CJ Mahaney Publicly Addresses Sovereign Grace Allegations for First Time in Two Years; Refutes Civil Suit's Claims

CJ Mahaney
C. J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, speaks at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2013. |

C. J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries and current pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, has released his first statement relating to a sex abuse scandal within his organization since a civil lawsuit was first brought against him and others two years ago.

In the statement, Mahaney rejects claims that he withheld information from authorities or that he tried to protect child predators. He also says he has remained silent because of the ongoing lawsuit.

"I look forward to the day when I can speak freely. For now, the simple and extraordinarily unsatisfying reality — for myself and others — is that in the face of an ongoing civil lawsuit, I simply cannot speak publicly to the specifics of these events," Mahaney wrote in the statement released Thursday.

"Even with those constraints, however, let me be clear about this: I have never conspired to protect a child predator, and I also deny all the claims made against me in the civil suit," he asserts.

Over the course of his media silence, many had called on him to address the allegations that he and other SGM leaders withheld sex abuse claims from authorities. Much of the outcry came to a head following his brother-in-law's acknowledgment under oath last week that he had not gone to police even after hearing reports that church volunteer Nathan Morales had sexually abused children. Grant Layman, former pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said in court that he believed he had an obligation to report the abuse but did not.

A lawsuit filed in May 2013 that lists Mahaney and other SGM leaders as defendants claims that they "conspired and continue to conspire" to "permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purposes of predation and to obstruct justice by covering up ongoing past predation."

Mahaney said Thursday that he was "deeply grieved for those who suffered abuse while part of Covenant Life Church, as well as those beyond the church who were abused," and that he continues "to pray for justice to be served on their behalf and for God's healing grace in their lives."

"I'm saddened, too, by the confusion and damage that has resulted from public comments and speculation about these events. Still, my trust remains in the Lord, who comforts the brokenhearted and promises in his justice and in his time to right every wrong," he added.

Boz Tchividjian, who founded Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment, a group that investigates sexual abuse in churches and ministries, said in an email to The Christian Post, that Mahaney's "statement seems to raise more questions than it answers."

"It is a wordy and largely empty way of saying 'No Comment.' Perhaps C.J describes it best, when he calls his own words 'extraordinarily unsatisfying' – something too many involved with this grave situation have experienced time and time again," he wrote.

In 1977, Mahaney founded CLC, which became the flagship church for SGM. In 2004, Josh Harris, best known as the author of the bestselling Christian relationship book, Kissed Dating Goodbye, took over as senior pastor.

In June 2011, Mahaney took a leave of absence from his role as president at SGM after being accused of having characteristics such as "pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy" by former pastors and leaders of the ministry.

But after an interim board of directors was installed and an outside organization evaluated some of the accusations, Mahaney was eventually found to be fit to serve and was returned to his leadership role.

In 2012, Mahaney moved the headquarters of SGM to Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. That same year, CLC departed from SGM.

In 2013, Mahaney resigned as president after lawsuits alleged that he and others were complicit in covering up sex abuse allegations in the church.

On Tuesday, Tullian Tchividjian, who pastors Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, told The Christian Post that he did not support those who had defended Mahaney, and asserted that the pastor was not ignorant of the sex abuse allegations.

"Give me a break. These people, they're family. Of course he knew," Tchividjian said. "C. J. was, for many years, the micro-managing head of the organization and nothing happened under the umbrella of Sovereign Grace that he wasn't made aware of, so for anyone to say, 'Well he didn't know,' that's totally naive."

The class-action lawsuit filed against SGM in May 2013 was thrown out last year due to the statute of limitations. The plaintiff's attorneys appealed and oral arguments are scheduled on June 9.

Attorneys representing the network also say the suit should be tossed out due to the vague nature of the allegations. Mahaney, Larry Tomczak, one of the early leaders of SGM who left the group in 1998, and John Loftness, who resigned as chairman of the SGM board in February, are among those named in the lawsuit.

The founders of the Reformed community The Gospel Coalition, D. A. Carson and Redeemer Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller, confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that Mahaney and Harris no longer serve on its council.

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