Wait! Don’t Look Behind the Curtain

kinnon —  July 14, 2011 — 15 Comments

Alternate post titles:

Making Celebrity-Driven Church Omelettes – You Know You Gotta Break Some Eggs.

What Edmund Burke may have said about evil.

The man behind the curtain 02

Welcome back to the Wizard of Odds where we are doing our very best to protect you from any evil witches.


Whatever you do.

Don’t look behind the curtain!


YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” as Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessep screams in A Few Good Men.

‘After all, what is the truth? Really?’

‘How dare you ask that question!’

‘As a leader in the North American Church – it’s whatever I tell you it is. And if you don’t believe me, it’s because you are a disobedient, unrepentant, unsubmissive trouble-maker in danger of me casting you out into utter darkness where you truly belong. If you read the Scriptures properly, you’d know God has give me that POWER over you!’

To quote Shakespeare’s King Lear, “O, that way madness lies, let me shun that, no more of that.”

If I’m being far too obtuse I apologize. This is a continuation of my previous post – C.J. and Semper Reformanda or… Not So Much. Perhaps I should have titled this post, C.J, his friends and Semper Mendacis. (You can figure it out.)

If you remember back two days, you will recall that two of C.J. Mahaney’s T4G friends, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan immediately (if not sooner, according to the writers at The Wartburg Watch) jumped to C.J.’s defense. Effectively saying, (as I wrote previously) ‘Nothing to look at here. Move Along. Everything’s under control

My theo-pub buddy, Dan Gouge (who attends a Toronto PCA church led by another good friend), says this at the team blog, City of God,

Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan have both stood up for Mahaney and, in essence, insist that his critics shut up and that everyone else move along.

What’s remarkable about this is that there seems to be a reflex here that is shockingly similar to the one that kicked in at the Vatican when the child sex-abuse scandals started to leak into the media. (Note: Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that C.J. Mahaney is the equivalent of a sex offender.) The hierarchy circled the wagons and went about blaming everyone else while trying to protect itself. Neither T4G nor SGM is a hierarchy like Rome, but there is an undeniable star system at the top of today’s Reformed church world with a handful of powerful men who dominate conferences and bestseller lists, and it appears that they have taken to looking after their interests – the interests of the powerful – at the expense of all those whom they claim as followers. [emphasis added]

Of the far too many stories (at SGM Refuge & SGM Survivors, alone) that bring Mahaney’s leadership and SGM polity into question – Brent Detwiler’s story of Mahaney’s apparent blackmail of PDI/SGM co-founder Larry Tomczak is perhaps the most telling. City of God blogger, Keith Brooks asked me this question in the comments of the previous post,

Blackmail is a serious allegation! Is there hard proof of this or is this hearsay? Given the wikileaks nature of this, if it’s true, there should be hard evidence, no?

In my response to Keith, I pointed him to SGMWikileaks document 3beginning at page 131 which Brent Detwiler titled, “The Blackmail of Larry Tomczak.” I specifically pointed him to pages 139 through 149. (I also suggested he read this and this.)

No whistleblower

In rather sickening irony but consistent with their “shoot the messenger” policy as SGM is a ‘no-Whistelblowers zone’, the SGM board accuses Detwiler of “public slander.”

Brent Detwiler’s distribution of written accusations against C.J. Mahaney to all Sovereign Grace pastors constitutes the public slander of Mahaney’s reputation.

Just a note, SGM board guys, if it’s written it’s libel, not slander. And there are far too many voices who suggest that Detwiler learned this on the very platform from which you pontificate.

One of the reasons the first working title of this post was, “If you want to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs” – a quote attributed to both Lenin and Robespierre – is the blanket approval of Mahaney by Mohler and Duncan. In spite of the pain caused to ‘the little people’.

Mohler, Duncan et al are effectively communicating that the ends justified the means. ‘Yes, there are hurting people – but that’s just what happens when you build something big for God. You need strong, authoritative leadership to do that, you know.’

This news article more than suggests that Mohler told the reporter that he has read all of the SGMWikileaks material (portions of which I’ve pointed to above), and the writer than quotes him saying,

“There is nothing disqualifying in terms of anything that is disclosed in this,” said Mohler, who regularly speaks on programs along with Mahaney. “It’s just evidence we knew all along, that C.J. is human but a deeply committed Christian and a visionary Christian leader.”

Really!? Is Church Leadership Blackmail 201, a course your seminary teaches, Dr. Mohler? So the “Blackmail of Larry Tomczak” if proven to be true, will not disqualify Mahaney from his “visionary” leadership. Ridiculous!

As I said in response to another comment, “I know not what this be, but it be not Christianity.”

My dear friend, and Missional Instigator buddy, Brad Sargent said this in the comments on the previous post,

Two relevant quotes from *Dune: The Butlerian Jihad* by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson go to the heart of the mental and emotional issues here. First, “Assumptions are a transparent grid through which we view the universe, sometimes deluding ourselves that the grid is that universe.” (For instance, relying on a theology about Jesus is not equivalent to relying on Jesus, even if we think the thought suffices.) And, “Fanaticism is always a sign of repressed doubt.” (These systems don’t allow for even the appearance of personal weakness or of relative knowledge about absolute truth.)

Sadly, we ALWAYS get these kinds of SGM situations when we treat theology and people like machines, and we always will. It’s in the deepest DNA of their system, and the rotten fruit shows what was in the roots. Not all Reformed epistemologies are this harsh relationally or near-gnostic in terms of intellectualism – – and they, too, bear fruit according to what DNA is in the seeds they plant. [emphasis added]

People have and will continue to ask me, “Why do you concern yourself with this, Bill?” Allow me a quick further moment to respond.

I am convinced that one of the biggest problems with the church in North America is it’s Celebrity-Driven culture. And this is not exclusive to the Reformed. From the conservative to the progressive ends of the Church, we have created a culture of “follow your favourite apostle, and no, you don’t need to think for yourself.”

We are the people in 1 Samuel 8, choosing to follow whichever particular little church king captivates us. The end result is often what this passage of scripture states,

“This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”

And finally, if you’ve made it thus far, the quote attributed to Edmund Burke, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good (people) to do nothing,” motivates me. Too many people are content to plug their ears, cover their eyes & mouths while ignoring this kind of evil being perpetrated within the Body of Christ.

And I confess that I am stunned by the relative silence on this from the blog world that screamed incessantly about Rob Bell’s Hell.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

15 responses to Wait! Don’t Look Behind the Curtain

  1. “From the conservative to the progressive ends of the Church, we have created a culture of “follow your favourite apostle, and no, you don’t need to think for yourself.””

    Absolutely correct.

  2. “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” ~ 1 Timothy 5:24, NASB

    “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” ~ Ecclesiastes 12:14

    “Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.” ~ James 3:1-2, The Message

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and, for a time, they can seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Think of it. Always.” ~ Final words in the film *Gandhi*

  3. Your post is spot on!

    Here is some addtional information I just discovered which might be of interest. I shared it in a comment over on our blog.

    link to thewartburgwatch.com

    “The spin continues…

    Did you know that C.J. Mahaney actually began his leave of absence on June 30, even though he didn’t announce it to SGMers via his blog post until July 6. Here’s what SGM’s blog moderator, Andrew, wrote:

    “Just to clarify, C.J.’s LoA started June 30 and Brent’s documents were published (I think) on July 7. And I’m not exactly sure why Brent sent out the documents when he did.”

    Source: link to sovereigngraceministries.org

    So C.J. Mahaney stepped down just three days after speaking at the Resolved 2011 Conference which took place June 24-27? Yep, Mahaney and his buddy Al Mohler were “together” at this conference. I guess that’s when CJ and Al put the finishing touches on their clever scheme…

    link to resolved.org

    And did you know that CJ rotated OFF the CBMW board last December?

    Here’s what Peter Smith added to his follow-up article which prominently features Mohler’s commentary:

    “UPDATE: Mahaney rotated off board of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in December, which is housed at Southern Seminary and promotes male authority in churches and homes. He is listed on the site as vice-chairman, as an earlier version of this post noted, but the council has not updated its Web site, said Randy Stinson, the council president and a seminary dean. Stinson said the rotation was routine and unrelated to the circumstances of Mahaney’s leave from Sovereign Grace.”

    Source: link to blogs.courier-journal.com

    Yet, as I am posting this comment Mahaney is still listed as Vice Chairman of the Board on the CBMW website…

    link to cbmw.org

    Oh, and look who serves as Chairman of the Board of CBMW … Ligon Duncan.”

  4. Insightful and, I fear, quite true.

    We are in trouble in any sphere when power concentrates in the hands of the few, the proud, the unaccountable, and especially so in the church. Self-appointed spiritual authority becomes a cloak for abuse of power and accumulation of money and fame. The people under it are slow to see it or to cry out because they don’t want to be rebellious against the Lord or oppose God’s anointed.

    A great deal of it is cognitive dissonance is going on.

    Among leaders it might sound something like: God is doing awesome, mighty, great things through me (Everyone says so!) so He must be just peachy A-OK with everything I’m doing. I am on the stage, not in the pew, so what I have to say must be more important, wise, and true. God put me in charge of the dumb sheep, so I must be right. In everything. All the time.

    Among the followers, it might sound like: I am receiving benefit here, and so much of it seems good, and others seem okay with everything, so I must be wrong about the problems I notice from time to time. It must just be me — I really AM a worm and a rebel.

    Quite a sweet set-up for the ones at the top — for a while.

    Until the day of reckoning.

  5. My heart breaks over this entire situation. Reformed people, above all, shouldn’t be surprised by sin in anyone. I stopped being shocked by the fall of leaders long ago. But it’s sad whenever it happens, or whenever allegations like this are made.

    I’m praying that this will lead to all of us learning. I know it’s causing me to reflect about my life and leadership.

  6. ‘Too many people are content to plug their ears, cover their eyes & mouths while ignoring this kind of evil being perpetrated within the Body of Christ.’

    Or, they have been told it is the sin of gossip to even mention it.

  7. All. Sorry I haven’t properly engaged in the comments today. I confess this whole situation has left me feeling physically ill.

    • I have to say, Mr. Bill, that when I read the word “ridiculous” … I thought immediately of Harry Potter and Boggarts — those lurking spirits that turn into what you fear the most — and the only way to get rid of them is to recognize them for the fakes they are and then find a way to laugh at them….

      I think that is the key — to expose their machinations behind the curtain and get past the smoke and mirrors. But the other thing is not to get sucked into the muck. You do an admirable job of walking that fine line, Bill.

      • …and perhaps Dementors — who suck all the hope and joy out of people … and, if allowed, their souls.

        Hmmm … perhaps your patronus is, um, an alligator ;^)

        Hope you’re feeling better soon.

    • Thanks for caring so much, Bill.

  8. I would list myself as serious doubter at this point in my spiritual life. Reading through the incidents to which you linked is sickening to me.

    All I can see is the illusion that all of the parties involved partake in. The illusion that God is “working” in any of their efforts to be truthful, honest, and “God-honoring”.

    The blackmail is as sickening as the assumed point of view that a board has the right and responsibility to put a pastor’s family life and children under the microscope in order to be sure that someone is “qualified”, especially considering that there has been no indication of immorality, abuse, or impropriety.

    There is no mercy in these men, neither for the ones in scrutiny and the ones being scrutinized. There is just the smug self-righteousness, and anger and desire to control others or make them squirm under the authority that these men believe they have.

    They are all the same.

    Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!–Ecclesiastes

  9. Scott Shaffer July 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    This is a clear-cut example of why doctrine matters. Their ecclessiology was a key factor to an abuse of authority. Then there is their obsession with confessing personal sins, both theirs and others.

    I notice Joshua Harris resigned from the SGM board. Good for him.

    • Scott,
      I’m more convinced that it is a lack of proper discipleship that has got SGM in their present predicament. If CJ had been properly trained up in the faith, one thinks (or at least hopes) he wouldn’t have gone done the cult-like religious leader road. And if the folks in the pews had been properly discipled, they wouldn’t have accepted the ridiculous command and control from their “leaders.”

  10. Thank you so much for this post which articulates so well what others are either afraid to say or just can’t put in words.

    I have no idea what is going on here but I do know that I was once turned into road-kill by this kind of leadership. I’m thankful that He delivered me from from error to truth and that His grace preserved me.

    I pray the same for all the wounded soldiers in Christendom who have been made mince-meat by those charged with their spiritual well being. May the truth of His sovereignty strengthen them. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20)


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