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Sexual Abuse | Christian organization pleads with evangelicals to expose and report sexual abuse

More than 1,200 people have signed an online petition denouncing silence about sexual abuse in Christian circles, and pleading with evangelicals to expose and confront abuse in their own ranks.

The statement—published on July 17 by the Christian group GRACE—comes two months after a Maryland judge dismissed a civil lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). The 46-page suit alleged ministry leaders had covered up severe sexual abuse in two congregations.

The judge ruled the plaintiffs’ allegations exceeded Maryland’s statute of limitations. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have appealed the May ruling.

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The case drew broader attention when a handful of high-profile evangelical leaders defended C.J. Mahaney—the founder and former president of SGM. The lawsuit alleged Mahaney and other SGM pastors participated in a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse at two churches.

The suit did not accuse Mahaney of abuse, and SGM board members have denied a conspiracy to conceal abuse.

A few days after the suit’s dismissal, three well-known Christian leaders who head up Together for the Gospel (T4G) issued a statement supporting Mahaney, who is the fourth T4G leader. Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and Albert Mohler said they couldn’t make a judgment about the veracity of horrible sex abuse allegations in the lawsuit, but they didn’t think the lawsuit proved any wrongdoing by Mahaney. (The statement is no longer posted on the T4G’s website.)

Three other Christian leaders—Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor—released a similar statement on The Gospel Coalition website.

Those statements—along with the severe abuse allegations in the lawsuit—prompted the group GRACE (an acronym for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to respond with its own document. (The document doesn’t identify SGM by name, but an accompanying press release says the allegations of abuse and cover-up by SGM led to the GRACE statement.)

The statement says the recent events expose that often among Christians “the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children.” The document calls on churches to obey civil laws that require church leaders to report abuse.

Members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed a resolution at their June meeting dealing with the issue of sexual abuse, and addressing a key question: whether churches should deal with sexual abuse internally without reporting allegations to authorities. The short answer: No.

The SBC resolution acknowledged that “instances of sexual abuse have been perpetrated within Southern Baptist congregations, churches of other denominations, and other Christian ministries,” and reminded all Southern Baptists of their “legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities in addition to any appropriate church discipline. …”

Joshua Harris—pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.—addressed the SGM controversy in a May sermon. Mahaney was pastor of Covenant Life during the time period addressed in the lawsuit, which maintains some of the alleged abuse happened on the church’s property. (Covenant Life withdrew from SGM last year over other problems in the organization.)

In his sermon, Harris revealed he had been sexually abused as a child, and pleaded with any victims of abuse to go to the police. He also addressed those who indicated they might leave the church over the lawsuit. The pastor asked them to stay, but added, “Know and understand … that if you need to leave, you go with our blessing. … But please don’t allow the circumstance to draw you away from faith in Jesus. Please stay close to Jesus.”

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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