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Sexual Abuse & Spousal Abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries - Joshua Harris Claims “Very Committed to Involving the Authorities”

Last Wednesday, Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker broke the story.  His article, “Lawsuit claims evangelical church group concealed sex abuse allegations in Md., Va.” appeared in The Washington Post and was immediately picked up by media outlets everywhere.  The story went viral on the internet and became national news  overnight.

The next day, Greta Kreuz interviewed Joshua Harris.  Ms. Kreuz is a television reporter for WJLA-TV, channel 7 which is the ABC affiliated television station in Washington, D.C. and the flagship station of the Allbritton Communications Company.

See for the video.  Here is an excerpt from the broadcast.

[Kreuz] “The lead pastor, Joshua Harris…says the church has never tried to cover up abuse.”  [Harris] “There has never been a policy like that.  We are very committed to involving the authorities.  Our biggest concern is not our reputation or what anyone thinks of us, it is caring for kids well.”  [Kreuz] “But those now suing don’t buy it.”

Joshua has put himself in the middle of the lawsuit.  He will have to defend his denials on three counts.  One, the pastors have never covered up sexual abuse.  Two, the pastors have a proven record of involving the police.  Three, concern for their own reputation as pastors has never been put ahead of their concern for sexually molested children.  That is a tall order to defend against since four of eight defendants were pastors from Covenant Life Church [C.J. Mahaney, John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, Grant Layman].  If these pastors are found guilty, Joshua is found guilty of defending the guilty.    

The most frequently cited defendant in the lawsuit is John Loftness.  He is in the greatest legal jeopardy according the charges listed.  John was a pastor at Covenant Life Church until September 2007.  At that time, he became senior pastor of Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, MD.  Six months ago, John was appointed Chairman of the Board for Sovereign Grace Ministries.    

Legally and spiritually, John is the most powerful man in all of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  He is “the spiritual leader” of the entire movement.  He has also covered up for C.J. more than anyone other leader in SGM since his installation.  Now he is being charged with covering up sexual molestation.  This description of his powers as Chairman comes directly from the SGM Bylaws.

“Section 6.3  The Chairman.  The Chairman shall be a member of the Board of Directors.  As the spiritual leader of the Corporation, the Chairman shall have principal responsibility to establish the Corporation’s vision, mission, and priorities.  He shall preside at meetings of the Board of Directors.  He shall make reports to the Board of Directors, and shall have such other rights, duties, and powers as are authorized by the Board of Directors from time to time.”

Gary Ricucci is the second most cited defendant in the lawsuit.  John and Gary stand out as you read the charges.  Gary pastors the men and their families attending the Sovereign Grace Pastors College.  He is also a pastor in C.J.’s church – Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.  Like John, he has been a staunch defender of C.J. 

And of course, C.J. is cited in the lawsuit.  I am not personally familiar with the facts presented by the three plaintiffs except to say that C.J. never informed me of the sexual abuse occurring in Covenant Life Church or Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax.  That information should have been made known to me as a Board of Director.  I would have recommended prosecution of the child molesters.  For whatever reasons, C.J. concealed that information from me.  That much I do know for a certainty.

In addition to specific charges against specific individuals, charge number 18 is against an unidentified individual. 

“18. As early as 1987, the Church was on notice that sexual predation of children was occurring under its auspices.  In addition to the incidents described below, the Church learned in 1997 through non-ministerial means that the son of a high-ranking Church leader was engaged in the sexual predation of children under the Church’s care.  Yet the Church did absolutely nothing to protect the children.”

The prosecuting attorneys don’t tell us who this “high-ranking Church [SGM] leader” is or the name of his son.  I don’t know of any high ranking leader’s son who preyed upon children.  C.J. must know and he will be forced to tell the court.      

Last Thursday, Susan Burke, a co-counsel in the case, was interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show.  Here is the link.

On the show, Ms. Burke made reference to “many other victims as well.”  All of this information will come out during discovery.  Only eight defendants are cited in the lawsuit but it appears additional pastors will be deposed in order to prove a wide spread pattern of wrong doing.  According to Ms. Burke, the three plaintiffs are only the tip of the iceberg.

“The families have kind of stepped forward and are willing to serve as representative plaintiffs.  I’ve heard from, and been in touch with, many other victims as well.  So we decided this would be, because of the subject matter and how traumatic it is for people to come forward.  We thought the most protective device here would be a class action and even since we just filed we’ve had a few more folks reach out to us as well.  So sadly, it is not just the three.” (Susan Burke) 

I can vouch for this myself.  Since last Wednesday when the story broke, I’ve been contacted by women whose children were sexually abused or they were physically abused by their husbands.  They don’t know who to turn to for help.  In their cases, the pastors did nothing to prosecute the abusers.  These women experienced the same kind treatment by their pastors as alleged in the lawsuit   

I fear there are many cases of spousal abuse in Sovereign Grace Churches that have been terribly mishandled by SGM pastors.  This too must be investigated.  I want to encourage any woman who has been battered to get help.  If your pastor did more to protect your abuser than you, or counseled you against contacting the police, or confronted you for being unforgiving, or told you not to separate, then please speak up.  Such abusive pastoring must stop.  I am glad to help you, confront your pastors for you, and put you in touch with people who can uphold you. 

Susan Burke went on to reference the cover up of sexual molestation at Penn State University motivated by concerns for its reputation and revenues.  She cites the Louis Freeh report.  I suspect Ms. Burke will adopt his investigative approach in his successful prosecuting of the university and its key leaders. 

“And I think what we’ve seen sadly in like the Penn State and in the Catholic Church; I mean what you see is that institutions end up elevating their own reputational and financial interest over vulnerable children.  I don’t know whether or not you had a chance to look at the wonderful investigative report done by Louis Freeh on the Penn State thing, but the way he phrased it there, you know [there was] absolutely no empathy for the child victims.” (Susan Burke)

I wrote a blog post in July comparing Sovereign Grace Ministries to Penn State University.  At the time, I charged SGM leaders with concealing spiritual abuse.  I will not be surprised if they are also found guilty of concealing sexual and spousal abuse.  

Joshua Harris claims Sovereign Grace Ministries is devoid of debased motivations like those behind the Penn State University scandal.  I have to challenge that contention.  I think Joshua has failed to apply the doctrine of sin.  Every church is tempted to cover up sexual molestation because no church wants to be cited by the Press for negligence.  There are serious consequences for one’s reputation and income if word gets out that sexual abuse is occurring due to lax policies, or lax enforcement of policies, or negligent pastors who do not prosecute abusers and identify them for the church.  Every church should have a register of child molesters on their website.  The well-being of children is far more important than protecting the reputation of abusers who return to their crimes at a high rate.  Even in churches!  

Here is that post.  

Sovereign Grace Leaders Conceal Spiritual Abuse Like Penn State Leaders Concealed Sexual Abuse
Friday, July 13, 2012 at 4:51 PM
Brent Detwiler 

“In clear, calm, concise and unrelenting words, a report from an independent investigation into Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation case assigned blame in harsh terms to a wide-ranging group of high-ranking officials. 

“From iconic football coach Joe Paterno, to now fired president Graham Spanier, to a detached Board of Trustees, the failures, lack of concern and ceding [giving up] of oversight, no one escaped blame in failing to stop Sandusky’s 15-year plus reign of terror in central Pennsylvania.”[1] 


“Former FBI director Louis Freeh said Thursday that the most “telling” piece of information in his nearly eight-month investigation into the university’s handling of Sandusky’s misconduct is a 2000 incident in which a Penn State janitor witnessed the once-revered coach performing oral sex on a young boy in a university locker-room shower.  

“The janitor who observed it says it’s the worst thing he ever saw,” Freeh said, outlining the explosive findings of his 267-page review, which found a complete failure of the university leadership to stop Sandusky.  “He’s [the janitor] a Korean War veteran. … He spoke to the other janitors.  They were awed and shocked by it.  But, what did they do?  They said they can’t report this because they’d be fired.  They were afraid to take on the football program.  They said the university would circle around it.  It was like going against the president of United States.  If that’s the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the top.”[2] 


Just like the insularly environment at Penn State University, the same sinful dynamics have been at work in SGM since 2004.  Leaders around C.J. and people under C.J. haven’t reported spiritual abuse[3] or taken a stand “because they’d be fired.”  Men like Harvey, Shank, Kauflin, Harris, Maresco, and Layman were “afraid to take on” C.J.   Instead they “circled around” him.  Going up against C.J. was “like going up against the President.”  It still is and will continue so long as root issues go unaddressed and unconfessed. 

I’d encourage each reader to look over “The Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky.”  Here is the link. 

This is the kind of investigation and report, Ted Kober and Ed Keinath of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, should have done and produced for Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Unlike former FBI Director, Louis Freeh, they refused to ” blame in harsh terms a wide-ranging group of high-ranking officials.” 

“Over and over, Freeh’s damning report referred to a pervasive and damaging culture at Penn State where the levers of power were tightly controlled by four men — university President Graham Spanier, head football coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz — whose repeated failure to deal with troubling allegations lodged against Sandusky always seemed to be directed by one goal: ‘to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.’”[4]   

“The Freeh Group believes the interest of avoiding bad publicity allowed Sandusky to remain free, where he would go on to abuse additional boys and maintain near full access to Penn State facilities and the inner workings of the football program.”[5] 

“It is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.  Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely [Sandusky] was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.” (The Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky) 

The same is true with “the most powerful leaders” at SGM.  There has been a “repeated failure to deal with troubling allegations lodged against” C.J.  Instead, Harvey, Shank, Harris, and Loftness focused on making sure C.J. was treated “humanely” while they expressed “no such sentiments” for those who were treated inhumanely.  There will be restitution by Penn State University for the eight victims of sexual abuse who testified before the Grand Jury.  There will be jail sentences for Sandusky, Spanier and Schultz.  There will never be restitution by SGM to its victims and there will never be discipline for Mahaney, Harvey or Shank.  That’s one reason I considered using a civil court in which to press my charges.   

“During her time as the vice president for student affairs at Penn State from 2003-07, Vicky Triponey says she witnessed the power that Paterno wielded over the administration.  Which is why nothing in the Freeh report about how the scandal was handled surprised her, she told USA TODAY on Thursday. Triponey says the reluctance of the school to act on Sandusky was more than just the fear of bad publicity, as Freeh suggested.  ‘I think it’s about the image, the whole package of what Penn State football and Penn State became,’ said Triponey, now the interim vice president for student affairs at the College of New Jersey.  ‘Penn State became … too big to fail.  It wasn’t just that we can’t have bad press.  It was, we have to protect this image that we’re perfect.’”[6] 

The exact same thing is true about C.J.  Scores of people have “witnessed the power” he “wielded over the administration.”  For the past twelve years, C.J. has taken over or shut down numerous processes designed to address him.  When that was not possible he had other people like Shank, Kauflin, Harvey, Loftness or Connolly do it for him.    

The day after I released my documents on July 6, 2011, Harvey, Purswell, Cabaniss, Connolly, Gamache, Greasley, Loftness, Osborne, Prater, and Shank were installed on the interim Board.  They were preoccupied with protecting C.J.’s and SGM’s image and immediately declared him fit for ministry and me guilty of slander.  The mission “to protect this image that we’re perfect” informed their every decision.  

That’s why justice was never served.  That’s why all the deceit, lying, cover-up and cunning.  That’s why the refusal to let me present my charges at an adjudication hearing.  That’s why the plan to substitute a corrupt three panel review that was tightly controlled.  That’s why a 400k report by AoR that didn’t deal with any of my evidence or charges.  The love of reputation – wanting to protect the SGM image – corrupted good men.  The praise of men became more important than the commendation of God.  

Instead of Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley; we have Harvey, Loftness, Kober and Keinath.  The Freeh report summates, “In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.”  The same is true with C.J. and many other leaders in SGM. 

It is sickening that a group of secular lawyers has more discernment into the human heart without the Bible, than Christian pastors and Christian conciliators do with the Bible.  Louis Freeh went to motive because motive drives men’s hearts.  That’s where the evidence led him and that’s what he majored on in his report.  SGM and AoR avoid some matters and condemns anyone who judges the “thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Even a novice detective knows you look for means, motive and opportunity when investigating a crime.  

But Kober, Harris, and Loftness tell us we must not judge motives but that is not what the Bible teaches!   It tell us not to judge hypocritically (log and speck), self-righteously (look to yourself), or unjustly (without evidence).  This “judge not” theology is tantamount to telling Christians to throw away all objective standards, discernment, logic, and critical thinking ability.  It is a recipe for disaster and a main reason false teachers, false prophets, and cults thrive in the United States (Matt 7:15-20).  

Paul the apostle tells us “the spiritual person judges [discerns, evaluates, assesses, critiques] all things” (1 Cor 2:15).  He continues, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside.  ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (1 Cor 5:12-13)  We are called to judge (i.e., assess and justly punish) evil doers in the church.  What C.J. and other SGM leaders have done is evil.  

Scripture teaches we can know a man’s heart and often know what is motivating him by observing his words and deeds (cf. Matt 3:7-19; 5:1-7:28; 15:16-20; Gal 5:19-20; 2 Tim 3:1-9; Heb 4:12; James 2:14-26) or by supernatural knowledge (1 Cor 14:24-25).  This kind of judging is sanctioned, not prohibited, in Scripture. 

Graham Spanier (president) and Tim Curley (athletic director) were both charged with perjury (lying to the grand jury) and failure to report a crime.  They await trial this fall.  No such trial awaits Dave Harvey, Steve Shank or the interim Board.  No one has been held accountable for hundreds of lies starting with C.J.    

“Over and over, Freeh’s damning report referred to a pervasive and damaging culture at Penn State where the levers of power were tightly controlled by four men” who were willing to lie and cover-up sexual abuse in order “to avoid the consequences of bad publicity” and “protect this image that we’re perfect.” 

That is precisely what has been going on in Sovereign Grace Ministries and it is reprehensible that no one in SGM or Ambassadors of Reconciliation has been willing to stand up and say so!  Sexual abuse and perjury are being judge in State College, PA.  Spiritual abuse and lying are being covered-up and passively condoned in Sovereign Grace Ministries.

[1] Reported in “Freeh Report assigns blame to Joe Paterno, other Penn State officials for Jerry Sandusky’s crimes” by Dan Wetzel at

[2] Reported in “Freeh report blast culture of Penn State” by Kevin Johnson and Mary Beth Marklein at

[3] “In the past, we have been easily satisfied with any response from C.J.  But this time we must make certain it is the real deal.  For instance, he must see issues like spiritual abuse.  He will need your help.  For example, when someone brings correction and we say you are proud or bitter without giving them the freedom to speak and don’t listen sincerely and humbly, we are abusing them.  When people say they been adversely affected by our sins against them and we correct them for self-pity or tell them they are acting like victims, we abuse them.  Or when we withdrawal our affection, project guilt, rally others against a person, distance ourselves, play the trust card, we abuse them.  C.J. tends to react to labels like “lording” or “spiritual abuse” but they fit him.  He just doesn’t connect the dots to see how they apply in his dealing with people.  Similarly, lording it over others.  That is, using other people to accomplish your own selfish agenda be it self-preservation or retaliation in many forms (mild to flagrant) towards people you don’t like.” (Bren Detwiler to Joshua Harris, “True Repentance,”  Monday, June 27, 2011 4:00 PM)

[4] Johnson & Marklein

[5] Wetzel

[6] Johnson & Marklein


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