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Sunday
Dec162012

Covenant Life Church Severs Ties with Sovereign Grace Ministries after 30 Years of Working Together as Closest Friends and Colleagues

At its Sunday morning meeting this Lord’s Day, Covenant Life Church (CLC) in Gaithersburg, MD announced its decision to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) after 30 years of intimate association.  93.3 percent of those church members who voted affirmed the decision of the pastors to leave over grave concerns for the leadership culture of SGM. 

For 35 years, C.J. Mahaney considered this church the “dearest place on earth.”  He was its senior pastor for 25 of those years until he turned it over to Joshua Harris in 2004.  This severing represents an incredibly sad dissolution that no one ever imagined would occur in our life time.  The closest of friends and colleagues have now separated.  

I remember the day in August 2009 when I separated from Sovereign Grace Ministries.  I had no choice but to leave my best friends and life’s work for the same reasons as Covenant Life Church – an increasingly corrupt and abusive leadership culture.  My personal history with Larry Tomczak and C.J. goes back to 1978.  I graduated from seminary in 1979.  From then on I was linked to these men and the ministry we founded together in 1982 – Sovereign Grace Ministries.  I served on the Board of Directors for 25 years. 

Now, three years after my departure, Joshua Harris and the other 17 pastors at CLC find themselves in the same position.  So do a lot of other SGM pastors and churches who have yet to announce their plans for departure.  The only pastors staying are those who have chosen to imitate the leadership of SGM or have chosen to ignore the overwhelming evidence against them.    

Recently an ad hoc Polity Committee chaired by Phil Sasser proposed a domineering governance structure for SGM in the Book of Church Order (see Sovereign Grace Ministries Aborts Simplicity of New Testament Polity (Nov 4, 2012).  This polity manual robs local churches of their freedom and responsibilities.  It is extra biblical, unbiblical and oppressive.  It requires abject subservience without exception.  You will find no such teaching on governance in the New Testament.  Nevertheless, it was adopted by the Board of Directors which is chaired by John Loftness.  

For the past three years, God the Father has been disciplining the leaders of SGM but they have been unresponsive to his training.  Instead of embracing discipline, they have steadfastly denied this spiritual and practical reality which is evident all around them.  What was intended to produce the peaceful fruit righteousness (Heb 12:10-11) resulted in bitterness, trouble, and defilement (12:15).  The chastisement of God was taken lightly (12:5-6).  There has been no public repentance, confession or restitution.  As a result, we’ve seen another kind of harvest at work.  The reaping of consequences (Gal 6:7-8) and today it multiplied with the monumental departure of Covenant Life Church – the flagship of SGM.  

Joshua Harris, the pastors, and the church have patiently endured with C.J., the Interim Board, and the current Board over the past 18 months.  Recently, however, an action by the current Board proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  That straw did not have to do with differences over polity.  It concerned the Board’s arrogant and misleading explanations regarding six key events from 2011-2012.  Here they are.  

  1. C.J. leaving Covenant Life Church and attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC)
  2. C.J.’s comments at last November’s Pastors Conference
  3. The Interim Board seating the new Board
  4. SGM move to Louisville
  5. Board support for C.J. planting a church in Louisville while disagreements with the CLC pastors remain
  6. Announcing that C.J. would remain President at least until the polity process was completed 

Notice in the following statements by Joshua, how much importance he assigns to the Board of Directors’ explanation of these events and the clarity it brought to the pastors in making their decision to leave SGM.     

“In addition to these items, we will be considering [on our pastors’ retreat] our partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Recent interactions we’ve had with the SGM Board (which have all been cordial and God-glorifying in tone), along with a letter they released stating their views on six key events of the past year have helped us see that significant differences remain.  While the focus recently has been on the polity process, we see that the differences are not only issues of polity.  During our retreat we want to prayerfully consider what this means for our church’s involvement in SGM.” (Joshua Harris, Letter to CLC, October 5, 2012) 

The “significant differences [that] remain” have nothing to do with polity or how churches are governed.  They are about the manner in which leaders, lead. 

“The answer again is a growing realization that the primary differences are not matters of polity and will not be resolved by polity changes.  Yes, now that we have seen the polity proposal, we have points of disagreement that we will touch on briefly tonight.  But we believe the issues we’ll be walking you through tonight are bigger than polity…. Several events in the past few months have helped inform our thinking on this important decision.  They include: Communication leading up to our July 6 [2012] meeting with the new Board, the meeting itself, the two letters from the Board [on September 12 & 14] that followed the meeting, and subsequent communications from SGM.  The September [14] letter from SGM’s Board in which they shared their view on six key decisions of the past year was particularly clarifying for us.  It helped confirm our perspective that while SGM has made some changes they are not significantly changing their prior course and approach to leadership.  All of these events have provided additional data and helped shape our thinking.” (Joshua Harris, CLC Members Meeting, Nov 4, 2012) 

The Board of Directors “view of six key decisions…was particularly clarifying.”  Clarifying in the sense that SGM is “not significantly changing their prior course and approach to leadership.”  That is, the new Board is much like their predecessor, the Interim Board and also like the Leadership Team – proud, abusive, and untrustworthy.      

In September 2012, the Board of Directors posted three letters on the SGM website addressed to “Friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries.”  One on September 12 and two on September 14.  I dealt with the first letter in The Sovereign Grace Board Refuses to Deal with Division by Distorting Scripture (Sept 16, 2012).  I dealt with the second letter and half of the third letter in A Reasoned Response to an Unreasonable Board - Part 1 (Oct 11 2012).  I’d recommend the reader go back and reread this post before proceeding.  It will refresh your memory and orient you.  In what follows, I address the remainder of the third letter which follows in black lettering.  I have underlined parts of it for focus.  My comments are in blue lettering.  

## 

Second half of third letter from the SGM Board of Directors
September 14, 2012

1. CJ. leaving Covenant Life Church (CLC) and attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) — Following his announcement that he would take a leave of absence and the unfolding leadership direction taken by the pastors of CLC, C.J. determined that it was best to stop attending CLC on Sundays and instead to attend CHBC for the duration of his leave.  He did this for several reasons: to avoid being a distraction at CLC (or at another SGM church if he had gone there), to allow himself and his family undistracted time to worship during an exceptionally difficult season, and to avoid further encounters with church members which involved uninformed or misinformed criticism and questions.  For these reasons he thought that suspending his attendance would be best not only for his family, but also for CLC and SGM.   

Notice, “C.J. determined that it was best to stop attending CLC.”  That is true.  He came to that determined conclusion without ever talking to any of his pastors.  He didn’t want their counsel so he did not ask for their counsel.  C.J. knew what was best even though all the pastors disagreed with him.  He also believed his departure from CLC was best for SGM.  What folly (cf. Jam 3:17-18)!  His decision to abruptly leave caused great pain and even more division.  It exacerbated the entire situation and stumble thousands of people.  Yet the Board cites nothing wrong with C.J.’s factious decision though it was contrary to the teaching of Scripture.  Matthew 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 

C.J. was also deceitful with all the members of SGM in how he announced his departure.  He gave a false impression.  The Board does not address his spin. 

“During my leave of absence I will be attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church where Mark Dever is the senior pastor.  After seeking counsel about this decision, I’ve concluded that this is the best place for Carolyn and me to receive care and counsel, to examine my life and leadership, and to consider my future during this season of reflection.” (C.J. Mahaney, “A Personal Update,” August 12, 2011) 

C.J. sought “counsel” about his decision to leave but not from his duly appointed pastors.  He was not interested in their perspective or finding out how his decision might impact the church.  He was only concerned about himself.  Instead, C.J. went to the newly appointed Interim Board knowing they would support his action since he had just picked them.  They counseled him to leave CLC behind the backs of the CLC pastors who never had a chance to share their reasons for why C.J. should stay.       

“We’re torn over this decision.  We understand C.J. wanting to attend where he feels he can best be cared for and best serve his family, but we also have reasons why we think it would be good for him to stay at Covenant Life.” (Joshua Harris, Letter to CLC, August 10, 2011) 

C.J. and the Interim Board had no interest in hearing why the CLC pastors thought “it would be good for him to stay at Covenant Life.”  They just imposed their unilateral decision upon them and the church.  That was a case of lording.  C.J. and the Interim Board never gave the CLC pastors an opportunity to share those reasons or object.  Of course, nothing about that action is unethical in the eyes of the current Board.  The point must not be missed.  C.J. and the Interim Board decided C.J. should leave CLC without ever talking to his pastors and the current Board sees absolutely nothing wrong with that independent action.  In this unethical approach, no worth was assigned to the perspective of the CLC pastors.  I wrote about this when it happened.      

“Talk about contrary to SGM polity.  Since when can the Board pull rank over the local church and C.J.’s pastors and determine church membership and pastoral care without their input?  Never!  The support of the SGM [Interim] Board in C.J.’s decision is secondary.  They are not C.J.’s pastors!  C.J. is a not a member of Dave Harvey’s Covenant Fellowship Church!  He’s a member of Covenant Life Church.  That’s doctrinal hypocrisy.  I’m afraid the happiest place on earth is now the last place on earth you’ll find C.J. and Carolyn.” (Brent Detwiler, C.J.’s Flight from Covenant Life, August 13, 2011) 

This is an example of C.J.’s independence.  He didn’t want “to receive care and counsel” from Joshua Harris, Grant Layman, Kenneth Maresco, Robin Boisvert, etc.  He cut off his best friends who could have genuinely helped him examine his life and leadership.  Instead, he fled to Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church where no one knew the private C.J.  Mark was ill equipped to help C.J.  He should have directed C.J. to stay at CLC and receive pastoral care in that context. 

“That’s right, instead of the many pastors who know the real C.J. far better than Mark Dever, he will have one pastor who adores him and a church that won’t ask him hard questions.” (Brent Detwiler, C.J.’s Flight from Covenant Life, August 13, 2011) 

C.J. and the Board showed the CLC pastors no respect and demonstrated no humility.  At a minimum, they should have sought out the pastors to get their perspective and carefully considered their reasons for why C.J. should stay.  

This is also another example of C.J.’s deceit.  Everyone reading his August 12, 2011 update assumed he sought counsel from the CLC pastors.  He did nothing of the kind.  If he were honest, he would have said, “I didn’t talk to my pastors because I don’t trust them…but I did talk to the new appointed Interim Board and they approved.”  

The CLC pastors were told of the decision.  They were never consulted.

“C.J. and the Sovereign Grace Board have let us know that they think it is best for C.J. and Carolyn to attend Capitol Hill Baptist Church during his leave of absence.” (Joshua Harris, Letter to CLC, August 10, 2012)

The Interim Board rubber stamped C.J.’s decision to run from CLC.  Together, they informed the pastors of this reckless decision.  All of this transpired behind their backs in secret.  That is reprehensible.  It was the height of hypocrisy.  C.J. and the Board did not involve the CLC pastors in the decision making process at all.  The senior pastor of 25 years just picked up and left town.  No counsel.  No discussion.  C.J. and the Interim Board didn’t care about the negative impact this would have upon the pastors, church or ministry.  That was pure selfishness and independence at work.      

Yet the current Board exonerates the Interim Board and C.J.  I’ve dealt with all the other excuses provided by the Board above for this inexcusable action in a previous post.  See C.J.’s State of His Heart Message – Reflection on Personal Sins (Dec 28, 2011).  

Some of our pastors expressed support for this action given that C.J. was not under any process of church discipline and given the unprecedented circumstances he was facing.  Some have said that while they wish that he had stayed, they could nonetheless support his decision.  Some believe that it was improper for him to leave since CLC was his local church and should have been the place where he willingly submitted to the local pastors’ care and accountability.  Others have expressed concern that C.J. was treated with partiality in being allowed to leave CLC when other pastors in similar situations had not been allowed to leave their local churches. 

“Some…some…some…others.”  This is spin.  It implies equal percentages in each category described.  That is false.  Relatively few “pastors expressed support for this action” but the current Board conceals that fact in how they write the paragraph.  Most of the SGM pastors objected and thought “it was improper for him to leave” and “expressed concern that C.J. was treated with partiality.”  The Board is not being honest.  They should have given percentages or used language to show that wide margins exist between each group.  

C.J. “was not under any process of church discipline” but he was under evaluation.  No pastor in the history of SGM has ever been allowed to leave his church while under evaluation.  Furthermore, C.J. needed on-going input from the Covenant Life pastors who were many of his longest and closest friends.  Instead, he left and never returned.  He severed his ties and cut off his relationships.  Yet the Board finds absolutely no fault with C.J.  

It wasn’t “improper” for C.J. to leave, it was wrong for him to leave.  I went through a horrible assessment in June/July 2009.  It was characterized by betrayal, conspiracy, a cover up, and a complete denial of due process.  I stayed during this abusive process that lasted three months until SGM shut the church down.  I stayed for the good of the church and then quietly resigned instead of forcing a split.  No one has ever done or been allowed to do what C.J. did.  The hypocrisy is breathtaking. 

Let us briefly address the latter two issues.  First, C.J. was not an elder at CLC, and his primary care and accountability had been with his SGM care group which had formed a short time after he had relinquished his role as senior pastor [in September 2004].  While C.J., the Interim Board, and this current Board would say in hindsight that this was not a good arrangement, to ask C.J. to change the conditions for his care and accountability in the midst of this crisis would, in our view and under the circumstances at the time, have been inappropriate and unfair to him.  Further, when the Interim Board first met with the CLC pastors, both groups agreed that the Board would be the body to take responsibility for reviewing the allegations made against C.J. and not the CLC pastoral team.  C.J. remained accountable to his care group and to the [Interim] Board throughout the evaluation process.

In August 2004, C.J. insisted “his primary care and accountability” must come from the CLC pastors (see Response Regarding Friendship & Doctrine, pp. 27-28) and not Sovereign Grace Ministries.  At the time, he was running from Dave Harvey, Steve Shank and me.  He no longer wanted us speaking into his life or holding him accountable for growth in sanctification.  This pastoral arrangement was agreed upon by all parties.  There was absolutely no confusion.  Joshua, Kenneth Maresco, Grant Layman and Bob Kauflin were responsible for C.J.  Later, C.J. changed his accountability back to SGM contrary to all his commitments and theology of the local church.  

Once again he isolated himself in a SGM group with Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell, and Gary Riccuci.  These are all men who have demonstrated a repeated lack of resolve to deal with C.J. in a forthright manner.  They are long standing admirers and enablers.  Contrary to our agreement, Joshua, Kenneth and Grant allowed this happen.  

After our confrontation of C.J. in August 2004, he fled from Dave, Steve and me.  He also fled from Joshua, Kenneth and Grant in the ensuing months.  By early 2005, he surrounded himself with Bob, Jeff and Gary who were co-dependent upon him (using psychological jargon) for their identity and significance.  In biblical terms, they were entangled by human idolatry, that is, the functional veneration of C.J. 

In leaving SGM, the pastors of CLC have gone through the painful process of withdrawal.  C.J. is like a drug (for good and bad reasons).  It is hard to kick the habit.  But with their departure the recovery process is well underway.  They want to build a Jesus centered, not C.J. centered, or SGM centered, church.     

The Board’s is being deceptive and irrational when they say “to ask C.J. to change the conditions for his care and accountability in the midst of this crisis would, in our view and under the circumstances at the time, have been inappropriate and unfair to him.”  Furthermore, it is laughable when the current Board says, “C.J. remained accountable to his care group and to the [Interim] Board throughout the evaluation process.”  His care group and the Interim Board provided him no biblical accountability.  They lied for him, covered up for him, enabled him, and shielded him.    

This statement is deceptive because no one at CLC was asking C.J. to change the conditions for his care and accountability.  That is a straw man argument.  It is also irrational because C.J. and the Board were the ones who drastically changed the conditions for his care and accountability.  They sent him packing to Mark Dever.  Then they sent him to John Loftness at Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, MD.  C.J.’s been a fugitive the past 18 months.  His care and accountability have been constantly changed by the Board.  I hear he’s living in Louisville, Kentucky now.  

Here’s what was “inappropriate and unfair.”  C.J. leaving the CLC pastors with all kinds of wreckage and carnage when he suddenly left over offenses and never returned to make things right with the church.  He has never asked the church to forgive him for a single sin against them.  

As for C.J. being treated with partiality, while we are aware that pastors have been encouraged to remain at their local churches during a process of evaluation of their ministry in that local church or while undergoing some form of discipline, this has never been a formal requirement in SGM.  In fact, we could point to others who have left or were encouraged to leave their local churches (for the sake of their care) when their ministry had been called into question or they had stepped down.  But we would also want to underline that from the start, C.J. has not been under any form of discipline.  We also think the unprecedented circumstances of this situation bear consideration—never before has a SGM pastor had accusations brought against him in so public a fashion with a fair evaluation of those charges months away. 

We’re appealing that we afford these decisions the appropriate liberty and charity we should apply to issues that lack clear biblical directive. 

Once again the Board is letting C.J. off the hook when they say there “has never been a formal requirement in SGM” that a pastor undergoing evaluation or discipline must remain in their local church during the process.  Technically that is true but it is an utterly worthless point.  Why?  Because every pastor knew he would never be allowed to leave while being evaluated.  In the 30 year history of SGM, no pastor has ever been permitted to run from their local church while being assessed.  They were not “encouraged to remain,” they were expected to remain.  To imply otherwise, is deceitful.  

Then the Board adds this piece of spin.  “In fact, we could point to others who have left or were encouraged to leave their local churches (for the sake of their care) when their ministry had been called into question or they had stepped down.”  This is so misleading.  While a true statement it is also a totally irrelevant statement.  These circumstances are not analogous to C.J.’s situation.  Yes, men have relocated to other churches after a gift assessment concluded they may not be called or should step down.  In the West, they humorously call this being “Shanked.”  But let’s be clear, no one has ever moved to another church while their gifts or character were being assessed.  This kind of deceitful explanation by the Board is so manipulative.  

Finally, the Board says, “We’re appealing that we afford these decisions the appropriate liberty and charity we should apply to issues that lack clear biblical directive.”  Allowing C.J.’s actions to stand and go unaddressed has nothing to do with “liberty and charity.”  It has to do with license and extraordinary favoritism.  Furthermore, there is no “lack of clear biblical directive” if you believe the teaching of the New Testament regarding commitment to a local church and the rightful place of pastoral care.  You know…what C.J. has taught his whole life.    

2. C.J.’s comments at last November’s Pastors Conference — The [2011] Pastors Conference was the first opportunity for SGM pastors to hear directly from C.J. since the events of the previous July.  Many of the pastors in attendance came with expectations of what they thought C.J. would say or should say to us.  In his comments, C.J. expressed sorrow and sadness over the effect his previously acknowledged sins and leadership weaknesses had had on SGM.  However, some pastors were disappointed that his remarks didn’t include some type of specific public confession of sin.  Other pastors were pleased with his remarks and found them humble and helpful.  Further, there was a legitimate concern, carried by both C.J. and some on the Interim Board, that a broad confession would have been inappropriate since a review of the allegations against C.J. was still pending.  In either case, we know of no absolute right or wrong standard for what C.J. should have, or could have, said at this conference.  We think it important, regardless of personal opinion, that disappointed expectations in matters like this not be held against C.J. or any leader in similar circumstances—especially someone under such public and, from some places, slanderous scrutiny. 

There is so much wrong about this paragraph.  First, the Board says, “Many of the pastors in attendance came with expectations of what they thought C.J. would say or should say to us.”  How can the Board find fault with the pastors?  The fault is with C.J.   Here is what he promised would occur at the Pastors Conference.  It is found on my blog in C.J.’s Foxhole Conversion (Oct 13, 2011) and The Confessions of Saint C.J. (Part 2) (Feb 5, 2012).  Both of these posts were sent to all the pastors in SGM.  The SGM pastors came with expectations because of C.J.’s explicit promise to give a “fully informed” confession. 

From: C.J. Mahaney 
Sent: Friday, June 24, 2011 12:44 PM
To: Brent Detwiler
Cc: Dave Harvey; Jeff Purswell; Joshua Harris; Tommy Hill; Tony Reinke; Ken Sande; John Loftness; Bob Kauflin; Gary Ricucci; Carolyn Mahaney; Chad Mahaney
Subject: FW: Change of Heart?

Brent,

Thank you for your affection and care.  I trust you know I feel the same toward you. 

In answer to your question, yes, I am changing my mind in regard to your request to give a more thorough response to your documents…. I also plan to make a public confession to the Sovereign Grace pastors.  My hope is to do this at our November conference although it’s possible this could take place at an earlier date.  I want my confession to be as fully informed as possible, so I’d like to get the benefit of the independent review process before making it.  It’s also my preference to make this confession in person with the pastors rather than by e-mail.  I want these men to hear my confession and hopefully perceive my conviction/sorrow as well as ask their forgiveness…. And once God has given me a clear understanding of my sin and its impact on others, I anticipate that it will be beneficial for me to make a wider confession to the general public about God’s correction and refinement in my life.

So it is my determined intention to continue to pursue a rigorous evaluation of my heart, involving those inside Sovereign Grace as well as those outside Sovereign Grace who do not have history with me.  I take your charges seriously and I want to do all I can to convince you of this.  Most importantly I want to please and glorify God by walking humbly before him by his grace.  Thanks for helping me to do this.

In His grace,   

C.J. 

Second, the Board once again speaks in shadowy language when it says “some pastors were disappointed [with] his remarks” while “other pastors were pleased with his remarks.”  One is left to assume there was a 50/50 split among the pastors but that was not at all the case.  The overwhelming majority of pastors were sorely disappointed with C.J.’s remarks.  The Board is not being honest.  They are intentionally misleading everyone who read this explanation on the SGM website.   

For instance, all the pastors from CLC were greatly disturbed (not “disappointed”) by C.J.’s tone and content.  They asked the Interim Board of Directors to release the recording so members at CLC could listen to his comments.  The Board refused.  They knew the tape would dam C.J. in no uncertain terms.  If it still exists it is locked up in the SGM vault.  It will never see the light of day. 

Third, the Board says “some pastors were disappointed that his remarks didn’t include some type of specific public confession of sin.”  I’d like to nominate that line for understatement of the year.  The majority of pastors were shocked that there was no specific confession of sin.  For 30 years countless leaders have made public confessions of specific sin at C.J.’s behest.  Not C.J.  He doesn’t play by the rules he sets.     

Here’s is what C.J. said at the 2009 Pastors Conference when he had Mark Mullery and Keith Breault make specific confessions of sin (see Concluding Remarks, pp. 107-112 for fuller treatment). 

“So in Sovereign Grace there is no such thing as a flawless pastor, no such thing, but in Sovereign Grace we must acknowledge our flaws!  We must acknowledge our flaws and we must learn from our flaws.  We must acknowledge when we have stumbled, where we have stumbled, how we have stumbled and we must learn from each and every stumble…. It is stunning when anyone in any modern American institution takes honest responsibility.  I want you to know, it should not be stunning when pastors take responsibility.  It should be the norm.  And in Sovereign Grace we are not about damage control.  It would be a complete contradiction of this passage [James 3:1-2] and what we believe about the doctrine of sin for us to engage in damage control.  We do not engage in damage control.  There will be no damage control in Sovereign Grace.  We will seek to walk humbly before God and when we stumble we will not seek to engage in damage control.  No, instead we will humbly acknowledge with sorrow that we stumbled – we stumbled.  No damage control.  We stumbled because we all stumble in many ways.  So listen.  We shouldn’t be surprised when we fail in pastoral ministry, we shouldn’t be surprised when we fail for we all stumble in many ways.  And listen carefully, we should not be condemned when we fail.  We shouldn’t be surprised, we shouldn’t be condemned but we must acknowledge and we must learn from our failures.” (C.J. Mahaney) 

C.J. also promised to “confess any and all sin I have committed” in July 2011 to everyone in SGM including the pastors.  His words are like “clouds without rain….autumn trees without fruit” (Jude 12).  

“I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this.  I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others…. I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed…. I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.” (C.J. Mahaney, Why I’m Taking a Leave of Absence, July 6, 2011) 

Fourth, the Board implies there was no need for C.J. to confess in person to the pastors “his previously acknowledged sins” on the SGM website.  Over the past 8 years, C.J. has made six confessions in August 2004, October 2004, December 2010, March 2011, and two in July 2011.  See The Confessions of Saint C.J. (Part 1) (Feb 4, 2012) for a listing.  Yet this “was the first opportunity for SGM pastors to hear directly from C.J. since the events of the previous July [2011].”  C.J. has never talked about his sins, asked forgiveness for his sin, or confessed his sins to the pastors of SGM.  The 2011 Pastors Conference afforded him a huge opportunity to humble himself.  Instead he exalted himself.  Now he has been brought low. 

When the Board references “his previously acknowledged sins” they are referring to Confessions 5 and 6.  Here is what I said about Confession 5 in My Thoughts on C.J.’s Leave of Absence (Aug 5, 2011).

“C.J.’s announcement [about his leave of absence] which gives the clear impression that only recently some former pastors and leaders expressed concerns for his pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.  The facts clearly show otherwise.  C.J. says these five “charges are serious” and of a “serious nature.”  He does not say his sins are serious, only the charges.  He cites the charges but he does not express agreement with them…. C.J. says he has perceived a degree of his sin but he also says he disagrees with some of the charges.  Therefore, it is impossible to know which charges if any (i.e., pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy) he agrees with and which he disagrees with.  He does not reveal anything specific.  He also mentions he has been grieved by the “effects” of his sins on others but gives no indication what those effects entail.  So right now he is “considering these charges” but not agreeing with the charges.  In the future he is resolved to make “appropriate confessions” in public…. We don’t know what sin or effects of sin he is overwhelmed by; but we must nevertheless hold C.J. up in prayer and look forward to the day when “there will much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.” 

Here is another brief summary I wrote about both of these confessions in No One Can Question C.J.’s Public Confession of Specific Sin - Really? (Aug 3, 2011). 

“There have been two occasions when C.J. “confessed” his sin in public.  The first time in a Sovereign Grace blog on July 6 entitled, “Why I am taking a leave of absence.”  The second in person on July 10 at Covenant Life Church (CLC)…. Nothing in C.J.’s July 6 blog is specific and it hardly qualifies as a confession.  It is a vague acknowledgement of unspecified “sins” and “deficiencies.”  Read it closely…. Little in C.J.’s July 10 confession is specific and those comments are confined to Dave and me back in 2003-2004.  Otherwise, C.J.’s comments to CLC are vague, general, and non-descript.  For example, he says, “in a particular phone conversation I sought to coerce Larry...my public announcement of his departure was self-righteous in attitude and critical of Larry.”  He doesn’t go into any detail.  He provides little background.  He doesn’t share particulars (for that kind of information you must read Part 3: Concluding Remarks, pages 131-179 at sgmwikileaks).  At the end of his comments, C.J. says to CLC, “I want to ask for your forgiveness for these sins and their effects on you.”  What does he mean specifically?  What sins against CLC is he talking about?  What adverse effects upon the church does he have in mind?  He makes none of this clear.” 

When you examine Confession 5 to SGM, you readily see it is no confession at all.  In Confession 6, C.J. only acknowledges his sins against Larry Tomczak in 1997 and Dave Harvey and me in 2003-2004.   Dave removed both of these meager confessions from the SGM website on November 23, 2011.  They too are hidden away in the SGM vault. 

Fifth, the Board claims total amnesia.  They cannot recall any absolute standard for what C.J. should have, or could have said, at the Conference.  How about C.J.’s teaching on the subject of confession by leaders since the beginning of time?  Here’s but one example.  It is found on my blog, What Andy Pettitte and C.J. Mahaney Share in Common (Nov 16, 2011).  In that post, I refer to a writing of C.J.’s where he contrasted the confessions of two Major League Baseball pitchers regarding the illegal use of banned substances.  Daniel Naulty is the good guy.  Andy Petite is the bad guy.    

“Let me tell you what he [Daniel Naulty] won’t reap.  He won’t reap a perjury charge or a seared conscience or the ridicule of a world that easily discerns someone who is lying.  And he will reap the love and respect of his sons…. Naulty embraced his moment to speak and he spoke clearly, specifically, and humbly.  [Andy] Pettitte missed his moment…. Now, what about your moment of confession?  Your moment is coming, and so is mine. And this is what concerns me the most—that I will miss my moment…. When I have sinned against someone, a sincere confession is required…. Genuine conviction of sin is evidenced by a sincere, specific, and brief confession of sin, without any reference to circumstances or the participation of anyone else…. And whenever there is this conflict in my soul about specifically confessing my sin, I am aware that pride is actively at work in my soul, opposing the confession and seeking to persuade me that it wouldn’t be wise or even necessary for me to confess.  But I have learned to ignore this noise from my arrogant heart, and instead weaken this noise by specifically confessing my sin to the appropriate individual as quickly as possible.    

That is the standard for what should have occurred at the 2011 Pastors Conference.  C.J. missed his moment because of pride and the Board is covering up for him when they should be correcting him for gross hypocrisy.  Moreover, they proceed to correct the pastors with “personal opinion[s]” and “disappointed expectations” and exhort them not to hold the absence of any confession by C.J. against him, “especially someone under such public and, from some places, slanderous scrutiny.” 

Sixth, the Board says, “In his comments, C.J. expressed sorrow and sadness over the effect his previously acknowledged sins and leadership weaknesses had had on SGM.”  C.J. expressed “sorrow and sadness” for the “work” and “challenges” he created for the pastors but that is all he acknowledged.  The Board needs to stop lying.  C.J. has not “previously acknowledged sins” and he has not begun to “express sorrow and sadness over the effect” of his sins. 

“Here is the state of my heart.  I am sad, I am hopeful, and I am eager to return to the privilege to serve you. Those would be three categories.[1]  I am sad.  I reflect on what you have experienced during this season, the time you have invested because of all that has taken place, the challenges you have encountered over the past four months, how this has adversely affected your church.  I locate myself in the midst of that and find my way to where I bear responsibility for that.[2]  I am so sad.  My heart aches and breaks because I want to serve you.  I don’t want to create work for you.  So I pray that my sorrow and sadness is evident to you.  I want to open my heart to you.  I feel like it has been four months of mourning for the people I love the most.” (C.J. Mahaney, 2011 Pastors Conference) 

In summary, here is what I said about C.J.’s “reflection on personal sins” at the 2011 Pastors Conference.         

“The Pastors Conference last week afforded C.J. his first opportunity to interact with the SGM pastors.  He could have taken the opportunity to humble himself; instead, he took the opportunity to justify himself.  After four months of supposed “self-examination” and pastoral care, C.J. retracted his confession, lamented his leave of absence, appealed for sympathy, justified his departure from CLC, minimized his personal sins, used morally neutral language to cover over his leadership sins (e.g., “deficiencies,” “weaknesses,” “not communicating wisely,” “inadequate,” etc.), vindicated himself by quoting others, commended himself for his self-examination and humbly over-stating his sin; rejected my narrative, accusations, interpretations and judgments as false; said he never believed his sins were uncommon, scandalous or disqualifying; didn’t believe there were systemic (widespread) problems in SGM, blamed slanderers for distorting (exaggerating) the problems in SGM, acknowledged no abuse of authority in the sinful handling of former leaders, focused on those that “assault” him, and called for the discipline of “divisive” church members by courageous pastors.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, C.J. did not ask forgiveness of the pastors for any aspect of his character, example, or leadership.  He saw no need to ask the pastors forgiveness for anything.  He was focused on the sins against him, his overstatement of sin, and the exploitation of his sin by others.  He was not focused on his sins against others including the pastors and the movement.  My documents, blog posts, letters from others, and input from others resulted in absolutely no acknowledgement of wrongdoing.  Not once does C.J. say “I was wrong, please forgive me.” (Transcript of C.J. Mahaney’s Remarks at Sovereign Grace Ministries’ 2011 Pastors Conference, Nov 12, 2011)

Six weeks later, I also provided this summary of C.J.’s comments at the 2011 Pastors Conference. 

“C.J. started off this lengthy section with the words, ‘Next, reflection on personal sins.’  This was the big moment.  I imagine every pastor in the room leaning forward to hear C.J. articulate the godly fruits resulting from his fourth months of self-examination and extensive pastoral care.  Powlison, Dever, Loftness…  This was a make or break moment for C.J.  For the Board of Directors.  For Sovereign Grace Ministries.  What did C.J. learn about himself?  Where was he convicted?  What did he regret?  Where did he err?  What sins would he confess?    I suspect every pastor fully anticipated a heartfelt and insightful confession of sin and sorrow.  I assume they expected to learn from C.J.’s example of humility.  But there was none of it!  I can only imagine the exasperation and even despair experienced by some of the pastors.  Certainly the confusion and disorientation felt by nearly everyone.  C.J. took the entire message to justify himself and minimize the problems in SGM.  It was a tragic, disgraceful, and frightening display.  C.J.’s ‘reflection on personal sins’ was really C.J.’s ‘deflection of personal sins.’  His comments had nothing to do with his sins.  They had everything to do with his defense.  Not one single acknowledgement of wrong-doing.  A decade of input, 1,000 pages of documentation, a four month leave of absence, special arrangements for pastoral care, produced nothing but a defense.  C.J. ends this section of his message by saying, ‘Those are just a few personal reflections that I hope are helpful.’  This is the only reason people need for requiring C.J.’s resignation from the Board of Directors.  His comments were far from helpful.  They were delusional.  My friend has lost his way.  He needs to go back to Covenant Life Church and get help from the pastoral staff there.  They know the real problems that exist in his soul.  They can help him if he and Carolyn will listen.  That would be a genuine act of humility.” (C.J.’s State of His Heart Message – Reflection on Personal Sins, Dec 28, 2011, footnote 81)

That brings me to my final point regarding this paragraph.  The current Board, just like the previous Boards, views my charges (and those of others) as “slanderous scrutiny.”  That is their only recourse.  They must continue to libel the charges knowing C.J. can’t, and therefore won’t, defend against them.  My assertions are fact based and supported by hard evidence and hundreds of illustrations.  There is no doubt about the serious and long term nature of C.J.’s sins.  That is why Dave Harvey and the Interim Board prohibited me from ever presenting my charges and conceived the devious Three Panel Review as a bogus substitution for a just adjudication hearing.  If you want a true read on the nature of C.J.’s sins, see Confessions 1-4 not 5 and 6.     

Since the conference, C.J. has issued two statements in response to the panel reports and to the AoR report in which he continued to take responsibility for his shortcomings as a leader in SGM.  Likewise, he has sought out those affected by his sins and where possible, has been reconciled.  From our perspective, his response has been thorough and appropriate. 

The Pastors Conference was in November 2011.  In January 2012, C.J. issued his first statement in response to the three panel reports.  In April 2012, he issued his second statement in response to the Ambassador of Reconciliation report.  The Board claims C.J. “continued to take responsibility for his shortcomings” in these two statements.  That has no basis whatsoever in reality.  Here is the extent of what C.J. said.  

 Response to Three Panel Reports:

“I know it has been a difficult and confusing time for many of you.  And I am sorry for the challenge it has presented to our pastors—the men I respect the most—and the members of our churches—precious ones for whom Christ died and for whom we have the great privilege to serve.  I deeply regret where my mistakes, leadership deficiencies, and sins contributed to the relational conflicts detailed in these reports.  And I am truly grateful for your support throughout this trying time.  So with all my heart I want to say thank you.” (C.J. Mahaney, A note to those in Sovereign Grace Ministries, Jan 25, 2012)

Response to 39 page AoR Report:

 “As the leader of SGM since 1991, I (C.J.) want to sincerely apologize for the ways in which deficiencies in my leadership have contributed to the ministry failures catalogued in this report.” (C.J. Mahaney, Response to AoR Group Reconciliation Report, April 2012)

Furthermore, C.J. has not sought out Covenant Life Church.  He has not sought out Larry Tomczak.  He has not sought out me.  He has not sought out scores of leaders who have been “affected by his sins” from the past 30 years.

We would like to clarify one other point regarding C.J.’s remarks.  Some have reported that C.J. recanted his July 10, 2011 confession to CLC in his comments at the Pastors Conference.  But that is not what he intended, nor is it what he said.  To quote him directly: “Those confessions were sincere.  I do, like you, take my sins seriously.  I see them in light of the holiness of God... (but) I have concluded that I did not serve you well with this confession.  My confession has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and exploited.  My confession should have been more precise.”  And then later, “I wish I hadn’t made that confession statement at that time and what I should have done is postpone any confession statement until both panels had ruled.”

We hope this can put to rest any idea that he intended to, or actually did, recant the substance of that confession. We have found his acknowledgment of sins and weaknesses to be consistent from November of 2010 to this day.  And our own review of his statements and interactions with him have confirmed this.

The Board of Directors deceptively leave out of their quote above key ingredients in  C.J.’s recantation at the 2011 Pastors Conference.  They provide a very partial quote that leads the reader astray.  Here are C.J. actual comments in context.   

“I don’t believe my sins are uncommon or scandalous or disqualifying.  I have never believed that since the day the first document arrived…. My confession has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and exploited…. My communication in some ways created speculation that left me vulnerable to interpretation, that left me vulnerable to exploitation.  I left the wrong impression of my sin.  In that confession, I was trying to convey that I take my sins seriously but I regret that my language conveyed that my sins were unusually serious.  I do not think that, I have never thought that…. One member of the first panel said this to me – quote: “I respect, C.J., how seriously you take the respectable sins but you left the impression that you did something scandalous.  But nothing you confessed reached the level of public scandal requiring a public confession.  Your sins are routine and common.”  That is not to minimize my sin.  But it did help me to see the wrong impressions I left and I regret that…. Another member of the panel said this: “I think you made a genuine effort to be humble.  You overstate the level of offense and you confuse those outside of Sovereign Grace.”  I happen to think that is an accurate critique.  I didn’t just confuse those outside Sovereign Grace, I confused those inside Sovereign Grace as well.  I over-stated…. There is a loud voice from critics and the prevalence of slander that tends to intrude upon this evaluation, to distort this evaluation.” (C.J. Mahaney, Pastors Conference, Nov 9, 2011)

What’s the point in all of this?  The Board thinks C.J. did a tremendous job at the 2011 Pastors Conference.   They defend him at every turn and find nothing defective in what he said or didn’t say.  The Board is duped.  That doesn’t mean you have to be duped also.  Just study the evidence.

3. The Interim Board seating the new Board – After C.J. took his leave, the then-leadership team (which also functioned as SGM’s governing board – Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell and Joshua Harris) seated a Board of Directors to oversee SGM and the Leadership Team (they did this with C.J.’s full support).  Given how they were selected (current regional leaders plus the then-current leadership team), this new Board realized that to serve best, they needed to define their mission—it was to guide through a crisis and not to make permanent changes in SGM.  Consequently, they defined their primary purpose as leading the process of reviewing the public charges made against C.J.  They even referred to themselves as “the Interim Board.”  Once seated, they expanded their task to providing a comprehensive review of SGM as well, through the agency of AoR, a move that received broad support.  Once these purposes had been accomplished, the board believed it appropriate to transition to another, permanent, board who could lead us through the polity process and other more permanent changes to our ministry.  To seat this board, they created a set of qualifications for a board member, selected candidates, and created a process whereby SGM pastors had opportunity to comment on each selection.  All of this was in complete accord with existing SGM bylaws.  It also represented a significant step in our history when, for the first time, the Leadership Team and the governing Board became separate entities thus providing greater separation between governance and management and affording better accountability to the leadership team.  Some SGM pastors told us that they believed we should have consulted all SGM pastors on a process for seating a new board and thus objected to the Interim Board proceeding as it did.  As a result, some refused to participate in the affirmation process the Interim Board had created.  After much consideration, the Interim Board decided it would be unwise to follow these appeals largely because it would have created a new governing structure for decision making and established polity precedents for SGM, when as yet we had not created a new polity that defined a process for assigning SGM leadership.  The Interim Board believed it only fair to all of our pastors to use our historic methods which were true to our current bylaws in taking this step.  Further, those who did choose to participate in the process overwhelmingly affirmed those nominated for the new Board.  The new Board then did exactly what we had promised to do—create a thorough process for creating a new polity in a thorough, collegial and unhurried way.

The Interim Board selected and installed the current Board without any meaningful involvement from the SGM pastors.  In so doing, they handpicked only men who were fully united in their support and defense of C.J.  No one who expressed any concerns for C.J. or SGM was nominated or appointed to the current Board.  Like the Interim Board, the current Board is comprised of men who have enabled and imitated C.J.  In so doing, they too have created the corrupt and abusive leadership culture that now characterizes SGM. 

The Board says, “Some SGM pastors told us that they believed we should have consulted all SGM pastors on a process for seating a new board and thus objected to the Interim Board proceeding as it did.”  If the Board was honest it would tell everyone that “some pastors” were approximately 80 pastors from 20 different churches in SGM.  All of these men protested the action of the Interim Board, refused to participate in the process as a matter of conscience, and appeal to the Interim Board to please stop and listen.  The Interim Board refused to listen and shunned them instead.  None of these men who expressed concerns were asked to serve on the current Board or the Polity Committee.

So much more could be said about this paragraph.  See An Appeal from Thirteen SGM Churches for the SGM Board to Stop and Listen (March 7, 2012) for further insight.  [Note this number grew to 20 churches.]

4. SGM move to Louisville — For several years, SGM has been considering the possibility of moving the Pastors College (PC) out of Gaithersburg, Maryland.  Chief among the reasons were the expense to students in a city with a high cost of living.  Earlier this year, Jeff Purswell and Tommy Hill were tasked with the responsibility of exploring alternative locations for the PC and recommending to the Board options for the timing of the move.  They considered a number of cities and did exploratory visits to two.  For a variety of reasons (particularly cost of living and proximity to a seminary with which we might cooperate in continuing education for pastors), they recommended a move to Louisville, Kentucky.  Upon hearing Jeff and Tommy’s presentation, the Board approved.  Some thought that this move should not have been made without consulting with all SGM pastors.  Others thought the decision was rushed.  Still others thought that the announcement was disingenuous for not mentioning disagreements with CLC pastors as a reason for the move.  Others would recognize that it has always been the Leadership Team’s and Board’s responsibility to make such decisions and were content to leave it to those bodies. Some expressed enthusiasm about the possibilities that the move to Louisville created for the PC. 

Here we go again.  “Some…others…others…others…some.”  A new record.  Are we to assume three groups were against the decision and two groups were in favor of the decision.  Who cares. 

Here’s what matters.  The Board made a terrible decision in an awful fashion and deceptive manner.  Of course, the pastors should have been consulted about moving SGM and the Pastors College to Louisville.  That is a no-brainer.  And yes, the decision to relocate was rushed.  C.J. and the Interim Board required this be the first decision in the first meeting of the new Board.  Absolutely no care or consideration was given to the decision.  A decision of this magnitude should be contemplated and prayed about for months.  But worst of all the announcement was “disingenuous.”  

The Board lied about the main reason for relocating SGM.  John Loftness, the new Chairman, said SGM was primarily moving due to the high cost of living in the D.C. area.  He made absolutely no mention of the C.J.’s offenses with Joshua Harris, the pastors and Covenant Life Church as the real impetus for the move.  C.J.’s resentment and bitterness was palpable.  He could not stand the thought of SGM being based in the church which he had already left in such a self-serving and destructive manner. 

Really and truly, this is scheming at its worse.  The Board should being asking forgiveness of every pastor and church in Sovereign Grace Ministries for approving this destructive relocation and then put out a bogus explanation for why the move was really happening. 

See Sovereign Grace Ministries Relocation Announcement.  It is a must read on this subject.  In part, I said the following. 

“Sovereign Grace Ministries is fleeing Covenant Life Church (CLC) but not being honest about the main reason for its departure.  That is, the breakdown in relationship with the church’s pastors and people.  C.J. left CLC for Mark Dever’s church last August without even discussing the matter with the CLC pastors (see C.J.’s Flight from Covenant Life, August 13, 2011).  Then in January of this year, he transferred his CLC membership to John Loftness’ church who is now the Chairman of the Board and spiritual leader of the movement.  The day C.J. left CLC for Capitol Hill Baptist in such an unbiblical manner, I knew he would not be coming back.  The writing was on the wall.  

“The cost of living in Gaithersburg, MD is the fundamental reason given in this announcement for the departure of SGM to Louisville, KY.  That is dishonest.  It may be a factor but it is NOT a major factor.  The main reason, and everyone knows it, is C.J.’s conflict with Joshua, the pastors and the church.  C.J. (and SGM) would never leave “the dearest people on earth” if not for the breakdown in relationships.  No, C.J. is leaving because he is offended and unreconciled with hundreds of people including many close friends.”   

We freely admit that the disagreements with CLC pastors played a role in the timing of this move, though not in the move itself which we believe was wise for the reasons stated above.  We didn’t believe that highlighting disagreements with the CLC pastors in this context would serve that church or our family of churches.  We think that the disagreements which exist are already widely known among our pastors, and making them a matter of rationale in light of this move did not seem to serve any good purpose. 

Only now does the Board “freely admit” what it has covered up for nine months.  They go on to say, “We didn’t believe that highlighting disagreements with the CLC pastors in this context would serve that church or our family of churches.”  That’s admission of guilt whether the Board realizes it or not.  No one should ever trust the leadership of SGM to be open, honest and transparent about anything they say in their press releases or on the website.  Lying and deception are now common place. 

The Board argues that making people aware of the major breakdown in relationship between SGM and CLC “did not seem to serve any good purpose.”  That is not true.  If the pastors had been consulted and if the churches had been informed, no one would have supported the relocation.  It would have forced both sides to make efforts at reconciliation.  If those efforts proved unsuccessful, then SGM could make a decision to relocate and communicated the real reasons in an open and honest fashion.  Instead, the Board chose to be deceptive by concealing the main reason for leaving.  The leaders of SGM feel no obligation to be honest.

5. Board support for C.J. planting a church in Louisville while disagreements with the CLC pastors remain — The idea of C.J. planting a church (or serving in an existing church as a functioning pastor) did not arise in the midst of our crisis.  For several years, C.J. had desired to get back to leading a local church and preaching in one place on a regular basis.  Early in 2011 he had been approached by people in Louisville encouraging him to consider an SGM church plant in their city.  As he sought the Lord and considered these things, he concluded that planting a church in Louisville was his best option.  SGM’s church planting group approved the plant and this Board was supportive (though it is not the board’s responsibility to approve individual church plants, we felt that we needed to give our counsel in this decision).  

The problems between C.J. and Covenant Life Church go back several years.  This was apparent in comments made by Brian Chesemore and Mike Bradshaw when they left CLC last year (see C.J.’s Sons-in Law Resign as Pastors at Covenant Life Church, August 10, 2011).  There has been a festering “crisis” for a long time.  

In an attempt to add credibility, the Board points out the “church planting group approved the plant.”  I guess so.  The group is Dave Harvey and Mark Prater.  Laugh out loud.  What C.J. wants, his boys give him.  It’s Christmas every day for C.J.  

The pastors of CLC should never have supported C.J. in planting the church because he was not above reproach (see C.J. Still Not Qualified to Lead Sovereign Grace Ministries on the One Year Anniversary of Sending Out “The Documents”, July 6, 2012).  They must realize that now since they are leaving over the unethical leadership culture C.J. has primarily created in SGM.

Some thought it was inappropriate to approve this plant until all issues with CLC were resolved.  We concluded as a Board that it was unnecessary to delay this plant for this reason, especially since both parties said that their concerns regarded matters of disagreement over how to lead through the crisis of last year and were not matters of personal offense.  Furthermore, C.J. had left CLC with the pastors’ blessing. 

Here’s the point.  Only C.J. could get approval for a church plant when he was at odds with Joshua Harris and 17 other pastors.  Contrary to this contrived statement by the Board, the breakdown in relationship was due to “personal offense” and not just about “matters of disagreement.”  C.J. felt terribly sinned against by Joshua, et al.  He was deeply offended.  No one has ever been approved for a church plant in the midst of major conflict with the leadership of the sending church.  This was pure favoritism.          

To have restricted C.J. from planting this church when there were no charges against him and he was fully qualified for gospel ministry would have been an unnecessary and extra-biblical restriction.  Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement, though sharp, was not a clear moral issue and thus did not stop them from pressing forward in church planting.  Similarly, we felt C.J. should continue to press forward with this church plant.

The current Board was installed in March 2012.  That month they approved the relocation to Louisville.  The next month they approved C.J.’s church plant in Louisville.  Why?  Because “there were no charges against him and he was fully qualified for gospel ministry.”  That is the crux of the matter.  

The current Board, like the Interim Board, have never seen any faults in C.J. to speak of.  Nowhere in their three September letters do they assign any blame to him (or the Interim Board) for anything including his actions in these six key events.  They declare C.J. not guilty of all wrong doing and perfectly righteous at the same time.  C.J. is immaculate.     

6. Announcing that C.J. would remain president at least until the polity process was completed – In January [2011], C.J. announced that he would only return as president of SGM temporarily while we sought his replacement.  As this Board considered C.J.’s stated desire, we concluded that it would be an unnecessary distraction and could possibly derail the most important transition that we have made in our ministry to date—defining and implementing a new form of governance.  We also believe that asking him to serve in a temporary status would hinder his leadership and effectively leave us leaderless.  So we asked C.J. to stay on, at least until we chose a new polity and implemented it.  At that time, when we have in place a clear definition of the role and responsibilities of a senior leader in this ministry and how he is chosen, discussion of who is best suited to fill the role will be appropriate by the body responsible to make such a choice. 

We also believed, given what we consider unfair and unwarranted damage that has been done to his reputation through the past year, that it was important for us to express our support of C.J. and to let SGM know that this Board, if still in place, would consider him as a candidate to continue as President after the polity process is completed.  Some felt that making any announcement at this time was unnecessary.  Others objected that C.J. had gone on record as saying that he would only return as a temporary President, and that it was inappropriate to raise the possibility of his doing so beyond a brief term.  We want to make it clear that C.J. never approached the Board about returning as President beyond his stated intention.  Rather, in our deliberations about the future, it became clear that he had many outstanding qualities that suited him for this role, though with some acknowledged weaknesses that we think can be mitigated through a restructuring of his responsibilities.  We do not think this is the time for a debate about who should lead our ministry.  We have a major transition to make in our governance, and we believe that no other leader in our movement has the qualities that will effectively guide us through these changes.

The current Board sees no reason why C.J. can’t continue as the President of SGM after the polity process is completed in March 2013.  Someday I hope they see that the “unfair and unwarranted damage…to his reputation” is due to C.J.’s obstinacy not the work of slanderers.  C.J. never humbled himself so he was humbled by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Board is slandering the discipline of God. 

The Board makes the following claim.  “We have a major transition to make in our governance, and we believe that no other leader in our movement has the qualities that will effectively guide us through these changes.”  This is a tragic miscalculation.  Since C.J. came back as President in January 2012, the abuse and corruption within SGM has only increased.  The SG Book of Church Order is a sad example of C.J. “effectively guid[ing]” the ministry into even greater expressions of authoritarianism.    

So let us conclude by reiterating our appeal.  We could certainly debate these issues for months to come.  But we think that allowing these things to predominate our concerns is a major distraction from vastly more important matters at hand.  We have tried here to give honest and transparent answers to questions we’ve heard, without giving unnecessary details.  In making this appeal we don’t want to discourage anyone from asking questions or seeking clarification on anything we’ve said here, but at this point in our history, we sincerely believe that the best way forward will perhaps necessitate that we acknowledge where we disagree on matters of private judgment, respect our differences, and extend grace and charity to all involved.  We believe this will best allow us to get on with our call to proclaim the gospel as we plant and build local churches.

The Board has never allowed for any open, honest, and just debate.  They simply make pronouncements like those found in this letter.  And they consider everything covered in this post a “major distraction from vastly more important matters.”  Never once do they register any ethical concern for C.J. or how these six major events were handled.  They are all “matters of private judgment” from their debased perspective.  Mere differences that have nothing to do with Christian ethics or godly leadership. 

Well, now you know, Sovereign Grace Ministry has moved on to “vastly more important matters” besides the truth.  Of course, you can still ask clarifying questions if you insist on wasting their time and your time. 

It is no wondered this letter was the straw that broke the back of Covenant Life Church.  Far from being “honest and transparent,” the explanations provided by the Board are ever so misleading.  They reflect an arrogant leadership culture that refuses to hold C.J. accountable or take any responsibility for the sinful actions of the Interim Board or their own.  Partiality, favoritism, pride, hypocrisy, blame shifting, and deception are on the display throughout this letter.       

Today, Covenant Life Church left Sovereign Grace Ministries.  There is no more powerful testimony that could be given against the corrupt and abusive leadership culture that has grown under C.J., Dave Harvey, John Loftness, Mickey Connolly and the like.  The pastors and people of CLC have been patient and charitable with SGM throughout this arduous process.  They have repeatedly humbled themselves and confessed their sins.  Yet, they are the ones who have suffered harm and been mistreated.  They should be commended for the righteous stand they have taken. 

They also need the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  They never anticipated leaving the ministry they did so much to build or the man they did so much to love.  Their hearts are broken tonight.  Pray for them! 

Much grace to you all,

The SGM Board


[1] In C.J.’s “state” of his heart message, there is no category for “I am convicted” or “I have sinned” or “I need to ask your forgiveness” or “I’ve been a poor example.”

[2] This is extraordinarily vague.  C.J. gives no explanation for how or why he is responsible for the adverse effect upon the churches, the creation of work, and the months of mourning.

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