This is old news for most – SGM has released the AoR report. First to SGM Board – thank you. I suppose if I’m going to call you out in my last post to “do the right thing” by releasing the report in entirety – I should thank you for doing so.
Following the release of this report, there have been different responses – disappointment to many, encouragement to others, vindication to the very few. With this post, I’d like to offer a few comments and observations about the AoR report that I hope might be helpful.
Let me start by saying this – I think there’s a lot that’s good and helpful in the report – thank you AoR for your work. In particular, the general call for every participant to examine his/her own heart – repent and refrain from sinful communication patterns is good and wise. It is also useful to hear again the need to extend and proclaim forgiveness. As we often say in our church culture, if you’re around us long enough, we’ll sin against you – how true and well exemplified through this sad episode but we must forgive when someone repents. The encouragement to extend love, not only to those currently in the church, but also to former members is very helpful. There are other notable good points so I would encourage you to read it in totality and maybe a couple of times.
However, I’d also suggest that there were a number of points that were perhaps a little off the mark or not encompassing the essence of the SGM debacle. Here are a few points of observation or analysis.
- Have you ever heard of the saying – “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Well, I think it applies here. AoR has a decidedly “conflict resolution” perspective of the problem at hand. To be sure, personal conflict is one dimension of the problem but the issues related to SGM are much broader than that. In this sense, I think AoR’s work (and possibly expertise) is misaligned w the macro problem at hand What’s needed for SGM is not simply reconciliation between parties but reformation of church culture and polity. I agree that there is a need for forgiveness to be extended all around – pastors to fellow pastors, pastors to members, members to pastors, etc… but there is need for much more than that. When you only apply the category of inter-personal reconciliation, you may misunderstand and misinterpret your observations. As an example – absent the category of spiritual abuse, you may be more concerned about pastors correcting sinful speech than extending forbearance toward those who may be sinning as a result of spiritual abuse.
- AoR is not a completely neutral, independent, objective party…but that’s ok. I believe this to be true for 2 reasons. First, they are paid by SGM, spent time with SGM board in preparation for their work, and worked in concert with SGM board throughout the process. More than payment, time spent interacting with SGM leadership undoubtedly would shape their view regarding the nature of the issues. For instance, SGM has repeatedly sought to frame this problem in terms of personal conflict while many of the church leaders calling for reform have repeatedly stated – “this is not primarily about a conflict w CJ”. Second reason, AoR is not completely neutral or objective is due to an effect similar to the “Heisenberg Measurement Problem” in physics – which says that when you try to probe and measure a system, you inevitably alter the system that you’re trying to measure, hence invalidating the accuracy of the measurement to some degree Here’s how the “Heisenberg Measurement Problem” may have possibly affected AoR as the process unfolded – when AoR began their participation, some in the blogging community were unfairly critical and suspicious of them. This could very likely have affected AoR’s view of the situation. Frankly, how could it not? They were reading the blogs and that kind of response to them only served to reinforce SGM’s opinion of “the blogs”. This would certainly explain their negative fixation on “the blogs” in their report when frankly, in my opinion, the blogs have served an important purpose in bringing what is hidden into light. Yes, there has been unprofitable sinful speech but that’s not all that has occurred in the SGM blog land. Before I leave this point, I must emphasize this – just because AoR is not completely neutral or objective does not mean that their report is materially unfair or prejudiced. Nor does it mean that they’ve done anything wrong – overall, notwithstanding their judgment of the blogs, they probably did as good a job as can be expected on a rather broad, challenging task.
- In my opinion, AoR missed the bigger picture when making observations about the SGM debacle. The report is full of valid observations about the SGM church culture – both positive and negative but they may have missed the mark in their analysis. I’m not sure AoR grasped why there is widespread frustration over SGM leadership culture. Why are otherwise mature, kind pastors and church members so up in arms over what’s happened in SGM? Here’s a clue – it’s not because they have a vendetta against CJ (at least not for most). It’s actually because of this – since this entire sad situation has broken, all that has been exposed and observed is that SGM leadership including CJ has been out of step with the church culture and practices that we hold dear. In some circles, this may be viewed as hypocrisy. It may or may not be so, but it is nonetheless frustrating to current members. I don’t think AoR understands this. For instance, is it any wonder that when a corporate leader steps down, confesses and then some weeks later publicly recants his confession that it might lead members to completely lose confidence in the leader?
- AoR made a point of praising CJ’s preaching but failed to make the point that he needs to take corporate responsibility for its failures. They observe with some puzzlement that CJ’s preaching is gospel centric but this “gospel-centeredness” does not accord with our practice. Actually it’s not so mysterious. Have you ever been in a company or group where the professed values do not match up with the practice? I have and it’s not altogether unusual. But in those cases, you can almost always trace the culture back to the head honcho. He’s responsible and if he’s a great leader – he’ll own it – good, bad, ugly and seek to change. AoR should be aware that CJ’s current preaching content is a small slice of his pastoral influence over the churches in the past several years. The culture, not the preaching is the full measure of his body of work and he should take ownership for it.
- I want to say this humbly but I do believe that AoR missed it on specific advice regarding the nature of sinful communication and appropriate mediums of communication. I understand that if you live in the realm of conflict resolution, you are particularly concerned about sinful communication but is the admonishment to not conduct public “family meetings” really on target? Seriously, just because you witnessed a couple of those meetings get out of hand, should we not have public meetings? Let’s be clear – there is no biblical warrant for that. I’ve seen people sin in prayer meetings, should we abandon prayer meetings altogether? As a matter of interest, my SGM church has conducted a number of very good and helpful public meetings where members asked hard questions, challenged decisions but all in all, did so in a brotherly Christian spirit. Both members and pastors were helped by those meetings, including the difficult and challenging questions. Perhaps this is where the lens of conflict resolution can be a little narrow in focus. The goal of these meetings isn’t to avoid sinful speech. The goal is actually to have a family meeting in the true sense of the phrase whereby fellow members can express their sentiments openly, safely and in a God glorifying manner. If, on occasion, a few members get frustrated and angry, that’s ok – we can encourage repentance, we can extend forgiveness and in so doing exemplify the gospel in church life together. I’ve seen it happen at our church. Look – I have no time or space to get into the topic of slander/gossip here but there are lots of reasons to disagree and even criticize at times – not all of them sinful. When someone questions another persons qualifications or critiques the body of his work, it isn’t necessarily sinful speech.
Friends, do lay hold of AoR’s good advice to examine our hearts for uncharitable judgements and bitterness. Extend forgiveness when warranted. But also bear in mind that this isn’t primarily about personal reconciliation. For many current members of SGM churches, it’s about reform and we’re not ready to stop calling for it. We may have to at some point, but we’re not there yet and we’re hoping that SGM board will have the good sense to listen.
Finally, since AoR had a negative view and concern about blogs, I would sincerely and humbly invite them to please contact me if they felt anything I said here was uncharitable or sinful.