Following Colleague's Admission of Sex Abuse Cover-Up, Pastor of Former Sovereign Grace Ministries Church Denied Leave of Absence

Following Covenant Life Church Lead Pastor Josh Harris' announcement two weeks ago that he had asked for a leave of absence, a church leader announced on Sunday that Harris would remain on staff.

Joshua Harris
Covenant Life Church lead pastor Josh Harris addresses his congregation on May 18, 2014, following former church volunteer Nathan Morales' conviction of sex abuse. |

Harris' first told the congregation he was considering stepping down on May 18, following former CLC pastor Grant Layman's confession that he (Layman) had withheld allegations from police that church volunteer Nathaniel Morales had been sexually abusing children. The former pastor's confession came while he was under oath and testifying at Morales' court case, where the volunteer was later convicted of sexually abusing three young boys between 1983 and 1991.

Layman stepped down from his position as a pastor at CLC in March 2014.

According to a Washington Post story, a church leader on Sunday "speaking on behalf of two church groups said each had weighed whether Harris and other ministers should be placed on leaves of absence — and decided such action was not warranted." The Christian Post reached out to CLC to learn the identity of the speaker and requested comment but did not hear back by press time.

The Post reported that the speaker did not share more about "the group's discussions" because of the advice of the church's lawyers, echoing Harris' May 18 rationale. Currently, some former CLC leaders are among those named as defendants in a civil lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to cover up sex abuse. While the case was dismissed last year because of statute of limitations reasons, it will be appealed later this month.

"The criminal trial that took place the past week is the first time that specifics have been shared publicly, the details revealed about the trial have stirred many understandable questions about when pastors were informed, about this situation and how they responded," acknowledged Harris. "It seemingly contradicts our past communications about the sequence of events involved."

Harris specifically pointed to a statement released by CLC in February 2013 which claimed that "contrary to the impression left by the news reports, Covenant Life Church had no knowledge of such abuse until many years after the abuse when an adult who had been victimized as a child came forward."

Harris also added that there was seemingly confusion among church leadership about who may have been aware of sex abuse allegations against Morales.

"Based on what we understood, when we wrote that, we believe that that statement was accurate and right now we're still getting conflicting information, and so I'm not going to, at this time, make some kind of definitive statement until we can clear this up. But please know, there was no attempt to give misinformation and we are committed to clarifying this," said Harris. "If it turns out that this statement was wrong I will take full responsibility for that."

Harris, who revealed in 2013 that he himself was a victim of sex abuse, also instructed any attendees worried that their children may have sexually abused to speak with the police, because CLC is "committed to upholding the laws of our society."

Harris joined CLC in 2004, while the church was under the leadership of C. J. Mahaney, the brother-in-law of Layman. Mahaney founded Sovereign Grace Ministries, the larger ministry of which CLC was part of until 2012.

In June 2011, Mahaney took a leave of absence from his role as president at SGM after being accused of having characteristics including "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 2013, Mahaney resigned as president after lawsuits alleged that he and others were complicit in covering up sex abuse allegations in the church.

SGM has also maintained that it has found no "evidence of any cover-up or conspiracy. If we discover otherwise, our board will immediately report it to the authorities and see that it is prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Last month, Mahaney 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.

He rejected claims that he withheld information from authorities or that he tried to protect child predators and maintained that he 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.

"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.

SGM is made up of a family of about 90 churches in the United States, Canada, Bolivia, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

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