By Bob Allen
A former associate of a pastor named in a class-action lawsuit alleging a cover-up of sexual and physical abuse of children has called on Christian leaders, including Southern Baptists, to remove the disgraced minister from leadership roles and stop inviting him to speak at religious venues.
Brent Detwiler, one of four founders of Sovereign Grace Ministries who left the church-planting network over differences with President C.J. Mahaney in 2009, sent a letter dated Feb. 6 to 77 national leaders, including presidents of three seminaries owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Detwiler, who in the past has challenged Mahaney’s leadership fitness with the Sovereign Grace Ministries board, said in a blog that he decided to appeal to a broader audience after news media reported the arrest of a former member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., where Mahaney served as senior pastor for 27 years.
Nathaniel Morales, 55, pastor of Open Door Community Church in Las Vegas, was indicted in December and charged with 10 counts of alleged sex crimes involving four boys between 1985 and 1990, when Morales taught in a private Christian school in Maryland and volunteered with youth in Covenant Life Church.
Detwiler identified Morales as one of the perpetrators named in an amended lawsuit filed Jan. 11 in Montgomery County, Md., that alleges 143 separate counts involving eight victims, including existence of a so-called “pedophilia ring,” where perpetrators went unreported to police and went on to prey on other children.
Detwiler predicted that with the first criminal charges against an accused pedophile on Mahaney’s watch, things will only get worse for Sovereign Grace Ministries, which has lost 16 churches to defection over the past seven months and inherited financial problems as Mahaney’s former supporters have lost confidence in his leadership.
“Evangelical leaders who protect sex abusers out of self-interest, fail to involve law enforcement, and obstruct justice must learn from the consequences SGM is about to experience,” Detwiler said. “It could likely bankrupt the ministry and key leaders.”
Detwiler said under the circumstances he hopes the Sovereign Grace board of directors will cancel Mahaney’s future speaking schedule, but if not organizers should reconsider his invitation to speak at events such as the 2012 Gospel Coalition national conference April 6-10 in Orlando, Fla.
“It is understandable that C.J. has become a celebrity in the Reformed world given his wit and wisdom,” Detwiler said. “But these are not the things that qualify a man for ministry.”
Detwiler said Sovereign Grace Ministries now faces a situation where its president and other key leaders “are at the center of a class-action lawsuit that alleges atrocities of the worse kind were covered up for reputational and financial concerns.”
“Given all these developments, C.J. should not be a council member on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or The Gospel Coalition,” Detwiler said. “Nor should he be speaking in seminaries or at conferences around the nation and world. Those that know him best know he is in need of private repentance and public confession.”
During the recent shakeup, Sovereign Grace Ministries moved its offices from Maryland to Louisville, Ky., in part to strengthen ties with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Seminary president Albert Mohler and Mahaney have appeared together on stages including the Together for the Gospel conference, a biennial gathering started by Mahaney, Mohler and two other preachers in 2006 to counter popular Christian teaching that what they believe adulterates the gospel.
Mahaney is also a member of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is based on the Southern Seminary campus and led by Owen Strachan, an assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College.
Recently, Mahaney spoke in chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and was on the program at a missions conference for college students at the SBC seminary in North Carolina.
Detwiler’s letter addressed high-profile evangelicals including Mark Driscoll, John Piper and World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky. Southern Baptist recipients include: Voddie Baucham, a conference speaker and pastor of Grace Family Church in Spring, Texas; Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.; Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology and vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, and Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.