Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Culture of Abuse Built on Pastoral Authority

Julie Anne at the Spiritual Sounding Board blog pointed me to an essay summarizing the recent problems at Sovereign Grace Ministries. It is nauseating to read details of some of the physical and sexual abuse that has taken place in a few SGM churches. The victims will soon have their day in court, and I predict SGM has already begun a slow path of decline to eventual non-existence. SGM will either eventually change their name or will be absorbed into another non-profit entity. In the first comment after the online essay, Michael Camp makes this statement: "I think it's important to try to identify the root reasons why such churches develop a culture of abuse. In my experience, it's not just a few bad apples, or one hyper-control-freak who lords it over others, but a whole system of warped theology..."

I agree Michael.  T.F. Charleton, the writer of the essay, states her reason for "a culture of abuse" within SGM churches. She writes, "If purity culture is a rape culture, the submission culture that exists in many conservative evangelical churches is abuse culture." I would agree with Ms. Charleton and add one caveat. Nobody demands submission unless they deem themselves an authority.

Of the over 1300 posts I've written, the statistical leader in terms of the number of readers, excluding my Cozumel prison experience, is a post entitled Our Problem Is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism. That post struck a chord with a thousands of people in various churches. In that post I wrote:
Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an "office" of authority in the church, like that of the office of "President of the United States," simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of ever believer. 
Michael, the culture of abuse in SGM churches revolves around a warped view of authority. There are pastors, elders, leaders in SGM churches (all male) who have placed themselves above all others and shouted "Stay in your place!" The only way a SGM pastor can create an environment where a child obediently takes off her clothes so the pastor can spank her bare buttocks, and for the pastor to perpretate that same practice as the child grows into womanhood,  is for the pastor to use his position of authority to manipulate and intimidate. Not all SGM pastors are predators by any means. But when a predator pastor fills a pulpit at SGM, it may be easier to secretly and criminally manifest sexual, psychological, and personal dysfunctions because of the culture of authority.

SGM is not alone. Any church or organization that emphasizes male authority over women and children fosters a culture of sexual, physical and psychological abuse. It is only when Jesus turns a male pastor into a selfless servant, a person who cares and loves for those around him, will that pastor create a climate in the assembly that is conducive for health and spiritual growth. This is why the subject of authority in the church is an important one. The future of healthy evangelicalism rides on us getting our views of spiritual authority right.


Bridget said...

Wade --

This is alleged at this point. Only saying this so that you can reflect the facts. It has nothing to do with my support of someone who makes the allegations. They would have my complete support. The Pastor is also an alleged relative to the victim.

"The only way a SGM pastor can create an environment where a child obediently takes off her clothes so the pastor can spank her bare buttocks, and for the pastor to perpretate that same practice as the child grows into womanhood, is for the pastor to use his position of authority to manipulate and intimidate."

I completely agree that the "environment" creates the atmosphere for such abuses. I believe that parents can also create the same type of environment that, in turn, produces spiritual/parental abuse.

Wade Burleson said...


Thank you, I agree. I know none of the victims or the 'alleged' abusers. I only read the court documents in the lawsuit.

Julie Anne said...

Wade - Thanks for linking. I had to see what was going on here :)

Although this well-written article deals with SGM, in my study (by means of tons of e-mails/personal stories and blogging), SGM is not alone in this culture. This must be exposed in the church as a whole. The residual effects of this kind of environment are shocking. I am seeing more and more blogs come out sharing personal church experiences from these types of environments and we have a lot of cleaning up to do in the church. I am so angry about this. It must stop. Thank you for describing what real church authority looks like.

Wade Burleson said...

Julie Anne,

I agree. The subtle influence of abuse is throughout hierachial churches and religions.