By Bob Allen
An evangelical preacher plagued by scandal over an alleged cover up of child sex abuse has withdrawn from a biennial Bible conference next year that he previously led in partnership with high-profile Calvinist leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention.
C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Ky., announced July 2 his decision to withdraw from participation in 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.
Mahaney said he doesn’t want the lawsuit, mostly dismissed for legal reasons in May but under appeal, to create a distraction for the gathering first convened in 2006 out of the friendship of four preachers: SGM founder Mahaney, Presbyterian pastor Ligon Duncan, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington and a Southern Seminary trustee.
“I believe the most effective way I can serve my friends who have supported me, and continue to support me, is by not participating in the 2014 conference,” Mahaney said.
Brent Detwiler, a former associate to Mahaney and now his leading critic, speculated the reason behind the decision was last month’s passage of a Southern Baptist Convention resolution amended to encourage “all denominational leaders and employees of the Southern Baptist Convention 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.”
“Given this resolution, Mark Dever and Albert Mohler, both Southern Baptist leaders, had to ‘counsel’ C.J. not to participate in the conference,” Detwiler posted on his blog July 3. “Or, if they allowed C.J. to participate, they would have to withdraw from participating themselves.”
“C.J. goes or Mark and Al go,” Detwiler concluded. “You can’t be a good Baptist with any discernment (let alone highest discernment) and affiliate with SGM or C.J.”
The Together for the Gospel conference, scheduled for April 8-10, 2014, in Louisville, Ky., features Duncan, Mohler and Dever, along with other keynote speakers including Desiring God founder John Piper and David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.
All four of the conference’s founders are established leaders in a movement that goes by names including the New Calvinism and “Young, Restless and Reformed,” which is expected to increasingly influence the SBC in the years ahead.
Last year Mahaney moved Sovereign Grace Ministries to Louisville, partly to strengthen informal ties between the movement and Southern Seminary and partly to distance himself from leadership problems that led him to step down as SGM president in April.
Tensions reached a high point May with the filing of a second amended lawsuit alleging molestation of boys and girls at SGM churches in graphic detail. It accused Mahaney and other church leaders with failing to report sex crimes to police, instead handling matters internally as an issue of “church discipline.”
As recently as May 23, Mohler, Dever and Duncan released 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,” the trio said in a statement posted on the T4G website. “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 no longer appears on the T4G site. The broken link makes no mention of when it was removed or why.