Notebook > Religion
C.J. Mahaney
James Thompson
C.J. Mahaney

Troubled ministry

Religion | Lawsuit claims leaders at Sovereign Grace Ministries covered up sexual abuse

Troubles continue to mount for Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), an evangelical association with about 90 churches and 28,000 members worldwide. The SGM board of directors reinstated the ministry’s founder, C.J. Mahaney, as president of SGM in early 2012 after he took a leave of absence for several months.

Accusations of spiritual pride and hypocrisy precipitated Mahaney’s leave. Now SGM is facing a lawsuit by three female plaintiffs, alleging that SGM leaders covered up sexual abuse that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, and that they discouraged church members from cooperating with law enforcement officials.

Even before the lawsuit, several SGM churches, including ones in Charlottesville, Va., Sarasota, Fla., and Daytona Beach, Fla., had left the association. Jesse Jarvis, pastor of the Daytona Beach congregation, cited a “leadership culture characterized by excessive authority and insufficient accountability” as a reason for leaving SGM.

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Mahaney founded SGM in 1982 out of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. In 2004, Mahaney stepped down as Covenant Life pastor. Following his reappointment as the president of SGM, Mahaney relocated the ministry’s headquarters to Louisville, Ky., and planted a church there. The new church held its opening service on Sept. 30.

The lawsuit charges SGM leaders with allowing suspected child abusers to continue interacting with children, sheltering the accused perpetrators from prosecution, and forcing alleged victims as young as 3 to forgive their molesters. The complaint accuses several SGM elders and officials of actively covering up the crimes, while it names Mahaney because the offenses allegedly occurred under his leadership.

SGM released a statement saying that “child abuse in any context is reprehensible and criminal. Sovereign Grace Ministries takes seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well being of all people, especially the most vulnerable in its midst, little children.”

UPDATE (Nov. 8, 2012): In a statement, Sovereign Grace Ministries noted that the lawsuit "does not allege any act of child abuse by a pastor or staff member of SGM or of an associated church."

Mixing it up

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Eighth graders taking part in “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” at Westwood High in New Jersey.
Carmine Galasso/KRT/Newscom
GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Eighth graders taking part in “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” at Westwood High in New Jersey.

The American Family Association (AFA) in October urged parents to keep their kids home from school on “Mix It Up at Lunch Day,” a program sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC says that the school cafeteria is often the most socially segregated space in public schools, and the most obvious location to encourage new friendships. 

The AFA argues that Mix It Up is a thinly veiled effort to “establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools.” For its part, the SPLC has recently added the AFA to its growing list of American “hate groups.”

Civil rights organizers founded the SPLC in 1971 in Montgomery, Ala. Now the group targets not just racial discrimination, but what it sees as many varieties of prejudice, including that against gays and lesbians. Its top priorities, the SPLC website says, include “children at risk, [combating] hate and extremism, … and LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] rights.” It particularly focuses on protecting LGBT students from bullying in schools.

Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the AFA, says that “no one is in favor of anyone getting bullied for any reason, but these anti-bullying policies become a mechanism for punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior is not something that should be normalized.” The SPLC contends that breaking down barriers of sexual orientation is not the primary purpose of Mix It Up, but that those barriers are among the most entrenched in schools.

The AFA has launched an email campaign against Mix It Up  day (which fell on Oct. 30 this year), encouraging concerned parents to contact administrators of participating schools. Since the beginning of the AFA campaign, more than 200 schools have withdrawn from the program. —T.S.K.

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

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