WORLD | Troubled ministry | Thomas Kidd | Nov. 17, 2012
RELIGION | Lawsuit claims leaders at Sovereign Grace Ministries covered up sexual abuse
Troubles continue to mount for Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), an evangelical association with about 90 churches and 28,000 members worldwide. The SGM board of directors reinstated the ministry’s founder, C.J. Mahaney, as president of SGM in early 2012 after he took a leave of absence for several months.
Accusations of spiritual pride and hypocrisy precipitated Mahaney’s leave. Now SGM is facing a lawsuit by three female plaintiffs, alleging that SGM leaders covered up sexual abuse that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, and that they discouraged church members from cooperating with law enforcement officials.
Even before the lawsuit, several SGM churches, including ones in Charlottesville, Va., Sarasota, Fla., and Daytona Beach, Fla., had left the association. Jesse Jarvis, pastor of the Daytona Beach congregation, cited a “leadership culture characterized by excessive authority and insufficient accountability” as a reason for leaving SGM.
Mahaney founded SGM in 1982 out of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. In 2004, Mahaney stepped down as Covenant Life pastor. Following his reappointment as the president of SGM, Mahaney relocated the ministry’s headquarters to Louisville, Ky., and planted a church there. The new church held its opening service on Sept. 30.
The lawsuit charges SGM leaders with allowing suspected child abusers to continue interacting with children, sheltering the accused perpetrators from prosecution, and forcing alleged victims as young as 3 to forgive their molesters. The complaint accuses several SGM elders and officials of actively covering up the crimes, while it names Mahaney because the offenses allegedly occurred under his leadership.
SGM released a statement saying that “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.”