Forgiveness and Accountability: Looking at the John MacArthur Scandal

Forgiveness and Accountability: Looking at the John MacArthur Scandal May 7, 2022

I’ve been trying to take in all of the information Julie Roys provided in her articles about the John MacArthur scandal. From what I’ve read in these articles and from various takes on the matter, this amounts to spiritual abuse. Specifically, we’re looking at a nasty misinterpretation of forgiveness and accountability.

Content/Trigger Warning: Discussion of Domestic and Spiritual Abuse

Julie Roys uncovered evidence of church abuse perpetuated by MacArthur’s church, Grace Community Church in California. Roys procured hard proof that John MacArthur and other members of his church chose to shame Eileen Gray for “refusing to reconcile” with her abusive husband, David.

For Shame!

Something to keep in mind (for myself especially) is that John MacArthur messed up but isn’t the sole culprit here. He wasn’t the only member of Grace Community Church to fail Eileen. Based on the documents procured by Julie Roys, Carey Hardy (a former associate pastor at GCC) played a similarly despicable role in this mess.

That being said, however, there’s no getting around the objective evidence of MacArthur’s wrongdoing. To summarize what I read in Julie Roy’s articles, MacArthur and other leaders in GCC repeatedly accused Eileen of “refusing to reconcile” with her abusive husband.

Much of this comes down to how MacArthur slandered Eileen on August 18, 2002.

August 18, 2002

Here’s a clip from August 18, 2002, when MacArthur publicly shamed Eileen during the church service that evening:

Here’s the transcript of what MacArthur said in this clip:

“It’s always a sad thing to do this, but this is bringing Heaven down, this is what the Lord wants, He wants discipline. One of the forms of discipline that He uses is to be put out of the church, to be publicly shamed, to be put away from the fellowship.

In this case, it applies to Eileen Gray.

Her husband David and Eileen have been in the church for many years.

Not so, not too long ago, really, Eileen decided to leave her husband, to grant no grace to him, at all;

to take the children, go away, forsake him, not to reconcile, to reject all the instruction of counsel of the elders,

all the instruction from the Word of God.

Many, many of our pastors have been involved in this very tragic situation in which she continues to throw accusations against her husband.

We’ve done everything we can to call her to repentance. Now, we have to do what the Bible says: let her out, treat her as if she’s an unbeliever.

For all we know, she may well be. Pray for Eileen Gray, that she may continue to…[clip ends here.]”

The tone here makes my skin crawl. I don’t appreciate how MacArthur acted like he was “sad” to do this to Eileen. He didn’t show any genuine reluctance while publicly, falsely accusing her of “sinning”.

So, is “refusing to reconcile” with an abusive, violent man a sin? A man who was arrested and convicted for abusing his own children?

In hindsight, what makes this worse is the sermon that preceded this public accusation. Julie Roys gave the link to the transcript for this sermon here.

I read the sermon, and it made me nearly cry in disgust. It’s so apparent that MacArthur was using this to build up to him shaming Eileen. All of this, under the pretense that she’d “refused to confess her sin”. What a horrible misapplication of 1 John 1:8-10!

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)

Boy, MacArthur building a sermon and accusation on these verses hasn’t aged well.

Ingenuine Responses

Here’s a video clip of MacArthur responding to calls for accountability:

“We don’t have a right to be angry, to revile back to people, even when they falsely accuse us.”

-John MacArthur

We have video proof that MacArthur publicly slandered Eileen in 2002. We can also read the letters that Carey Hardy sent to her, messages from the Elders of GCC. In these letters, Hardy told Eileen that they were “grieved” at how she had made little progress towards “total restoration and reconciliation”.

This church letter from August 8, 2002, is particularly disgusting. In this letter, Carey Hardy acknowledges David’s “failures…as a husband and father” while also condemning Eileen for her “refusal to forgive David”. Not only that, but Carey also accuses Eileen of being stubborn against God for not obeying GCC’s demands.

I also read Hardy’s official court response, where he stated his belief that “Eileen simply doesn’t like David”. Oh, and there’s also this letter from Hardy to GCC, defending David after his arrest in 2004.

Feel free to read this sworn declaration by the late Pastor Alvin Barber of Sunrise Bible Fellowship. In his statement, Pastor Barber concluded that, after reading the horrendous letters Hardy sent to Eileen, Hardy attempted to coerce her to drop her restraining order and legal separation against David.

With these objective sources on hand, what “false accusations” was MacArthur talking about?

While I don’t think MacArthur knew about the entirety of David’s abuse of his kids, the choice to publicly slander Eileen is still inexcusable. Under no circumstances does this qualify as “church discipline” like GCC tried to argue. How is it “church discipline” when you’re criticizing somebody for avoiding a harmful person?

Another Failed Response

Earlier, in response to an email inquiry, Phil Johnson (Executive Director of Grace to You) gave a subtly gaslighting “unofficial” statement about the David Gray scandal. In his email, Johnson diminishes everything between David and Eileen as mere “marital strife”.

He also remarked that the elders of GCC desire to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information. Eh, too late for that. Any chance of maintaining confidentiality got tossed out on August 18, 2022.

I can’t understand why some Christians are defending MacArthur’s actions with all of this knowledge out in the open.

Undeserved Veneration

There’s been an alarming amount of support for John MacArthur in the wake of these revelations. Though, of course, this support has received necessary pushback. One example is this video by Faith on Fire calling this support out:

Just because “everyone at the time thought the man was repentant” doesn’t excuse MacArthur or anybody else from accountability. When David was convicted in 2004, MacArthur and the other GCC leaders refused to apologize to Eileen, per Julie’s articles.

I also found this article by the Protestant news site Protestia. The author accused Julie Roys of demanding perfection from MacArthur and suggested that anybody opposing MacArthur likewise opposes the “true church”.

Among the accusations in the article, I also came across this comment in the comments section:

“He did nothing wrong. If you have a problem with what he did, then you have a problem with Scripture.”

Excuse me? Us taking issue with a false application of Scripture somehow means that we’re against Scripture entirely? That’s a low attempt at spiritual gaslighting, my friend.

Between GCC’s “unofficial” responses and the support MacArthur continues to receive, I get a bad vibe of Protestant self-righteousness. As I wrote in my previous blog post, we Protestants have an issue with declaring ourselves “righteous” for “sticking to Scripture alone”. We also have a problem with venerating certain leaders like MacArthur.

Boy, that’s bitterly ironic when some of us lambast Catholics for “venerating Mary”. When MacArthur is declared untouchable in the wake of demands for accountability, it looks like he’s the one getting venerated now!

Ruslan’s Interview With Julie

One of my favorite YouTube speakers on this matter is Ruslan KD, a Christian YouTuber who strives to be as objective as possible. This is his 2nd video on the MacArthur scandal (you can watch Part 1 here), and he was able to interview Julie Roys for this, too:

I hollered when Julie Roys told Ruslan that she’s a Conservative investigative journalist. This whole time, MacArthur’s defenders have been accusing her of being a “liberal feminist” out to condemn him. Well, so much for that!

Ruslan also confirms here that, just as we read in Julie’s 2nd article, it was David who filed for divorce. And where was GCC’s “church discipline” for David?

I love that Ruslan ripped into MacArthur supporters who try to dismiss this whole thing with their view on divorce:

“So, my question for anybody defending John MacArthur, explain it to me:

Do you believe, in your theology, that a woman who is being abused is to stay with her abuser?

Because you take that passage so literally, that the only grounds for ever divorcing is adultery or abandonment.”

-Ruslan

You nailed it, Ruslan! Do people seriously think that what Jesus said about divorce (Matthew 19:3-12) means that He’s against a couple separating because of abuse? That God apparently turns a blind eye to marital/domestic violence?

Christians, we need to understand that when we refuse to hold our leaders accountable, we lose integrity in the eyes of many. Some of us condoning how MacArthur and GCC mishandled Eileen’s suffering could cause people to lose their faith potentially.

After all, it’s beyond toxic to assert that the abused must blindly forgive their abusers. That’s not genuine forgiveness, and, as we can see in the story of David and Saul, forgiveness doesn’t mean that the abuser ends up changing for good.

David and Saul

David and Saul’s story from 1 Samuel is an excellent Biblical example of forgiveness and an unchanging abuser. You see, David was wholeheartedly innocent and loved to forgive Saul always. But that didn’t stop Saul from repeatedly trying to kill him, even after showing remorse.

As a side note, it makes me grimace realizing that David was Saul’s son-in-law through marriage to Saul’s daughter, Michal.

I’ve lost track of the sheer number of times that Saul tried to kill David in 1 Samuel. What kills me about rereading this story is that Saul promised his son, Jonathan, that David wouldn’t be put to death (1 Samuel 19:6). Well, so much for that!

What good was Saul’s promise to Jonathan when his repeat attempts on David’s life forced the lad to flee out of town? And then, when Saul heard about David receiving supplies from a priest of the city of Nob, what did Saul do? He accused the priest of treason and ordered Doeg the Edomite to slaughter the entire town.

All of this, from a man anointed by God through His prophet Samuel!

Despite Saul’s desperation to harm him, David kept forgiving him. Here’s a video illustration of David forgiving Saul in 1 Samuel 24 and 26 by CartoonWorks:

Unrepentant Abusers

See, David gladly forgave Saul. But even when Saul seemed to be genuinely remorseful, he turned right around and tried to harm David again.

It’s good to forgive those who wrong us, to prevent our hearts from becoming stained with hatred. However, we can’t force our abusers to change themselves by risking our necks.

David did everything he could to both forgive Saul and spare his life. None of that was enough to stop Saul from repeating his cycle of malice against him.

I look at this story, and I grimace. The Old Testament provides an example of an unrepentant abuser who would’ve gladly harmed his victim if given a chance.

And let’s not forget that Saul was anointed as King! This “righteous” man let his pride and fear encourage him to do severely unrighteous things.

Unfortunately, just because somebody claims to be righteous doesn’t mean they won’t commit abuse.

Dr. Ramona Probasco’s Story

Here is the testimony of Dr. Ramona Probasco, a domestic abuse survivor who escaped her “Christian” husband:

I’m grateful for everything Dr. Ramona discussed with the speaker here. It’s important that they noted that it’s pointless to ask people stuck in domestic violence, “Why don’t you just leave?” The ugly truth is that, per Dr. Ramona, it’s 75% more dangerous for the abused when they attempt an escape from their partner.

Abuse and Accountability

For me, the most heartwrenching part of their conversation here was their talk on how rarely abusers ever change. This quote from Dr. Ramona hits this right on the nail:

“…I had this belief, unspoken, but that I could ‘love him into wellness’.

And, you know what, you can’t ‘love people into wellness’. We can love them, but not into wellness, because they have to want it for themselves.”

-Dr. Ramona

Another quote from Dr. Ramona that stood out to me (especially in light of how the elders at GCC handled her abuse) was this:

“…But in an abusive situation when there’s confusion about, you know, ‘What does God think about this?’ and ‘Is it okay to leave a situation like that?’, many people will stay.

And like myself, I thought, ‘If I just pray harder, believe more, have more faith, it’s gonna, I’ll have the miracle and he’ll change’.”

-Dr. Ramona

My heart hurts for Dr. Ramona and all those told to maintain this mindset amid suffering. Nobody should be told to “suffer through it”. How is it “Godly” or “righteous” to coerce a victim of abuse into believing that their needless suffering can change their abuser?

It’s the abuser’s responsibility to change their heart, not the victim’s. If an abuser refuses to stop hardening their heart, that’s solely their fault and nobody else’s.

As a bit of comfort, here’s the Psalm that gave Dr. Ramona strength throughout this nightmare:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

 The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.” (Psalm 18:16-20)

Addressing Christian Failure Over Domestic Violence

It looks like Julie Roys has helped us all become aware of an ongoing issue haunting certain Christian circles. During my research for all of this, I came across this article on Wikipedia that goes into detail on how domestic violence is handled in some churches. When women feel that they won’t be taken seriously, they don’t report their husbands’ abuse to church leaders.

The article notes that abusive men love to use Ephesians 5:22 to justify marital abuse.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

But like the article says, this isn’t the entire point of this passage.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25-28)

Any husband who harms his wife violates Scripture. That’s objective.

What About “Reconciliation”?

Regarding how John MacArthur and Grace Community Church handled Eileen Gray’s story, I’m getting the feeling that they wanted Eileen to “forget about it”. All for the sake of “reconciliation”.

My assumption is that the elders of GCC would reference the “love keeps no record of wrongdoing” part of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to back up their argument. While this is an essential part of this passage, we can’t forget this other part:

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

Eileen would’ve risked the safety of herself and her children if she had obeyed their demands. Neither she nor her children owed David a spot back in their lives after the damage he did to his family.

Let’s not forget that David repeatedly forgave Saul. But no matter how often David forgave him, no matter how “genuine” his remorse was, Saul hardened his heart and kept repeating his sin.

When we strive to forgive those who hurt us, we do so to set ourselves free. We hand off vengeance to God, who knows how to best handle it (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to let ourselves risk being harmed by the one who hurt us.

Justice

Try as we might, none of us can escape accountability for our wrongdoings. John MacArthur and Grace Community Church have had several chances to own up to how they mishandled Eileen’s suffering. It’s unacceptable and Godless that they continue to act like they somehow “did the right, Biblical thing”.

Now, here’s something wholesome and uplifting to end this with. Ruslan found the ministry Eileen works for, Ripe for Harvest, and the link where you can donate to her work specifically:

Donate Specific (givingfuel.com)

God’s Justice will be done, no matter how hard the culprits try to evade accountability for their actions.

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