Tag Archives: sovereign grace ministries

Amended SGM Lawsuit Alleges Naked Beatings by Larry Tomczak

16 Jan

As I’ve finally calmed down enough to digest the shocking allegations in the latest SGM drama, one of the most shocking, is the allegation that Larry Tomczak  (co-founder of SGM Ministries) administered naked beatings to one of his children for over 25 years.  The following is an excerpt of the allegation.

Carla Coe was repeatedly assaulted by Defendant Tomczak and his co-conspirators during a 25-year period spanning her childhood and young adulthood.  Defendant Tomczak assaulted Carla Coe with his hands, as well as with various instruments, including but not limited to, plastic and wooden sticks.

On multiple occasions, including occasions after Carla Coe reached the age of majority, Defendant Tomczak forced Karla Coe to strip out of her clothing against her will, and be beaten on her bare buttocks.  Defendant Tomczak continued to engage in this forced undressing and beating of Carla Coe until she fled and escaped from the abuse.

On several occasions, Defendant Tomczak imprisoned Carla Coe and denied her food for extended periods of time.

Defendant Tomczak verbally admitted on one or more occasions to the individual Defendants and to the Church that he abused Carla Coe.  No one reported the beatings to the secular authority.

The assaults by Defendant Tomczak and his co-conspirators’ assaults primarily occurred in Maryland and Virgina.

You can find more of the amended lawsuit here (thanks yo Kris & Guy at SGM Survivors).

Such a short few sentences packed with a lifetime of excruciating pain.  I guess Larry Tomczak wasn’t kidding around when he penned his book God, The Rod, and Your Child’s Bod.

God, the rod, and your child's bod: The art of loving correction for Christian parents

A book in which he talks about spanking children when they are teething (in other words, less than 1 years old).

Some folks have reacted with disbelief that a young woman in her twenties would submit to this type of treatment.  I can tell you from my own experience in SGM, that many a leader in the movement spoke about spanking children that were of age.  I remember one conversation with Mark Prater, then a care group leader at Covenant Fellowship Church, in which he praised a teaching tape that spoke about a Father spanking his son who was in his late teens.  This idea that children could be spanked at just about any age, was certainly discussed by different leaders in SGM at the time that many of the alleged abuses occurred.

The other thing to understand, is that SGM preached that to obey God, one had to unquestioningly follow those put in authority above you.  For church members, it meant obeying your pastors, even when they were wrong (no kidding-I was told this by a pastor at Covenant Fellowship in my exit interview), for wives it meant their husbands, and for children it meant their parents.  Simply questioning or disagreeing with any of these “God-given” authorities was tantamount to being in full-blown rebellion to God.  This atmosphere of unquestioning obedience is a perfect breeding ground for abuse.

Another wicked aspect in SGM’s teachings was the idea that you as an individual could not trust your own feelings.  Only if a pastor or parent confirmed them were you to trust yourself.  Again, saying that you felt wronged or abused meant nothing, since your own judgement could always be called into question as flawed and horribly sinful.  Multiply this times 100 for a child who is trying to grow up in this environment and you can begin to scratch the surface of why some would allow themselves to be abused for so long.

Lastly, I just want to highlight the extreme bravery it took for these victims to come forward and tell the truth.  I’m sure for some, it will cost them many relationships.  My thoughts go out to them on this night…I hope they find the justice, peace, and refuge that should have been theirs growing up.

Amended SGM Lawsuit: Shocking Allegations of Rape/Child Abuse by Pastors at CLC/ Larry Tomczak

15 Jan
Tsar Bomba mushroom cloud

Tsar Bomba mushroom cloud (Photo credit: andy z)

I’m still trying to digest the newest allegations in the upcoming civil lawsuit against SGM co-founders CJ Mahaney andf Larry Tomczak.  One of the more shocking allegations is that a pastor and a principal at CLC private school, engaged in a coordinated effort to rape children under their care during the school day at CLC’s private school.

The amended lawsuit also alleges sexual and physical abuse by Larry Tomczak of one of his daughter’s, spanning a period of over 25 years.

Personally, I’m feeling shell-shocked that I ever gave a dime to these ministerial shysters.  My sympathies are with the victim’s who have endured years of shame and guilt at the hands of men whose public image was one of humility and godliness.

I have so many more thoughts on the subject and will be posting them over the next few days.

For now, you can read the various media reports covering this latest development in the SGM Lawsuit.

 Louisville Courier

Washington Post

ABC Affiliate WJLA

Musicman Part 3-The Bitter End of My Years in Sovereign Grace

12 Dec
Titanic Eisberg

Titanic Eisberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is part 3 of posts that I wrote for SGMSURVIVORS in 2008.  You can read my previous posts here and here.  As a reminder, I wrote these posts while still a Christian and have left them unedited.  If you are interested in reading about how I put aside my Christian faith, you can read My De-conversion and When You Lose Your Faith

.

So back to the story….. after our fateful first meeting in a member’s home, we started settling into a routine and lowered our expectations from our outreaches. It’s hard for me to be exact and chronological after this point because so much happened in such a short time period (about 1 year). When I was discussing with my wife all that happened and could be written about-we laughed and shook our heads at how much crazy stuff happened.

Let me just comment-that even after such a crazy and disappointing start-my wife and I were still hopeful and very committed to trying to make a real go for helping to establish this new church.

As a church, we settled into our new rented building and began to learn all of the small details that go into the logistics of doing church. We set up chairs, sound equipment, made coffee, set up Sunday school rooms, practiced worship, hosted the actual service, greeted each other and visitors, and then cleaned up everything we had just set up a few hours earlier. It was very busy and at times we were very stressed and pressed for time to keep up with all the commitments to establish the church. I had a good friend from our sending church ask me what I was learning spiritually from being on the church plant. I told him that I learned that God is present at every church meeting, but that God won’t set up the chairs. Anyway, it was in the midst of doing church on Sunday, care group, and prayer night that things relationally, started to become strained with our Pastor and his wife.

In my last post, I mentioned how my wife had started to feel that her good friendship with the pastor’s wife had started to change for the worse. When we actually arrived to the plant-it went even further downhill. It seemed that the only time that she (the pastor’s wife) wanted to relate to my wife was if she was giving advice on how my wife was raising our 1 year old son. My wife tried telling this to her and that she wanted to still be friends and the PW told her flatly that she should expect not to be friends. She then went on to explain that the pastor’s from our sending church had counseled them about this and told her that to be in leadership (or in her case, married to a pastor) would mean that she should start relating more to those in leadership and less to others (even old friends). My wife was flabbergasted and hurt, but tried to express her hope to still spend some time together. Eventually the PW told my wife that she’d be willing to get together once a week to go thru a book on Child Discipline-because she was concerned about my wife and her parenting. My wife agreed to, not because she wanted to read this book, but because she still held out hope for the relationship. What was even weirder in all this, was that our Pastor often times would state in his sermons-that our new church was going to be built on close personal relationships with each other. This was confusing to us-how are we going to build relationally if we should expect to not be very good friends because they were now in leadership (?).

Other random memories form this first year-

The couple who was put under church discipline for not being able to sell their home and move out with the rest of the team to do the plant. I never figured out how that worked or how they were to be disciplined. But I was told by our pastor so I know it happened. They never did sell their house. Lucky them!

There was the time we exhausted our little church to put on a free concert with a major Christian musician. We drew over 500 people and the concert was great. We were certain that this event would cement us in the community and bring in more families to the church (1 person on the leadership team even commented that this event might increase our tithing base). To our dismay-only one family visited the week after the concert and they didn’t even stay for the whole service.

There was the prayer meeting that was hosted at our home-in which one of the church plant team members stormed out before we started. He was offended because I told him I believed that the Dow Jones was likely to reach 8,000 (this was back in early 1997) within the next couple years, based on some research I had done to counter Christian authors that were predicting a stock market crash. I thought we were having a friendly chat. He stormed off in a huff, because he had sold all his stocks because his prophetic gifting told him that a crash was imminent and therefore sold all his stock holdings. He insulted me and told me I couldn’t possibly know, because I didn’t own stocks and was in debt. Not a great way to start a prayer meeting.

There was the couple who started attending and would fight at the beginning of just about every church service. For some reason our pastor would greet them from the front with the microphone, just as worship was getting started. He’d ask them how they were doing and the wife would answer that she was doing horrible because of her husband and begin listing all the ways that she felt neglected by him. They’d begin to argue, our pastor would smile, and I’d start the worship set to the sound of bickering in the background.

There was the prophecy mic-our local school board member who felt led to hone his prophetic calling on us-would read entire chapters of prophetic judgment towards the ancient nations from the book of Isaiah. He not only read these often-but would annunciate them with great fervor and spit, about the impending doom that was to befall those woeful nations. Ah-good stuff.

There was the time the worship team got into a heated debate over whether or not there could be alien life in outerspace.

There was the time my pastor said he was concerned about my doctrine. When I asked him which doctrine, he couldn’t be specific. But he then said he was concerned about where I was getting my doctrine from. I was too busy to be doing any outside study apart from church-so I told him that the only doctrine I was getting was from him. He grew quiet and then changed the subject.

Not all that happened in this first year was bad-we did see a couple of new folks become Christians and it is always sweet to see a new creation in Christ come to be. One was an older Gentleman who was related to a couple I knew. Larry Tomzcak had come to our small church to encourage us, but he also did a small public outreach on a Saturday night, and this older man responded to the gospel and became a Christian. At first he was excited in his new faith and was at every church meeting for many months. After a few months, he would still attend church, but his Daughter in law commented at care group, that she was concerned for him. She said that she thought he was not growing spiritually and had stopped reading his Bible. When she asked him-he was evasive-and she asked us to pray for him because she was worried for him. About 1 month later, an editor/journalist for Soveregin Grace’s magazine called some of us to write about all that was going on at our church plant. When I read the article (it was short) I couldn’t believe it. The article was fairly non-descript, but at the end it included the story of this older gentleman, how he came to Christ (thru Larry), and then ended the article by saying he was now a regular part of our church (which was true) and that he was flourishing spiritually (which was not true). I asked his Daughter in law about it and she said she had told the editor exactly what she had told us as was just as confused as we were about the article and it’s misrepresentation.

Another nagging thought from this period in our lives-is just how much pressure we were under and just how exhausted we had become. The job I took to move for the church plant fell thru after 3 or 4 months. It was a small business and the owner’s wife had fallen ill and could no longer afford to keep my division open. No problem-I started working 2 full time jobs and parking cars on weekends at a Golf course to make ends meet. It was while I was working like a dog, that I had time to be apart from the church and all that went into running it, and actually think about what was going on. I was working at a restaurant and became a shift manager after a month. While running one of the shifts-I befriended on of the other cooks and he eventually found out about why I had moved and the new church I was part of. He showed some interest and we had a long conversation about faith (he had some Christian friends whom he respected) and music. I remember thinking to myself that I’d love to find a way to share my faith with him more…I thought about giving him some free music lessons, I began thinking about maybe starting a small Bible study to go thru the gospel of John and then it hit me, that the one place I did not want to take him, was to my church. Yes-the very church that I was straining to build up-was the last place I’d want to take him. It hit me hard-because it was the first time I admitted (at least to myself) that maybe this church planting thing was not all that it was cracked up to be. It also hit me how silly all the puffed up talk about our church really was-as I worked my jobs-I met hundreds of people who could’ve cared less about where I went to church. My only hope of sharing Christ, was to be available and open to them right there on the job-not with some crazy hope that they’d come to a church meeting first to meet Jesus and believe the good news. I did get to share Christ with some of my co-workers that I parked cars with-some were interested in what I shared, none were very interested in coming to church.

Other relational strains began to hit the fan. Because I was working so late-I was sometimes late for meetings and was occasionally reprimanded for being a poor example to the worship team. I accepted the reprimand and made extra effort to be on time for worship rehearsals before church. One Sunday morning, my wife and I were rushing to be there on time when our 1 year old wet thru his pants and needed to change his clothes. It caused us to be late and once again I was reprimanded, but not given the chance to explain. I stuffed it-but it really bothered me to be treated like a child. Another incident occurred soon after that floored me. Another church plant team member, took it upon himself to reprimand me about my commitment to the church. I was confused because the pastor had recently thanked my wife and I for our support on the plant. He said he could feel our support. I don’t remember all this other man said, but I’ll never forget that he kept raising his voice at me to the point of yelling at me about how I needed to be more committed to the church and to this man (referring to the pastor who was now sitting quietly not saying anything in my defense). What was worse was that he was yelling at me at a public food court in a busy shopping mall. My own Father (who could be a yeller) had never yelled at me like this, let alone in a mall-I think I said very little and maybe even started to cry. I don’t exactly remember-but I can still feel remember the absolute shock that I felt. He then proceed to yell at me some more and say that the only reason he was doing this was because he loved me. What? Love me. This is love? Publicly humiliating me by yelling at me because you don’t think I’m doing enough? This is love? I was truly hurt, confused, and maybe even depressed after this incident. What hurt the most was that my pastor said nothing in my defense. He actually seemed to approve of what was being said and made no comment about the delivery style. Why did I put up with this? I’ve asked myself this question many times and I still don’t know why I let someone treat me this way.

Later, this same man interrupted me mid sentence, as I tried to offer an opinion on an upcoming event the church was planning. Again, the pastor I was speaking with just started talking to this man and never finished our conversation. Later that morning, the whole worship team (which included our pastor and his teenage child) were back stage to pray for the upcoming service. It was very apparent that there was some tension between the pastor and his teenager. Both seemed visibly upset and agitated. One of the sweetest women on the worship team, graciously asked if there was something wrong. Our pastor said no. She graciously asked again, because his teenager ducked out right after we started praying. He said that there was something going on-but that he couldn’t say. It was frustrating to see him be so evasive. Here was a man who had allowed me to be raked over the coals and yelled at in a mall and he couldn’t even be honest about a family fight or whatever it was that occurred that was disrupting his Sunday morning. I actually snapped at that moment-I couldn’t even pray as the rest of the team tried to pray for him in a nondescript way for ”whatever” was going on. I actually huffed and I thought my stomach would explode because I was so frustrated and angry. He looked up at me during prayer and grabbed me to stay after everyone had left. I was so mad at him that we started to argue harshly. I remember flailing my arms in disgust and telling him “how could he lead us when he can’t even be honest about his own life?”. He gave me some hairbrained answer about how it wouldn’t be appropriate for him as pastor to do such a thing. The church service was now 5 minutes behind schedule because the worship leader (me) and the pastor were verbally fighting backstage behind a curtain. Somehow-we managed to tone it down and go out and pull off the church service. We did manage to talk after the service and we forgave each other for the argument that we had backstage. I never did learn what had caused all the fuss between him and his kid, but I felt guilty for expressing myself in such anger and never pursued it or about the recent incident in the mall.

The hardest part was still yet to come- my wife decided that she needed to confront my pastor’s wife about their relationship and the way she seemed to be judgmental towards us and our parenting choices. I called our pastor and he and his wife agreed to come over. I took some time off work and the 4 of us sat down and had a very long and emotional conversation. My wife expressed her feelings and gave specific examples of how she felt her friend had wronged my wife or simply been judgmental in things she said about us. We had prayed ahead of time and were committed to trying to follow Matthew 18 in hopes of being heard and working through these things. I still believed that we would be a part of this church for many years to come and we wanted to be right with these folks. The best way to typify what happened is to tell you what happened at the end of our time together. After hours of us being as honest as we could -about how we felt wronged -and trying to be clear and gracious so that forgiveness could occur. Our pastor’s wife ended the meeting by saying she really wasn’t sure if she agreed with us and that she’d have to pray about and get back to us. She then got up and left our apartment. After saying goodbye to our pastor I closed the door and actually felt like we might get thru this and see our relationships grow. A week or so went by and no follow up occurred. We didn’t press it at first because we were trying to respect their wishes to pray and think about what we said. Another week and a couple more awkward church services-I decided to call our pastor. I asked him about the conversation and asked him if we needed to talk. I apologized for maybe pushing, but we didn’t want to pretend everything was fine-if in reality- we had made his wife mad or bitter or if she felt we were mistaken. He said he didn’t think she was mad and he never really answered me about getting back to us. We eventually left the church plant a few months later, not because of all that had happened but because my employment situation was putting us deeper in debt. My parents offered to let us stay with them rent free so we could get back on our feet. We felt bad for leaving the church plant after only a year, but saw little option because of our financial crisis.

We talked to our pastor and his wife-they understood our situation and since we were moving near CJ’s church-we agreed to get together when they were in town for leadership training. We then moved and started attending CLC. A few months later, we heard that our pastor and his wife were going to be at a pastors’ conference, so we called and left 2 or 3 messages saying that we’d really like to get together and work things out. They did attend the conference, but they never called us back. Later that year, I landed employment back at my old job before the church plant-so we moved and started attending the church that had sent us out to plant. It was here that I approached our pastor to see if he would help us reconcile with our now former pastor and his wife. He seemed eager and we arranged to meet that week. When I laid out all that had happened and how we had tried following Matt 18 as we had been taught-he seemed like he wanted to help. I expected that he would call our old pastor and arrange a time to meet and work it thru. Instead, he told me to write out all the ways I had sinned against this pastor and his wife. Then I should call my former pastor and confess my sin to him. Then once that was out of the way-then he could help me work thru our issues. I was confused as to why I needed to do this-but in the interest in trying to reconcile I agreed to do this. It wasn’t hard to think of ways I had sinned so I wrote them down-but what was hard, was that I had already confessed these things to this man and his wife at our meeting. I hemmed at calling him and put it off for a while. I did call and leave a voice mail and said I wanted to talk-he didn’t call back.

After a month or so-I finally made up my mind that I would try again to call this man, way my pastor suggested. Later that day-another strange twist in the saga-the same man on the church plant team that had yelled at me, walked thru the door at the retail store I was now managing. It had been almost a year since we had left and he told me that he had left the church plant as well. I told him this didn’t surprise me because of the tension I had seen in his relationship with the pastor. We stepped into a back room and he began to tell me some of the details of why they had left, in particular the major problems he and his wife had in relating to the pastor’s wife. I told him that I understood what he meant. He asked me for more details and I rebuffed-saying that I didn’t want to say because I was in the middle of trying to reconcile with these folks and had sought help from our sending church. He kept asking for details-I again explained that I didn’t want to get into it and jeopardize the process. He then swore to me that he didn’t even see our old pastor anymore and that he could be trusted. I then chose to confide in him-I explained some of what had gone on and he confirmed some of the things that my wife and I had tried to work out. It felt good to feel like I wasn’t crazy-and even wondered if maybe I had misjudged this fellow because of his harsh tone in the mall. He shared some more of his trials and decision to leave the church and then he went on his merry way to a business meeting. My conversation with this old church plant member encouraged me to call our old pastor and stand firm.

The next day I began to worry about whether I should have trusted this man and given in to his questions. I didn’t want to be accused of gossip. So I took my afternoon break and decided to make the phone call to confess my sins and to try and re-open lines of communication before any damage could be done.

With many butterflies in my stomach, I dialed my pastor’s office number and he answered. I mumbled a hello and started, in a semi scripted fashion, to explain why I was calling and that I wanted to confess some things to him. He interrupted me and told me that, while he wanted to do this, he couldn’t because he was aware of my conversation with this other former church plant member and that he was afraid I had gossiped. I was floored-that man had lied to me-he still got together for breakfast once a week with our old pastor. He had flown home the night of our conversation and had spilled the beans the next morning at breakfast. My heart sank and I was speechless at first. My old pastor started to give me a mini sermon on gossip and bitterness. But I couldn’t say anything-I was shell shocked. I did manage to say that I couldn’t believe this…he was perturbed because I hadn’t answered his question related to his mini sermon. He angrily asked me what I couldn’t believe, I told him I couldn’t believe all that had happened in the last 2 years and how terrible the whole thing had been. I then found my courage and told him that I thought he had gossiped by listening to this man tell things I told him in confidence and that was going to hang up and call the other pastor involved and tell him the whole deal. I slammed down the phone and did just that… but to no avail. This other pastor didn’t seem to know what to do-he promised to talk to this other pastor and get back to me. He never really did get back to me, and despite living less than a mile from our apartment-he consistently put me off for over 4 months. By then we decided that there was little else we could do-to either reconcile with our old pastor or to have our current pastor help us either… I informed our pastor that we were leaving the church. We did talk for hours about many issues, including theological that had been born out of our troubles-but in the end he “released” to go and prayed with me.

I feel sad as I write this-because it has now been 10 years since trying to reconcile with people we loved, and had committed our loves to serve with-only to be turned out with silence and basic indifference. And in leaving SG-we essentially lost all of our friends. Some who had been in our wedding-one whom I considered the brother I never had. This is too painful to recount-needles to say-he hasn’t returned my phone calls in a while.

So why write all this-why not forgive and forget? Well I do forgive them and I actually pray for the many folks I know who are still in the movement. But I write it for those who are going through some of these same types of situations-so that they know

hat they aren’t crazy. So that they know that SG and their theology of leadership leads to these types of outcomes.

“Nothing matters except faith, expressing itself thru love”

Peace-Musicman

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Musicman Part 2-The Church Plant Years

14 Nov

You can read the first post here.

Next Update-The Church Plant Years….

Ok-so my wife and I had our first baby on the way- when it was announced at church, that our best friends at our SG church would be leading a church plant to a mid-sized city in the mid-west. We were very excited for them, and spent a week talking about signing up for the plant. We genuinely loved these guys and I thought the husband would make a decent pastor, if he showed the same type of love to others that they shared with us. My wife and I also felt like our new marriage and involvement with our larger church was good, but had led us away from being able to share the gospel and befriend anyone outside of our church circle. I think we even agreed ,that we were both feeling dry spiritually and wanted to be used more by God in building his kingdom-we thought this would be a perfect step towards doing just that. We shared our desire to go and we were given the green light to pursue being a part of “the team”.

In general, there was a lot of enthusiasm and much earnest prayer with the team of folks that began to consider making the journey. It was exciting to be with like-minded people, risking life as we knew it to launch out in to something new-all with the hope that a new church would be born that would live out the vision of Godly community in our new city. And we would get to be part of it all-not just spectators or Olympic style applause meters-no, we’d be actual participants in God’s chosen vessel, the local church. And we were truly excited about it!

But there were other happenings that began to serve as red flags to what we were about to experience. One of the couples considering coming was told that they could not come on the plant. It was obvious there was much tension, but few details were given. I just happened to know the husband of the couple from care group, so I was aware of the sending church “intervention”. They were eventually given the go ahead at the last-minute and went west with us. More on this later…

Another thing happened, there was a subtle shift in our relationship with the couple leading the plant. We were still friends, but they began to speak more about how we’d have to submit to them. My wife also began to feel a growing disconnect with the person she knew the future pastor’s wife to be, and how she (the pastor’s wife) began to carry herself and speak to my wife. I just chalked it up to some nervousness and the couples reactions to being in a more prominent leadership position. “New Leader Mistakes” is what I’d say to my wife, to calm her growing doubts. I assured her that any differences would be worked out because of the way SG desired to work things out orderly and relationally. It became especially hard for my wife-I’ll explain.

My wife began to have doubts about the church plant and was feeling more distant from this future pastor’s wife. But at the same time she was asked to speak at a special ladies event-which was set up to honor the new pastor’s wife. She was asked to please speak at the end of the event about how God had used this woman and their friendship. My wife agreed, only after I convinced her to speak about the past grace and not to worry about the current state of the relationship. She eventually “submitted” to my leadership and agreed to speak. When I picked her up after the event-I asked how it had gone. She said it was a very frustrating night for her because she felt like she had been a phony. I asked her what she meant. She replied that another pastors wife kept praising my wife’s friend, about how much God was using her and especially how wonderful to see “such good friends” now joining together in this amazing endeavor, to church plant together. My wife then got up and read her honest appreciation for all this woman had done and how much she meant to my wife-the only reason it really got to my wife-is that it hit her during her homage to her friend, that they were truly growing apart and my wife felt like a total phony for pretending that things were still as they used to be. She said many women came up to her afterwards and heartily encouraged her about being “such good friends” and how good it was to see “such good friends” going off to do ministry together. It truly became the buzz catch phrase after that night-it must’ve been said to me 100 times from my pastors and lay people alike.

Besides some of the red flags-we pushed ahead. As the target launching out date neared, we were constantly praised for what we were about to do. At one point our Senior Pastor had called us (the church plant team) on stage. He pointed to us and said we were his heroes of the faith. In our final weeks before leaving the sending church we had meetings with pastors, church leaders-it all seemed so important-like we were going on an Apollo mission or something. We were warned that they’re might be trouble ahead-but not to worry-the home church would never leave us nor forsake us. They would always be available and especially to resource our new pastor-who would lead and guide us thru these truly exciting and amazing times. I know some of you are thinking that I’m being too flip-but I need you to understand that it was such a heady type of atmosphere that surrounded the sending out of this team. It truly felt like we were on a mission from God-historymakers, pioneers, spiritual heroes were some of the praises that all of us on the team were told.

Finally, the day comes, the final cut of those who not only had a desire, but actually quit jobs, found new ones, said goodbye to friends and family and moved out to plant a new church. My new pastor preached with passion about the city we were moving to-the racial reconciliation that would occur, the lives that would be touched, the desire to preach the gospel, and be a new testament local church. Special songs were sung, prayers prayed, and a total of 3 couples and a handful of single folks in their 20′s launched off……..

After the long drive and moving everyone in to our new locale-the adventure began. After about a week into my new job, someone familiar with the fact that I had moved to be a part of a new church, asked me about the town we planned to meet in. I told him all about our vision to preach the gospel, be a multi-cultural/ multi-racial church and told him where we were located. He practically laughed at me when I told him the town. He laughed because he didn’t know how we were going to do all those great multi-cultural out reach ministries in an almost all white, upper class suburb that was called “the bubble” by those who lived there. I was slightly shocked and asked another church plant member if he knew about “the bubble”. He said he did and that it was true (he had grown up near by).

Other things began to happen as well-we began doing “outreach” in the neighborhoods. We passed out free cofee and flyers about our church in front of a drug store. We passed out batteries in another nearby neighborhood (for peoples’ fire alarms) and offered an invite to our church -as we awkwardly explained why a brand new church, with no affiliation to the local fire department, was passing out batteries and offering spiritualized reminders about fire safety. It was so weird. What was even weirder is that we were calling this evangelism and spending an inordinate amount of time obsessing with our outreaches and upcoming new church. We rented a table at a local outdoor grocery market and passed out flyers about our new local church. We all had to sign up and do our time at the table. As I remember-there was a lot of bickering over whether or not we should have some sort of gospel tract made available at the table. After much infighting between a few of us-I think our pastor agreed mid-day to have chic tracts or something to that extent on the table. Whew-I’m sure you can all imagine how inviting we must have seemed with all our wrangling over whether or not to have gospel tracts at our “grocers” table. As I write this-I’m still amazed at how absurd so much of this actually was and that I spent months being a part of this nervous energy.

Well the official launch day came-after month’s of prayer, music practices (I was one of the worship leaders), and evangelistic outreaches as described above-we held our first service. But it didn’t go totally as planned. At the last minute-the building we were going to rent changed their mind and pushed us back a week. Not to worry-we could not cancel because of all the new folks that might come from our evangelism and batteries. It was decided that our first meeting would be held at someone’s house instead-and a few scouts would go to the advertised meeting spot to direct the newcomers to the proper location.

Another detail-since we’d been prepared to set up chairs and full sound system for the worship band in the rented building-we stayed on track and set up around 40 chairs and a full sound system in this person’s house (no joke). Besides being very labor intensive-it was also extremely cumbersome to have a full-blown worship band (and sound system) crammed into our friends new home in “the bubble”.

We anxiously waited for our scouts to arrive with all the new people. But here’s the strange thing-nobody ever showed up at the advertised meeting place. But instead of packing things up or scaling back for the 12 or so adults-our new leader launched us into a full-fledged church service patterned after our sending church (whose attendance was over 500 people). We passed out printed programs, the worship band played, we had feedback that caused everyone to go temporarily deaf, we even had our pastor turn over the announcements to another worship leader and we all were instructed to continue speaking in the microphones for the service. The worship leader had originally planned to give a welcome to guests-but since there weren’t any, he thought he’d skip it. Oh no-our pastor instructed him to go thru the whole deal. You know-”Is anybody here for the first time, if so, we have a packet just for you, if you’d just stand so the ushers can see you….”

And then our pastor launched into a 30 minute sermon about the church (and it was obvious he had geared it towards visitors)- it was absolutely insane

Not that what we actually did was insane-just that we were “pretending” there might be visitors, that we were “pretending” we were still in a rented auditorium and not in someones house-thus the need to speak to all 6 people in the cheap seats with a microphone. Never mind we were only 5 feet apart-why let reality set in? “Pretending” that this was what we had signed up for…….I could go on. It was one of the more “twilight zone” moments of my life.

But as my title suggests, this was just the start…………to be continued.

The Stories…Shedding Light on Sovereign Grace’s Abuses

24 Oct
Scales of Justice Brisbane Courts-1=

Scales of Justice Brisbane Courts-1= (Photo credit: Sheba_Also)

I’ve had a huge uptick from folks searching for more information about Sovereign Grace Ministries and the lawsuit filed against current and former pastors (including CJ Mahaney and Larry Tomczak).  The lawsuit alleges that sexual abuse of children was covered up and not properly reported to the police and to the churches.  Many that read here are very familiar with the alleged abuses and the years of stories of heavy handed abuse and deception by SGM leaders.

To an outsider, who might only know of CJ Mahaney and Josh Harris as Christian authors/speakers, it can be intimidating to understand the unique culture and abuses that have occurred over the decades.  I would like to recommend a  link that may help you understand the types of abuses that have occurred and why SGM is now being sued.

Kris, over at SGM Survivors, has a  link called The Stories.  It is a huge compilation of stories from past members of Sovereign Grace and the abuses they endured.  The document is equivalent to a 140 page PDF file and has years of posts from former pastors, small group leaders, worship leaders, average church goers, and children that grew up within the Sovereign Grace family of churches.

This link alone should give anyone a pretty good idea of just how deep and wide the problems of abuse have dogged Sovereign Grace, because of their cultic view of pastoral authority.

As a side note, I wrote 3 posts for SGM Survivors back in 2008.  They are included in this link under Musicman’s story.  Musicman is the handle I’ve used at SGM Survivors since I began posting back in the fall of 2007.

I actually hadn’t read the posts I had written in a couple of years and will post them here at the Christian Agnostic over the next few days.  It may be of interest to some of my readers, since these posts were written a few years before losing my Christian faith.

Regardless, it is the true story of the abuses I saw and endured during my time in SGM.

Until next time….

Lawsuit Against Sovereign Grace Hits The Web: CJ Mahaney & Larry Tomczak Among Defendants

18 Oct

The lawsuit alleging cover ups of sexual abuse and pedophilia at two different Sovereign Grace Churches is now on-line.

Kris over at SGM Survivors has posted the document in it’s entirety.  You can view the document here.  In an interesting twist, both CJ Mahaney and Larry Tomczak are listed as defendants.   Both men were founders and leaders of SGM until Larry was forced to step down in the late 90’s.

As I get time, I’ll be posting more thoughts on the specifics of the case.

Until then…

UPDATED FRIDAY 10/19/12

It’s starting to hit Christian radio as well…you can listen to an interview with Susan Burke (attorney for the plaintiffs) here:

http://www.janetmefferdpremium.com/

Sovereign Grace Ministries Sued Over Alleged Sex Abuse Cases

17 Oct
C.J. Mahaney

C.J. Mahaney (Photo credit: james.thompson)

It seems that this has been a long time coming for CJ Mahaney and the Board of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  The Washington Post is reporting that three different victims are suing SGM for their mishandling and concealment of sex abuse that occurred within their churches.  Over a half-dozen defendants are named in the case, but neither SGM nor any of the defendants made any comment when contacted concerning the case being brought against them.

While this is not the first time sex abuse cases have been brought to light concerning SGM , it is the first time that a lawsuit has been filed against SGM  for failing to report the crimes.

You can read the full Washington Post article here.

Related posts concerning SGM and alleged sex abuse cases:

Noel’s Story

Story of Child Abuse from the Mothership of SGM

Joe Paterno and CJ Mahaney: The Parallels of Peril

UPDATED FRIDAY 10/19/12

It’s starting to hit Christian radio as well…you can listen to an interview with Susan Burke (attorney for the plaintiffs) here:

http://www.janetmefferdpremium.com/

Joe Paterno and CJ Mahaney: The Parallels of Peril

13 Jul
English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grac...

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno on the sideline during warmups prior to the 2006 Homecoming game versus the University of Illinois on Friday, October 20, 2006. Taken by me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The newly released report by Loius Freeh paints a damning picture of Penn State and Joe Paterno.

According to Freeh,  when Penn State officials first learned of possible abuse by assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.  They concluded a quick investigation and then buried it to avoid bad publicity for the school and the athletic program.

About Joe Paterno, Freeh had this to say:

“The facts are the facts,” Freeh said. “There’s a whole host of evidence here and we’re saying the reasonable conclusion from that evidence is that he was an integral part of this active conspiracy to conceal. I regret that, based on the damage it does, obviously, to his legacy.”

The document detailing the reported incidents is over 200 pages long.  A brief summary tells us that the first accusations of sex abuse with boys as young as 8 years old, first occurred in 1998.  Three years later, more incidents were brought to Penn State officials but subsequently went unreported to the police. Sandusky was advised to not bring children onto campus, but the Athletic Department (including Paterno) advised Penn State’s board to allow for Sandusky to get counseling and not report the incident to the proper authorities (Police and Child Welfare).

You can read a more detailed report here, that includes links to the actual Freeh investigation report.

Putting Public Image Above People and The Law

One of the big disappointments, is the apparent lack of concern for the actual victims of Jerry Sandusky.  Joe Paterno and Penn State’s board seemed more concerned with their school’s reputation than with doing the right thing.  They put the public image of the school above the law and did not report the incidents to the proper authorities.

This same dynamic (putting public image above the law) has been reported in multiple sex abuse/ child abuse incidents in Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM).  In many cases, families of the victims were told to forgive the abuser and accused of being bitter or divisive if they objected.  Often times victims families were advised not to speak about the crimes committed against their children.  In many cases, SGM pastors advised parents to NOT call the police and did not inform their congregation of the abuse that had occured.

I won’t go over specific cases in detail, but you can read Noel’s Story here,  and exCLCer’s story here.

At the helm of SGM and CLC church, where many of the alleged abuses occurred, was CJ Mahaney.

Much like Joe Paterno, it appears that CJ Mahaney would rather ignore the law and assist abusers instead of taking a lump for the victims.  It seems, that the price of bad publicity was a price that CJ Mahaney was not willing to pay.

Much like Paterno, CJ Mahaney seems more comfortable with coddling sex abusers than dealing honestly with the victims of those crimes.

An unfortunate legacy for both men, who have been admired from afar for decades, but in the end, will go to their grave with the knowledge that they did not go the second mile for innocent children. Children that deserved better than to be raped and then ignored by those with the power to help.

My Deconversion

9 May

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did for The Wartburg Watch.  You can read the original post and comments here.  I wanted to include my deconversion on  Christianagnostic for those that might have missed it.

Before I tell you about how and why I deconverted from Christianity, let me give you a brief tour of my previous Christian life.  Ready, steady, go………

My Christian Life

I was raised in a Christian home in the Northeast, and attended an Evangelical Presbyterian church from age 7 until my mid teens.  It was at the age of eight that I responded to a Sunday school teacher’s presentation of the gospel and prayed to receive Christ into my heart.  I was involved with the church youth group and Boys Brigade up until High School.

In High School, I was involved with Young Life and became a student leader (Campaigner) and was actively involved with the Young Life club at my school. This also involved  trips to Saranac Lake and Lake Champion.  In college, I continued with Young Life as a volunteer leader.  I led clubs, led campaigner Bible studies, organized trips to Young Life camps, volunteered for work crew, and led worship on leadership retreats.  I also had some involvement with Campus Crusade, including a week at Daytona spring break, Intervarsity, and Chi-Alpha.  Not to mention that I also helped fund and promote a couple of Christian concerts at my school (it was a public University, not a Christian school).

After college, I worked full-time at my local Christian bookstore.  I worked there for 14 years as a store manager, music buyer, gift buyer, and staff trainer (did I mention that I also scrubbed some toilets in my time).  After the bookstore, I was hired by a Christian division of Warner Music.  I served as a sales rep. for the Northeast and then the entire West Coast.  I spent almost every waking hour in Christian bookstores, helping to market and promote the latest Christian music and DVD’s.  I worked in this role for almost 10 years , before changes in the industry forced Warner to lay off almost 90% of our division.

Personally, I had gotten married to a woman I met in college.  We had met at church, got married in a Calvary Chapel and soon began attending an SGM church.  I served in the worship band, was part of a church planting team where I also served in as a worship leader.  After leaving SGM, we helped with a local Vineyard church plant where again, I served on the worship team and became a small group leader.  I attended some pastoral training conferences with Vineyard and was on unpaid staff at another Vineyard church on the West Coast.  This is the brief version of my Christian life and involvement in the church….

I mention all these things in the hopes, that no one will come along and say that I must not have had enough information, or that maybe I had never really been a Christian.  It’s frustrating to have that thrown at me, considering that I was committed to Christ in both a personal and professional way.  I truly believed with all that was in me, and tried to be Christ like in all that I did.  I read the Bible as much as possible, and was reading books about the Bible or Christian life when I wasn’t reading the Bible.  I’m not sure what else I could say to convince someone, that  I had been a Christian.

The Circle Doesn’t Go Unbroken

There’s an old folk gospel song that asks the question, will the circle be unbroken?  For me, it would be broken, and I’ll try to describe some of the key issues that lead me from my faith to an agnostic point of view…

When I was involved with SGM churches, as some may know, there was a huge emphasis on gender roles.  The pastors of SGM preached often on the subject and it was hammered home in the small groups (called care groups) that men should lead their homes and women and children should submit to their husband’s authority.  They also preached that man, woman, and child should be submitted to the local church’s authority, in other words, the pastors.  I won’t repeat all the abuses that were rife in these churches, as they have been well documented….but it did lead me to a scriptural conundrum.  SGM and their teaching on pastoral/ marital authority roles were consistent with what was taught in the New Testament.  They took the face value teaching of Paul and Peter, applied to today, and followed it to its logical conclusions-which led to all sorts of abuse, neglect, and pain to all involved.

I began to wonder why God would have such confusing and hurtful passages in Scripture?   I tried desperately to find alternative views, that would allow me to see some sort of wisdom from those passages, but as much as some of the alternative views were attractive, I could not wipe away the fact that scripture spoke of women as a lower class of human than men.  Men, by accident of birth, were to be the leaders and rulers in home and the church, according to the plain reading of the Scriptures.  This bothered me because of the abuse I had seen up close…

I started to explore the early church, to see how they handled these scriptures.  What I found was even more diverse that I had imagined.  Some early church movements seemed to have women Apostles and deaconesses, even alluded to in the New Testament, while other early church movements saw women as a seed of the devil, only to be saved through childbirth, but not to be trusted in any other way.  Needless to say, the history of the early church provided little relief.

Another issue that began to creep up, was the history of the Scriptures themselves….some scholars on the Women’s issue (like Gordon Fee) argued that many of the texts about women being silent and submitting, were additions to the text, and that they should not be binding on the church, since they were of dubious origin.  At first I was relieved, and started to see that this indeed might have been a case of cultural bias being written in to the Scriptures.  But the relief was short-lived….

I began to realize that if these texts, had been possibly added, than there might be other texts that had been added or changed as well.   The more I researched the issue (among Evangelical scholars) I realized that the issue of contradicting manuscripts was a major issue.  One fact I came across that blew my inerrant mind, was the fact that over 7,000 copies exist of Paul’s letters, and every single one is different from the other-no two are the same.   The final blow came when I was reading a history of the persecution of women accused of witchcraft.  It was a terrible history of both Catholic and Protestant churches using the Bible to condemn and kill thousands of women on the flimsy charge of witchcraft.  It occurred to me, that so much of this pain, murder, torture and fear mongering could have been avoided except for the Bible’s teaching on women.  Why would God allow this to be so?  The more disturbing thought, if it was a result of someone adding or changing the text, then why didn’t God prevent it?  It’s a question I’ve yet to get an adequate answer…

I have many friends who are seminary trained, full-time clergy/ pastors.  I have summed it up for them this way, “If the Bible is the most important message that God could ever hope to say to mankind, and it is supposed to be reliable and without error in the original form, than why didn’t he bother to make sure it would be preserved without error?” It just seems unbelievable to me that God would not bother to keep the scriptures from being corrupted (or lost, as in the final chapter of Mark).  I’ve had a couple of my friends admit that this bothers them as well.  I’ve had others say they agree with my approach to textual criticism, yet they disagree with my conclusions.  But I can no longer put my faith in a book as the infallible word of God, when it obviously has been changed, let alone has contradictions within the text itself.  Once this house of cards fell, my faith was no more.

My Life, After Christianity

I am one of the lucky ones, when I finally built up the courage to tell my wife that I no longer believed, she listened, asked some questions, and then told me she never thought the Bible made much sense.  She was, in fact, a functional agnostic.  She had always been a Christian, because she had no choice as a child.  As a wife, she supported my faith and chose not to take issue with it.  It was a huge relief, I know of other instances where the believing spouse divorced the unbeliever or made life such a battle that the relationship suffered greatly.

As for my kids, after about a month, my wife and I decided to tell our kids that we were no longer Christians.  We let them ask questions, which were many and also told them that we would not be raising them as Christians.  We didn’t forbid them to have faith, we just let them know it would be their choice, not ours, what they chose to believe or not to believe about God.

The hardest part has been the reaction of friends and family.  For the most part, we are now viewed with suspicion by many in our family.  We recently received a letter from a family member, in which he describes us as deceived and followers of Satan….sigh….My wife couldn’t even read it.  This same rhetoric has been leveled at my children at school.  My one son came home confused, because a friend told him he was a Satanist if he didn’t believe in God.  My daughter had the threat of hell preached to her at a sleep over.  No fun, but that it is what the Bible Teaches, so I am not surprised.  It is still not fun to know that you are regarded as unintelligent, uninformed, deceived, and following the lies of Satan.

One Final Note                     

This is kind of my coming out to the Christian blog community….let me explain.  A few years ago I began blogging over at SGM Survivors under the handle of Musicman.  You can read my story at this link:

http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/2008/07/07/musicman-concludes-his-story/

If you read it, you will see that it is from a Christian point of view.  That’s because, I was still very much a Christian when I began to participate on SGM Survivors and the Refuge.  I have nothing but respect for Kris, Guy, Jim, and Carol and for the price they have paid to allow us Survivors to have a voice on the internet.

As I began having doubts, I also began reading the Wartburg Watch.  When I started to post, I would do so as doubtful.  I began this blog, as my way of beginning to think out loud about many of the issues I dealt with as a Christian.

Thanks for reading!

Story of Child Abuse from the Mothership of SGM-featured at Exchristian.net

3 May

exCLCer has posted her story of abuse at the hands of two pastors from CLC.   For those not familiar with Sovereign Grace Ministries, CLC (Covenant Life Church) was the founding church of the cult.  One of the founding pastors is CJ Mahaney, author and speaker in many of the new Reformed conferences.  CLC’s current  pastor is Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

I attended SGM churches for almost a decade, including a brief period at CLC in Gaithersburg, MD.

I’ll let her story speak for itself:

http://new.exchristian.net/2012/05/losing-faith-gaining-facts-my-story-of.html