I was recently asked this question by a national publication. “Is the First Amendment concern over the confidentiality of pastoral counseling legitimate? Or should the welfare of children be the primary issue?” The question was based upon this official statement from SGM on its website.
“SGM leaders provided biblical and spiritual direction to those who requested this guidance. This care was sought confidentially, as is a right under the First Amendment. We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided. SGM believes that allowing courts to second guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment, that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse.” (Tommy Hill, Director of Administration and Finance, Nov 14, 2012)
Here's how I answered.
This class action lawsuit is not about the First Amendment or the confidentially of pastoral counseling. It is about criminality. There is every reason to believe heinous crimes have been committed and perverse criminals have been protected. The Complaint references 10 victims, 11 juvenile or adult predators, a “pedophilic ring,” and the need for a pretrial “discovery…to ascertain the size of the class.” (i.e., find out how many other children have been sexually abused).
In this regard, the Complaint alleges C.J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and 12 other Defendants “failed to report known incidences of sexual predation to law enforcement, encouraged parents to refrain from reporting the assaults to law enforcement, and interposed themselves between the parents of the victims and law enforcement in order to mislead law enforcement.” Such negligent and illegal actions are not protected by the establishment clause in the First Amendment.
When pastors become aware of sexual molestation they should immediately contact law enforcement in order to protect the victims and prosecute the sexual deviants. Instead the Complaint alleges, “Defendants provided sexual predators with free legal advice and counsel on how to evade accountability, and repeatedly worked with sexual predators to mislead law enforcement. Defendants were willing to, and did, make false statements to law enforcement officials and in courts of law in its efforts to protect sexual predators.”
On January 15, Tommy Hill, the official spokesman for SGM, released this statement on its website, “As we initially stated and continue to reiterate, SGM considers the mistreatment of any child reprehensible and evil…. We adhere to the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people – especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us. These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us.”
This press release is contradicted, however, by over 30 Complaints in the class action lawsuit. The lawyers for the Plaintiffs are not “prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” They are simply holding the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries accountable to “adhere to the biblical commands” and uphold the doctrine they espouse from Roman 13:1-7. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he [civil authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
The hypocrisy of the press statement is breathtaking. There has been no wrath on the wrongdoer only on the Plaintiffs and other victims of sexual predation because SGM leaders refused to involve the civil authorities instituted by God to be servants in such criminal cases. In my opinion, it would be disgraceful for Sovereign Grace Ministries to hide behind the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The rights of victims, not child molesters, should be protected!