The following is a copy of the letter we sent to Grace Valley leaders explaining why my family and I decided to leave. It reflected our concerns about Grace Valley as of December 2001. Since leaving, my family and I have been consistently shunned by Grace Valley members. Stories we have heard about why we left and what we have done since leaving have shocked us. We have been accused of seeking to divide the church, and have been characterized and called “spiritual terrorists,” “agents of Satan,” and other less-than-complimentary descriptors. From what we have heard, the sin of pride was the primary explanation given by the leaders of Grace Valley for our downfall – indeed, pride is a sin that besets us – it besets all of Adam’s race. As C.S. Lewis insightfully observed, “Yes, pride is a perpetual nagging temptation. Keep on knocking it on the head but don’t be too worried about it. As long as one knows one is proud one is safe from the worst form of pride.” Our greatest surprise upon leaving is that the practices of the church that led to our leaving were much more serious and pervasive than we were even aware. However, the control of information through such practices of shunning has been very effective at limiting members’ access to “the rest of the story” of those who leave. In the final analysis, our reputation with God is all that really matters since “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” May we all conduct ourselves in view of this sober reality. —- Dale Sorbello
December 4, 2001
Rev. P. G. Mathew, Elders, and Leaders Grace Valley Christian Center 27173 Road 98 Davis, CA 95616-9742
The purpose of this letter is to ask that my name be removed from the membership roll of Grace Valley Christian Center (GVCC). In good conscience, I can no longer support, submit to, nor maintain membership in the church because of what I believe are unbiblical practices occurring with respect to the exercise of spiritual authority.
Specifically, I believe that spiritual authority is often being wielded in a very severe, harsh, and inappropriate manner. At Pastor Mathew’s direction, my son and one of my daughters have met with him many times in the past six months. They report that, during these meetings, my authority in the home was undermined, evil was spoken of both their mother and myself, unsubstantiated accusations were made, and they were confronted abusively and with crude language. Moreover, Bethany was told not to tell others in the home about what was said during one of the meetings, which is usually a warning sign that something inappropriate is occurring. The general impression was that an attempt was being made to divide the family, to usurp parental authority and to replace it with the authority of the church—hence the vociferous criticism of the parents and other siblings. Both children found the approach and content of these meetings very troubling, as do I. Bethany’s experiences have been so disturbing that I told her not to have any further meetings with Pastor unless I was present.
I am not sure how frequently this approach in ministering to people is practiced, but it appears our experiences are not isolated events. This past summer a man came into a Saturday morning leaders’ meeting seeking counsel about a personal matter involving his daughter. The man was treated in an extremely harsh, berating fashion. This occurred in the presence of most of you. I am ashamed for not rising to the man’s defense. Although he has issues requiring serious ministry, this needy man who was seeking help received instead what I would describe as humiliating and abusive treatment. A related concern is my observation that information given in confidence is sometimes disclosed publicly, and that some individuals are publicly berated. This compromises church members’ willingness to seek help when needed. I am aware of several current members who are unwilling to seek help for fear that their sensitive personal situations may be disclosed, or that they may be treated abusively in counsel.
My second general concern relates to the church leaders’ expectations and practices with respect to the extent of their involvement in the members’ lives. Without question, a true church has a biblical mandate to speak what the Bible has spoken. Conversely, the church must take care not to speak where God has not. I have observed that church leaders are often directive in areas where Christians have liberty; members are expected to consult with leadership on such issues as dating, living arrangements, travel, etc., and are criticized if consultation is not sought. While seeking and heeding godly counsel is encouraged in Scripture, I believe the extent to which church leaders often speak into members’ lives (or about which the leaders expect members to seek counsel) frequently transcends biblical boundaries, or intrudes into areas where God’s Word gives Christians liberty. Voluntarily seeking such counsel may be prudent; however, establishing an expectation or unspoken requirement that this occur is not appropriate, particularly when there is a clear expectation that all counsel be followed with uncritical acceptance, as if it were God’s own Word.
All leaders must be accountable if a church is to be protected from serious error; this can only occur when input is sought, questions are welcomed, disagreement is not perceived as threatening, and an environment promoting healthy discussion is fostered. Though it may exist at some level, my experience suggests that most leaders and other church members feel intimidated and very reticent to question or differ with Pastor Mathew. When people are silenced by fear—afraid of castigation, humiliation, or even shunning—the church is harmed. Unbridled authority vested in a leader endangers the church by nullifying the ‘checks and balances’ critical for maintaining the integrity and doctrinal purity of any organization of fallible men.
Being very troubled by these issues, I prayed earnestly, sought the Scriptures for understanding, and conducted research. Subsequently, I have become convinced that there is an approach to dealing with God’s people at GVCC that is not only unbiblical, but that can be legitimately characterized in some instances as aberrant and abusive. Moreover, I became increasingly uncomfortable when I discovered numerous articles from a variety of evangelical writers that consistently describe an errant pattern of church behavior that is disturbingly similar to GVCC.
I am very cognizant of my fallibility, sinfulness, and other limitations that may impair my objectivity. However, I pray my concerns will not be summarily dismissed but, instead, be evaluated in light of Scripture and with prayer. Rather than portraying this letter as evidence of my family’s pride, arrogance, and refusal to submit to the Kingdom of God, please consider that God may be saying something to promote the greater interests of the Gospel through GVCC. My family and I care deeply about GVCC and, for 16 years, have invested our lives and our resources that the church might prosper. Few things have been as difficult as wrestling with this matter; my decision is costly. Nevertheless, to remain silent and passive about these concerns would constitute a dereliction of my duty to protect and ensure the spiritual welfare of my family and would be neglecting my duty before God.
Thank you for the many years of ministry rendered to my family. We have benefited greatly from the rich teaching and the fellowship with other committed Christians who are serious about walking with Christ. Our covenant with GVCC was predicated upon our and the church’s continuing faithfulness to Scripture. The membership document states that we would be disfellowshipped if we “. . . refuse to repent of any sins but continue in them in spite of the repeated exhortations and warnings by the council of elders.” We have kept our covenantal commitments; we have not been unrepentant when confronted about sin. We have sought God’s forgiveness; we have struggled in prayer, fasting, and study; we will continue to strive to overcome sin. Sadly, however, I believe the church leadership has broken its covenant with us, as described in this letter. Our departure, therefore, must not be construed as a rejection of the wonderful and godly people who comprise GVCC but, rather, as an expression of the seriousness of my concerns that compel me, along with my family, to find a fellowship of believers where the leadership practices a biblical approach to shepherding the sheep.
Your Brother in Christ,
Signatures of Dale A. Sorbello and other family members