Two megachurch pastors and popular Christian authors are no longer serving in leadership roles with an evangelical group a few days after a jury convicted a former member of their church of child abuse. The “Council Members” page of the website for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) no longer includes C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris. In addition, Harris, the lead pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., has asked his church to place him on administrative leave, although it’s not clear whether that will happen.
On Thursday, a jury found Nathaniel Morales, a former Covenant Life member, guilty of molesting three young boys between 1983 and 1991. Questions have arisen over whether members of the church’s pastoral team, including Mahaney, who pastored Covenant Life at the time and served as a mentor to Harris, knew about the abuse but failed to report it. After Morales’ victims told their parents what happened, Morales disappeared. He later took a position as a pastor in Las Vegas, then married a woman with five sons from a previous relationship.
During the trial, former Covenant Life pastor Grant Layman admitted he knew about the abuse allegations but didn’t report them to the police. Layman stepped down from his pastoral position in March. According to police reports collected before the trial, Layman and another pastor, Ernest Boisvert, confronted Morales at some point but it’s not clear whether they attempted to warn church members or other congregations about the allegations.
Last year, Covenant Life issued a statement saying its leaders weren’t aware of the abuse until “many years later.” It has been unable to speak in detail about the situation because of an ongoing civil lawsuit against the church.
During a sermon on Sunday morning at Covenant Life, Harris tearfully acknowledged to his congregation that the details revealed by last week’s criminal trial seemed to contradict the church’s earlier statement. “Based on what we understood when we wrote that, we believe that statement was accurate, and right now we’re still getting conflicting information,” he said.
Harris told his congregation he wouldn’t give a more definitive statement until more questions were cleared up. “Please know there was no attempt to give misinformation, and we are committed to clarifying this,” he said. “And if this turns out that this statement was wrong, I will take full responsibility for that.
“It’s a crisis of trust. And at its core is a question of the integrity of key men on our pastoral team, myself included.”
Harris acknowledged that Covenant Life’s inability to speak in detail about the abuse allegations because of the civil trial made it appear the church wasn’t taking the matter seriously. He said he has asked Covenant pastors and elders to place him on administrative leave until the issues raised by the child abuse situation have been resolved. He said three others at the church who were involved in the situation—pastors Kenneth Maresco and Robin Boisvert and church administrator Corby Megorden—were also willing to go on leave.
The elder board did not immediately consent to the request and asked for time to consider it.
Harris was not available to comment on the situation, his assistant said Monday morning. Harris wrote on his Twitter account, “I resigned the @TGC Council because I don’t want the present challenges at my church to distract from this terrific ministry.”
On Sunday, Harris said he and other pastors were committed to transparency and would submit to the critique of an independent investigation the church has commissioned.
Mahaney is now senior pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Ky. The church did not immediately return a request for comment on Mahaney’s absence from the TGC Council.