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

Former Florida Megachurch Pastor Bob Coy Allegedly Sexually Abused 4-yr-old Child

Bob Coy, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, Pedophile, Sex Abuse


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Miami New Times investigative reporter, Tim Elfrink, did a stellar job investigating the shocking story of fallen Calvary Chapel megachurch pastor, Bob Coy.

Some long-time readers may remember I posted about Bob Coy’s moral failure in a blog post dated April 8, 2014:

You may have heard of the recent scandal by Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale Pastor Bob Coy.  The church elders called a special church meeting on Sunday where it was announced:

“On April 3, 2014, Bob Coy resigned as Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, effective immediately, after confessing to a moral failing in his life which disqualifies him from continuing his leadership role at the church he has led since its founding in 1985.” (Source)

58-yr old Bob Coy with his wife founded Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale nearly 30 years ago. The church reportedly has over 20,000 attendees and a staff of over 1,000 at 10 different campuses.

Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher blog reported:

We have confirmed  that Coy has admitted to at least two affairs in the past year alone and has had a long standing “problem with pornography”.

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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


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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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Church Member Responsibility and Church Discipline at Pastor Eric Davis’ Church

Church membership, church discipline, Pastor Eric Davis, Cornerstone Church


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Church Member Responsibility and Church Discipline According to the Cornerstone Church By-laws

mind-the-gap

-by Kathi

I recently wrote about how Julie Anne and I dared to comment on an article at The Cripplegate which subsequently caused our comments to be deleted and comments to be closed. Pastor Eric Davis provided an entirely too long explanation about how the discussion had run its course, more humbleness in being a part of God’s community was needed, and that there was too much focus on logistics. Let’s not forget that he provided the wonderful 16-point article challenging excuses for not going to church. But who’s focusing on logistics? Continue reading

Domestic Violence, Jim and Doug Wilson, and Damaging Pastoral Response to Abuse in Marriages

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Insidious Behavior at The Village Church Regarding a Pedophile and His Former Wife

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Horrific story of spiritual abuse, mishandling of sex abuse, church membership, Matt Chandler, The Village Church, Jordan Root, pedophile, child pornography

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Learn and Discern: Government is Evil

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Yesterday, GRACE published an excellent article by Victor Vieth and linked to the Paul Washer video that I posted in yesterday’s article (video is posted below in this article).

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SBC Developments: Brave Action, Not Vague Resolutions, Stops Crimes against Kids

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There has been positive development with regard to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and a sex abuse resolution proposed by pastor and blogger, Peter Lumpkins.  The following video shows Peter Lumpkins presenting the resolution to SBC President Fred Luter.

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Dissecting Church Bylaws: Conduct of Members

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small__3451232619When my lawsuit went viral, quite a few people took it upon themselves to look up the name of my church on the internet.  They found and read the church by-laws.   A number of them questioned why we would even attend such a church because they could tell something was clearly off by what they had read.  Now, looking at it, I can see it, too

Someone recently sent me a link to a church constitution.  Beneath the subsection of Membership, I copied the “Conduct of Members” section to discuss here.

Many people have no idea what to look for in a good church or what would stand out as red  warning flags.  Let’s go through this portion of the church document together.  Would you go to this church?  Why or why not?   I have removed Section “c.” on tithing because I would like to cover that issue separately.

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