Covenant Life Church Reacts To Washingtonian Article

By | January 22, 2016

Update: as of 15 February 2016 The Washingtonian article is available on-line.  You can find it here. 

“As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’”
-I Samuel 24:13 NLT

“Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side—leaders whose decrees permit injustice?
They gang up against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
God will turn the sins of evil people back on them. He will destroy them for their sins. The Lord our God will destroy them.”
-Psalm 94:20-21, 23 NLT

Covenant Life Church Article in Washingtonian

It has taken 5 years, but the sexual abuse of children and the conspiracy to cover up the abuse, which occurred at numerous Sovereign Grace churches, has finally drawn enough publicity to warrant a mainstream media publication to run a lengthy story on the subject.  Tiffany Stanley, a writer for The Washingtonian, has penned an informative, well balanced article which highlights many of the sordid details in what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the Evangelical church.  The article is included in the February issue of The Washingtonian, which hit the streets yesterday.

Covenant Life Church, or CLC, formerly pastored by C.J. Mahaney and then Joshua Harris, was, previous to the sexual abuse scandal, the flagship church of the Sovereign Grace denomination. The church building also was home to the denominational headquarters.  Mahaney at one time was the senior pastor of CLC. He groomed Harris to take over that position as he stepped into the job of Chairman of the denomination. Once the sexual abuse scandal broke Mahaney resigned from his position as head of the denomination, CLC withdrew from the denomination and Joshua Harris resigned as senior pastor.

CLC has, due to a serious lack of integrity amongst the leadership, sustained a huge loss of members and therefore, income. They have hired a new pastor, P.J. Smyth.  He has preached at CLC several times in January, but as a citizen of South Africa, he is looking at a rather lengthy delay in obtaining a visa. The visa will allow Smyth to actually transition into the full-time role of senior pastor.

CLC received advance notice that The Washingtonian article would be hitting the streets this week, therefore, on Sunday, January 17th, they held a membership meeting to implement damage control. The SGM Survivors blog contained the following recap from a member of CLC:

2016-01-21 Dave MacKenzie drinking Kool-aid

I find this information troubling on several fronts.  First, Mark Mitchell reverts to the tried and true technique, utilized repeatedly by Sovereign Grace leaders (in this case a former Sovereign Grace leader) of blaming their self inflicted problems on Satan.

Here is exhibit “A” in the Sovereign Grace technique of blaming Satan.  This is Marty Marchowski, pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church.

I recently came across an interesting article on Pathos written by an individual named Captain Cassidy. Cassidy examines the reasons fundamentalist Christian organizations routinely blame Satan for problems they created themselves.  He states:

“This blame game prevents Christians from engaging with the real reasons for why things happen to them–or for assuming responsibility for their own actions.

Blaming stuff on demons is a thought stopper, pure and simple, just like “God did it” is. The second a supernatural agent gets used as an excuse for anything, the discussion is over and there’s no reason to look further for why that thing happened or is happening. The mechanism for how that event happened is impossible to guess; there’s not even a way to reliably tell exactly what entity is behind the event. The only response a Christian can make to this kind of assertion is “Oh. Okay.”

And that’s exactly why this excuse gets trotted out as often as it does.

It’s meant to shut people up.

When a religious zealot uses demons as an excuse for why sex abuse keeps happening in their churches, though, this form of thought-stopping becomes sinister. There really isn’t any need to invent supernatural boogeymen to explain why uber-right-wing Christianist groups keep exploding into scandals and drama. Their dynamics aren’t hard to guess or perceive.

Indeed, we don’t need to stray beyond the visible world to explain anything Josh Duggar or his parents did. He was a kid raised in a hyper-misogynistic environment that suppressed all healthy sexual expression, and which treated women’s bodies as chattel to be owned and exchanged between male masters; his teachers taught him very well about thought crimes, sure, but never seemed to cover stuff like bodily ownership and consent. We don’t need to invoke demons to explain why he might have opportunistically preyed upon the only female bodies he thought he could get away with assaulting, or even why he kept escalating his abuse until his parents finally took more slightly more decisive action to stop him. His parents’ image and livelihood was at stake thanks to their idiotic son; there’s no need to invoke demons to explain their behavior when simple self-interest explains why they protected him and covered up his foul abuse.”


Getting back to the damage control statement by CLC pastors, it is not surprising that they are ready to put their past behind them. They have been ready to do that since the day Brent Detwiler’s damaging documents hit the blog world.  Sexual abuse and cover-up?  Nothing to see here people.  Move along, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Don’t engage in ungodly speech about the subject. Our good gospel work is being opposed!

What spin; what bovine defecation!

Listen to Mark Prater, Chairman of Sovereign Grace Churches, blaming the internet and ungodly speech for the mass exodus of churches from his denomination. This is from November, 2014. It is simply amazing that these leaders refuse to acknowledge that their sinful actions (or inactions) are the reason they have bled so many churches and members.

P.J. Smyth mentioned “the problems related to child abuse as either having been dealt with or in the process of being dealt with.”  Really?   Please explain.  One pedophile  is behind bars but many more, including pastors, were implicated in the civil lawsuit. Have they been dealt with? How have you “dealt with” the victims of abuse?  Totally ignoring them doesn’t count as dealing with them.  Have there been any attempts at monetary restitution? Has there even been any personal contact initiated to apologize and ask forgiveness?  I think we should let the victims decide when the problems related to child abuse have been dealt with. I realize Smyth has inherited this sordid mess, but his initial statements don’t instill much confidence that he knows how to handle the sexual abuse that occurred in CLC.

Listen to the three short segments below. They will give you a small idea of the suffering endured by the victims and their families.  I must say that I think it is pretty cold-hearted to state that their problems have been dealt with.  The first is Brent Detwiler being interviewed by Janet Mefferd.  Following that is Pam Palmer and then Dominic Palmer testifying before the Maryland Congress in an attempt to get the legislators to increase the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases.




Now let’s once again look at C.J. Mahaney’s statement of professed innocence.

2014-11-09 Mahaney statement of innocence


Was C.J. Mahaney being truthful in his statement?  No he was not.  The lawsuit charged Mahaney knew of the sexual abuse taking place on his watch and he did nothing to stop it. He continually said he had no knowledge.  Read the statement below by Wallace and Happymom.  They had 3 children sexually abused at the Fairfax Sovereign Grace church.


2014-10-10 A statement by Wallace and Happy Mom on Mahaney


Mahaney further states that, “I look forward to the day I can speak freely.” He said that due to the constraints of the ongoing lawsuit he could not speak further.  The lawsuit was dismissed nearly two years ago.  Mahaney maintains his silence.  Here is what Tiffany Stanley, author of The Washingtonian article said:

“Now known as Sovereign Grace Churches, the ministry’s new headquarters are in a business park just outside of Louisville. One Friday this past October, I stopped by and was swiftly turned away. Mahaney didn’t respond to my follow-up e-mail, but that Saturday night, his brother-in-law Ricucci did. There would be no interview with either of them, he wrote.”

Rather strange actions for a man so eager to tell his story, don’t you think?

Anybody with a lick of common sense knows Mahaney covered-up sexual abuse in his denomination.  To quote Stanley once again:

“Former church official Brent Detwiler, however, believes Mahaney knew more than he’ll ever let on. “Nobody worked longer or closer with C.J. in all the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries than I did,” Detwiler says. He believes it’s impossible for all these pastors to have known about abuse and not to have told Mahaney how they were handling it. “It just didn’t work that way.””

The Neo-Calvinist big dogs.

The Neo-Calvinist big dogs.

The men pictured above are all intelligent men. They know the facts in the Sovereign Grace sexual abuse scandal.  They know Mahaney is neck-deep in the conspiracy to cover-up sexual abuse. These supposedly godly leaders should be examples to the rest of us.  They should do the right thing.  As a minimum they should not be sharing the stage with Mahaney at the next Together for the Gospel conference.  (One might rightly wonder just what kind of Gospel are they selling?)  If they were men of honor they would urge Mahaney to step down from the ministry. We are waiting for them to do the right thing.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 5.18.02 AM

2016-01-23 Headshot group photo of T4G speakers

2016-01-23 Group photo of T4G speakers

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[…] by TGC and its cohorts. Mahaney has been implicated in what many have called “the largest sex abuse scandal to hit the Evangelical Church.” Multiple persons have claimed that Mahaneyand his leadership team have worked diligently to actively […]

[…] by TGC and its cohorts. Mahaney has been implicated in what many have called “the largest sex abuse scandal to hit the Evangelical Church.” Multiple persons have claimed that Mahaney and his leadership team have worked diligently to […]


Thanks for reposting this. How incredibly hurtful it was to read the response of Dr. Grudem through his assistant, John Paul Stephanian. He’s referring to people whose lives were torn apart by sex abuse as children, some as young as 3.
I simply cannot process, any man, claiming to be a follower of Christ, responding so cruelly.

I agree, Happymom. Dr. Grudem could have at least expressed sympathy for sexual abuse victims, generally, even if he believed C.J. Mahaney was innocent of wrong-doing. Furthermore, if Dr. Grudem had bothered to read the lawsuit, he would have seen that several of its allegations were already backed up by criminal convictions, and therefore his implied contention that all the plaintiffs were liars was false.

I have no respect for Dr. Grudem or any of the other men who refuse to take child sexual abuse seriously in any context.

Thanks for commenting, Happymom.


Thank you, Janna!

Thank you, Waking up. Your support means a lot to victims and victims’ advocates and any action on your part may literally save a child from being sexually abused.

I and others would be happy to talk with your Pastors on the phone if they have questions about the wisdom of associating with people who indirectly enable the cover up of abuse by refusing to hold perpetrators and their apologists (or Pedophiles and the Pastors who love them, as I say) accountable for their actions.

Just leave a comment and we can talk about getting in touch.

Also, the volume of material about the civil lawsuit and criminal trials regarding Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries is overwhelming. The 9-minute YouTube video I made is not a thriller but I am told it gives a good overview of the factual information underlying Covenant Life Church’s history of unapologetic-ally handling sexual abuse allegations “internally” instead of referring them to the police.

In addition to being on YouTube, it can be found at the following URL:

Thanks again for your efforts, and I hope you’ll come back and visit us again.


[…] for The New Republic and Religion News Service, the “The Fall of a Mega Church” details what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the evangelical […]

[…] for The New Republic and Religion News Service, the “The Fall of a Mega Church” details what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the evangelical […]

[…] for The New Republic and Religion News Service, the “The Fall of a Mega Church” details what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the evangelical […]

[…] for The New Republic and Religion News Service, the “The Fall of a Mega Church” details what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the evangelical […]


Is there a way you could compile in one post direct quotes from Piper, Mohler, etc. when they express support for CJ? They need to be exposed as much as CJ for their silence and for their cover up and support of him. I want to provide a list of facts for my pastors who think so highly of Piper, etc, to encourage them not to promote their books.

Thanks, waking up. We’ll work on getting that information to you. Janna

You might start with this reference, waking up.

In it, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan claim that the class-action lawsuit filed against C.J. Mahaney and other Pastors associated with him represents nothing more than an attempt to persecute these men for their Christian religious beliefs.

After a public outcry, this trio of Pastors made several changes to the statement above, which included erasing any reference to C.J. Mahaney being persecuted for his religious beliefs. But they did not cite their reasons for amending the statement or even note that it had been changed, which represents a profound lack of integrity, in my opinion.

Their statement about individuals not having the right to make judgments about civil cases due to a lack of information about them is also silly. A few documents were sealed but hundreds of pages of documentation about both the criminal and civil cases against SGM and some of its Pastors were available at the relevant courthouses. I know that because I went to the courthouses in question to read about the cases.

It is the considered opinion of many people who have followed the criminal and civil legal actions taken against SGM Pastors, that Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan didn’t even bother to read the lawsuit which was dismissed do to technicalities. Instead, they just parroted what C.J. Mahaney told them without caring about whether he was guilty of covering up child sexual abuse or not.


Thanks. Janna

You might also like to see a 9-minute video I made showing the public the legal documentation and other quality primary and secondary sources proving that SGM/CLC/several of its Pastors have covered up child sexual abuse. Thanks. Janna

This is the best reference we have. Thanks!



Thank you, Janna. It would be nearly impossible to thank you for all you’ve done for victims.
We so appreciate your prayers!

It’s always been a privilege, Happymom. Please let me know if you need anything. Thanks. Janna


“Covenant Life Church does not, and never has, offered people anything they couldn’t get from many other Churches.”

This exposes the central lie that grips CLC members. When I was in PDI/SGM, I believed that lie initially. No other church was doing it right the way we were. For the first time since the book of Acts, perfect doctrine was married to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our pastor told us that if we left and went to a ( very “alive”) PCA church, we wouldn’t get the Holy Spirit the way we would at PDI. The best worship, the best sound doctrine, the best understanding of the holy spirit, the best leaders. I heard from the pulpit at least three times about how PDI was “doing it right” in a way no other group of churches in the world was. After Piper affirmed CJ, the spell was cemented for many of us who loved Piper.

Now a new apostle is coming in. An apostle over 50 churches. The anointing is back. There is no other church in driving distance as good as CLC, or where you can get as much growth and life in God.

There can be some fear in leaving- fear of missing out on the cutting edge, the new wave, the very best, the anointing.


Thanks for the thoughtful comment, 5YearsinPDI. You indirectly bring up a good point. I may be right, intellectually, in saying that CLC never offered anything you couldn’t get from many other Churches yet it obviously filled an emotional spiritual need for many people and that counts for something.

And that’s okay. I respect a person’s right to worship in the Church of his/her choice even if I think that Church is run by irresponsible people who have no respect for the law and are not motivated by genuine religious beliefs of any kind.

It’s when the CLC people harbor pedophiles and then put up advertisements in my community asking local kids to come to CLC for “homework time” that I draw the line.

I believe I’m responsible for trying to protect all kids in my community from sexual predators just because that’s what a mature adult should do.

Whatever it was in the past, CLC is now little more than giant menace to the community and an embarrassment to all Christians.

The people there need to move on to other Churches.

As for the new lead Pastor/Apostle, I doubt he’ll last long. His decision to accept a job offer from CLC was clearly made with the perceived understanding that CLC’s legal problems were over.

Now that that’s not the case, I think this man will look for other opportunities to expand his Church network into the United States.

Thanks again for the comment.

I’m also happy to see you happymom and pray for your family regularly. Thanks. Janna

The digital version of the article is now available through The Washingtonian’s Digital edition format. You can either read it online or with an iPad.

There is a $10/year fee for the magazine’s online content, and I don’t think the content will ever be made freely available.

I think subscribing to the magazine’s digital edition is worth $10 even if all you want to read is the article about Covenant Life for the following two reasons:

1) The article is excellent;
2) The act of supporting The Washingtonian is excellent.


These morons are still trying to play church? Unbelievable.

Keith I Rushing

This may not be too popular but as long as we (the church) allow men and women to become celebrities placing them or all them to place themselves on the proverbial pedestal. All men/women have our sin nature/old man we battle. But when we think we can reform the old man our energies are spent to protect ourselves (and our doctrine) for the sake of Jesus (which is really us). That is so totally ignorant and wicked. Our (really His) salvation acknowledges that we are made righteous but it doesn’t mean that everything we do is righteous. CJ and his band of brothers, made their place as man made authority as the authority of God and became their own gods. To cover the sin of violating children or the weak is so sinful and representing the Devil himself, who is committed to kill, steal and destroy. CJ and his band entered into the mission of kill, steal and destroy of these young children and it has to be a stench in the nostrils of the Lord. That being said, those who allow these men with their insidious sins to be covered, hidden and even justified are equal in their guilt. I personally know many of these families and I must say their righteousness, mercy and grace exemplified before the world truly is the glory of the Lord which is totally the opposite of CJ and his band. They have never looked to have these men destroyed only that they be truthful and repentant – these men just didn’t have the character to do so. May God have mercy on us all! I have the greatest respect and love for the families who have had to endure this pain while seeing those who inflicted the pain publicly hailed as “Men of God”. They have made themselves irrelevant to the mission of Jesus “to make disciples of all nations, identifying them with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching people how to live” — These men have made a mockery of our call to the nations for their own edification of their interpretation of doctrine and authority which by the way reflects nothing of Jesus!! Just saying!! My love and prayers to the victims and their families. God bless!!

[…] Wilhelm wrote another fantastic article that I am going to encourage you to read. It deals with Covenant Life Church’s response to […]


Great article.

How incredibly pathetic to hear a pastor complaining about being persecuted for the mess he’s created.

WOW WOW WOW. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so grateful for the truth continuing to be spoken in the face of such attempts to silence and continue the abuse of persons who have already been violated by their church. Thank you.

Todd…great article. How healthy is a former SGM church? Mark Mitchell gives us a clear indication…CLC is far from healthy. I am working on an open lette to Mark which I will get up tonight. Basically my thoughts are…if this is how CLC is going to act then the best thing that could happen is to drive a bulldozer throug the lobby and tear the church down.

Thanks for the comment, Eagle. I agree that CLC needs to go out of business. The place cannot be reformed because both its Pastors AND MEMBERS have no discernible serious interest in protecting children from pedophiles in their midst.

And there are at least 15 other Evangelical Churches in the D.C. area that people can attend. Covenant Life Church does not, and never has, offered people anything they couldn’t get from many other Churches.

Thanks, Todd, for a great article. The comment by Dave MacKenzie highlights, beautifully, the depravity and naivete of CLC’s members and Pastors. At this point, there’s no meeting of the minds when it comes to protecting children from CLC. Do they really think that folks in the real world sit around timing articles to coincide with personnel changes at their Church?

The CLC people think their religious beliefs give them the right to protect a pedophile ring and most of society disagrees. That’s the story.

Another reason us “annoying anti-sexual abuse advocates” can’t move on is that children in CLC’s community are still in grave danger now. Sworn testimony in a criminal trial has implicated several of the current CLC Pastors, including Mark Mitchell, who was mentioned in MacKenzie’s comment above, in a criminal conspiracy to cover-up allegations of child sexual abuse in 2007.

To my knowledge, neither Mitchell nor any of the other Pastors implicated in this testimony have formally denied illegally covering up sexual abuse.

If Mitchell and his fellow Pastors were covering for pedophiles then, there’s no reason to think they aren’t still doing so now.

If they turn in known (to them) sexual predators now, they’ll almost certainly go to prison for not having turned them in earlier.

Lastly, I’m thrilled that the article reveals that attorney Susan Burke is committed to pursing more civil litigation that will likely affect CLC members and Pastors.