Sovereign Grace Church Leaders Remove Wife from Women’s Small Group Leader Position after Couple Asks Questions

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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:

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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.

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Tweet Thread by Jeff and Sarah Owens

2 months ago we approached our Sovereign Grace Church pastors about the SGC response to ’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 had been “sharing her opinion” & causing mistrust of the pastors by doing so.

Sarah’s tweet:

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. 

We sent an email to our small group, close friends, and youth workers letting them know we were leaving and why. Several hours after we sent the message the pastors called an all-church members meeting.

***JA note: I’m glad Jeff and Sarah sent an email to those from the church who were closest to them; otherwise, they would have received the narrative from the leaders.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how we ‘had made false accusations against the pastoral team that cast seeds of doubt and suspicion on the elder team that could be used to destroy the unity of the church.’

At that meeting they told direct and indirect lies about us and another family that had also addressed concerns about how SGC had responded to Rachael Denhollander. We are still dumbfounded this even took place. How can men who claim to love Jesus as shepherds respond this way?

We do not share this lightly. We truly love these men and their families. But can you see the problem here? The truth was twisted or completely set aside in favor of a lie in order to protect “unity”. Our desire to meet with a 3rd party present became, “The Owens refuse to meet.”

“Sharing our opinion” was treated as a sinful and rebellious act against the church, worthy of removal from a leadership position. If it had been true, sharing an opinion about a public issue is certainly not sinful. But on top of that, it wasn’t even true.

We are telling our story because we have learned it is one that is far too common in SG churches across the country. We had no idea before it happened to us. This kind of leadership must be called to account. This is not Jesus. This is not the Holy Spirit. This is not unity.

MLK Jr. said, “In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.”

We do not tell our story in order to slander anyone or to try to cause division. We are telling the facts about what happened to us because it would be wrong to keep quiet and allow this pattern of leadership to continue.

It has harmed not only us, but would continue to be harmful for remaining church members and even our former pastors to allow a pattern of oppressive authority to continue. “It is sad to be a slave of Pharaoh. It is horrible to be Pharaoh.” – Rabbi Belgrad

Our goal is and was ever only to make peace. Our original concern for SGC’s over these allegations was born out of a love for the gospel and wanting our witness to not be tainted by the refusal to be examined. We recognized that striving for peace might mean temporary conflict.

Peacekeeping and Peacemaking are two very different things. Peacekeeping is suppressing conflict. Peacemaking is addressing conflict in order to bring reconciliation. The gospel is the good news of peacemaking. God has come to reconcile man to God and also mankind to one another.

Choosing to not address or investigate serious allegations of sexual abuse in order to protect the reputations of leaders is peacekeeping. Worse, ignoring allegations like these says to those who have been abused & oppressed “your pain doesn’t matter as much as keeping the peace”

As we said in our original message to our pastors, we do not claim to know if there is any truth to the allegations against SGC. We pray that there isn’t. But we do know that the gospel calls for us to stand up for the oppressed, the marginalized, and the abused.

We need to take claims of abuse seriously because God takes justice seriously. We as the church, when accused of serious sin should not circle the wagons, deflect, and ignore, but instead say “Is it I, Lord?”

If accused when we are innocent, God will vindicate us. If we are not, let us turn in true repentance that the world may see that Christ’s church, while not sinless, walks in the righteousness bought for us with the blood of Jesus.

This righteousness is given by costly grace, not by whitewashing our images. May we honor Christ’s sacrifice by openly confronting and turning from the sins that he died to save us from. “The Lords works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” – Psalm 103:6

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Responses to Tweets

sg1sg2sg3sg4sg5

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Conclusion

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.

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Sovereign Grace Churches, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Sex Abuse Lawsuit, Spiritual Abuse, Church Polity

Personal Story: What Did the Church Teach You about Yourself?

Spiritual abuse, sex abuse, patriarchy, domestic violence, Sovereign Grace, Desiring God, CJ Mahaney, John Piper, Mental Health


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Part of recovery from abusive churches is coming to grips with what you were taught and how it affected you. Sometimes, and very appropriately, the ability to see this clearly results in anger. Jennifer Michelle posted about her experience on Facebook and gave me permission to share it. I think many of you will be able to relate to her experience. ~ja

What church doctrine taught me about myself:

Sin nature- all are born sinners. Children must be “trained,” and disciplined, and made to repent. Chastisement is sanctification. Suffering is holy. Anger is unholy- unless you’re a man in your home, a man behind a podium, or a white man in general. Sadness is selfish, a symptom of pride. Pride is to be avoided, as it is the ultimate sin, bad enough to bring down Lucifer. Free will is meaningless, because each and every instinct we have is sinful anyway, and should NOT be validated. Besides, what difference does free will make when God chose the “elect” before the foundations of the earth?

The law is our SCHOOLMASTER, but we will never “graduate” this side of heaven. We will NEVER be “sanctified” until we are “glorified” in death, in heaven.

Total depravity- nothing in us is innately good. We are putrid, vile, worthless, helpless sinners, and can ONLY be loved perfectly by a perfect GOD, and ONLY by His “mercy,” since we are all undeserving. Mercy is NOT something man can ever possess in the “flesh,” because the flesh is sinful. And we shouldn’t expect ANYONE to ever truly love us since we aren’t worthy of it, so we shouldn’t complain or be at all surprised when we are treated like shit, especially by our loved ones, and especially by authority figures, since God appoints them over us for our sanctification.

Nevertheless, God will send the Holy Spirit to live inside of you, should you “choose” to repent of your sins and invite Him in. But you can never be sure if He is guiding you, since you can never trust your instincts, and the Holy Spirit is a “still, small voice” that can easily be drowned out and “grieved.” Only by “renewing our minds” by telling ourselves bible “truths” over and over can we ever be “sure” we are doing, thinking, or living the right way. Even still, our minds are fallible, so we should seek “wise counsel” from more “spiritually mature” individuals who can interpret bible truths for us. But we can’t blame them if they are wrong, intentionally or otherwise, since they are also fallible. Also, remember that “the flesh” is constantly at war with “the spirit,” so just ignore the inner conflict you feel since we are called to be joyful in all circumstances. So be thankful for your pain, and don’t blame anyone. That would definitely be gossip.

Special thanks to Sovereign Grace Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God Ministries, Living Waters, The Way Of The Master, Focus On The Family, and Grace To You. I want to send each of you my therapy bills.

Furthermore, why should my theology be informed by organizations who cover up child sexual abuse and lie about it? Organizations who oppress women and discriminate against minorities? Organizations who are fixated on “honoring God,” while excusing domestic violence? WHERE IS YOUR HONOR? These organizations do not wish to honor God, they wish to take the ROLE of God in their parishioners’ lives. Well, I’ve taken mine back.

Rachael Denhollander Challenges Sovereign Grace Churches to Respond Appropriately to Sex Abuse Cases

Rachael Denhollander, Sovereign Grace, Sex Abuse, Pedophiles


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rachael1.PNG

Rachael Denhollendar (the Christian attorney and sex abuse survivor who brought down Dr. Larry Nassar) has been very busy since the recent case of convicted pedophile Dr. Larry Nassar.

She is now taking on the task of drawing attention to how the church, specifically the leaders at Sovereign Grace Churches, have failed to handle sex abuse cases properly.

Here is a recent interview she gave on Fox news. And further down is a Facebook note with more links. Go, Rachael!!!

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Here is the direct link to Rachael’s note on Facebook if you do not see the note embedded here. Some people have let me know they are not able to see Facebook notes on SSB.

Rachael has stressed that “an independent investigation of the organization’s handling of sexual and domestic violence should be required before supporting SGC.”

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Posted by Rachael Denhollander on Friday, March 16, 2018

Will Those in the Real Gospel-Centered Churches Please Stand?

Gospel-Centered Movement, TGC, YRR, Calvinists, Jared Wilson

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Rachael Denhollander, the Relentless Hero Who Loved Sacrificially, and Stopped Dr. Larry Nassar from Sexually Abusing More Girls

Rachael DenholIander, Dr. Larry Nassar, Sexual Abuse, MSU, USAG


rachael denhollander, dr. larry nassar

“Who is going to find these little girls and tell them how much they are worth?”   Rachael Denhollander

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I normally write articles about church leaders or Christian groups. This is neither, but you will see soon discover that the hero in this story, Rachael Denhollander, is a Christian. In this story, you will see sacrificial love – love that puts the needs, safety, concern of others, far ahead of herself. It’s one thing to sacrifice for your family or friends, but Rachael sacrificed for strangers. She was steadfast, strong, determined, articulate, thorough, and unrelenting. She became a leader, a counselor, an encourager, a listening ear, and perhaps even a surrogate mother-like figure to many who had gone through the same horrific ordeal. For those who couldn’t speak, she became their voices; but by her bravery and courage, she empowered others to use their voice, even up until the very last day of testimonies.

This is about a highly publicized sex abuse case, not in the church, but in athletics. The Dr. Larry Nassar sex abuse case has been an important case. I like to watch cases like these to observe the tactics abusers or enablers use to hide the deviant behavior. When there’s one person who is abusing, many times there are others who enable the abuse. This is a classic case of systemic abuse just as we have seen at Penn State, in the Catholic Church (see Spotlight Movie), the Boy’s Scouts, and others.

Because of the graphic content in this post, I am issuing a trigger alert. If you have been sexually abused, this will likely be difficult to read. Use caution. Continue reading

First #MeToo, Now #ChurchToo: Sexual Abuse, Harassment, and Mishandling in the Church

#MeToo, #ChurchToo, Sexual Abuse, Harassment, Church

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The hashtag #MeToo has been trending for quite some time on Twitter. Women who have been sexually harassed or abused have been identifying themselves as survivors of sexual harm, indicating it with the hashtag, #MeToo. But now, there is a new trending hashtag, #ChurchToo. The stories that you can read in one little tweet are heartbreaking.

I wanted to share some here, and also invite those who have been on Twitter to feel free to share more here if they like.

If you are new to Spiritual Sounding Board, this is a blog that deals with abuse in church or church groups. We have dealt with all kinds of sexual abuse: sex abuse of children, sexual abuse in marriage, sexual abuse by clergy, wives of pedophiles, church leaders who have failed to report sexual crimes, church leaders who have blamed victims for sexual crimes, and also spiritual abuse which often occurs when a church leaders are involved in any capacity (perpetrator, counselor, spiritual advisor).

If you have been harmed sexually, this is a safe place. If you would like to share your story in more detail, you can in the comments, or to me privately: spiritualsb@gmail.com. Please feel free to comment using a pseudonym. This is your place to use your voice where it will be heard.

~Julie Anne 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.

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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

Kari Benton Shares: Spiritual Recovery after a Lawsuit and Spiritual Abuse

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Let’s Discuss: The Keepers, Netflix Documentary Series about the Murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik and Systemic Sexual Abuse

The Keepers, Netflix, Cathy Cesnik, Systemic Sexual Abuse, Catholic Church, Spiritual Abuse, Clergy Sexual Abuse



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The Keepers is a new documentary series airing on Netflix. I have watched 5 of the episodes and it is excellent. If you have seen Spotlight, it is similar, however, the investigative reporters in this case are two grandmas who have spent the last three years compiling details of the case and trying to get answers as to who killed their beloved former high school teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969.

Like the movie, Spotlight, the series uncovers systemic sexual abuse of female students at Archbishop Keough High School in Maryland by Father Maskell who was a counselor on campus. When I refer to the word “systemic,” I mean it is a whole system of cover-up and abuse. Father Joseph Maskell was not the only one who committed the crimes. His friends in high places also committed sexual crimes and helped to conceal the crimes: police officers, businessmen in the community, etc.

The first episode lays the groundwork for the story and introduces the main characters. Then, the second episode goes into repulsive, unimaginable sexual abuse descriptions. This episode is definitely difficult to watch and I would caution those who get triggered by topics of abuse to be very careful watching it. The second episode was the most difficult for me to watch, but this is important information to know how insidious these crimes were, not only sexually, but spiritually.

Because this documentary series is being discussed so much, I wanted to have a post specifically to address it, and especially to be a place where people can discuss how it may have affected them.

So, let’s use this post to discuss how the show may have affected us and try not to include spoilers for those who have not yet watched it.

Below, I have gathered a variety of links that may be of interest. I encourage you to check out the first link, especially. It is excellent.

Note:  While this sexual abuse scandal – also connected with the systemic abuse cover up with cases around the world uncovered by the Boston Globe Spotlight team occurred in the Catholic Church, Protestant churches are not exempt from these types of scandals. We know of the  Sovereign Grace Ministries sexual abuse scandal which is still ongoing. I am personally aware of several others that are “under the radar.” No one church group is exempt from systemic abuse.

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Related Links

A website was set up for the movie here:  The Keepers. I am very impressed with the information presented at the site, from information about the series, to helpful resources for survivors, therapies, systemic abuse, how to help, etc.

The following links are related and may be of interest:

How Safe is Your Church?

 

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Have you met Boz Tchividjian of GRACE – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment? This would be a good video to post on Facebook or send to church leaders. Until churches have safe policies in place and survivors feel safe to share their trauma to others in the church, the church is not whole. We need to be proactive in minimizing the opportunity for sex abuse to occur and also to help those who have been harmed by sexual abuse.

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Second Amended Complaint Filed in Bill Gothard & IBLP Sex Abuse Lawsuit: 18 Victims in Lawsuit

Bill Gothard, Lawsuit, IBLP, Institute in Basic Life Principles, David C. Gibbs III, Sex Abuse, Sexual Grooming, ALERT

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Attorney Plans to File Another Sex Abuse Lawsuit against CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries

C.J. Mahaney, Sex Abuse, Failure to Report, Statute of Limitations, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Lawsuit, Pedophiles, T4G

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Bill Gothard Added to Lawsuit; Victims Alleging Sex Abuse and Rape

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

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After The Gospel Coalition Staunchly Defended CJ Mahaney in Sovereign Grace Ministries Sex Abuse Scandal, They Now Promote the Movie Spotlight (Sex Abuse Coverup)

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

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My Meeting with Heather Wilson to Discuss Doug Wilson & Sex Abuse Scandals

“Now where is the scandal in this?” ~Doug Wilson

Steven Sitler, Christ Church, Moscow ID, New Saint Andrews, Pedophile

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Doug Wilson’s Christ Church and Handling of Sex Abuse Cases to be Investigated by Insider?

Doug Wilson, CREC, Christ Church, Moscow Idaho, Randy Booth, Steven Sitler, Jamin Wight, Sex Abuse, Pedophile

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