By Bob Allen
An embattled preacher at the center of what has been called the biggest evangelical sexual-abuse scandal to date heaped praise on a Southern Baptist leader criticized for sticking by him at a weekend conference attended by both men.
C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Ky., described Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler as a world-class intellectual in a men’s conference on leadership at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville, Tenn., Nov. 14-16.
Mahaney compared Mohler to Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century Christian preacher and theologian best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” a classic in early American literature.
Quoting from a book that said modern preachers cannot imitate Edwards’ intellect but can emulate his disciplined use of time, Mahaney waxed in his admiration for his friend and fellow leader in the Neo-Calvinism movement popular in evangelical circles including segments of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We just experienced a modern-day illustration,” Mahaney said, referring to Mohler’s address earlier on the program. “I could substitute Dr. Mohler’s name in this quote. I could say to you we’ve not been given Dr. Mohler’s gifts, and it would be useless for me to encourage anyone to imitate Dr. Mohler’s mental ability.”
Mahaney proceeded to expound on a point in Mohler’s message about how important it is for leaders to also be readers, urging the audience never to apologize for having a “stack” of books they are waiting to read.
“If you don’t have a stack of books you’re trying to get to, you need a stack of books you want to get to,” Mohler said.
“I’ve seen his stack of books,” Mahaney said. “If you have a stack of books, I’m saying there’s quite a difference, pretty obvious difference, between your stack and his stack of books. So if you are comforting yourself, ‘I have a stack,’ well you might have a stack, but if we consider the nature and content of your stack as opposed to his stack, well, your stack looks pretty sorry and pathetic.”
“And it isn’t just that your stack is sorry and pathetic in relation to his stack, when he’s done reading his stack he retains all he reads from his stack,” Mahaney continued. “He remembers it, and he can access it and access it well into the future.”
“Whereas for most of us, not only is our stack of books not as impressive as his, but once we are done reading even a single copy or the entire stack, we have a hard time remembering much of anything we read in the stack. And so if we’re just thinking about gifts and mental capacity, and stacks and the ability to retain and remember, it’s hopeless. We haven’t been given these world-class gifts.”
Mahaney stepped down in April as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church-planting network he helped launch 30 years ago, amid challenges to his leadership that included being named in a class-action lawsuit alleging a pattern of sexual abuse and cover-up.
Mohler and Mahaney’s friendship includes co-sponsoring with two other colleagues a biennial preaching conference called Together for the Gospel. In May, Mohler and the other two leaders — Baptist pastor Mark Dever and Presbyterian Ligon Duncan — used the T4G website to release a statement vouching for their friend’s integrity.
“A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry,” said the statement about a lawsuit accusing Mahaney and other church leaders of failure to report sex crimes to police. “We believe this lawsuit failed that test.”
“For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way,” the statement continued. “We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many gospel-minded people.”
The statement was later taken down without explanation, but not before a Georgia pastor sponsored a resolution passed at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting urging denominational leaders “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.”
Similar resolutions passed recently at Baptist state conventions in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky.
In May, Mahaney announced he would withdraw from the 2014 Together for the Gospel conference out of concern for the event’s co-sponsors.
“Unfortunately, the civil lawsuit filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries, two former SGM churches and pastors (including myself), continues to generate the type of attention that could subject my friends to unfair and unwarranted criticism,” Mahaney said in a statement on the T4G website.
Recently Mahaney’s name appeared along with SBC leaders Danny Akin and Russell Moore introduced as speakers at the 20/20 Collegiate Conference scheduled Feb. 7-8, 2014, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on the seminary website. Mahaney’s name no longer appears on the web page promoting the conference, but seminary officials didn’t say when or why the change was made.
Peter Lumpkins, the pastor who sponsored the SBC resolution, suggested on his blog that Mohler ought to “re-evaluate the public kinship he has nurtured” with Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries, which moved its headquarters to Louisville from Maryland in part to strengthen ties with Southern Seminary.
Speaking at SGM-affiliated Cornerstone Church, Mohler indicated he was having a grand time.
“Man, I just love seeing what the Lord is doing in this church, right here in Knoxville, and being with this team,” Mohler said in audio posted on the church website. “This is just phenomenal, because what we sense when we’re singing and just when we’re talking to each other here is conviction. The joy of it is we get to articulate the convictions.”
Mohler said for a long time the church “acted as if we were under Soviet persecution” when it came to clearly articulating Christian convictions — “Like we were afraid if we said them there would be some kind of secret code let out.”
“How else can you explain the conviction silence of the church?” he asked. “And what does that produce? It produces a conviction-less church. That’s why it’s so important when we get together we keep saying these things over and over again.”
Most of the lawsuit naming Mahaney has been dismissed due to statute of limitations, but lawyers of alleged victims say they plan to appeal. Criminal charges are pending against Nate Morales, one of a number of alledged pedophiles the suit claims Sovereign Grace Ministries harbored, with a trial scheduled next May.