Addressing another side of the conflict with Andrew White, a Care Group Leader from Redeemer Arlington. This post explores what was lost when Andrew, as a Christian decided not to reconcile in the 2013 to 2014 time frame. Not only was Andrew the only Christian out of 136 people who didn’t reconcile when he heard the news I returned to the Christian faith, the effects are far greater. In the end the Care Group Leader from a former Sovereign Grace church who boasted of how he was in the “healthiest church he had ever known” hurt himself, perhaps kept a third party out of the Kingdom of Heaven, and deeply hurt Redeemer Arlington. This journal entry explores all these opportunities that were lost forever.
“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”
Eric Roth “Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay”
“Our biggest regrets are not for the things we have done but for the things we haven’t done”
Chad Michael Murray
John 11:35 NIV
(Quick side note…Andrew White is a pseudonym and not a real name in this post)
A false accusation that was given birth to by Andrew White sent me into the darkest season of my life. During this time I was crawling out of a prolonged 5 year faith crisis that had consumed half my thirties. Andrew was fiercely loyal to defending Redeemer Arlington a former Sovereign Grace Ministries church. Before and during the time I knew Andrew I had rejected Christianity and called it a cancer and claimed how western civilization would be better off had it not existed. During this time I listened and consumed material from Seth Andrews, Christopher Hitchens and other atheists. My mind was slowly changing when Andrew committed a horrific betrayal. That false accusation he gave birth to could have destroyed me. As I came around I realized that I needed to clean up my part of the mess, and as such I approached 140 people and sought out forgiveness. I even sought out forgiveness from Sovereign Grace. My goal was to heal the pain of others as well as myself, rebuild bridges, and seek amends. During this 2013 and 2014 timeframe Andrew White would become the only Christian where things remained estranged. When he heard that I had returned to the Christian faith his response was to do nothing and as such he would remain the only Christian out of 140 people during this time frame who refused to reconcile or work things out. By refusing to work things out during this time frame the choices of his decision affected more than just Andrew White and Eagle they hurt many other people and possibly could have kept someone out of the Kingdom. Today’s post is going to be dark, but its going to explore all the opportunities that were lost when Andrew decided not to reconcile.
Andrew White and Redeemer Arlington
Andrew White and his wife Gillian were deeply involved in Redeemer Arlington from 2011 to 2014. I believe Andrew was one of the 4 Care Group Leaders for the church. This Air Force Captain and 2005 graduate of the Air Force Academy and I worked together. I opened up to him about losing my faith, and he started to invite me to Redeemer Arlington. When I started to research Sovereign Grace online I was horrified by what I was discovering. Stories of destroyed families and friendships, child sex abuse cover up and pastors along with churches who allegedly coached people not to report crimes to law enforcement. The last time I saw such a negative internet presence about a church was when I was looking into Mormonism much earlier in my life. While I was already hostile to Christianity being invited to Sovereign Grace helped me affirm atheism in many ways. I ranted about how Christianity was both a cancer and corrupt, and now I was being invited to a corrupt denomination. As more of a militant agnostic/atheist I reacted harshly by calling Sovereign Grace a cult, and claiming that Andrew was brainwashed. I even said that he worshiped Eric Simmons and his pastors in the same ways Mormons worship Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Two adults in their thirties clashed in a way that I had never seen, and never want to see again. Andrew tried to get me involve and I refused and vowed to stay out. Andrew called Redeemer “the healthiest church he knew” and said that over and over, to the point he sounded like a robot. I had never seen this kind of fierce loyalty before, except maybe in Mormonism earlier in life. I’m not trying to embellish or be unduly harsh I am just trying to state what happened in the 2011 to 2013 timeframe. During this time I was wrestling with who I was going to be. Am I going to be an agnostic/atheist or would I come back to the Christian faith one day? As I worked thongs out I slowly became convicted that this type of clashing is not good and that is not how I wanted to relate with Andrew. It was during that time that Andrew gave birth to a false accusation which I had to manage from May 8, 2013 until June 2014 when the Air Force transferred him to an Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. You can read how I managed the false accusation from a former Care Group Leader at Redeemer Arlington for 408 days here. As for me I ended up approaching 140 people to seek amends and work things out, which you can read about here. During that season of trying to work things out with 140 people Andrew chose not to reconcile and as a result opportunities to share the Gospel were forever lost. The reasons why I wanted to reconcile with Andrew were many and one of them is because I wanted to redeem the mess and help influence and fix those on the outside who were affected by the conflict between Andrew White and Eagle. But before I get into more of the conflict we need to look at Christians, mistakes and how mistakes are opportunities.
Christians, “I’m Sorry” and Mistakes Being Opportunities
Christians are not perfect, they are indeed flawed, sinful and will make mistakes. I think many atheists and those outside know this and would sympathize. What irritates a lot of people outside the faith is that Christians act arrogant, condescending, and are in denial about their sin. That said there is a difference between a Christian making mistakes and someone outside the faith making a mistake. For someone who follows the Lord mistakes, and moral failures are opportunities to redeem a mess. They are opportunities for healing, growing, and to grow others around you. Part of the problem is that many evangelicals have made morality an idol that they worship. Do you really need to believe in God in order to be moral? No, of course not. Many evangelicals have made morality an idol they worship and when that idol fails, which is a 100% guarantee, as Christians are human; the results can be disastrous. I think it leads some to commit to spiritual suicide. Instead what should be remembered is that when a Christian repents, or says they are sorry it has incredible potential to not only heal themselves, but others and the community they are in. Christians are known for arrogance today and part of the reason why is because Christians don’t say, “I’m sorry..” and are often indifferent to pain they have caused to others both inside and outside the faith. Let me relay a story that happened shortly before I was baptized at Fairfax Community Church in November 2013.
In the months and weeks leading up to my baptism I had fun on my personal Facebook page. During this entire season I left random numbers on my page. For example, I’d post the numbers 27, 35, 74, 84, 120, etc… as I resolved things with each person, forgave and reconciled. I was pouring my heart into resolving each situation with each person. After all I wanted to help heal others having caused deep pain. In my social circles among friends, co-workers, and acquaintances it was tearing people apart. I’d get comments and messages by people asking, “What do the numbers mean?” They thought it meant how many laps I swam in the pool or how much weight was lost. I kept people guessing. However in October 2013 one person was especially persistent and kept asking over and over. Finally I realized I needed to explain to him what happened which I did in this Facebook message below.
Here’s what the numbers mean. Back in 2008 I had a massive faith crisis and walked away from faith. I did a number of things I am not proud of and hurt a lot of people in the process. I pulled away form entire communities, old friendships, etc…in both confusion and pain. After about 5+ I realized I had made a major mistake. I turned back to faith, got back involved in the church, scheduled a baptism next month, and I realized I had all these broken relationships of people from previous churches, Christian ministries, etc… that I needed to take care of. Since I had walked away from so many people and hurt a number of people I started to go back and work things out with each person. I asked to be forgiven I said or did something that hurt them. I made amends and worked things out with a lot of people. When you see the numbers on my Facebook page, that shows how many people I have worked things out with. So for example as of today I’ve worked out things with 112 people. My final total is 134, which I am trying to get to. Will I? I don’t know..there are a few hurt people and time may help. But after screwing up so much this is something that I really want to get right. But that is what the numbers mean.
His response was, “Thanks, I thought it was sit ups, or laps in the pool. Sounds like you are on the right track!”
The Sunday before my Baptism and a couple of days after resolving the most difficult previous relationship thus far I went public on my Facebook page to finally answer the questions I have received. On November 17, I wrote the following:
For those wondering about the numbers…here is what they mean. From 2008 until earlier this year I went through a prolonged faith crisis. I burned some bridges and walked away from some of the communities I was previously involved. Next Sunday at Fairfax Community Church I’m getting baptized, but before I get baptized I wanted to go back and work things out with a large number of people. I did so and was forgiven by 122 people and am grateful for how things have turned out. But I don’t think the story is over yet, as the Lord is at work!
This was received by a lot of people in an amazing way. One day at work as I was continuing to manage the false accusation from Andrew White I hiked to the other side of the floor to use the restroom far away from where I sat. As I was walking I had a co-worker who stopped me in the hall at work. He read what I wrote on Facebook the previous night and said, “That’s just amazing you went back and sought out forgiveness from people you hurt! Christians don’t do that today. You don’t hear people doing that today.” He was stunned. I was stunned also as I had realized why so many people reacted the way they did when I approached them and asked to be forgiven. Since Christians often do not own their own mistakes, or care about people around them or are very shallow when they do, I think this is another overlooked reason as to why Christianity is so ugly in the United States today.
As I turn this post back to Andrew I want to highlight that for him, this mess, the false accusation he gave birth to was an incredible opportunity to show faith, practice forgiveness, reconcile and spiritually grow. However in the 2013 and 2014 time frame that is not what happened. Andrew learned of what I was doing when someone texted him in December 2013 that I was repenting in the hundreds. He also read my baptism announcement in The Wartburg Watch as well. Despite all this Andrew chose to do nothing during this time and out of 140 people overall who I approached (reconciled with 136 final total) Andrew who boasted of his faith, and how he was in the “healthiest church he knew” refused to reconcile or make amends. Today’s post is going to be sad as I want to reflect upon what was lost when Andrew decided not to reconcile. What was lost was much, much more than restoring a lost friendship between Eagle and Andrew White. In the end by refusing to reconcile it’s possible to state that he may have kept someone out of the Kingdom, hurt himself, and deeply hurt Redeemer Arlington. That is what this post is about…the opportunities that were lost forever.
The conflict between Andrew White and Eagle presented both individuals with opportunities to grow. After all the bigger the mess the more the opportunity to show the Gospel. Andrew and Eagle had clashed so deeply over many topics that we both had hurt each other. Pain and suffering in this context was an opportunity for Andrew in the following sense…Andrew could have learned a lot about repentance, owning his sin, and what grace is. In the darkest season of my life I had realized that I was sitting on a mountain of grace…all I wanted Andrew to do was approach me, show some Godly sorrow about his part of this mess we both made, and commit to working things out. The key for me is that I wanted him to take the initiative. Though I later learned that he didn’t mean for the false accusation to happen the way it did, the reality of the situation is that it did happen and it was instigated by Andrew. As I was told at work, Christians do not say “I’m sorry…” and all I wanted was for Andrew to express his remorse and say I’m sorry and work everything out in detail. After all in approaching 140 people and working things out with 136, I learned that forgiveness and repentance is not hit and run. Its not like a drive by shooting in Compton, Los Angeles, where you quickly say I’m sorry and flee. During the 2013 and 2014 time frame this did not happen, and in the end I realized that Andrew had hurt himself in a number of ways.
Andrew hurt his spiritual growth by refusing to take ownership for his part of the mess. By refusing to deal with it, it affected his ability to learn about grace, which could have helped him be a better father, and a better member of the Christian community especially at Redeemer Arlington. This is one of the ways that Redeemer was hurt. By taking ownership for his part of the mess Andrew’s spiritual potential could have increased substantially especially if he had repented. Like I said…mistakes are opportunities in the economy of the Lord. Plus given what the Neo-Calvinists say about manhood, I would suggest the greatest part of being a man is owning up your mistakes, whatever they may be. This is why in this post I recommended repentance being central to the Neo-Calvinist faith and how it could improve it substantially. But if Andrew had owned his mistake it also would have helped his marriage in the long run as well. How you ask? By being a recipient of incredible grace from someone he deeply hurt, he could turn around and give grace in a beautiful way to his wife, daughter, and people in his community. He’d appreciate grace much more having received it deeply. He would have been more humble, loving, kind and forgiving in the end. After being shown radical grace he could turn around and show it to others. By choosing not to reconcile in the 2013 and 2014 time frame Andrew also hurt people around him. Its how sin functions…when you sin you just don’t hurt yourself, you hurt others in your midst. In the 2013 to 2014 time frame all this was lost, and what could have been the biggest spiritual lesson of his life was lost. Why do I say the biggest spiritual lesson? Some people told me when I approached them and asked for forgiveness they had told me it was the highlight of their life. For me I was stunned, and for me it also became a cornerstone of how I look at things today. Furthermore when you look at scripture and you look at some of the main characters…Moses, David, Thomas, Paul, Peter, etc… they all share one thing in common. Though the stories are different they each had a massive and critical failure in their life. How they responded to that failure defined how the Lord used them in incredible ways. Whether it be murder, doubt, adultery, or betrayal they often repented and dealt with their sin. After they dealt with it a new chapter was opened in their life and they were used greatly by the Lord. That is what Andrew could have experienced had he repented, a new chapter could have opened up in Andrew’s life and the results of it could have been profound. However, this story would be different in the end he lost greatly and that is something that Andrew should mourn. I’ve mourned this and still do. I cried a few times over this in the 2013 and 2014 time frame.
A Third Party
On May 8, 2013 Andrew actually dragged a third party into the situation when he gave birth to the false accusation. This third party really wasn’t much of anything spiritually and I heard him talk with an atheist from time to time and agree with him as to why would people go to church. This individual was highly unlikely to darken the door of a church and probably had preconceived notions about Christians based upon earlier experiences of life. When Andrew gave birth to the false accusation he also put this individual in a difficult position on only partial information. Now while he made mistakes as well, he didn’t fully understand the entire situation. Life isn’t fair…I know that I learned that earlier on in life, but what played out in this situation was troubling. In October 2013 Andrew resumed proselytizing in our place of work and tried to get another co-worker Patricia involved in Redeemer Arlington. I know when I have read SGM Survivors in the past they talk about how Sovereign Grace and former SGM churches tend to cannibalize Christians from other churches as compared to working with people outside the faith. Of course the other possibility is that in a narrow mindset a person may in all likelihood believe their Sovereign Grace church or movement is the only real form of Christianity. I don’t know I am just exploring that thought here. When I exited my faith crisis I spent a lot of time praying and pleading with God for Andrew to come around. Here’s why…in the case of the third party that Andrew had dragged into the situation Andrew and I had a unique opportunity to show someone outside the faith both forgiveness and reconciliation. To someone who was very indifferent to faith and God Andrew and I by working through and reconciling could have shattered some of those preconceived notions. It was an opportunity that was forever lost when Andrew decided not to reconcile in the 2013 and 2014 time frame. Its one of the things I grieved and could have been the neatest spiritual experiences of both Andrew and myself, and sadly it was also lost.
As sad as the previous section is I would suggest the biggest opportunity lost was with Redeemer Arlington, and with that let me explain why. When I started to approach people and ask to be forgiven I honestly had no idea in the very beginning how it would be received. I expected maybe about 50% to receive me and 50% to say, “get lost…” I certainly didn’t expect things to go the way they did. In the end 136 people or 96% of all the people I approached responded. It stunned me, and brought me to my knees. It happened gradually and as I worked through each one I was slowly finding myself in a unique situation, as the tables were turning on me and the more people forgave me the more grace I wanted to both give to people and the more I wanted to resolve the remaining situations. Each time I got an email, met with someone in person or spoke with them over the phone while it was both freeing I knew I had to include more people. After all as I learned when it comes to forgiveness you have to go all the way, if you hold back in any form its undermined. You can’t partially forgive.
During this time I reflected a lot on the things I said to Andrew and what I called his church. I called it a cult, was brazen and tore it down frequently and often. Christopher Hitchens in “Letters to a Young Contrarian” calls for people to seek out argument, and provoke. I did that in a way that would have made Christopher Hitchens probably smile with joy as he was drinking Johnny Walker Black. In the end it also filled me with great shame. I really wanted to extend grace to Redeemer Arlington and do so in a way that helped Andrew heal. After all I know how he loved it. However, I couldn’t approach Redeemer and ask for forgiveness because of the false accusation so instead I decided to approach Stephen Altoregge of Sovereign Grace Indiana Pennsylvania. To read about that in full detail you can do so here. But in the end that wasn’t good enough because my clashing and strife was not over Sovereign Grace Indiana Pennsylvania, it was over Redeemer Arlington. So during most of the 2013 and 2014 time frame I prayed that I could approach Redeemer and work things out and seek their forgiveness. What I wanted to do and what I prayed for was to seek forgiveness from the congregation. Sometimes I prayed so hard for this that I dreamed about it at night. Sometimes in my dreams as I slept I saw myself before the congregation publically asking for forgiveness not only for calling it a cult, but for some of what I said at SGM Survivors. I wanted to do this to re-affirm Andrew and give him something that he could have seen in a unique light. After all how many people would do something like that today? It could have been a unique situation for Redeemer in having an outsider interacting and asking for forgiveness publically. It could have been a win for Eagle, Andrew White, Redeemer’s leadership and the members. Instead that would not happen, and what I prayed for was lost when Andrew left Redeemer for Colorado Springs in June 2014 with a hardened heart.
Over the 2013 time frame I prayed for all the above to happen as if could have been unique and it could have been amazing. God could have been glorified, and the fruits of such effort could have been incredible. Instead that would not happen. I was dumbstruck as to how someone who boasted of their sanctification of their marriage and his wife Gillian and of how they were involved “in the healthiest church they knew” could have reacted in such a way? Like sand through my fingers some of the most amazing opportunities were lost when Andrew chose not to reconcile. Is this behavior part of the Sovereign Grace mindset? Is it pride? Or is it someone who struggled with basic Christian fundamentals? Or is it something altogether different? Overall this is a loss that I hope and pray that Andrew feels so he won’t make the same mistake again. Its a loss that is profound and sad. It could have resulted in a third party maybe being tipped into the Kingdom, and it could have seen much fruit all around…but in the 2013 to 2014 timeframe Andrew White rejected it. I’m puzzled as to how someone who is close to his Navigators Director who married him in June 2005 and has spoken for him in the United States about his faith can miss such an opportunity. It troubles me…as I wind this essay down the one thing that pulls at my heart is something that Jesus did in scripture. Jesus wept. I believe that Jesus would weep over the situation knowing that someone who boasted of his faith would choose not to forgive and reconcile. Jesus would weep over the lost spiritual opportunities for Andrew to grow, and have been more sanctified. Jesus would weep over how Andrew’s actions could have affected a third party for his kingdom. Jesus would weep over how such conflict could have glorified him in a local body of believers known as Redeemer Arlington. While Jesus wept I also physically wept over what was lost.