(Trigger warning: sexual abuse, child abuse, Sovereign Grace Ministries)
As you may have seen, last week, Reformed leaders Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor reaffirmed their support of C.J. Mahaney, president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, after a judge ruled that that nine of the eleven plaintiffs in the massive sexual abuse lawsuit against him and his ministry did not sue in time before the statue of limitations had expired.
Although the judge’s decision did not deal with whether or not the sexual abuse actually happened, this latest turn of events is something of a victory for SGM, whose legal strategy has been to first argue that the First Amendment gives pastors the right to discourage victims of abuse from reporting the crimes against them to police and second to argue that the case should be thrown out on technicalities, such as the statute of limitations.
As we learned during our series on abuse in the church, cases of fabricated allegations of child abuse are quite rare, so when this many consistent counts are leveled against an organization, we should be wary of jumping to the defense of the accused and treating the alleged victims as liars. So it is heartbreaking to see some of these leaders stand with Mahaney and characterize this lawsuit as a conspiracy against him.
I, (and Scot McKnight and many others), stand with Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer who has worked on cases related to child abuse for most of his career and the founder of G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment). In a statement, Boz (who is also the grandson of Billy Graham), wrote this:
This past week, I have fluctuated between anger and tears as I read about Christian leaders who proclaim the Gospel with their voice, but remain silent and/or defensive about the horrors of child sexual abuse within the Church. These leaders have once again, and perhaps unwittingly, demonstrated the art of marginalizing individual souls for the sake of reputation and friendships.
Earlier this week, I read the second amended complaint filed by eleven plaintiffs against SGM, two churches, and a number of individuals, including a man named CJ Mahaney. I won’t go into the factual details of this complaint here (if interested, you can read it here), but it is one of the most disturbing accounts of child sexual abuse and institutional “cover up” I have read in my almost 20 years of addressing this issue. Besides the horrific accounts of child victimization (some of which allegedly occurred on church property), what struck me most about these allegations is the systematic efforts by these churches to discourage and sometimes prevent the families of children who had been victimized by church officials from speaking out and reporting to law enforcement. Another aspect that struck me as I read (and re-read) through this complaint were the myriad of common threads related to the efforts made by these SGM churches to silence these survivors. As a former prosecutor, much credibility is given to disclosures made by more than one person that have distinct and unique similarities…these did.
I highly recommend that you read the rest of Boz’s statement.
But more importantly, I stand with the victims of abuse—both those who have received earthly justice and those who have not.
Here’s what I want you to know:
I believe you.
You are not alone.
And none of this is your fault.
I know from personal experience the confusion, and the pain, and the isolation that this terrible sin causes in the life of a child. And I'm so sorry for how all of this has brought it to mind for many of you the same thing. … If you have been a victim of sexual abuse or physical abuse, you need to hear this from me. You need to hear this from God. You need to believe this: What happened to you is not your fault. It is not your fault. You are not the one to blame. And if you have been abused or you are being abused, I want to plead with you, please go to the police. Please get help. If you are afraid to go to the police, go to a friend, and ask them to go with you to make that phone call. There is help for you.
And what one of the plaintiffs, Pam Palmer, said:
"Yesterday, the defendants evaded their day in court on technicalities. This ruling was not judged on the merits of our claim. It does not indicate anything about the truth of the horrific facts of our Second Amended Complaint, nor the guilt of those responsible. Justice is a slow process and this is not the end of that process – we are in this fight for the long haul. The legal difficulties for SGM, et al are NOT going away anytime soon. We will be appealing this decision. And as reported recently on the news and internet, a criminal investigation is forthcoming. God is faithful and this is ultimately His fight. He hates evil done to the least of His — that definitely includes little, innocent children. I am so proud of the young women and men, who have stood up, told their stories and joined this legal battle, knowing that criticism or difficulties would come — and they did it anyway, as a step of empowering for themselves and for protection of other little children. That is love. That is being Christ-like. That is true courage."
So in the spirit of compassion, I would like to devote today’s comment section to messages of love and support to victims of abuse for whom the statute of limitations may have prevented or delayed justice from being accomplished this side of Kingdom Come. I can't imagine how discouraging that must be. Let’s offer - as best we can in this limited online medium - prayers, words of kindness and encouragement, tears, and support. I know that many of them are reading our online conversations.
I’ll leave the comment section open for 24 hours, and will monitor it closely to ensure the comments are constructive, encouraging, appropriate, and legal.
Finally, if you are experiencing abuse in the context of your religious community, please tell someone who will help you contact the civil authorities. You do not deserve to be abused. It is not your fault. It is not your responsibility to "protect" religious leaders who hurt you.
You can find additional information and resources here.
Also, you may want to check out our interview with Boz Tchividjia as part of our weeklong series on abuse and the Church.