An open letter to the new Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church, P.J. Smyth. This open letter encourages P.J. to lead Covenant Life Church in repentance. Repent of the ghosts of Sovereign Grace, the allegations of covering up child sex abuse and spiritual abuse. Repent of how some made C.J. Mahaney God. This encourages CLC to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission just like South Africa. There is a lot to be learned from the dismantling of apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s efforts at reconciliation. This letter has other suggestions to help make Covenant Life healthy.
“Reconstruction goes hand in hand with reconciliation.”
Nelson Mandela – June 23, 1996
“Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice. It means making a success of our plans for reconstruction and development.”
Nelson Mandela – December 16, 1995
“During his presidency, Mr Mandela did indeed use his great responsibility to assure South Africans from all our communities that he had all their interests at heart. He made a unique contribution not only to the establishment of our constitutional democracy but also to the cause of national reconciliation and nation-building. Nelson Mandela’s courage, charm and commitment to reconciliation and to the Constitution, were an inspiration not only for South Africans but for the whole world. I believe that his example will live on and that it will continue to inspire all South Africans to achieve his vision of non-racialism, justice, human dignity and equality for all.
F.W. de Klerk on Nelson Mandela upon his death
Nelson Mandela’s inaugural address
It is my hope that this open letter would follow Sue Robb’s statement at the Ministry Microphone at Covenant Life Church on January 10, 2015 which Eagle attended.
Allow me the opportunity to introduce myself to you. My name is Eagle and I write The Wondering Eagle. I never imagined I would pen a blog. This blog was birthed out of pain and walking through the darkest season in my life that came from someone who was a Care Group Leader at Eric Simmons’ Redeemer Arlington. Redeemer was a church plant of Covenant Life Church. I went through something very psychologically traumatic, horrific and painful. I don’t know why I am not a raging atheist speaking about how Christianity is a cancer. Out of that experience I started to write with the goal and determination to make sure that no one endures what I endured. It’s my goal to make sure that others do not get hurt. That is a driving force for why I sometimes stay up to 2:00 a.m. and work on these posts. There is something terribly wrong, and highly dysfunctional when the fruit of your faith is hubris, destroyed lives, and pain. P.J. I will be writing about you and Covenant Life Church from time to time. I have already written this post, and I have researched your Advance movement in this post. I decided to write about you when someone from SGM Survivors asked me to do so. I attended and listened to you first preach, and I was there again this past Sunday. After all Kris at Survivors has largely quit and is not writing anymore about Covenant Life. I want you to know that this blog will be writing and covering issues in evangelical Christianity in the Washington, D.C. area. I intend to go a little further that my East Coast Mom in my bid to protect people. If necessary I will use this blog as a hammer, but that is not something I honestly desire to do. For your knowledge P.J. I take my moniker from my mascot, The Golden Eagles at my alma mater Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In this letter to you today I want to spend sometime educating members and attenders of Covenant Life on the history of South African apartheid. How it came to be and its dismantling and what you and the African continent were a witness to. Much of this information I drew from Wikipedia, and other sources. Then I also have a list of suggestions for you to help make Covenant Life Church healthy, as I believe it is far from healthy today.
P.J. as you will no doubt learn from me, I love history. After all posts like this, this as well as this only confirm how much of a nerd I am when it comes to history. I want to remind you of South Africa’s history in regards to apartheid. Sometimes to move forward you need to look backward. If I make any mistakes in this I invite correction. The racial division began long before 1948. In 1913 the Land Act was passed which began territorial segregation and made it illegal for blacks to work as sharecroppers. The opposition to the Land Act resulted in the formation of the South African National Native Congress, which in time became the African National Congress. In 1948 the Afrikaner National Party won the election under the banner “apartheid.” The goal that the ANP had was not only to separate the white minority of South Africa from the non-white majority, but separate non-whites from each other. In addition they wanted to divide black South Africans along tribal lines and splinter their political power. In 1950 apartheid officially became law with the banning of interracial marriages of whites and people of other races. Sexual relations between black and white South Africans was prohibited and a crime I believe. The basic frame work for the new law on apartheid came in the infamous Population Registration Act of 1950 which classified all South Africans by race. Those races are the Bantu (Black Africans), Colored (mixed race) and white. New laws required non-whites to carry documents authorizing their presence in restricted areas. Segregation was enforced with the creation of public facilities for whites and non-whites. Political involvement was limited as non-whites could not participate in the national government,
Apartheid laws were refined into what would be called “separate development” under Prime Minister Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd who governed from 1958 until South Africa became a republic. Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated in 1966. Part of his legacy is the Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 which created 10 Bantu homelands. This further divided the blacks and allowed the government to claim that there was no black majority. “Citizens” of Bantustans were removed from the nations political body. Another legacy that came about and was practiced from 1961 until 1994 is that the government forcibly removed black South Africans from rural areas officially designated as “white” to the homelands and sold their land at low prices to white farmers. 3.5 million people were displaced and forcefully removed. Resistance to apartheid grew in the 1950’s. In 1960 in the black township of Sharpesville, the police opened fire on a group of unarmed blacks associated with the Pan-African Congress, which is an offshoot of the African National Congress. The goal was to defy arrest, and as a result 67 blacks were killed. The government cracked down on resistance leaders and rolled them up. One person rolled up a few years before this occurred is a man named Nelson Mandela. He was eventually acquitted in the Treason Trial. In January of 1962 Mandela left South Africa and traveled to gain support for armed struggle. He was arrested upon his return. He was tried for leaving the country without permission and inciting workers to strike for which he was jailed. On October 9, 1963 Mandela stood trial for sabotage at what was known as the Rivonia Trial. On that date he spoke about his resistance to apartheid in these immortalized words.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
On June 11, 1964 Mandela and 7 others were convicted, and the next day sentenced to life imprisonment. He was sent to Robben Island prison. While in prison Mandela could not attend the funeral of his mother or oldest son. In 1976 police opened fire on black children in Soweto township who were protesting language requirements . This harsh crackdown drew international attention to the situation. Previously in 1973 the United Nations General Assembly denounced apartheid, and in 1976 the United Nations Security Council voted to impose a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985 the United States imposed economic sanctions on South Africa as well. In South Africa great pressure was placed on the National Party government of Pieter Botha to repeal apartheid. Reforms that were made fell short and in 1989 Botha stepped aside and was replaced by F.W. DeKlerk. In 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster prison. DeKlerk believed apartheid was unsustainable and met with Mandela in December 1989. DeKlerk agreed to legalize all banned political parties and to release Mandela with no conditions attached on February 11, 1990. Negotiations to end apartheid started in 1990 and 1991. In December of 1991 the Convention for a Democratic South Africa began which made little progress. In December 1992 the second Convention for a Democratic South Africa talks were held, where DeKlerk wanted a federal system, and a rotating Presidency to protect ethnic minorities. He was met with opposition. Following the Biopatang Massacre Mandela called for UN Peacekeepers to intervene in South Africa to prevent “state terrorism” as there were concerns that parts of the state were encouraging the problem. The African National Congress organized the largest strikes in South African history. Eventually Mandela returned to negotiations and compromises were made. In the end the following was agreed to by both Nelson Mandela and F.W. DeKlerk: a general election that was to be multiracial would be held that resulted in a five year coalition government of national unity and gave the National Party continuing influence. The African National Congress agreed to safe guard the jobs of white civil servants. Also agreed upon is an interim constitution that guaranteed separation of powers, creating a constitutional court, and the development of a United States style Bill of Rights. The country was to be divided into 9 provinces with its own premier and civil service. In the end it was a compromise between DeKlerk’s and Mandela’s desires.
The general election in South Africa was scheduled to occur on April 27, 1994. Mandela met with the Afrikiner leaders and convinced them to work within the democratic system. DeKlerk and Mandela debated on South African television and people were stunned when he went over and shook DeKlerks’ hand. The African National Congress took 62% of the vote and won 7 provinces. Some black South Africans stood in line for 3 days in their desire to vote. The first act that the National Assembly did upon convening is to formally elect Nelson Mandela as the President, and his inauguration occurred on May 10, 1994. While Mandela was the President his deputy was F.W. DeKlerk, and Thabo Mbkei. That is the history of how apartheid in South Africa rose and its eventual demise.
Repenting of Sovereign Grace and Creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
P.J. I write about South African history and the rise and fall of apartheid for one reason. You are unique in that you saw parts of this in your life. You were a witness to some of this at differing stages and you’ve lived in a country that is still healing and dealing with scars. Is South Africa fully healed? I would say no….not when you see news stories like this still appearing occasionally. But South Africa experienced a lot of change. Its made significant steps but it needs to keep moving forward. Therefore I am going to tell you something that I wrote to Redeemer Arlington in this post here.
Covenant Life Church starting with the Senior Pastor and all members need to repent and confront their ghosts and past of Sovereign Grace Ministries which still linger.
Covenant Life needs to repent of the allegations of covering up child sex abuse. It also needs to repent of the allegations of covering up domestic and spiritual abuse. Covenant Life needs to repent of the fact that it has not repented when it should have done so already. There were many at Covenant Life who made C.J. Mahaney God, and the church needs to repent of that also. Covenant Life needs to repent to those who have been shunned who are no longer affiliated with the church anymore. Plus Covenant Life needs to repent to those who were a part of the lawsuit who were hurt by the church’s actions and behavior. The only way Covenant Life can go forward is if it confronts its past. That is the only way ahead to health, wholeness and healing. Covenant Life Church needs to repent. Forgive me for putting it like this…but repentance is like pornography in this one sense – you know it when you see it. False, cheesy, or shallow repentance can be insulting and bring about more pain. Partial of poor attempts at forgiveness will be easily spotted. For example in the past Covenant Life read a statement about repentance but it became clear to many that it was vetted by an attorney first. Is that repentance? People need the church to repent so that people can heal. I am working on an essay on this topic now…but is one of the reasons why people don’t respect Christianity today because Christian’s don’t repent or say they are sorry today? If Covenant Life want’s to do something unique and powerful that would grab attention and stun people in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area it should admit its wrong doing. In repenting Covenant Life should work with each person who has been wronged or hurt. For example some people may say they don’t want to hear from Covenant Life. Honor that request and know you approached that person in good faith and met your obligation. Others may be in pain and need to be walked with. Walk with them for a time, or listen to them. Whether your like it or not they were hurt by your church and the church has a responsibility to its wounded. If a person in the lawsuit is dealing with mental health issues from child sex abuse then assist them, help and offer to pay for their counseling. When it comes to repenting its more than just words as anyone can say anything and not mean it. Actions scream loud and if you do that in deep sincerity you will be amazed as to how people will respond.
So my first advice is to repent. If you want a template, you can find one here. After all I did something unique in my own life. Plus in my repentance I did something that C.J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll can’t and will not do. Who knows…maybe I should write a book about humility and give an expository sermon at T4G?
The next advice is to have former staff who were involved in Covenant Life over the years who left come back and repent. That includes everyone…from CJ Mahaney’s personal secretary to Kenneth Maresco, all the way to Grant Laymen. Arrange and have them come back and repent of their errors, mistakes, and past wrong doing. There is plenty that needs to be addressed. Kenneth has plenty to repent of and Grant Layman admitted in a court of law under oath that nothing was done about Nate Morales. Grant Layman can repent for letting a wolf go loose and not doing his responsibility in reporting Nate Morales. Many former staff and leaders need to come clean, they need to repent. If they do so THEN I think they could be used much more by God than they can now. As of right now I would strongly state that their best times are in their past and instead they face their spiritual sunset. Instead by doing the right thing they would have a spiritual morning, a dawn of incredible beauty. But they all need to repent of past wrongs.
One of the things that helped South Africa move forward in the post apartheid days was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission as you know P.J. was crucial in transitioning South Africa from apartheid to a fully functioning democracy. Individuals who were victims of gross human rights abuses were invited to give statements about their experiences. Some of this was handled behind the scenes others were done publically. Perpetrators of violence in South Africa could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. It was followed up by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation in 2000 which was the successor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Why doesn’t Covenant Life have a similar process and develop their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Allow people to come forward and share their hurts and pain. Allow members from the SGM lawsuit to come forward and talk about how Covenant Life hurt them. Mitigate all the issues from SGM Survivors regarding Covenant Life. That means all…from what was said about Mark Hoffman to Charles Llewellyn. This could allow Covenant Life to face its past. I am not talking about dwelling on issues either but how well this is handled will indicate how well this church will be able to move forward. If its handled well and dealt with properly this could free the church and allow it to move forward.
P.J. you no doubt are aware of the story of Adriaan Vlok. Adriaan Vlok was the South African Minister of Law and Order from 1986 and 1991. A unit of Vlok’s police force used Gestapo like tactics to dispose, and murder opponents of apartheid. The atrocities were heinous and unspeakable. They included kidnapping, drugging, and murdering anti-apartheid fighters. One of the incidents involves pushing a bus off a cliff that was filled with activists opposed to apartheid. In the course of time the former South African minister repented and went around washing people’s feet. He even approached Frank Chikane who his ministry tried to kill and washed his feet and sought his forgiveness in the process. There is a fantastic article about Adriaan Vlok here that I hope every member and attender of Covenant Life Church will read and contemplate on.
What if something similar like that happened at Covenant Life? What if the entire congregation – each and every person, repented for their past in Sovereign Grace? What if they collectively repented for the allegations of criminal activity that was covered up, and repented for their own personal failing? What if each and every member and attender approached as many people as possible and sought out forgiveness and worked to rectify old hurts? What if old and estranged relatives who no longer speak to each other had the silence broken by a phone call or visit someone saying. “I was wrong for shunning you…will you forgive me? Let’s work everything out.” What if the entire church did it in such a way that it even led for P.J. washing the feet of the people hurt by Sovereign Grace who had filed the lawsuit? Wouldn’t that be a sight to see. It is my sincere hope that this takes place and that Covenant Life can move together – as one body and repent for its pain and mistakes. If its done correctly and out of passion the ghosts that haunt the organization will lift and disappear.
Recommendations from an Outsider to Help Make Covenant Life Healthy
P.J. there is a lot of ground to say in addition to what I said about reconciliation, forgiveness and perhaps a Covenant Life Truth and Reconciliation above. Let’s start to move through all the other issues which need to be addressed.
- Drop CLC’s Affiliation with 9 Marks: 9 Marks is a modern day form of totalitarianism that fails miserably. Mark Dever showed CLC that 9 Marks only applies to the peons sitting in the pews and not to people like C.J. Mahaney. When C.J. fled in all his manliness to Capitol Hill Baptist Church Mark Dever should have asked him why he was fleeing church discipline? Afterward he should have given C.J. a good kick in the ass, and told him to go back to Covenant Life. 9 Marks is dated and corrupt. It only applies to the pew peons and not to the leadership. Any organization that has hints of favoritism is problematic from that point forward. 9 Marks sounds good buts its a failed polity. Is it any surprise that there have been some incredible scandals involving failed 9 Marks churches? Take The Village Church led by Matt Chandler…they tried to discipline a female, Karen Hinkley who annulled her marriage to a child pornography addict. 9 Marks doesn’t know how to practice church discipline. You came from a country P.J. that kicked apartheid into the dust bin of history. Well….9 Marks needs to follow apartheid into history. It has no place in the modern evangelical church. It is my belief and contention that 9 Marks stands against everything that Jesus Christ stood for.
- Abolish Membership Covenants: P.J. you need to abolish membership covenants…as they are nothing but a modern form of slavery. Membership covenants do not show faith, if anything they highlight the lack of a congregation’s faith in the Lord. It reveals how insecure a congregation is in trying to control people. Membership covenants are authoritarian and they have no place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is being extolled and promoted by Jonathan Leeman and Mark Dever is kind of ironic in this one sense. The Southern Baptist Convention as I understand it was born out of the belief that slavery was Biblical. The Baptists fractured between the north and the south prior to the Civil War. So here you have Jonathan Leeman and Mark Dever leading the charge in taking that wing of the SBC back to its roots in slavery. How delightful!
- Avoid the Shepherding Movement: Sovereign Grace never repented of the shepherding movement. The shepherding movement is nothing but pain, destroyed lives and torn apart families. Covenant Life needs to be removed from that mindset. Learn from the past so you don’t repeat it.
- Don’t Let the Washington, D.C. Area Get to Your Head: This area attracts all the wrong kinds of people. Individuals who want to make a name for themselves or make a difference. This area can also be a meat grinder. What Covenant Life needs is someone who is not influenced by the pressures and the issues in the area. Too many people get consumed by their desire to make a difference and as a result they get swallowed up in this city. I am not asking you to be insular as well. I am asking you to keep the this place in perspective. There is a lot of politics, pressure and type A personalities here. The last thing this area needs is more of that to the mix.
- Take Care and Love People: Sovereign Grace had a warped and bastardized view of love. When your policies create blogs like SGM Survivors and The Wartburg Watch that should be a red flag. Love is not about authority. Love is about walking and working with people through all areas of life and being there for them in a time of need. Meet and work with people in the hospital, a hospice, a prison, a school, and wherever else that need exists. Love is gentle, love is kind. Love builds up and supports people. Love is unique and stands out. The guy writing this learned about love and grace while dealing with a major bacterial infection in a hospital in Fairfax in July 2012.
I do not envy you P.J. as you are now at ground zero for what was a highly controversial movement that many orthodox evangelical Christians over the years have likened to a cult. So your hands are full and you have a job to do. It’s going to be difficult and while saying all that I also wish you the best. Personally I prefer to write loving, affirming posts like this one or this one. I don’t have a penchant to write hard hitting posts dealing with dishonesty, deceit or issues in the end. I will communicate this to you…if Covenant Life engages in further cover up of child sex abuse or questionable church discipline I will write about it and hammer the topic. However, instead I want to write good posts over the next year or two that highlight how a controversial church is getting healthy and dismantling a controlling theology and distancing itself from movements like 9 Marks. I think if you can pull that off that would be quite a coup and I would be impressed.
You came from a country that because of apartheid was a blight on the international community. It was the subject of controversy, sanctions, open racism, and deep seated hatred. That said South Africa has come a long way, and you were able to witness some of that. This was in your backyard, in your land. South Africa in the course of time went from a nation-state that was a subject of contempt to a model nation in Africa and beyond. The process based off the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a model now used in other countries. South Africa has come together and slowly getting better. The healing that was done in South Africa I hope can be duplicated in Covenant Life Church. Covenant Life is in deep pain, and it needs attention. Just as a medical professional sometimes needs to re-open an infected wound to clean and drain it the infection that is in Covenant Life needs to be addressed. It’s my honest hope that the church will succeed and that these problems will be resolved. The main reason why you need to confront these problems is because they do not go away…instead they linger and grow in the course of time.
It is my hope that two similar things could happen. What would happen if every member and attender of Covenant Life became like Adriaan Vlok and worked hard at repenting, washing feet and seeking forgiveness in a way that stunned people? What if each and every member and attender did that, can you imagine where the church would be? Then there is one other thing that I hope can happen. One of the most memorable moments in South African history was when Nelson Mandela put on the jersey of the Springbok rugby team and threw his support behind a team that blacks in South Africa had contempt. His effort at reconciliation was amazing. Its my hope that Covenant Life can have their own “Springbok jersey” moment. What that would be…I am not sure. I will leave individuals to watch that event in South African history below
In winding this down I wish you the best, and I hope you do the right thing. Mistakes and moral failures can be opportunities. I hope that you can address these issues and face them. I want to see Covenant Life succeed in the end. I mean that P.J. Take care of yourself and welcome to the D.C. area. With that I will close with some Phil Wickham that was sung Sunday morning.