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Thursday
Jan242013

The Legal Defense Strategy of Sovereign Grace Ministries

It is not hard to figure out the legal defense strategy being put together by Sovereign Grace Ministries in conjunction with Gammon and Grange, P.C.  The prominent law firm is located in northern Virginia.  It was co-founded in 1977 by Jim Gammon and Chip Grange.  Jim went home to be with the Lord in 2011.  I’ve known Chip for over 30 years and worked with him on numerous occasions during my 25 years on the SGM Board of Directors.  He has always been the legal counsel for SGM and Covenant Life Church of which he is a member. 

Sovereign Grace Ministries has put out four press releases since the original class action lawsuit was filed on October 17, 2012.  With the exception of the first press release (Oct 17), I doubt the remaining three (Oct 26, Nov 14, Jan 15) were issued by SGM until they were approved by Gammon and Grange.  I’ve included them at the end of this post.  

From what I understand, Gammon and Grange is representing all 14 Defendants but that doesn’t necessarily mean the four press releases by SGM are endorsed by Covenant Life Church (CLC) or Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax (SGCF).  There could be legal wrangling among the four institutional and ten individual Defendants regarding how Gammon and Grange should represent them and proceed.  Remember, CLC and SGCF just left SGM over its proud and abusive leadership culture.  

I’d love to see CLC and SGCF take a different approach then that outlined by SGM in their press releases.  That is, one of humility.  It is my private hope and prayer the pastoral Defendants will quickly agree with their accusers (i.e., the Plaintiffs) and acknowledge wrong doing where it existed rather than create bogus defenses against legitimate charges.  

Matthew 5:25-26 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you,  you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 

This doesn’t mean CLC and SGCF shouldn’t rigorously defend against charges they feel are untrue.  All the Defendants were friends of mine.  My personal bias is in their favor.  I hope and pray they will be exonerated of all unfounded charges.  I’ve included the recent press release from the CLC pastors at the end of this post.  It is noticeably more humble than anything put out by SGM. 

SGM also included a statement in their end of the year Financial Statement which was just posted on January 17.  They plan to fight. 

“No amount of damages has been specified in the class action suit and an estimate cannot be made.  No provision for this class action suit has been included in the accompanying financial statements.  The outcome of this matter cannot be determined at this time, however, SGM intends to vigorously defend against this class action suit.”   

Here then is the legal defense being put forward by SGM as I see it based upon their writings. It should not be assumed that Covenant Life Church or Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax agree with this approach.  Conceivable, CLC and SGCF could end with separate legal counsel.  The four press releases by SGM especially reflect the thinking and approach its President, C.J. Mahaney and Chairman of the Board, John Loftness (Chairman of the Board).  Both are named Defendants.   

Protected by the First Amendment

Last Friday, I wrote about SGM’s plan to use the First Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights, in order to prevent “judges and juries” from discovering whether pastors failed to report crimes to law enforcement, protected child molesters, and obstructed justice.  Such a use is far from the original intent the Founding Fathers had in mind when adopted by the States in 1791.  I don’t see this argument prevailing in the mind of the Judge.

See http://abrentdetwiler.squarespace.com/brentdetwilercom/2013/1/19/the-first-amendment-or-the-welfare-of-children.html 

The First Amendment protects against the intrusion of the State when it seeks to prohibit the free exercise of religion which includes “spiritual direction” and “biblical counsel” provided by pastors.  In other words, the State cannot forbid the Church from defining and practicing the doctrines it formulates.  But when pastoral direction and counsel protects the criminal activity of child molesters it is neither spiritual nor biblical.  It is illegal and destructive. 

Illegal activity by pastors is not protected by the First Amendment.  Though not a criminal case, the Judge will the weigh the evidence in this regard.  I can’t imagine Gammon and Grange arguing the free exercise of religion includes criminal activity by pastors.  On the other hand, they may argue pastors have no legal requirement for reporting sex abusers to civil authorities in Maryland and Virginia.  The Plaintiffs’ lawyers will argue the opposite.    

Some lawyers argue that destructive (not criminal) malpractice by pastors resulting in grave harm to church members is protected by the First Amendment.  That is questionable. 

SGM alludes to this line of defense.  While not admitting negligence, error or omissions by the pastoral Defendants, they will argue such hypotheticals are nevertheless protected along with their resultant harms to counselees.  Keep in mind, however, the Complaint alleges FAR MORE than simple "errors and omissions."

“This complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent, resulting in errors and omissions in pastoral counseling and spiritual care, which was voluntarily sought and provided years ago to some families of child abuse victims.” (Nov 14, 2012)

Gammon and Grange will argue the First Amendment protects pastors from having the Court (i.e., judges and juries) “second guess pastoral guidance” or “dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided.”      

The Judge will decide whether there is sanctuary in the First Amendment for all the Defendants.  If yes, she will throw out the case.  If no, she will allow discovery.  Judge Burrell renders her Discovery Judgment in May.  

If Gammon and Grange doesn’t get a dismissal on Constitutional grounds it is going to be an uphill climb thereafter.  That is their main legal argument. 

Pastoral Counsel Was Voluntarily Sought 

Their second legal argument is related to the first.  They implicitly claim that “biblical and spiritual direction” was given by pastors but only because it was sought by members.     

“This complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent, resulting in errors and omissions in pastoral counseling and spiritual care, which was voluntarily sought and provided years ago to some families of child abuse victims…. SGM leaders provided biblical and spiritual direction to those who requested this guidance.  This care was sought confidentially, as is a right under the First Amendment.  We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided.  SGM believes that allowing courts to second guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse.” (Tommy Hill, Nov 14, 2012) 

I find this argument repugnant.  It is a clear attempt to absolve the pastors of blame for injurious counsel by effectively placing the blame on those who “voluntarily sought … requested… sought… sought… seeking spiritual direction.”  In other words, the traumatized families came looking for help of their own volition and therefore had the freedom to accept or reject the counsel they received. 

This is blame shifting of the worse kind.  Honestly, I hate this type of manipulation.  Everyone knows SGM pastors expect, and people have been taught, that they must come to their overseers with their problems because they are the God ordained means of help.  To not come is sin.  To not follow their “biblical and spiritual direction” is also sin.  No member in a SGM church would consider it "voluntary" to seek out their pastor if their child was sexually assaulted by a family or church member.  Such a pursuit is mandatory per SGM teaching.       

Did Not Cover Up Because of Reputational or Financial Concerns 

Gammon and Grange will argue that leaders at SGM, unlike leaders at Penn State University, did not cover up sex abuse crimes out of concern for a loss of revenue and reputation if law enforcement were notified, perpetrators tried, and negligent pastors exposed. 

One comment should suffice.  These concerns present a grave temptation to most every pastor.  That’s why so many evangelical leaders have sought to cover up these crimes and block law enforcement.  This problem is not confined to the Roman Catholic Church.  It infects Protestantism too.  I don’t know if the Plaintiffs' lawyers have enough evidence to prove it with SGM.  It will be an issue. 

A Careful Legal Review of Each Allegation Found No Guilt 

Gammon and Grange is doing a careful investigation of each allegation. That is a legitimate enterprise but it is going to take a lot of work and cost a lot of money.  Chip may do his work pro bono (without payment or at a reduced fee) but I doubt that is possible for the firm.  Lawyer’s fees of $250-$350 per hour have to be paid in order to cover salaries and overhead.  

“SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but we are beginning a careful legal review of each allegation.” (Oct 26, 2012) 

What do you do as a defense lawyer if you discover some allegations are true?  It depends on your professional ethics.  A Christian lawyer will encourage his client to plead guilty to criminal counts and acknowledge wrong doing for malpractice counts.  Then he will work for a just sentence and reasonable damages.  

“SGM has been carefully reviewing each allegation since the initial claims first surfaced last October.  We consider any allegation of harm to a child extremely serious and we have been working diligently in an effort to learn the truth.  We ask for patience as we continue to investigate these new allegations.  (Jan 11, 2013) 

When SGM learns the “truth” what will they do?  Cover it up?  Minimize it?  Explain it away?  Make excuses?  Blame others?  Lie?  That is the story of the past 18 months.  I don’t imagine it will stop now. 

Or will they work with the FBI and ask them to do a thorough criminal investigation?  Will they earnestly seek the forgiveness of Plaintiffs?  Will they pay damages and make restitution without being mandated by a jury or Judge?  Will they publicly acknowledge wrong doing and publicly admonish erring Defendants?  Will they remove guilty Defendants from leadership positions?  Will they publicly articulate and commit to remedies so the same crimes and malpractices are not repeated?  

I don’t think they will do any of the above unless forced by a jury.  CLC might.  SGCF might.  Not SGM.  Like they said last week, “SGM intends to vigorously defend against this class action suit.”  From my perspective, they are going to get clobbered.   

Plaintiffs Are Not Credible or Truthful 

Based upon their findings, Gammon and Grange will challenge the credibility of the Plaintiffs and the truthfulness of their Complaints in their responsive pleadings to the Judge, during the discovery phase and at a jury trial.  They will seek to argue, prove and demonstrate that the Plaintiffs have intentionally lied, mislead, and mischaracterized intent in their Complaints.  

“Upon initial review it appears the complaint contains a number of untrue or misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent. (Oct 26, 2012) 

“SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but upon review it appears the complaint contains a number of misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent.  Legal counsel is preparing responsive pleadings.” 

SGM Encouraged Deep Concern for Victims of Child Abuse

Gammon and Grange may argue SGM has “encourage[d] pastors from it associated churches to minster the love, grace and healing of God to any who have suffered this horrific act [sexual abuse]” in order distance itself from individual pastors.  If so, they will have to demonstrate how, when and where this kind of instruction was provided to the pastors.  If successful, they can argue SGM should not be held liable for malpractice by their well-trained pastors. 

“Child sexual abuse is reprehensible in any circumstance, and a violation of fundamental human dignity.  We grieve deeply for any child who has been a victim of abuse.  SGM encourages pastors from its associated churches to minister the love, grace, and healing of God to any who have suffered this horrific act.” (Nov 14, 2012)

Child Protection Policies and Procedure Are Based on Best Practices

This too will have to be demonstrated in order to show SGM has not been negligent as an institutional Defendant who is responsible for the well-being of its churches. 

“SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices.” (Oct. 26, 2012) 

The “best practice” I know of is to alert church members to the presence of known and convicted child molesters.  To the best of my knowledge, this has never been done in any SGM church over its 30 year history. 

SGM Has a High View of Law Enforcement  

This argument will be fruitless if attempted.  There is no evidence SGM ever involved law enforcement even though they say “child abuse…is…criminal.”  If they knew crimes were committed, and did not report them, that is a crime in and of itself.  Pastoral confidentiality does not entitled you withhold information from law enforcement regarding felonies.  It someone confesses to murder in my pastoral study, I must report it to the police if the person will not go on their own!  To argue otherwise is ludicrous.  The same is true of sex crimes. 

“Child abuse in any context is reprehensible and criminal.  Sovereign Grace Ministries takes seriously the Biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people, especially the most vulnerable in its midst, little children.” (Oct 17, 2012) 

SGM claims to fully respect the role of civil authority in restraining evil. 

“We [Mahaney, Loftness, Ricucci] take seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us.  These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us.”  (Oct 26, 2012) 

This will be a hard sell for Gammon and Grange.  Here are two simple questions that must be answered.  First, did C.J., John, Gary and Steve Shank allow sex abusers go unreported to law enforcement?  Second, did they discourage sexual-abuse victims from going to law enforcement?  If yes, they should be fired by SGM and held liable for damages by the Court.  If laws were broken in so doing, they should also be prosecuted in a criminal court.      

“SGM remains committed to integrity and faithfulness in pastoral care.  We adhere to the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us.  These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us.  SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices. (Jan 15, 2013) 

A commitment to pastoral “integrity and faithfulness” demands that sex abusers be reported to civil authorities.  Did C.J., John, Gary and Steve act with integrity (or duplicity) and faithfulness (or negligence) and report all such criminal activity to law enforcement?  And a follow up to that question, did they teach and counsel other pastors to do the same? 

Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault 

There is no statute of limitations on sexual assaults in Maryland or Virginia. [There is no statute of limitations pertaining to criminal prosecution in MD and VA.  There is a three year statute of limitations in MD for civil cases (i.e. lawsuits).  You must file by age 21.  I believe there is a 20 year statute of limitations in VA for civil cases.]  I can’t imagine Gammon and Grange attempting this defense even though SGM has said the “pastoral counseling…was provided years ago.”  That is irrelevant.  

“This complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent, resulting in errors and omissions in pastoral counseling and spiritual care, which was voluntarily sought and provided years ago to some families of child abuse victims.” (Nov 14, 2012) 

No SGM Pastors or Staff Members Were Involved in Abuse 

This defense appears irrelevant with the amended filing since it alleges sexual molestation was carried out by a pastor/teacher, church employees and the male son of a pastor.  This argument would have provided some legal cover for SGM.  That’s why it was included in earlier statements.  The amended filing by the additional five Plaintiffs is a big setback for the defense.    

“It is important to note that it does not allege any act of child abuse by a pastor or staff member of SGM or of an associated church.” (Oct 26, 2012) 

“The suit does not allege child abuse by any current or former pastor of SGM or any church associated with SGM.  The suit does not allege child abuse by any employee or staff of SGM or any church associated with SGM.” (Nov 14, 2012) 

Abuse Did Not Occur on SGM Property or at SGM Churches 

This defense appears irrelevant with the amended filing since it alleges sexual molestation repeatedly occurred on church property and at church events.  This argument would have provided some legal cover for SGM.  That’s why it was included in earlier statements.  The amended filing by the new Plaintiffs is a big setback for the defense.    

“The suit does not allege any child abuse occurred on any SGM property or any church associated with SGM.” (Nov 14, 2012) 

SGM Churches Are Separately Organized and Constituted

SGM has asserted its churches are “separately organized and constituted” in a “voluntary” association in order to avoid legal jeopardy.  

“SGM churches are separately organized and constituted in their respective communities. They voluntarily partner together for certain aspects of their broader common mission: to plant churches, develop resources, train pastors and serve international ministries in order to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Nov 14, 2012) 

This is an attempt to put legal distance between Sovereign Grace Ministries and its churches.  That way, SGM cannot be held legally accountable for crimes or malpractice by its pastors.    

This is a legal dead end in my opinion.  It will not hold up because SGM has always asserted in its official documents that it has a governing authority over its churches.  The churches have never been independent and autonomous. 

Conclusion 

The only way SGM can defeat this lawsuit is by proving the Plaintiffs are liars, their Complaints are untrue, and the Defendants alerted law enforcement.  I find that an impossible task.  

Every pastor that still remains in SGM must plead with C.J., John, Gary and Steve to be open, honest and accountable or their pride will completely destroy SGM’s reputation and resources.  I labor again with your good in mind.     

Every pastor must also find out if the Board of Directors [Paul Buckley, Ron Boomsma, Craig Cabaniss, Mickey Connolly, Ian McConnell, Ken Mellinger, Al Pino, Phil Sasser] immediately commenced their own investigation of C.J., John, and Gary on October 17, 2012 when the original lawsuit was filed.  If not, why not?  That is their spiritual and legal responsibility as clearly spelled out in the Bylaws.  

SGM claims, “We have been working diligently in an effort to learn the truth.”  Does that mean the entire Board of Directors has been working overtime to find out the truth about Defendants Mahaney [President of SGM], Loftness [Chairman of the Board] and Ricucci?  If so, what exactly have they done to date?  Or have they abdicated their responsibilities once again and left it up to Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci to investigate themselves?!?!?  

The Board can discipline these men, remove them from leadership, and seek to settle out of court with the Plaintiffs if they find these men are culpable.  Of course, that requires courage, integrity and impartiality.  All these virtues have been absent since this Board took office in March 2012.  

C.J., John and Gary might fight on as individual Defendants but SGM need not fight on as an institutional Defendant if the Board changes “it spots” and the remaining pastors change their “skin.”  I fear that is not possible.    

Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. 

C.J., Dave Harvey, and a puppet Board can’t rig these legal proceedings like they did the Three Panel Review last December with the help of Ambassadors of Reconciliation.  This time there will be no jury tampering, no “bribes,” no suppression of evidence and no kangaroo court. 

This time there will be depositions, subpoenas, sworn testimony, cross examination by skilled lawyers and the presentation of evidence to an impartial jury in a courtroom presided over by a Circuit Court Judge.      

This is serious brothers.  Study the [first] amended lawsuit!  God has repeatedly shown you he will not be mocked (Gal 6:7) yet you do not listen.  Disaster is approaching! 

Amos 3:8a The lion has roared – who will not fear?  

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Statement on Reported Lawsuit
October 17, 2012 

Please be aware of the following press release. 

Statement by Sovereign Grace Ministries on Reported Lawsuit 

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – Today, Sovereign Grace Ministries Director of Finance and Administration, Tommy Hill, released the statement below regarding a reported lawsuit on October 17, 2012: 

It has come to the attention of Sovereign Grace Ministries through media outlets that a lawsuit has been filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries related to allegations of child abuse apparently arising in the 1980s and 90s.  To date, Sovereign Grace Ministries has not been served with any such lawsuit nor does it have a copy of the lawsuit.  Sovereign Grace Ministries is not in a position to comment on the allegations of the reported lawsuit.  Child abuse in any context is reprehensible and criminal.  Sovereign Grace Ministries takes seriously the Biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people, especially the most vulnerable in its midst, little children. 

Sovereign Grace Ministries is a family of over 80 churches, primarily in the United States with the goal of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ both locally and globally. 

For more information, please contact Tommy Hill at thill@sovgracemin.org 

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Updated Statement on Reported Lawsuit
October 26, 2012 

Please be aware of the following press release.

Statement by Tommy Hill
Sovereign Grace Ministries Director of Administration
Re: A Civil Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries Oct. 17 in Maryland’s Montgomery County Circuit Court 

Though not yet served, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) leadership has obtained a copy of the civil lawsuit filed last week against SGM and several pastors of its associational churches.  This recent complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent in providing spiritual counsel and pastoral care in situations involving persons who had previously suffered child sexual abuse.  It is important to note that it does not allege any act of child abuse by a pastor or staff member of SGM or of an associated church.  SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but we are beginning a careful legal review of each allegation.  Upon initial review it appears the complaint contains a number of untrue or misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent. 

Child sexual abuse is reprehensible in any circumstance, and a violation of fundamental human dignity.  We grieve deeply for any child who has been a victim of abuse.  We want to minister the love, grace and healing of God to any who have suffered this horrific act. 

SGM is committed to integrity and faithfulness in pastoral care, as are the pastors of local congregations.  We take seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us.  These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us.  SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices.

SGM churches are separately organized and constituted in their respective communities. They voluntarily partner together for certain aspects of their broader common mission: to plant churches, develop resources, train pastors and serve international ministries in order to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We ask that you please join us in praying that God guides and leads all of us in these challenging circumstances, ministering His grace, comfort and peace to all who are affected by this situation, and that His truth would prevail.

##

Updated Statement on Reported Lawsuit
November 14, 2012

Please be aware of the following press release.

Updated Statement by Tommy Hill
Sovereign Grace Ministries Director of Administration
Re: Civil Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries in Maryland’s Montgomery County Circuit Court

Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) leadership has obtained a copy of the civil lawsuit filed Oct. 17 against SGM and several pastors from its associational churches.  This complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent, resulting in errors and omissions in pastoral counseling and spiritual care, which was voluntarily sought and provided years ago to some families of child abuse victims.

 

The suit does not allege child abuse by any current or former pastor of SGM or any church associated with SGM.  The suit does not allege child abuse by any employee or staff of SGM or any church associated with SGM.  The suit does not allege any child abuse occurred on any SGM property or any church associated with SGM.

SGM leaders provided biblical and spiritual direction to those who requested this guidance.  This care was sought confidentially, as is a right under the First Amendment.  We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided.  SGM believes that allowing courts to second guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment, that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse.

SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but upon review it appears the complaint contains a number of misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent.  Legal counsel is preparing responsive pleadings.

Child sexual abuse is reprehensible in any circumstance, and a violation of fundamental human dignity.  We grieve deeply for any child who has been a victim of abuse.  SGM encourages pastors from its associated churches to minister the love, grace, and healing of God to any who have suffered this horrific act. 

SGM is committed to integrity and faithfulness in pastoral care, as are the pastors of local congregations.  We take seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us.  These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us.  SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices. 

SGM churches are separately organized and constituted in their respective communities.  They voluntarily partner together for certain aspects of their broader common mission: to plant churches, develop resources, train pastors and serve international ministries in order to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We ask that you please join us in praying that God guides and leads all of us in these challenging circumstances, ministering his grace, comfort and peace to all who are affected by this situation, and that His truth would prevail.

##

Updated Statement on the Amended Civil Lawsuit
  

Please be aware of the following press release. 

Statement by Tommy Hill
Sovereign Grace Ministries Director of Administration
Re: The Amended Civil Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries
Jan. 11 in Maryland’s Montgomery County Circuit Court  

On Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, Sovereign Grace Ministries’ (SGM) leadership was served with an amended complaint in the civil lawsuit originally filed Oct. 17, 2012, in Maryland’s Montgomery County Circuit Court. 

SGM has been carefully reviewing each allegation since the initial claims first surfaced last October.  We consider any allegation of harm to a child extremely serious and we have been working diligently in an effort to learn the truth.  We ask for patience as we continue to investigate these new allegations.  Please continue to pray with us for all those affected by this lawsuit. 

As we initially stated and continue to reiterate, SGM considers the mistreatment of any child reprehensible and evil.  We grieve deeply for any individual who has been a victim of abuse.  We want to minister the love, grace, and healing of God to every child we encounter who has suffered such horror. 

SGM remains committed to integrity and faithfulness in pastoral care.  We adhere to the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us.  These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us.  SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices. 

Sovereign Grace Ministries is an association of over 80 churches, primarily in the United States, with the goal of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ both locally and globally.  They voluntarily partner together for certain aspects of their broader common mission: to plant churches, develop resources, train pastors and serve international ministries in order to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

## 

Statement to Covenant Life Church
January 16, 2013

Dear Church, 

We’re writing to update you on a new development in the legal process that began unfolding last fall. The lawsuit that was filed in October has been amended.  It now names our church and our school as defendants.  In addition it alleges sexual abuse by an unnamed “pastor and teacher” and “children’s ministry worker” (though it does not make clear what institution these persons are connected with nor when the events allegedly occurred).   

We’re currently working with legal counsel to investigate these allegations.  But our counsel has confirmed with counsel for the Plaintiffs that these unnamed persons are not current employees of the school or pastors at the church. 

It will take time for us to review and investigate these new allegations.  We ask for your patience—it’s very likely that this is going to be a lengthy process.  Please continue to pray.

We are sickened by the thought of such abuse—sexual abuse in any form is evil and unconscionable. We are grieved by these allegations.  We also recognize that we don’t have all the facts.  We would encourage everyone to withhold judgment until an appropriate legal process can be completed.

We want you to know our commitment is to do what is right before the Lord throughout this process. We want justice and truth to prevail—whether this indicts past actions or vindicates them.  If wrong has been done, we want that to be revealed and for there to be appropriate accountability.  We also know that it is possible for people to be wrongly accused, and so we pray that God will protect anyone from inaccurate or distorted or false accusations.

Please join us in praying for God’s will to be done and for our church to walk through this difficult process in a manner that demonstrates our hope and trust are in him.  Let us pray that this testing will make us more dependent on God, more compassionate to the hurting, and more effective in sharing the love and tender care of Jesus Christ with others.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 ESV)

Sincerely,

The Pastors of Covenant Life Church 

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