Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
Since my last report on the Sovereign Grace Ministries lawsuit in May, more developments have unfolded in this horrific ordeal. For an in-depth overview of the situation, see my last article on the topic. To sum up the events though, back in October 2012 three women represented by attorney Susan Burke filed a civil lawsuit in Montgomery County, MD accusing SGM and various of its leaders and churches of covering up and failing to report child sex abuse crimes through the 1980s and 90s.
In May 2013 eleven plaintiffs signed onto the second amendment of the lawsuit and Burke stated there were even more. The civil suit was largely dismissed for the expired statute of limitations, but criminal investigations are in the works and the plaintiffs have filed an appeal.
SGM is a network of about 80 “evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic” churches led, until a few months, ago by C.J. Mahaney. SGM was headquartered in Gaithersburg, MD until their recent relocation to Louisville, KY.
A major concern in this situation was the silence of well-known pastors and leaders close to Mahaney and SGM. Very little was said concerning the lawsuit outside the rumblings of lesser known bloggers. Shortly after the lawsuit was dismissed, two major evangelical organizations with close ties to SGM and its leader C.J. Mahaney (who is among the defendants in the lawsuit) commented. Within hours of each other, Together for the Gospel (T4G) and members of The Gospel Coalition (TGC) issued statements explaining their silence resulted from hesitation due to the complex nature of the lawsuit and their close friendship with Mahaney.
TGC’s letter was signed by Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor. It specifies that the letter does not represent the views of all associated with TGC. Neither statement calls for Mahaney to step back from public ministry until the allegations and lawsuit are resolved. The three members who make up T4G with Mahaney – Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan – received criticism for stating that Mahaney was merely accused of “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.”
The statement was recently removed from T4G’s website and replaced with a letter from Mahaney explaining why he will not be speaking at the group’s 2014 conference. In the letter dated July 1 Mahaney writes: “Unfortunately, the civil lawsuit filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries, two former SGM churches and pastors (including myself), continues to generate the type of attention that could subject my friends to unfair and unwarranted criticism. Though dismissed in May (and now on appeal), the lawsuit could prove a distraction from the purpose of this important conference. My withdrawal is not intended to communicate anything about the merits of the suit.”
Others in the evangelical community have used this circumstance as an opportunity to address how churches should prevent, and if necessary, deal with child sexual abuse. The Southern Baptist Convention, at its recent annual meeting in Houston passed a resolution titled “On Sexual Abuse of Children” urging churches to vigilantly screen prospective staff members – particularly those working with children – and comply with legal obligations by reporting abuse to the authorities, among other things.
In addition, the resolution encourages “all denominational leaders and employees of the Southern Baptist Convention to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
Further, Boz Tchividjian founder and Executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) has been critical of how evangelical leaders have publicly handled this tragic situation. Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and brother of TGC member Tullian Tchividjian, stated in a post on the GRACE website 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.”
He continues: “A Gospel-centered response to child sexual abuse begins with our understanding that silence is not an option. We must be willing to openly confront abuse and its surrounding silence and give of ourselves so that those impacted can experience the healing and transformative power of Jesus.”
As the appeal goes to trial and the criminal investigations proceed, we can only pray justice prevails and that moving forward, churches and ministries will do all in their power to protect children from violation.