Haunted by old lawsuit, C.J. Mahaney withdraws from Together for the Gospel confab

"The former head of a Reformed, charismatic evangelical ministry is backing out of a biennial preaching conference he helped found, citing renewed controversy over a sexual abuse scandal involving his former church." Baptist News Global

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Maheney is very foolish to continue to pursue high-profile engagements as long as these terrible allegations remain unresolved.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

... The more and more likely that all of these allegations are true. There's more than enough circumstantial evidence that everything alleged is true. But it may be too personally and professionally damaging to Mahan eye to admit it's true.

One thing is for sure, and that is that Mahaney has a LOT of questions that need to be answered, and putting it off isn't making those questions go away. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

WallyMorris's picture

I am not a fan of Sovereign Grace Ministries, but this pattern of public allegation/accusation without due process should stop. Judging past actions by today's standards/expectations is unfair. You are assumed guilty until you prove your innocence.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Wally, the trouble with this is that due process has been attempted, but due to statutes of limitations, the lawsuit couldn't go forward.  

That noted, given that there is sworn court testimony that reveals that many participants in the trials of SGM volunteers for sexual molestation were under the impression that at least the unwritten policy at SGM was to handle things inside.  Mahaney is more or less arguing as if this hadn't happened.   In this light, do you trust your children or grandchildren to the care of volunteers at an SGM church, even ignoring theological differences?  I sure don't. 

This is one place where SGM and Mahaney need to come clean and understand their weaknesses.  My take is that in the 1990s, not too many churches had a child protection policy--I know even now of churches that do not, and I've written one policy and am writing another.  Just ordered Boz Tchividjian's book on the matter to do this one better.  It is also a fact that--New Tribes, ABWE, BJU--"handling things inside" is a regrettable reality in our movement.  It is at my alma mater, MSU, as well, obviously.  

So in light of what we've seen, there is a certain point where I don't even see why Mahaney would argue the point.  We know all too well what many in our movement have done.  We might as well admit it, apologize to those hurt because of it, and promise to work with guys like Boz and the Denhollanders to get written policies in place that are enforceable against workers and volunteers.

And given what we've seen--numerous cases of internal records of crimes without a police report--I am going to dare suggest that the gold standard is going to quickly move to a comparison/audit of internal reports and police reports.  More or less, if a person's name is on an internal report of a crime not matched with a police report, that would be a firing offense.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

I am not a fan of Sovereign Grace Ministries, but this pattern of public allegation/accusation without due process should stop.

Wally, this has been going on since at least 2011 - seven years ago.  The charges against Mahaney are detailed, credible, (very) well documented by people that were very important to SGC (here's the link to Brent Detwiler's blog, which has all kinds of disturbing information and correspondance that includes essentially everyone in leadership capacities during the time in question).  Mahaney himself has confessed to various "issues" and "sins", but has not, as far as I know, explained what those issues and sins are.

These are very serious and grievous issues, and we are long past the point of private confrontation a la Matthew 18.  I'm not going to say that Mahaney isn't a believer, but there a very concerning lack of remorse and detail here on his part. The fact that he has to (again) excuse himself from the public eye over this is yet another sign that something is seriously wrong.

As for public accusation, I just keep going back to the story of Achan, who when he was caught in his sin, gave a full and public confession, even though it cost him his life.

Judging past actions by today's standards/expectations is unfair.

At what point in the 1980s or 1990s was rape and abuse tolerated?  Did I miss something then?

You are assumed guilty until you prove your innocence.

Mahaney has had many, many, many opportunities to prove his innocence.  Rachel Denhollander makes this very point - if he's innocent, then he has nothing to fear from an investigation.  Yet he refuses to cooperate with that, leans on his friends to defend him and argue on this behalf, and does not even seem to acknowledge that he has failed many people over and over again (to put it mildly). 

If you are charged with the kinds of things that Mahaney is charged with and with the amount of detail and eyewitnesses, then yes, I think we should operate on a platform of assumed guilt. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

In engineering contexts, when something goes wrong, the "supplier" is required to fill out an 8D form detailing what went wrong, a few "whys" of how it went wrong, and what they're going to do to prevent it from happening again.  As a rule, it generally does NOT mean "you fire a few people and call it good", but rather follow's Deming's quote "your system is perfectly designed to give you exactly the results you're getting."  If you get an 8D form from a supplier that doesn't change something in documentation, you generally reject it, because it's unlikely to have arrived at and remedied the root cause.

That is, in a nutshell, what Mahaney is being asked to do, and my previous comment outlines a couple of things that can almost  be assumed--that there was no written policy, and that the unwritten assumption that flowed through pastors was that you kept it in-house.  You look to see if anyone had written policies and produce them--and fix them if need be--but I think you go in with the assumption that the ball was dropped, and that your task at this point needs to be to reduce the chances that it doesn't get dropped again.  And then you start making some apologies, and where appropriate and possible, restitution.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

A clarification here, and one that troubles the heck out of me.  I dearly desire to be gracious to Mahaney and those around him, but when he and his buddies respond to credible allegations in a way that can only be charitably described as flippant, and even had a mocking moment in a T4G conference about the SGM scandals, it gets really hard to apply Hanlon's Razor here.  (Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.)

Let's be blunt here; Rachael Denhollander achieved something that multiple police departments, a university, multiple gymnastics teams and the U.S. Gymnastics federation, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee failed to do; put one of the most prolific known sexual molesters behind bars.  When she talks to us, we fail to listen at our peril. 

Never mind the message that is sent to young abuse victims; if Mahaney, Mohler, and others won't listen to the lady who put Larry Nassar in jail, what chance to they have of being heard?  If they want a recipe for horrendous problems in this area, they are cooking it down to the last dash of salt and pepper.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

One of the biggest things that bugs me about the whole fiasco is exactly what Bert just put his finger squarely on:

I dearly desire to be gracious to Mahaney and those around him, but when he and his buddies respond to credible allegations in a way that can only be charitably described as flippant... 

That's the other reason why I just can't let it go. This isn't like he is accused of plagiarism or petty theft. Mahaney is accused of hiding, covering up, and ignoring physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse of men and women in his charge.   Mahaney's friends and defenders (Trueman, etc) all ought to know and understand the gravity of these allegations. I don't get why they continue to soft pedal this issue.  It's getting very difficult for me to listen to Trueman on the Mortification of Spin podcast, knowing full well that Trueman defends Mahaney. 

That's a big deal that brings - their - judgment into question too. At some point, I would expect to see a kind of I Corinthians 5:2 response to this. I am not seeing it on anyone's part. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

josh p's picture

Jay, can you post a link to Trueman defending Mahaney? I’m not debating the point. I just didn’t know that he was. 

Jay's picture

This isn't the link that I was looking for, but it does document two critical things:

  1. Mahaney and Trueman have deep ties going back years, despite what Trueman said about not having interacted with Mahaney during their investigation into Mahaney's pastoral qualifications a few years ago.  Brent Detwiler has similar documentation on his site, if I remember right.
  2. Trueman had a serious conflict of interest during the investigation into Mahaney.

I'm going to see if I can find that other link a little later this weekend. When I get it, I'll put it here as well.  Trueman isn't the only prominent Mahaney defender out there.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

It's always extremely unwise to speculate about motives, guilt or anything in between on the internet about these matters. We know next to nothing about it, and what we have is biased - no matter how nice, sweet and "objective" the writers claim to be. This includes Denhollander (et al). At best, her information can serve as a starting point for a responsible, independent investigation. 

There have been no shortage of scandals in recent years, from Doug Wilson, to Charles Phelps, and to Mahaney. We don't know the facts and, at best, any internet discussion will perpetuate half-truths, slander, innuendo and otherwise irresponsible speculation - no matter how well-intentioned our motives are. 

It is best to use these incidents as lessons-learned in our own contexts. We ought not discuss things we know nothing about. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

For Carl Trueman at this year's T4G conference.  Note who else appears on one of his sessions.

I won't say Mahaney is apostate, but I think at a certain point, we have to start telling pastors they have a mess to clean up at home before they speak at conferences.

Regarding Tyler's point, the ugly reality is that it's not just internet stuff here--no argument that alleging malice is dangerous business, but let's not misrepresent the nature of the allegations.  We have sworn testimony from the trials of SGM volunteers by SGM pastors who clearly worked closely with Mahaney--that's Detwiler's site of reproduced emails.  We have open testimony in reputable journalistic outlets by named sources.   We are not talking about anonymous people with a reputation for spouting off nonsense, and that goes for the Denhollanders, too. Yes, they are subject to the burden of proof as well, but they have a VERY good record in this way.  Let's be blunt; conservative Christians don't get guest columns in the New York Times or Washington Post because they're sloppy.  

Failing to respond substantively to this quite frankly does NOT say nice things about Mahaney, his colleagues at SGM, or his friends at T4G.  I don't know what their motives are, but quite frankly they are playing with fire by handling these things flippantly. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

Tyler, I really appreciated your caution and note.  It's super, super tricky navigating these things without falling into gossip, slander, or sin.

To back up one step - I don't think that Trueman knows all of this and deliberately ignores it.  I think, as I have seen with other situations and fell into myself with Phelps mess, that he knows CJ personally, enjoys his company and presence, and doesn't believe it to be true.  I think that Mahaney has an amazing charisma that helps others believe that of course there's nothing going on and that the allegations are wrong.  But I also think that given the preponderance of the material out there on this subject, and the fact that we are discussing abuse, Trueman and others who do know him well ought to be asking very pointed and strong questions.   And maybe they are...I hope so.

For me, I guess there are some big questions to grapple with underlying this:

  1. Does 1 Corinthians 5 or 6 have any bearing when a church leader/elder is accused of criminal activity, like covering up child abuse?  I would say they do not.
  2. At what point does the discussion of pertinent facts (eg Larry Nassar's case or Brent Detwiler's document dump) become something that is sin?
  3. If an elder / leader is accused of some kind of gross sin but refuses to deal with it, a la Matthew 18 / I Timothy 5:17-25, at what point does 'tell the church' become more than just the local assembly?  Do we have a responsibility to go broader than that? Is it godly or prudent to do so? If you are a pastor in the town where CJ is pastoring, do you have a responsibility to warn your sheep not to attend there?  I don't know.
  4. Does a situation like this change the dynamic?  I don't want SI to be a place like the BJUSurvivors group, but the effect that the SGM Survivors group had is, I think, a good thing that has brought some things to light that needed to be exposed and dealt with.  I'd say that even if the police had gone in the next day and arrested a bunch of leaders for criminal conspiracy or whatever.

I don't have any answers, so feedback would be helpful / appreciated.  I think that's the conversation we need to be having.

edit - Four men made very public statements in defense of CJ Mahaney in 2013; this was two years after this story first broke.  They were Al Mohler, Denny Burk, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan.  Their statement is here, with Burk's cosign at his blog.  I have no idea if they still feel this way about him or not, but someone asked for proof.  They do specifically address the sexual abuse allegations:

We have stood beside our friend, C. J. Mahaney, and we can speak to his personal integrity. We can make no judgment as to the truthfulness of the horrifying charges of sexual abuse made against some individuals who have been connected, in some way, to Sovereign Grace Ministries and its churches. Our hearts must go out to anyone, and especially to any child, who suffers abuse at the hand of anyone. In such a case the legal authorities must use the full power of the law to investigate and to prosecute any perpetrator of such crimes. We must take any responsible action to protect the vulnerable, and we must act immediately to inform legal authorities of any charge or claim of sexual abuse, and do so without delay. Our first response must be to call the police, to act to protect the child or young person, and then to proceed to biblical church discipline when the facts demand such a response.

If a Christian leader is accused of any wrongdoing, those to whom he is accountable must investigate the charges and then deal responsibly with the evidence. If a criminal accusation is made, Christians have a fundamental duty to inform law enforcement officials. This does not, however, preclude or mitigate the church’s responsibility for biblical church discipline.

A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. We believe this lawsuit failed that test.  For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many Gospel-minded people.

Our heart goes out to anyone who has ever suffered abuse of any kind...

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jay's picture

I'm not interested in detailing the who's who of CJ defenders, but I may have been mistaken when I mentioned Carl Trueman.  Brent Detwiler wrote this on his website:

For years, I [Detwiler] have wanted to write Kevin DeYoung, Ray Ortlund and Carl Trueman and ask them questions about their findings.  I finally did this past April and May (see below).  I’ve kept this information to myself until now. 

That’s because I recently read a post I had been told about on The Wartburg Watch (TWW) titled, Mortification of Spin Hosts Discuss Abusive Pulpits on Bully Pulpit Broadcast.  During this broadcast (i.e. podcast) with Todd Pruitt and Aimee Byrd; Carl Trueman references C.J. Mahaney, though not by name, and says he is disqualified as a church leader.  This was a 180-degree change of direction for Trueman. 

If Detwiler knows Trueman well enough to say that Trueman references CJ in that podcast, then I'm going to accept that as is. I remember wondering to myself if Trueman was referencing Mahaney when I listened to the podcast, but I couldn't say anything for certain.  I did, by the way, listen to that MoS podcast when it first came out, and it's terrific and highly recommended. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

Let's draw a picture here.  If something had happened at a church where I wrote the children's ministries manual, and I'd been accused of harboring a climate of tolerating abuse, what I would do is simply to produce the manual to show where it was.  If Mahaney had one, all he has to do to refute the allegations is to product the manual and some witnesses as to how it was implemented.  In my case--and thank God nothing happened at that church to my knowledge--I would have no less than sixty nursery workers who could all point to the background checks I'd done, the polices I'd sent them, and the times I'd told them to "buy a gun" (because the Brady check checks a lot of the same things you want to look at for children's ministries, and nationwide), and all the times I'd put an arm around a male nursery volunteer and told them "Bob, I've got some sad news for you....you no longer get to change diapers." (many tears were shed over that, I tell you....and some glares from those left to change diapers!)

Logically speaking, he either had the policy and is withdrawing from conferences to avoid sharing it, or he did not have the policy and is hiding that fact for whatever reason.  He could end this controversy in fifteen minutes if he wanted to, and my guess is that reason he doesn't is because a real apology would also entail a degree of restitution to a number of victims, as well as a re-evaluation of his fitness for high profile conferences and perhaps even the pastorate.

And the longer he waits, the worse it gets.  

The bright side for those of us serving in churches; avoiding this kind of thing is simple.  Get a policy that covers the major bases--Boz has a book out on this available on Amazon--put it in writing, and enforce it.  It doesn't guarantee that nothing will happen, but it says to the court that you cared enough to take reasonable precautions.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Here's a bit from an SGM pastor who argues that there is "plain evidence" that Mrs. Denhollander's writing is false.  Of course, actually providing that "plain evidence" to contradict sworn testimony and reassure members that SGM has their ducks in a row....OK, they won't do that now.  

Hint; if you want to be believed and trusted, remember Deming:  "In God we Trust, all others must provide data."

Also, guess who, 1000 days after Rachel Denhollander filed her complaint against Larry Nassar, hasn't filed a single subpoena to investigate a set of crimes that crossed many states and possibly even foreign countries?

Answer; the FBI.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.