Notes on a Hashtag: #IStandWithSGMVictims

Friday, on the heels of the Nate Morales conviction and the confession to covering up child sexual abuse at Covenant Life Church by former pastor Grant Layman, I started a hashtag on Twitter.

I’ve never started a hashtag with any real intention behind it, and I’ve generally been wary of “hashtag activism.” But this story is so important to me. I have been closely involved in homeschool-movement and neo-Calvinist churches with abusive cultures, and I’m passionate about shining light on that darkness. Tweeting as much as possible about this just felt like the right thing to do. It was a tangible way to draw attention crimes that have been covered up for far too long. It was a way to call Christian organizations close to the crimes to task for their dismissive attitude toward victims and their persistent defense of leaders who at best have not been honest about their involvement and at worst were part of the coverup.

And, thanks to a lot of wonderful people who share a passion for advocating for victims, preventing abuse, and exposing coverup, the hashtag trended on Twitter:

The tag doesn’t belong to me. The ideas, critiques, laments, stories, and passions shared using the tag have gone far beyond my experiences, abilities, or intentions. And the messages I’ve received from survivors of child abuse, in SGM and in other churches/movements, have simply blown me away. It’s been an honor to play a small part in something I hope continues as a light-shining tool in the SGM case.

Finally, there have already been a few concrete outcomes that are important to mention. I believe they are connected to the groundswell of concern and critique that started on Friday, and continued strongly through the weekend, though I don’t think #IStandWithSGMVictims was the only cause. Here’s a quick list:

1. Joshua Harris preached a tearful sermon on Sunday about the Morales verdict and the ensuing challenges and criticisms facing Covenant Life Church. He focused primarily on the survival of the church in the face of his own declining “reputation.” He talked about the victims of these crimes for exactly 2 minutes out of a 40+ minute message. The bulk of it was about CLC and him/his family – it was all quite church-and-self-pitying. While he offered to take “administrative leave” in response to the challenges and criticisms, there was no promise of restitution to victims, no apologies for the damage and destruction inflicted on their lives by the church. Brent Detwiler believes there was an implicit admission of Harris’s knowledge of the crimes before the civil suit last year, and his failure to report.

2. Late Sunday night, The Gospel Coalition launched its redesigned website with both Joshua Harris and CJ Mahaney removed from its Council page. #IStandForSGMVictims had leveled strong criticism all weekend against TGC for its connection to this case via its Council members Harris and Mahaney. And poof, just like that they were suddenly gone. While TGC editor Joe Carter first denied and dismissed their departure with an outright falsehood (which he later retracted), Harris did a damage-control tweet with the “reason” for his resignation. To date there has been no official statement from TGC regarding these vanishings resignations, and not a peep from CJ.


3. Midday Monday, TGC also published a blog post by Wendy Aslup about her experience as a camp counselor. The post began with a brief mention of the Morales trial and was likely meant to function as an “unofficial” statement of sorts from TGC. Wendy’s post recounts that a teenage camper was raped by a guy (presumably her age), but the camper felt it was her fault/sexual sin even though she said “no” (an opinion informed by an emotionally abusive pastor/father). And so Wendy failed to report it. While this is an important issue, it is actually not analogous to what happened at Covenant Life Church, even though there is implied superficial similarity. Morales, an adult, raped and molested multiple children. And at least one pastor – an adult – knew and covered it up. There was no room for confusion or ignorance as to whether this was consensual or caused by the victim’s actions, as there was in Wendy’s story (however horribly wrong that was). These were CHILDREN raped by an ADULT LEADER. And the ADULT PASTOR(S) did NOTHING. In fact, the coverup was maintained until the absolute last possible second, when the criminal trial called a witness to the stand.

In both Joshua’s sermon and in many tweets in response to #IStandWithSGMVictims, people have been citing due process, the civil suit that’s still pending, etc., as reason to give these leaders a break already! But what about the Christian mandate of confession? You know, before your back is against the wall and you are already caught? Why won’t anyone just confess? Why the continued secrecy, subterfuge, and spin – even to this very minute from orgs like The Gospel Coalition?

This is the sickness that I hope #IStandWithSGMVictims will continue to confront. Along with all other aspects and angles on this abuse and coverup. For the sake of the survivors. And by God’s grace.

Because this coverup must end.

And we are in the last days.

****Update Wednesday 5/21/14****

The Christian Post has published an important article featuring Tullian Tchividjian, who just left his contributing role at The Gospel Coalition, in which he blasts Sovereign Grace Ministries, CJ Mahaney, & TGC:

While the lawsuit was thrown out due to statute of limitations, Tchividjian said that unlike many of those connected to TGC who considered Mahaney a friend and claimed that he had “been the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some,” he saw the situation differently. In his eyes, given that Mahaney’s brother-in-law and fellow former pastor at Covenant Life Church had confessed to knowing about sex abuse claims and withholding that information from police last week, the SGM pastor was guilty.

“Give me a break. These people, they’re family. Of course he knew,” Tchividjian told The Christian Post. “C. J. was, for many years, the micro-managing head of the organization and nothing happened under the umbrella of Sovereign Grace that he wasn’t made aware of, so for anyone to say, ‘Well he didn’t know,’ that’s totally naive.”

Tchividjian added that he was “pretty disturbed” when Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor published astatement on TGC website in May 2013 which defended Mahaney, saying that it looked “like the good-old boys club covering their own.”

“I thought it was premature. I thought it was insensitive. I communicated with the guys who wrote this statement that I was disappointed, that I thought it was unwise and premature and that they needed to clarify that their statement was not a statement from The Gospel Coalition, per se, but was their own personal statement,” Tchividjian explained.

“There were some of us on the coalition, or who were associated with it, who didn’t want to be associated with their defense of C. J.,” he continued. “I’ve just been sort of disgusted by the whole thing.”

Read the rest of this important story.

An Amazing Genealogy of Jesus Infographic (and What It Means for XMas)
Disarming Scripture: Cold Water to the Face of Our Biblical Rationalizing
Sermon in Honor of MLK: “The Voice of Vocation” – With Audio [Brandon Wrencher]
Learning to Make Disciples…AA Style [Fr. Tony Bleything]
About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • Juan Carlos Torres

    Thank you, Zach for doing what you can to shed light on this horrific situation. It’s made so angry seeing how some Christians are worried about the pastors in question rather than the victims! I believe you (and thousands like you) are making a difference. I look forward to following the development of this tragic story. Thanks, once again. Lord, save us from your TGC followers…

  • The Irish Atheist

    Well, I’m not going to say it was a ‘good’ weekend, but you did good work Mr. Hoag.

  • zhoag

    thank you. appreciate your support.

  • zhoag

    thanks juan – with you.

  • Mary DeMuth

    So grateful you created the hashtag. I’m glad I had a chance to be a part. My post goes live on Thursday.

  • zhoag

    awesome Mary. thank you SO MUCH for your tireless work in this area, and for your support this weekend.

  • Dee Parsons

    I am so grateful that you created the hashtag. Many of us would not have thought of it. It got the message out. Thank you.

  • Bill Kinnon

    Well done, bruddah. Even if certain people are creating dolls in your image with plans to stick pins in them. :)

  • Becky

    Thank you for this. I’ll never give up advocating for justice and calling out these cowardly leaders. And so much for taking on the mantle of a gentle shepherd-leader and caring for their underlings or wives or children or whatever it is they are so proud of doing . Many of these patriarchalists have shown their true colors now.

  • lmalone

    Zach, What is happening is crucial. My fear for a while now is their (TCG/T4G) way of dealing with victims and predators is becoming the “normal”. Alsup’s article seems to even try to present it that way. Josh’ sermon was a dead giveaway their allegiance to the institution over the people in it. Josh does not even realize it. He threw a bone to the victims. Their thinking is something we must call out and show it for what it is.

    There has to be a huge outrage and push back. If not, WHO ARE WE IN CHRIST?

    They are not used to it. They have had adoring fans at large conferences who are thrilled to be in the same room with them. They are used to hiding their actions and we are not to question. They need to know those days are over. We are talking about children and they were used and thrown to the curb as if worthless to build an empire for a few men.
    Victims, even now as survivors have plead, begged, some tried to cooperate with Peacemakers and even filed a lawsuit. The whole time they were dissed by TGC/T$G. I am so proud of them. But I also know as believers we should be out there pushing justice and restitution all the way. We do not prop up corruption or calloused hearts.

  • zhoag

    thanks man :).

  • zhoag

    thank you dee, that was (and is) my only motivation.

  • zhoag


  • zhoag

    I’m so proud of them too, and I hope that this amounts to an “eruption of the Real” for the power players involved. Fame can’t shield you from the truth.

  • mochalite

    I just don’t get how any Christian, let alone any group of Christians accountable to each other, can let child abuse slide! Seriously, what do they say to God in their prayers, what do they say to their own children, what do they say to the face in the mirror?? Any Christian who knows anything about abuse should be openly calling for justice:

    “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Pr. 31:8-9

  • Al Cruise

    Thank You Zach.

  • Joel Kessler

    Tullian Tchjividian is a good person in The Gospel Coalition (is that how you spell his name?)

  • zhoag

    for sure Al :).

  • Wendy Alsup

    Zach, just to clarify, my point in recounting my experience with my camper in the article you referenced was not to make an analogy to the Morales trial. I don’t think I attempted to draw an analogy in my article at all. My point was that I was ignorant, and I needed to be informed.

    My other point was that those who knew and did not report to police need to repent publicly and repair with the families they harmed if they can. Not responding correctly when someone informs you of their abuse victimizes the innocent anew.