Have you ever had a time where you saw or read something that you wish you didn’t? A news article or clip that just turned your stomach, made you angry, or was some mixture of both of these things? Well this weekend this happened to me. I became aware of the lawsuits against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). I had never heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries or the face of the lawsuit C.J. Mahaney, so needless to say I didn’t know much about the story, the man, or ministry involved.
I didn’t become aware of this story until Friday night. We had just came home from having a cookout with Kristen’s family and I was reading blog posts while we were getting ready for bed. I follow The Gospel Coalition on my reader, and found a post about the lawsuits after a number of them had been dismissed. The post didn’t set entirely well with me as I was reading it, it seemed a bit too smug maybe? Even though it sounded smug it seemed that they were also trying to sound sympathetic or empathetic to potential victims. However, I was tired and ready for bed so I didn’t dwell too much about it.
Then came the next day. Some of the other blogs I followed had responded to The Gospel Coalition’s post and painted the situation differently. This dissonance caused me to explore things a bit more on my own. So I explored the rabbit hole and wound up finding more than I really wanted to. I wound up finding a site that was dedicated to stories from those who had been abused by people from churches under the SGM mantle. In some ways I wanted to know this stuff because I was ignorant before finding it, but at the same time the stories made me so mad and frustrated that I was put into a rather foul mood and my wife didn’t let me read any more stories due to that.
From the few stories I read the pattern was this. Someone in the church, not pastors or anyone like that (at least in the stories I read), would rape or sexually abuse another person in the church. This sexual abuse would be told to the pastors and would get stuck in this never ending loop of shallow forgiveness without actually dealing with the fact somebody had been sexually abused. Victims and their families would have the issue be understated by the pastors and if they didn’t like it then they would be marginalized and demonized by the church all under the disguise of very “spiritual” language. While this was going on there would be support for the perpetrators as long as they gave the lip service that they were sorry. Church leaders didn’t want outside authorities involved and often tried as hard as they could to stop that from happening, sometimes even siding with the perpetrators if it did go to court again under the guise of some “spiritual” or “biblical” reason for this.
This blatant disregard for victims and willingness to cover up wrongs done by church members just infuriated me. I couldn’t understand the thought process of this at all. As if going through sexual abuse wouldn’t be bad enough, they basically say here have some emotional and spiritual abuse as well. Perhaps the best response was from someone who often deals with child abuse, Basyle Tchividjian at the G.R.A.C.E. Blog. It is worth a read particularly on his critiques of the statement made by The Gospel Coalition.
This picture made The Gospel Coalition’s post seem even more wrong than I originally had thought. It seemed like it was just wanting to brush everything under a rug and keep it there. It seemed like it valued their relationship with C.J. Mahaney more than they cared for the victims. I don’t have a problem that they want to stick beside Mahaney, even with such a cover up of this kind of evil, I believe there is forgiveness. However, I think standing beside someone like Mahaney would look more like encouraging him to come clean or at least to embrace such lawsuits because he has nothing to hide if he really had nothing to do with these cover ups. I also think that standing beside someone like him shouldn’t come at the expense of standing by the victims, and if you absolutely had to choose one, I’d probably choose the victims. Again I don’t think such a choice is necessarily an either/or, but if for some reason it was made that way go with the victims.
Things like this are just a mess. There are no easy paths when things have gotten to this point. I know I’ll never understand the thoughts of those who did the acts of sexual abuse. I’ll probably never understand the pastors and leaders who decided to cover up for sexual abuse. I hope I never have to know the pain felt by the victims. I can’t even understand the tone taken by those who wrote about their support of Mahaney, granted I do wonder what I would do if a friend I trusted was accused of such a thing. I also fail to understand the tone taken by others who want to use tragedies like this to paint over a whole theological tradition. There are lots of things I don’t understand, but I understand there is a lot of evil and a lot of wrong involved.
There are some things you wish you never had to see. There are things that you wish you never had to know were a reality. However, after knowing what I do now, I’d rather know about it than to simply remain ignorant. I just hope that the victims can experience justice, mercy, and true reconciliation. I hope that these legal issues don’t end due to technicalities and loopholes, but rather that true justice is achieved. Wrongs are uncovered and things made as right as they possibility can be made at this point. That much at least is what the victims here really deserve.