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A Reasoned Response to an Unreasonable Board (Part 1)

A month ago the Board of Directors posted three letters on their website addressed to Friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  One on September 12 and two on September 14.  I dealt with the first letter in The Sovereign Grace Board Refuses to Deal with Division by Distorting Scripture.  I deal with the second letter and half of the third letter in this post.  I’ll address the remainder of the third letter in the coming days. 

This week the SGM Board was on a three day retreat.  It concluded today.  The Polity Committee, headed by Phil Sasser, made its recommendation to the Board on whether it should adopt an apostolic, Presbyterian, or independent form of church polity.  We should have an answer soon. 

This week the Covenant Life pastors are on a four day retreat.  It concludes tomorrow.  One of the things they are talking about is whether to continue their partnership with SGM.  We should have an answer soon. 

The Covenant Life pastors have added incentive to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries given the second and third letters found in the Board Update: A reasoned response to six questions.  The cover letter and the reasoned response are anything but reasonable.  They are deeply disturbing and serve as further examples of how self-exalting, self-deluded, and self-serving the ministry has become under President Mahaney and Chairman Loftness.  

This is a critical time.  Churches will be leaving SGM over ethical concerns and polity concerns.  

My comments in response to the cover letter are found below in blue lettering.  I’ve underlined for focus and emphasis. 


September 14, 2012 [Letter 2] 

Dear Friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries, 

A couple days ago you received from us a letter reporting on our investigation of a conflict  between the SGM Leadership Team and Interim Board and the Covenant Life Church pastors.  Our appeal there was for unity and that we move beyond criticizing either party for their actions over the last year.  Having done that, we are aware that there are some questions that remain regarding Board and/or Leadership Team actions over the last year.  The attached letter gives you our response to six questions that have arisen which we think deserve our reasoned response.

There was no “investigation of a conflict.”  There was a general review but absolutely no investigation in order to determine guilt or innocence.  That is the purpose of an investigation.  In fact, the Board clearly stated in their first letter on September 12 their refusal to “create such a process.”  All they did was draw out the parties “about their perspectives on this conflict.”  They did no investigation, entertained no charges, and rendered no judgment.        

That’s why I confronted the Board’s unwillingness to obey Scripture and address the historic division that now exists between SGM and CLC in The Sovereign Grace Board Refuses to Deal with Division by Distorting Scripture (Sept 16, 2012).  Their “appeal…for unity” was an excuse for indifference.  They were not willing to deal with the root causes in this conflict (i.e., selfish ambition, vain conceit, self-interest) or hold key people accountable for their actions.  They moved “beyond criticizing.”  That means they moved beyond evaluating C.J., Dave, John, Mickey, and Craig or rendering a judgment on their behavior.  Of course, John, Mickey and Craig were a big part of this decision (they constitute a third of the nine man Board) not to evaluate or criticize John, Mickey or Craig.  In so doing, the entire Board covered up and left unaddressed the serious sins that have caused such great division.  They also left C.J., Dave and Jeff of the hook.  What’s new?

I should hasten to add that this conflict is not simply about Covenant Life Church.  There are many churches who have conflicted with the Leadership Team, Interim Board and current Board over the same issues as the CLC pastors.  In predictable fashion, the SGM Board makes it appear as though CLC is the only problem child.  That is not true.  There are many churches who are crying foul.   

Notice the phrase, “having done that.”  Having done what?  Having moved “beyond criticizing.”  Or as they said in their September 12 letter to “Dear Friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries…. We think it is time…to move beyond evaluating or criticizing the actions of the CLC pastors or the Leadership Team.” 

But have they moved beyond evaluating and criticizing?  That is true as it pertains to the Leadership Team/Interim Board but it is false as it pertains to the CLC pastors.  This “Board Update: A reasoned response to six questions” from September 14 is an evaluation and criticism of the CLC pastors and all the other SGM pastors who agree with them.  Furthermore, it is contrary to the promise made by the Board in their September 12 letter.   

“This is what we found: while both parties are looking at the same events, they have widely differing interpretations of those events and their effects on Covenant Life Church and SGM churches broadly.  We have decided not to report on the specifics of those differences, nor do we think it appropriate to render any opinion about this dispute.” 

The Board emphatically stated “nor do we think it appropriate to render any opinion” about “this dispute” regarding “widely differing interpretations of events.”  And yet, that is exactly what the Board does in their second and third letters just two days later.  They openly provide their perspective on six critical events that caused so much of the division.  In so doing, they didn’t simply give their “opinion,” they provided a refutation of the Covenant Life pastors who disagreed with them on all six topics.    

  1. CJ. leaving Covenant Life Church (CLC) and attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC)
  2. C.J.’s comments at last November's Pastors Conference
  3. The Interim Board seating the new Board
  4. SGM move to Louisville
  5. Board support for C.J. planting a church in Louisville while disagreements with the CLC pastors remain
  6. Announcing that C.J. would remain president at least until the polity process was completed 

In so doing, they communicated to all the pastors and churches that C.J. was right and Joshua was wrong.  That the Interim Board was correct and the CLC pastors were wrong.  In other words, Joshua Harris and the pastors are the cause of the conflict because they wrongly disagreed with C.J. and the Interim Board.  Such conniving is manifestly dishonest!  The Covenant Life pastors and church must feel betrayed by the deceitful cunning of the Board.  The Board rendered its judgment of the CLC pastors even though they didn’t mention them by name. 

It is all so deceptive.  On September 12 they promised “to move beyond evaluating or criticizing the actions of the CLC” and not “to render any opinion about this dispute.”  Two days later, they did just the opposite.  In SGM, one thing is certain.  Promises are meant to be broken.

This “reasoned response” is nothing of the kind.  It is a terrible piece of misinformation.  It is misleading, dishonest, partial and contrary to the facts.  The current Board of Directors is carrying on the deceptive tradition of the Interim Board. This is unsurprising given they were handpicked by C.J., Dave and the Interim Board.  And remember, John, Mickey, and Craig were on the Interim Board.  They are also on the current Board and John is now the Chairman.  This Board is like its predecessor.  It simply can’t be trusted to be impartial or truthful and that is no lie!

We hope this letter answers questions you may have had about these matters.  Our response reflects our best effort at addressing them as we strive towards unity and press forward in our shared mission to plant and build churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

They are answering questions “you may have had about these matters.”  What a clever ruse.  They use this pretext for stating their position on six crucial events in order to absolve C.J. and the Interim Board of all wrong doing while correcting the CLC pastors at the same time.  This effectively puts all the blame on the pastors for the division that exists.    

Last week, Joshua Harris wrote the church to let them know what the pastors would be covering on their their biannual retreat this week. 

“In addition to these items, we will be considering our partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Recent interactions we’ve had with the SGM Board (which have all been cordial and God-glorifying in tone), along with a letter they released stating their views on six key events of the past year have helped us see that significant differences remain.  While the focus recently has been on the polity process, we see that the differences are not only issues of polity.  During our retreat we want to prayerfully consider what this means for our church’s involvement in SGM.” (Joshua Harris, Oct 5, 2012) 

The September 14 letter from the SGM Board has put the CLC pastors in a bind.  The CLC pastors were promised no opinion would be rendered on these points of disagreement but this letter by the Board puts them in a terrible light with no “due process” afforded them.  How do the pastors answer the Board’s criticism of their concerns, positions and perspectives on these six key events?    

On July 7, 2012, Joshua Harris wrote the following to Covenant Life Church.

“We will not just ‘hand down’ a decision as pastors about our association with Sovereign Grace.  When the time comes that we feel as a pastoral team that we have clarity, when we’ve processed the new membership agreement, we will present our consensus to the congregation, explain our reasons and ask for your feedback and questions and counsel before finalizing a decision.” 

CLC is “Jesus ruled, elder led and congregationally accountable.”  The pastors have promised to “explain our reasons” for recommending the dissolution of their partnership with SGM if that is their consensus this week.  That’s great for three reasons.  First, they are not going to give their reasons, they are going to explain their reasons.  There is a world of difference.  The latter requires depth and detail.  Explanations are not vague.  They have substance.   

Second, they are going to explain all their reasons, not just some of their reasons.  At least, that is implied in their statement.  To “explain our reasons” but then withhold reasons is dishonest.  This statement obligates them to talk about issues like pride, partiality, favoritism, injustice, lording, deceit, and the like if they apply from their vantage point.  Every reason for leaving must be articulated to the church.  None withheld.  To date, the CLC pastors have held back.  They have not been frank or candid about their bad experiences with C.J., Dave, John, Mickey and others.  

Third, the reasons must be carefully examined by the church.  That’s why they must be substantial and thorough.  Those who think CLC should stay in SGM must be able to challenge the pastors.  In order to do that they must first understand their reasons.  Of course, I want CLC to leave but that is not the point.  The point is the pastors must fully inform the church of their reasons so the church can evaluate their recommendation and decide to support it or oppose it based upon the evidence presented.  That requires transparency.  Hooray.    

For example, if the CLC pastors no longer trust C.J., Dave, John, Mickey, et al. sufficiently to stay, they must say so.  And not only say so, they must provide evidence for their conclusion.  Or if the CLC pastors have found C.J., Dave, John, Mickey, et al. reproachable and blameworthy, they must say so and give the reasons why.  That kind of honesty and openness will most certainly put these C.J. and his inner circle in a bad (but truthful) light.  I hope the pastors will be genuinely accountable to the church in this matter.  It is the first test of their new constitution.

Grace to you,

The SGM Board

ATTACHMENT [follows]


September 14, 2012 [Letter 3]

Dear Friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries,

We’re writing in response to questions that we’ve been hearing and discussing since our seating as a board this past spring.  Before we get to these questions, we want to thank you for the patience you’ve shown with the Board that preceded us as well as with us.  These past 14 months have presented all of us with unprecedented challenges, and the men who have led our family of churches historically have had to rely on two new boards for leadership—leadership that they, as the Leadership Team, would have provided to us in the past—leadership we had to learn in the midst of a crisis.

This is misleading but I won’t take the time to dissect it.  Instead, let me offer one example that contradicts the paragraph.  C.J., Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell, and Joshua Harris were the old Board/Leadership Team.  When C.J. took his leave of absence and Joshua stepped down in July 2011, Dave became President of the Interim Board and continued on the Leadership Team.  So did Jeff.  Dave led the Interim Board and all of SGM for 6 critical months.  Dave and Jeff were not led by a bunch of newbies on the Interim Board.  They were leading the newbies.

Before getting to the questions some of you have raised, we want to underscore the time and consideration we have given the evaluations provided to us by the Interim Board—both the panel reviews of C.J.’s leadership in light of charges published against him and the Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AoR) report of our ministry as a whole.  Last month we published our response to the recommendations made by both AoR and the review panels.  The AoR report, especially, continues to be an informing document in helping us consider how to shape SGM for the future.

The panel reviews did not deal with 98% of the “charges published against him.”  That is obvious to anyone who has read my documents and compared them to the three narrow (and biased) questions assigned to the panels.  The current Board continues to propagate this lie that C.J. has been “rigorously examined” through a “comprehensive process” (John Loftness, June 28, 2012).  Nothing of the sort has every occurred.  I have never been allowed to present any of my charges or grievances.

Right now, our attention is primarily devoted to producing a polity document that we hope will provide the great majority of us, if not all of us, with a definition of how we can walk together as a family of churches.

Two churches have already left SGM.  “All” is not a possibility.  Others have one foot out the door.  More will follow.  This hope is bogus but the Board wants to present an optimistic view of the future.  It’s like a CEO telling stockholders everything is fine so they continue investing even though the company is on the verge of bankruptcy.  The Board will never tell their “friends of SGM” about departures or the reasons for those departures.  They will continue to convey a false sense of unity, security and tranquility.  They talk about the possibility of “all of us…walk[ing] together as a family of churches” when they know Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax are leaving if the Board adopts an apostolic or Presbyterian form of church governing this week.  Let’s see if “the great majority” of churches stay with SGM.   

But there are issues that are not addressed in either report that we have published and will not be addressed by our polity documents, so we wanted to use the best means we have available—a letter—to tell you how we think about these things and possibly to put them to rest, while we give our full attention to what we consider more important issues that will shape our future together as a family of churches.

There are millions of issues that have not been addressed.  The Board selectively picks six so they can tell us what they “think” in order “to put them to rest.”  In typical fashion, the Board provides a monologue on what they think (and we should think) and then rests their case!  No questions.  No discussion.  No disagreement.  No fact checking.  No continuance.  They state their case and close their case in the same breath.  No cross examination allowed. 

The only thing you get to hear is their partial, dishonest and misleading account.  And oh, by the way, if you listen to anyone else’s account you must be listening to gossip and slander!  That is how the Board deals with conflict.  They state their position on the website and make it clear they want no further dissent or discussion so they can give their “full attention to what we consider more important issues.”  

These six issues are the source of great division for many but they are of secondary importance to the Board of Directors.  They are shutting the door and moving on.  You will never hear another word about any of these key events from the Board.  All you need to know is that both the Leadership Team and Interim Board are innocent of all wrong doing in all of these matters.  Get it!        

These questions do not involve matters of sin or ethical violation—they are matters of judgment.  We’re writing to let you know that these questions have had our attention and to explain why the SGM Boards and leaders have taken the steps they have.  We also want to appeal that we not allow debatable secondary issues to distract us from our mission to plant and build local churches and to find a governance that pleases the Lord and seems good to as many of us as possible.  As we have so many times in the past, let’s strive to allow grace and love to win the day.

“These questions do not involve matters of sin or ethical violation—they are matters of judgment….debatable secondary issues.”  This is by far the worst statement in the entire letter!  No SGM personnel involved in these six key events has sinned or acted unethically even though these events have cause tremendous pain, alarm, distrust, division, and disillusionment!  This is the “C.J. Mahaney School of Self-Examination” at its finest.    

  1. CJ. leaving Covenant Life Church (CLC) and attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC)
  2. C.J.’s comments at last November's Pastors Conference
  3. The Interim Board seating the new Board
  4. SGM move to Louisville
  5. Board support for C.J. planting a church in Louisville while disagreements with the CLC pastors remain
  6. Announcing that C.J. would remain president at least until the polity process was completed 

The infallible Board of Directors has made a divine pronouncement!  C.J., Dave Harvey, and the entire Interim Board did not sin or act unethically in any way!  They did nothing wrong and everything right as it relates to these events.  Their words, conduct and motivations were perfect.  They are guilty of no sin or deceit.  They are completely innocent, altogether righteous, and totally honest.  Further, to disagree with this assessment is to sinfully judge C.J. and the Interim Board.  So if you want “grace and love to win the day” you will align yourself with this fiat from the SGM Board of Directors.  These men are so blind.  This obtuse assessment is itself a “matter of sin” and constitutes an “ethical violation” of the worse kind.        

Proverbs 17:15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — the Lord detests them both.

Before you read further, we recognize that there are nuances to each of the perspectives we summarize here.  Our purpose isn’t to address each nuanced perspective, but to appeal for charitable judgment and to let you know how those who reviewed or made these decisions came to the conclusions they did.

One goal of the letter is “to appeal for charitable judgment.” That means a couple of things.  If you conclude (i.e. judge) that C.J. and Interim Board acted sinfully and unethically you are terribly uncharitable.  You have sinfully judged.  You are both wrong and unloving.  Charity requires that you drop any concerns for morality according to the Board since all the actions and decisions surrounding these six events were “matters of judgment.”  

Or, you may disagree with SGM on these “debatable secondary issues” but only as a matter of wisdom, not right and wrong.  So if you are charitable and non-judgmental you will agree to disagree on these morally neutral matters.  You may have your misguided opinions about wisdom but don’t accuse anyone of any wrong doing.  No, it is time to drop the subject, move on, and stop making a big deal of these six events.          

Using “charitable judgment” in this way manipulates people.  It effectively calls people to set aside godly discernment, “believe the best” when people are sinning, and cease confronting wrong doing.  It makes people feel guilty when they disagree, press for justice, think in moral categories, or attempt to hold leaders accountable.  The Board is acting with great arrogance.  What SGM so often calls an “uncharitable judgment” is really a “righteous judgment” but in their pride they reject it and label as unloving those who bring it.  

This binds people’s consciences.  They stop thinking and evaluating.  They become pawns because they don’t want to commit an uncharitable judgment.  In SGM you have to stop discerning if you want to be loving.  

The Board is also acting with great favoritism.  They appoint themselves and evaluate themselves.  There is no outside review or accountability.  The current Board of Directors is not holding the previous Board of Directors accountable for their past actions.  How can they unless they are ready to clean house and start over.  The Interim Board was comprised of Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell and the Regional Leadership Team Members (Craig Cabaniss, Mickey Connolly, Rick Gamache, Pete Greasley, John Loftness, Aron Osborne, Mark Prater, and Steve Shank).  

The current Board cannot find fault with these men because all these men continue as regional leaders.  If you say this group sinned and acted unethically you have a big problem on your hands.  But that has been fixed now.  The new Board pronounced them immaculate – without sin like Mary, the “Mother of God.”  All joking aside it is absolutely wrong for current Chairman Loftness, Director Connolly, and Director Cabaniss to declare former Director Loftness, Connolly, and Cabaniss free of all wronging.  That is a good old boy network.  A self-admiration society.

Here’s one of a thousand examples as to how it works.  Mickey Connolly deceitfully made a case for my excommunication at a closed meeting he did not think was being recorded.  I did not request the recording but the person who provided it to me did so because he was concerned Mickey would make a bogus case against me.  

When I study the tape I was astonished to discover that Mickey intentionally twisting Scripture and deceitfully cited commentaries in support of his action.  I made six attempts to interact with the CrossWay pastors.  They refused to talk with me or interact with me in any fashion.  They covered it all up.    

I wrote the Interim Board about this travesty.  I asked for an investigation.  I heard nothing from them.  I followed up a second time and heard nothing again.  The third time I strenuously appeal to Director Mark Prater in person at my panel review in the presence of Bryce Thomas, Warren Boettcher, and Ron Boomsma.  Nothing ever happened.    

From: Brent Detwiler 
Sent: Saturday, November 26, 2011 1:05 PM
To: Aron Osborne; C. J. Mahaney; Craig Cabaniss; Dave Harvey; Jeff Purswell; John Loftness; Mark Prater; Mickey Connolly; Pete Greasley; Rick Gamache; Steve Shank; Andrew Mahr; Bob Kauflin; Gary Ricucci; Tommy Hill; Tony Reinke
Cc: Ken Sande; Ted Kober; Edgar Keinath; Bryce Thomas; Adam Malcolm; Ben Wikner; Bob Schickler; Braden Greer; Corby Megorden; Dave Brewer; Don DeVries; Eric Sheffer; Eric Simmons; Grant Layman; Greg Somerville; Issac Hydoski; Jamie Leach; Joe Lee; Jon Smith; Joshua Harris; Kenneth Maresco; Mark Mitchell; Matt Maka; Robin Boisvert
Subject: Mickey's Deceitful Use of Scripture & Commentaries 

The CrossWay pastors have primarily jurisdiction over Mickey but they have failed to act.  The SGM Board employs Mickey.  For these two reasons the SGM Board must carefully investigate this matter and if found guilty take appropriate action which should result in Mickey’s termination from my perspective.


From: Brent Detwiler
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 4:14 PM
To: Aron Osborne; C. J. Mahaney; Craig Cabaniss; Dave Harvey; Jeff Purswell; John Loftness; Mark Prater; Mickey Connolly; Pete Greasley; Rick Gamache; Steve Shank; Andrew Mahr; Bob Kauflin; Gary Ricucci; Tommy Hill; Tony Reinke
Cc: Ken Sande; Ted Kober; Edgar Keinath; Adam Malcolm; Ben Wikner; Bob Schickler; Braden Greer; Corby Megorden; Dave Brewer; Don DeVries; Eric Sheffer; Eric Simmons; Grant Layman; Greg Somerville; Issac Hydoski; Jamie Leach; Joe Lee; Jon Smith; Joshua Harris; Kenneth Maresco; Mark Mitchell; Matt Maka; Robin Boisvert
Subject: Mickey Connolly 

To the SGM Board, 

It has been three weeks since I wrote you concerning Mickey and the CrossWay pastors.  Would you please send me a report on how you are proceeding in your investigation.  Mickey’s deceitful use of Scripture and commentaries is an extremely serious matter and it warrants your urgent attention.    

Thank you,



From: Brent Detwiler 
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:02 PM
To: Mark Prater
Subject: Mickey Connolly 

Hi Mark,

I hope you are well and I am sure you are busy.  Like others, I await the panel reports, the Board’s response, and the determination regarding C.J. this month.  We are praying for all concerned.       

At the panel hearing on December 2, I asked you to please make sure the SGM Board followed through with an investigation of Mickey (see “Mickey Connolly’s Deceitful Use of Scripture and Commentaries” at  I originally asked for a formal review by the Board on November 26.  What has transpired since then?  Are any findings forthcoming?  Would you like me to provide oral testimony? 

As I stressed when we were together in December [for the Panel Review], this is a very serious matter that needs to be looked at closely.  I believe the evidences shows Mickey clearly acted with malice and duplicity.  He deceived the entire church.  I know the Board is occupied with many issues but this is a vital task.  It must be dealt with openly and honestly.  It is not a private matter. 

Thanks for getting back to me with an update.



This is just one example but it is typical!  Evidence is shunned or shredded.  No one undergoes an impartial examination.  No one has to answer for their actions.  There is no accountability.  The entire Interim Board refused to look into this manipulative example of lying and lording by one of their own – Mickey Connolly.  It reminds me of Lance Armstrong.

World magazine recently wrote an article entitled “Lancing blow – Will the world’s most famous cyclist slip through public shame unscathed?”

“Facing a pile of evidence more daunting than the French Alps, cyclist Lance Armstrong elected not to fight.  Allegations that he used banned substances and blood doping techniques to win seven Tour De France titles are nothing new.  But this time around, the United States Anti-Doping Agency seemed determined to prove its case against Armstrong beyond a reasonable doubt—and with more than a few smoking guns.”[1]      

Given the overwhelming evidence against him, Armstrong decided not to fight.  Why?  Because he would have been beaten to a pulp.  Just like the United States Anti-Doping Agency, I’ve presented “a pile of evidence more daunting than the French Alps” and just like Lance Armstrong,  C.J. and Sovereign Grace Ministries have refused to defend themselves in a church court.  When someone claims to innocent but won’t defend against charges you know they are almost always guilty.  If they do show up they plead the fifth when pressed with evidence and asked hard questions.  It is only way to salvage their public image and not incriminate themselves.  The best strategy is to maintain your innocence and not show up for a fight.   

“Though he insists he is innocent, Armstrong will not resist the USADA’s findings and attending penalties…. At least so far, the USADA’s action look to be having little impact on Armstrong’s public image.  Nike, Oakley, and Anheuser-Busch are standing by their man.  The Lance Armstrong Foundation reported a 30 percent spike in donations.  And well-respected voices from the athletic community the world over are coming to his defense.… Such insistence seems intent to overlook Armstrong’s failings.  He left his wife in 2003 and began dating singer Sheryl Crow only weeks later.  Fellow cyclists report brazen arrogance and narcissism that manifested in anger or verbal assaults.  He now charges $150,000 for speaking appearances to speak on the virtues of never quitting.  He is an athletic specimen, a great cyclist, and a talented self-promoter.  But his life is a testament to where a win-at-all costs ethic leads.”[2]

The Sovereign Grace Board is standing by their man.  Well-respected Reformed leaders throughout America are coming to C.J.’s defense.  But everyone is overlooking his “brazen arrogance and narcissism that manifested in anger or verbal assaults.”  C.J. is a millionaire.  He has a six figure salary with deluxe benefits and hauls in royalties and honoraria.  He is a gifted believer, a great preacher and a talented self-promoter.  But his life is a testament to where a win-at-all costs ethic leads.      

To be continued.  The remainder of the Board’s third letter follows. 

1.  CJ. leaving Covenant Life Church (CLC) and attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) — Following his announcement that he would take a leave of absence and the unfolding leadership direction taken by the pastors of CLC, C.J. determined that it was best to stop attending CLC on Sundays and instead to attend CHBC for the duration of his leave.  He did this for several reasons: to avoid being a distraction at CLC (or at another SGM church if he had gone there), to allow himself and his family undistracted time to worship during an exceptionally difficult season, and to avoid further encounters with church members which involved uninformed or misinformed criticism and questions.  For these reasons he thought that suspending his attendance would be best not only for his family, but also for CLC and SGM.  Some of our pastors expressed support for this action given that C.J. was not under any process of church discipline and given the unprecedented circumstances he was facing.  Some have said that while they wish that he had stayed, they could nonetheless support his decision.  Some believe that it was improper for him to leave since CLC was his local church and should have been the place where he willingly submitted to the local pastors’ care and accountability.  Others have expressed concern that C.J. was treated with partiality in being allowed to leave CLC when other pastors in similar situations had not been allowed to leave their local churches.

Let us briefly address the latter two issues.  First, C.J. was not an elder at CLC, and his primary care and accountability had been with his SGM care group which had formed a short time after he had relinquished his role as senior pastor.  While C.J., the Interim Board, and this current Board would say in hindsight that this was not a good arrangement, to ask C.J. to change the conditions for his care and accountability in the midst of this crisis would, in our view and under the circumstances at the time, have been inappropriate and unfair to him.  Further, when the Interim Board first met with the CLC pastors, both groups agreed that the Board would be the body to take responsibility for reviewing the allegations made against C.J. and not the CLC pastoral team.  C.J. remained accountable to his care group and to the Board throughout the evaluation process. 

As for C.J. being treated with partiality, while we are aware that pastors have been encouraged to remain at their local churches during a process of evaluation of their ministry in that local church or while undergoing some form of discipline, this has never been a formal requirement in SGM.  In fact, we could point to others who have left or were encouraged to leave their local churches (for the sake of their care) when their ministry had been called into question or they had stepped down.  But we would also want to underline that from the start, C.J. has not been under any form of discipline.  We also think the unprecedented circumstances of this situation bear consideration—never before has a SGM pastor had accusations brought against him in so public a fashion with a fair evaluation of those charges months away. 

We’re appealing that we afford these decisions the appropriate liberty and charity we should apply to issues that lack clear biblical directive.

2.  C.J.'s comments at last November's Pastors Conference — The Pastors Conference was the first opportunity for SGM pastors to hear directly from C.J. since the events of the previous July.  Many of the pastors in attendance came with expectations of what they thought C.J. would say or should say to us.  In his comments, C.J. expressed sorrow and sadness over the effect his previously acknowledged sins and leadership weaknesses had had on SGM.  However, some pastors were disappointed that his remarks didn’t include some type of specific public confession of sin.  Other pastors were pleased with his remarks and found them humble and helpful.  Further, there was a legitimate concern, carried by both C.J. and some on the Interim Board, that a broad confession would have been inappropriate since a review of the allegations against C.J. was still pending.  In either case, we know of no absolute right or wrong standard for what C.J. should have, or could have, said at this conference.  We think it important, regardless of personal opinion, that disappointed expectations in matters like this not be held against C.J. or any leader in similar circumstances—especially someone under such public and, from some places, slanderous scrutiny. 

Since the conference, C.J. has issued two statements in response to the panel reports and to the AoR report in which he continued to take responsibility for his shortcomings as a leader in SGM.  Likewise, he has sought out those affected by his sins and where possible, has been reconciled.  From our perspective, his response has been thorough and appropriate. 

We would like to clarify one other point regarding C.J.’s remarks.  Some have reported that C.J. recanted his July 10, 2011 confession to CLC in his comments at the Pastors Conference.  But that is not what he intended, nor is it what he said.  To quote him directly: “Those confessions were sincere.  I do, like you, take my sins seriously.  I see them in light of the holiness of God...(but) I have concluded that I did not serve you well with this confession.  My confession has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and exploited.  My confession should have been more precise.”  And then later, “I wish I hadn’t made that confession statement at that time and what I should have done is postpone any confession statement until both panels had ruled.” 

We hope this can put to rest any idea that he intended to, or actually did, recant the substance of that confession. We have found his acknowledgment of sins and weaknesses to be consistent from November of 2010 to this day.  And our own review of his statements and interactions with him have confirmed this. 

3.  The Interim Board seating the new Board – After C.J. took his leave, the then-leadership team (which also functioned as SGM’s governing board – Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell and Joshua Harris) seated a Board of Directors to oversee SGM and the Leadership Team (they did this with C.J.’s full support).  Given how they were selected (current regional leaders plus the then-current leadership team), this new Board realized that to serve best, they needed to define their mission—it was to guide through a crisis and not to make permanent changes in SGM.  Consequently, they defined their primary purpose as leading the process of reviewing the public charges made against C.J.  They even referred to themselves as “the Interim Board.”  Once seated, they expanded their task to providing a comprehensive review of SGM as well, through the agency of AoR, a move that received broad support.  Once these purposes had been accomplished, the board believed it appropriate to transition to another, permanent, board who could lead us through the polity process and other more permanent changes to our ministry.  To seat this board, they created a set of qualifications for a board member, selected candidates, and created a process whereby SGM pastors had opportunity to comment on each selection.  All of this was in complete accord with existing SGM bylaws.  It also represented a significant step in our history when, for the first time, the Leadership Team and the governing Board became separate entities thus providing greater separation between governance and management and affording better accountability to the leadership team.  Some SGM pastors told us that they believed we should have consulted all SGM pastors on a process for seating a new board and thus objected to the Interim Board proceeding as it did.  As a result, some refused to participate in the affirmation process the Interim Board had created.  After much consideration, the Interim Board decided it would be unwise to follow these appeals largely because it would have created a new governing structure for decision making and established polity precedents for SGM, when as yet we had not created a new polity that defined a process for assigning SGM leadership.  The Interim Board believed it only fair to all of our pastors to use our historic methods which were true to our current bylaws in taking this step.  Further, those who did choose to participate in the process overwhelmingly affirmed those nominated for the new Board.  The new Board then did exactly what we had promised to do—create a thorough process for creating a new polity in a thorough, collegial and unhurried way.

4.  SGM move to Louisville — For several years, SGM has been considering the possibility of moving the Pastors College (PC) out of Gaithersburg, Maryland.  Chief among the reasons were the expense to students in a city with a high cost of living.  Earlier this year, Jeff Purswell and Tommy Hill were tasked with the responsibility of exploring alternative locations for the PC and recommending to the Board options for the timing of the move.  They considered a number of cities and did exploratory visits to two.  For a variety of reasons (particularly cost of living and proximity to a seminary with which we might cooperate in continuing education for pastors), they recommended a move to Louisville, Kentucky.  Upon hearing Jeff and Tommy's presentation, the Board approved.  Some thought that this move should not have been made without consulting with all SGM pastors.  Others thought the decision was rushed.  Still others thought that the announcement was disingenuous for not mentioning disagreements with CLC pastors as a reason for the move.  Others would recognize that it has always been the Leadership Team’s and Board’s responsibility to make such decisions and were content to leave it to those bodies.  Some expressed enthusiasm about the possibilities that the move to Louisville created for the PC. 

We freely admit that the disagreements with CLC pastors played a role in the timing of this move, though not in the move itself which we believe was wise for the reasons stated above.  We didn’t believe that highlighting disagreements with the CLC pastors in this context would serve that church or our family of churches.  We think that the disagreements which exist are already widely known among our pastors, and making them a matter of rationale in light of this move did not seem to serve any good purpose.

5.  Board support for C.J. planting a church in Louisville while disagreements with the CLC pastors remain — The idea of C.J. planting a church (or serving in an existing church as a functioning pastor) did not arise in the midst of our crisis.  For several years, C.J. had desired to get back to leading a local church and preaching in one place on a regular basis.  Early in 2011 he had been approached by people in Louisville encouraging him to consider an SGM church plant in their city.  As he sought the Lord and considered these things, he concluded that planting a church in Louisville was his best option.  SGM’s church planting group approved the plant and this Board was supportive (though it is not the board's responsibility to approve individual church plants, we felt that we needed to give our counsel in this decision).  Some thought it was inappropriate to approve this plant until all issues with CLC were resolved.  We concluded as a Board that it was unnecessary to delay this plant for this reason, especially since both parties said that their concerns regarded matters of disagreement over how to lead through the crisis of last year and were not matters of personal offense.  Furthermore, C.J. had left CLC with the pastors’ blessing.

To have restricted C.J. from planting this church when there were no charges against him and he was fully qualified for gospel ministry would have been an unnecessary and extra-biblical restriction.  Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement, though sharp, was not a clear moral issue and thus did not stop them from pressing forward in church planting.  Similarly, we felt C.J. should continue to press forward with this church plant. 

6. Announcing that C.J. would remain president at least until the polity process was completed – In January, C.J. announced that he would only return as president of SGM temporarily while we sought his replacement.  As this Board considered C.J.’s stated desire, we concluded that it would be an unnecessary distraction and could possibly derail the most important transition that we have made in our ministry to date—defining and implementing a new form of governance.  We also believe that asking him to serve in a temporary status would hinder his leadership and effectively leave us leaderless.  So we asked C.J. to stay on, at least until we chose a new polity and implemented it.  At that time, when we have in place a clear definition of the role and responsibilities of a senior leader in this ministry and how he is chosen, discussion of who is best suited to fill the role will be appropriate by the body responsible to make such a choice. 

We also believed, given what we consider unfair and unwarranted damage that has been done to his reputation through the past year, that it was important for us to express our support of C.J. and to let SGM know that this Board, if still in place, would consider him as a candidate to continue as president after the polity process is completed.  Some felt that making any announcement at this time was unnecessary.  Others objected that C.J. had gone on record as saying that he would only return as a temporary president, and that it was inappropriate to raise the possibility of his doing so beyond a brief term.  We want to make it clear that C.J. never approached the Board about returning as president beyond his stated intention.  Rather, in our deliberations about the future, it became clear that he had many outstanding qualities that suited him for this role, though with some acknowledged weaknesses that we think can be mitigated through a restructuring of his responsibilities.  We do not think this is the time for a debate about who should lead our ministry.  We have a major transition to make in our governance, and we believe that no other leader in our movement has the qualities that will effectively guide us through these changes. 

So let us conclude by reiterating our appeal.  We could certainly debate these issues for months to come.  But we think that allowing these things to predominate our concerns is a major distraction from vastly more important matters at hand.  We have tried here to give honest and transparent answers to questions we’ve heard, without giving unnecessary details.  In making this appeal we don’t want to discourage anyone from asking questions or seeking clarification on anything we’ve said here, but at this point in our history, we sincerely believe that the best way forward will perhaps necessitate that we acknowledge where we disagree on matters of private judgment, respect our differences, and extend grace and charity to all involved.  We believe this will best allow us to get on with our call to proclaim the gospel as we plant and build local churches. 

Much grace to you all, 

The SGM Board 

[1] “Lancing blow” by Mark Bergin in World magazine, September 22, 2012. 

[2] Ibid.


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