In the mid-1970s, my sister Romae [pronounced row-MAY] embarked on a journey into activism for those who survive abuse and violence. It began when a friend of hers needed help to escape a situation of physical and emotional battering. Seeing the terrible impact of domestic violence on her friend catalyzed an unknown strength inside my sister. It propelled her in the direction of advocacy for survivors and activism in society. Romae felt compelled by her faith in Jesus Christ to do something that would make a difference for the future. From that point forward, her ministry and service expanded to others who were frequently left to otherwise suffer alone — and who often found themselves abandoned by churches.
Frustratingly, for almost 40 years she found that theologically conservative, evangelical churches were the least responsive to opportunities she offered to train staff and congregations on child sexual abuse prevention, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Still, Romae persevered in this calling to support survivors and prevent more victims. Sadly, she passed away five years ago. But Romae left a legacy of help and hope, along with a fragrant awareness that her strength to carry on as an advocate and activist always came from Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and people’s prayers.
This day — April 12, 2016 — we come to a spotlight moment for “Together for the Gospel,” a theologically conservative, evangelical movement that claims to be dedicated to promoting the good news of Jesus Christ. C.J. Mahaney has been given a prominent public role as a T4G speaker and spokesman. There are protests because of Mr. Mahaney’s dominant leadership over the system of Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches, which has remained mired in criminal convictions of child sexual abusers, and additional allegations of systemic protection for abusers, failure to report known/suspected abuse, and traumatizing victims and/or neglecting them.
Despite years of documentation about the spiritually corrosive SGM/SGC system, and appeals to various organizations to stop shielding Mr. Mahaney from the consequences of his leadership, still he speaks for and at T4G. This causes great agony to SGM abuse survivors, their families, and those who stand with them. As SNAP (one of the child abuse victim advocacy organizations highlighted in the Academy Award winning movie, “Spotlight”) wrote in an open letter to Together for the Gospel:
Every time a complicit church official is honored, it discourages victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from exposing predators, warning parents and protecting kids. Giving corrupt men like Mahaney praise and visibility contributes to the already strong sense of powerlessness that many who saw, suspected and suffered sexual abuse within churches feel. It decreases the chances they’ll find the courage and hope needed to speak up about horrific wrongs. Essentially, it sanctions the concealing of sexual assaults against children.
While it may appear that T4G merely inherited controversy by their protecting and promoting Mr. Mahaney, I would suggest that this has gone far beyond controversy; it is now about institutionalizing their complicity. By continued refusal to use their influence to promote resolution through SGM taking responsibility for abuse, T4G leaders and participants adopt a posture of contempt and cronyism in standing against SGM survivors of child sexual abuse and their family members, and inside whistleblowers and outside advocates for justice.
If T4G as a movement truly believes in the saving and transforming grace of the gospel, this is the moment they can demonstrate that commitment — by removing C.J. Mahaney from both speaking at this year’s T4G event, and from active participation in future proceedings, until justice has been restored and restitution has been made. Otherwise, T4G continues to tether its future to C.J. Mahaney’s past and the abuses of his Sovereign Grace Ministries network — and T4G will orbit around this polarizing issue in the Church until it shows gospel-centered conscience and compassion, and makes things right.
I urge T4G leaders and participants to consider this request, the goodness of the gospel that will be demonstrated by remediation, and the evil that will endure in failure to take action.
~ Brad Sargent
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Petition at Change.org for T4G to Remove C.J. Mahaney from speaking at Together for the Gospel Conference.
Facebook group: We Stand with SGM Survivors.
Facebook hashtag: #T4GStandWithSurivors.
Futuristguy posts related to SGM, IStandWithSGMVictims, and restitution/remediation: Sovereign Grace Ministries category.
The following post from Vintage73 gives a good overview of the historical background and some key theological and denominational issues involved: PCA Pastors, Celebrity Christian Conferences, and Child Protection., by Bobby Griffith (April 12, 2016).
The first post below is an investigative piece with more details on the historical background and allegations involved, and the second is an interview with the investigative reporter.
The Washingtonian, The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the rise and fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries, by Tiffany Stanley (February 14, 2016).
Time, Inside the Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries, by Elizabeth Dias (February 16, 2016).
The Boston Globe’s page on the movie, Spotlight. It includes the original investigative article published in 2002 on which the movie was based.
This article from The Wartburg Watch brings together sources leading up to the present protest. SNAP, Others ‘Protest’ Mahaney Speaking at T4G’s ‘We are Protestant’ Conference, by Deb Martin (April 1, 2016).
This report posted on The Wartburg Watch includes background information on C.J. Mahaney that was available from the protesters at the T4G conference on April 13th, along with information about who the protesters were, and some suggested actions that attenders could take. T4G2016 Features C.J. Mahaney Despite a Peaceful Protest and the PCA’s Strong Objection, by Deb Martin (April 13, 2016).
This report posted on Baptist News Global covers the protest, along with background information. Pastor in alleged sex abuse cover-up returns to preaching conference roster, by Bob Allen (April 13, 2016).
This report from The Daily Beast focuses on the protest of T4G; Dr. Albert Mohler’s introductory comments, audiences responses, and C.J. Mahaney’s presentation; and reactions from pastors, child abuse survivor advocates, and bloggers. Pastor Accused of Covering Up Abuse Returns to Spotlight, by Brandon Withrow (April 16, 2016). “Pastor C.J. Mahaney and his network of churches faced protests from victims groups this week after the controversial pastor came back in the public eye.”
In this follow-up report by Bob Allen at Global Baptist Press, C.J. Mahaney says churches should defend their pastors (April 18, 2016).
[Post edited to add links to research/resource articles.]