By Bob Allen
A leader in a resurgent Calvinism movement popular among Southern Baptists is resigning from a church-planting network he helped launch 30 years ago amid reports of internal strife and a lawsuit alleging a cover-up of sexual and physical abuse of children.
C. J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, will step down as its president effective April 12 in order to focus on being pastor of a church plant launched recently in Louisville, Ky.
The resignation coincides with the introduction of a proposed new polity statement for the network of about 80 churches described as “evangelical, Reformed and charismatic.” Mahaney said in a blog the new governance model “will serve our family of churches for decades to come.”
Brent Detwiler, however, a former Mahaney confidante who now blogs about internal problems confronting Sovereign Grace Ministries, says Mahaney was asked to resign by a board concerned with damage control.
Two years ago, Mahaney went on leave of absence for several months while his board investigated accusations of dictatorial conduct, compared to cult-like behavior, that estranged former members.
One of Mahaney’s defenders at the time was Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The two friends are both leading figures in the new Calvinism, also known as Reformed, church movement. They have worked together on projects including Together for the Gospel, a conference for young pastors, and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which has offices on the Southern Seminary campus.
A stated reason for moving the SGM headquarters last year from Maryland to Kentucky was to strengthen ties between the ministry and the Southern Baptist Convention seminary.
Questions about Mahaney’s leadership intensified last October, when a lawsuit filed in Maryland accused Sovereign Grace of covering up allegations of sexual abuse of children in the 1980s and 1990s. SGM recently sought dismissal of the lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.
The Sovereign Grace Ministries board released a statement of gratitude for Mahaney’s leadership.
“Though no longer serving in this leadership capacity, we are grateful that C.J.’s influence and partnership do not end here,” the statement said. “We share his joy in seeing him back regularly preaching and pastoring in Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, and we look forward to benefitting from C.J.’s continued investment in the mission of SGM through his service there and in the larger body of Christ.”