Christianity Today Calls for Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries. SGM Leaders Say They Don’t Have the Authority

Today, Christianity Today editor-in-chief Mark Galli wrote an op-ed calling on Sovereign Grace Churches to submit to an independent investigation of allegations of covering up past child abuse at associated churches. Here is the gist:

To put it simply: Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries) and its individual churches and leaders who have been accused of failing to adequately respond to past incidents of child and sexual abuse should submit to a thorough, truly independent investigation.

For years, SGM has been fending off allegations of covering up child abuse. In the last couple of months, SGM has been under renewed pressure due to a sustained confrontation from Rachel Denhollander (source, source). Denhollander, the first to make public abuse allegations against Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar, recently made a compelling case on her Facebook page for SGC to launch an independent investigation of the allegations.

Another influence on Galli’s editorializing is a former ministry partner of SGC, Brent Detwiler:

We call for a fresh and thorough independent investigation not because we believe SGC guilty of every one of its critics’ charges. We are as bewildered as anyone and simply don’t have enough information to make a confident judgment on the matter. We see, however, that SGC and some of its individual congregations—and pastor C. J. Mahaney (founder and former president) in particular—are under a cloud of suspicion. A former ministry partner of Mahaney turned critic, Brent Detwiler, has been chronicling the controversy for many years and claims that 100 pastors, 300 small group leaders, 40 churches (including his own), and 12,000 members have left SGC churches largely over what they claim has been abusive and deceitful leadership.

SGC Responds

SGC has already responded to the op-ed. CT gave the denomination a heads up earlier this week which allowed SGC leaders to craft a response for their website. The full response is also below:

Recent public statements have called for Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) to undergo an “independent third-party investigation” of our history and current practices to determine if sexual abuse is being covered up and abusers protected in our churches.

We believe it is the Church’s obligation to lead in any realm related to justice for or protection of any child who has been harmed. Our difficulty is this: the most specific accusations involve allegations made in a civil lawsuit filed in 2012 involving two churches that are no longer part of Sovereign Grace. As to those two churches, we have no authority, no right to their pastoral records, and no access to their internal reports. We, therefore, have neither the right nor the ability to agree to, require, or conduct an investigation of these churches. One of those churches has already performed its own third-party investigation, but SGC has no access to that report or details from that investigation.

Secondly, SGC is a denomination consisting of 72 churches, each of which is individually constituted and governed by its own board of elders. While there is a specific process by which a charge may be submitted against an elder by any current or former SGC church member, SGC leadership has no authority to mandate an investigation by an outside authority upon all of our churches. We are therefore unable to authorize an independent third-party investigation of SGC and its churches.

Clearly any specific allegations of child sexual abuse should be reported to criminal and child protection authorities, regardless of the passage of time. We recognize the critical importance of treating child sexual abuse seriously and its victims with compassion. To this end, SGC has taken specific steps in recent years to better understand and address the risk of child sexual abuse. Since 2014, we have provided the MinistrySafe child safety system to SGC churches free of cost, including training, screening forms, policies, and proactive reporting practices.

To ensure that any survivor of child sexual abuse in our churches feels protected and cared for, we have sought ways to further strengthen our practices. We are exploring the involvement of an organization with expertise and objectivity in dealing with issues of abuse to assist our pastors and elders in this regard. This is intended to help ensure that allegations are reported, cases are handled legally and wisely, and abuse survivors are provided proper care. It is our desire and goal to maintain consistency in all SGC churches where child sexual abuse issues are encountered, and, specifically, to provide compassionate care and support to those who have experienced past sexual abuse.

In sum, we desire to walk transparently, to grow in our ability to better address this risk, and to honor Christ in the way we care for those who have experienced abuse.

Now What?

Sadly, the impasse remains and it is difficult to see how it resolves. Galli ends his op-ed by saying that a fresh investigation is desperately needed for the sake of the victims, the SGC, the integrity of evangelical churches, and the gospel. It is hard to argue with this.

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