January 15, 2013
Child Abuse Lawsuit Against Sovereign Grace Ministries Adds Names and Charges
(UPDATED) Lawsuit adds five plaintiffs, seeks class-action status. SGM 'asks for patience' while it investigates claims.
Update (Feb. 27): The Associated Press reports that SGM has asked a Maryland court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that "courts can’t get involved in the internal affairs of church business" (AP paraphrase) and that the allegations are too vague.
CT reported on SGM's First Amendment defense in January, noting how legal observers question whether clergy-penitent privilege applies when a denomination is accused of covering up crimes.
Update (Feb. 4): The Associated Press reports the indictment of a former Covenant Life Church youth ministry leader for allegedly molesting four boys between 1985 and 1990. Nathaniel Morales was arrested in Nevada, extradited to Maryland, and is scheduled for a hearing on Friday, according to the AP.
The indictment is unrelated to the lawsuit currently facing SGM as a denomination, but Covenant Life Church issued this statement in January when it was added as a defendant to the suit:
We are sickened by the thought of such abuse—sexual abuse in any form is evil and unconscionable. We are grieved by these allegations. We also recognize that we don’t have all the facts. We would encourage everyone to withhold judgment until an appropriate legal process can be completed.
The pending child abuse lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) has been amended, adding five new plaintiffs, five defendants, and 28 charges.
In response, SGM spokesman Tommy Hill released a statement on the church's website. "SGM has been carefully reviewing each allegation since the initial claims first surfaced last October. We consider any allegation of harm to a child extremely serious and we have been working diligently in an effort to learn the truth," he wrote. "We ask for patience as we continue to investigate these new allegations. Please continue to pray with us for all those affected by this lawsuit.”
SGM previously stated that the lawsuit "contains a number of untrue or misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent."
The amendment lawsuit comes shortly after SGM flagship Covenant Life Church voted to sever ties with the denomination, and SGM leader Dave Harvey, who has written a book on godly ambition, stepped down from his duties.
More details on the lawsuit, as well as the SGM churches which have left the denomination, can be found in CT's first report from October.
SGM made headlines in 2012 when leader C. J. Mahaney took a leave of absence in July 2011 for a "season of examination and evaluation" of charges against him by alienated SGM pastors, including "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." Six months later, SGM reinstated Mahaney in January 2012 after vetting the charges against him. In May, SGM announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Gaithersburg, Maryland, to Louisville, Kentucky—a move that drew criticism.