A prominent Southern Baptist seminary president is apologizing for defending Sovereign Grace Church leader CJ Mahaney as the denomination's leaders respond to sex abuses allegations at Southern Baptist churches.
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said in a Thursday interview with the Houston Chronicle that he regrets backing C.J. Mahaney, the former leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is now Sovereign Grace Churches.
"I believe in retrospect I erred in being part of a statement supportive of (Mahaney) and rather dismissive of the charges," Mohler told the Texas newspaper which earlier this week published a lengthy investigative report on sex abuse within SBC churches, identifying over 700 victims since 1998. Some 220 of the 380 perpetrators have been convicted, and 100 remain in prison.
"And I regret that action, which I think was taken without due regard to the claims made by the victims and survivors at the time, and frankly without an adequate knowledge on my part, for which I'm responsible."
Eleven people sued Mahaney and his former organization, Sovereign Grace Ministries, in 2013, following a huge sexual abuse scandal; it was alleged that church leadership covered up sexual abuse of minors, including abuse perpetrated by a man who was later convicted.
Sovereign Grace Ministries, which was headquartered just outside Washington, D.C., in Maryland and then reconstituted following the scandal as Sovereign Grace Churches, relocated to Louisville in part to be closer to the seminary.
Rachael Denhollander, an evangelical Christian and attorney who helped bring down USA Gymnastics Coach Larry Nassar, expressed gratitude in response to Mohler's words. Denhollander, who is also a sex abuse survivor, has long pushed for an independent investigation into Sovereign Grace and has on many occasions articulated her frustration that the powers that be were ignoring her and other abuse victims concerns, particularly SBC leadership's support of Mahaney.
Denhollander was once a member of a church that had invited Mahaney to speak. She knew of the sex abuse case and with her husband appealed to leadership to rescind the invitation, and when they refused they were asked to leave the church.
"I am deeply grateful to see this step taken. The willingness to acknowledge error, identify mistakes and choose to acknowledge them is critical, and what we need more of in Christendom. May this be a turning point in accountability, transparency, integrity and leadership," she said Friday of Mohler's words.
Likewise, investigative blogger and victims advocate Julie Anne Smith noted in a post on her website, Spiritual Sounding Board, that she was glad to see Mohler's and other SBC leaders' comments, yet questions remain.
"Are these statements enough? Does it heal the pain that so many SGM victims/parents have felt over the years for remaining silent about the abuse and defending Mahaney? Is this really a step forward, or is it just the politically correct thing to do?" she asked.
"I want to believe that this is a genuine wake-up call for all church leaders to get their collective acts together and take sex abuse and cover-ups seriously. I only wish it came spontaneously from the hearts of leaders — you know, humble leaders who truly care about the people in their flock."
Mohler also acknowledged in the Chronicle interview that he ought to have denounced Mahaney more strongly.
"Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes," he said. "I should have been very clear about insisting on an independent, credible third-party investigation” into Sovereign Grace.
Last year, as The Christian Post reported, Mahaney withdrew from speaking at the Together for the Gospel conference as contentions swirled about how the cases were handled. He said his decision was not an admission of guilt but in the interest of the conference so as not to be a distraction.