Thursday, June 19, 2003

"Leaders' continued demands for "forgiveness" are really just a demand to be excused from consequences." Dave, you are so on point! A great article from Dave Anderson at RightCyberUp:


Many churches of the International Churches of Christ (ICC) have issued apologies for some teachings and practices in the first half of 2003. It will take time to see what changes result – and since the ICC has decentralized, where these changes happen and do not happen. With everything currently happening in the ICC, it's clear that these apologies are a start, not an end in themselves.

Why are so many current members and former members leery of the recent ICC apologies? Because ICC leaders have routinely apologized throughout the church’s history, but have never made needed changes.

[Note: This article is not suggesting that ICC leaders never apologize for personal offenses and make corrections: this does happen. However, leadership historically has fallen short is in understanding and correcting its systematic abuses. This article is also not saying that ICC leaders don’t deserve forgiveness for their apologies – in fact, forgiveness and forgetting are two different things, as we'll discuss.]

Apologies heal relationships when they feature two things: sincere regret for past actions followed a kept promise of future change. When not followed by change, apologies can become part of a cycle of abuse.

ICC founder Kip McKean was apologizing for his behavior eighteen years ago – long before the recent upheaval of his movement:

“And I’ve realized I’ve made mistakes in my ministry – and I feel a need to apologize for those, and to let people know that I’ve made mistakes, but I believe that our leadership truly does have a genuine humility and when we make a mistake, we admit it.”

Kip McKean, Book of Acts Overview: Chapters 1-8, Discipleship Publications International, Tape # 10073, recorded in 1985.

This typical 1985 apology brushes off abuses as “mistakes” (and assumes people make mistakes so it’s really nothing to worry about; such apologies probably delayed change by portraying systemic abuse as isolated sins). This “apology” was followed a major one in 1992, when McKean apologized for wrongly teaching that leaders could call members to obey their opinions:

“...I was wrong on some of my initial thoughts about biblical authority. I had felt that church leaders could call people to obey and follow them in all areas of opinion. This was incorrect. I feel very badly for people who were hurt by this wrong stance."

Kip McKean, “Revolution Through Restoration: From Jerusalem to Rome: From Boston to Moscow,” Upside Down, Issue Two, 1992, p. 15.

Kip McKean apparently did not change enough after his early apologies, or he would not have had to issue the major apology with his 2002 resignation.


McKean’s recent hints of a comeback in a Boston Globe interview and his meeting with the Portland Church of Christ beg the question: would McKean be entitled to lead again merely because he said he was sorry (again)?

Apologies alone will not fix the ICC unless they are followed by massive change. Henry Kriete seems to have realized this when he wrote this in his letter that shook the ICC:

"…not only must the sins and abuses be radically repented of (and there are many), but also, more importantly, the structural evils that helped foster them must be theologically exposed and denounced. I am afraid that without this vital step, there will be no profound or permanent change; let alone true forgiveness and healing…

"Our entire religious movement- our culture and belief system, our spiritual abuses, the way we train our Christians, and our control mechanisms are so widespread and invasive, that unless they are officially, uniformly and publicly denounced, they will continue on forever. Sweeping evils and bad theology can only be rectified by exposing and opposing… Movement wide, we have no choice but to admit and apologize, expose and expunge, denounce and dismantle."

(from Henry Kriete: Honest to God)

A former member read this passage at a recent open forum in New York and made the point: New York City Church of Christ leaders were admitting and apologizing, but in his opinion they were not exposing, expunging, denouncing and dismantling.

And at least according to Henry Kriete, apologies and admissions would not be enough.


How quickly should change happen? Consider this ICC definition of “repentance” from one ICC Equipping Class:

“How do I know if someone is repenting?

"Acts 26:20 Prove it by your deeds! [God looks for actions, not intention.]…

"Godly sorry produces (these attitudes)

- Earnestness
- Eagerness to do what’s right!
- Indignation – anger towards your sin
- Ready to do what’s right (whatever it takes)

"Do you have Godly sorry about your sin? [God is looking for the man who will change instantly, eager to deal w/ sin]”

Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, “Sin and Repentance,” Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991 [note: comments in brackets handwritten by a member].

According to this ICC definition, repentance means instant action – intent to change is not enough. But someone pointed out this irony recently here on the ICC Discussion Forum: some ICC churches are “repenting” but telling members that change will take time, change will be slow, members need to be patient, etc.

Ironically, the church has always expected instant “repentance” from its recuits and converts (see above). It seems there is a double-standard, at least in some ICC churches that have been slow to change. Such churches need to either repent of the double-standard, or live out their own definition of repentance. They should change instantly and urgently wherever possible (governance changes may take time, but practices, doctrines and attitudes can change almost instantly).

Danger looms that the recognition of problems won’t result in sufficient change -- as has happened in the ICC before. Consider this impassioned plea from Lisa Johnson in 1990. This Women’s World Sector Leader pointed out systemic problems to a meeting of the movement’s women’s leaders and called for change. It is a tragedy that the same types of problems continued to happen years later. It’s a long quote, but worth the read:

“Now this – I mean this sisters. I mean this, this is from the bottom of my heart. This is what I came to say today, to you. I believe that you have quit believing that grace will motivate people. You, personally. Take it personally. Take it individually. I believe that is one of the major problems in our movement, today. We must see it. I’ve seen the dangers, the abuses, the results of it, it is horrendous, it is sickening, it is frightening. We have got to trust that grace motivates people. We don’t need the things that we use to motivate people….

"We’ve got to start letting God speak for himself. I think we’re making a lot of mistakes, and the thing that frightens me the most is the young leadership. I mean, we are putting people that are – some of you – that are young leaders, with lots of responsibility over lots of people. …I’m at the point where I feel like we just need to shut up and read the Bible. That it’s getting dangerous some of the things we tell each other, some of the things that we’ve done. I’m upset and I’m scared about it. I think that we have got to make a decision to repent. You know, the abuses are amazing – we begin to crystallize things – we’ve talked about it before, but sisters it’s time to change it.

"I know something that happened in Johannesburg recently, was a dating situation. It’s like, one of the couples asked for some specific dating advice, and people even overheard the advice they were given. It had to do with how often to kiss… But let me – you know what happened, don’t you? I don’t even have to tell the rest of the story. Everybody just thought, well, that was the new rule. The rule was that you kissed once a week and it’s for five seconds and you’re being held accountable to that. That was the rule. And they even came to Capetown telling us, this is the rules in Johannesburg for kissing. Absolutely. Let me tell you, the danger in that is amazing. I mean, we have got to begin to use – teach what the Bible teaches, and be – and shut up where the Bible shuts up. I mean, we’ve got to start being careful. Now we’ve got to still use guidelines and give each other advice, but we’ve got to make it clear to people you can’t crystallize things like this. Sisters, I am afraid that we do add to the Word….

"We have got to begin to use the scriptures, and use them powerfully, or we’re going to end up in Mark 7. That’s the fear that I have. We’re going to end up in Matthew 15, where Jesus says, ‘Your doctrines, are rules made by men….’

"You know, we’ve got to be careful the advice that we give. Sisters, there was a situation in New York where some sisters were giving advice – some young, I mean, single sisters – giving advice on things about whether this woman should sell her Jaguar or not. These girls had never ridden in a Jaguar before. …I wanted them to know very clearly, they were in over their head. They had no business giving advice about things they knew nothing about – they were telling her she ought to sell her apartment. I mean, for goodness’ sake, they have no financial background, here. We have got to learn where to just talk where the Bible talks, and to do what the Bible – we’ve got to ask ourselves, ‘Who do we think we are? Are we lording it over people?’ Are we lording it over people?"

Lisa Johnson, Crashing Through The Quitting Places: Discipleship, Women’s Retreat, Boston, audio tape, 1990.

The changes largely did not happen. Thirteen years later, Lisa Johnson stood before the members of the New York City Church of Christ apologizing for these same kinds of abuses in her ministry, saying “I was blind.”

Actually, it seems she wasn’t blind at all; she saw more than most. She was just unable (or perhaps unwilling) to change it.


Recently, I received a few emails from members criticizing me for not forgiving. I found this odd, because for the most part I do not even feel I have been wronged personally by the ICC: any few wrongs, I forgave long ago.

Then I realized this misperception came from a fallacy spread by ICC leadership over the years – that if a person criticizes, it means that they haven’t forgiven and must be in the wrong. (What a classic way of turning the tables and “questioning the questioner” rather than responding to a criticism!)

As one ICC former member points out in an upcoming REVEAL article, some recent ICC appeals for forgiveness seem designed to benefit leaders, not members:

"The ICC leadership is now promulgating that grace and forgiveness must be lavished on the situation. Refer to the announcement of the creation of the Unity Conference to see what I mean. To forgive is a good thing; however, like all good things, forgiveness can be misused. Forgiveness should serve to promote positive change in a relationship. When misused, forgiveness can stifle growth and perpetuate the very wrongdoings that are the subject of forgiveness. This is an important consideration, because such forgiveness is used to empower the ICC leadership rather than promote reform.

Keith Stump, Control Mechanisms in the ICC,

Some members in the ICC are now calling for their leaders to resign. Does it mean they haven’t “forgiven”? Not necessarily. “To forgive is to forget” may be a memorable cliché, but it is not a Biblical phrase (Footnote 1), nor does it truly reflect how human emotions work. Some people who ask critics to “forgive” the ICC’s abuses are really asking them to “forget” them. Forgiving benefits everyone, but forgetting benefits a repeat abuser.

A current member very eloquently described the difference between forgiving and forgetting at one New York City Church of Christ "open forum." He expressed how he felt after one of his young children had been sexually abused. He struggled for years to forgive but eventually learned to let go of hatred for the unknown person who had hurt his child. His faith helped him to do this. However, he said, if he ever learned who committed this terrible act, he would never again allow that person to be put in a position to abuse his child. It was his responsibility as a Christian to forgive, but his responsibility as a parent not to forget.

So it is in the ICC, where too many apologies of the past have been manipulative apologies -- broken promises not followed by change. You can forgive it, but please don’t forget it.


(Footnote 1) Many people are aware of Jesus’ ideal of forgiving someone seventy times seven times when they ask for forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). But if leaders abuse Christ’s church, it makes sense that Jesus would not want a leader to seriously harm the church 490 times and remain a leader – just like it’s reasonable that Jesus would not want people to forget the sins of a child or spouse abuser, even if they had forgiven him. Is this analogy overstated? No, biblically the church is like the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32). He did not purchase it with his blood (Revelation 5:9) so that it could be serially abused.

RightCyberUp: Recovery from the International Churches of Christ

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