Pastor in alleged sex abuse cover-up returns to preaching conference roster

Organizers of a major preaching conference this week in Louisville, Ky., ignored calls to disinvite a founder of the conference accused of participating in a cover-up of child sexual abuse.

C.J. Mahaney takes the stage at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville.

C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, took the stage April 12 at the Together for the Gospel conference at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, while leaders with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests staged a protest outside.

SNAP, an advocacy and support group formed in response to the pedophile priest scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, previously called on the other three conference founders to disinvite Mahaney. Allegations were made against Mahaney, former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and other leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries in a 2012 lawsuit dismissed on a legal technicality.

One of the protestors, Pam Palmer of Hagerstown, Md., told local media that after her 3-year-old daughter was abused by a teenage boy who was eventually convicted, a pastor serving under Mahaney told her family not to call the police.

In introducing Mahaney at the conference, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, praised his friend as a model of Christian endurance.

“It would be very easy to get up here and just say C.J. Mahaney is going to speak for us, but I think faithfulness in my responsibility this afternoon in introducing him is to say we know he has demonstrated endurance in the face of an incredible trial, and he has been a model of endurance for us,” Mohler said.

Mahaney didn’t address the lawsuit or controversy in an hour-long message on suffering from the Book of Job.

Mahaney, who cofounded the biennial preaching conference with Mohler and two other preacher friends 10 years ago, sat out the 2014 gathering because of publicity about what was being described as the largest evangelical abuse scandal to date.

With renewed attention to the civil case in recent articles by The Washingtonian and Time Magazine and a second arrest of a Covenant Life Church member for sexual abuse, some even within the Calvinist camp said it would be the prudent thing for him to again avoid attending.

Todd Pruitt of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals said in a blog April 9 that Mahaney should be removed not only from the roster of speakers but from the Together for the Gospel organization itself.

“I understand and value loyalty to friends,” Pruitt said. “I understand that false accusations are made. But I also understand that loyalty has its limits. The details that have been revealed about the various SGM scandals show that there is indeed at least some fire behind the smoke.”

Mark Ammerman, pastor at Grace Evangelical Congregational Church in Lancaster, Pa., appealed to planners in a message made public by The Wartburg Watch that “no matter how you may feel about him personally” Mahaney is “in the middle of one of the largest ongoing sex abuse scandals in evangelical history.”

Renee Gamby, one of the alleged victims in the dismissed lawsuit, launched an online petition calling for Mahaney’s removal from the Together for the Gospel conference.

Mohler referred obliquely to the pushback in his introduction of Mahaney, getting laughs with the line: “I told C.J. that in getting ready to introduce him I decided I would Google to see if there was anything on the Internet about him.”

Feigning surprise, Mohler said he learned that his longtime friend and colleague cheers for the Washington Redskins and the Washington Nationals and against the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees and Duke basketball.

“That is a section that is entirely missing from any biographical material on me, but I now know it to be true because I read it about C.J.” Mohler said.

After 11 alleged victims filed an amended complaint in 2013 to the class-action lawsuit claiming that Sovereign Grace ministry leaders conspired to keep abuse crimes out of the legal system and handle them internally as matters of spiritual discipline, Mohler and the other two T4G cofounders — Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever — posted a statement of support for Mahaney online that subsequently disappeared without comment.

“We have stood beside our friend, C. J. Mahaney, and we can speak to his personal integrity,” the statement on the T4G website read.

“A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry,” Dever, Duncan and Mohler said in their statement.

“No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C. J. Mahaney,” they said. “Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals.”

That statement drew criticism, including a resolution by the Southern Baptist Convention admonishing SBC leaders and 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.”

Brent Detwiler, a one-time Mahaney associate but now his leading detractor, said on Facebook that the decision by T4G leaders to honor Mahaney and rebuff critics “is unsurprising and underscores the magnitude of the problem.”

“The enabling and extolling of C.J. continues by some of the most powerful evangelical leaders in the nation,” Detwiler said. “The Lord Jesus Christ is not pleased and he won’t be mocked. He reigns on high and on the earth. He will have the final word.”

Susan Burke, the lawyer who represented the alleged victims in the lawsuit dismissed by a court in Maryland, reportedly plans to file another lawsuit in Virginia that won’t be complicated by statute of limitations.