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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.

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Reader Comments (15)

Mr. Detwiler,

Did the comment "CJ may have been the Emperor, but you were Darth Vader" come after or before your blog post? From your sentence structure, it seems indicated that it did, but you did not specifically say that it was. Not that it matters all that much, I'm just wondering.

August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering...

Wasn't 600 pages enough slander and gossip? Must you continue in a blog?

[Anonymous. Guess not. Brent]

August 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

Watch out C.J., Brent is hot on your trail. You will rue your character flaws.

[Seneca. Hunting season is right around the corner. I hope to bag a big buck not C.J. Brent]

August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeneca Griggs

Any thoughts on CJ going to Capitol Hill Baptist Church while all of this plays out. How does the leader of SGM opt out and choose another church.

August 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJimmyCone

Keep writing, Brent. Do believe that there is a "silent" myriad of believers (both former & current SGMers) praying, reading, and watching the developments very closely as they unfold.

Appreciate your providing your own salary from 2007 in the 'Navigation' section. Am giving serious consideration to contributing to you & your family. As much as anything, know that there are more than you can possibly know concerned Christians grateful that you have remained to date..... resolute.

Agreed with your analysis of CJ's carefully worded "admission" from July 6..... 1.) "Last few years?", 2.) "Former pastors and leaders of SGM?", 3.) "charges"?

Will remain one who continues to pray, read, watch closely. I must be a glutton for punishment..... or just battle scarred enough to handle and sift through this stuff some.

August 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill Frank

Bret, are you editing the comments/commenters?

If so, what's the difference between what you're doing and what you accuse SGM of doing?

You're controlling the negatives right?

[Seneca. I think I've answered this already. Brent]

August 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeneca Griggs

Another Friday afternoon post (no comments til Monday) from Dave Harvey:

Apparently they now think that CJ should never have even stepped aside and that they should have given even less public transparency about all of this than the non-existent humility or openness that they have shown.

One more whole post that seems to shout that they just don’t get anything that matters here. Nominal, administrative tinkering and promises is all they talk about. Nothing resembling repentance or any substantive change. Apparently, they are not at all being “spanked by God on a national stage” (to loosely quote Josh Harris), they are just being given a heads up to make a few adjustments that will prevent any of these pesky public relations faux pas in the future.

August 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStonewall

Appreciate the Google funding link, Brent. It's nice that contributions are tax-deductible but I would be happy to make a non tax deductible donation as well to aid you with your personal financial needs so you can keep your home and feel less stressed out generally.

Would you consider adding another Donate Button to that effect?

Also, please know that you have many supporters that don't even appear on anti-SGM sites much as we're either not truly welcome there and/or not truly interested in much of what's discussed there. To me, this isn't about you or C.J. It's about the abusive church tactics you illustrated in your documents so beautifully.

As a Maryland resident, I'm thoroughly disgusted that my taxes support SGM's tax-free existence given the double-dipping pastors seem to engage in regarding attending conferences. I would probably bring attention to that matter by contacting the relevant politicians if I didn't think that would detract from your overall message about abusive church tactics.

All the best,


August 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanna L. Chan

[Response to JimmyCone - Comment 1]

If C.J. is attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church instead of Covenent Life Church that would be unprecendented in the history of SGM as best I can remember. That is not a luxury other pastors have been given when being evaluated. When I went through my 7 week evaluation, I was at my home church each Sunday fellowshipping, caring, and reaching out. I think that has been true of all pastors who have gone through a similiar process.

August 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterBrent Detwiler

Why is it CJ can be cryptic and get a pass, be confronted with serious (apparently genuine) accusations of misdeeds that are felony charges if taken to court and his cronies declare him fit to lead.

Among the loudest voices declaring CJ fit is Dave Harvey. Now, I have heard Harvey preach parenting sermons that encourage parents to discipline their children in a fairly draconian manner. Dave's examples were drawn from his own experiences in which he took his son aside and whipped him for not cheerfully eating what was given to him.

Why do 3 year old toddlers get treated to "Happy and Obedient obey cheerfully, immediately, and thoroughly" and are whipped if they violate parental standards but a middle-aged experienced man in a leadership position is declared fit to lead when he has such obvious issues. Why is this ok?

August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebra Baker

[Second response to JimmyCone]

C.J. may be following the example of John Piper's leave of absence where I believe he attended a different church during those months. The terms of his leave of absence, however, were much different than the situation C.J. finds himself in, but I don't think we can hold this against him. At the same time I believe his congregation is in need of explanations, assurance and encouragement, none of which he can provide while attending a different church.

To Brent,
I am thankful for your continued words and analysis. I know this is hard and by all accounts SGM seems to be down playing and moving on as quickly as possible, but I am confident that God's "good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated." (Amen!) You are not the only witness against C.J., this all got started because he emailed you and by his own admission former pastors and leaders have also brought charges against him. I love SGM and I hope that this does become a season of pruning and genuine humility so that we will continue to grow. I am able to have hope for SGM and its churches far and wide because I know the character of God. (“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished, Exodus 34:6-7)

Thanks again, more here who are praying.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurrent SMG Member


Hang in. You should not have to answer every criticism, but it is gracious to do so. I assume your motivation in responding is that such explanations might be helpful to your critic(s). Also, I believe if a critic nails something important, you will acknowledge it.
BTW, you know me; we have been friends for many years, though most of the time separated geographically. We have recently had private written communication, and I have expressed my support and confidence that, in my opinion, God is using you and these trials and heartaches to bring greater strength and growth to your own character and gracious help to the movement's leaders and related churches. "He that covers his sin will not prosper . . ." applies to all of us.

My friendships and long fellowship with the major leaders and SGM principals are on “both sides” and go back many years. Some friendships precede SGM and PDI. For example, I met Larry shortly after he was saved and "appeared" on the D.C. scene. I consider us friends, and I think he does, though no longer close due to time, distance, and circumstances. I’m not a name-dropper, but I could go on with a list of men, including C.J., I felt privileged to know as friends, though “functionally” we haven’t spent much time together.

I have no personal issues with anyone, nor have I experienced any hurt, abuse or rejection. But in principle I think these things should be aired. I agree with Joshua that this is a benevolent and providential time of discipline ("spanking"?) to bring confession, cleansing, restoration, and renewed strength and commissioning of the churches involved and the movement for more effective ministry in years to come. My prayer is that will happen with only the degree of pain necessary. (God is always purposeful and intentional in discipline, not capricious or gratuitous.)

I’m not an SGM member or pastor, nor am I a former SGM pastor. I do not attend an SGM-related church, except for infrequent visits, but I have many friends and some relatives in a number of such churches. I have always appreciated the ministry of the Word as I have been exposed to it. I prefer not to identify myself, even though -- as far as I know -- none of my relatives in an SGM-related church has ever had an "issue" with their pastors. In fact, I think they have positive relationships and have received help and encouragement. I think there have been questions but never anything close to a deal-breaker. I believe they have grown spiritually within their respective church’s ministry.

Finally, though I will not offer any projections or "prophecy" (is that still an okay word?), I think (maybe because I'm an "outsider" -- though not outside the body of Christ), that all this is much bigger than the personalities involved. Not to discount personal or corporate sin (and your documents show carefully recorded evidence that there are serious things God wants to deal with), I think the root issue might well turn out to be two questions widely discussed in the near future. First, how are leaders to serve and how is biblical authority to be exercised in churches and denominations? Second, how are leaders – at all levels – to be held accountable, yet fulfill their callings in thriving and flourishing (godly) relationships with those they lead? Indeed, leadership accountability must be addressed and figured out or neither pastors/elders nor “congregations” will be free to be the best they can be in God.

I have sensed my own “calling” in this is to pray for all my friends. Thanks for allowing me to air my thoughts.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFriendly Observer

This is a brief addition to my initial post. I meant to add a final thought to substantiate my stated belief that out of all this will come some additional and helpful scrutiny in the area of leadership accountability in the church (broadly) and local churches specifically.

I recently read an extensive review of a book by Naomi Schaefer Riley (journalist and educator). The title is "The Faculty Lounges -- and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For." Yeah, I know -- an odd mouthful for a book title. She appears to have two chief concerns: teachers' unionization and the non-critical awarding of tenure (and its negative results).

The reviewer quotes her as writing, "(T)he unionization of faculty is virtually always bad for the students." That thought has its own application to the church and the potential for the misuse of authority in the relationship between "the faculty" (leaders?) and "the students" (those being led?). It should be stressed that she doesn't say that "faculty members are bad for students." But the "unionization" represents a form of walls and protection that can shut the teacher(s) away and prevent questions, give-and-take, legitimate criticism, and being heard.

But the two sentences that jumped out at me were these (in the words of the reviewer): "The ... more broadly applicable point is that tenure as currently practiced simply invests too much power [meaning "authority"] in an unaccountable faculty. At most institutions, tenured faculty control hiring and promotion of new faculty, choose what courses will be offered and get away with declining to teach [the necessary basic courses] invaluable to students seeking a well-rounded education" (my brackets).

Tenure means an unassailable position for life -- or for as long as the professor wants to hang around. Of course, the professor might be everything the student could possibly hope for -- but the point is, where is the accountability?

Finally (from the reviewer): "Ms. Riley believes that the power of tenured faculty in these matters 'should be drastically reduced.' "

That's enough from me -- but I do intend to get and read this book. I want to have "ears to hear" what God might -- in similar fashion -- want to teach us about leadership-to-congregation relationships in the church.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFriendly Observer

So if a member in CLC leaves to go to a new church and has an issue with CLC, CLC will have a pastor call his new church if there is any type of discipline that is current at CLC. CLC will then tell new pastor about the discipline the member is going through. This is in the member convenant. CJ steps down because of issues, did we call Mark Dever to dissuade him from having CJ attend. The double standards being shown by SGM are unreal. Is CJ the leader of this group, if so lead by example, face your critics and fight for you side if there is nothing to worry about. instead of going off to Cap Hill Baptist Church. CJ, so many at CLC are pulling for you and would like to see you face your church and answer questions, I think CLC wants this to end well for you. You are making it worse than it need be. You can not hide from this. This seems crazy.

I have been at CLC for 20 plus years, and am actually debating looking around for another church. There are lots of people thinking just like I am. I think Dave Harvey is incapable of understanding that SGM is broken, and the only way to repair (if that is possible) is for all of them to leave Dave, Bob, Jeff, CJ, all of them. I fear this is really about preserving revenue streams from books and music. SGM needs CJ, he has the contacts to the larger mainline churches. Lots of books, speaking engagements, and cds to sell. I really hate to think this, but I think it is a real possibility. When you are not sure why things are happening just follow the money, you will almost always find the answer.

Brent, I would love to know about the finances at SGM, and how the books, cds, and speaking engagement money is divided. Do we inves that money t in missions, or do the authors keep the money. What about the music, who gets that money. Did we court Al Mohler and over T4G members just to open opportunities for books and music? When an author writes a book, is it on company time, or on their own time. Do they get paid salary if on company time and keep book royalties? Why did Sovereign Grace and CJ donate so much to Mohler's organization. Lots of needs in Sovereign Grace one would think. Lots of questions.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJimmyCone

JimmyCone: thank you so much for your questions and observations! Our situation is that we've been attending CLC for about a year but have been undecided about membership. We went through the Starting Point class but there were several things that have been bugging us and preventing us from making the commitment (no need to go into details). Now, of course, with the recent events, we're glad we held off (thank you Lord!) until we can see how things play out (not looking good so far).

We feel pretty sick about having tithed to CLC without really understanding where our money has been going. That's on us, although now I'm not sure we would have been told had we asked. We assumed that once we were members, all of the questions we had about money and other things would be answered, and that the only reason things weren't obvious was because we weren't members yet. To hear that you've been a member for 20 years and are in the dark about a lot of this is pretty disheartening, but at least now we know their philosophy. It's shocking to hear that evangelical organizations (SGM and CLC) hides their finances so much. Brent commented that their protocol was to honestly answer any question about a pastor's salary when asked. My question is, why should someone even have to ask? Why not lay it all out there? It's sometimes uncomfortable asking, as though you're untrusting if you do. You're a church, what should you ever have to hide? We, shamefully, looked around CLC and, seeing how big it was and how many people attended, figured that our tithe money, the money God has entrusted to us to be good stewards over, was in good hands. Boy do I feel like an idiot now! I wish we would have asked the questions you posed.

Thanks also to you Brent. I'm sure this isn't how you pictured your life going, but please know that it's doing good for folks like us. When you look at the timing of your documents, it's hard not to reach the conculsion that the subsequent events (CJ's stepping down, his "confession," and the members meetings at CLC where important general questions were finally being asked and answered) wouldn't have happened had those documents not been released. Also, our concerns with CLC membership weren't solely about money, but a lot of the issues being raised now have shed light on the other things we were concerned about, so this has been very helpful all around. I feel bad being somewhat grateful for all of this because I know a lot of long-time SGM/CLC members are being hurt by this, but I'm still grateful to be able to get a better handle on what this organization is really like. Hopefully, in the end, it will glorify God in an even better way, and that's what we all should want. Thanks again.

August 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWaiting/deciding

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