If you are at all connected to the neo-reformed theological world, then you have been aware of the number of controversies surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministries and its founder C.J. Mahaney (who has played a vital part in The Gospel Coalition since its inception) over the past three or four years. Most recently, it has been uncovered that in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, one of the pastors at SGM’s founding church- Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD- had sexually abused a number of children over the span of a few years and that the Church pastors and elders (both back in the 90’s and today) did not respond to the accusations of this pastors sexual abuse in a biblical or legal manner. Because of this issue coming to light, Joshua Harris (Senior Pastor) and C.J. Mahaney (founding Pastor) have temporarily stepped down from ministry until the investigation is completed.
This story breaks my heart. And I know it breaks God’s heart. The prominence of sexual abuse in the body of Christ over the past few decades in churches of every theological stripe and tradition, from Mainline to Fundamentalist, is absolutely unacceptable and a glaring sign of the brokenness of the people of God. The church simply doesn’t know how to handle our own personal sexual brokenness nor do we understand how we are to address these issues when they arise in our own communities. And until we figure out how we are to find healing from our own vices and have the courage to stand up and call out sin, both internally and to the authorities when necessary (and all abuse allegations merit the authorities getting involved!) I fear that these patterns of sin will continue.
I have been a regular visitor to Covenant Life Church for about six years. Whenever I am back in my home state of Maryland for a couple weeks, I love visiting this community. I can honestly say that I have never worshipped in another community with such a Spirit-filled, grace centered, and truly humble group of Christians in my life. Sure, CLC is very Calvinistic and hold to a number of theological tenants that I personally cannot affirm. But the people, the community, the leadership has always struck me as humble, joyful, and Spirit-filled. I have never walked away from a meeting with any of the pastors or a worship service with the congregation where I was not blown away by the movement of God in and through this group of people.
Now I realize that my superficial experience of the church does not even begin to unpack the reality that has been experienced by many in this community. But I say this because it is easy for us to begin throwing darts a community of people that are going through a long season of pain and refining. We can begin to speculate about what else might have gone on behind the scenes in this community. We can paint the pastors, leaders, and congregation as totally abusive and enslaved because of their theology or polity or history. We can marginalize all reformed Christians and box them into this category and begin to make off-base suggestions of similar situations that might have occurred in their community. But none of that is helpful. Not to the accused, not to the victims, not to the Church globally. Not only is it unhelpful, but it is fundamentally unchristian. It is antithetical to the message and work of Jesus.
Christ came for us, to be our final scapegoat, the one who overcame our sin and sinful systems and offered a new way of righteousness, grace, and love. And yet, far too often we position ourselves as the accusers, the ones who revel in the flaws of our enemies and theological “others”. We position ourselves as the Pharisees, looking to cast more stones upon the already bloodied, beaten, and humiliated woman caught in adultery. We seem to take delight in the downfall of those who we disagree with. We become gossipers. Speculators. Slanderers. And as we engage in such behavior, we not only greatly increase the pain for all of those involved in this scandal, but we shame the name of Jesus because we are fundamentally identifying with the way of conduct that he came to defeat and liberate us from.
But I know this community of Christians at Covenant Life Church. I was an active part of the reformed community for a few years. And I know that even though they have beliefs, customs, and policies that I can no longer identify with (and even consider potentially harmful), they are a community people who love God, love their neighbors, and are trying their best to work through this dark season with grace and faithfulness. They aren’t all opressors, abusers, or enslaved to a dangerous system of theology. They are a people who are trying to figure this all out. Who are trying to right these wrongs. And in this difficult season, they also need our prayers. Our help. Our encouragement.
None of us know if there is any more abuse or negligence still left to be uncovered. If there is, I pray that it would be brought to light. I pray that legal action is taken to begin to right the wrongs that all of the abused have experienced in this community. I pray that those who were abused would find healing and help so that they might move on to live happy lives and I mourn deeply for the pain and perversion that they have experienced for so long. It is absolutely inexcusable. I pray that the Church would rise up to surround those who have been abused in her midst and help to expose these wrongs and work to bring about justice under the law to each of the victims.
I also pray that all of us who claim the name of Christ would no longer continue to stone the Churches, leaders, and communities that are found to have participated in these perverse injustices, but rather would come alongside them to help bring them to a posture of repentance and restoration. Because the last thing that Christ calls us to do when we catch a brother or sister in sin is to accuse them. To slander them. To revel in their downfall. No, in the same way that Christ deals with each of us, he calls us to deal with them. We are to work diligently restore them. To ensure that all sin is exposed, all wrongs are righted, and then to come along side until they become the vibrant, loving, and life-filled communities and people that Christ has called them to be. That is what grace does. It’s radical. It’s profoundly difficult. But it’s the only way that brings life. That gives hope. That offers forgiveness. That reflects Jesus.
I am committed to praying for the victims of sexual abuse from Covenant Life Church. I am committed to supporting them in any way I can to see that the sin they have experienced is exposed, justice is done, and healing is achieved. I am committed to supporting every effort to diagnose the cause and stop sexual abuse in the Church today. I am committed to praying for and seeking legal justice for every victim of abuse. The pain that they have experienced is beyond my comprehension and I pray that somehow they would find redemption from this unfair and unjust abuse. I pray that they would know the love of God the Father, who has never left them, never forsaken them, and never abused them. The God who seeks to liberate them from the bondage of this evil and bring them abundant and new life from these ashes.
And as overwhelmingly difficult as it may be, I will also commit to praying for all of the pastors of Covenant Life Church, those who actually abused these children, those who knew about out it and did nothing, and those who had no part in any of this sinful cycle. I pray that they would find healing from their brokenness, grace in the arms of their God who loves them while they are yet sinners, and would experience the profound faithfulness of God through the hands, feet, and words of the Church around the world. I pray for courage to expose their failures, sins, and flaws, and for humility to receive the due penalty for the crimes that have been committed. I also pray for hope in the midst of this dark season, that they would know that God has not left them either. That he still can use them for great good. That they too can find new life in him.
I say and pray these things, not because they are easy for me. No part of this post was easy to write. But I write this because I believe it is what God would have us to do. To pray. To seek healing. To be people marked by radical grace. People who address evil, condemn it, and seek restoration for both the victim and the victimizer.
Will you commit to praying these things with me? To working for this reality with me?
May it be so.
P.S. If you are a victim of child abuse in the Church or know of abuse in a community you’re involved with, please contact Childhelp a national abuse hotline by clicking here.