By Bob Allen
The story behind a sex-abuse scandal at an evangelical megachurch near Washington, D.C., kept out of court by a statute of limitations, has hit newsstands in a long-form story in the Washingtonian, a monthly lifestyle magazine read by 400,000.
Written by Tiffany Stanley, managing editor of the online journal Religion & Politics who formerly worked for The New Republic and Religion News Service, the “The Fall of a Mega Church” details what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the evangelical church.”
The magazine, available online only by paid subscription, contrasts the decline of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., with former pastor and Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney, who came away relatively unscathed.
“A college dropout with no formal training, he became an in-demand public speaker and befriended influential New Calvinist leaders,” the article introduces Mahaney — “a group that included prominent Baptist minister John Piper; Albert Mohler, president of the powerful Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Mark Dever, leader of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a go-to place of worship for evangelical Hill staffers.”
No longer officially in leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries, Mahaney now is senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky., a church plant which recently joined the Southern Baptist Convention.
Along with Mohler, Dever and Presbyterian Ligon Duncan, Mahaney is a founder of Together for the Gospel, a biennial preaching conference first held in 2006. Mahaney dropped out of the T4G gathering in 2014, saying he didn’t want public questions about his handling of the scandal to be a distraction.
A class action lawsuit accusing Mahaney and other Sovereign Grace leaders of covering up sexual abuse of children was dismissed by a trial court because Maryland law requires sex abuse victims to file lawsuits within three years of turning 18.
The Washingtonian quoted Susan Burke, the lawyer who represented the alleged victims in Maryland, saying she still plans to file another lawsuit on behalf of clients making similar allegations in Virginia.
Mahaney denied claims against him in the lawsuit in 2014 but said he couldn’t speak specifically because of the pending lawsuit. “I look forward to the day when I can speak freely,” Mahaney said in a statement released May 22, 2014.
Contacted by the Washingtonian writer, however, Mahaney and other ministry leaders reportedly declined comment.
Various families quoted in the article said church leaders recommended that allegations of child sex abuse be handled internally through a Bible-prescribed reconciliation process rather than turned over to secular authorities, something Sovereign Grace Ministries has denied.
For years the alleged victims and their families assumed theirs was an isolated event until their stories started showing up on a blog started by disenfranchised former church members called SGM Survivors.