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.
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.