You’re scared and you don’t know why. You remain scared after so many years have gone by. And now, finally, after all these years, you are reading the stories: they differ in detail but the elements, the arguments, and the outcomes are eerily, unnaturally similar.
People (like you) who did what they were told, listened to Pastoral counsel, gave over profound amounts of personal transparency, and admitted flaws as a matter of doctrinal course.
People (like you) who found themselves required to obey counsel that was flawed, even catastrophically dangerous, or ridiculously heavy-handed.
People (like you) who bought into the Matthew 18 ethic as the essential conflict resolution process only to find that when called to account SGM leadership, replaced transparency with a stonewall of authoritarian posturing, ruthless character assassination, and a machine dedicated to personal marginalization.
People (like you) describe the aftermath with blunt similarity: profound confusion, heartache, and despair.
A variation of the same refrain lingers in the air melancholy and ominous. They are your words too: “I thought I was crazy….”
Your breath freezes in your chest: realization dawns bright and slashing like a knife across a matted wound: “I’m not alone!”
Yet what does this mean? What can it mean? The reality that there are others, many, many, others with the same story isn’t satisfying. It brings up so many pains, so many hurts, so many confusing feelings — feelings that you thought were long buried, long dealt with, but are most emphatically not reconciled.
The force of emotion is frightening. Have I really not forgiven? Am I still guilty before a Holy God for failure to live up to yet another standard? The experiences with Sovereign Grace Ministries was harrowing enough the first time around do I dare go back into that head space–that soul-crushing heart space? Maybe it is best to just leave well enough alone. Maybe it is best just to let bygones be bygones. Forgive and FORGET! Walk away. Don’t think about it. Besides, the fear, I can’t shake the fear.
The fear is sooo deep that the mounting evidence of Sovereign Grace Ministries’ catastrophic bankruptcy of judgment and practice still does not free you to utter a harsh word aloud.
You read the Bible for comfort and find only words of condemnation. You hear the pastoral voices drumming through your head, the accusations of sinfulness and pride, and pride and sinfulness. You measure your life against the SGM yardstick and find yourself endlessly short. You cannot throw away the yardstick because you accept the premise that it is a “Biblical” standard. Your ever-present, nagging, pressing, hurting, foreboding suspicion is that the departure from Sovereign Grace Ministries is ultimately a failure of yours, not a failure of theirs. That is what they told you to believe and that is what still dominates your mind.
Yet, you cannot find the path of reconciliation. If you could have, you would have. You loved them. You devoted your soul to the calling. You abandon yourself to the church passion.
If method existed to resolve yourself to the despicable treatment, you would have long since reconciled yourself ultimately back into their good graces. Indeed, you walk into every church with the desperate hope that all this will be SGM without the name and the oppression, only to find the people infused with every social ill SGM railed against. This seems to prove the assertion that every church has its problems: and the concurrent thought–maybe SGM isn’t really so bad.
Yet you cannot find the path through the suffered wrongs, the twists of logic, the exploitation of personal boundaries, and the subtle, soul-crushing condemnation.
You read the blogs and you shake and you weep for the tyrannies that you see on the printed page, and for yourself. And you wonder why it happens. You wonder how it is possible. How can this evil persist? How can people let it happen?
And then you remember your own fear. Your own utter inability to say out loud what happened to you: to tell your story, to make yourself and your pains plain. You find your eyes traveling skyward in the silent hope that it is not really falling. And prayers laced with admitted sinfulness cascades across your lips. Hopefully, God will withhold his justifiable wrath for the list of sins attached to your soul. You hedge your bets, staying quiet; if you refuse to call for justice and righteousness, that will keep you out of God’s mind, away from the path of the boogieman of bad.
So you sit inert in the torment of your fears. Filled with conflict between the injustice and your own impotence. Left to ask one question: how can someone (else) let this happen?
I’m going to tell you how it is possible. I’m going to tell you the fundamental reason, and it really isn’t all that complicated. I am going to point to the foundational thought of your fear. It is the heart and soul of Sovereign Grace Tyranny’s manipulation. It is the heart and soul of ALL Spiritual Tyranny.
This foundational thought is the foundation for the Shamans of old, the child sacrifice by Molech Priests, the power behind the witches’ Evil Eye, the gargoyles of the Middle Ages, the underlying threat for the Charis-costal “Touch Not God’s Anointed,” the energizing force that kept David Koresh in the comfy embrace of adolescent girls and cult wives, without a word of protest from fathers or husbands. This foundational thought is the Demagogues of Dictated Good tool of extortion. This foundational thought is essential for the philosophical premise that Man is a sacrificial animal. This foundational thought is the lake that feeds the rivers of blood throughout all Religions in history.
Before I tell you what this is, I am going to tell you a story. I want you to know that this is no academic muse but a realization that was lived in the face of real life, soul-sucking pressure.
It had been three days since I’d last talked to my father. I am standing in the Potomac Police station and for the first time I let myself say my suspicions. “I think my parents have been killed.” I vividly remember how I started crying and how the police department went silent. I expected my parents to arrive at my house some three days prior.
What started as a few curious phone calls back to family and friends and parental cell phone, to account for their tardiness, slowly turned into an ongoing campaign to contact law enforcement in every city from their home town to my place in Potomac, Maryland. From calm, affirming conversations with my grandmother and sister and aunts, to endless prayers and frantic mini trips to check all the potential places they could have ended up.
Day three and four of their absence were grueling exercise in patience between updates and very long nights spent pacing the football field at Churchill High School praying for every good outcome and blessing I could think. But I had a nagging dread that I struggled to shake: something bad had happened to my parents. As the human mind tends to do, I started trying to create cause and effect with the unfolding events. The timing was too spooky to describe. I had very recently distributed one of the early copies of Blight in the Vineyard, detailing my interaction with then CLC/PDI pastoral “care.”
My commentary is scathing now, and so it was then. In the foreword of Blight in the Vineyard, I wrote these words to sum up my relentless critique.
Some will suggest that my frank, open commentary is just eloquent vindictiveness. The following begins my response.
“I have indeed inveighed sharply against impious doctrines, and I have not been slack to censure my adversaries on account, not of their bad morals, but of their impiety. And for this, I am so far from being sorry, that I have brought my mind to despise the judgments of men, and to persevere in this vehement zeal, according to the example of Christ, who, in his zeal, calls his adversaries a generation of vipers, blind, hypocrites, and children of the devil… The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers, that, go soon as we perceive that anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretense, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries. What would be the use of salt, if it were not pungent? or of the edge of the sword, if it did not slay?”
Just a week or so before my parent’s disappearance, I received a letter rebuking me for my “eloquent vindictiveness.” How could I dare speak against these “Men of great character?” It was the stiffest admonishment to date, a capstone on a list of judgments against my character and conduct, and another event in a growing list of church “friends” scrambling to the shadows deliberately distancing themselves from me, for fear that my “deleterious influence” and my disfavor would rub off on them.
My paranoia ran away with me on those long nights. Breathtaking fear gripped my soul. Was it true? God was disciplining me through events perpetrated upon my parents? My mind was a tidal pool of torment as I heard the words condemn me: “God opposes the proud.” Was I proud to reject the treatment that I’d suffered? Was I arrogant for presuming to take action and voice my criticisms? On and on the doubt and the questions churned inside me until finally I came to a resolve.
This is what I said. “I refuse to be tyrannized. If the New Birth, and the Adoption of Sons, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is not sufficient for you to speak to me as a man…if you have to kill my parents to get my attention, then you murdered your Son for no reason and humanity is lost. If you have a problem with what I did…you need to talk to ME!”
Actually, I shouted those words at the top of my lungs: dogs barked and doors opened.
God’s words came back to me that night: “John, your parents are fine. You will see them tomorrow. What do your fears really say of me?”
I know… the irony here is too much: an overt advocate for rational objective truth claiming a conversation with God. But hey, that is no more ironic than advocates of Kantian philosophy bemoaning the lack of intellectuals in the world, or Calvinists railing against the lack of moral character in humanity.
Day four waxed long, as minutes refused to become hours. Police were beginning to coordinate an effort between jurisdictions across three states; a hunt was about to start in earnest. I was on the phone with law enforcement when my parents walked through the door.
They were indeed fine. My mother said that for three days she’d had a nagging thought to call me but the cell reception at Gettysburg national battlefield prevented a signal, and she’d forgotten when they’d been near a land line. Ten years ago, to my parents, cell phones were a curios extravagance to be kept turned off at all times. As it turned out, my father’s memory of meeting times and dates was dramatically different than mine…or my sister’s or my grandmother’s or my aunts, for that matter. My Grandmother had a lot to say about that later.
“What do your fears really say of me?” Excellent question this. One that I have spent the last decade, give or take, unraveling in my own mind.
Main Entry: ca·pri·cious
Pronunciation: k&-‘pri-sh&s, -‘prE-
1 : governed or characterized by impulse or whim: as a : lacking a rational basis b : likely to change suddenly
2 : not supported by the weight of evidence or established rules of law -often used in the phrase arbitrary and capricious -ca·pri·cious·ly adverb -ca·pri·cious·ness noun
3: determined by chance or impulse or whim rather than by necessity or reason; “a capricious refusal”; “authoritarian rulers are frequently capricious”; “the victim of whimsical persecutions”
Dear Christian Chicken Little, here it is. The source of the fear and the starting point of all Spiritual Tyranny–The gods are capricious. Shamans the world over, since the beginning of human existence, have sold this idea to the masses. Demagogues of Dictated Good use divine capriciousness as their primary extortion tool.
Only one way exists to deal with people: Force — Ideas or Violence.
The force of ideas is the power to persuade, to aim an argument at someone’s head. Assuming they are capable and interested in thinking, truth has an amazing capacity to bear itself out.
Violence is the point of a sword or the point of a nail, robbing a man of his choices, ultimately robbing his mind, his capacity to think, rendering him vacant, empty, mute, and robotic, without consent or embrace. Extortion is really force, aimed at a valued hostage.
In spiritual matters, the force is always the disposition of divine pleasure and the hostage is always the future state of one’s soul. Refusing to obey the shamans is always met with roaring, hazy coercion, or quiet foreboding implication. Demagogues of Dictated Good love to let their flock stew in the terror of their own minds, filling in the disaster and retribution by the endless gremlins of bad. Demagogues of Dictated Good predict all manner of misadventure at failed compliance to their considered opinions. They beam magnanimous smiles as reports of disaster affirm their assertion.
God help us when the Demagogues of Dictated Good join forces with history’s Hitlers drunk on bloodlust and despotism: combined, they use fire and sword to enforce “GOD’s” will. The result is the carnage of the Aztecs, the immolation of Witches by the Catholic Church, or the endless string Islamic adolescent suicide bombers.
To appease the capricious God, Man is laid with his throat bare for sacrifice. Mystic Despots proclaim Human life cheaper than trees. Mystic Despots use force to subordinate Man’s well-being below the lives of snail darters, or snakes, or cats, or whatever other twisted figure he chips out of stone to compel humans to prostrate before.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, your fears, your torment hinges here. You believe God is capricious: that He does not deal with men rationally, with knowable intentional purpose, but perpetrates upon them pain, and suffering, and hardship, beating them about the head and shoulders for daring to aspire to…much of anything. You believe that God only deals with man by force. You believe that His primary method of communication is piteously drubbing man about the head and shoulders with the circumstances of life.
You are inclined to object, telling me that it isn’t capriciousness but mystery: “His ways are above our ways; His methods past finding out….” He loves us, whatever the great mystery of His knowledge, His purposes and motives are love.
Yes, I know. Capricious implies that God is unloving. Mystery makes it sound so much more benevolent. But that intellectual distinction is really no distinction at all: it amounts to the same thing. “You don’t understand me!” Whack! “You are sinful” Whack! “I love you!” Whack! “You are confused!” Whack!
Capriciousness eradicates cause and effect wisdom and understanding. Capriciousness destroys the concept of values and obliterates a standard of measure. And so does the fictitious appeal to God’s manifold mystery.
It is in this valueless, cause-and-effect vacuum that the Destroyers rise. The Destroyers are the Demagogues of Dictated Good. They thrive because YOU believe only THEY can bring order to divine will. Because YOU believe THEY are uniquely qualified to point out the cause-and-effect of God’s intent. Because YOU believe they are the REAL source of value.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, your fears, your torment hinges here. Until you believe deep down in your soul that God fully intends for you to know His intention and wishes you no ill will, that He conceives no arbitrary harm against you, you will forever cower before Him like a medieval villager before the Gargoyles.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I can preach endlessly of hope, and freedom, and faith but the words will fall dead on your ears.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I can point out to you that proportional justice i.e “… an eye for an eye…” is a God idea. I can point out to you that specific justice i.e. “… if an Ox gores a man, you shall kill the Ox…” is a God idea. And yet many of you read my thoughts about my parents suffering for my temerity and genuinely believe it a reasonable execution of divine justice and judgment.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I can point out that “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble…” doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with submitting to a pastor. And you will not hear me.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I can tell you that the Gospel was the proclamation of an anointing that set people free from sickness, pain, emotional bruising, economic bondage, and raised the dead; that the function of the New Covenant was for the express purpose of giving all of humanity access to the Blessing of Abraham and the Covenants of Promise. But when you hear the word Gospel, your mind speeds down the path of the cult of death that has become the worship of the cross. To your mind this means that we are all, like Jesus, sacrificial animals.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I can tell you that man’s natural state is pleasure and blessing and you will cringe at the temerity and selfishness, and wonder how long God will allow me to persist in heresy.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I can tell you that the Destroyers have always risen as a result of your LACK of Ego. They rise when men are not fully defined selves with the ability to identify wants and desires and aspirations, with the expectation that naming them too God, their Father, aids and abets the fulfillment of the very same. They rise when men Lay Down their Minds and quit defending themselves. You will hear my words and think them full of all manner of presumption, too wonderful, or too selfish to be believed.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I could try to explain the error in the doctrines that make God capricious, but your eyes will glaze over with yet another theological conversation and you will justify your lack of intellectual focus because a capricious God does not really need rational understanding or any explanation for His actions: so why does it really matter? Your excuse notwithstanding, that does not change the fact that a choice stands before you.
The same choice that has been before humanity from Adam’s rebellion till now: how does man deal with the fear that plagues his soul? Run and hide–try some feeble effort to cover up? Or run to God and see how He fixes the problem. I can say this with certainty. Man was not a sacrificial animal then. He is not one now.
I am not offering a panacea. No single magic prayer exists. Utopia, a place without hardship or life’s challenge, does not exist. One cannot escape the rigor of life by bunkering in a church, submitting to a pastor, or reading my blog posts. An entire air castle has been built in your mind founded on one premise. No quick fix to your fear exists, because the fortification is built deep in your soul.
Dear Christian Chicken Little, I am only putting my finger on the source, the foundational premise.
If God is NOT capricious, that means He IS interested in making His will, His purpose, His intentions known. From this foundation, it is profoundly easy to destroy the house of cards the Demagogues of Dictated Good have built.
So maybe start with a prayer, low and quiet, of your own timid choosing. Or maybe you start with what I said:
“I refuse to be tyrannized. If the New Birth, and the Adoption of Sons, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is not sufficient for you to speak to me as a man…if you have to kill _________ to get my attention, then you Murdered your Son for no reason and humanity is lost. If you have a problem with what I did… you need to talk to ME!”
Dear Christian Chicken Little, then run outside to see if the sky is falling. I promise you it will be right where you saw it last.