Covenant Life Church Claims Omissions, Distortions and False Allegations!

By | February 20, 2016

“O my people, your leaders mislead you; they send you down the wrong road.”
Isaiah 3:12

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
-John Adams

“Intelligent people tend to talk about the facts. They don’t sit around and call each other names. That’s what you can find on a third grade playground.”
-Ben Carson

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Ariel view oF Covenant Life Church

Aerial view of Covenant Life Church

Covenant Life Church, former flagship church of the Sovereign Grace Churches denomination, has been at the center of what some have called “the largest sexual abuse scandal to hit the Evangelical church.” Over the last several weeks two respected secular magazines have published articles about the scandal.

The first story, titled, “The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the Rise and Fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries,” was published by the Washingtonian. I was able to obtain a copy of the story on January 22nd. The story was released free of charge on February 14th.

The second story, titled, “Inside the Investigation Into Child Sexual Abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries,” was published by TIME magazine. The story came out on February 16th.

Tiffany Stanley, the journalist who wrote the article for the Washingtonian, had kept Covenant Life Church apprised of her work and they were alerted at least a week ahead of time to the fact that the story would hit the streets on January 22nd.  This allowed Covenant Life Church to brace themselves for the public reaction, a reaction that they undoubtedly underestimated. Covenant Life Church held a members meeting on January 17th, and this is what was said:

2016-01-21 Dave MacKenzie drinking Kool-aid

Church leaders characterized the story as a Satanic attack, coming at a most unfortunate time, a time when CLC was ready to move forward with a new senior pastor who had no history with the controversies; and at a time when the problems related to child abuse had already been dealt with, or were being dealt with; a time when most in the church were ready to put the past behind them.

As noted at the bottom of the CLC statement, Mark Mitchell signed the document on February 7, 2016, but it was not published until February 19, 2016, three days after the TIME story was published.  What that means to me is CLC attorneys had crafted the response after the first article was available for purchase, but prior to it gaining wide dissemination due to it being free to the public. CLC attorneys are aware that another lawsuit will be filed against them in Virginia by Susan Burke.  The new lawsuit will not have any questions of being within the statute of limitations.  Sworn testimony will be taken. Therefore CLC attorneys had to be very careful in what they said in this statement.  They were most likely hoping they would not have to publish the statement, but after the TIME article was published on February 16th the public outcry became so great that they were left with no good alternative other than to publish their document.

You will notice the document contains a brief history of the church, is full of general platitudes, admits to no errors or sins, have implemented policies where staff will report abuse immediately to civil authorities, and characterizes all charges as having omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church.

Basically it is a cleverly crafted PR piece, one that non-thinking church members and community members will hopefully read and then come to the conclusion that all is well in CLC.

We refuse to let CLC off so easy. As Ben Carson said, “intelligent people tend to talk about the facts.”

What follows is a statement published on the Covenant Life Church website. Read through it and then we will refresh your memory with some inconvenient facts.

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2016-02-20 CLC Blog title

Covenant Life Church has been a part of the Montgomery County community for nearly 40 years. Since our earliest gatherings in 1977, our aim has been to nurture the spiritual life of our members and work for the good of our neighbors.

Like our city and county, we’ve gone through many changes, but the foundation of our faith and message has remained the same: In Jesus Christ there is forgiveness, freedom and hope. At Covenant Life, we endeavor to help one another and the community around us find life in Him.

You may be reading this because you’ve seen or heard media reports that paint a different picture, one that suggests our church is insensitive to victims of child abuse. Such coverage has omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations, and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church.

Our society instinctively knows child abuse is abhorrent and our laws rightly reflect its grievous nature and devastating effects. Covenant Life shares this abhorrence and condemns child abuse in all its forms. Our hearts ache for those who have experienced abuse, and we strive to be a community where victims of child abuse and all injustice find healing and hope.

Like the educational community and our broader society, we have learned much over the past four decades about how to respond to reports of abuse and provide the best possible care and counsel to victims and their families.

In this regard, Covenant Life has benefited from working with local law enforcement and social services on matters of safety, security and sexual abuse awareness. Our interaction with civil authorities has been instrumental in shaping our policies and procedures for the protection and care of children.

Simply put, when a pastor, staff member or volunteer has reason to believe a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, our policy requires those individuals to report it immediately to civil authorities.

Every Sunday, hundreds of families participate in our church services and entrust their children to the care of our staff and volunteers. We will continue to work hard to ensure our church is a place of safety for children and a place of healing for victims.

We believe anyone who visits our church will find a welcoming environment to explore faith in Jesus Christ. We look forward to continuing to serve Montgomery County and the greater Washington, D.C., region for decades to come.
Mark Mitchell
Executive Pastor, Covenant Life Church
February 7, 2016


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A reader has suggested that I include the video where former CLC Senior Pastor Joshua Harris looks into the camera and lies about covering up abuse and involving authorities.  You can view it at this link.  Harris lying begins at the 1:50 mark.






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“Above all, I think many of the families want Sovereign Grace to acknowledge publicly that mistakes were made. A little more transparency might go a long way. They want that accountability. It’s galling to them that Sovereign Grace leaders like C.J. Mahaney are still revered, still headlining conferences, and still running churches, with powerful evangelical allies on their side.”
-TIME Magazine

“Rather than denying that we are unfaithful and inconsistent, we have another option: the good news is that when we are honest before God regarding our faithlessness, our merciful Savior forgives and restores us. We no longer need to make promises we cannot keep. And we no longer need to live under half-truths and dishonestly earnest desires. We can live instead in the rest of our faithful Lord.”
-Alex Large, The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News For Today (and Every Day), page 84

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2016-02-20 Confession Repentance Restitution

                The above is a quote I found on the SGM Survivors blog.

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Not true. Most people still love CLC. It’s still a great Church, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Sorry, Tim, your religious beliefs don’t give you or your Church the right to commit crimes in the United States of America. If you don’t like the laws against child sexual abuse in the U.S., perhaps you and your friends at Covenant Life Church should move to another country.

😉 Thanks. Janna

“You may be reading this because you’ve seen or heard media reports that paint a different picture, one that suggests our church is insensitive to victims of child abuse. Such coverage has omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations, and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church…Is Covenant Life Church saying that even the victims whose stories are backed up by criminal convictions have made false allegations? If so, is the Church slandering victims of child abuse in a not-so-sensitive way?”

I doubt they’re literally saying everything’s a lie. Their statement is just a way of lying without lying, i.e., if there are 100 allegations against your and 98 of them are true,any competent lawyer will focus on the 2 incorrect ones and can truly state that there are “distortions” and “false allegations”. Those false, distorted things might be trivial, such as such-and-such happened at 10am when it really happened at 11am, but you can still refer to it as false and distorted. It seems that for all their huffing and puffing, they didn’t really deny much. They denied in the vaguest, weakest possible way, then gave a Miss America speech wrapping themselves in all things good and virtuous–but again, they didn’t really come out and deny much at all, if anything.

Thanks for your comment, truth detector. You make some good points about the degree to which the victims and alleged victims are accused of lying. Covenant Life Church may be nit-picking about the allegations against them as opposed to flatly denying that they’ve ever covered up child sexual abuse.

However, to me, the language in the statement does not suggest that CLC perceives that its public relations problems stem from an otherwise honest victim, respecting their claim of being raped or molested, saying abuse took place on Dec. 25 and it really took place on Dec. 27.

“You may be reading this because you’ve seen or heard media reports that paint a different picture, one that suggests our church is insensitive to victims of child abuse. Such coverage has omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations, and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church.”

To me, the language above communicates that Covenant Life Church considers all its critics to be lying pieces of crud. I find this strange given how many of the victims’ stories are now backed up by criminal convictions, AND the fact that one former Pastor swore under oath that all of the CLC Pastors got together in 2007 and agreed not to report allegations pertaining to Nate Morales, who has been convicted of molesting kids at CLC, to the police.

In other words, the statement’s implication, to me, is that the allegations against the Church and its members and Pastors are flakey and unsubstantiated when they are in fact backed up thousands of pages of legal documentation and more than 10 criminal convictions. I know that because I’ve been to the relevant courthouses to look at this material.

If CLC believes that the convicted perpetrators have been falsely convicted or that former Pastor Grant Layman lied under oath when he said that all the CLC Pastors colluded to protect a pedophile in 2007, it should say so instead of whining about being, “mischaracterized.”

Covenant Life Church Provides No Way For the Public to Follow Up About The Content of the Statement

Perhaps what’s more significant is that CLC has not given you, me, or any other member of the public an easy way to follow-up with them about questions we may have regarding the statement despite the fact that it virtually angrily demands that the public consider the Church a safe place for children despite the fact that the statement contains no factual information whatsoever backing up that contention.

The blog post on which the statement is written is closed to comments, so people can’t follow up through that venue. Mark Mitchell, the Pastor who signed the statement, references the Church’s child protection policy but doesn’t provide a link to it. Nor does he give people a spokesperson to whom they can address questions about the Church’s child protection policies or any other issues of concern.

The above are all standard things that any responsible organization would do to build credibility when addressing any public relations problem, much less one of this magnitude.

If CLC was really interested in protecting children, I think it would have done more than post a diatribe blaming the media for the negative publicity it started getting long before the mainstream media picked up on the “Covenant Life Story.” CLC has known about and ignored allegations of covering up abuse, for decades. The only thing that’s changed is that the mainstream media has now taken an interest in this story and that’s really affecting the Church’s body line.

Therefore, I stand by my contention that CLC’s statement has ultimately done nothing but slander victims. I realize that other people may look at things differently.

I also submit that CLC needs to understand that, as a friend told me, the burden of proof is on it in convincing the public that CLC is a good Church that provides a safe environment for children. Not the other way around.

Thanks. Janna


It occurred to me that Covenant Life Church Pastors and their devotees have a long history of treating the so-called sin of slander as being almost as bad as the sin of murder. However, it’s hard to think of a more unsubstantiated slanderous statement than the one below:

“You may be reading this because you’ve seen or heard media reports that paint a different picture, one that suggests our church is insensitive to victims of child abuse. Such coverage has omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations, and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church.”

Is Covenant Life Church saying that even the victims whose stories are backed up by criminal convictions have made false allegations? If so, is the Church slandering victims of child abuse in a not-so-sensitive way?

Also, I’m not sure that whoever crafted this statement has actually read the un-named media reports in question, as the ones I’ve seen or heard do not suggest that Covenant Life Church is insensitive to victims of abuse.

Rather they provide lots of evidence that the Pastors and devotees of Covenant Life Church have created, and are probably still creating, victims of sexual abuse by letting known or credibly suspected pedophiles wander around the Church premises looking for kids to molest.

And that they have had/still do have a financial motive for doing so.

Thanks. Janna

Notice to CLC, sorry but most of your former members are not ready to put this all behind us until you admit your wrongdoing, attempt to make restitution where it is possible, and justice where it is required.

Until then, expect to be made the focus of blogs and the media.

Serving Kids in Japan

Reminds me very much of another self-styled “ecclesiastical leader”, the one currently ruling over Hubbard’s cult. He and his underlings resolutely refuse to take part in interviews, or answer questions in any format which they can’t control. And then they have the nerve to complain that reporters only ever tell “one side of the story” about them!

Dear Pam and Marcia:

I’m just an ordinary person but rest assured that the people who have caused you, others, and society so much grief will never feel that they can simply “move on,” as far as I’m concerned.

I will work to bring them to justice for the specific crimes they have committed in this life or the next, if necessary. (That’s meant to be expression of commitment, not a statement about reincarnation.)

That’s what I feel called to do and what I will do. And I know that others feel the same way.

Thanks. Janna

Marcia: Thank for your boldness. My absolutely breaks for what you and your sons have been through! And all of Nate’s victims. How different so many lives could have been, if this now convicted pedophile had been immediately turned into the police by the pastors, who knew of his crimes. I pray for your family’s peace and healing.

Bill M

“CLC is ready to put the past behind it” How convenient for them.

If CLC would stop sacrificing the truth in an attempt to preserve their self justification they might actually be able to “move on”. But it is all to typical, perpetrators want to move on well before their victims are ready. That in itself betrays the interest at CLC is in themselves and not with their victims.

I find the whole, “we should be allowed to move on,” argument to be an indirect way of saying that people at CLC think they should be considered above the law. In the real world, individuals who commit crimes don’t get to move on until they’ve repaid their debt to society and/or the individuals they’ve harmed.

What would society think if I ran someone over while drunk and then said that my religious beliefs should give me the right to move on without going to prison or compensating the person I ran over for their losses?

The other weird argument that CLCers constantly make is some variation of the following:

“The abuse occurred (insert a number of years) in the past and God doesn’t call us to dredge up old mistakes.

1) They’re almost always wrong about the date that the most recent abuse, which is backed up by criminal convictions, occurred. This is true even though the time-frame gets smaller and smaller every time I hear this argument. Pretty soon, a CLCer will tell me that God doesn’t call us to think about child sexual abuse that happened last week because it took place in the past.

2) They’re arguing in the existence of some kind of divine statute of limitations. Does the Bible say that God doesn’t care if you’ve committed a crime as long as you get away with it for a certain number of years?

I hate to think about what some of these people will sound like under cross-examination during a trial.


You say a crime was committed. Have the police arrested anyone? They conducted an investigation. Are you going to also accuse the county or state police of being part of a grand conspiracy?

Hi Tim,

According to CLC member Dave MacKenzie, Mark Mitchell said that CLC’s critics were part of a Satanic conspiracy to destroy the good work CLC is doing. Do you think that I’m part of a Satanic conspiracy to ruin your Church, Tim?

If so, what’s the factual basis behind believing that Covenant Life Church is being attacked by Satan?

Thanks. Janna


No. And neither does anyone at CLC. I know Dave Mackenzie, he still attends CLC. I’ll ask him, about what you write.

Thanks for checking on this issue for me, Tim. Please see this post that includes the public comment Dave Mackenzie made claiming that Mark Mitchell said that the timing of Tiffany Stanley’s Washingtonian article was part of a Satanic attack against Covenant Life Church, during a members-only meeting.

Thank you.

Best, Janna

Please note that you are the only person claiming to be affiliated with Covenant Life Church who has denied that Mr. Mitchell claimed that CLC was the victim of a Satanic attack, to my knowledge. Therefore, your comment “No. And neither does anyone at CLC.” is not based on facts. You cannot speak for everyone at Covenant Life Church generally either.

Thanks. Janna

Marcia Griffeth

I believe if Covenant Life Church would have handled the abuse by Nathaniel Morales in the proper process, that I never would NEVER have married him and placed my 5 sons (8,13, 18 yr old twins, and a 23yr old – at the time of our wedding) in harms way! We were married in 1994 only a short while after the abuse done to the 4 male victims presented in his trial. Nathaniel continued his control and charm over 19 years of our marriage and after his arrest learned of 7 more victims – including 3 of my sons! I never knew until the time of his arrest of any of this! I contacted a Pastor friend of ours after Nate’s arrest to tell him what had happened. This was when he told me of his concern for me because of my 5 sons – Nate informed him when we visited the Pastor that “he didn’t have that problem any more and that I knew about his past!” Are you kidding me?!!! Do you think I would have ever married him and exposed my sons to his predatory methods?!!! Unlike Nate’s Public Defender who claimed Nate was unlikely to commit this behavior again – but HE ALREADY HAD! And would have continued to! I thank God that no more young men will ever be his victims! I was honored to testify to show that he was competent to stand trial. I was honored to meet 3 of the 4 young men at that Competency Hearing and am so thankful they came forward boldly to stop him from harming more boys!
Marcia Griffeth

Marcia, thanks so much for commenting on this blog. I’ve spent 5 years advocating against abuse at CLC/SGM and it took me months to get over the emotional impact of reading your ex-husband’s file at the Circuit Court in Rockville.

It’s not just the Pastors who have committed heinous crimes. Hundreds of people, including regular CLC members and Care Group leaders, had to have known that Nate Morales was a serial pedophile and did nothing but enable him to keep molesting kids.

In my opinion, Covenant Life Church also cannot claim that there were only allegations against your ex-husband because he confessed, to at least two prominent Pastors, that he was molesting kids.

Again, thanks for your comment. Best, Janna (Todd’s assistant)


If Nathan Morales’ own wife didn’t know, how was a regular member of a Church going to know. Pedophiles manipulate everyone around them, even their families and Churches. Thank God he’s in jail.

In my opinion, if you look through the files at the court house pertaining to Morales, it’s hard to believe that a significant number of ordinary members and Care Group leaders didn’t know that he was molesting kids and chose to look the other way.

In my experience, defenders of CLC are good at looking the other way.

I hope we can agree that Morales would never have gone to jail if we’d had to rely on the CLC Pastors to turn him in. He confessed to at least two of them and they just let him keep doing what he was doing according to major media sources:

CLC Pastors Admit Not Reporting Alleged Abuse

Thanks. Janna

Serving Kids in Japan

Great post, Todd. Thanks for all of these reminders.

I’ve got one for Mark Mitchell:

Such coverage has omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations, and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church.

So whose fault is that, Mitchell? Tiffany Stanley says that she tried contacting you and yours more than once, and got rebuffed every time. If “crucial information” is missing, why didn’t you supply it? If there are “false allegations” and “mischaracterizations”, why didn’t you correct them?

If you’re not going to go on the record, don’t complain that your side of the story isn’t being heard. What a bunch of whiners.

I’m Janna, Todd’s assistant. Thanks for the comment. Covenant Life Church has a long history of refusing to talk with journalists and then arguing that the media is constantly portraying the Church unfairly. Now they’re not even bothering to read articles about CLC before saying their content is false, part of a Satanic attack, (insert some other reason for ignoring facts).

Such coverage has omitted crucial information, perpetuated distortions and false allegations, and mischaracterized Covenant Life Church.

In general, it’s hard to argue with logic like the above when it’s not substantiated by either factual information or intelligent reasoning. 😉


Hey Todd- you hit it out of the ballpark.

Would it be possible to add the TV clip Paul Kellen posted at SGMsurvivors where Harris looks straight at the camera and says he never covered up any sex abuse? I know that is past history….but part of the history of denial. I tried to find it, but short on time.

Anyway, good job, thanks.

Hi 5Years:

Thanks for the heads up. I’ll ask Paul if he still has the clip. Thanks. Janna

Todd, you are so sharp. The fact that the statement was dated 12 days before it was released says the following things:

1) It was created prior to the release of the Time Magazine article, which has likely been the most devastating “unfair media attack” that Pastor Mark Mitchell is talking about.

The statement is vague and so obviously written by lawyers that I suspect it was crafted prior to the release of the Washingtonian article, as well. That means that CLC is not evaluating the so-called unfair media accounts they’re so upset about. They’re just flatly objecting to any criticism of their Church.

If that’s the case, they’re not serious about protecting children; they just want to protect their Church.

2) It doesn’t inspire confidence in the competence of CLC’s Pastors and other leaders. I don’t think I want to entrust the safety of my kids to people who can’t even correctly re-date their lawyer-crafted statement saying that they aren’t presently harboring pedophiles.

Also, the tone and content of Covenant Life’s Church’s statement about what they perceive as unfair media attacks on their Church does not inspire confidence. Mark Mitchell doesn’t come across as caring about victims of sexual abuse. Rather, he sounds like someone terrified about losing his job.

I have written evidence proving that CLC didn’t even start crafting a formal child sexual abuse policy until 2011. That’s not great considering that all States had mandatory reporting laws (not necessarily for clergy) by 1967.

There was also a message on CLC’s website, in 2015, advising people who volunteer in the nursery that they had to take a training class about preventing child sexual abuse no matter how long they’d be watching kids at CLC.

To me, that says the following two things:

1) CLC didn’t start making volunteers taking a training class about preventing child sexual abuse until 2015.
2) CLC’s long-term nursery volunteers didn’t think they needed to attend a formal training class about preventing child sexual abuse, in 2015.

Thanks again for the article, Todd.