By Bob Allen
A speaker sidelined two years ago by a sexual abuse scandal at his former church is back at center stage for an upcoming conference featuring prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention.
C.J. Mahaney, senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Ky., joins Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and International Mission Board President David Platt as scheduled speakers at the biennial Together for the Gospel conference scheduled April 12-14 in Louisville, Ky.
Mahaney, who in 2006 along with Mohler and two others founded the confab popular among young Calvinists, sat out the last conference in 2014, saying he didn’t want publicity over a high-profile lawsuit alleging a cover-up of child abuse at his former church to subject the other founders to unfair criticism. Criticism nevertheless followed, after a photo taken at the gathering showed Mahaney seated alongside conference headliners on the front row.
Mahaney was one of numerous leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church-planting network he helped start in the 1980s, named in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly failing to report alleged sexual and physical abuse of children. The lawsuit was dismissed due to statute of limitations, but in 2014 a volunteer at Mahaney’s former church was convicted on criminal charges similar to acts alleged in the civil suit.
Problems at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., originally the mother church of Sovereign Grace Ministries, prompted Mahaney to move the organization to Louisville, Ky., in part to strengthen informal ties to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 2012 Sovereign Grace Ministries announced a new program allowing transfer of credits from its Pastors College toward a master of divinity degree at Southern Seminary. The seminary broke off the relationship in 2014, after one of Mahaney’s former associates testified during the criminal trial that church leaders knew about alleged abuse in the early 1990s but did not report it to the police.
Mahaney stepped down as head of Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2013, saying he wanted to devote himself full-time as pastor of Sovereign Grace Church. A former colleague turned critic alleged that Mahaney was asked to resign by a board of directors concerned about damage control.
Recently Sovereign Grace Ministries received more unwanted publicity, when Gene Emerson, a former regional leader for SGM and senior pastor of KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, Va., pleaded guilty to soliciting a prostitute in July.
Amid criticism of SBC leaders for continuing to promote and affirm Mahaney after he was named in the lawsuit, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 2013 urging denominational employees to “utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
Other scheduled speakers at next year’s Together for the Gospel conference include the other co-founders: Reformed Theological Seminary head Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Others are John Piper, founder of Desiring God ministries; Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington; John MacArthur, president of The Master’s College and Seminary; and Matt Chandler, lead pastor for teaching at The Village Church in Dallas.
Platt, who recently completed his first year as president of the SBC International Mission Board, has spoken before at Together for the Gospel, while serving as pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.