These have been troubling days for C.J. Mahaney and everyone associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Once a thriving and growing group of churches, SGM has recently seen many of its key churches and leaders disassociate themselves, including the flagship Covenant Life Church under the leadership of Joshua Harris. This turbulence has followed allegations that C.J. Mahaney has proven to be unqualified as a leader, having damaged many important relationships through pride, judgmentalism and deceit. These charges forced a leave of absence, decisions about church governance, discussions about the jurisdiction of denominational leaders, and so much more. As churches have separated, friendships have been disrupted and long-time working relationships severed. In the midst of all of this, SGM’s ministry headquarters relocated from Gaithersburg, Maryland to Louisville, Kentucky, where C.J. has planted Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
More recently, the ministry has faced allegations that many years ago there was significant sexual abuse within Covenant Life Church and its associated school. Though none of the current SGM leaders have been implicated in this abuse, a lawsuit that will soon go before the courts alleges that they responded unwisely when it was reported to them and that they failed to take sufficient action on behalf of victims. National media outlets have taken up the story. SGM has sought dismissal of the suit on the basis of the First Amendment and on the basis of unclear allegations.
Today I want to explore how we can think about all of this in what I hope is a distinctly Christian way. Some have heard bits of information through blogs or word of mouth. Some have read stories in the Christian or mainstream media. Most of us struggle to think well and wisely about it. I have no more information than you do, so will be relying on what has already been made public through media new and old.
Before I begin, it may be useful for me to explain the nature of my relationship with C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries, though there is actually very little to explain. I recall meeting Mahaney only one time and for no more than two or three minutes. To my knowledge we have never corresponded by email or any other media. He and I have never shared a speaking platform and I have never spoken at a SGM event (though I did liveblog a couple of them several years ago). All this to say that I write as an outside observer rather than as a personal friend and write this article primarily for the benefit of other outside observers.
Now, let me share how I have been thinking about it.
There Are Implications
Obviously the situation carries far-reaching implications for Mahaney and for SGM. But there are implications for you and me as well. The Bible is clear that a distinguishing characteristic of Christians is to be our love for one another. John 13:35 says it plainly: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love for other Christians is the great test of our commitment to Christ and our likeness to him. This love is put to the test in a unique way in the midst of trouble and disagreement.
This situation is unfolding before a watching world that loves nothing more than to see Christians in disunity, accusing one another, fighting one another, making a mockery of the gospel that brings peace. You and I are responsible to do well here, to be above reproach in our thoughts, words and actions. We are responsible to be marked by love whether evaluating a difficult situation or taking appropriate action. We can make the gospel look great or we can make it look insignificant.
Believe and Hope All Things
The great theme of the Bible is God’s unfailing love. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul explains some of the implications of this love, saying that it “believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” (v7). This is not a call to be naive or to deny the obvious, but an instruction to maintain a hopeful attitude toward others, even, and perhaps especially, those who have been accused. The Christian’s attitude toward others, especially in difficult times, is to be one of optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than doubt. We, of all people, should be slow to put aside hope and belief. This means that I owe it to C.J. Mahaney, to SGM and to those who have levelled allegations to believe the best about them, to hope all things for them.