Grace Valley Christian Center is shrouded in a certain amount of controversy. Due to a large number of strongly worded, serious, yet quasi-anonymous comments, we should keep Experiences here and slowly integrate relevant discussion, ultimately deleting this page. The ultimate goal is to integrate these comments, so try to make your additions pointed, concise and clear.

Positive Stories and Responses to Them

For the record, I originally placed Grace Valley Christian Center (GVCC) on this website to inform students of Davis that there was a bible centered church in this town. I came to Davis in 2000, where I knew nothing about religion, faith, sin or God. My life was centered around myself, my studies and anything else that caught my eye. In Spring of 02' I attended Grace Valley, and my life radically changed. I realized I was a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that I needed to lead a holy life in order to glorify God. I went from being a punk-rock, self-centered independent opinionated woman, to a woman who seeks to glorify God every step she takes. When I found out how this site was being used to slander my church, I was horrified and I sought to delete everything that would keep people from attending. Grace Valley is NOT a cult. Webster's Dictionary defines cult as, "A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader." Since my faith is Christianity, which believes the bible as the inerrent total truth of God, then I suppose if you believe the bible to be "extremist or false" and God to be "an authoritarian, charismatic leader", then I suppose you are justified. Grace Valley is filled with some of the most Godly people I have ever met. People that have invited me into their lives to be apart of their family in a moment's notice. They are not full of lip service, they are REAL CHRISTIANS as in they practice what they preach. They are real people, who realized their need for Christ, and live their lives in thankful obedience to Him. In this day and age I can understand why 200+ happily married families, with obedient children that say please and thank you may weird some people out. I can even understand why some of you may think it productive to say hateful things on this page, even Jesus says "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." John 15:18 It is promised that those will come to tear down the good work of God, they have come, and they always will come, but I stand here in belief that "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man." Luke 6:22 I am eternally thankful for Grace Valley, its leaders, its members and the total truth of God that it stands for and proclaims. - EricaChaffin

  • Erica, I appreciate your zeal for God, and your offense at people criticizing your church. But, if its false, nothing will come of it, and you have nothing to fear... Grace Valley may not be a cult in every sense of the word, but the leader of the church, Pastor Mathew, certainly fits your description of a cult leader: "an authoritarian charismatic leader", who not only guides but controls and manipulates the church members through fear and intimidation. Don't fall into the trap of taking all criticism of your church as an attack against you, or your faith in God. It is not "because of the Son of Man", that these criticisms come, but because of the unbiblical practices of the leaders at Grace Valley. Clifton Burton

*Cliff, I understand that you are allowed the opinion you may hold about the Pastor of Grace Valley, but what I can’t understand is how you can think that criticism of my Pastor, elders, and my church would NOT be a personal attack on me. The reason I am this woman writing this right now, is because 4 years ago, I walked into a church and heard the word of God proclaimed by this very Pastor, and through his faithful preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit I sit here transformed. I don’t sit here transformed by “fear, intimidation, control, and manipulation” from my Pastor or elders, as you so claim happens at this church. The fear that I have is the same fear Moses speaks of from Exodus 20:20, “that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Unfortunately, there seems to be a difference in who we fear. I do not fear these men, because it is not by the men of this church that I am ultimately judged, but by the God of the bible they preach about, and the standand in which He stands for. - EricaChaffin

*Erica, If the day ever comes that you decide to go to another church, their reaction will make everything become very clear to you. -

(Recent Update 8/11/2009: Now that you have had to "cut off" a dear friend in order to stay in good graces with the church, I expect some clarity may be coming regarding what I was saying about the church leaders' use of fear and intimidation. Please understand this; whatever you may come to realize about the church can never change the wonderful fact that you came there 4 years ago, heard the Word of God, and were transformed by the power of the Spirit. No one can take that away from you, because it is God's gift of salvation to you, not the gift of men. Clifton Burton

Recent update 6/25/10) Cliff, as you have not talked to me personally face-to-face in over 5 years I don't really think you are the person that really has any room to speak into my life. Another thing that I don't understand...why you let all of this eat at you and continue to fester and post things that malign people and literally waste people's time, yours and many others. I see that you wrote this comment over a year ago...LET IT GO, forgive any wrongs or perceived wrongs that were done to you, your family and whoever else you feel like you are benefiting by posting this garbage. It is SIN to harbor bitterness in your heart, so why not let your time glorify God instead of wasting it on this silly conquest.

Assuming the last post was from Erika, please allow me to respond. If I wasn't genuinely concerned for you I wouldn't bother to point out the things that I do. But of course, it is not for your benefit alone. Think of it this way, if there was a cult in your neighborhood masquerading as an evangelical church, I am sure you would want to warn people about it. But how can you assume that because I hold a certain opinion about the leadership at GVCC and give voice to my concerns, that I am therefore filled with bitterness in my heart? The fact that I choose not to keep silent about the abuses that are going on there is no indication that I have failed to forgive those who may have offended me. Your exhortation to "let it go" would be more appropriately directed to Pastor Mathew, who, Sunday after Sunday in the pulpit, made vindictive and slanderous remarks against certain individuals for over a year after they had left the church. Clifton Burton

I am a Berkeley computer science student that attended Grace Valley for two years while I was studying at UC Davis. When I came across this page, I was disgusted at how easily certain individuals can libel a church, a Pastor, and a community of Christians on a wiki that is supposed to provide useful and credible information about Davis to the community. On the Talk page for Grace Valley, Phillip writes: Users BobSmorelights and CliftonBurton are using the same IP, editing within minutes of each other (ref, ref) —PhilipNeustrom. Why then, is the libel written by CliftonBurton still available on this page? It's obvious that "Bob" and "Clifton" were simply accounts created by an individual for the purpose of destroying the image of this church. Was DavisWiki intended to be a place where personal vendettas can be carried out publicly with lies and libel delivered from behind a mask of fake usernames?

If DavisWiki aims to be a credible place for the community to obtain information about the city, this situation needs to be cleaned up. If you look at how Wikipedia operates, they refrain from linking to unfounded claims from articles unless there is tangible and sufficient evidence backing it up. Just my two cents. —MichaelZhang

Hi, Michael. This is Clifton Burton (no this is not a pseudonym). I would like to respond to your note. First let's define our terms. Libel is defamation; false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another. How do you know that the negative things written about this church by so many former members are false or unjustified? It is disturbing to you, and I can understand that. But they are describing their experience, not yours. You attended this church as a student for 2 years. My family was in the church for over 25 years. I joined the church in 1975, and was one of the first elders, back when it was called Davis Evangelical Church. Dale Sorbello and his family were also in the church for many, many years. I challenge you to find one thing that I have written on the Davis Wiki that is false. It is true, that when I first made entries to this sight, a few years ago, I used the pseudonym of Bob Smorelights. But soon afterwards, I removed the pseudonym and used my real name, to demonstrate my veracity. If you are interested in the truth, and don't trust the "personal vendettas" of former members, then I suggest you personally contact some of the other pastors in Davis. They have seen first hand the damage which Grace Valley Christian Center has done to people who leave. — Clifton Burton

To start off, this is a post that has POSITIVE and NEGATIVE experiences to Grace Valley Christian Center.  I attended Grace Valley Christian Center on-and-off and Grace Alive regularly between the years 2017 to 2019.  Check out the rest of the negative response near the bottom of the page.

POSTIVE: GVCC at first glimpse was great.  Loving people, a strong adherence to the Word of God, and a community of believers.  I had no personal bad experiences within Grace Valley or Grace Alive.  I tell people I don't have a bad experience with GVCC and Grace Alive because they didn't do anything bad to me personally.  I will say most of the Christian clubs/organizations on campus straight out avoid Grace Alive, and major Christian RSOs (without naming) actually tell UCD students that GVCC is a "cult."  A lot of the claims the student clubs were making were baseless, to be frank.  None of them knew anyone personally inside the church or Grace Alive, and it was all based on a rumor mill ("I heard someone say they were bullying students..."). 
Grace Alive had very solid teaching, and they never talked bad about any other clubs. 
 It was also evident that the other Christian clubs and organizations at UCD have secluded Grace Alive from any university-wide council regarding Christian matters. -Yahtzee 

Positive Section Debate

I have been a member of Grace Valley Christian Center since becoming a Christian twelve years ago. The dialogue below about GVCC being a cult or spiritually abusive may make for interesting reading, but the claims are both misguided and unfounded. As one who has carefully studied both Christian theology and church history (I have a Master’s degree in Religion), I can attest to the fact that GVCC is biblically sound in both its doctrine and its practice. This does not mean that everybody will appreciate it (as evidenced below). The message of the Bible and its authoritative claims are often offensive to people. GVCC’s mission is to clearly and fearlessly declare the message of salvation through Christ to a world that is “without hope and without God.” Standing for truth in a postmodern age is sure elicit the animosity of many.— GregPerry

It appears that you (Greg Perry and Erica Chaffin) became Christians at GVCC. If so, the only model of church leadership you know is GVCC's. I don't question your sincerity or your salvation, but to ignore and/or discount other Christians' concerns with the unbibical practices occurring at GVCC is exactly why they continue. These practices "bring the way of truth into disrepute" (2Pet. 2:2); they are not only recognized as unbiblical by the other evangelical churches in Davis, but they are bringing reproach to the name of Christ among the unbelievers. Let the Gospel be the offense and don't cover sin with a theological cloak.—ChristianDemetrius

* Greg, neither "the message of the Bible" nor "its authoritative claims" are the issue in question. You will encounter two main negative views on this page, the first from those who would have a problem with any stereotypically Protestant church, and those who have a problem with GVCC specifically. I do not believe it to be a leap in logic to say that some of those who attend, for example, First Baptist would have a problem with the behaviour claimed in the negative stories section below — does that make them unbelievers? Think carefully before answering; your response will shed a lot of light on the interests and beliefs of GVCC. —DomenicSantangelo

*A response to my friend Jim Witt from Cliff Burton, concerning my leaving the church...

Jim, here are some facts that you may not be aware of. You wrote: “Both Mr. Burton and Mr. Sorbello participated voluntarily in this discipleship program (for those not familiar with GVCC this is referring to a subset of the church members who make a life-time commitment to the church ). At any time, as I once did, they could have requested to be released and continue on as members of GVCC, but they did not.” What you must understand is that when we began to discover the problems in the church (see Alleged Aberrations ), we had no desire to be released from our lifetime commitment to flock and continue as members of GVCC. We wanted to leave the church and withdraw our membership. Therein is the rub. Those who attempt to leave because they are not happy with the church are not released, but are excommunicated, and publicly vilified before the congregation as heretics and God-haters, as we were, and many other families who left before and after us.

Also, you may not be aware of the fact that we (the Burtons) attempted to leave the church 2 years prior to our actual leaving. One Sunday night we wrote a letter of resignation to the church, explaining why we were leaving– our daughter had been excommunicated by the church and we were told by the Pastor not to have social visits with our daughter. The following evening two elders, Gerrit Buddingh and Ron Guly, showed up at my house to inform us that we had misunderstood the Pastor, the implication being that we had no grounds for leaving. My wife, fearing that we would be excommunicated, convinced me that we should return to the church. A few days later we were told by Gerrit that our letter of resignation was “a drive-by shooting”. We were subsequently denounced by the elders and shunned by many people in the church. On a flock night Pastor called my wife a “loose cannon” from the pulpit, and said that people should not associate with a loose cannon. So much for trying to leave the right way.

You also wrote: “I choose not to speculate why they did not address their concerns with the church leadership by direct communication. Instead, they chose to disappear one day without notice, and then began writing publicly about their perceptions of GVCC and it’s members.”

Actually, we did address our concerns with the church leadership. Both the Burtons and the Sorbellos wrote letters to the Pastor and/or the elders (see The Burton's Resignation Letter from GVCC, Mr. Sorbello’s letter can be found below). The Burton's resignation letter was emailed to Gerrit Buddingh and forwarded to over 40 individuals in the church. So we hardly chose to "disappear one day without notice". If, by “direct communication”, you mean in person, well, we did attempt to do that 2 years before we left the church. I went in to the elders meeting with a list of questions and concerns. From the very beginning of the meeting I was treated with ridicule and contempt, was repeatedly interrupted, was told that I was rebellious and stubborn, and I was never even given an opportunity to speak. Others families who went to the elders meetings to share their concerns experienced similarly treatment or worse. Since the leadership has repeatedly shown itself to be unwilling to hear, let alone to receive criticism, what is the point in publicly airing these concerns? It is for the benefit of those in the community, to spare them the troubles that we ourselves and many other families experienced there. Hope this clarifies things for you.

P.S. I still consider you a friend, and pray for you and Terry. Hope everything is going well with you and yours. —Clifton Burton

Negative Stories and Responses to Them

There are people who consider Grace Valley to be a cult. Please keep in mind that the following opinions are both valid (i.e., honestly held) and not universal:

For a detailed description of the aberrations at Grace Valley Christian Center, see Alleged Aberrations.

(Continuation of the positive response above)

NEGATIVE: Here is where I'll admit it got very weird.  GVCC strongly encourages all members to attend all services (Wednesday night bible study, Saturday morning prayer, Sunday morning worship, and Sunday evening service).  Each service has a different tone.  I guess the most starkly different service is Sunday morning worship.  Specifically, when the lead pastor preaches.  During my stay, there were times at least ONCE a month (sometimes once every 2 months) where a family/person leaves on a bad note.  While I don't know personally anyone who left, I and everyone on Sunday morning would know it was on bad terms because the lead pastor will spend the entire preaching time talking about it.  I will say I had never heard him utter a SINGLE name, he'll mentioned the situation vaguely, and why this person was sinning.  At first, I thought it was church discipline, but truth is you'll never know the full story.

GVCC is very big that's a Reformed church; however, they are not in any denomination.  The lead pastor remarks he is "ordained by God to shepherd the flock."  At first glance, GVCC  doesn't seem like reformed at all - it has a lot of charismatic elements.  A better explanation to this topic is a dissident of GVCC named David J. Merkel.  He gives a detailed response on his blog, The Tav Blog. Check out his response at

The most startling piece of all was there were MEMBERS INSIDE the church telling me allegations, and saying it was all true.  I had two families detail situations where the lead pastor and other leaders in the church had abuse them emotionally and spiritually.  The oddest part?  There were all still communicant members in "good standing."  I asked them why they didn't leave.  Their responses?  They still admit that the biblical teaching is very good, but another reason was that they were wary of the backlash of leaving GVCC.  The families would detailed abuses they personally felt by the leadership.  Startling, they claim that the pastor and many people in the church hold racially biased views.  They named instances when the pastor made racially insensitive remarks to them (one was a mixed race family).  They both said their kids were abused by the Grace Valley Christian Academy, saying that the principal were emotionally abusing the kids and the principal would make false claims ("you're sinning because of this").  They claim a lot of the teachers at the school are unaccredited, and the school is one of the methods the church uses to "watch over" the family.  They told me that everyone inside the church is expected to send their kids to the Grace Valley Christian Academy, and you'll receive harsh criticism if they decide not to. They claimed they, as members, have to report every week to their home group leader of the family's activities of that week.  EVERYTHING.  They told me instances where they visited other churches or went out, and had to lie to their leaders ("I was sick at home...").  Their accusations I cannot prove, but it was just so weird that members of a church in good standing would tell me things of that nature (and I was technically just a visitor).  Those families probably left the church after I left, but I have no idea. -Yahtzee

CAUTION! Grace Valley Christian Center (GVCC) is an abusive, authoritarian personality cult masquerading as an orthodox church. It presents itself as being committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the inerrancy of Scripture, and to the Reformed tradition. However, GVCC holds to many unbiblical practices for which it refuses to repent. For example, the pastor is considered a "prophet" worthy of extraordinary deference, service, and one who cannot be questioned lest you be labeled "rebellious" or a "hater of authority"; the leadership "lords it over the flock" by intruding into matters where Christians have liberty such as which car to buy, what person to date/marry, which job to take, etc.; members are sometimes publicly ridiculed; confidential files are kept on members; conformity with the rules are enforced through fear, shame, and public humiliation; many believers have been spiritually and emotionally abused in "counseling" and from the pulpit; believers who sign membership agreements are later told it is "the equivalent to a marriage covenant" and is considered to be life-long, unless asked to leave by the pastor; those who leave without the pastors' approval are shunned (think Jehovah Witnesses) by all church members, even by members of their own families. The leaders often slander those who leave and the victims are unable to defend themselves or tell the real story. The leaders have been confronted in person, by letter, and by phone, and called on to repent of these unbiblical practices and sins but have refused to repent. In fact, those so bold as to bring these matters to their attention are vilified as "agents of Satan". The pastors of the healthy evangelical churches in the area can attest to the damage done to wounded believers who now attend their churches. Despite the church's efforts to promote its image, don't be deceived. GVCC is not a healthy Christian fellowship - GVCC is a place where Christ's sheep are beaten. For more information on these kinds of authoritarian and abusive churches, see the following link:

  • I have heard the same. My mother who is religious warned me to stay away from them when I moved to Davis years ago... I'll see if I can dig up some evidence rather than hearsay about it. I'm not interested in libel — if the analysis is correct, let's get some proof (or at least first-hand accounts) up here; if we can't, let's kill the negativity. —DomenicSantangelo
  • Hey, I used to go to Grace Valley and saw some pretty weird stuff. I saw people get humiliated and treated really badly. I also know from personal experience that once you're a member and decide to leave you will get shunned by pretty much all the people. I think JoyfulPilgrims' description is pretty accurate.— ChristianDemetrius

I too have left this church in Davis because it has evolved to become a closed knit group of radical people who truly believe they are the only true Church in the city, county, and region. Their leadership is very authoritarian, orthodox and isolated from any authentic over sight from other presbyteries or bishops. Recently, some families have left and have been excommunicated, shunned by members, and despite many years of faithful service, malicious and slanderous information have been, and are continuing to be, communicated about them. There is a long list of other individuals, who have left the church over the years because they did not agree with the isolationism, the authoritarianism, the spiritual elitism, and the harsh treatment in counseling, just to name a few issues. They also were personally castigated, publicly vilified and maligned, and ostracized when they left. The most interesting experience for me has been the conversations I have had with teachers, coaches and Pastors I have known for many years in our region. They have ALL expressed great joy and relief to me for “getting out” of that terrible church. I have felt like NEO in the Matrix. Does everyone in Davis know about the extensive aberrations of GVCC and yet nobody has ever communicated these issues to the community at large or to the University? How can this be true? Should there be an official warning sent to students at UC where heavy recruiting of disciples takes place every Fall? The 5 or 6 lawyers on the church staff are lay ministers and perform legal work on behalf of the fellowship pro bono. I truly have fears of a lawsuit if I write an open letter to the editor concerning the issues I have brought up here. I hope the information shared here is helpful in warning the people and students of Davis about this organizations hyper orthodox position and the dangers they present to the authentic Christian community. Brett Feld

  • I wouldn't worry about a lawsuit. The only charge they could bring is libel, which in order to stick they would need to prove that what you said was false. - KenjiYamada (And prove you wrote the things attributed to you.)

GVCC borders on being a cult, but actually is more accurately defined as a "spiritually abusive" church. It fits the classic definition of one. There are numerous websites available about this type of church.

Having attended GVCC for a number of years, I can also attest to what goes on there. Joyful Pilgrim describes it perfectly. LightHouse

I first started going to GVCC and Grace Alive my freshman year '00 at UCD. After reading the statement of faith and meeting some of the members I was drawn in by the love that was shown. With a multitude of experiences and questions later, I decided to leave GVCC. This decision was made after displays of authoritarianism, group-think and shunning for unbiblical purposes was displayed. Although these people had been like family to me, I could not support the unbiblical practices being displayed. I personally witnessed on more than one account youth and adults being publicly ridiculed during a church service, and others being reprimanded for not reading the church's specific bible reading plan. After sending a vague email saying that I would no longer be attending GVCC I was shunned (in a lighter sense of the word). I received emails and letters asking that I not have contact with certain people because I was an ungodly influence. GVCC members and their children are steered away from "the shunned" in public places like the grocery store and the Farmer's Market, not to mention UCD classes. GVCC is not building up the body of Christ, it is tearing it apart. For this very reason after having gone to GVCC for 1 1/2 years I can say with FULL confidence that I would not recommend my enemy, let alone my friend to attend there. God is so much bigger than what is displayed as Christian love there. The Davis community needs to take action, GVCC's effect is much larger than my story. ~MichelleBasich

I joined GVCC way back when the church was first formed, in 1975, when it was called Davis Evangelical Church. I have written an extensive testimony of some of my more regrettable moments in this church (see Clifton Burton's Experience at GVCC). In all fairness, there were many happy times and wonderful experiences that I enjoyed in this place as well, but these are not articulated in my testimony, because the positive experiences there were tainted and out-weighed by many sad experiences and deplorable practices that I experienced and witnessed. After more than 25 years of faithful attendance, I wrote a family letter of resignation to the Pastor, summarizing why we had to leave: (see The Burton's Resignation Letter from GVCC). Since we left in 2004, our family has experienced real healing, renewal and joy in the Holy Spirit, and we are faithfully attending church elsewhere —CliftonBurton

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

[The following is a verbatim copy of our letter resigning our membership from Grace Valley - please do not edit.]

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 (sample enclosed) 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

Attachments: Not all the attachments included in the letter are on the web. Links to the attachments currently accessible are as follows:

  • I am disheartened to hear of such negative things happening in a church that claims to follow the ways of Christ. The real way of Christ was love and acceptance. I suggest Crossings as an alternative to GVCC or similar such funamentalist-type churches. Crossings believes everyone can experience God's love and grace no matter their background, lifestyle, or orientation.Janelle

2007-03-14 17:06:36   I was married at Grace Valley Christian Center in September. (I'm not going to say what year.) A month after my marriage, my wife went to an appointment with the pastor and came home saying he and the elders of the church wanted to meet with me that Saturday. When Saturday came, I didn't know what was up. Were they going to congratulate me for something? When I went into the conference room, Pastor launched an attack. His first words were, "I have been counseling your wife to leave you." (What happened to "Till death do us part?") He then told me that I was like a dog who returned again and again to eat its own vomit. My crime? Having a job while I was in school, rather than quitting and being a full-time student! I was devastated, and told my wife I would never set foot in the church again. I stayed away from church the next day, but my elder called me Sunday evening and said that Pastor had simply lost his temper with me because he loved me. Unbelievably, I went back. —DogBarf

  • DogBarf: do you expect anyone to believe what you're saying here? Like many "users" on this page, it seems that your username exists for the sole purpose of attacking this church with baseless claims. —MichaelZhang

"2007-10-25" For five years we were members at Grace Valley Christian Center. As part of Gerrit Buddingh's "cell group" we became good friends with Clarks, Grensteds, Steven Smiths, Bonettis, Mike Moroskis, Bassos, Lischeskes, Johnsons, Spencers, Hashagens. Others we remember are the Spartzes, Chapmans, Morejohns, Burtons, Manderfields, Sorbellos, Bimsons, Peter Droubays, Trotters, Dyers, Gianninis, Farvers, Jackuras, Penas, Roths, Daniel Washabaughs, Robys, Thompsons, Ron Gulys, Clumpners, and of course Pastor Mathew and Gladys. When we first began attending Grace Valley we felt as though we'd "died and gone to heaven." We experienced an amazing sense of belonging to a life-long group of committed believers. It was only after we began inquiring about the inner group known as "flock" that we became concerned about the extent of control the leadership exerted over people. In a series of "progressive revelation" one-on-one meetings with the leadership, we were gradually brought to an understanding as to what joining "flock" entailed. As it was finally explained to us, if we were in "flock" every area of our lives would be "on the table" for the leadership to touch. And the clinching question: "Do you trust God enough to allow Him to direct you through us?" Yikes! We understand the Biblical concept of discipleship, but this was something beyond that! We also were becoming more aware of a pattern of public humiliation of members who were "out of sync" with the leadership. In 1992 we left GVCC over our concerns related to Spiritual abuse. To this day we continue to be shunned by our friends there. (A number of friends who once shunned us have since left GVCC and are now shunned themselves.) — Rich Lindvall


  • After reading that (a comment deleted by author, — jw), I am seriously concerned about what is taking place in Davis. I propose that we forward this to Judy Sakaki, since some of this activity takes place on campus. The UCD Administration should be able to determine if further action is needed or not. This has grown beyond the scope of the wiki, and I hope that those who are anonymous will be willing to speak out. —BrentLaabs
    • I concur that abuses should be forwarded to an official, particularly that if GVCC is technically on UCD land, the university could be held liable. - KJM
      • It may or may not be on university land, but Grace Alive is a SPAC registered organization. So it definitely affects the University.
        • There could very well be a hole in University Property where the church/academy are. When I said the church was on University property, I made that judgement based on the address. While the church may not be on university property, Grace Alive could be in some trouble. However, nothing will come of this unless people are willing to step forward. One has to remember that we have the freedom of religion in this country. Where do you draw the line and tell someone that the way in which they practice their faith is wrong? - arlen
    • With the flurry of recent updates I think it would prove useful to wait a tad longer, to see if we can get anyone else to collaborate with testimony against the cult, but then it should definitely be brought to the University's attention. Some form of contact information for those who've experienced these things at GVCC would probably be helpful at that point, even if for the sake of anonymity freshly registered yahoo mail accounts are used. I say this, since I'm assuming whomever at the University might investigate these claims would wish to hear them firsthand, rather than secondhand. — JosephBleckman
    • I am in the process of contacting the University Administration about what has been said here. However, since most of the stories are given on anonymous accounts and/or new accounts where we don't know you, people will have to meet in person with University officials. Hopefully this will be on an anonymous basis, so there is no fear of reprisal. All I can do is get the ball rolling, because I have no personal knowledge about Grace Alive other than their yellow posters. Details to come. —BrentLaabs
  • This problem has been going on for years, and there are endless testimonies of weird abuse, but the intimidation is so great that people, if they leave, just want to forget about that place, rather than deal with the problems of the church. Even the University appears afraid to intervene, even though they have been informed on several occasions that Grace Alive (the church's campus organization) has been in violation of campus policy. (Student organizations are supposed to be organized and run by students, but Grace Alive is governed directly by the church leaders.) Example: The president of Grace Alive is not elected by the students, but by the church leaders. Perhaps if enough people complained, the University might take some action. — Clifton Burton

A Summary of Aberations

For an in-depth discussion of various aberations at GVCC that have been identified by former members, go to Alleged Aberrations

Recovering From Spiritual Abuse

  • First I would like to thank all former GVCCers who have shared here, either by name or pseudonym. That took a lot of courage. I would also like to thank those who have defended GVCC. All of us, at some point, would have done the same. My prayer for you is that one day you will experience the same freedom in Christ that those of us who have left are now experiencing. Though you may find it hard to believe, we love you in the Lord. Some day we'll be together, dancing with our father God in fields of grace. — For those interested, here is a link to Recovering From Spiritual Abuse. Rich Lindvall "2007-10-29"