Sunday, January 4, 2009

Examples of the Posterity of the Shepherding Movement: Geoff Botkin and Surviving Sovereign Grace Ministries

A few years ago, I read a book review of a book on the Shepherding movement that grew out of the Charismatic Renewal movement that started in the 1960s. The reviewer said that it seemed pointless to rehash a movement and a mindset that was old news and past-tense. I remember wondering what planet this person lived on? They certainly had not lived in my corner of the universe.

Shepherding is anything but past tense, and most everything that shepherding did is still alive and as active as it ever was. Though there is not a tremendous focus on the one-on-one (or one-over-one) pastoral care that some of the original groups followed, the other spiritually abusive practices persisted. Some of those include the tremendous focus on piety and an overt focus on submission to and governance by church leadership under the guise of personal concern for parishioners. These groups also spend a great deal of energy maintaining milieu control, urging others to refrain from “sowing discord among the brethren.”

Geoff Botkin and the Great Commission Group

I’ve looked and looked for information and I have requested information about Geoff Botkin from several Great Commission recovery websites, but I cannot find where Geoff Botkin ever renounced the shepherding practices and doctrines of the GC shepherding Bible-based cult. I am not surprised that he has taken up with a group with nearly identical doctrines, as Vision Forum follows Bill Gothard’s teachings but with a particularly cruel habit of denouncing their critics, something not all that commonly seen with Bill Gothard.

I also keep thinking of a friend of mine whose 4 or 5 year old daughter snuck into the room while she was watching the “Return of the Daughters” video. The little girl very seriously asked her mother whether “those were girls or robots.” I found this pretty amazing, as I did the behavior of the girls while they were observed at an homeschooling conference this past year. The comments begin HERE and follow in several posts, with notes from the presentation. And I’ve felt pretty disturbed by this information anyway, and I’m even more concerned after recalling what others have observed about the early discipline practices that produce young children, even an infant, that can sit for long periods of time without fussing. These behaviors in children were observed in other families from Botkin’s group during the same time that he worked for the Great Commission in Silver Spring, noted as the group’s administrative assistant.

Sovereign Grace Ministries Contacts Peacekeeper Ministries

The saga of “Noel” and her husband “Grizzly” continues on the Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors website. If you ever want to peer into the types of things that go on in a Shepherding group or what it is like to recover from a group, you can get a very good idea from reading the saga of “Noel” and the comments that follow her account in several threads. I spent nearly two days reading her account in of what happened to her daughter in short sections because I found so many elements of the story so familiar and disturbing. If I had not experienced something similar in other churches (that Noel describes occurring while at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church), then I observed others that have endured these things. I have too many friends who. have endured very similar experiences. Her daughter was abused and harmed, yet the church treated her family as though they were the ones who instigated great harm and were treated as offenders. It was painfully typical for me to read.

Earlier today, the website announced that Peacemaker Ministries contacted the person who is represented by the pseudonym “Noel.” As this was a pseudonym, the local church would have identified the family through the specifics in the story, thus contacting Peacemaker. Ken Sande, the founder and president of the organization apparently contacted the family personally.

From Noel’s comment #41:

We did mention to Mr. Sande that the only reason they showed any concern for our “hurtin” family was because they were getting bad PR. They have not shown concern for any other “hurtin” families as far we we know. One of our first questions to Mr. Sande was how he knew our names and where he got our contact info (obviously he had to have contact with the church) We expressed our concern that he would have been hired by SGM and therefore biased. We also expressed that his material was put in our face prior to every one of those pastors meetings where we were not heard, not covered, not ministered to, and finally “framed” as liars. We offered that if the pastors had misused the Peacemaker material it certainly did not cultivate an ability to trust him in reconciliation of any sort now. We expressed a primary concern for other families and that there can be no resolution with them. We are planning to seek counsel about how to move forward with this. We are exploring many avenues.....* addendum comment #44: I meant to say there can be no resolution without the other “hurtin” families.

The blog host notes in the main post:

So I think that SGM’s move to involve Peacemakers actually raises far more issues than it settles. I have more questions now than ever before - and if you are a current member of a Sovereign Grace church, you should, too....So yes, while it would be nice if Noel’s former pastors were to apologize to her family for attempting to minimize the crime that was committed against them and for attempting to protect a child rapist, Noel and her husband did not come forward with their story because they were seeking an apology…or “peace” with Sovereign Grace Ministries....Secondly, if SGM is truly interested in pursuing “peace” with Noel and her husband, are Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders going to quit minimizing what happened and actually deal with the root causes - root causes that are organization-wide! - that led to the pastors’ really strange and terrible responses to a clear case of child sex abuse?

For instance, in this “peace-making” process, is SGM going to address the strange way that they downplayed the sins of the criminal and instead focused on the suspected sins of the victims? Is SGM going to address its deeply held and organization-wide tendency to deflect real concerns and criticisms by turning the conversation around so that the person pointing out the concerns or making the criticisms then finds himself suddenly talking about his OWN possible sins?

Will a “peace-making” process involve SGM “opening the vaults” and now disclosing just how many other victims of sexual abuse have been handled in the exact same way as Noel and her family were treated? Will they go back and consult all the copious records they keep on their members and refresh their memories as to all the other similar cases, and then make a clean breast of what they’ve done?

....Will they ditch the concept - rooted in the old 1980s “Shepherding Movement” - of teaching members that it is normal and expected for them to have their pastors weigh in on all important decisions? Will they can the idea that pastors have the authority to, for instance, “release” a family to move to another state, or to “counsel against” such a move?

I could easily post the entire blog piece here.

Several comments that followed pointed out that CJ Mahaney who oversees the SGM organization has a professional relationship with Mr. Sande, and their ministries have participated with one another in the past. Another comment claims that Mr. Sande’s recommendation also appears on one of CJ Mahaney’s books. I would think that considering the professional loyalties that Mr. Sande would have recused himself from the situation. Unless SGM wants to claim that the contact from Peacemaker Ministries was not an official contact from the organization but just a comment of concern. (????)

Please pray for these dear people, all those who have come forward with similar stories of abuse and for those in other churches who have been treated in this way (both inside and outside of SGM). I know many such people myself. The group has attempted milieu control and will likely rally to have this information taken offline. If they cannot do so, they will “poison the well” and will preach against the sin of gossip to keep their following from reviewing the information. The next step such groups generally take usually follows with even more ad hominem tactics to demoralize or discount those who have made these statements so that the information will seem far less credible, in the event that anyone does happen to listen. I have offered many prayers for the leadership in many other such groups, and I have never seen repentance. These men would have so much to repent of, as many have stated, it would no longer be the same church system. The doctrines would have to change, and so many people would have to step out of their leadership positions, according to those posting on earlier threads. But occasionally, miracles do happen.

And on another note, I learned today that there are two similar organizations bearing similar names.... that have nothing whatsoever to do with one another.

  • There is also an unrelated group that has nothing to do with this group named “PeaceMakers International” of Wheaton, IL, and that President’s name is Bill Fields.