Years ago, I was member of Covenant Life Church (CLC), the flagship church of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). My experience at CLC was overall quite good. I grew in knowing and worshiping the Lord and respected the leadership. My best friends were there as we joined while we were in college, and just after. Their acceptance of me and respect for me helped me grow and heal -- helped me to forgive the hurts I had from when I was a kid. There were a few things that they taught that I disagreed with, quietly.
I left CLC in 1987 when I moved to California and got married to someone who was not a member of the church. I would go back and visit occasionally. I happened to be at the Sunday morning service at the SGM church in Pasadena the last Sunday Ché Ahn was there. I also went to CLC when I was back east for a visit when Iain was a baby and later after we moved back east. I fully intended to join the Fairfax SGM church, but my sleep apnea prevented me from doing so. I did visit CLC and then attend the Fairfax church for a while but not long enough to join. It was mostly good; I felt very welcomed and because I had been a member of CLC way back when, folks looked up to me and I was respected, but I didn't feel like I deserved it. (Sorry I'm not giving the names correctly here; they've changed a couple times and I've been losing track)
I did have some odd conversations there and began to realize that in the intervening years (this was about 1998), I had grown in one direction while the church seemed to have moved in another.
I had known all along that I had discarded some of the teaching from CLC, taking, for example, a less strict approach to raising children. They had taught children should obey instantly and cheerfully. They also taught that you should spank from a fairly young age and overall draw a pretty hard line. Well, I wasn't going to do the instant thing, mostly because I am not that quick myself to move; I joke that the only thing I do fast is type. And the cheerfully part seemed odd to me somehow; it just didn't feel right. I probably would have followed the teachings if I was still a part of the church, but I didn't feel obligated to and so didn't. I used time outs for discipline, most of the time, and focused on behavior more than attitude. I also looked for what my son was trying to do when he misbehaved and often realized that what he wanted was not so bad, but the failure was more in the action. The other thing I did was to pick him up when he was a baby and cried. I don't think I ever left him to cry it out as many believe you should. I figured if he was crying, it was for a reason, and I should attend to that.
I also watched friends raising kids that were older than my son and found that I liked the way my brother and his wife were raising their kids best and so observed and copied much from them. I don't think I've done as good a job as they have. Their family is a joy to watch. It's not that they're perfect but they are open and so comfortable being around each other.
I mostly didn't have doubts at first about how the folks at SGM churches were raising their kids, believing that they knew their own kids best and knew best what each of their kids needed. They homeschooled and I homeschooled, so much seemed similar. However, I did have some odd conversations with folks a few times. I mostly put those things down to and individual person having an odd approach, but in retrospect I wonder if it was more:
The first time something odd happened was when I went to pick Iain up after church when he was about 4. The teacher told me that she had instructed him to obey all adults; I don't remember what problem she might have been having with him now that led her to exhort him to obey. However, the all adults thing caught my attention. Having just moved from California, I could name 3-4 adults off the top of my head that I would not have Iain obeying. I thought she was so naive. I told her that she should not tell Iain that; she should teach him to obey her because she was his teacher, not just because she was an adult. I thanked her and walked away; in retrospect, I wonder if I left her dumbfounded. I don't know if CLC or SGM teaches kids to obey all adults in general; I hope not.
Another time, a mother from the Fairfax church was talking to me about how she was raising her kids. Generally, I had a lot of respect for her, but she said something that implied she wasn't thinking enough about the child's point of view in something. So, I gave her an example of a time that Iain had misbehaved because he had not realized something important about a situation. She asked me how I knew that Iain hadn't realized this thing; I just kind of stared at her for a moment and said that I asked him. Wouldn't she ask? I was baffled; it seemed like a pretty basic thing to do in parenting. Is it not normal in SGM?
The other way I found I had grown in another direction was the whole area of counseling and healing. Not long after I moved to California, I was listening to a Christian radio program where they were talking about adult children of alcoholics. I was astonished to find that much of what they were saying accurately described me. I had grown up with a father that I loved and that is with Jesus now, but who was also an alcoholic, so it wasn't an easy childhood in a lot of ways. In 1988 or so when I was listening to this, I had assumed that those things were long ago and far away -- and largely irrelevant to the way I was living my life then. However, I realized that even though I had healed quite a lot, largely due to the friends I mentioned earlier, that I still had a ways to go and that psychologists had some useful thoughts for me. The radio program was by the Minirth-Meier clinic (now New Life Ministries). I went to the local Christian bookstore and got a book on the subject and learned as much as I could, discarding the teaching from SGM that counseling by psychologists and psychiatrists was largely unnecessary. In the years since, I hoped and almost assumed that because CJ Mahaney and the other leaders at SGM were seeking God and growing in Him; surely He would lead them to a more reasonable stance.
I was sorry to see in SGM Survivors where Kris typed up a talk by Andy Farmer (in two parts; I believe that is the link to part 1 but that site is down right now) that the SGM approach to counseling has not improved. To sum it up quickly, though probably not adequately, when counseling someone, the goal is to identify the sin that someone is committing and then hold them accountable to get them to stop doing it. If someone sinned against you, you just forgive and forget. This is terribly short sighted. In many cases, you can forgive and move on easily, but for folks with serious childhood issues or childhood abuse, it's just not that simple. I am writing a post about PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and hopefully that will help explain better where I'm coming from. To give you an idea, I will say that part of the problem is that when you grow up in a home that is sufficiently chaotic, your idea of normal or healthy -- and even right and wrong -- winds up being a little off. You feel guilty for things you weren't responsible for and you don't even know all the ways things were wrong. You probably know things weren't as nice as some friends experienced but you don't know that some of the things you think were just fine actually weren't. So, you're not going to know to forgive your dad or mom for something if you don't even know it's wrong. So, you need to process things -- understand better what happened and what really was your fault and what wasn't. You can then grieve the losses (feeling the anger and sadness), so you can reach a point of acceptance and forgiveness. All of this can take a really long time. In the worst cases, you don't even remember or know everything that happened (either you were too young or you have blocked memories).
Closing, for now
I have more to say as there is much happening at the SGM churches now. A lot of things have happened there that were hidden but are coming to light now. I am praying for you all at SGM and especially at CLC. As I said at the beginning of this post, there was much good there when I was there, and I did grow in the Lord when I was there. The things that are coming out grieve me; I worried some things were wrong, but it seems worse than I ever dreamed.
Let me give you my favorite verse in closing:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 4:6-7
To me, this means that God wants us to talk to Him about everything and He and friends can help us get to a point of trusting Him. As we do, He gives us peace, even when nothing makes sense and our entire world is spinning out of control. That He really is in control and He loves us more than we can even imagine -- look how He sent Jesus!