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Shining Light into the Dungeon: How God is Using Julie Roys to Terrify Authoritarian “Shepherds” and Their Enablers
When it comes to reformation, be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.
Praying for God to bring hidden evils to light so that they might be exposed, confronted, and overcome in order to see our homes, churches, and culture restored isn’t something we should do lightly. The rot and darkness that has come to define every area of life here in the U.S.S.A. is the kind that could never have taken deep root without our having enabled it. This is why when we pray for God to expose the deeds and systems of darkness that have brought us so low, we should do so with mirror in hand expecting that we have some serious things to answer for and repent of.
While it’s easy – and often quite fun – to point “over there” at “those people” in whichever community or group we enjoy railing against the most (there are so many easy targets to choose from), the first place we should be looking for trouble is in ourselves. We should begin with our homes, our families, and our church communities. These should be the starting points for our “searching out evil” and bringing it into the light…ideally before God drags it there for us.
Maybe we should preach less about the abuses of overtly non-Christian predators while we empower and enable abuse to flow freely from power positions in man-made systems and organizations that we call “churches”. Maybe we should complain less about how Hollywood objectifies women and Disney corrupts children while we promote anti-Christian notions of rule and authority that contort women into spiritually confused accomplices in the abuse of their own children at the hands of authoritarian males who we should be confronting and correcting rather than encouraging and enabling. Maybe we should stop defending egos and organizations claiming to be “the church” when those egos and organizations are actively engaging in the systematic abuse of the actual church – God’s people, the bride of Christ.
Maybe if we don’t tackle these in-house problems and abuses, the Bridegroom will do it for us. That would be good and just, wouldn’t it? And loving too, of course. If our own systems and favorite “leaders” are enabling or actively participating in abuse of the bride of Christ, and they’re doing these things in the name of Christ, we should want that sort of evil corrected immediately, right?
Well, once again…be careful what you wish for…
Which brings us to recent news of John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church (GCC).
In an article published on March 8, coinciding with the kickoff of the annual “Shepherds’ Conference” hosted at GCC, Julie Roys chronicled in sometimes painfully vivid detail a 20+year tale of rank abuse and the systematic enabling of that abuse. Her article, which should be read in its entirety, begins as follows:
“On August 18, 2002, prominent radio pastor and author, John MacArthur, took time during an evening service to address a grave matter at his 8,000-member Grace Community Church (GCC) in Sun Valley, California.
A woman at GCC was living in sin, MacArthur alleged. And though shaming her publicly was “sad,” MacArthur said it was necessary to maintain fidelity to God and His Word.
So, as men were distributing the elements for communion, MacArthur stated: “I want to mention a sad situation, a person who is unwilling to repent. And the church bears responsibility before God to be the instrument of discipline. . . . This is what the Lord wants. He wants discipline . . . to be put out of the church, to be publicly shamed, to be put away from fellowship. In this case it applies to Eileen Gray.”
According to MacArthur, Gray’s sin was that she had decided “to leave her husband, to grant no grace at all, to take the children, to go away, to forsake him.” This, MacArthur emphasized, meant rejecting “all the instruction and counsel of the elders, all instruction from the Word of God.”
MacArthur then encouraged the church to pray for Eileen and to “treat her as an unbeliever—for all we know, she may be.”
Today, David Gray is serving 21 years to life in a California prison for his 2005 convictions for aggravated child molestation, corporal injury to a child, and child abuse.
But at the time of Eileen’s shaming, Eileen had not yet reported her husband’s physical and mental abuse to police. (She was not yet aware of his sexual abuse.)
Instead, she had reported the abuse to elders and pastors at GCC.
Eileen also had not left her husband. In August 2002, Eileen was still living with her children in the Grays’ home about 1.5 miles from the church.
Eileen had, however, filed legal separation and restraining orders against David due to his repeated abuse of her and her children, as well as his alleged stalking and threats to kill them and himself. At the time of the shaming, Eileen had obtained a court order requiring that David’s visits with the children be monitored and restricting him from coming within 100 yards of Eileen.
As Eileen explained in an exclusive interview with The Roys Report, she went to GCC elders, hoping they would protect her and her children and get David professional help.
Instead, she says the church subjected her to spiritually abusive counseling and used church discipline to try and coerce her to take David back into the family’s home. . . ”
If you haven’t read the entire article, please stop and do so now. Seriously. Every word. (You can find it here.) This is not my way of saying that the article is perfect or infallible or that every accusation made or implied is irrefutable and true. Not even close. Part of me wants the whole thing to be flat out wrong, or at least wrong in the key areas that matter most. The point is that the article is worthy of the time and attention of anyone who is serious about the Gospel-fueled reformation of the Church (and of organizations/institutions pretending to be the Church).
This story has hit many of us hard, as it should. For me and many others, John MacArthur has been an iconic champion. I drew from his work and quoted him several times in my first book. I loved and still love the man, which is why I hope and pray that, if the article is substantially true, he will by God’s grace be convicted to acknowledge and repent of any sin that played a role in that tragic story. The same goes for others playing prominent roles in the story.
Having heard the news a day after it broke, like many others I became intensely interested in what certain people would have to say in response. I wanted to hear something from John MacArthur and many other prominent leaders on the conservative side of the spectrum, particularly those associated with conservative Reformed ministries. Of course, I knew that there would be some time needed for people to process the story – especially those on the outside looking in.
But here we are, almost two weeks after the first Roys article was published, and it’s been mostly crickets, at least from what I’ve seen.I’ve not exactly scoured the Internet, but I’ve been looking around and have yet to find even a wisely qualified expression of concern or an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the matter from any of the Big Reformed Names that I tend to follow. This is disconcerting, to put it mildly. (If anyone reading this has a link to comments that would fill the void mentioned here, please send ‘em my way.)
I should probably also make three points crystal clear at this point:
I am about as pro-biblical patriarchy as it gets. (The key comes in defining the term, which I understand is perceived very differently by others who claim to be pro-biblical-patriarchy. I look forward to tackling some of those differences in future posts.) I believe that male headship (not to be confused with male authoritarianism) is key and that male leadership in specific areas is an essential component of a Christian worldview in practice, and that this biblical version of male leadership is much more akin to lovingly leading an equal partner in a dance than it is about barking commands at them.
I am Reformed in my theology. Very Reformed (which means I am always reforming). I cherish much of what John MacArthur has produced over his long and productive life of service to the Lord. None of what I’m saying here should be taken to contradict that in any way. It is because I’m Reformed and take Scripture seriously as the standard by which all things and all people must be measured that I am compelled to say the hard things that I am conveying here.
I may well disagree with Julie Roys on many significant issues. That seems likely from what little I’ve gone on to read about her since first discovering the March 8 report on MacArthur. Even so, she seems to have a lot going for her and I think she’s the kind of person I could sit down and disagree with in an agreeable manner on those things that we don’t see the same way. If she’s not the “ feminist” or “liberal” that many claim and prefer to focus on rather than dealing with the content of her article, I’m sure she’s much more liberal than me. And that’s okay, at least as far as the viability of her report is concerned. The bottom line on this sort of thing from a Christian worldview is – or should be – super simple: Is the report accurate? Is it true? If it’s accurate in many or all of its key points, then thank God for using Julie Roys to bring those things to light, right? Right?!
It’s not like we were likely to ever to get a report like this from inside GCC or the broader Reformed Celebrity Worship Culture, right? That’s something to keep in mind…
Making matters worse has been the particular “circle the wagons” approach taken by many “Reformed Christians” on social media, many of whom seem to becheckingall the wrong boxes in their handling of the report, including:
Shooting the Messenger – Rather than seriously interacting with the vividly detailed and seemingly well-documented assertions contained in Julie Roys’ article, it’s been sad and a bit sickening to see so many “Reformed Christians” choosing instead to attack Roys personally – often with accusations that seem to be more than a little shaky. (If you’re wanting to get a feel for how far off some of these sorts of critiques have been, check out this video.)
Dismissing/Minimizing Sin – It’s been hard, but not surprising, to watch hardcore fans (idolaters?) of MacArthur barely touch on the details of the report (or not touch on any details at all) while offering up some sort of “he’s done so much for the Kingdom” preemptive defense in what ironically comes across as a decidedly un-Reformed “indulgence” approach. It’s as though these fans actually believe that their hero deserves a pass on whatever might have happened here because he’s earned enough points to cover whatever it is by doing all of the awesome things that he’s done in the past…even though they don’t even want to know exactly what he may or may not have done (or been responsible for) here. This is not a Reformed approach. This is a culty “defend the Dear Leader at all costs” approach.
This is what happens when we make idols out of men, systems, or institutions. This is the sort of behavior that we can and should expect when we’ve fallen for counterfeits of biblical authority, headship, church, and even love itself, and this is how people tend to behave when they’re too deeply invested in the counterfeits to allow themselves to seriously consider whether they are in error or not.
And then there are some more obvious potential motivating factors to consider here: Money and power.
If the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and it is (1 Timothy 6:10), we shouldn’t be the least little bit surprised to see people rallying in defense of a figure like John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church, especially if/when those folks are financially dependent or intertwined with MacArthur or GCC. Whether or how much this plays a role in this specific story, I do not know, but I do know that these sorts of financial relationships play major roles in wolves rallying dependent troops in defense of their biblically indefensible behavior.
Many who gush on at the drop of a hat about biblical fidelity and “love of Jesus” using the most spiritual sounding lingo they can muster are, in fact, ravenous wolves who will sell their own sheep up the river to preserve their bottom line.
That’s not to say that those attempting to defend John MacArthur or others involved in the reported scandal are those sorts of ravenous wolves or anything close. Many are no doubt genuine Christians who have been caught up in some very bad ideas and approaches. Even so, those sorts of people tend to naturally become enablers. The more time they invest in that position, the more reliable tools they become for wolves-in-shepherds’-clothing determined to preserve their positions of power and influence.
So much of what we see in these sorts of situations is simple idolatry, which any biblically informed Christian should know as something that comes very naturally to us. We are all prone to love our heroes too much, and when we fail to guard against that tendency we end up doing things like ignoring the Roys article’s contents while slandering Julie Roys personally in an effort to protect our idol(s).
This, it should go without saying, is really, really bad. And quite consequential.
This approach leads to next-level carnage, including:
It Emboldens Wicked/Sinful Leadership– Every time sin is allowed to persist without repentance, in metastasizes. Every time a wicked leader or wolf gets away with another round of abuse, that wolf is emboldened to not only do more of the same but take it up (or down) to the next level.
It Further Corrupts Already Compromised Enablers – Every time a wayward Christian “leader” or wolf is enabled to avoid responsibility and accountability for serious sin, those enabling that person become even more deeply intertwined with the evil they are enabling through the man or woman that they will not properly confront and correct. In this the enablers of unrepentant leaders or wolves become worse and worse themselves as they follow their idols/masters down into the abyss one enabling act at a time.
It Crushes the Spirits of the Abused – When “too big to repent” church or cult leaders are empowered and enabled to crush the sheep under their care with impunity, how do you think that makes those sheep feel? If this happens in a “Christian church”, how do you think this impacts the way that those who have been abused view Christianity? This is why authoritarian pseudo-“churches” tend to produce so many profoundly confused and self-destructive raging Leftist types. Many of those labeled as “woke” transitioned into that category as a direct result of authoritarian abuse masquerading as Christianity. I have seen this up close. It is both heartbreaking and disgusting. Yet the wolves and their enablers just keep on cranking out the abuse and then blame pop culture for the resulting carnage.
These are things that we should be considering, especially when one of our favorite or most trusted heroes is implicated as MacArthur and his GCC have been by the Roys report.
If these sorts of reports are true, they are a gift to us. If the Lord chooses to use someone that some in the Reformed community don’t like much as the means by which a hero of theirs is exposed and given the opportunity to own and repent of serious sin, this would be in keeping with His propensity to add a little extra-humbling spice to the formula. This too is a gift, though not one we tend to view that way in the moment.
Put another way, if we’re actually into biblical Reformation, humble pie is going to be a major part of our diet.
Wherever the MacArthur story and Julie Roys’ work lands at the end of the day, this episode has provided us with a great and much needed opportunity to contemplate vital truths that have long been neglected. In God’s perfect timing, He seems to be bringing light into several “church”-made dungeons that have been hidden in the shadows for a very long time.
And that is a beautiful thing.
I’ll be adding a Part 2 in response to Roys’ follow-up article, which I have not fully digested yet. I’ll also be doing more posts on the authoritarianism issues dominating many churches. If you’d like to get these posts delivered straight into your inbox, sign up for the new Hellrazer Report at Substack.
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