A preacher tainted by unproven allegations of covering up sexual abuse is returning to a Southern Baptist seminary campus after a convention resolution urged “discernment” about identifying with individuals perceived as being soft on pedophiles.
By Bob Allen
A Calvinist preacher named in a lawsuit alleging what has been termed the largest evangelical sex-abuse scandal to date is scheduled to speak at an upcoming collegiate conference on the campus of South eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky., is listed on the seminary website among plenary speakers for the 20/20 Collegiate Conference themed "Ekklesia: God's Perspective on the Church," scheduled Feb. 7-8, 2014.
Other projected speakers include Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin and Russell Moore, new president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Akin and Moore were among 77 evangelical leaders addressed in an open letter in February from a former Mahaney associate asking that they cease inviting him to speak at religious events pending outcome of a class-action lawsuit.
The former associate-turned-critic, Brent Detwiler, later accused Southern Baptist leaders of enabling sin by continuing to promote the embattled preacher while serious questions about his fitness for ministry remain unanswered.
A second amended complaint filed in May alleges horrific physical and sexual abuse of children at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., where Mahaney served as senior pastor for 27 years before relocating to Kentucky in part to strengthen ties with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Two high-profile Southern Baptist leaders, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, joined a colleague in voicing support for Mahaney in a statement posted on the website of Together for the Gospel, a biennial preaching conference they started with Mahaney in 2006.
“We have stood beside our friend, C. J. Mahaney, and we can speak to his personal integrity,” said the statement, which was subsequently removed. The ministry, popular among the New Calvinism movement gaining influence in SBC life, has also removed Mahaney’s name from an “Our History” page that formerly listed the four founders by name.
After stepping down in April as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church-planting network he helped launch 30 years ago, Mahaney announced July 2 he would withdraw from next year’s Together for the Gospel conference, saying publicity over the lawsuit “could subject my friends to unfair and unwarranted criticism” for including him.
A Southeastern Seminary spokesman did not respond immediately to an e-mail asking whether they have similar concerns. An ERLC assistant said Moore was traveling and unavailable for comment.
In June, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution on sexual abuse that was amended on the floor to urge denominational leaders to “utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
Peter Lumpkins, a Georgia pastor who suggested the original resolution and made the motion to amend it during debate, said Oct. 9 that inviting Mahaney to speak would “absolutely not” appear to be in keeping with the spirit of his amendment.
In May, a Maryland judge dismissed the lawsuit naming Mahaney among numerous defendants, ruling that most of the plaintiffs failed to file their lawsuit within three years of turning 18, as required by Maryland’s statute of limitations. Montgomery County Judge Sharon Burrell denied a motion to reconsider Aug. 12. Lawyers for the alleged victims say they will appeal.
A criminal trial gets underway Nov. 18 for Nate Morales, charged with 14 counts of sex crimes between 1985 and 1990 at Covenant Life Church. The civil lawsuit claims Morales was just one of several pedophiles protected by church leaders who did not report alleged abuse to the police, opting instead to handle it internally as a matter of church discipline.