Some ambivalent thoughts on Sovereign Grace, the Gospel Coalition, and Twitter

The evangelical twittersphere has been reverberating over the past few days with the hashtag #IStandWithSGMVictims. Last Thursday, Nathaniel Morales, a former youth leader at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was convicted of sexual abusing three boys between 1983 and 1991. Covenant Life Church was the founding church of the Sovereign Grace Ministries network. Prominent national neo-Calvinist leader and very recently removed Gospel Coalition council member CJ Mahaney was senior pastor at the time of the abuse. Another pastor within the church, Grant Layman, confessed in court to withholding information from law enforcement officials about the abuse. It’s obviously a very ugly situation. I wanted to reflect cautiously about how Christians should respond to ugly situations like this in social media. I’ve seen a lot of righteous zeal, and righteous zeal makes me very nervous no matter who it’s coming from. This is definitely a case in which I don’t have good answers, but I’m trying to write my way to greater understanding, so if I’ve gotten something wrong, please don’t be offended but offer loving correction instead.

I. I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in a hyper-authoritarian church

That’s the first thing I should say. I have all kinds of opinions and fears about fundamentalism, but they all come from the vantage point of growing up among moderate evangelicals for whom the fundamentalists were very much “those people.” I cannot have the same personal stake in denouncing what happened at Covenant Life Church as I would if I had personally grown up in a hyper-authoritarian church and experienced spiritual or physical abuse as a result. So from my vantage point, attacking the Gospel Coalition or the neo-Calvinist movement broadly for what happened at Covenant Life Church would amount to exploiting someone else’s tragedy to score my own ideological points. I’m not going to accuse anybody else of doing that; I’m just explaining why I’m hesitant to enter the fray. And yes, if there is a concrete, more direct way to support the victims of abuse, I would love to know how I can help.

II. Abuse happens at moderate and liberal churches too

I know that many people have argued that the neo-Calvinist theology of Sovereign Grace was the poisonous root of the abusive behavior. I can see how an “umbrella of protection” understanding of human community in which fathers are the absolute authority figures in their families and pastors are the absolute authority figures in their churches would contribute to an atmosphere where abuse doesn’t get reported or addressed. But when I was victimized by my church basketball coach as a preteen, I was in a moderate Southern Baptist church that had female pastors on staff when very few other Baptist churches did, and it certainly didn’t have a controlling social environment. The problem was that an adult who happened to be a pedophile was allowed to hold an overnight event with preteen boys at the church without the accountability of another adult present. There’s more than one way that an unsafe environment for children can be cultivated. This is where policies like the United Methodist Safe Sanctuaries program are critical to eliminating circumstances where abusers can victimize children.

III. Public scandal is not always the same thing as justice

A big part of the outrage against the Gospel Coalition stems from the sense that the Gospel Coalition has not adequately responded to the abuse situation at a leading council member’s church. Some members of the Gospel Coalition board did put out a statement a year ago in support of Covenant Life Church founding pastor CJ Mahaney after a lawsuit over the abuse at Covenant Life was dismissed because of a statute of limitations. It’s also pretty shady that the Gospel Coalition quietly scrubbed Mahaney and current CLC pastor Josh Harris from their council over the past couple of days (see before and after), and their web editor Joe Carter explicitly denied their past affiliation on the council (though Joe later walked back his denial).

Bracketing aside the mystery of the two disappearing council members, I think it’s worth asking what the Gospel Coalition could say about the latest development that would be satisfactory to its critics. I honestly don’t think they could say anything that wouldn’t be immediately nitpicked and condemned as not good enough. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to observe that the Gospel Coalition right now is functioning as a scapegoat for a lot of ex-neo-Calvinists and other hurt and angry post-evangelicals who lack another clear repository for their rage against abuses they suffered that they can’t take up with their real life oppressors.

In our buzzfeed, scandal-addicted social media world, there’s a phenomenon that I despise whenever it happens regardless of the particular circumstances and who’s behind it. I would call it obligatory outrage. Example: unless you sign this petition to get ______ fired/off-the-air/uninvited from delivering our commencement address for expressing opposition to ______, then that means you’re a bigot too! The cynical side of me doesn’t mind for the Gospel Coalition to get as much egg on their face as possible, because I’m opposed to their theology, but from my vantage point, that has little to do with justice for the victims of sexual abuse at Covenant Life Church.

In fact, the Gospel Coalition did issue a response today that seemed quite thoughtful and pastoral to me. They picked a woman to write it; she confessed her involvement in a horrifying situation as a camp counselor where a rape victim came to her convinced that her rape was her fault for being “seductive,” and the author of the piece went along with this skewed interpretation of what happened which haunted her for years after that. So basically, the Gospel Coalition published a piece on their site in which someone confessed and repented openly of perpetuating rape culture because of conservative evangelical presumptions about modesty. Shouldn’t they get some credit for that?!

Those of us who have a more progressive understanding of Christianity tend to push back against a strictly retributive understanding of justice and call for a more restorative form of justice. But when it comes to our ideological enemies, we get sucked into the scorched earth buzzfeed retributive approach to justice where nothing less than total political annihilation and absolute discredit will suffice. My hope is not that the Gospel Coalition would say, “You’re right. We suck completely, which is why we’re deleting our website tomorrow,” but rather that a more genuinely introspective reflection process would happen, i.e. the kind of thing that can never happen amidst the artillery fire of twitter. Ultimately, I would love for them to agree with my view that gender essentialism is idolatry and is a sinful source of abusive environments, but I don’t think that recognition is ever going to happen as long as they feel martyred by a constant barrage of angry tweets. And furthermore, regardless of our views on gender and church authority, all of us need to be reflecting on how we can prevent abusive environments from getting created in our churches.

IV. The victims should be calling the shots in their struggle for justice

One thing with which I was indoctrinated starting in my early activist days is what we called the solidarity model of organizing. When we were trying to target and boycott sweatshop goods up here in the US, we always took our cue from the Central American garment workers who worked in those sweatshops. If a boycott served their union organizing strategy, we did it. If not, we called it off. We didn’t tell them how we were going to help them. The same principle seems like it ought to apply here. I suspect that there are a lot of abuse victims and their direct supporters who are already part of the crowd denouncing the SGM abuse and coverup. My hope is to see a coherent strategy for pursuing justice that goes beyond the first step of awareness-raising, and I would hope that the actual victims are empowered to dictate the terms of this strategy.

There is a site for Sovereign Grace Ministry Survivors. Unfortunately, there aren’t any active posts after February of this year, but the comment threads have kept going and might provide some direction for what SGM survivors are really asking for. Additionally, an organization that has been doing a lot of important work in addressing abusive environments is GRACE (Godly Response to Abusive in the Christian Environment) led by Boz Tchividjian. Boz has a blog with practical tasks that we can all be engaged in to support victims of sexual abuse in our churches.

Again my purpose here is not to dis what anybody is doing, but simply to process these things in conversation with others, hoping that we can ultimately channel our anger at injustice in a Christlike way. Please forgive me and provide loving correction if I said anything that was presumptuous or ignorant. Every Sunday night in my opening prayer at worship, I say, “Thank you God for giving us this sanctuary, this safe place where we can come to worship you.” Jesus made himself unsafe on the cross so that we could be safe within his body. If church isn’t a safe place, there’s no point in doing it. So let’s make church safe for everyone, especially our children.

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About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.

  • John Meunier

    Excellent points, Morgan.

    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks!

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    I’ve tried to refrain from commenting on this sort of thing, but one more factor I’d add to your very honest reflections that most people don’t know, or don’t consider, is that TGC is not someone’s personal blog. People are expecting some immediate reaction from the organization, but that’s kind of difficult when you’ve got a council of 43 members, as well as an editorial team, various bloggers, etc. It’s not some hive-mind borg that has the speed, or freedom to simply rapid-fire respond to new developments. So, that’s one other thing when it comes to the “no comment” policy and so forth that is worth considering. Sometimes it’s not that there’s no comment, but that it’s a slow, much argued over comment.

    Also, in person, Joe is quite huggable. Just sayin’ ;)

    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks for adding that angle.

    • Dave

      People are expecting some immediate reaction from the organization

      Blocking people mentioning this on Twitter seems to qualify as a reaction to me.

      • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

        Dave,

        A lot of people misunderstand what happened. Soon after he created the hashtag, Zach Hoag started spamming TGC’s Facebook page. On about a dozen posts that had nothing to do with the topic, Zach would post the hashtag without any context or reference. He then took a screenshot of TGC’s FB page showing with the hashtags circled and disseminated (he’s a proud spammer) and encouraging others to do the same: https://twitter.com/zhoag/status/467348322853093376

        Unfortunately, the guy who was moderating our FB page blocked the users instead of simply hiding the posts. The same occurred on the Twitter feed.

        Now if the hashtag had been created to highlight resources for reporting abuse or had been intended to comfort the victims, the situation might have been different. But as soon became obvious (and as Morgan notes), it had nothing to do with justice.

        • Dave

          At the moment as far as I can tell, the closest thing to an official response to this specific situation as opposed to abuse in general (albeit with a disclaimer as it being the views of it’s authors) is the following statement from last year still on the website:

          So the entire legal strategy was dependent on a theory of conspiracy that was more hearsay than anything like reasonable demonstration of culpability. As to the specific matter of C. J. participating in some massive cover-up, the legal evidence was so paltry (more like non-existent) that the judge did not think a trial was even warranted.

          Given that the civil lawsuit’s dismissal was explicitly on statute of limitations ground, that statement already seemed unduely biased. It also seems that no comments have been allowed on that story – though there was some negative feedback about the statement when it originally came out. It’s one thing to block unrelated comments, but another to provide no venue for them.

          At the moment, by simply having a couple of names vanish from the list of members with no statement explicitly about that – even to the extent of saying that they resigned and/or were booted out – it seems that TGC is still dodging the issue and failing to account for the prior statements of Council members still present on the website. Even if you personally might not have been informed – i.e. your original denial that they’d been council members at TGC until just recently – someone at TGC presumably was aware Harris and Mahaney resigning. I don’t think they resigned simply by editing their own presence from the website and calling that a resignation.

          Even after the criticism it seems that TGC is still dodging the issue. Are there any plans to revisit, for example, that prior statement by Taylor, Carson, and DeYoung?

          (I say this despite believing that there’s a bit of a witch hunt when it comes to sexual abuse cases, eliminating due process and lowering standards of evidence).

        • http://www.ericpazdziora.com/ Eric

          So, when may we expect to see something from TGC “to highlight resources for reporting abuse and… intended to comfort the victims”?

          (Not asking in an accusatory way, to be clear; I genuinely want to see it and I think it would do a lot of people good.)

  • http://politicaljesus.com/ h00die_R (Rod)

    Thank you Morgan for this.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net/ Dianna

    I really appreciate what you say here about listening to the victims for what strategy is best for them. Could not agree more.

    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks.

  • http://hopefulblogmatics.blogspot.com/ Juan C. Torres

    I’m still outraged (even though) I’ve said nothing on the Twitter………God have mercy upon us all.

  • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

    Morgan,

    While I don’t agree with everything you wrote (obviously), I do appreciate your post and think it’s a helpful addition to the discussion.

    I certainly share a lot of the blame for allowing the social media discussion to turn ugly. I was absolutely appalled to see the tragedy used to advance personal and political agendas (some going back a long, long time). The problem, of course, was that many people were sincere and had not idea of the self-serving motivations behind the hashtag activism.

    That doesn’t excuse poor behavior on my part, of course. We aren’t to return evil for evil so I should have held my virtual tongue.

    • MorganGuyton

      I can understand getting baited when you’re under fire. That’s the way the enemy works. It just feels like we’re always in that scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker is about to kill his father and the emperor says, “YES! Let the hate flow through you.” I appreciate your humility. I’ve done plenty of knee-jerk things on social media myself.

    • http://backoftheworld.com/ Ryan M.

      This is one of the single most noxious, self-serving, insulting, backhanded apologies I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  • Daughter

    I am a victim of a very similar theology (identical?). I want to share some of my testimony. When I was in graduate school and was finally ready to date, I realized dating could lead to marriage and that I didn’t want to enter marriage with unforgiveness. I took the next year to pray for forgiveness and to explore what it meant. One of my biggest struggles was the idea that while I have sinned, the adult should have known better. I was a child, he an adult. God told me I had to see both of us on the same plane, as people. That was hard. When I did, I began to see the bondage the adult was in, and to see how dangerous unhealed injuries are, because I was able to see how the abusers were acting out of deep injuries. At the end of the year, the one abuser still near me came and apologized to me. Does forgiveness release people to repent rather than repentance release forgiveness? I’ve always wondered.
    One thing I do know, forgiveness is not ignoring the sin and saying it doesn’t matter because we’ve all sinned. Forgiveness has to move through anger to arrive at peace. The peace on the near side of anger is a false, unhealed peace which leads to the injuring of others, often without awareness or intention. But forgiveness can’t stay in the place of anger either. The anger is a place of confusion and reactionism, not a place from which we can judge. It leads to the injurying of others with our awareness and intent.
    That said, the stance of fundamentalism is wrong, being based on the premise that we are always ever sinners who must be hedged in to keep us from sinning. We’ve got to move from a place of doing what is right because we have the right systems forcing us to do them, to a place of soaring in righteousness, where we do what is right from our hearts. I spent a long time raping my own heart, forcing myself to follow rigid rules. God finally asked me whether it was producing righteousness. I admitted, no, I still wanted the things I was restricting. He told me I needed to move to a place of true righteousness, where the heart is united with the will. I am still figuring that one out.

    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks for sharing this testimony. Forgiveness is definitely more complicated than it seems.

  • http://www.ericpazdziora.com/ Eric

    > “I think it’s worth asking what the Gospel Coalition could say about the latest development that would be satisfactory to its critics.”

    Just off the top of my head, how about this: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims who have found justice today. No church or pastor or ministry should ever cover up for abuse, no matter what. It is absolutely 100% wrong, just as sinful as the act of abuse itself. Effective immediately, we are hiring professional third-party auditors* to review our policies to make sure nothing like this ever happens in any TGC church, and we pledge to follow all their recommendations, including holding anyone who may be guilty accountable to the law of the land. To all victims, know that we believe you, that Jesus loves you, and that it’s more important for you to find healing than for us to preserve our reputation.”

    That took me five minutes to write. If TGC would like to use it, I give them permission to use any of it they want. If not…. got a better one?

    * I recommend G.R.A.C.E., for example.

    • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

      ***review our policies to make sure nothing like this ever happens in any TGC church***

      This seems to be at the heart of a lot of the confusion. There is no such thing as a “TGC church” because we are neither a denomination (like the SBC) or a pseudo-denomination (like SGM). TGC is merely a parachurch ministry that oversees a lot of various projects. The reason we don’t issue a statement whenever the church of someone on the pastor’s council (which is but one facet of the ministry) is involved in a scandal is because that is the role of the local church, that pastor, and his denomination.

      TGC has no authority to get involved in matters at a local church level. Indeed, it would be against everything we stand for to be so presumptuous as to speak at the group level for any an individual denomination or local church.

      • http://www.ericpazdziora.com/ Eric

        In that case, a simple wording change to “any church affiliated with TGC” would suffice to clear up the confusion. Sexual abuse is not a “local church” issue but an unambiguous moral and legal issue. Sending a zero tolerance message (“If your church doesn’t enforce measures XY and Z to protect people from victimization, you can’t participate in any TGC projects”) would have a powerful impact.

        Secondly, silence is in fact a statement– qui tacet consentire videtur, “He who is silent is taken to agree.” I think it is precisely the absence of such a statement that’s causing people to raise the kind of questions that we are hearing.

        • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

          As you can see from the links I provided, TGC has not been silent on the issue of sexual abuse. It’s not necessary to say that “any church affiliated with TGC” should not be involved in sexual abuse since that has always been our clear message to anyone who was listening.

          TGC has not been silent. But like every other unrelated organization, we do not feel the need to put out an official statement on an issue that is not directly related to our ministry.

          I think the real problem is that many Protestants want some sort of hierarchal ecclesiological structure like in the Catholic Church. If abuse occurs in a local Catholic parish, there are bishops and even a Pope that is responsible to answer for the crime. Protestants, especially those not associated with a non-denomination, often do not have such structures. So we look around for an organization with any time to anyone at a local church to do the responding. But that’s not really how it should work. We can all hold an individual church responsible for their actions, but we shouldn’t expect organization with no direct ties to provide a statement simply because it feels insufficient to leave the responsibility to a smaller and largely unaccountable org (the local church).

          • http://www.ericpazdziora.com/ Eric

            Almost you persuade me to be a Catholic. ;) But in fact the problem there is the same as I see here: in both cases abuse was downplayed as “a few isolated parishes,” using a lack of direct authority as an excuse for passing the buck. As though we have no obligation to love our neighbors if they aren’t in our own congregation! Scripture, on the other hand, uses the analogy of the Body of Christ, in which we are all members of one another: “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

            Also, to be blunt, it seems dangerously close to disingenuous to say the problem is “not related to our ministry” when, as many have observed, two of the pastors of the church where the crimes took place were on TGC’s council until a few days ago– which of course is exactly the reason many people expect a TGC response. The fact is, though, that it’s related to everyone’s ministry. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

            Even if there were no connection at all, what would be the disadvantage of making an “official statement” in support of the victims? Many other individuals and groups are readily speaking up, even those like myself with no ties to CLC or SGC. As I demonstrated in my first comment, any good writer can come up with a solid statement in a few minutes, and then get some leaders to sign their names and you’re all set. The drawback of not making a statement in support of the victims, on the other hand, is that it validates your critics by making you look like, well, like you don’t want to make a statement in support of the victims.

          • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

            But don’t you see the problem with this sort of thing? Last year TGC was accused of being silent on the issue, so a few members issued a statement. We were told it was not enough. TGC has repeatedly spoken out against abuse in the church. We’re told that’s not enough. The verdict came out on Friday and by Monday TGC had commissioned and edited an article that expressed sympathy for the victims. We’re told that isn’t enough.

            You are saying that TGC should issue an “official statement.” But why would that be considered enough? Someone else would simply say that since it didn’t directly condemn CJM or SGM that is . . . was not enough.

            The critics have already invalidated themselves by putting the focus on TGC rather than on the abused. I suspect most of the people who tweeted the hashtag and are clamoring for TGC to say something don’t even know the name of the abuser or even the name of the church the abused went to.

            The issue has become like Benghazi is for a lot of Republicans. They don’t really know what the issue was about, but it gives them a reason to hammer Obama. Neither I nor anyone else at TGC is interested in playing the “you must respond” game. (I’m not saying you are doing that, BTW.) We know it doesn’t get us anywhere and it does absolutely nothing for the victims. Why would they care that another organization has released a self-serving statement of support? If they don’t care that we expressed our sympathy in an article why should they care that we did so in an “official statement?”

          • Caledon

            Joe — let’s leave Benghazi out of this: that herring is fire engine red. And I’m alarmed you seem to think TGC is the victim here. You’re in a PR debacle, it’s true, but comments like the ones you’ve left here, expressing open contempt for your critics, are frankly just making those PR troubles a whole lot worse.

            Here’s a question for you: Eric has written a very clear, sympathetic statement your ministry could easily use as an official response to this terrible situation. Can you specify, precisely, where you disagree with that statement, and why?

          • MorganGuyton

            Benghazi is actually a really legit comparison. I was just at the gym watching Fox News talking about how the world is supposedly waiting for Obama to respond to the latest scandal about the VA or something like that, and I was like wow that’s so analogous to the whole SGM/TGC controversy. We’ve got to separate the legitimate pursuit of justice from obligatory outrage culture. The latter is a spawn of the information age/public relations industrial complex. We expect churches and ministries to “make a statement” because that’s what politicians do whenever the media starts reporting about something scandalous.

          • http://www.ericpazdziora.com/ Eric

            Yes, I see the problem here. If I may be frank, the problem is that you’re obsessing over your critics, yet you’ve managed to miss the fundamental point they’re making. The reason to make a statement is not to shut up your critics but to clearly, decisively, loudly, boldly, unmistakably minister the Gospel to the victims. Not just the SGM victims, either, but the 1 out of every 4 women and 1 out of every 6 men sexually abused before age 18. They’re in the pews of all of those local churches. You’ve been given an opportunity to show them Jesus. You can take it or not. That’s what a good strong “statement” could do– not be a political move to preserve TGC’s reputation, but a chance to use the opportunity you’ve been given to speak like Jesus to the hurting.

            Sadly, what you say in your comment above is nothing but “putting the focus on TGC rather than on the abused.” Forgive me, but by your own logic, you’ve “invalidated yourself,” and TGC for that matter. Put the focus back where it belongs– on showing the love of Jesus to the least of these. If the Gospel doesn’t mean that, it doesn’t mean anything.

            Or put it another way: Why should you let your critics be the loudest voices to say “I Stand With SGM Victims”?

          • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

            ***Not just the SGM victims, either, but the 1 out of every 4 women and 1 out of every 6 men sexually abused before age 18. They’re in the pews of all of those local churches.***

            So again, what you seem to be saying is that it doesn’t matter when TGC writes articles in attempt to minister the Gospel to the victims. The only thing that matters is a statement from TGC.

            ***Sadly, what you say in your comment above is nothing but “putting the focus on TGC rather than on the abused.”***

            Actually, I think it’s just the opposite. If TGC issues a statement it would be deemed as self-serving. Why shouldn’t we instead be focused on publishing articles that talk about how to prevent abuse, respond to abuse, and discuss how to minister to abuse? I truly don’t understand why those types of articles are inferior to some corporate statement.

          • http://www.ericpazdziora.com/ Eric

            I gave an example of what I actually mean in my first comment: not a corporate PR piece but a direct, bold, unequivocal, gospel-focused response. Nobody cares whether you call it a “statement” or not as long as you say it loud and clear. Either way, Caledon’s question below is appropriate: “Can you specify, precisely, where you disagree with that statement, and why?”

          • Heather

            Nathaniel Morales- Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.

            Since my comment wasn’t approved on TGC website I will restate it here and maybe even elaborate. I have given TGC a lot of latitude over the past year in regards to SGM, pending an ongoing investigation. Now that more facts are known and there is a conviction I would admonish either TGC or individual writers that speak/contribute to TGC to speak out. Perhaps something along the lines of affirming that child sex abuse (and the covering up of such sinful and illegal activity in our churches) is abhorrent to God and man and totally unacceptable. Since Mahaney and Harris were previously with TGC a public showing of support for the survivors of abuse is just plain the right thing to do. If no one at TGC can be convinced of that I am truly at a loss for words.

            Over the years I have grown weary of trying to defend TGC to my progressive/emergent Christian friends to the left and my ultra-conservative Christian friends to the right. This is one storm that I’m not willing to weather with you, Joe.

          • MorganGuyton

            It’s disappointing that a public comment *was* made and while great attention was given to the theological reasons for Tullian’s departure, nothing was said about the sexual abuse victims connected with Mahaney and Harris’s departure.

          • Dave

            we do not feel the need to put out an official statement on an issue that is not directly related to our ministry.

            Mahaney and Harris resigning from the Council IS directly related to your ministry.

  • http://backoftheworld.com/ Ryan M.

    Former SGM member/pastoral intern here. Obviously I’m neither neutral nor detached. I think this article makes some good points, but I’m afraid it only scratches the surface of the problems and pathologies that led to the incidents recently highlighted in the media. SGM is a sick, sick, sick, group, who really operates more like a cult than a denomination. I got in far too deep at a very young age before I realized this (joined at 16, quit my internship and burned my bridges at 21).

    My personal problem with groups like TGC is that they’ve whitewashed Mahaney and Harris et al. for *years* now, despite very public and very well-documented evidence of atrocious wrongdoing, and from my vantage point their only reasons for doing so were that a) SGM was on their “team” theologically, and b) Mahaney’s name was on the back of their books as an endorsement.

  • http://backoftheworld.com/ Ryan M.

    I want to respond to a few of the things that Joe Carter has written here. As someone who was heavily involved in SGM for a number of years, and who has followed the responses of both TGC and its members for a number of years to the allegations of abuse, I find Joe’s comments to be both duplicitous and noxious in the extreme. Here are a few thoughts, not really in a particular order:

    1) Joe’s statement that “I suspect most of the people who tweeted the hashtag and are clamoring for TGC to say something don’t even know the name of the abuser or even the name of the church the abused went to” is an out-and-out lie. I’ve been scrolling through the tweets that use the hashtag (contributed a few myself), and there are a LOT of familiar names. Joe knows as well as I do that people like Dee and Deb from The Wartburg Watch and Julie from the Spiritual Sounding Board and Natalie Trust have been publicly calling TGC out for the SGM situation for YEARS. Some of these people (i.e. the Wartburg ladies) are better informed on the SGM situation than I am, and Joe knows it. Are there some people who just hopped on the bandwagon? No doubt. Aren’t there always? But that line in his comment is extremely disingenuous.

    2) Joe insists over and over again that TGC just simply has no influence over internal matters at SGM. This is also duplicitous and disingenuous. TGC has boatloads of influence on SGM internal matters.

    For one thing, there’s monetary influence. Are their council members’ names not gracing the back of all of Mahaney and Harris’ books? Due they not pay Mahaney enormous honorariums to come speak at conferences? Do they not feed that man and his organization an enormous amount of web traffic? Here’s an idea: if you care about what happens to your fellow Christians, cut off the money stream. Take away Mahaney’s platform. That’s about as effective a means of accountability as anyone in the Protestant world has, and if they gave one single damn about the victims, they would do it. And they would stop speaking at SGM’s conferences too: read through the TGC council members list, and if you’ve ever been involved with SGM you recognize that its a veritable who’s who of people who have spoken at SGM conferences or whose books are on sale in SGM church bookstores.

    But even beyond the monetary influence they could have, Joe’s representation of how the relationships work between council members is a complete about-face from how these men have historically represented their relationships. In the early 2000′s, as Mahaney eschewed accountability within his own organization, he repeatedly represented to his pastors and to his congregants that his accountability came primarily from Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler… all three influential TGC council members. When Mahaney ran out from Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg rather than face possible disciplinary proceedings, who did he turn to for shelter? Mark Dever, influential TGC council member and recipient of Mahaney book endorsements.

    Who did SGM survivors first bring all of this too in the mid-to-late 2000′s, when we were desperate for help as our families were being burned to the ground? Mohler, Duncan, Dever, Piper, Carson… men who were supposedly holding Mahaney accountable, and none of them had the time of day for any of them!

    3) And that leads me to my next point: the members of the TGC council have repeatedly been presented with damning evidence about Mahaney’s behavior, and they have repeatedly chosen to turn a blind eye to all of it. When statements have been issued, they have *always* been in defense of Mahaney, and the people presenting the evidence have repeatedly been accused of slander, lying, defamation, being bitter about personal situations, etc.

    And now that’s going to bite them in the butt, because a court of law doesn’t seem to think it was all a bunch of bitter slander.

    That’s not my personal or political agenda, as Joe so insultingly puts it. That’s the truth.

    Here’s the bottom line: it was always about the bottom line for TGC and its council members. And now I pray that, whether its through some twitter hashtag or some other means, their bottom line goes to rock bottom. I hope every last one of those men sees their book sales and conference invites plummet, because they chose to defend the reputation of a fellow salesman over justice for God’s children.

    • And I’m Cute, Too

      Dear Ryan,

      I know this is a week late, but I’m very happy to read this comment from you. It puts into words a lot of what I feel about the Gospel Coalition and its behaviour over the past year or more.

      I think folks like Morgan and Joe Carter are missing the point in a big way. Personally, I’m much more concerned about TGC’s actions than their words (or lack thereof). In the words of an old hymn, their words are too often at variance with their deeds. If only they had taken Mahaney’s platform away from him long ago, and taken him out of leadership and the public eye, they could have avoided a lot of this trouble.


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