Mohler, Other Calvinist Leaders Back Mahaney

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal
May 29, 2013

Together for the Gospel conference panelists at the Kentucky International Convention Center in 2010 include, seated from left, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Thabiti Anyabwile and Albert Mohler.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and other leading New Calvinist figures have issued statements of confidence in one of their partners in ministry, C.J. Mahaney — ending their months of silence over a lawsuit alleging that Mahaney and his denomination conspired to cover up claims of sexual abuse.

The statements by Mohler and others came days after a Maryland judge dismissed, on legal grounds, what had been a growing lawsuit alleging a cover-up by Mahaney and other leaders in Sovereign Grace Ministries and its congregations. (Two of the 11 plaintiffs can re-file in the same court, and their lawyers say they’ll appeal the rest to the next level.) That decision in itself came just days after the lawsuit was amended for a second time, alleging a series of sex crimes allegedly committed by various people associated with the denomination. (Previous coverage is here.)

Sovereign Grace Ministries, which recently relocated to Louisville, was until last year based in Maryland, and many of the alleged incidents are said to have occurred in the D.C. area.

Mohler’s statement was co-signed by two other men who — along with Mohler and Mahaney — head up a cross-denominational group, Together for the Gospel (T4G). It hosts conferences every two years in Louisville drawing thousands of mostly male attendees, many of them pastors or seminarians. The other two are Mark Dever, pastor of a Southern Baptist congregation in Washington, D.C., and Ligon Duncan, a Jackson, Miss., pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America.

Here are excerpts from the T4G statement:

“…We could not speak to the issues involved so long as they were raised only in the context of an action in the civil courts. We have never made a public comment with regard to claims and counter-claims in a civil lawsuit, and we will not violate that principle now.

“… If the filing of civil litigation against a Christian ministry or leader is in itself reason for separation and a rush to judgment, no ministry or minister is safe from destruction at any time. …

“We have stood beside our friend, C. J. Mahaney, and we can speak to his personal integrity. We can make no judgment as to the truthfulness of the horrifying charges of sexual abuse made against some individuals who have been connected, in some way, to Sovereign Grace Ministries and its churches. Our hearts must go out to anyone, and especially to any child, who suffers abuse at the hand of anyone. In such a case the legal authorities must use the full power of the law to investigate and to prosecute any perpetrator of such crimes.

” … A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C. J. Mahaney. Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals. For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many Gospel-minded people.”
Claims in a lawsuit give only one side of the case and should not be considered proof — but the T4G statement does not accurately portray the allegations in the lawsuit. The lawsuit did more than identify Mahaney as having taught and started a ministry. It alleged Mahaney “is a member of the ongoing conspiracy,” and it identified two specific cases in which he allegedly was involved in conspiring not to report abuse to law enforcement.  The dismissal of the case short-circuited any adjudication of the allegations.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Denny Burk, a popular blogger, endorsed the T4G statement. Another New Calvinist group, the Gospel Coalition, also issued its own statement of support for Mahaney. (The New Calvinism, named for the 16th century reformer John Calvin, puts strong emphasis on such things as the sovereignty of God, the authority of men in churches and families and the centrality of church discipline.)

Mahaney was a founder and, until this spring, long-time president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a network of scores of churches, many of them along the Atlantic Coast. He and Sovereign Grace came to Louisville in part to cooperate more closely with Southern Seminary in the training of its pastors. But Mahaney, already under fire for leadership practices even before the lawsuit, ended his role as president recently. He remains pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, a new congregation meeting at the Marriott-Louisville East.

T4G originally posted its statement on its Facebook page, then withdrew it after critical comments piled up. It later reposted the statement on its Web site.

The statements defending Mahaney immediately brought a flurry of criticism from advocates of the plaintiffs and other critics of Sovereign Grace (such as here and here).

Here are excerpts from Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E., a group that investigates and provides consulting on cases of alleged child abuse in churches:
“This past week, I have fluctuated between anger and tears as I read about Christian leaders who proclaim the Gospel with their voice, but remain silent and/or defensive about the horrors of child sexual abuse within the Church.  These leaders have once again, and perhaps unwittingly, demonstrated the art of marginalizing individual souls for the sake of reputation and friendships.

“…I think it is fair to mention at this point that besides being one of the founders of SGM, CJ Mahaney was the senior pastor at one of these two churches during the period of this horrific abuse.  … I have never met CJ Mahaney and have not at all followed the internal ‘issues’ that have been written about concerning SGM.  I have absolutely no personal animus against Mr. Mahaney or anyone else related to SGM.  I am simply expressing grave concerns regarding the manner in which some in the Christian community have handled this very dark matter.

“… The silence from Evangelical ‘leaders’ regarding the issue of child sexual abuse within the Church was deafening and spoke volumes.  Why no statements about the horrors of child sexual abuse and the apparent horrors of the abuse that occurred in these two churches? Why no statements from Evangelical leaders that express grave concern that there is even a possibility that these church leaders instructed victims and their families to embrace the horrors of silence?  We are now told by some that the silence was because of pending litigation.  Really? Since when have Christians allowed pending civil litigation to silence them over sin?

“… Neither statement [by T4G or the Gospel Coalition] makes mention that the heart of this lawsuit is about a systematic church effort to discourage and eventually prevent the families of children who were allegedly (and repeatedly) sexually victimized by church officials from speaking out and reporting to law enforcement.

“… The statement by T4G fails to mention that this lawsuit was dismissed for one reason and one reason only…expiration of the statute of limitation. [Actually some cases also involved another technicality, jurisdictional issues over Virginia and Maryland.] Isn’t it tragic that the reason why this suit was dismissed – taking too long to file – was the very objective of these church leaders allegedly had when they discouraged these individuals and families from stepping forward.

“… Many of these men have not hesitated to write (or tweet) on the Penn State horrors, homosexuals in the Boy Scouts, and universal healthcare, but have been conspicuously quiet on this issue. And when they finally speak, what is omitted speaks more than what is said.
One Southern Baptist blogger, Peter Lumpkins, plans to introduce a resolution at this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It would, among other things:
“strongly urge denominational servants, entity leaders and our trustee boards to sever all ties, whether official or unofficial, with any evangelical organization, fellowship of ministers, and/or celebrity leader who, presently or in the past, is facing criminal and/or civil litigation for neglecting moral or legal obligations to protect the little children whom Jesus said suffer to follow Him.”


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.