The Silencing of the Oppressed in SGM, Part 2

chains broken

In my experience, any time someone tells a personal story, there is something to be learned. This holds true for my post yesterday (Part 1), both for reading Hännah Ettinger’s story, and for the story that unfolded in the response from pastor Stephen Altrogge.

Hännah’s story enlightened me to the circumstances of her life as she attempted to find her place in a church that doesn’t allow women to teach. The situation of her church life and family life led her to a need for self discovery, to decide what her personal boundaries were. She notes that she hasn’t reached any conclusions about the “reformed” theology behind the SGM church she attended because she was so confused by the legalism that proceeded from the members. She ended with a positive message to the people around her and in the world who may have been hurt by churches and spiritual abuse.
In contrast, she is very critical of C.J. Mahaney’s oversimplification of life into pert responses and her congregation’s adoption of his terms into prescribed cultural touchstones. She points out how his comments were used to homogenize interactions within the community, but without offering support for people who needed the comfort of freedom of expression.
She condemns in strong words the strictures of the church culture, which dictated everything from how she expressed herself in conversation to how she dressed and what hobbies she pursued. She doesn’t make a distinction here, but I think its worth it to point out that in many of these churches, families are given freedom to choose whatever they want for thier kids, which may harm their interactions with peers. For instance, one family may allow their kids to watch Disney movies, while another may prevent their kids from even watching cartoons at all. My point is, some of the situations that stifled Hännah may have originated from her parents’ preferences. Conversely, she also might have found peer pressure stifling to her enjoyment of hobbies and interests if THEIR parents were more strict. I say this to point out the variance of individual experiences in churches like these.

She is critical of her home life, of parents who put more emphasis on her example to her siblings than the need of the individual child to find herself and make mistakes and learn from them.

Hännah links directly to a site that many members of SGM have been told not to go to, SGM Survivors. She says she stands with the hundreds of people who post there every week. She speaks out against techniques that SGM people have publically adhered to in the past, like “first time obedience” with children, and “assuming the best about those in authority” which is still being publically promoted in their literature today.

Then we see the second story. Here are the other comments of Stephen Altrogge in the blog post:

“…I would be the first to point out many problems in SGM. But the problem with this article is that it is not a fair representation of the big picture. Rachel, as a blogger you have a responsibility to look at the whole picture.”

This is the second time that Stephen has ignored the person who wrote the story, Hännah, and directly appealed to authority, Rachel, to “fix” the post. In my previous post, I listed where he admitted that there were problems in SGM. But I have read his blog, I have heard his messages and I have not heard him ever being the first person to point out problems that need to be addressed in SGM. If this is something he does regularly, I would love to read about it. I don’t know what he wants to accomplish by appealing to Rachel to fix this, because he offers no opinions on how this could be done. Its not Rachel who wrote the post, but it was Rachel who edited the post and chose what to display. She stands behind this person’s personal story. I don’t see why that is so offensive.

“first of all simply being male does not put me in any sort of hierarchy within a SGM church”

Simple question…How would he know? How would the son of an integral, longtime member of the organization have any idea whether he was being favored or not, or whether it had anything to do with being male?

“And I never once heard it taught that women were taught to be completely passive, and I basically attended every conference SGM every hosted, and I attended the very church Hannah attended for 10 months.”

COMPLETELY passive? So they were taught to be passive? Also, she said

Though it was never said in so many words, being a biblical woman in SGM was the emotional equivalent of lying back, closing one’s eyes, and taking one for Jesus.” (emphasis mine)

So she said this comment was about subtext, not actual text. Anyway, he continues:

“Additionally, I have many, many friends in the church Hannah attended, both men and women, who would completely disagree with Hannah’s version. So I actually do have a pretty good feel for Covenant Life Church, given the fact that I personally attended, know many of the pastors, know many of the members, and am still in contact with them to this day.”

Yeah, she didn’t go to Covenant Life. She said that.

“In terms of abuse, I never intended to be flippant. Abuse is horrendous, awful, and terrible. All child abuse should be exposed. However, we must tread carefully when one person speaks of systemic problems. I am not defending child abuse in any way, and my church goes to great lengths to prevent it.”

As others have pointed out, his church is small. Like compared to Covenant life, it’s miniscule. Also, “all child abuse should be exposed” has not helped him point out or condemn the men in the lawsuit who had served jail time after being convicted of child abuse, of which there was at least one. Please remind me the last time Stephen practiced what he preached.

“My point is simply this: Hannah’s version is not a fair representation of the church as a whole. Yes, it is her experience, and I do not discredit that. But my personal knowledge of the church, my attendance of the church, and my relationships within that church make me certain of particular facts. Hannah interpreted those facts in a particular way – many others did not.”

I still can’t believe that he never once says “I’m so sorry this happened to you, Hännah, I will strive to make sure that my words and my preachings are more bible based than the things you heard, and to make sure my flock understands how to apply them biblically and not legalistically.” He has no idea that he is coming across as singularly unsympathetic and legalistic.

“Actually, yes, there is way to present a balanced viewpoint. First of all, Hannah is one person in one church in a movement made up of approximately 80 churches. To say that her story represents the whole is false. I have no doubt that Hannah really experienced what she says she did. But I personally know many, many people in her church who did NOT experience what she did. Presenting a balanced view would be to interview someone who did not experience what Hannah did.“

This blows my mind. He is literally saying that a more balanced view of the church would be to find someone who had a good experience, and interview them instead. What?

“Does my church practice emotional modesty? No. I don’t know what that means. I’ve never heard that term before today.”

Then how can you know that the term isn’t being talked about in the churches? Please do your research, its not hard to find out what terms mean. For all you know, its given a different label, but how could you know that if you claim you don’t even know what it means?

“Does my church encourage physical modesty? Of course. But not in any sort of “let me measure how short your shorts are way”. Do we practice first time obedience? No. Do we practice spiritual coverings? No. I don’t know what that is.”

She said these things happened at her church. According to the testimonies of others online, they also happened at the Fairfax church, CLC, and they happened at many different churches across the nation who weren’t SGM because they were trying to follow the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” example of the SGM churches. (EDIT: Also, his comment about “Let me measure your shorts” reminded me of the infamous Mahaney Modesty Checklist, which includes lots of measuring and techniques to measure length of shirts/skirts etc.)

“And I am well connected with many other SGM pastors and have never even heard of these terms.”

Did it occur to you, Steven, that they may have been preaching these things BEFORE you became a pastor? Back when you were in college, or even before?

“All I’m asking is for balance. Are there problems in SGM? Sure! I can think of lots. But the Internet is a breeding ground of half-information. As Christians we should do all we can to change that.”

All she did was present her story. Is he accusing her of being part of that breeding ground of half-information? Also, if you can present those problems in SGM, I can think of MANY blogs that would love for you to set the record straight. Give us the full story, the true story, so we can support you in fixing it!

I am blown away by his narrative. He hasn’t heard the terms before, so he categorically says they aren’t ever preached. He doesn’t address Hännah or her pain, other than to say that abuse in general is terrible, awful and sad.
On the positive side of things, I must commend him for his comment: “I have no doubt that Hannah really experienced what she says she did.” That is a great step in the right direction, and a very positive affirmation that she’s not making things up to slander an organization at large. I also completely agree with his statement “To say that her story represents the whole is false.” However, no one said that her story was meant to represent the whole. That is where the main miscommunication happened.

I don’t feel that Stephen needs to speak for the SGM community. I think, that like Jesus said, we will know them by their fruits. If the larger narrative from SGM is good, then there will be fruit.


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