(Photo: SBTS via The Christian Post)
Christian radio host Janet Mefferd talked with Boz Tchividjian, evangelist Billy Graham's grandson and founder of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, who strongly responded to the silence of evangelical leaders on the Sovereign Grace Ministries lawsuit.
The issue is far from being over, Mefferd said on her show on Thursday, noting that the lawsuit against SGM – filed last November and involving multiple allegations of child abuse as well as conspiracy and cover-up charges – was dismissed due to the expiration of statute of limitations for several of the plaintiffs. But the plaintiffs' attorneys have now filed a motion for reconsideration.
C.J. Mahaney, president of SGM until recently, was one of several defendants accused of permitting and covering up the sexual abuse of children in churches that formed part of the ministry.
Janet Mefferd said ordinary Christians have been calling on evangelical leaders to address "American evangelicalism's biggest sex scandal to date." Tchividjian, former chief prosecutor in the Seventh Judicial Circuit's Sexual Crimes Division, responded by saying the response by evangelical leaders led to an "incredible disappointment."
"It's nothing new; I think we've seen this type of response may be in different flavors from other Christians in the past ... including in the Catholic Church," said Tchividjian, professor of law at Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va.
"Do we not learn from the past at all?" he asked. "It's been a disappointment probably more than anything else ... knowing that there are many, many hurting Christians out there, survivors of abuse who are left completely abandoned in many ways by the evangelical community."
SGM is an evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic network founded in 1982 that has about 80 member churches, located mostly in the U.S.
Regarding The Gospel Coalition's continued silence about the scandal – as the ministry says they are waiting for the court's ruling before they respond – Tchividjian said they are trying to protect the institution and stay out of it. "The reality is this: since when have evangelicals ever looked to the law in determining whether they should speak about evil?"
Tchividjian also mentioned statements by The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, the leaders of which are partners and friends with Mahaney. The statements, he noted, begin with acknowledgment of how horrible child sexual abuse and cover-up are, but the whole purpose is "supporting a friend of theirs."
Mefferd pointed out that Together for the Gospel altered their statement that was first posted on May 23. By June 6, two sentences – "No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C.J. Mahaney. Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals" – had been removed.
And a paragraph, which read, "A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C.J. Mahaney. Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals ..." had been changed to: "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."
It's a problem of "transparency and truth, which the Gospel is supposed to be all about," Tchividjian responded, noting the statements have been changed without the public being notified. He went on to say that Together for the Gospel should also indicate that Mahaney was the senior pastor at one of their churches when the offenses allegedly took place and the families were allegedly discouraged from reporting the incidents.
"I wonder if these statements would have ever been published if C.J. Mahaney had been a pastor of a small country church," Tchividjian added. "I just think that … people see through the fact that this is a friend ... this was sort of a good ole boy network in action … What should they say … I think we have to understand that Christian leaders have a spiritual responsibility to shepherd the entire flock, not just one party, and I never read in any of those statements any of these men speak about the need to love and minister and expend themselves in love to these particular 11 families."
It is sad, he said, "that somebody who has been abused in the Christian community or is being abused in the Christian community will read these statements and do we think this will propel them to come forward or to remain silent?"
Mefferd asked why Christian leaders should take a stand on the issue. "I think the way the church and Christians within the church respond to the darkness that surrounds child sexual abuse, will either draw survivors I've always said either into the arms of Jesus or will propel them away," Tchividjian replied.
"And I think sadly and tragically what we've seen in the last few weeks is that many have been propelled away. … It's so important to speak out because the Gospel – we tell people we believe in the Gospel – and the Gospel is about being liberated, to be transparent, to be truthful and even to be vulnerable. I tell people all the time that God did his most powerful work when Jesus was transparent, naked, and vulnerable on the cross. And so we need to embrace that."
The world and survivors are watching, he went on to say. "Survivors are watching and to say listen, we want to approach this issue truthfully, even if it requires some vulnerability on our part that's OK because our identity is not in me or what we do but it's Christ alone that gives us the ability to do that. And ultimately, if we do that, if we take the road of the Good Samaritan that says … my holy business is not keeping me from getting down into the dirt and demonstrating and expending myself for those who are hurting … if we can do that I still think there's a lot of hope that a lot of abuse survivors will see the authenticity of the Gospel at work and not just simply a bunch of individuals who are trying to protect a friendship or an institution. That's not the Gospel."
A pastor who was at one time a close adviser to Mahaney recently compared the behavior by the SGM's leadership team, including that of Mahaney, during the fallout after the controversy, to that of President Nixon and his staff during the Watergate scandal of the early '70s. "I also expect C.J., the Leadership Team, the interim Board and the current Board will all get full pardons like Nixon by those who fill their shoes," stated Brent Detwiler.
He told The Christian Post in March that as one of the original leaders at SGM, he was considered Mahaney's right-hand man. "Scandals in SGM continue one after another," Detwiler wrote in his blog posted recently.
"The lawsuit is moving forward. A new polity without biblical sanction will be put into place. Cover-ups will continue. Nothing has changed. It only gets worse. There are no Charles Colsons in this scandalous story," he told CP.
Detwiler spoke to CP after about 20 churches decided to no longer be under the direction of SGM due to disputes over the leadership capabilities of Mahaney and its executive board.