Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lawsuit Against Sovereign Grace Ministries: Failure to Report Sex Abuse

Ok, here we go again.  As discussed in this post, it's very important to watch the trends in church.  People are not willing to tolerate the fact that church leaders overlook sex abuse anymore.  Pastors and church leaders are failing to properly notify authorities and we have discussed this issue as well.  Something must be done and if it is not done, people will take action.  Pastors and church leaders must take note.  They are not solving any problems by sweeping abuse under the carpet, trying to keep their image clean.  Church leaders must act appropriately by first notifying authorities of suspected crimes.  They must also genuinely and promptly care for the victim and victim's family.

* * * * *Edited 10/18/12 to add link to legal complaint:  Legal Complaint
Find all posts related to SGM lawsuit here.

Hot off the press:


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three female plaintiffs claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that an evangelical church group covered up allegations of sexual abuse against children, failed to report accusations of misconduct to the police and discouraged its members from cooperating with law enforcement. 
The lawsuit was filed in Maryland state court against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a 30-year-old family of churches, with about 100 congregations. Most of its churches are in the U.S., but it also has planted churches in about 21 countries.


The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members. The alleged abuse happened in Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s. The lawsuit accuses of church representatives of permitting suspected pedophiles to interact with children, supplying them with free legal advice to avoid prosecution and forcing victims to meet with and "forgive" the person that had molested them. 

More to come on Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and the very bad patterns we have seen from bully pastors and church leaders who strive to protect their image and the church's image at all costs - even neglecting and abandoning the victims.  Enough is enough! 

* * * * * * * *

Update 3:45 PM Pacific:  I decided to directly tweet Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan - - who defended CJ Mahaney months ago to see what they think of the lawsuit.  I'll let you know if they respond:

* * * *  Added 10/18/12   Sovereign Grace Ministries Lawsuit: TV Interview with Victim/Mother

* * * New blog post:  Responses to Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries 


  1. And, as in politics, for a church the cover-up is worse that what would have been had it been handled properly in the first place. BTW, same when a pastor is the perp either in child abuse, abuse of a staff member or employee, or having an "affair" with a counselee, all of which carry civil and may carry criminal liability.

    1. The spiritual component of the abuse is what really strikes a huge nerve with me, too, Arce. What they seem to forget that they are failing in their role as a shepherd - - - to care for the souls of their flock. When they do not appropriately handle sex abuse and ignore the victim, the victim is re-victimized: the victim first experiences sex abuse by the perpetrator and then spiritual abuse by the pastor/church leader. This must be stopped.

  2. Replies
    1. ohmugosh! i didn't realize til now - - you and I are zombie commenters, Anonymous!

    2. I did not know I had zombie commenters. It seems like I need some appropriate music to go with this comment.

    3. I think a more accurate observation would be is that this commenter is blind/oblivious.

  3. I think it is very much alive. Look to the right and see the pageviews are at 250,000 at this time. I think it has just melted the tip of the iceberg with this and related topics.

    1. Cool, 250K hits! Thanks for pointing that out, Jim. I remember being surprised when I hit 500 hits :)

  4. There can be another side to this, as I have found recently.

    Sometimes even parents do not report abuse, even if the pastor and other leaders deny it or won't report it. There is a mindset involved in this that someone who has not been involved in an unhealthy church wouldn't understand. That isn't an excuse and doesn't make it okay, but this also happens.

    I also remember an incident from my former church. There was a middle aged married man who started taking too much of an interest in an underage young female member of the church. Though it did not progress to where anything happened to her (other than scaring her by all his contact), nothing was ever reported to authorities by church leadership.

    1. You're absolutely right. In the BGBC case, the parents didn't report it, either. Now their case is especially troublesome because the perpetrator was related to the victims. But in some of the SGM cases, parents were told not to go to authorities.

  5. "The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members. The alleged abuse happened in Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s. The lawsuit accuses of church representatives of permitting suspected pedophiles to interact with children, supplying them with free legal advice to avoid prosecution and forcing victims to meet with and "forgive" the person that had molested them. "

    Conspiracy -
    1980's, 1990's,

    Again, as a few others have pointed out, NO STAFF members have themselves been accused of molesting anyone. ALSO, the incidents themselves did not take place on church property.

    I wonder if this case will actually go anywhere? It appears they wish to sue SGM for bad counsel that actually did not lead to further molestations or sexual abuse.

    I'm sure this is C.J.Mahaney's fault - dryly

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. [Deleted previous version of comment as hit the "publish" when I meant to edit.]

      You remind us of several key points that, in the emotion of the moment, we might lose track of, and those are "NO STAFF members have themselves been accused of molesting anyone. ALSO, the incidents themselves did not take place on church property."

      However, that does not answer such issues as failure to report known or suspected sexual abuse to civil authorities, and how STAFF may have been involved in potentially destructive "ministry/care" within the church membership.

      And you seem to be implying through "keywords" that this is merely a conspiracy theory and possibly too far back in time to be relevant. On those lines, here is an intriguing quote from the Freeh Report press release about their independent investigation on Penn State: **From 1998–2011, Penn State’s “Tone at the Top” for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong, as shown by the inaction and concealment on the part of its most senior leaders, and followed by those at the bottom of the University’s pyramid of power.**

      The courts will now sort out any failures on the part of Sovereign Grace Ministries church staff in reporting, inaction, concealment, etc. I merely quote the Freeh Report to point out that actions in the 1990s were left undealt with as legally required there; they also remained actively and passively undealt with (depending on the category of responsible parties involved - peers, administration, trustees) for 13 years. It cost Penn State a lot to deal with the mess they made by their horrific negligence; it will likely keep costing the victims and families over their entire lifetime. Sadly, that's the way abuse usually works ... as those who have been thus victimized know.

    3. Jimmy - Did you read about the case in Oklahoma where church staff were arrested for failure to report sex abuse situation? We will be seeing more of these types of lawsuits until church leaders wake up and take appropriate measures instead of trying to brush it under the carpet and act like it never happened.

  6. Also posted this at The Wartburg Watch ...

    The past few months, I have made the argument that the scrutiny of American non-profits of all kinds has been irrevocably changed in the post-Penn State world. I’ve suggested that the social overseeing applies not just to issues of dealing with sexual abuse perpetrators and advocacy for those victimized, but also to the system issues of peers, administrators, and boards of directors. In the case of Penn State, investigators found that these other parties held some significant levels of responsibility for the damage done to a host of individuals and their families.

    Because of the allegations raised in the just-reported class action lawsuit against churches related to the Sovereign Grace Ministries association, I thought this might be a particularly instructive time to take another look at the Freeh Report on Penn State. So I re-read the 7-page press release, which gave a summary of the investigative team’s findings. You’ll find the press release (7 pages), the full report (267 pages), and press conference video of July 12, 2012, at this site:

    As an organizational developer, some of my main concerns for the future of churches, ministries, and Christian non-profit agencies are at the systems level – such as passive boards/trustees and failure to act, lack of holding leaders accountable, active attempts to protect image and reputation at the cost of perpetuating injustice, and ignoring and revictimizing those already harmed by people in the organization. These are exactly the kinds of core problems that were uncovered in the Freeh Report and have come back to haunt Penn State in ways that may never be overcome. And these are exactly the kinds of indicators I have personally witnessed of toxic systems and malignant ministries in multiple Christian settings.

    The courts will now sort through the facts and impacts of what happened with those involved in this SGM lawsuit. But if our own organizations are at risk because of deficient and/or unethical systems, what will we do to bring those issues into the light and deal with them … lest we bring on our own lawsuits for our gross negligence and/or active victimization?

    So, the Freeh Press Release and Report - worth a reading or re-reading as both a cautionary case study of what NOT to do, and for concrete suggestions on how such system failures can be addressed constructively.

    1. Brad - I always appreciate your insight and overall perspective. Just like Penn State, SGM had years to deal appropriately with these issues. Instead, SGM pastors/leaders chose to belittle the survivor blogs, encourage their own members to avoid reading the survivor blogs and tried to keep a lid on things by dismissing them. Truth will eventually be exposed. Having this brought into the civil courts might give them a reality check of the truth that they have been trying to hide all these years.

    2. Thanks, Julie Anne. I think it's important to point out that the lawsuit is, as best I can understand from the scattered details and updated reporting, against specific Sovereign Grace Ministries-aligned churches and individuals rather than against Sovereign Grace Ministries as a larger non-profit network/association. That said, because the larger association is not named, that does not mean they have no implicit responsibility. Many traditional / mainline denominations have reporting and pastoral care policies and procedures in place. They also provide resources and training for ministry and care at the levels of prevention so, hopefully, sexual abuse can be avoided; and of interception and intervention if individuals at risk are spotted or abuse is suspected or known.

      Since sexual abuse, domestic violence, and similar issues where someone is victimized/violated have legal/criminal (and potentially civil suit) implications, surely any credible system of churches and ministries would want be diligent to ensure every member ministry has leaders and volunteers who are qualified and trained, that there is consistency in carrying out legal and pastoral requirements, that conducts some kinds of checks and provides resources for the network to certify compliance. This is not rocket science, but surely it has severe consequences if quality controls are not implemented.

      Given the turn of our society against bullying, and higher social awareness of faulty organizational standards that negate victims and protect institutions, I suspect churches, networks, and denominations that are out of step with the law and with wise pastoral practices could well find themselves in deep trouble ...


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