Controversy follows Calvinist group

Sovereign Grace Ministries, which recently moved from Maryland to Kentucky to rebuild a fractured network and strengthen ties with Southern Seminary, is now in the news for allegedly covering up allegations of child sexual abuse committed by church members.

By Bob Allen

A controversial church-planting network with ties to a Southern Baptist Convention seminary has been sued in Maryland for allegedly covering up allegations of sexual abuse of children in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit filed by three unnamed female plaintiffs claims that Sovereign Grace Ministries did not report abuse allegedly committed by church members to police. The lawsuit says church leaders counseled suspected pedophiles about how to avoid prosecution and forced victims to meet with and “forgive” their abuser.

Sovereign Grace Ministries, which moved its headquarters recently from Gaithersburg, Md., to Louisville, Ky., released a statement saying officials had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and were in no position to comment on the allegations.

“Child abuse in any context is reprehensible and criminal,” said Tommy Hill, the organization’s director of finance and administration. “Sovereign Grace Ministries takes seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well being of all people, especially the most vulnerable in its midst, little children.”

The scandal comes at a particularly bad time for Sovereign Grace, a 30-year-old network of about 80 churches at the center of a multiple denominational Neo-Calvinist movement that emphasizes God’s sovereignty and downplays human free will.

CJ MahaneyLast year Sovereign Grace President C.J. Mahaney went on leave of absence for several months while his board investigated accusations of dictatorial conduct that estranged former members compared to cult-like behavior.

One of Mahaney’s staunch defenders throughout the ordeal was Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and, alongside Mahaney, a leading figure in the new Calvinism, also known as Reformed, church movement.

As the ministry’s relationship with its former base church deteriorated, directors of Sovereign Grace Ministries decided to move to Louisville to take advantage of lower living costs and strengthen bonds with Southern Seminary.

Announcing the move, ministry leaders said proximity to the seminary would enhance Sovereign Grace’s pastor-training program and possibly allow the Pastors College to offer credits toward a master’s degree.

Mahaney has in the past spoken in chapel at Southern Seminary. Mohler, Mahaney and two other ministers share leadership of Together for the Gospel, an annual conference for young pastors. Both are listed as council members of the Gospel Coalition, a group concerned about moral and theological relativism among evangelicals. Mahaney is a former board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is based on the Southern Seminary campus.

Recently Sovereign Grace Ministries launched a new church in Louisville, its first in Kentucky or neighboring Indiana.

Not long ago Mahaney preached at Clifton Baptist Church near the Southern Seminary campus, where, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, he reportedly told church members “none of you are welcome at our church plant,” because he wants to reach people who don’t already have a church, not take members away from other congregations.