Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Sixteen

There exists a confession fetish in the churches associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Every week in small group ("care group," they call it), it was always a competition to see who could outdo everyone else in confessing--but only the white sins, like pride. Never the heavy stuff, like suicide attempts.

When I talked openly about the urge to self harm, one of the pastors' wives eventually called me and we chatted. I vividly remember sitting on the grassy hill in my backyard, staring at the clouds while we talked. I also shredded many blades of grass during the conversation.

She gave me this advice to combat my severe depression and inner urges to kill myself: don't go on Facebook.  She said going on Facebook made her envious of other women's "perfect" lives and she got tempted to compare herself to them. When she avoided Facebook, she held on to her contentment.  Therefore, I ought to stay off Facebook so I wouldn't be discontent anymore. Since my friends on Facebook, constantly messaging me, checking on me, sending me Scripture and prayers, were all that were keeping me alive, I disregarded her advice.

At Sovereign Grace churches, there's a lot of, "our church is so amazing," and, "I love my pastor," and not so much, "I love Jesus," or, "Christ alone."  The overwhelming pastor worship made me wary when we first joined. I knew, even back in 2006, that CJ Mahaney was bad news, but I figured going to that church for a while would be okay.

And it wasn't all terrible. When we weren't busy confessing various petty offenses to one another, my small group was engaged in loving one another beyond measure. They came to my house and had a work day, we all went to the lake and spent a day on the water, and we had really amazing Christmas parties.

But there was always this underlying loyalty to SGM, the kind that screams, "Don't question too much, or examine too closely."  It was a manic loyalty.  And even our devotion to one another in our small groups had the sheen of artificiality.  For me at least, there was little substance to those relationships.  Lots of confession, yes.  But beyond trying to be the first in the group to confess being prideful every meeting, we didn't really create spaces for deeper understandings of one another.  We also were discouraged from trying other small groups.  Everyone stayed in the one assigned, unless asked to move by the pastors.

I questioned too much. And openly. I'd frequently disagree with some point or other from a pastor's sermon. And some of the young men from the church would attempt to quiet me--after all, Sovereign Grace Ministries is a staunchly complimentarian, patriarchal place, so women should shut up and sit down. Having a theological opinion should be secondary to keeping my home and raising my family. And even then, it should be closely monitored and filtered by my head, my lord, my husband. All the women were encouraged to do was repost and share articles from the Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, and other Sovereign Grace affiliated and approved groups. Commenting anything other than, "I totally agree," or, "This convicted me," was frowned upon for women.  Even sharing opinions and convictions in small group as a woman wasn't given respect or weight.

CJ Mahaney once told me that my son was my highest calling. That my service to God in the form of motherhood was the biggest, most important thing I could do for Christ. While motherhood is a beautiful vocation, it certainly isn't my (or anyone else's) highest calling. I'm not defined by my mothering.

On the whole, I'm mostly just glad I escaped SGM without too much damage. The potential for great harm was always pretty high and very visible. And it scared me, though I tried to ignore it. That culture if shame and guilt, wrapped up in a cloak of "grace," is heavy and unbiblical, and I'm still unlearning some of the habits and attitudes instilled in me during my time as a young, restless, and reformed charismatic.

If anything, I hope I have put off the demeanor of haughtiness I wore so completely while I was a SGM devotee. I'v realised and embraced the fact that I don't have all the answers.  And maybe (probably) my church and pastor doesn't either.  And that's okay.