Injustice: an Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition

Nate Sparks

nate.sparks130@gmail.com

natesparks130.wordpress.com

 

 

TGC Council Members

Tim Keller, Don Carson, John Piper, et al.

The Gospel Coalition

thegospelcoalition.org

 

To the members of the TGC council:

I am writing you regarding an important and distressing issue within your organization.  I have been following The Gospel Coalition quite closely for the better part of a year now and have been deeply bothered by many of the things I have observed.  I have read many articles, listened to many sermons, watched many videos and I have noticed a trend developing – an environment of seemingly unchecked systemic injustice perpetrated and/or supported by influential representatives and council members of TGC.  As such, I have chosen to provide a representative list of examples, carefully cited grievances demonstrating the validity of this claim.

As you will see below, I have grouped these grievances thematically in order to facilitate easier reading and engagement.  I encourage you to not only consider my words, but the works I have cited as well.  Read carefully each cited source and decide, is this really what you are about.

What I intend to highlight are intentional, systematic injustices on which your ministry is built and from which it directly profits.  As such, I invite your response to these claims.  I hope you will see the pain you are causing and reconsider your actions.  These things have placed a stain on the body of Christ, as you have repeatedly favored the power and privilege of an elite few men over the well-being of entire congregations.

Sexual Abuse

  1. CJ Mahaney is explicitly supported by TGC and its cohorts. Mahaney has been implicated in what many have called “the largest sex abuse scandal to hit the Evangelical Church.” Multiple persons have claimed that Mahaney and his leadership team have worked diligently to actively silence multiple abuse victims within his church. He is even facing a lawsuit from many of these victims! Yet Kevin DeYoung, Don Carson, and Justin Taylor have openly defended him and no fewer than 6 presiding council members will share a stage with him at this year’s T4G conference.  

How, precisely, are you caring for the victims when two council members of the TGC and one board member of Desiring God have openly stated that the allegations against him are false?

2. TGC has repeatedly supported Doug Wilson. You have peddled his books and one council member (John Piper) has repeatedly given him a platform to write on his own blog. Yet no one has bothered to address the allegations of abusive pastoral practices Doug has used to enable sexual predators like Jamin Wight and Steven Sitler. This is troubling because, despite the fact that Sitler has been medically diagnosed as a fixated pedophile, Doug has refused to call him a rapist.

 

Equally troubling, Wilson has also openly blamed Natalie Greenfield and her father for the abuse she suffered.  Doug has issued blatantly false statements that have been openly refuted, yet he refuses to retract them.  He has even insisted Natalie and her family were complicit in a “secret courtship” instead of admitting the fact that Jamin Wight groomed and repeatedly raped a 14-year-old girl.

 

What, precisely, is the TGC’s take on Doug Wilsons handling of the Sitler and Wight sex abuse incidents? 

wp-1448921961263.jpg3. While we are on the subject of Doug Wilson, here are some other interesting facts. Doug Wilson has stated that rape is God’s way of punishing women who don’t practice his flavor of female “submission”. He has called this the “propriety of rape”. Further, Doug has openly stated that rape statistics are nothing more than feminist propaganda, that by the very nature of their “agenda” they are asking to be raped. He even states that victims still need to repent of their abuse and separates their victimization from the death of Christ on the cross, refusing to draw any line of solidarity in Christ’s suffering.

Do you see Doug’s vision of the cross standing apart from the plight of victims consistent with a passage like Isaiah 52:13-53:12? Why would the TGC sell the books or feature the blog posts of a man who openly blames victims of sexual assault for their own abuse?

4. You have also enabled Matt Chandler. As president of Acts 29 and the leader of the Village Church, a multi-site network of churches, Matt has promoted membership covenants in all his churches. Within these covenants, members sign their lives away to the church, signing contracts that, among other things, forbid them to divorce abusive spouses without the churches permission. As a result of these practices, the Village Church placed a woman, Karen Hinkley (formerly Root) under church discipline for attempting to nullify her marriage to Jordan Root. Jordan had admitted to an active addiction to child pornography and, according to Karen, had admitted to committing sexual assault. Despite this, the church attempted to force Karen to reconcile to her husband and spread lies about her to their congregations. It was only after all of this was made public, and hashed out over many months, that Chandler finally repented of the actions. It seems telling that Kevin DeYoung, during the Karen Hinkley scandal, openly stated that victims should not be automatically believed, that there is nothing wrong with siding with the privileged and powerful against the weak while exercising “caution and patience” about the victim’s report. He even intimates, without explicitly naming her, that Hinkley is lying.

One is forced to wonder, is this the TGC’s official position on instances of abuse? Is the reason there were no precautions within Chandler’s ministry to proactively prevent such an incident from occurring that TGC and its cohorts accept the direct teachings of people like DeYoung regarding how to address reports of abuse?

5. On August 24, 2014 a three-year-old boy was raped by a teenage volunteer at one of your member churches, Fellowship Bible Church of Brentwood, Tennessee. When the family reported the incident to pastoral staff, they claimed the staff attempted to silence them and convince them not to press charges. While FBC has denied these allegations, it is damning that in their official statement on the assault they labeled the perpetrator “alleged” despite the fact that he had already admitted to the crime.

 

I must ask, what policies and procedures does TGC require to be in place for a church to join your network? Is there a commitment to certain standards, or do you simply require financial remuneration?  If there are standards, do they include a strict policy on handling instances of abuse?  If so, how are they enforced and what resources does TGC have in place to ensure the victims and their families receive fair treatment?  DeYoung’s above cited article seems to provide a decent indication to how these questions might be truthfully answered.

 

Spousal abuse

6. I’m sure we are all familiar with statements made by John Piper, TGC councilman, regarding spousal abuse. In a now infamous video, Piper claimed that there is a time and place for a woman to endure being verbally or physically abused “for a season” and then tell her church and let the leadership support her and discipline him. This is an interesting approach because, as noted above, John Piper openly supports Doug Wilson, who has created an environment of unrepentant revictimization of abuse victims.

If John Piper cannot speak out against that situation, to call a friend to repentance, to what degree can we expect him to address it in his own church? Do the actions of your elders reflect the beliefs of TGC? If so, what code of conduct is there for dealing with pastors accused of abuse? In these instances, has John Piper followed this code of conduct?

7. Further, John Piper issued a clarification of his earlier video which also contained a great number of disturbing statements. Piper states that a woman seeking relief from abuse by appealing to civil authorities “May be” the right thing for her to do but she must do so with a “humble, Bible-saturated wisdom”. To be clear, he is not speaking against involving civil authorities, but given his emphasis on appeal to the church it seems clear it is not his preference. This is further supported by noting that Piper also states that such an action must be done with concern for continued humble submission to her husband. Thus he claims:

This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.

Piper even pleas with women to go to their church before their husband ends up in jail while warning them there is no way of ensuring their church will actually care. It seems notable he does not speak at all of ways the church can be a safe haven, nor does he offer practical advice from his own extensive ministry experience. Noting his open associations with CJ Mahaney, I again find it dubious that Piper has protecting victims at the forefront of his mind here.

Do you see the way Piper, and other members of your council, have backed Mahaney and Wilson as an obvious living out of the complementarian doctrines you teach?  Do you believe that Piper’s teaching protects victims?

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8. In December Jason Meyer wrote an article titles “A Complementarian Manifesto Against Abuse” (see my thoughts here). Within this article he made several very bothersome claims. First, he claims that women are equal in worth but have divinely appointed separate roles. I don’t know about you all, but the concept of separate but equal leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Further, he claims that issues of abuse within the complementarian tradition are not due to actual complementarian teachings, but the distortion of complementarianism he calls “hyper-headship.

 

It seems to me ironic that he exhorts the virtues of complementarianism when Russell Moore himself has stated that your views are not creating effectively complementarian marriages. Instead people who try to love their spouse as Christ would have them do so, despite their commitment to complementarian theology, end up in functionally egalitarian marriages instead.

Further, Meyer himself states that the headship teachings of complementarianism leave women vulnerable to abuse.

 

Why, then, does the TGC not call out the teachings of its members that claim women are the property of their husbands/fathers and that their purity is a reflection on these authority figures?  Does not such a view of masculinity, one defined against a feminine other, lead to the type of fragility and hyper-sensitive aggressive masculinity that facilitates spousal abuse?

Why have TGC council members teamed up with men who actively silence incidents of sex abuse? Why have so many of you focused on Saeed Abedini and none (that I can find) have taken up the cause of Naghmeh, who has documented spiritual and physical abuse in their marriage?  Likewise, if Meyers is correct about this “fringe” contingent of abusers, why is it that the leading thinkers within complementarianism, and not the fringe “hypers,” have made statements like the ones documented above?

Teachings on Women

9. John Piper has directly stated that no woman should hold any position of direct authority over a man in any circumstance. He even goes so far as to claim that a female cop pulling over a man is an affront to his masculinity and a usurping of his divinely appointed position of authority. He has stated that the serpent did not tempt Eve to usurp God, but to usurp the order in which man stood as her proper head via order of creation (my response here, here and here).

In what way is the TGC an organization which protects women and values their dignity? In what way are women “equal in value and dignity” if the men of your own council are allowed to twist Scripture in order to denigrate against them in positions of leadership, even in the secular world? Further in what way does Piper present an accurate or Christ-centered interpretation of passages like 1 Timothy 2? Doesn’t Piper’s insistence that complementarianism is necessary to understand the Gospel mean that he has placed something before Christ, that his Gospel has ceased to be “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2)? Does the TGC believe that there is no true Gospel without complementarian theology?

10. Doug Wilson teaches that until a daughter has been courted and married she remains under the headship of her father. Her father must be the authoritative presence in her courtship who protects her. However, if the young girl should buck this system at all she is asking to get raped. Further, the fact that she has been raped indicates a certain propriety to the occurrence of rape as a supposed consequence of rejecting the “male headship” of her father.

Does the TGC see rape as simply the consequences of non-submission? Is there a “propriety of rape” for children – even young children? Does this explain why a church like Fellowship Bible Church would call the rape of a 3-year-old alleged’, even though the perpetrator has confessed?

11. Wilson also shows that he has no respect for women. When engaging women who have disagreed with his insistence that women exist for the glory of men, he has often resorted to disgustingly misogynist language. In one particularly troubling incident, Wilson took aim at women who disagree with him by talking about their breasts, stating they are “small-breasted biddies.” Further, Wilson has openly admitted to checking out a host of women in order to determine whether Christian women are actually prettier. He then lays out his own concept of a beautifully modest woman before calling any woman who does not fit this mold an “easy lay” or a “lumberjack dyke”. That is, any woman whom he does not find carrying herself in a way he deems attractive, and thus modest, is insulted and assumed to be sexually promiscuous or a “man hater”. He quite literally treats women as property who exist for the gratification of his masculine identity.

Do you agree with Wilson here? Is it okay to speak about women’s breast size as an insult of their femininity as long as they are not submissive, “biblical women”? Might it then be okay to call a woman who has had a double mastectomy a “breastless biddie? Is calling your perceived opponent “gayer than an NPR tote bag full of rainbows” consistent with the values of the TGC? Do you see any indication whatsoever that Wilson recognizes and honors the inherent imago dei in his detractors? Do you agree with using violent, aggressive, misogynist language to silence women?

12. Voddie Baucham has made a number of strange and disturbing statements about women. First, he has stated

A lot of men are leaving their wives for younger women because they yearn for attention from younger women. And God gave them a daughter who can give them that. And instead they go find a substitute daughter…. you’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. These old guys going and finding these substitute daughters.

Further, he opposes women leaving their father’s home before marriage. He does not approve of women going to college unless it is through a home study program, like the conservative Christian homeschooling program his daughter completed. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he supports “training” daughters (and sons) to behave by having “an all-day [spanking] session where you just wear them out” and further states that “if you only spanked your child five times [today], then that means that almost every time they disobeyed you, you let it go”. Likewise, a child’s shy behavior should be taken as an affront to the parent and the child should be spanked on the spot and forced to talk to the person.

If someone who comes across Baucham through TGC reads this, how do you think they would handle abuse? If their young daughter were raped by a family member, and if she recoiled at the sight of that person, would she then be spanked? Is a daughter’s every action about satisfying her father’s need for attention and respect? Is this not a breeding ground for domestic abuse and the revictimization of sexual abuse victims? Why then does the TGC website proudly include several posts by Baucham? 

13. CJ Mahaney has openly stated that women are responsible for the lust of men. He has stated to them that when a man stumbles into lust, it is because she has failed him as. He goes to great lengths to shame women for their bodies and to insist that they – not men – are primarily responsible for their failings because men are “wired that way.” Is it any wonder Mahaney has been implicated in a sex-abuse cover up scandal? Does he not encourage an environment where women are treated as sex objects, breasts and butts to be ogled when arbitrary standards of modesty are violated?

 

Does it really uphold the dignity of women to place the weight of lust on them?    What are you doing to vet the men you associate with?  Why is there no requirement for your council to distance themselves from these men?  If men like Mahaney don’t represent the reality of complementarian theology as taught by the TGC, why have you done nothing to combat their abusive teachings?

 

LGBTQ+

14. Doug Wilson has openly stated that being LGBTQ+ is a disease, an affliction. He openly supports reparative therapy, even though it has been proven not only harmful, but completely and utterly bankrupt as an endeavor. It has shown near zero actual results. Wilson has shown time and again, by using terms like “homo-jihadi” that he considers the LGBTQ+ community his enemy. He even uses the word “gay” as an insult against women seeking ordination!

Do you agree with Wilson’s opinion on reparative therapy? Since Kevin DeYoung openly endorsed the plagiarized content of Wilson’s A Justice Primer, do you then accept the actions and words of Wilson as just? Do you think Wilson is qualified to speak on Justice, or Love/Respect based on his open endorsement of abusive psychological practices?

15. Further, Wilson has expressly stated that transgender women are little more than rapists. He equates allowing your child to attend a public school with Lot offering his daughters to the mob. This is incredibly sad because more than half of all transgender persons report having experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. Not to mention the occurrence of so-called “corrective rape” where transgender persons are violently raped as a means of “converting” them “back”. Yet Wilson paints these persons as the enemy. He tells parents that transgender women are perverts looking to ogle and assault their daughters. He goes out of his way, as it seems he so often does, to demonize victims and try to make them into perpetrators instead.Time and again, I have shown that Wilson intentionally and with a great deal of vitriol goes out of his way to demonize entire people groups. So I feel some questions need answered regarding the close associations between Wilson and many persons who represent the TGC.

Why have you ignored Wilson’s repeated failure to obey the biblical command to “love thy enemy” (5:43-48). Why would the TGC, regardless of their opinions of same-sex attraction, promote the “biblical” teachings of a man who fails the basic test of loving neighbor by imitating Christ’s love for us (Mark 12:28-34; 1 John 4)? Why have you failed to make a public statement condemning his tactics? Why have you not removed his teachings from your website? Why do you still have links selling his books as solid biblical teaching? If a Christian is known by their fruit (Matt 7:16-20), what fruit do you see in Wilson’s ministry?

16. Albert Mohler supports the idea of developing hormone therapies to “reverse” homosexuality. He completely ignores the fact that this has been tried before. A well-known example will demonstrate the dangers. After WW2, prominent British scientist Alan Turing was found guilty of being gay and forced to undergo “chemical castration” to reverse his homosexuality. As a result of the therapy, Turing became increasingly depressed and committed suicide. Yet Mohler would apparently see nothing wrong with the way Turing was treated and even thinks that a fetus should be altered to prevent it from being gay if a test were ever developed that could demonstrate sexuality prenatally. Let that sink in, if a chemical reparative treatment ever should exist, Mohler wants to use it on children still in their mother’s womb! Perhaps this has to do with the fact that he considers being gay an illness, an infection that we need to diagnose and treat like a doctor with a cancer patient.

Further, Mohler claims that no practicing LGBTQ+ person can be a Christian and that no one who disagrees with him in his stance on same-sex marriage is a Christian either. He considers these people the enemies of religious liberty and persecutors of the true Christians like himself. I want to say that again, Mohler openly states that anyone who disagrees with him is an enemy of “true” Christianity (see my response here).

Is it the official position of the TGC that all persons who disagree with you on a particular topic can automatically have their Christianity revoked? Even if being gay is a sin, do you believe that sin automatically cancels out faith? Or, is being gay and exceptionally egregious “sin” which automatically makes one reprehensible and unacceptable by God? Would you support a chemical reparative therapy if it should be discovered? If so, would you want a therapy which fundamentally alters the hormonal balance of a person used on a fetus in utero? How about on a small child?

17. Denny Burk has stated that even being gay is a sin. That is, he not only thinks that gay sex is a sin, but that their very existence is sinful. He states there is a difference between orientation and behavior, yet he equates being gay with suffering from “unnatural” lusts and engaging in “perverse” sex. He equates attraction with lustful desire and thus he refuses to recognize that the attraction and love a gay person feels for their partner has no more to do with sex than the attraction and love a straight female feels for the male she desires to marry. That is because Burk categorically defines being gay as a sex act (either of lust or fornication) while he considers being straight a default orientation. He does not believe you can be gay without engaging in illicit sex (see here for a counter argument. As a result, he even rules out celibacy as an acceptable expression of being gay, instead insisting gay persons need to be made straight by Christ – though he does oddly oppose reparative therapies).

Does the TGC agree with his assessment? Is being gay automatically an act of lust?  If so, why do you not call the attraction a man feels for a woman lust?  Why distinguish between lust and attraction among “heterosexuals” but deny the same distinction between “homosexuals?”  Why is the love between same-sex partners equated with fornication, assumed to be only expressed in sex, but the love between opposite sex partners believed to be more than mere sex?  Do you honestly believe Burk’s position is internally consistent OR that it represents a loving engagement with the LGBTQ+ community?

Concluding Thoughts

It is my opinion that the seventeen grievances addressed above, and the many like them I very well could have included, demonstrate an environment of sustained and unchecked injustice festering within the TGC.  You have commodified fear, then sold it to the weak and victimized as faith.  You have entrenched yourself in privilege, then built a god in your own image to keep the “peasants” from revolting.  And worst of all, you have built an empire which profiteers off the abuses suffered by its subjects, all the while silencing their voices of impoverished dissent.  Thus, I contend that your commitment to complementarian theology is a commitment to corruption, an adherence to a tradition in which even the leaders do not have the victim’s well-being at heart.

And so I must ask you:

 If the TGC refuses speak up against the systemic injustices inherent to those who practice its theology, in what way can it be understood to be The Gospel Coalition? Can the Gospel of Christ be joined to systems of abuse and still remain “good news,” or does the cross of Christ stand against such systems in solidarity with those they oppress (1 Cor 1:18-31)?  In what way, given the multiple citations above, and the many more we both know I could have cited, is The Gospel Coalition a Christ-centered or Christ-like organization?

 

I enumerate these grievous offenses as a brother in Christ seeking your repentance. And thus, as a sign of good faith, I invite you to read my blog and consider its contents during your deliberation process.  Thank you for your humble consideration of each of them.  I will patiently await your reply.

In the meantime, I bid you peace and wisdom in Christ as you consider your answer.

 

Nate Sparks

**Cover image from https://thouartthemandotorg.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/t4gteam.jpg**

 

 

 

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157 thoughts on “Injustice: an Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition

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    https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsThank you for your letter and the questions you raise. I have laughingly told people that I am feminist only as it applies to the way most churches look at and treat the subjects of complimentarianism and egalitarianism. The issues you raise in your letter go far beyond what I thought the problems were. I admit to being completely and thoroughly sickened. One person however does not surprise me to be found in the midst of such controversy; John Piper. After reading on Desiring God that a miscarriage was a direct result of a woman’s sin I was determined to be done with him. Having watched a daughter in law