Evangelical leaders on SGM: Circle the wagons

Content note: discussion of child abuse and coverups in religious communities.

As I mentioned in my recent post on the cult of the “greater cause,” reformed evangelical leaders have rallied to defend C.J. Mahaney, former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries (though still a leader in the group) and a defendant in the ongoing lawsuit alleging abuses and clergy coverups in the group. Leaders of Together for the Gospel (T4G), a ministry founded by C.J., and The Gospel Coalition (TGC, and surprise – C.J.’s a member of their council) both released statements dismissing any possibility that he’s been involved in any conspiracy to cover up abuse or silence victims.

There have also been a lot of developments in the suit, including a second amendment that added more plaintiffs, named some of the plaintiffs for the first time, named more perpetrators, and added more specific charges of abuse. The updated suit – which, be warned, includes very graphic and extended accounts of child sexual abuse – can be found here. Most of the suit was dismissed last month on a technicality, statute of limitations, but the lawyers for the victims have requested that the judge reconsider the dismissal and plan to appeal if this request is rejected.

There’s a lot to say about all of this, both about my personal reaction a one-time member of CLC who knew and interacted with some of the men named as perpetrators, and about the sickening refusal of reformed evangelical leaders to hold CJ and Sovereign Grace at all accountable even as more and more victims come forward. I hope to write more about about that in the next few weeks. In the meantime,  I have a longer update on the suit and the statements released by T4G and TGC at Religion Dispatches. An excerpt:

The TGC statement, written by prominent pastors Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor, alleged that Mahaney has been “the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some.” T4G leaders Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan (who leads the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) argued that the suit failed to implicate Mahaney in “credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing” which would be reason “to step down from public ministry.”

This was a revision from their original statement, which inaccurately claimed that “no such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C. J. Mahaney” and that he was “instead…charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals.”

When SGM was embroiled in a very different sort of scandal over allegations of coercive leadership by Mahaney—and his admitted blackmail of former SGM leader Larry Tomczak—evangelical responses were much the same. Mohler, describing Mahaney as a “visionary Christian leader,” insisted that there was “nothing disqualifying” in the allegations against him. Duncan spoke of his “complete love and respect” for Mahaney and urged followers to “ignore the assaults of wounded people” and avoid the “ugly” and “unbiblical” practice of “adjudicating…[on] the internet.”

These more recent comments have some questioning why the dozens of allegations of abuse and cover-up leveled in the lawsuit against SGM have done nothing to diminish their estimation of Mahaney and his leadership. David Clohessy, director of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), decried the statements as “mean-spirited” and “dreadfully hurtful to child sex abuse victims. He also criticized the authors as “disingenuous” in choosing to “take sides… while at least two victims’ abuse and cover up suits are pending.”

Both Clohessy and Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and founder of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), criticized the authors’ omission of the fact that Mahaney was not only the leader of SGM, but also the senior pastor at CLC during the time that most of the abuses are alleged to have taken place, in direct authority over pastors accused of conspiring to cover-up abuse—in some cases committing abuse themselves.

See Religion Dispatches for the full article.

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