[Editor’s Note: For five years or so, a maelstrom of controversy has been building in reformed protestant circles regarding the protodenomination formerly known as Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), headquartered for more than 30 years in Gaithersburg, Maryland, near Washington DC. The organization that once claimed more than 100 affiliate churches and hundreds of affiliated ministers in numerous nations, originally named People of Destiny International (PDI), was founded by C.J. Mahaney and Larry Tomczak and two other lesser-knowns in the 1970s, spinning off the so-called Jesus Movement spawned in California in the late 1960s. Conflicts and strife within the PDI leadership has been recurrent for many years, finally peaking around the mid-1990s with the ouster and disfellowship of Larry Tomczak amid internal accusations of misconduct, mishandling of related matters, and irreconcilable doctrinal/philosophical differences. A continuous current of criticism and allegations of flagrant relational and leadership wrongdoing against Mahaney coursed on for decades before and after the Tomczak debacle, erupting like a volcano in 2011 with formal charges of misconduct and corruption by him being widely disseminated by one of those aforementioned lesser-known, also disfellowshipped, Mahaney associates turned blogger. Some aspects of those revelations received substantial accreditation by a civil lawsuit against SGM, Mahaney, and other named SGM leaders, alleging multiple incidences of sexual misconduct by SGM employees and associates, an organization-wide cover-up conspiracy, hush-money payments and perks, decades-long employment of confessed sex-offenders, and failure to report to authorities multiple known criminal acts of child molestation, as well as aiding and abetting of same, filed in October 2012. The original suit with its several amendments, was eventually dismissed due to expiration of statutes of limitations and jurisdictional technicalities, but it spawned a criminal investigation, subsequent arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration of a longtime SGM employee in the organization-owned schools who was also a close associate and personal friend of a number of top SGM leaders, including Mahaney. The tentacles of the continuing controversy and conflicts have already reached deep into the Southern Baptist Convention and Reformed Theology realms and has been reported by numerous national media outlets. Knowledgeable, credible sources, however, presage that the expansive imbroglio is far from over and the complete story is yet to be revealed. What we do know with certainty at this time is that ongoing investigations are being conducted, facts are being compiled, books and articles are being written, and more revelations and fallout are forthcoming. SLM will report further developments in this disheartening and troubling matter as they develop and warrant. The following news-release by the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) urging the leadership of the Together for the Gospel (T4G16) conference conveners to disinvite C.J. Mahaney—one of the original founders of the amalgamation—as a conference speaker, provides a good overview of the ongoing controversy. It is for that reason, and the strong view that all believers should be aware and informed about such matters that we publish it.]
National–Victims want pastors disinvited from huge Protestant conference
For immediate release: Thursday, March 31, 2016
Abuse victims want preacher disinvited
He’s accused of concealing child sex crimes
But he is to speak at major Protestant conference
Group says his role “will deter others from reporting abuse
SNAP: “And it rubs salt into wounds of those hurt on his watch”
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging organizers of a major religious conference to revoke a speaking invitation to a controversial pastor who has allegedly concealed child sex crimes by at least 15 accused offenders.
Rev. C. J. Mahaney is the former head of a denomination called once called Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) but now known as Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC). It has roughly 70 churches across the US (mainly in eastern states) and in Australia, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Great Britain, Germany and Mexico.
It’s expected to draw at least 8,000 participants to Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on April 12-14.
But in October, 2012, amended in January, 2013 and again in May, 2013, Mahaney was accused in civil lawsuits of ignoring and hiding known and suspected child sexual abuse by church staff and members while he led SGM and Covenant Life Church in Maryland.
In a letter sent today to the T4G organization, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are asking them to rescind their permission to let Mahaney and other SGM/SGC officials speak at their event.
“It’s reckless and callous when clergymen give prominent positions to colleagues who face charges of concealing child sex crimes,” said SNAP director David Clohessy. “It actually makes churches more dangerous. It discourages other church members and staff who see, suspect or suffer child sex crimes from speaking up. It emboldens those who commit and conceal child sex crimes.”
“Common sense and common decency would lead T4G officials to say ‘Look C. J., we’re just going to wait until this litigation is resolved before holding you out as a moral figure,’” said Pam Palmer of Hagerstown, a former SGM member whose daughter was sexually abused in 1993 by a teenager. “That would show compassion and prudence. But instead, these ministers all want to act as if these serious and pending charges don’t exist.”
At least three prominent clergymen co-founded T4G. They are Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Mark Dever, President of 9Marks and Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and Ligon Ducan, Chancellor/CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in McLean, Virginia.
Besides Mahaney, several current SGC/SGM officials will be speaking at breakout sessions at the conference. The include Mark Prater, Executive Director, and Ian McConnell, Director of Church Planting and Mission.
SNAP wants them disinvited too.
For more than 30 years, Mahaney led both Covenant Life Church (CLC) in Gaithersburg, Maryland and SGM (now Sovereign Grace Churches). Multiple news sources have reported that he was forced to take a leave of absence as President of SGM in July, 2011 – in part, because of allegations of blackmail and abuses of power. (link link)
In the midst of public controversy and leadership in-fighting, he fled CLC and began attending Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Soon after, Mahaney hastily moved Sovereign Grace Ministry headquarters from CLC to Louisville, Kentucky. (link link)
A few months later, in October 2012, victims of sexual abuse from Sovereign Grace filed a civil lawsuit against the denomination alleging longstanding conspiracy to cover-up sex abuse. The civil lawsuit grew to 11 plaintiffs before being dismissed because of statutes of limitations. A new civil lawsuit in Virginia, is slated to be filed against Sovereign Grace and related former churches in a few months. (legal complaint)
Additionally, in October 2012, Nathaniel Morales, was arrested and eventually convicted of molesting three boys during the 1980s while he was a CLC youth and worship leader. While under oath during the criminal case, CJ Mahaney’s brother-in-law and subordinate youth pastor, Grant Layman, admitted that he knew he should have reported Morales to law enforcement, but didn’t. (link)
In an expose by The Washingtonian Magazine, reporter Tiffany Stanley wrote, “An investigation commissioned by CLC revealed that between 1990 and 2007 at least five members of the church’s staff were told of Morales’s abuse. None notified the police.” (link)
Some say Mahaney was aware of or should have been aware of several serious reports of child sex abuse by Morales during the 1980s and following — and that he and his pastoral staff did not report Morales to law enforcement.
In 2007, a group of CLC pastors, while CLC was still under CJ Mahaney’s leadership, discussed Morales’ sexual abuses and decided to not report him to law enforcement even though it had been reported to them that Morales had returned to ministry and was working as a pastor in Nevada. Several of these pastors publicly apologized in a church meeting for neglecting to report Morales after that meeting.
Mahaney was aware of or should have been aware of this 2007 decision by pastors within his flagship church to not report an alleged serial child molester, the lawsuit says.
According to sworn testimony at the Morales trial, a teenager told two pastors at CLC in 1991 about Morales abusing other kids, according to Brent Detwiler, a former SGM leader turned blogger:
[The two pastors] did nothing. This information would have been passed onto Mahaney by them. Obviously, he did nothing. His practice was not to report sex offenders. From then, until his arrest, Morales abused boys in different parts of the United States including two steps sons because he was not reported to police. The pastors at CLC who knew about Morales are largely to blame. At the time of his sentencing, criminal investigations were underway in five states. They were dropped once he was sentenced for what should be the remainder of his life. (link)
Sex abuse cases from Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax located in Fairfax, Virginia were known of by Mahaney documented by email and phone conversations with victims and family members. It has been alleged that Mahaney was aware of legal mediation between the victims’ family members and the church leaders because of sex abuse pastoral mishandling prior to the civil lawsuit. SGM, obstensibly under Mahaney’s direction, sent a pastoral envoy, Kenneth Maresco, a pastor from CLC, to at least one of the mediation meetings. (link)
In addition, Detwiler says Mahaney knew of the sexual and physical abuses toward two victims in CLC by a wealthy member but that he and other pastors did not report to law enforcement. Instead, Mahaney and the other pastors, along with their families, were given an expensive vacation by the wealthy alleged perpetrator, Detwiler writes. (link)
According to Detwiler, writing of Mahaney’s leadership style in alleged sex abuse and cover-up cases: “I worked with C.J. for 30 years. Anyone withholding this kind of information from him would have been fired in all likelihood. He expected to be involved in things of much less importance.” (link)
Mahaney’s complicity in the cover-up of child sexual abuse in SGM/SGC has been reported widely in the media. In a recent article in Baptist News Global, Bob Allen wrote of Mahaney’s upcoming appearance at T4G16, states:
In 2012 Sovereign Grace Ministries announced a new program allowing transfer of credits from its Pastors College toward a master of divinity degree at Southern Seminary. The seminary broke off the relationship in 2014, after one of Mahaney’s former associates testified during the criminal trial that church leaders knew about alleged abuse in the early 1990s but did not report it to the police. (link)
Alleged victims of SGC/SGM predators and their family members and other concerned individuals have already privately and individually conveyed to some T4G conference organizers and scheduled speakers their strong objections to Mahaney and SGM officials speaking at the event.
“Every time an accused or admitted complicit church official is honored, it discourages victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from exposing predators, warning parents and protecting kids,” Palmer emphasized. “Giving corrupt men like Mahaney praise and visibility adds to the already strong sense of powerlessness that many who saw, suspected and suffered clergy sex crimes feel. It decreases the chances they’ll find the courage and hope needed to speak up about horrific wrongs. So it basically sanctions the concealing of sexual assaults against children.”
In 2013, Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) a child sexual abuse awareness and victims advocacy group, released a petition in response to the SGM scandal, which was signed by over 1600 individuals, many whom are prominent in ministry and in professions related to serving sexual abuse victims.
G.R.A.C.E. begins the petition referring to the SGM sex abuse scandal promulgated under Mahaney’s leadership:
Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well-known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse.
A few days after this petition was released and only a month after the SBC’s resolution was confirmed, T4G scrubbed their website of all the names of the co-founders – which prior, had prominently stressed the friendship connections of all co-founders to Mahaney for years, since the founding of the organization. (link link)
After much public pressure, Mahaney bowed out from the most recent T4G conference held in 2014 because of the sex abuse cover-up allegations detailed in the 2012 civil lawsuit.
After the criminal conviction in 2014 of Morales on child sex charges, Mahaney was forced to resign from the board of The Gospel Coalition.
Since the controversy and scandal surrounding Mahaney, over half of the churches have left his denomination and over half of the members from the church he founded and led for over 30 years have left. Still, however, high profile Evangelical pastors have shared the stage with him.
The plenary speakers who are planning to share a stage with Mahaney are:
Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, John MacArthur, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, and R.C. Sproul (who cancelled as a plenary speaker citing health reasons – but is planning on possible participation in video). [reformatted by SLM]
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax to Together for the Gospel organization, is below:
Dear Drs. Mohler, Dever and Duncan:
We understand that C.J. Mahaney is a good friend of yours and a large financial contributor to many of your ministerial endeavors, and in fact a co-founder of Together for the Gospel. We understand that C.J. Mahaney has been in active pastoral ministry for over 40 years, is a well-liked preacher, author and conference speaker – and that you each have high regard for him.
However, we sincerely ask you to set aside your personal affiliation with C.J. Mahaney and instead focus upon the multitude of sexual abuse victims abused within the church that he personally founded and led as Senior Pastor and within the denomination for decades.
Furthermore, we beg you to consider the implications towards the Gospel message if victims of horrific, life-scarring sexual abuse victims are ignored and hurt again for the sake of the popularity of a preacher and the financial success of a conference. By allowing C.J. Mahaney to speak in an international place of prominence, you are inadvertently sending a message to all sexual abuse victims – and in particular those from within Sovereign Grace Churches – that their trauma is not worth your consideration.
Jesus said in a parable: “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (ESV, Matthew 25:45b)
For their sake, and for the sake of still-vulnerable children within the entire Protestant church, we respectfully but urgently ask that you dis-invite C.J. Mahaney from speaking at the T4G16 conference.
C.J. Mahaney’s complicity in the cover-up of child sexual abuse within his denomination is well-documented. At least 15 staff or members of SGM/SCG churches are accused of committing child sex crimes. We believe – and evidence suggests – that a number of top church officials knew of or suspected these crimes and ignored or hid them.
Even if you disagree, you must realize that our perception is shared by thousands of still-wounded child sex abuse victims and millions of Christians worldwide. Personally, you may think the world of Mahaney. However, letting him to have a place of honor within your organization’s conference is tantamount to re-victimizing sex abuse victims. It is also tantamount to telling other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers “Don’t bother speaking up. No one will care. No one will take action. No wrongdoer will be held accountable.”
In light of this, is it worth taking this risk and hurting this many?
Every time a complicit church official is honored, it discourages victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from exposing predators, warning parents and protecting kids. Giving corrupt men like Mahaney praise and visibility contributes to the already strong sense of powerlessness that many who saw, suspected and suffered sexual abuse within churches feel. It decreases the chances they’ll find the courage and hope needed to speak up about horrific wrongs. Essentially, it sanctions the concealing of sexual assaults against children.
Please, gentlemen, for the protection of the vulnerable and the healing of the wounded, reconsider and rescind your invitation to C.J. Mahaney and his denominational colleagues.
Executive Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790 cell, email@example.com
Outreach Coordinator, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
St. Louis MO 63130
314 503 0003, bdorris@SNAPnetwork.org
Pamela Palmer, SNAP volunteer and mother of an SGM sex abuse victim, 240 994 1278 cell
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