March 8, 2013
C. J. Mahaney Leaves Leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries
Founder announces departure as beleaguered ministry requests dismissal of sex abuse lawsuit.
C. J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), will step down as its president effective April 12 in order to focus on being a local pastor. The news comes shortly after the beleaguered network of churches asked a Maryland court to dismiss a lawsuit alleging its leaders covered up the sexual abuse of children.
Mahaney announced in a blog post that he "will be transitioning from the role of President" as SGM's proposed new polity structure "takes effect" and replaces his current role with a new executive director position.
"In October, I informed the Board of Sovereign Grace that I was withdrawing my name from consideration for Executive Director as I don't think my gifts and sense of call are the best fit for certain aspects of this new role. I then announced this to our pastors on November 1 at our annual Pastors Conference," writes Mahaney. "I am eager to once again devote my attention to pastoral ministry. Returning to the pulpit of a local church last September has only confirmed for me what I believe God has called and gifted me to do: pastor, preach, and fulfill a role in building the local church for the glory of God."
Mahaney goes on to express optimism in SGM's future. "Despite our inadequacies and weaknesses, the Lord has been abundantly merciful to Sovereign Grace Ministries," he writes. "This is the theological explanation, and really the only explanation, for any fruitfulness in Sovereign Grace. And that mercy and grace is the foundation of my confidence for our future."
SGM's board expressed its thanks for Mahaney's service in a separate blog post. "Though no longer serving in this leadership capacity, we are grateful that C.J.’s influence and partnership do not end here," it wrote. "We share his joy in seeing him back regularly preaching and pastoring in Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, and we look forward to benefitting from C.J.’s continued investment in the mission of SGM through his service there and in the larger body of Christ."
Brent Detwiler, a former SGM leader who has become a vocal critic of Mahaney and SGM's handling of the lawsuit, claims that Mahaney's resignation was requested by the board over "widespread loss of trust and erosion of confidence in him."
In February, board chairman Doug Loftness, named as a defendant in the lawsuit alongside Mahaney and other leaders, resigned in order to "give more time" to his church and family; board member Craig Cabaniss also resigned. Meanwhile, SGM continues to see churches defect over the issues facing the denomination.
Last week, SGM asked a Maryland court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that "courts can’t get involved in the internal affairs of church business" (Associated Press paraphrase) and that the allegations against it are too vague. CT reported on SGM's First Amendment defense in January, noting how legal observers question whether clergy-penitent privilege applies in this situation.
In February, a former youth ministry leader at Covenant Life Church, the Maryland church founded by Mahaney that became SGM's flagship before it withdrew from SGM in December, was indicted for allegedly molesting four boys between 1985 and 1990, according to the Associated Press. The indictment is unrelated to the lawsuit currently facing SGM, but the 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.
CT previously noted that the pending lawsuit against SGM has been amended, adding five new plaintiffs, five defendants, and 28 charges. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, now alleges that some defendants engaged in abuse directly, in addition to its previous charges that defendants covered up abuse within SGM communities.
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."
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 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.