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My Thoughts on C.J.'s Leave of Absence

On Wednesday, July 6, C.J. rocked the Sovereign Grace world when he announced an indefinite leave of absence in order to consider serious charges against him.  Since then 11 more statements have been issued on the SGM blog.  Here are the titles, dates and links. 

  1. Why Im taking a leave of absence - July 6, 2011 by C.J. Mahaney 
  2. A note on C.J. Mahaney's leave of absence - July 7, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  3. C.J. Mahaney's comments at Covenant Life Church yesterday - July 11, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  4. A letter from Larry Tomczak on his reconciliation with C.J. Mahaney - July 11, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  5. Sovereign Grace Ministries Board of Directors announcement regarding C.J. Mahaney - July 13, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  6. A note from Joshua Harris and our board - July 14, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  7. Where we differ, and where we agree - July 14, 2011 by Dave Harvey
  8. An honest take on a difficult week - July 15, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  9. Listening - July 18, 2011 by Dave Harvey 
  10. God at work! - July 22, 2011 by Dave Harvey
  11. Reflections on the board’s retreat - July 29, 2011 by Dave Harvey
  12. Findings from our preliminary panel - August 2, 2011 by Dave Harvey

Starting with C.J.’s initial announcement, “Why I am taking a leave of absence,” I will comment on these blogs and the Covenant Life Church members’ meetings held on July 10, 17, and 24.  I’ll do this progressively and chronologically.  My comments will not be exhaustive.  They will focus on specific statements or questions/answers of interest.  You are encouraged to read the entire blog to see the surrounding context of those statements I excerpt for the sake of brevity.  My purpose is to help Sovereign Grace Ministries “listen” to themselves and also help people at large understand what they are saying or not saying.   

C.J. gave the following explanation for his leave of absence.

“Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace.  These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read.  These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.”

I will always remember reading the first line that Wednesday afternoon in early July.  There were a growing number of reasons for sending out my documents to the pastors in SGM but this statement clinched it for me.  I felt I had little choice.  While it was a true statement, it was a woefully incomplete statement.  I could not allow the misleading nature of it to stand.  It wasn’t the whole truth. 

The formal “charges” against C.J. went back 10 years, not a few years, and they did not come from “former pastors and leaders” who were offended, they came from friends like Dave Harvey, Steve Shank and me and then Joshua Harris, Grant Laymen, Kenneth Maresco, and Bob Kauflin (see Part 1: Response Regarding Friendship & Doctrine, pp. 5-25).  In fact, many others have raised the same kind of concerns over the last thirty years.

You would never know this from C.J.’s announcement which gives the clear impression that only recently some former pastors and leaders expressed concerns for his pride, unentreatabltity, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.  The facts clearly show otherwise.

C.J. says these five “charges are serious” and of a “serious nature.”  He does not say his sins are serious, only the charges.  He cites the charges but he does not express agreement with them. 

In a similar fashion, Kevin DeYoung, Ray Ortlund Jr., and Carl Trueman see no evidence of serious sin in C.J.’s life and ministry that would dishonor the Lord.  Here’s what they said on Tuesday.

“The question is whether there are disqualifying sins impeding C.J. Mahaney’s ministry of the gospel.  We do not see a pattern of egregious sins which would dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ should C.J. Mahaney continue to minister.  We believe his Christian walk, though flawed (as is the case with all Christians), is still a model for others to follow.”

C.J. continues his announcement by saying the following.

 “I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this.  I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others.  Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others.  And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.”  So here is what I am going to do.  I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.  

 C.J. says he has perceived a degree of his sin but he also says he disagrees with some of the charges.  Therefore, it is impossible to know which charges if any (i.e., pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy) he agrees with and which he disagrees with.  He does not reveal anything specific.  He also mentions he has been grieved by the “effects” of his sins on others but gives no indication what those effects entail. 

So right now he is “considering these charges,” not agreeing with the charges.  In the future he is resolved to make “appropriate confessions” in public.  Of course, the big question will be who determines what is appropriate or inappropriate.  C.J.?  The SGM Board?  Or members and former members of SG churches?  (see Part 3: Concluding Remarks, pages 172-179 for a discussion of this issue). 

He continues.

“I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, and the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM.... But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches.... So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.”

These are all good and necessary things to address but they will not be corrected without identifying the root causes.  Please read “No One You Know Has Sinned” on pages 123-126 in Part 2: A Final Appeal.  The “deficiencies in leadership” in Sovereign Grace Ministries are due to the deficiencies in character.    Here is what I wrote C.J. in Part 1: Response Regarding Friendship and Doctrine.    

“I’d love to see our friendship restored.  I’d love to see some acknowledgment of wrong-doing.  I’d love to see issues from the past resolved.  I’d love to be in good standing with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  But all of these hopes and desires are very secondary!   

“Primarily, I hope and desire to see a restoration of integrity, truth telling and justice in Sovereign Grace so there is no lying, spin, manipulation, lording, cover-up, or partiality.  I am concerned for the movement.  Some men have followed sinful aspects of your example and leadership – the kind referenced in this response.  These men have acted deceitfully, judgmentally, unbiblically, and hypocritically.  Their example in turn, has harmed others and been corrosive in its effect.” (RRF&D, p. 128) 

Finally from C.J.

“My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches.  And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated.  I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.”

We don’t know what sin or effects of sin he is overwhelmed by; but we must nevertheless hold C.J. up in prayer and look forward to the day when “there will much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.”


Miscellaneous Comments

  1. I plan to share brief and miscellaneous comments like these at the end of a new blog.
  2. After my first blog I am off to a flying start. Someone wrote, “Do not stir up trouble, or I fear you will reap what you sow. Please re-think what you are doing and saying…. Praying that you move on and focus on the kingdom and God.” And this encouraging note also, “CJ may have been the Emperor but you were Darth Vader.”
  3. Sarcasm is used by Jesus and other biblical characters. It is a legitimate way to make a point. But it should not be “biting” sarcasm. One person felt I was “biting” in my last sentence regarding Kevin, Ray and Carl. That may be true. He was concerned people could dismiss my blog as a result. I don’t want that to happen. Tomorrow, I’ll exercise my editorial prerogative and make it go away – but not without this explanation.
  4. Two people thought it was wrong to include Joshua’s personal correspondence and confession. People throughout SGM are asking why the Covenant Life pastors did not hold C.J. accountable. Joshua gave a public answer to this question at the July 24 meeting for members at Covenant Life Church. His correspondence matches his public explanation.
  5. People have expressed an interest in helping us. Thank you. We just added the “Donate” link under the “Navigation” section. I’ve written a personal note there.