I love and respect the T4G and TGC men who recently put their names to statements about the sexual abuse cover-up and conspiracy allegations surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Each of these gifted and godly men have played a hugely beneficial role in my Christian life. I’ve met some of them and know a couple of them quite well. I fully expect to profit from their ministries in the coming years.

But I have to say with heavy heart, I strongly disagree with some of the content in their public statements. I’ve held off writing anything in public for a number of weeks for a few reasons.

Reasons for delay

The first is that I wanted to see if these men would amend anything they had written in the light of substantial criticism of what they wrote. I understand that both the TGC and T4G statements were modified to correct a couple of the most glaring errors. However, I am dismayed that such corrections were not highlighted together with apologies for the original insensitivity. [CORRECTION: The TGC corrections were minor. The T4G correction was more significant].

The second reason I’ve held back is that I’ve been deeply disturbed at the way some anti-Calvinists and anti-complementarians have jumped on this specific issue to hammer Calvinism and complementarians in general. It really is deplorable to see some outside critics use sexual abuse victims in this despicable way. There also seem to be people, not the alleged victims, who are motivated by a “Get C.J. (or SGM) at all costs” mentality. These selfish personal agendas only put people’s defenses up even more and make it even less likely that friends will deal with friends in a firm but fair way.

The third reason for delay is that I have no particular locus in this matter. Until those statements, I had read virtually nothing about the SGM controversy. I still have not read any of the lawsuits or the extensive online documentation. Solomon says that those who get unnecesarily involved in disputes are like fools who grab a dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17). However, the public statements of a few weeks ago changed my disinterest. The TGC and T4G men are some of the public leaders of our Reformed community, and therefore to some degree represent me in the public square. On this issue, therefore, I want to make clear that they do not represent me, especially in the way that they used the statement of support for C.J. to take swipes at alleged victims and accusers. Regardless of whether the allegations are eventually found true or false, I don’t believe these statements are the right way to respond.

But I’ve finally decided to say a few words because I do feel that this is a potentially redemptive moment. I’m actually not that interested in offering a line-by-line critique of the statements. Others have done that. Instead, I wish to offer an alternative statement, which I hope will be a positive contribution to the debate about how to handle allegations like this going forward, especially when close friends are involved.

Alternative Statement

1. We are friends of C.J. Mahaney. We love him and have been blessed by him over many years. While C.J. has never been accused of sexual abuse, he has been accused of covering it up or discouraging the reporting of it. As his friends who know him best, you’ll understand our struggle to entertain these awful allegations. However, with the help of the Spirit of Truth and Holiness, we will strive to honor both accused and accusers in a fair and balanced way.

2. Obviously, as friends, we are thankful that the judge has decided that C.J. should not face some of the allegations that were being made. However, we would have preferred if these allegations had been dismissed following due process rather than on legal technicalities. Such a process might also have helped us to understand the issues better and sympathise with the accusers more. We have still only directly heard one side of the story which makes it almost impossible to be impartial judges.

3. Although C.J. himself did not commit any acts of sexual abuse, it’s clear from previous convictions of staff at SGM that abuse did occur under his watch and in his church. [CORRECTION: there has been one conviction for child abuse by one SGM church member, and a former member and youth worker at Gaithersburg Covenant Life Church, Nathan Morales, is currently in jail having been charged with multiple sexual offenses. There are also other criminal cases pending].  We are deeply sorry for this [CORRECTION: any abuse that occurred at the hands of anyone associated with SGM churches] as is C.J., and we express the wish to meet with any of the victims who are willing to meet with us to communicate our deepest sympathy and to pray for their healing in every way. Terrible mistakes were made along the way, and we hope to learn from this so that we can lead the church into better practices and responses.

4. As this is obviously not simply a one-off problem, but a systemic issue [CORRECTION: long-term issue in a couple of SGM churches] affecting multiple people, in the spirit of Matthew 5:25-26 and 1 Timothy 3:7, we’ve encouraged C.J. to take a leave of absence from public ministry, without prejudice, and to try to deal with these issues as soon as possible and once and for all, for the good of all concerned. We will do all we can to facilitate discussions and effect a just settlement.

5. Our primary concern is justice for all – for C.J., for SGM, and for all accusers. We condemn all attempts to find C.J. or SGM guilty without due process. We also condemn any words or actions that would intimidate, belittle, or tarnish victims of sexual abuse. We do not want to deter you from coming forward, or discourage you from reporting to the civil authorities. We disagree with the legal strategy of using the First Amendment to elevate pastors above the law of the land.

6. If we have erred in anything we have written, please let us know. We want to learn and we want to lead as Christ would lead His church.

End of statement.

Learning from my mistakes

Finally, can I say three things. First, I know how hard it is to handle these issues, especially when ministry colleagues and friendships are involved. I was involved in a 10-year conflict over similar issues in Scotland, a controversy that finally split apart our Presbyterian denomination. In that situation, I eventually took the side of the female accusers, especially after meeting some of them face-to-face. However, I confess that in my youthful zeal I made numerous mistakes in how I spoke and sought justice for them.

Second, I still love, honor and respect these men. I’m so glad they are leading the new Reformed movement, and rejoice in the good they have done and will yet do. Their godliness, giftedness, and graciousness leave me in the shade. I simply disagree with their stance on this one important issue, and hope that they will yet see the potential for redeeming the situation by humbly withdrawing their statements, seeking input from abuse victims’ groups, and modeling for the church what a Christ-like response to such painful situations should be. I’m sure my own alternative statement could be greatly improved.

Third, I’m aware of widespread concern about these TGC and T4G statements among many in the reformed community. However, there is considerable fear of speaking out due to the perceived power and influence of these men. Conference invites, book publishing, blogging platforms, etc., have all been mentioned. Brothers and sisters, let’s think better of them. We’re not talking about the Democratic or Republican parties here. We’re talking about godly men who I believe are humble enough to accept correction and say, “Yes, we got this wrong. Please continue to help us put this right.” Let’s help them as they have helped us in the past. And let’s do it respectfully and lovingly.

And before anyone asks, a couple of weeks ago I did email some of my concerns to the the two men I know best in this TGC/T4G group, but I got no reply. [UPDATE: While it was confirmed to me today that my email was received and read without reply, the interpretation of the email is being disputed. As I do not want to distract from the main point of this blog post, I'm happy to strike this].

CORRECTIONS: Thank you to those who have offered corrections. I simply ask that the substance of the post is taken to heart and that far more major corrections are made to other statements.

  • http://nateoliver.wordpress.com Nate O.

    These are some of the wisest words I’ve read on this issue. Thanks brother.

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  • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

    David,

    Wonderful job. I too was unsettled by the T4G and TGC statements. I could sign my name to this one. Thanks.

  • http://www.georgerkrahn.blogspot.com George R. Krahn

    Just this morning I was thinking: “some of these anti-sovereign grace men are out for vengeance.” A hearty AMEN to this balanced alternative approach David!

  • Dan

    Well said and much appreciated. I recall an earlier blog you wrote on “need to know” regarding the CT school shootings; while I’m naturally curious, to dig into the details on this matter would be a foolish exercise on my part. This summarizes the matter to the degree I need to understand it. Thank you.

  • Katrina

    This is excellent. Again, so appreciative of your thoughtfulness, care and integrity in writing (and waiting). Blessings to you and yours.

  • http://six-measures.blogspot.com Jules

    “We’re talking about godly men who I believe are humble enough to accept correction and say, “Yes, we got this wrong. Please continue to help us put this right.””

    I would love to believe that this is true, David. More than I can express. But, I fear their statements, along with the comments made by Mark Dever at C.J. Mahaney’s church a few Sundays ago (“…you have a privilege in having this man as your pastor that you don’t fully grasp”), reveal more arrogance than humility, more of an attitude of superiority over the sheep than a sacrificial servant’s heart.

    Forgive me, but I have never been more discouraged regarding the state of the church than I am now.

  • http://six-measures.blogspot.com Jules

    May I also add my appreciation for how you’ve expressed your concerns regarding the anti-Calvinists and anti-complementarians abuse of this already horrific situation to gain traction. Very well said, David.

  • http://six-measures.blogspot.com Jules

    Final thought…in real life, vs. internet is no response an option? Do any of us simply not respond to real life friends/associates?

    “And before anyone asks, a couple of weeks ago I did email some of my concerns to the the two men I know best in this TGC/T4G group, but I got no reply.”

  • Robert Elliott

    Very good David. Your comments are reflective of the content and tone of several conversations I have had over the last couple of weeks. I am embarrassed by what surely (in this instance) is a lack of wisdom/naïveté on the part of excellent men and I pray that they will have the wisdom to listen to some who are not part of their group of close friends.

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  • Robert Briggs

    David, thank you. I am grateful for your gracious and appropriate response to this situation. I wholeheartedly affirm your statement as being a better way to go on this. I hope they listen.

  • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

    Brilliantly handled, David. Thanks for giving those of us who aren’t really sure how to approach the SGM situation a helpful, balanced and God-glorifying example.

  • http://www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com Phil Monroe

    David, well done. I wish this were what was being said by SGM, Rev. Mahaney, and their friends. The question is: why have we not heard this from the ones who are most closely involved? My suspicion is that legal advice is part of the issue, speaking truth may interfere with the best legal option.
    I would also suggest that the negative comments (and you are right to point out that some are using this opportunity to slam) shouldn’t stop us from speaking the truth about this situation.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for speaking up about this. It is so important that we stand for what is right. We’ve learned from Penn State and the Catholic Church that covering up sexual abuse to protect an institution is the wrong way to go about it. Christians need to be held to a high standard — in fact to a higher standard than the rest of the world. Posting this was the right thing to do and I hope other Gospel Coalition bloggers will start doing the same. Their silence is viewed as agreement with the T4G and TGC statements.

  • http://www.joethorn.net Joe Thorn

    David, a friend and I have been wanting someone to say something, but we weren’t really sure how it would look. This is great.

  • http://www.stevekmccoy.com Steve McCoy

    Excellent. Thanks so much, David.

  • Susan

    This is very helpful. Leaders who deny their own mistakes and/or sins deny the Gospel to a watching world. It is encouraging to have a reformed blogger state the concern that I have felt for a long time.

  • Susan

    Why is there a dispute about your email? It is a public dispute that warrants a public response. If they are concerned about your blog post, I would ask why? Because it convicts them or because they fear the fallout? Important heart questions, and requires a correction on their end.

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  • Timothy F Reynolds

    …but why leave in statements that you have since corrected? It makes it look as if you want to say the incorrect thing and correct it at the same time. Better to expunge them than leave them still there for people to read.

    • Caleb B

      The point, I believe, is transparency. The author wants to show any changes made to the original statement and why they were made, as opposed to the way changes have been made to other public statements.

      I like that you’re trying to be more transparent, thanks Mr. Murray.

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  • http://www.faithpcacheraw.org Jason Van Bemmel

    Thank you, David, for a wise, sensitive & fair approach to a very difficult issue. The original statement from T4G hit me very hard and made me very angry. I, too, deeply respect these men and their ministries and have greatly benefitted from them, but their statement was so callous and so insensitive that I found it devastating. I can only imagine how it sounded to the victims and their families.

    Sadly, as I have reflected on that statement and the overall response of the T4G & TGC leadership, my heart has been tempted toward despair, much like Jules. The apparent arrogance and back-covering buddy-system among those entrusted with the leadership of our theological movement is dismaying on many levels. I hope I’m wrong.

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  • http://www.thechuppies.com Kara

    Thank you for this post…
    This is pretty much exactly what I was hoping to hear from those in leadership of groups that my husband and I respect and are thankful for.

    I expressed a desire for this kind of response back in mid-May (“What Silence Says” in your trackbacks/pingbacks)….but to be honest, when there seemed to be only silence or dismissive reactions in the online-world, I started to question my own response (which was basically just a call to commitment for the truth to be exposed/brought to light).

    I just wanted to hear those in leadership say– in the midst of all this…we care more-MOST about seeing evil exposed and the truth brought to light AND these victims (because there are documented cases) should have been treated differently and we will stand against any attempts to cover evil.

    I do think that is part of the danger. If those with a public platform choose not to speak because God has clearly led them to keep silent, that is honorable & I want to leave room for that.

    But if, as you have mentioned above, men/women in leadership choose not to vocalize real concerns based on how it might affect book deals, speaking, standing etc.— well, that scares me, because the effect is that even if those leaders may share my same concerns (ones that you have expressed in this post above) it leads me to believe that I am somehow “off” or confused or don’t understand the scenario.

    It can turn into a bad cycle of “I’m not going to say anything because nobody else is”. Meanwhile, those who have been devastated by abuse look on and their wounds grow deeper as the lack of response is perceived as a lack of care/concern/love.

    • Stephen L

      Very thankful for this post, David.
      However, it should give no-one any sense of, “Whew! I’m glad we took care of that!” All David has done is model what still needs to be done by the leaders of SGM, T4G and TGC. Now that this stellar model is available to the public, the people that truly need to make a better public statement must do so. Every day that goes by makes it more difficult. Once again, well-done, David.

  • Rachael Starke

    Amen and amen to every word of this, brother. Thank you so much.

  • Amy Mc

    Thank you SO much for being willing to take a stand and call these men who we all love and respect on to the carpet for what was at best, thoughtless and heartless words for victims everywhere.

    I would like to point something out, these men, (all of them) their ministries and even their words, they aren’t important. Families involved in this ministry were abused (that much really doesn’t seem to be up for debate at this point). Those families need to be our biggest concern. If these men refuse to repent for their thoughtless words then let’s move forward with out them and let’s have some new leaders step up and apologize for the actions taken so far and lets look to be a church of healing. I am not saying force them to resign or something like that. I am saying they are leaders to us because we have chosen to look to them. If they can’t show some humility here then I will look to others.

    Here are the facts, the Reformed Church is a church that encourages biblical roles of men and women, as well as the headship and leadership of the elders and submission of the church body to such leadership. Because of this system we are a safe haven for manipulative, abusive, controllers. We as a church must take a hard stand against these men and we must be the strongest advocates of our women and children. As a survivor of an abusive husband I can tell you it would turn your stomach to know how many pastors and elders told me I must forgive and go back to my abusive husband until one group of elders not only encouraged me to leave but provided me with the resources to do so. I now run a support group for woman who are active members of churches who are victims of such men. Many of these woman received letters of church discipline for leaving their abusers. If you find what I am saying hard to believe look up Pastor Jeff Crippen I have begun to believe he is one of the few that is willing to take a stand for us.

    Our mentality in the church MUST change. Until it does these men will continue to seek refuge in our churches. Statements like those of TGC and T4G will only encourage those kind of men that those churches are a great place to hide. I implore you and the men of T4G to take a strong stand and send a strong message that says that kind of behavior has no place here. The woman and children of the church want to submit to it’s authority but we need it to be a safe place for us.

    I admit I was brokenhearted when I read the statement by T4G. I have great respect for two of those men and I found myself wondering how many times they would have sent me back into my nightmare. I have not been able to come to grips with that just yet. My heart is grieved by what they said. But I pray God will bring someone to their doors that will prick their heart and they will find immense mercy for those of us who know what it means to pray that our pastors and elders will offer us shelter in our storm of abuse.

  • Jeff Brown

    Thank you for this article and your commendable alternate statement.

    From the statement: “We have still only directly heard one side of the story which makes it almost impossible to be impartial judges.”

    Whatever the reasons may be for most of the Defendants to remain silent, at least publicly, I find it difficult to believe that the six friends of Mahaney who wrote the two statements have not heard an earful from him.

    • Caleb B

      It’s really disturbing if what you say is the right interpretation.
      When I first read it I thought it was a statement from their perspective that they’ve only heard SGM and C.J. Mahaney’s side, and that the facts need to come out for the ‘other side.’

      This really needs revising if Jeff’s interpretation is correct. This really sounds like the line: “we can’t say anything definitively until a trial finishes and a court pronounces judgement.” This is really sad.
      As noted, there is concrete evidence of wrongdoing/abuse (‘mishandling situations’), so why does judgment need to be withheld?
      I understand not all the facts have come to light, but that just means that there could be MORE wrongdoing/abuse. Yes, we cannot judge everything impartially, but the truth is that we know enough true facts to make a correct judgement (even if more facts make the judgement more complete).

    • David Murray

      Caleb’s initial interpretation was right. Jeff’s is wrong.

      • Caleb B

        Thanks for letting us know!

  • Susan Nye Ferrell

    Greetings David, This topic of abuse in the church has been on my mind of late, in part because of the recent Sovereign Grace publicity and also because it is a perennial issue in human experience, on that the church is not immune from experiencing.

    I know that the enemy is a roaring lion seeking to devour, and he is seems to have a palate that favors men of the cloth, both to see them falsely accused, and to see them rightly accused because they have fallen.

    I believe for those who have been abused, be it by church members or outsiders, how the elders handle such matters can be healing or add insult to injury. The mishandling of such, I believe, can honestly be worse and more damaging than the abuse itself, as hard as that is to believe. We expect ill care from abusers, but we expect the love and compassion and protection of Christ, from our shepherds, not a crook over the head, or to be shamed into a corner with blame and accusation. Obviously sessions must take care, false accusations can and do occur. My concern is, that so few denominations have in place guidelines and standards for managing such cases. I believe when they are not in place before hand, it is very easy for sessions to get off track when making decisions on the fly. The issue is just too sensitive and potentially damaging to leave to “chance” as it were.

    Another issue that has me concerned is, that there still seem to be pastors and elders and husbands and men out there, who blindly believe that it is “safe” to be alone with members of the opposite sex. If one is the favorite snack of the roaring lion why would one leave oneself open to either false allegation or potential temptation? It is both a protection to men and to women, to have policies in place regarding one’s moral safety.

    When my daughter was growing up, I took the “bizarre” position of telling mother’s who’d call and ask for her to babysit of saying that such would be allowed on one proviso, and that was that we had a rule, across the board, that she not be driven to or from sitting by the father, but rather by the mother. I even made an allowance for if they got home and the baby was sick or needed nursed and the mother couldn’t make it out, that I would pick her up. At first a mother or two thought this odd. Over time, the women said “you know what, this is an excellent plan, I shall do the same when my daughter is of sitting age.)

    Rather than churches waiting for the issue to have occurred and doing damage control, can people not see that it is not modest for men and women to be left alone together, without witnesses for their protection? If my husband needs to counsel a women, he gives her several options, she may bring her father, husband, friend etc, but he will not meet alone. The quickest way to be protected of false allegations/and or temptation/ is to avoid the occasion. Obviously this is not the CJ case or issue, but sadly we are often dealing with elders/ministers in abuse/scandal cases.

    One more thing, for those who have been abused, to see the persons they feel covered up, didn’t believe them, didn’t aid them or support them (and one can be supportive even without knowing if the abuse did or did not occur) lauded as such great men, who we “all stand beside in support of” is very painful. Nobody wants Cj or other’s thrown under a bus, but isn’t giving blanket promise of support needlessly painful for those trying to heal?

    Sorry to ramble…I’ve just seen too much in my day, in even the “very best” of churches. No church is immune.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you so much for this. I have so much respect for the approach you have taken and for your humility.

    I am so surprised and saddened by the way TGC and T4G are handling this. It just seems so unwise and unloving and doesn’t seem like the way of people who hunger for justice. Notice I say “seem” – I admit there is much I don’t know.

    Pray for those kids who were (allegedly?) abused. The allegations are just horrific. God have mercy. This is a very, very serious situation.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

    My blog host doesn’t enable trackbacks, but I wanted you to know that your words gave me courage to write about how mothers respond to these kinds of situations. And how pastors need to engage them when they are dealing with issues of abuse and formulating policies in their own churches.

    http://www.sometimesalight.com/1/post/2013/07/how-mothers-react-to-accounts-of-sexual-abuse-and-why-pastors-need-to-listen-to-them.html

    Your final point was absolutely spot on when you said that many people are holding back because of fear (I know I was, at least), but that we must love enough to believe better and be willing to speak. Thanks again.

  • Candy

    They made a statement. That hardly qualifies them to all take a leave of absence. All of us have uttered hasty words or made mistakes and under your qualifications, none of us should be in ministry or have our jobs. They need to confess that they were hasty in their words and endorsements, and that would go a long way in making things right.

  • confused

    Candy,

    Sadly their words were not hasty, but premeditated and incredibly calculated and politically timed. That suggests a deeper heart issue.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    “Confused”: I don’t accept that interpretation of motives. I believe the statements were bad mistakes by good men.

  • Anthony S.

    David,

    I have read a lot of responses to this issue and I am so grateful for how you have modeled boldness with compassion and humility. You and I are not better than these men but we have to love truth above man pleasing. Thank you so much for this! I hope these men who I love will read this and apologize for what they wrote. Let’s hope we respond this way if one of our friends is accused of something tragic.

    Anthony