewpoint of spanking at a level that now leaves children (and parents/adults who follow his teachings) in harm’s way.

Another thought I had is this: remember how Neo-Calvinists defended Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney? Why was that? I believe it was because they didn’t want to cause harm to their doctrinal beliefs. For Mark Driscoll, it was to protect Neo-Calvinism. For CJ Mahaney, I have a hunch it was because his staunch teachings on complementarianism and he was a popular speaker at their conferences. Is that what’s happening here with Tom Chantry?  Is it that Tedd Tripp et al didn’t want to report Chantry because of who he represents (friend of Phil Johnson et al) and what he represents (Calvinism, pro-spanking, etc)?

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts. Regardless of the reason, and we may never know why Tripp failed to report, but if this is how Tedd Tripp Shepherds a Child’s Heart, it is egregious! Imagine the spiritual and emotional pain these now-grown adults have experienced, knowing that Tripp apparently dismissed the abuse, and instead, defended/protected a man he knew was abusing children.

References: In addition to Todd Wilhelm’s blog, this site has also been keeping up with Tom Chantry’s criminal case.




Classical Conversations #6: Rigid Rules and Legal Tax Concerns


NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:


Note from Julie Anne:  Here is a personal account that was sent to me. In this account, we read rigidity coming from the Corporate level of Classical Conversations (CC). Also, there is confusion about tax issues. This is an important issue, and if you have to file taxes involving Classical Conversations, I would make sure you are using someone familiar with tax law who can make sure you are staying legal.  

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Bill Hybels, the Willow Creek “System,” and Why the Women Needed to Speak Publicly

Bill Hybels, Clergy Sexual Misconduct, Willow Creek Church

Bill Hybels, Willow Creek, Clergy Sexual Misconduct


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Classical Conversations #3: Leaders Delete Comments and Block Commenters Who Don’t Toe the Line

Classical Conversations, High-Controlling Groups, Deleted Comments, Blocked Commenters, Noble Gibbens




NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:

Please take a seat and join the conversation, even if you aren’t a homeschool parent. I think you might find it interesting. Continue reading

BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Paige Patterson Terminated, Effective Immediately: No Title, No Housing, No Ongoing Compensation

Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, SBC, #Churchtoo, #ChurchToo, #MeToo




A new statement was just released at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: Continue reading

A “Systems Approach” and Some Historical Background on Dealing with Abuse and Violence

To deal with “systemic abuse,” we must understand systems, victimization, and what makes individuals and institutions vulnerable.

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Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits

Key component in a system of resources on child sexual abuse for policy makers, survivors, educators, and advocates.

Guest post by Brad Sargent, with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted at futuristguy.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Spiritual Sounding Board was invited to participate in the Litfuse “blog tour” for the recently released Child Safeguarding Policy Guide. They asked us to post a one-paragraph summary of our overall response to this resource book, so that could be used as an excerpt on other sites. Here is what I wrote:

How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

Available reviews of the Policy Guide share about its concepts and content from a variety of angles. Already posted on Amazon are great summaries, detailed insights from church leaders, poignant personal accounts from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Litfuse Publicity Group has review excerpts and links to full posts, and New Growth Press, which published this book, has additional endorsements.

In this post, I will give a brief preview of key features from a systems perspective, and list other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In a follow-up post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading

Blog Series: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery by Pastor Ken Garrett, Wk 2

Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery


Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Pastor Ken Garrett

Ok, here we go, plowing through Pastor Ken Garret’s dissertation about spiritual abuse. I used the word plowing intentionally. For some of us, it will be work. It is not enjoyable to be reminded about difficult experiences. However, some push that pain under the rug and haven’t been able to process it in a safe environment. If you feel ready to do that, come along and join us. Even if you don’t feel ready, you can still read. And for those who have never experienced spiritual abuse, I’m grateful that you are reading, too. Having compassion and understanding is so important in helping someone who has gone through spiritual abuse.

Just an FYI, Ken has removed his dissertation from his blog because he plans to publish it into a book. Ken has graciously allowed us to continue using his original dissertation for this series. (Thanks, Ken!!!)

Well, let’s dig in. Here is the very meaty paragraph we will start with this week:

Abusive churches, past and present, are primarily characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes.

Other, more traditional evangelical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of members’ lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound. People who do not follow the rules or who threaten exposure are often dealt with harshly.

Excommunication is common. For those who leave, the road back to normalcy is difficult, with seemingly few who understand the phenomena of spiritual abuse.

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New Blog Series: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery by Pastor Ken Garrett

Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery


As I was reading through Ken Garrett’s dissertation, I had to stop and soak up what I had just read. It took time to process and I felt like if I continued reading, I might miss something. It made me want to reflect on how his words matched my spiritually abusive experience.  Mind you, Ken and I have spent hours talking/texting about spiritual abuse, how it has affected us and others. So, his words were nothing new to me, but they made me stop and think. We both have a heart to take what we have learned to help others. It dawned on me that Ken’s dissertation might be great for a series here, so I asked him if this was something we could do here at SSB, and he graciously agreed. (I knew he would because that’s the Ken that I know.)

Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Pastor Ken Garrett – Somewhere in Italy on vacation recently after submitting his dissertation: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery, and earning his DMin.

So, my goal is to do a post once a week, using portions of Ken’s dissertation as the jumping off point. It was in reading blogs about spiritual abuse that I realized I was in a spiritually abusive church. Reading personal stories that mirrored my own story made me feel like I was not going crazy, that what I was experiencing was real, and it was harmful. Ken’s dissertation is perfect for this venue. He’s a spiritual abuse survivor, he’s studied spiritual abuse in an academic setting, and he’s also a pastor downtown Portland, Oregon.

If you know of someone who has been harmed in the church, please pass this post along. If you know of church leaders who could benefit from learning about spiritual abuse from someone who has done academic research and is a pastor, this might be good for them as well.

Spiritual abuse like other forms of abuse doesn’t just go away. It becomes part of who we are. Does it mean that we have to abandon our faith? No! But it might look different than it was. And we will discover that that is okay.

The goal of this series is to interact, to learn from each other, to support each other. We’re going to start off with the Prologue from the dissertation. If you want to read ahead, feel free to do so. You can find Ken’s dissertation here.

~Julie Anne


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Help! My Family Member or Close Friend is Trapped in a High-Controlling Church or Cult. How Can I Encourage Them to Leave?

How to help a family member or friend leave a high-controlling church group or cult: spiritual abuse, trapped, thought reform, mind control, freedom


“Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively.”
Steven Hassan, Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults


I’ve heard it said that losing a child to death can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine having lost your adult child and their family, not to death, but to a high-controlling church or cult. Imagine not being able to celebrate birthdays or major holidays together. Imagine having only limited contact with your adult child and their family. How could your loved one entirely dismiss you, act like you are a stranger or enemy when you did nothing to them? Continue reading

Four Primary Conditions that Result in People Leaving Abusive Churches and Cults

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A Spotlight on Abuse and Death of VCY America Founder Vic Eliason

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Attorney David Gibbs III Discusses the IBLP Lawsuit and Answers Important Questions

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Victim of Bill Gothard’s Teachings Speaks out about Josh Duggar Scandal, Mike Huckabee: Bill Gothard’s Dangerous Agenda and Influence in Political Arena and Society at Large


Bill Gothard, Mike Huckabee, Sex Abuse Coverup, Political and Social Influence, and an Agenda

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Elephants and SGA’s Everywhere! Coming to Terms with Homeschooling’s Pitfalls

The need of parents to both deal with the pitfalls and understand their Second Generation Adults of homeschooling (those who suffered in a high demand Christian homeschooling culture).

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BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive: How to Document Spiritual Abuse in Your Church

Every account like this makes a difference for those of us who’ve survived spiritually abusive situations.

And hopefully, in the long run, courageous people like yourself and others who choose to do something will help turn the tide.  

~Brad Sargent

Stroll back with me to one year ago.  A year ago, my life was about to turn upside down.  Having been silenced through abuse during my childhood, I was not about to be silenced again by a man who was no longer my pastor and had managed to get Google to remove my Google reviews.  And so a blog was started:  BGBC Survivors.

It’s interesting to go back and read those initial posts and comments from readers.  This morning I noticed that all of the initial commenters used “Anonymous” as their pseudonym when posting.  Why was that? Because these people knew the power of that pastor – that Pastor Chuck O’Neal would create all sorts of trouble for them if they dared to comment using their real name.

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Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part Two

Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part Two
© Brad Sargent (brad/futuristguy), November 2012
5. Individual and Crowd-Sourced Snapshots for a Viable Video
In Part One, I explained why I felt it was worth spending a day analyzing a Covenant Life Church (CLC) Members Meeting, despite my being an outsider to the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) network that CLC has been part of. The analysis I did provides just one cultural GPS snapshot for discerning the direction and trajectory of CLC. I happened to pick a “milestone moment” for this church. The meeting was in August of 2011, after some very significant events occurred in relation to CLC leadership contacting SGM survivor blogs. This occurred after accounts appeared on SGMSurvivors, detailing alleged gross failure of pastoral care and interference with reporting sexual abuse to the police.
Meanwhile, other profile snapshots of CLC and SGM over the years have been in development through crowd-sourcing of observations/details, analysis, and interpretation. This has been accomplished mostly by SGM-insiders – spiritual abuse survivors – apparently done in real life through conversation and digitally through emails, internet research, and survivor blog posts and comments. Granted, we need to be careful to resist ungrounded speculation, but a set of first-hand evidences by a group of principal participants has the definite possibility of arriving at a better “human MRI” composite than the recollections and insights of any one person alone.
The forthcoming class action civil lawsuit against SGM and specific leaders will provide interested parties with additional series of snapshots of how SGM as a system functioned, at least from 1987 when the first incident of alleged damaging pastoral care and cover-up occurred. The amount of evidence is likely to be substantial, and a lack of gaps from first-hand reporters will most likely give it the weight of validity. So, when those snapshots are all lined up in chronological order, like many have already been done on the SGM Crisis Timeline developed by Jenn Grover, they’ll give a reasoned and documented “video” to show the direction and dynamics of the SGM organizational trajectory. 
Also, in a civil lawsuit, the outcome is based on a “preponderance of evidence,” not on it being “beyond reasonable doubt,” which is the standard in criminal cases. So the work that many are doing to document the snapshots that create the “documentary video” will probably have an impressive impact on the futures of SGM and the leaders named as defendants.
Okay … so, suppose we create a viable video that shows the long-term pathway of SGM as individual leaders, as an organization, and as a cultural system. What does one such “video” do for anyone looking at the global/big-picture issue of spiritual abuse in the North American Church? 
6. From Single-System Trajectories to Mega-System Trends
One documentary video alone isn’t enough to do reasoned analysis of larger patterns and trends within the Body of Christ in this region. But when we start looking at all of 2012, we find quite a list of what seem to be significant situations of abuse of power in individual churches and associations. Similar issues of image-protective leadership in organizations have been surfacing in the secular community as well, and there are also historical trends that will likely prove relevant. Let’s take a look at these three realms – churches, cultures, and history – and some techniques we can use for trend-tracking.
Church- and ministry-based evidence about spiritual bullying has been mounting over the last few years especially. And it does seem in 2012 that the documentation has literally exploded. Men and women with first-hand knowledge of alleged abuse by various Christian organizations have increasingly been posting their accounts and their assessments online, including related evidence: documents, timelines, current website links, and Wayback Machine internet archive links. What bullies want to keep hidden in the darkness is coming into the light anyway.
Consider the following list of individual organizations and larger networks or denominations just at the theologically conservative and evangelical end of the spectrum. In 2012, most of these are ongoing subjects of current “citizen journalist” investigations and, for some, even civil cases. Links behind the ministry name go to survivor blogs where that entity is a primary focus. The world of survivor blogs has become so extensive that I doubt I’ve gotten all the relevant links available – and these don’t even include Facebook pages or other kinds of closed forums where people seek healing through processing their experiences. (Note: Linking here does not imply my automatic agreement with the perspectives presented there.)
For general resources on spiritual abuse and recovery, and focus on multiple situations and movements, including many of the above, see Apprising Ministries, FBC Jax Watchdogs, and The Wartburg Watch.
Meanwhile, a number of high-profile secular cases of various kinds of abuse have emerged in recent months. These have ballooned in importance to where organizational complicity/cover-up has become as crucial as the original offenses. 
Perhaps the media attention and public outcry are evidences that the social tide is turning against bullies, those who actively protect them, and those who passively excuse by their silence. Or perhaps it represents the reasons why these cases are getting so much publicity. Figuring out WHAT is going on doesn’t always tell us WHY it’s happening now. Back to the issue in a moment … but first, in terms of larger trends, I suspect we’ll find that each different system spotlighted adds pixels to an even bigger picture, just as each individual piece of stone or glass in a mosaic adds dimension to a design. 
But how do we figure that out what each contributes, or how clusters of similar elements found across different situations contribute to a “trend”? 
7. Discerning Relevant Patterns
Part of what I do to answer that question turns me toward content analysis techniques that I learned in my linguistics training. Our homework included making critical features charts – grids of elements that define words and how they are used. If a word does have a certain feature, you mark the grid with a “+” or with a “–” if it does not. Then you find word sets that show only one difference. These are called a “minimal pair.” For instance, the words this and that form a minimal pair; both can refer to a concrete object or to an abstract concept, but this is close to the speaker and that is farther away. The only critical difference is distance. Another minimal pair is this and these; both relate to something close by the writer or speaker, and the critical difference is these is “+ plural” and this is “– plural.” 
This kind of pairing can be especially helpful when things look similar on the surface, but they turn out to be different enough underneath that they are not actually related. For instance, many Christian theologies and world religions use the term grace, but do not mean at all the same thing by it. Or, take the current buzz word, gospel. For some theologies it holds a very specific, limited meaning; for others, it is applied to so many things that it holds little meaning at all.
Critical features grids and minimal pairs help us analyze sets for commonalities as well as differences. They show in chart form the overlaps between items. (Or, if we wanted to go with more of a picture route, we could use Venn diagrams with their overlapping circles to show what the common and different features are.) 
But what elements do we use in our critical features grid list? Some of that depends on the kind of thing we’re analyzing, some of it just depends on practice. It helps to have some stock frameworks. When I’m analyzing words, my framework includes parts of speech, time, and distance. When I’m analyzing a complex organization and the dynamics in it, I use a version of my paradigm layers and elements list:
  1. Deepest layer – thinking: information processing styles, values, and beliefs (theological, philosophical, religious). These govern everything else that we say and do.
  2. Middle layer – organizing: operational systems, strategies, and organizational infrastructures, leadership. These govern how we relate in institutions that we are part of.
  3. Surface layer – relating: cultures, lifestyles, and forms of collaboration. These govern how we and our institutions relate within the larger community and global societies.
If we detail out the paradigm elements in all of the institutions under scrutiny in the above list, I think we’ll find some common points that appear in a large percentage of these case studies. For instance, here is a series of elements that seem to align from deepest to surface layers in their organization’s paradigm system. (I’ll use the church here, but a similar version could be shown for secular organizations.) 
  • Deepest/Thinking. Many hold to black-or-white thinking that leads to doctrines that encourage separation. This results in isolation or insulation of the church from the world, of refusing “worldly methods” (such as psychology and counseling), of handling problems inside the church instead of going to civil authorities.
  • Middle/Organizing. Most stress unquestioning submission to the authority of male leaders in church and home, many to the extreme end of the spectrum of authoritarian leadership and patriarchy.
  • Surface/Relating. Their members submit to the leaders, even when leaders imply or outright demand actions that go against civic requirements. Thus, many of these organizations are riddled with allegations of allowing, not reporting, and/or passively supporting such crimes as the infliction of child sexual abuse, child abuse/neglect, and domestic violence.
Here is another line-up common to these Christian organizations:
  • Deepest/Thinking. Many hold to black-or-white thinking that leads to doctrines of perfectionism. These create a closed system of insiders versus outsiders, righteous versus sinful, and the inside is full of legalism and authoritarianism.
  • Middle/Organizing. Many face allegations of lack of sufficient accountability for leaders. Is it because they are considered “celebrities” as “God’s anointed” and automatically “righteous”?
  • Surface/Relating. If you did a “relationship map” of what leaders and organizations work together in larger networks or cosponsor events, you’d find a lot of connection lines in this larger “in group.”
That helps us with some pictures of WHAT is happening. But WHY is such a major push-back happening now? And WHERE could it be headed?
8. From Causation to Transformation
The fact that something exists doesn’t automatically explain how it was caused or why we’re noticing it now. Causation of a phenomenon or trend is complex, as is its transformation. Causation may come from combinations of reasons – including a group’s (or its leaders’) beliefs, organizational systems, cultures – and transformation will likely come through change in some of those same causal reasons. That makes sense to me, because causation is about what shaped past history and transformation is about shaping future possibilities. For instance, if we don’t address underlying causes of organizational toxicity, how can the future of that group be anything but toxic?
Transformation is another large part of what being a futurist is about. Specifically, Christian futurists work to bring people hope, to spark their imagination about possible ways their future could turn out, and to help them discern and decide between what is possible and what they want to pursue as preferable. If you’re interested, I’ve posted a tutorial on some key futurist foresight tools: trend-tracking, non-linear extrapolation, and scenario writing.
A few final thoughts on the question of why the push-back on bullying seems to be happening now. With spiritual abuse and churches, maybe sheep have just gotten fed up with shepherds who beat them, and they are bleating back to warn other sheep who may be unwary about wolves in their midst. Maybe because these ongoing controversies and conflicts, such as at Sovereign Grace Ministries, have corroded their corporation to the point of implosion and there is no way to keep it from the public eye. Maybe it’s because of civil cases won by abuse survivors, such as Tom Rich’s case at the FBC Jax Watchdogs blog and Julie Anne Smith’s case at the BGBC Survivors blog. Whatever the source or sources, the impact seems to be that malignancy in ministry is going unchallenged less frequently. Authority figures no longer get an automatic “pass” on questionable activities and attitudes, or on ones that cause outright damage.
But what then?  Once an organization is saturated with spiritual toxicity – as it appears Sovereign Grace Ministries is – can it ever be changed? It would be hard, but I believe there is still hope. It must involve individual change – real repentance – because, as Price Pritchett wisely suggests in The Ethics of Excellence, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” It seems to me a related idea – for better or for worse – is that the organization will be what the leaders are. Jesus Himself said that when a pupil has been fully trained, he’ll be like his master. He also said that if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch, and that you know a tree by its fruit. (Luke 6: 39-45).
Anyway, I do have a very small measure of hope for the larger SGM system to be able to change enough and soon enough to stop inflicting the damages of legalistic theology and authoritarian leaders on others. But it does seem that the larger the system, the more difficult it is to shift course away from destruction. Think about a rowboat avoiding an iceberg versus the Titanic avoiding it. 
And there is some precedent for this substantial of a paradigm shift. The only large-scale organizational transformation I’m aware of, going from a “cult” (both doctrinally and structurally) to a sound system, occurred with the Grace Communion International – formerly known as the Worldwide Church of God, run by Herbert W. Armstrong. I haven’t been able to do a full-scale case study on how this change came about. But from what I’ve absorbed so far, it seems like the spark for organizational change came from several key leaders who had a personal change of heart and theology, and who saw the damage that their doctrine and organization had done. I don’t know exactly the order of what happened, but those do seem to be some of the elements involved. These change-agents led the way for altering the system, and to do that required them to stand against both the old doctrine and the old order. I’m looking forward to looking into this far more deeply, to reinforce or correct those initial impressions and especially to explore the specifics that sparked change. I think it will prove a very relevant situation for fueling reasoned speculation about the future of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
In short, change happens when there is repentance – REAL repentance – not some kind of quickee “acknowledgement” of wrongdoing in order to satisfy the demands of authoritarian leaders, or to avoid unpleasant legal or social consequences of one’s actions. The word repentance in Greek literally means a “change of mind.” I think of it as a sort of “spiritual U-turn.” 
I think we’re glimpsing signs of this kind of discernment and change in some of the smaller units that have been within the larger SGM system. For instance, changes have been underway at SGM Church of Daytona and at Covenant Life Church (the SGM “flagship” church). They/their leaders have undertaken a change of course, standing against some of the old ways, moving in new ways. (In their cases, this has mean leaving SGM for the Daytona church and CLC considering leaving.) Certainly, it’s not all that survivors of SGM spiritual abuse would want, but it does seem to be progress at least. The larger structure of the SGM network may not be salvageable, but surely the smaller ones seem to be showing they likely are. So, there are continued reasons for hope and for praying that those within the SGM system who can effect changes find the conscience, will, and grace to do so.
Actually, I consider acts of repentance and the resulting transformation as a sort of cosmic surprise that indicate God’s Spirit has been at work. Repentance doesn’t happen without a shift in conscience. And the Scriptures talk about a dulled or seared conscience and a hardened heart as signs of resistance against God. Plus, psychology tells us that lack of conscience is a key feature of sociopaths; they show no true empathy for others, and no remorse about using/abusing others when it gets them what they desire. So, for change to occur for the right reasons, and for evil systems to be dismantled, I’ll watch for signs in SGM of U-turns in how people are valued, how conflict is handled, and how differences are seen as signs of strength. Those kinds of things would be SGM-specific indicators of genuine repentance, and transformation underway.

Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part One

Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part One
© Brad Sargent (brad/futuristguy), November 2012

After I wrote my analysis piece on Sovereign Grace Ministries in the previous post, I was asked two questions and invited to share more detail on:
  1. Why evaluating a Members Meeting that happened at Covenant Life Church (CLC) over a year ago holds any importance now, and 
  2. How a case study of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) fits into the larger scheme of what seems to be happening with exposing “malignant ministers,” toxic organizations, and spiritually abusive systems or cultures.
So, I worked on describing how I go about doing these tasks and why they’re important. Because “externalizing” one’s thought processes takes a lot of space, the original version of this post got longer than expected. So I split it into two parts. The first talks about techniques I use from my points of view as a cultural interpreter and a organizational developer to detail events and analyze changes over time. The second picks up with linguistics and futurist/strategic foresight techniques I use to detect patterns and discern cultural trends that drive long-term change. 
These are the kinds of intuitive and intentional critical thinking tools that might go with being a modern-day “son of Issachar” (1 Chronicles 12:32) who seeks to understand our times, and discern what the churches should do. Hope you find this different perspective worth the read, despite it delving into some technical skills. I suspect we all have a lot of detailing and discerning to do in the near future because of continuing revelations on the horizon about spiritual abuse in the Church. Perhaps the descriptions and illustrations of these research techniques will help understand some of the content in the forthcoming SGM trial and the larger cultural context in which this is occurring.
1. Pictures and Profiles: Systems “Snapshots”
I thought it would be helpful to start with some background on why I would bother to do this kind of analysis piece in the first place. As my blogger friend Julie Anne Smith mentioned in her first comment on my post at her blog, [November 11, 2012, 6:45 PM], I seem to have landed in a role of drawing people’s attention from detailed analysis up toward the big-picture patterns, and considering what such trends might mean in light of the larger context of culture and change.
This is what I wrote in the final point near the end of the article:
(4) The only way to refute an allegation of a malignant pattern of mishandling situations or avoiding responsibility is with documentation. 
Only the principle people involved can provide “primary documentation” through their emails, notes, daytimer schedules, phone records, etc., at the time of the events and interviews or depositions later on. Those items and observations help establish facts and timelines and participants, etc. 
But a “secondary” layer of resources share other people’s analysis and interpretation of the facts. They look at such things as gaps in the evidence, interconnections among people, patterns that appear at a given time or over time, and how various patterns compare with some internal standard (such as the organization’s constitution and by-laws) or external standards (such as legal mandates or “biblical” commands). 
Here are some of the techniques I use to create those kinds of secondary resources.
As a cultural interpreter, I personally observe and/or I research events. I gather evidence that seems relevant and much that may turn out to be irrelevant – but I can’t always know that in advance. I analyze the set of evidence, and interpret it as best I can as offering us a “snapshot” of where that subject (an individual or organization or culture) was situated at the time of those events. Think of this snapshot as sort of like pinpointing the subject’s coordinates in a “cultural Global Positioning System” at that moment of time. If I’ve done my role well, my “take” on the subject’s GPS is close to matching the profile of facts about the subject and its surrounding system, mostly supplied by primary source people.
2. Goals and Trajectories: Shifting from Snapshots to “Video” Mode
Then, as a theologically-based practitioner of organizational development, I plot a set of GPS snapshots taken over time against what I understand to be the ideal ministry. This ideal represents the goal we should be moving toward. This profile of the ideal includes how ministry strategies, infrastructures, and leadership should function for their system to be considered TRULY “safe,” “healthy,” and “growing” – from a biblical standpoint, despite what leadership and organizations are supposed to look like from a business standpoint. (And I am working a set of specific indicators for exactly how I define and describe and measure all three of those terms: safe, healthy, growing.) 
If the GPS for that ideal profile represents the goal point of ministry function, then we can figure out what kind of “trajectory” that church or organization is on. And we do that by looking at the change in the profile positions of their snapshots over time, relative to the goal. In other words, we shift from snapshots to “video,” and measure which way the subject of study is moving. (Or, if you are familiar with the media known as “flip books,” movement is captured by slight shifts between successive drawings or photos. The shifts become more noticeable as you flip through the series. This became the basis for animation.)
There are four basic possibilities of how a church body relates with the goal of being/becoming a “safe house for God’s people.”
  • Move forward toward the goal.
  • Move backward away from that goal.
  • Remain static and move nowhere (which we usually associate with a body that is unconscious, in a coma, or is actually a corpse).
  • Orbit around some other person(s) than Jesus Christ or some other goal, in which case there may be a lot of activity but it ultimately revolves around whatever keeps it pinned to the ground and prevents it from moving along a pathway.
After figuring out the overall pattern, there are still a lot of nuances in a trajectory: Is the path smooth or erratic, start-stop, relatively slow or fast, etc.? We simply don’t know which trajectory type is happening, or what qualities of movement it demonstrates, unless we take periodic organizational snapshots to see what is or isn’t happening over time. We need a series of snapshots to figure that out.
3. From Single-Person Profiles to Multi-Person Trajectories
The process of helping individuals figure out how they’re doing in terms of Christlike transformation uses similar tools to those for organizations. It likewise involves:
  1. Identifying their starting point in relationship to the ideal profile of mature Christian character and spiritual formation practices.
  2. Then profiling their status at different points over time.
  3. Then tracking all of those to evaluate the type of trajectory they are on, and what specific gap they have that need to be filled in, and what excesses they have that need to be filed down.
Such interpretation of an individual’s spiritual profile snapshots and video is valuable for the ministries they are part of also, because, as organizational specialist Price Pritchett wisely suggests in The Ethics of Excellence, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” And running this kind of spiritual profiling for leaders is especially valuable because to paraphrase something Jesus said, “Protégés become like their mentors.” More specifically (still paraphrasing), “If the blind lead the blind, they both fall in a ditch” (Matthew 15:14) and “When a pupil is fully trained, he will be like his master” (Luke 6:40).
All of this together means that what individuals do singly adds up to what teams and ministry groups and churches and networks and denominations do corporately. If there are too many toxic leaders and blind followers in a system, it hinders the system from bearing good fruit now and better fruit in the future. 
And foresight into the future – that’s where we shift from tools of the cultural interpreter and organizational developer to evaluate a trajectory, to those of the linguistic to identify patterns and the futurist to evaluate culture-shifting trends. Those are the subjects in Part Two, which is forthcoming. But first, here are some preliminary conclusions, based on extensive reading over the past few months about the Sovereign Grace Ministries system and the class action lawsuit filed against it and specific current and former leaders.
4. Thoughts on Sovereign Grace Ministries and Trajectories
Here is a comment I wrote on a post at The Wartburg Watch after reviewing the extensive SGM Crisis Timeline, produced by Jenn Grover. It gives not only some of my conclusions, but reflects on the process I used. I have edited it slightly to clarify a few points, and added boldface to the key statements about the equivalent of snapshots and videos, as well as trajectories and orbits.
First, whoever you are, Jenn Grover, thanks for your work in putting that together. It was immensely helpful as a “Grand Tour” to get an overview. 
Second, I don’t know if I will, but I might go back another time to read/view the documentation materials at each link supplied in the many Dipity information frames. More detail may change my interpretations or fine-tune them, but I still thought it would be beneficial to offer some first-take impressions on what I read, as that might be similar to what a jury member would have to consider upon a first exposure to this information.
Third, I think I “get it” about organizational development and church conflict. Since shifting to evangelical and theologically conservative churches almost 40 years ago, I’ve been in the middle of, or observer to: church systems that failed, others that split, one church that was literally taken over (i.e., commandeered/stolen) by an insider group, others that were held captive to/by malignant leaders or “kidnapped” by outsiders who infiltrated in, some that had toxic doctrine that created toxic internal cultures, and a few had multiples of these factors all rolled into one spiritually suffocating combination. 
So — with all that 35+ years of framework in my own background — after reading this timeline, I come away with one overwhelming impression, based on the assumption that this timeline seems documented well enough to give a significantly accurate and sufficient base of observations from which to develop opinions. And here it is, the big-picture impression: 
It seems to me that there really has not been much recent “forward trajectory” at SGM based on “fixing eyes on Jesus” as a guide-wire for going into the future. Instead, for at least two decades, the SGM systems (leaders, laypeople, churches, trainings, associations, boards) all have been tethered to the polarizing agency of C.J. Mahaney. If you map out the various interrelationships of *dramatis personae* since about 1997, it appears that ALL the lines of friendship, and dominant theological stances, and who’s in authority, and relational conflicts, and individual and church departures, eventually all connect somehow with Mr. Mahaney.
Thus, as in tetherball, SGM insiders get hit clockwise then counterclockwise, reverse and repeat, to a dizzying degree, based on the metaphorical hits Mr. Mahaney takes or makes. There is a lot of action, but basically the whole thing has gone nowhere for at least the last 15 years but ’round and around on the integrating pole of Mr. Mahaney and the same plotline chain of dramatic controversies.
And if one man has that much direct and indirect preeminence in such a huge amount of activity, I wonder if it’s fair to say then, that there has been an idolatrous amount of attention paid to him. If so, that enormous expenditure of energy on adoration or revulsion, protection or correction — at the leadership level of SGM especially, and with outside celebrity leaders and non-profit organizations — might make sense as system-wide set-ups for many things remaining overlooked or ignored instead of properly overseen, being done in a dysfunctional way, swept under the carpet, slipping between the cracks, etc. Hence, here they find themselves in this lawsuit –- the SGM organization and several of its most prominent individuals.
After my own series of difficult experiences in churches, I’m used to such mega-drama, though I still get emotionally churned up over it (anger, sadness, numbness). However, this contentious history put me on the verge of exasperation. I just wonder how a civil lawsuit jury will respond to what seems to be an organizational context of extreme distraction due to uber-leader-level drama during the exact same time period of the alleged cases of mishandling instances of sexual abuse plus questioned practices of pastoral care or cover-up …
On now, to Part Two …