“But you can still sleep easy at night knowing this important truth: blessed are the celebrities, for they will be rigorously held to a much lower standard of behaviour than the rest of us.”
-Carl Trueman, “If the Top Men take over, who will ask the hard questions?” Reformation 21 website, 11/24/2013
“If religion cannot tell the truth about itself, it has nothing to say. Hypocrisy – professing one thing and performing the opposite – is the greatest moral violation. In approaching the crisis of clergy abuse, truth must be the preeminent goal. Truth – wherever found, however discovered, whatever it exposes – must be the agenda for any exploration of abuse by clergy. Anything that impedes unflinching directness, honesty, or clear unambiguous communication and confrontation of the facts will perpetuate the secret system in which abuse can continue and flourish.
All concerned citizens have a stake in the honesty of religious leaders. They should be a moral and cultural resource. Religion needs the help of all concerned women and men. Everyone is victimized by a system that fosters or tolerates abuse. It is not unholy or unseemly to be vitally interested in the performance of moral leaders. If religion was taught anything by the German holocaust of the Jews it is that standing by silently does not absolve from guilt. Institutional structures and behaviors are not above question or challenge.”
A.W. Richard Sipe, “Sex, Priests and Power,” page 45
Below is the above mentioned audio of Mahaney rhapsodizing about how smart his guy-pal Al Mohler is:
Janet Mefferd interviews Boz Tchividjian concerning the silence of American Evangelical leaders concerning the class action lawsuit filed against C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.
by Brent Detwiler
Two years ago a “hush fund” masquerading as a benevolence fund was deceptively set up by Mark Prater (Executive Director for SGM), Paul Buckley (Chairman of the SGM Board), and Tommy Hill (Director of Finance & Administration for SGM) in order to surreptitiously meet the demands of a SGM pastor whose son was sexually abused by the son of another SGM pastor in the same church.
The fund came about because the father of the victim was thinking about joining the sex abuse lawsuit against SGM if SGM did not agree to reforms and if he did not receive restitution monies from SGM for harms done. Insurance lawyers told SGM leaders they would lose their liability coverage if payouts were made; thereby, arguably admitting fault. Instead, SGM lawyer Chip Grange suggested a plan whereby monies be raised for the victim’s family as “a collection and private gift to help him avoid eviction.” This plan was approved by C.J. Mahaney and the SGM Board of Directors and implemented by Mark Prater.
As a result, many SGM pastors who knew the pastor that was the father of the victim were contacted and asked to give benevolence to the family. Prater, Buckley, Hill and the Board deceived these pastors into giving personal and church monies to a benevolence fund that effectively functioned as a hush fund. The pastors had no idea what was really going on behind the scenes. They were intentionally deceived in the matter.
People inside and outside of SGM must come to grips with the corruption that characterizes the leadership of SGM starting with C.J. Mahaney. He was the President of SGM when this hush fund was set up. No one should be supporting or following any of these men. As I’ve demonstrated countless times, you cannot believe anything they tell you.
Plaintiff Grace Goe [Olivia Llewellyn-Graham] is one of nine children in the Llewellyn family. Her father goes by the name “Charlie.” I’ve interacted with him on a few occasions and I know some of the people who work for him. Charlie is the President of Llewellyn Realtors in Rockville, Maryland which lists 83 agents on its website. He is wealthy. He is an influential member of Covenant Life Church. And he physically and sexually abused family members according to victims and witnesses. C.J. Mahaney, Joshua Harris, Gary Ricucci, Grant Layman and others conspired to cover up his alleged crimes.
Here are the factual allegations put forward by one of his daughters in the Second Amended Complaintunder the pseudonym, Grace Goe. [Olivia wanted me to write this post and provided critical information. That’s why she publicly commented by name on The Warburg Watch, “Brent is okay to expose my parents. Truth is truth.” (June 5, 2013)]
152. As Donna Doe was being subjected to the terror of living with her pedophiliac father, Defendants were also forcing Plaintiff Grace Goe to endure constant physical and sexual abuse from her father [Charlie Llewellyn], a wealthy man who was and remains a prominent member of the Covenant Life Church.
153. Grace Goe’s father repeatedly beat her on her naked buttocks so harshly that she bled and bruised. Her father would then submerge her into an ice bath to hide the physical manifestations of the beatings.
154. Grace Goe’s father also repeatedly sexually abused her, making her rub his feet, which he then inserted into her vagina. He also molested her on several occasions by rubbing his hands over her breasts, at times outside her clothes and at times against her bare skin under her clothes.
155. Grace Goe’s father engaged in the physical and sexual abuse towards the other children, including the male children, whose penises he repeatedly fondled.
156. Defendants Ricucci and Layman learned of the ongoing abuse no later than in or around 1997, when Grace Goe was 13. At that time, a housekeeper named Mary Burcham reported the ongoing abuse of the Goe children to Defendants Ricucci and Layman, and discovery will show other Defendants. Defendants Ricucci and Layman met with Grace Goe and her older female sibling, who reported the fact of the abuse to the Individual Defendants and sought protection from their abusive father.
157. Rather than report the ongoing abuse to the secular authorities or take any steps to stop the abuse, Defendants informed the father that his children had reported the abuse. This led to further abuse by the father. In exchange for the conspiracy of silence, the abusive father paid to send Defendants Mahaney, Ricucci and Layman and their families on vacation to the Kiawah Islands, South Carolina.
158. On or about September 17, 2008, Plaintiff Grace Goe again reached out the Defendants, seeking assistance in preventing the ongoing abuse of her siblings. Defendants failed to report or take any other steps to stop the ongoing and severe abuse.
159. In May 2010, Plaintiff Grace Goe again sought help from Defendants Layman and Ricucci, as she was concerned that her father was continuing to abuse the children remaining in the house.
160. On May 14, 2010, Defendants conspired to mislead Plaintiff Grace Goe into believing that they would finally assist in ending the abuse. Defendant Grant Layman affirmatively made misrepresentations in writing to Grace Goe, assuring her that “[a]fter the pastors discussed this situation, the bottom line is, we feel a moral obligation to report.”
161. Yet this was a falsehood. Defendant Layman and his co-conspirators again failed to report the abuse, and instead continue to assist the wealthy father in avoiding any consequences for his ongoing abuse of his children.
Confirmation of Facts
I’ve been able to confirm the following.
- The Llewellyn family left Covenant Life Church in 1996. They returned in 2008 and began pursuing membership in 2010. Charlie was denied membership by the pastors but not fellowship in the church. For all intent and purposes, however, he has been treated like a member since his return.
- It appears Grace Goe was motivated to get back in contact with Gary Ricucci (C.J.’s brother-in-law)and Grant Layman (C.J.’s brother-in-law) when her family returned to Covenant Life Church in 2008 (cf. 158) and, then again, when they pursued membership in 2010 (cf. 159). [That is what Olivia told me.] The time frames clearly coordinate with each other.
- Mary Burcham, Grace Goe and her older sister, reported the alleged physical and sexual abuse to Gary and Grant in 1996, not 1997. Approximately six weeks later, Ms. Burcham’s employment as a housekeeper was ended by Charlie Llewellyn. Around the same time, the Llewellyn’s left Covenant Life Church.
- Soon after they left, Charlie sent the Mahaney, Ricucci and Layman families to the Kiawah Islands in South Carolina on an expensive vacation. He covered the costs.
- No reports of physical or sexual abuse were ever filed by C.J., Joshua, Gary or Grant from 1996 to 2012 with the Montgomery County Police Department or the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS).
- Complaint 156 implies Gary, Grant and others knew about the allege abuse before 1996. It says they “learned of the ongoing abuse,” not “they learned of the abuse.” Mary Burcham, Grace Goe and her sister told them the abuse continued. That only makes sense if Gary and Grant had knowledge of previously alleged abuse. This is further confirmed in Complaint 158 where reference to “the ongoing abuse” includes previous knowledge.
- Gary and Grant met with Mary Burcham, Grace Goe and her sister in 1996. C.J. was the senior pastor. I guarantee that when Gary and Grant “learned of the ongoing abuse” so did C.J.!
- I worked with C.J. for 30 years. Anyone withholding this kind of information from him would have been fired in all likelihood. He expected to be involved in things of much less importance. Gary and Grant would have been in huge trouble with C.J. if they excluded him and worked independently of him. Moreover, Charlie Llewellyn was a friend of C.J.’s. Gary and Grant would have told C.J. about the allegations on that basis alone.
- Complaint 156 says “Mary Burcham reported the ongoing abuse of the Goe children to Defendants Ricucci and Layman, and discovery will show other Defendants. Defendants Ricucci and Layman met with Grace Goe and her older female sibling, who reported the fact of the abuse to the Individual Defendants.” C.J. escaped deposition in the civil suit. Maybe he’ll be deposed in a criminal investigation. When he is, it will be shown “the fact of abuse” was “reported” to him by Gary and Grant.
- The alleged physical and sexual abuse was on-going for at least 17 years according to Grace Goe. That means there is a long history. No reports were ever filed by the CLC pastors with the police or the DHHS during this lengthy period of time.
- The documented reporting of “ongoing abuse” to Gary and Grant occurred in 1996, 2008 and 2010. It includes recent history. Joshua Harris replaced C.J. as senior pastor in 2004 but was still being mentored by C.J. in 2010. I have no doubt, Joshua sought C.J.’s counsel and input on how to handle Charlie’s return to Covenant Life, his membership in the church, and most importantly, whether to report the criminal allegations to police and the DHHS.
- Complaint 160 says, “Layman…made misrepresentations in writing to Grace Goe.” This indicates physical evidence in the form of an email most likely. The Plaintiffs’ lawyers would never make such an assertion if Grace Goe was not in possession of that writing.
- The writing says “[a]fter the pastors discussed this situation, the bottom line is, we feel a moral obligation to report.” This discussion occurred in May 2010. It included “the pastors.” Joshua had to be part of the decision to report the allegations of physical and sexually abuse to the proper authorities. He and C.J. knew all about Grace Goe. Tragically, they never followed through on their moral and legal obligation to report.
Recently Bill O’Neil, co-counsel for the Plaintiffs’, was interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show. He provided an answer that defined the meaning of “conspiracy” in simple terms.
Janet Mefferd: Now when you speak of the legal theory you were putting out there to get around the statute of limitations issue; what was the theory you were operating under to get around the statute of limitations?
Bill O’Neil: Our focus was on the conspiracy that we believe, and we had alleged in the Complaint, existed through the upper echelons of the church to coordinate not reporting sexual abuse incidents to the police or to civil authorities. To keep that information compartmentalized within the church so that other church members, church families attending the church wouldn’t know about incidences within their ranks. So you know our focus was on the conspiracy that we alleged is today even ongoing. So most of the instances that the church learned about even in the past 18 months have never been reported to the authorities.
The alleged “conspiracy” is comprised of two parts in this answer. First, church leaders deciding not to notify police or civil authorities about sex abusers. Second, church officials deciding not to tell church members about sex abusers. It’s not complicated.
The SGM Board of Directors has emphatically stated on two occasions that not a shred of evidence exists to shows a cover up or conspiracy of any kind.
“Our careful review of the allegations to date has not produced any evidence of any cover-up or conspiracy.” (Statement by SGM Regarding the Amended Complaint Filed May 14, 2013)
“Let us reiterate that our review of the allegations has not produced any evidence of any cover-up or conspiracy.” (SGM Board: Update on the Amended Civil Lawsuit, May 20, 2013)
You always have to define terms when witnessing to people in the cults. For example, when Mormon’s and Jehovah Witnesses tell you they believe Jesus is God and that he died for your sins. What they don’t explain is what they mean by “God” and “died for your sins.” Their definitions are completely different than the orthodox view of Christ’s deity and atonement. They use the theological language of evangelicalism but with different meanings in order to deceive others into thinking they are Christians.
The Directors on the Board are imitating the cultists. They are not using the legal definition for “conspiracy” as found in the lawsuit or as explained by Bill O’Neil. They mean something like the Defendants never had a meeting where they intentionally decided to lie to law enforcement, do all in their power to cover up sex crimes, and actively deceive church members into believing there were no abusers at work in their midst. Using that kind of definition they can deny “any cover-up or conspiracy.” But that is not the meaning of the words in the Complaint. They are trying to deceive just like the cultists.
I said in my opening paragraph, “C.J. Mahaney, Joshua Harris, Gary Ricucci, Grant Layman and others conspired to cover up his alleged crimes.” That simply means C.J., Joshua, Gary, Grant and others decided not to report the alleged crimes after discussing the possibility. In so doing, they “covered up” the alleged crimes by keeping the police and DHHS in the dark. That’s a legal conspiracy.
Complaint 161 in the case of Grace Goe says the same thing.
161. Defendant Layman and his co-conspirators again failed to report the abuse, and instead continue to assist the wealthy father in avoiding any consequences for his ongoing abuse of his children.
The factual allegations surrounding the case with Grace Goe provide overwhelming evidence of a “cover-up or conspiracy.” You only need ask a couple questions to prove or disprove a conspiracy.
Did C.J., Joshua, Gary, Grant and others talk about whether or not they should report the alleged physical and sexual abuse to the police and DHHS? If so, what did they decide to do? Report or not report? That’s all you need to know to prove or disprove a conspiracy. Did they talk about reporting? Did they decide not to report? If they decided together not to report then they are guilty of a conspiracy.
It is beyond absurd when the Board of Directors says, “Our careful review of the allegations to date has not produced any evidence of any cover-up or conspiracy.” They are lying. There are scores of examples but you only need Grace Goe to prove them wrong.
The Horrors of Not Reporting
C.J. is at fault in all of this. He has directed his pastoral staff not to report sex abusers going back to the 1980’s. When have the pastors of Covenant Life Church ever reported a pedophile or sex abuser operating in their midst to law enforcement or gotten help for victims by contacting DHHS? Not with David Adams. Not with Nate Morales. Not with the teenager that sexually assaulted Renee Palmer (cf. 95-96). Not with Grace Goe. Not with others. Not ever as far as I know.
Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor from The Gospel Coalition are acting like ignoramuses when they assert the evidence for a conspiracy by C.J. does not exist.
“As to the specific matter of C. J. participating in some massive cover-up, the legal evidence was so paltry (more like non-existent) that the judge did not think a trial was even warranted.” (Caron, DeYoung, Taylor, May 24, 2013)
In so doing, they are aiding and abetting someone whose unwillingness to report abusers to law enforcement has allowed abusers to continue their evil craft and devastate the lives of many victims. There has been a “massive cover-up.” When has C.J. or any of his employees ever reported physical and sexual abuse to the police and DHHS. Don, Kevin, Justin, produce the evidence. Now we are talking “so paltry (more like non-existent).”
The factual allegations against C.J. should not only be pressed in a Civil Court for damages, they should be prosecuted in a Criminal Court for jail time. Gary, Grant and Joshua should have defied C.J. when he instructed them not to involve law enforcement.
Furthermore, Carson, DeYoung and Taylor are being disingenuous. They mislead their readers when the say the Judge “did not think a trial was even warranted” based upon a supposed lack of evidence for conspiracy. That had absolutely nothing to do with her ruling. See “Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor Defend C.J. Mahaney Against Charges in SGM Sex Abuse Scandal” (May 25, 2013) for a refutation of their misguided comments.
Grace Goe and Her Siblings
Grace Goe and her older sister first went to Gary and Grant in 1996 because they “sought protection from their abusive father” (156). Not reporting the alleged abuse at the time resulting in “forcing Grace Goe to endure constant physical and sexual abuse“ (152).
Furthermore, “Grace Goe’s father [allegedly] engaged in the physical and sexual abuse towards the other children, including the male children, whose penises he repeatedly fondled” (155). There are five sons and four daughters in the Llewellyn family.[The three oldest children are daughters: Brieta, Olivia and Margaret. All three have accused their father of physical and sexual abuse.]
According to Grace Goe, “Rather than report the ongoing abuse to the secular authorities [in 1996] or take any steps to stop the abuse, Defendants informed the father that his children had reported the abuse. This led to further abuse by the father” (157)
In 2008, “Plaintiff Grace Goe again reached out the Defendants, seeking assistance in preventing the ongoing abuse of her siblings. Defendants failed to report or take any other steps to stop the ongoing and severe abuse” (158).
The Llewellyn’s left CLC in 1996 and returned in 2008. They were involved in other churches during those intervening years. Did Gary and Grant contact the pastors in those churches to tell them about the allegations of abuse?
An entire family has been at risk according to three witnesses: the housekeeper, Grace Goe, and her older sister. All testified to on-going physical and sexual abuse in the family. It is illegal not to report these alleged crimes. But worse, it is unconscionable.
How can anyone claim to be a pastor when he protects the wolves while the sheep are being devoured. Grace Goe’s childhood and youth were destroyed if these allegations are true. [That is the way Olivia described her childhood to me. It was destroyed by physical and sexual abuse.] That is damnable and C.J., Gary and Grant are partly responsible if true. It appears these men put the interests of an adult victimizer ahead of child victims. That is evil.
“Brent Detwiler has informed me that paragraph 179 of the Second Amended Complaint (Link ) against Sovereign Grace took place at Providence Community Church. The “son of a pastor” refers to another pastor on staff at the time who left, not to Matthew Wassink. The family of the abused girl contacted Susan Burke but decided not to join the lawsuit.”
Apparently C.J. Mahaney, Craig Cabaniss (regional leader at the time) and Matthew Wassink conspired together and advised the family of the abused girl not to contact law enforcement.
Detwiler stated: “I have little doubt “defendant” C.J. counseled him not to report.” “
In the audio below “Washingtonian” journalist Tiffany Stanley discusses how many criminal convictions for sexual abuse have come out of the Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches denomination. Stanley wrote a major piece for the Washingtonian titled “The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the rise and fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries. The article can be found here.
Mahaney the blackmailer
Transcript of Phone Conversation between C.J. Mahaney, Doris and Larry Tomczak on October 3, 1997
C.J. ―Doctrine is an unacceptable reason for leaving P.D.I
Larry ―C.J., I‘m not in sync with any of the T.U.L.I.P., so whether you agree or not, doctrine is one of the major reasons I believe it is God‘s will to leave P.D.I. and it does need to be included in any statement put forth.
C.J. ―If you do that, then it will be necessary for us to give a more detailed explanation of your sins.
Larry ―Justin‘s name has been floated out there when there‘s statements like revealing more details about my sin. What are you getting at?
C.J. ―Justin‘s name isn‘t just floated out there – I‘m stating it!
Larry ―C.J. how can you do that after you encouraged Justin to confess everything; get it all out. Then when he did, you reassured him – “ You have my word, it will never leave this room. Even our wives won‘t be told.” I repeatedly reassured him: C.J. is a man of his word. You needn‘t worry. Now you‘re talking of publicly sharing the sins of his youth?
C.J. ―My statement was made in the context of that evening. If I knew then what you were going to do, I would have re-evaluated what I communicated.
Doris ―C.J., are you aware that you are blackmailing Larry? You‘ll make no mention of Justin‘s sins, which he confessed and was forgiven of months ago, if Larry agrees with your statement, but you feel you have to warn the folks and go national with Justin‘s sins if Larry pushes the doctrinal button? C.J., you are blackmailing Larry to say what you want! ―Shame on you, C.J.! As a man of God and a father, shame on you! This will send shock waves throughout the teens in P.D.I. and make many pastors‘ teens vow, “I‘ll never confess my secret sins to C.J. or any of the team, seeing that they‘ll go public with my sins if my dad doesn‘t toe the line.” ―C.J., you will reap whatever judgment you make on Justin. You have a young son coming up. ―Another reason for my personally wanting to leave P.D.I. and never come back is this ungodly tactic of resorting to blackmail and intimidation of people!
C.J. ―I can‘t speak for the team, but I want them to witness this. We‘ll arrange a conference call next week with the team.
Doris ―I want Justin to be part of that call. It‘s his life that‘s at stake.
Below, in an article by Brent Detwiler, Larry Tomczak speaks about the blackmail he was subjected to by C.J Mahaney.
On October 14, 1997 our journal entry records the following: “Larry and our child talked by phone with a lawyer. He advised Larry to tell the Team (the board) to ‘not even think of using our child’s confessed sins to blackmail Larry.’ ‘It’s blackmail and punishable by jail, prosecuted in every state – no exceptions. It’s a breach of penitent/counselor confidentiality.’”
When Ted Kober, the President of Ambassadors of Reconciliation heard the tape recording of what was said to us repeatedly by the Team he dropped his head in dismay while his associate literally wiped away tears.
The panel report says, “CJ allowed for the possibility of making known their child’s sin if Larry communicated that he was leaving SGM over doctrinal disagreement.” This minimizes CJ’s sin and describes it far too mildly. He made a direct, emphatic and unethical threat. He was not allowing for the possibility, he was promising to expose our child. In our conversation, we confronted him three times with the word “blackmail” to describe his threats. His exact words back to us were “I’m stating it!” He threatened us with blackmail!
- At the first mention of the threat, Doris called CJ on it: “That’s blackmail!”
- In two subsequent taped conversations with other SGM leaders we again labeled it “blackmail.”
- An attorney from whom we sought counsel defined it as “blackmail.”
- National leaders who heard the tape recordings referred to it as “blackmail.”
I read the following words to CJ in Nashville from Webster’s dictionary:
“Blackmail: extortion (the act of obtaining from a person by force or undue or illegal power or ingenuity) by threats especially of public exposure.”
Webster’s dictionary defines what it is and, as they say, “It is what it is!” Why soft-pedal this coercive threat that was used to obtain our silence? Plus we have the recordings to prove it and have requested on several occasions that the SGM board and others that were involved listen with us to themselves on the tapes before there’s asking of forgiveness. To date they have dismissed our request.
While CJ, and the SGM board and the panel report acknowledge what happened was “coercive, wrong and sinful,” they all stop short of being specific about the most egregious offense which is immoral, illegal and unethical. It was premeditated, repeated and agreed upon by all the leadership team. (The report makes this clear.)
Departed board members Paul Palmer and Brent Detwiler both cited “blackmail” when they asked forgiveness – the former over 8 years ago! Yet when Dave Harvey called us the week before the report’s release, he (like CJ, Steve Shank and Larry Malament) hedged on using the accurate and serious designation.
Isn’t it time to once and for all stop any “spin,” man up, and confess it for what it is? And an addendum…if CJ and Steve have a “vague recollection” (as stated in the report) of CJ supposedly calling us within a few days to “withdraw the threat” so it really didn’t “hang over” us for over a decade, why when CJ and Steve called our child years later to finally ask forgiveness for some of the areas of offense did they still refuse to call and ask forgiveness of Doris and me even when our child asked them to? Why would it take 14 years before CJ and Steve would finally confess the injustice and even then “tone it down” with softer terminology? These are real questions that warrant real answers. By the way, they have a “vague recollection” of some call. WE HAVE NO RECOLLECTION of any such call! We wouldn’t have forgotten it or failed to put it in our journal of those events!!
In the above statement by C.J. Mahaney there is much credible evidence available to the public indicating he blatantly lied. Some of it is included in this article. Additionally, he stated he looked forward to the day when he could speak freely about the lawsuit, but he could not do so at the time the statement was published because of the ongoing civil lawsuit. The lawsuit was dismissed three years ago due to statute of limitations constraints. C.J. Mahaney has yet to “speak freely.”
On May 23, 2014 the Wartburg Watch featured an article titled:
This article contains a statement by Wallace and Happymom (not their real names) which directly contradicts C.J. Mahaney’s statement. Here is their statement:
A Statement by Wallace and Happymom
“I have never conspired to protect a child predator, and I also deny all the claims made against me in the civil suit”. CJ Mahaney
In response to CJ Mahaney’s recent statement, we offer this rebuttal.
- We met with CJ in January 2009 to discuss our daughter’s molestation and how Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax had handled it.
- There were 3 meetings with CJ and we have emails to verify this.
- He also sent us an article, When Child Sex Abuse Occurs: Considerations for Pastors.
- Details of our family’s meetings are in “Wallace’s Story” April 8, 2011.
- CJ mentioned in one of his emails that he found Noel’s story “heartbreaking”. Her story was made public on December 31, 2008.
- Kenneth Maresco (CLC pastor) was also involved with 2 separate meetings that we had with Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax.
- Both men were well informed on the situation regarding the Fairfax church.
Please the keep victims and victim’s families in your prayers.
Wallace & Happymom
Below is Wallace & Happymom’s story.
Here is a brief description of how the Fairfax Sovereign Grace Ministries church has in the past typically handled sex abuse issues in their church. This depiction can be affirmed by numerous former members who have had similar experiences. The perpetrator of a sex crime and his family were brought under the care of a pastor. This would involve counseling, accountability sessions and possible minor restrictions regarding movement in the church during services. People “at risk” were not notified. The victim and victim’s family however were usually confronted with opposition from leadership by minimizing and/or invalidating particular aspects of the victim’s story.
During 12 years as members of the Fairfax Sovereign Grace Ministries church, two of our children were sexually molested by two different people who attended the church. The molestations did not occur on church property. We had completely forgiven the perpetrators. However, the subsequent mental and spiritual anguish we endured both times in dealing with members of the Fairfax staff motivate us to write and “tell it to the church.”
To blog critics and all others who assert that bringing these issues to the light somehow undermines or weakens the cause of Christ, we would say the behavior of some in the leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries does far more damage to victims of abuse and to a watching world. We share our story with the hope that those with similar experiences will be encouraged to write their own and bring it to the light.
In 1998, we discovered our child (child-A) had been molested by a young man attending the Fairfax church. We did not press charges and regretted this later on. The father of the young man was initially uncooperative in dealing with the situation until Steve Shank stepped in to handle it. This took place during the time frame Benny Phillips was stepping down from leadership. Steve Shank addressed our sin and asked the young man to apologize.
We forgave him; however, with minor restrictions imposed by the staff, he continued to intimidate our child during Sunday services to the point where our child was fearful of going to church. The pastors involved had little to say concerning this as it didn’t appear to be a priority for them.
In October 2007, we discovered child-B had been molested. The molestation had occurred 5 years earlier. Our child revealed to us what had happened only after being hospitalized 7 days for cutting and suicidal thoughts. We eventually found out through our child’s counseling sessions that fear and shame were the two main elements for not telling us about this sooner. Cutting was our child’s way of dealing with misguided guilt and self-loathing.
We then contacted the Police Department and pressed charges. The detective assigned to the case came to the house and listened to our child’s story. The young man confessed the crime to pastor SW (CJ Mahaney’s son-in-law). We were given the impression that pastor DH had also heard the confession. Two and a half years later in March 2010, we were told he did not hear the confession. Pastor LG (our brother-in-law) was also in the loop as we had asked him to supply information requested by the detective but no information was given. Pastor LG said to me, “Have them send the request to us in writing.” The detective told us later on that Fairfax had been “uncooperative” in the investigation…. a fact they later denied.
During the investigation, pastor DH told us they “had a dilemma” because they were caring for the young man and his family. There was no visible concern shown during this time for our child by the staff including our brother-in-law and his family. No inquiring phone calls or emails. Our child had just been discharged from the hospital. When you leave a Sovereign Grace Ministries church for disagreeing with or challenging leadership in any way, all relationships you once had there are severed.
Sometime during the following months, my wife noticed her sister (wife of pastor LG) not speaking about anything associated with our child’s legal case. She would consistently change the subject when our child was mentioned. This led to a meeting we initiated with pastor LG in January 2008. As no other logical explanation for the silence could be seen, we asked him 3 times if he had advised his wife not to discuss with her sister our child’s case. 3 times he answered no. We were told in a future meeting by pastor VH that pastor LG was in fact legally instructed to inform his wife not to discuss the case with her sister for 2 days so that the police could complete their investigation. When this was brought up to the leadership, our questions were ignored. Pastor LG lied to us and was not held accountable.
As a result of our own research we became aware of the fact that pastor LG’s wife was not covered under Virginia’s clergy privilege statute. According to the legal process, she could have been liable for any information she had regarding the case, and therefore could have been called to testify in court on our child’s behalf. Pastor LG (our child’s uncle) put great effort into avoiding this possibility. The truth is that this scenario presented a conflict of interest to pastor LG and members of the Fairfax staff as they were caring for the young man and his family as pastor DH had mentioned. Exactly why this presented a conflict is a mystery.
The trial took place in March 2008. Prior to the trial, not knowing how the young man would plead, we asked pastor DH to come with pastor SW ready to give testimony on our child’s behalf if needed. Pastor DH made it known to us they were not coming to the courthouse. I explained to him if the young man pleaded not guilty, our child would then have to get up in front of the court and reveal the entire ordeal along with answering questions from the attorneys. It didn’t matter, they still weren’t coming. His response to us was, “I have my church’s reputation to consider.” Not sure what pastor DH meant by this statement. In a future meeting with the Fairfax pastors, he claimed not remembering making the “church’s reputation” statement and had no recollection of emphasizing the fact that he wasn’t coming to the courthouse. I called the detective and asked her to issue a subpoena for both pastors to appear in court. Fairfax would later claim there was no need for us to request a subpoena because one had been issued months before. It wouldn’t have made any difference if we knew this information or not. Pastor DH expressed to us they weren’t coming. They also stated in a future meeting they knew the young man would plead guilty therefore coming to the courthouse wasn’t necessary. In reality, there was no way of knowing how he would plead. Nevertheless, he was not held accountable for this and it was put back on us.
Pastor’s DH and SW were at the courthouse for the trial. Pastor LG came a few minutes before the trial and left. His wife did not come. She also didn’t make any attempts to call her sister during the days leading up to the trial. My wife was abandoned by her family. The young man pleaded guilty to a felony.…. Our child did not have to get up and speak to the court.
A short time after the trial, my wife attempted to communicate to her sister the hurt, frustration and lack of care she experienced from her sister and family and it was put back on my wife.
What followed during the next 2 years included a series of meetings, phone calls and emails involving Fairfax and Covenant Life leadership, 2 mediators, and an Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor from South Carolina.
In December 2008, our child (Child-A) now 18 at the time, was greatly affected by Noel’s story after reading it on the blogs. Our adult child contacted C.J. Mahaney [founder and president of Sovereign Grace Ministries] and asked him what Sovereign Grace Ministries had to say about this. Not sure what the response was however, our adult child also described to C.J. Mahaney what our family had endured from the Fairfax staff and as a result a meeting was arranged. We met with C.J. Mahaney and he listened to our story. He was grieved by our experience and asked permission to contact the Fairfax staff. We asked him if he had any knowledge of our story. He said he did not. Over the next few weeks we received emails from him, thanking us for the opportunity to talk to us. He assured us that the Fairfax staff desired to meet and discuss these important issues with us.
In February 2009, the first meeting was set up at our church with 5 pastors from the Fairfax church, C.J. Mahaney, and a neutral third party attending on our behalf. Two days before the meeting pastor LG appears at our door wanting to apologize to our child. We had not seen nor heard from him or his family for 11 months. We asked him what specifically he wanted to apologize for and couldn’t get a straight answer. He wouldn’t answer our questions. Given the state of emotional torment of our child and to block any further confusion, we decided it would not have been in our child’s best interest and said no.
During the meeting, the pastors apologized for not caring for us and poor leadership but avoided our questions. We left the meeting confused and with a new list of questions. A few days later, we discovered that C.J. Manahey had given our neutral third party a check for $5,000…….
A short time after, C.J. Mahaney urged us to begin meeting with pastor MM to iron out our difficulties with pastor LG and his family.
It is important to mention here that although we agreed to meet with pastor MM, we were well aware of Fairfax’s intentions to separate the mishandled sex abuse issue from the personal concerns we had with Pastor LG. The opportunity to minimize the situation to a “family disagreement” had presented itself. They could now step away from the spotlight of “sex abuse issues in the Fairfax church and the way leadership typically responds,” and let the light shine elsewhere.
A number of unresolved issues with pastor LG going back many years still remain. Some of which are extremely painful for my wife and me. However, in March 2009, we began meeting with pastor MM with hopes of seeing some accountability leading to possible reconciliation with pastor LG. We presented pastor MM with a list of questions for pastor LG. After 4 months of meetings and numerous emails, none of our questions were answered. At the final meeting pastor MM said to us, “I find pastor LG to be a man of integrity.” And then he dismissed us. (Simple logic would say, if pastor LG is a man of integrity, we must be liars) We were stunned….Fairfax had once again put the issue back on us.
In a future meeting with the pastors, pastor MM apologized for not answering our questions concerning pastor LG ….but still didn’t answer them.
We contacted C.J. Mahaney and expressed our dissatisfaction with the meetings and final conclusion. He suggested Peacemakers. We declined. He then offered to have Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor JB from South Carolina step into the arena. Our options were diminishing but we were not going to walk away from this. For the next 8 months we spoke to pastor JB on the phone at least twice a month. Our conversations focused on the “family disagreement,” and Fairfax’s response to sex abuse. We had many questions regarding both topics. Questions that had already been asked a number of times and not answered. During our many conversations with Pastor JB, he assured us that Fairfax would now be handling sex abuse related issues differently. After 8 months our questions for pastor LG and a few hard questions for Fairfax were still not answered.
There never were any changes made in how they handle sex abuse…our story proves the point.
In March 2010, a second meeting with Fairfax leadership had taken place. Kenneth Maresco, Pastor JB, and Jim P., moderator for the SGM Refuge blog were also present. We requested that pastor LG attend as well, but he declined. When questioned about this beforehand, pastor LG said, “I do not think my presence in the meeting would be helpful.” And Fairfax backed him up on this. The meeting was arranged in part as a follow-up from our time on the phone with pastor JB. Some of our questions were answered however, a few of pastor JB’s answers had suggested that everything was just a big misunderstanding; that somehow we misinterpreted or perhaps judged motives incorrectly regarding both pastor LG and the Fairfax staff. Also in this meeting pastor DH forgets important information and pastor VH reveals that pastor LG was in fact legally advised by their attorney’s back in October 2007. But in the January 2008 meeting as mentioned above, pastor LG told us 3 times he did not tell his wife not to discuss our child’s case with her sister. And Fairfax was ok with this.
In the same meeting the pastor’s would not let us ask any questions related to pastor LG. It appeared they did not want to deal with the fact that he had lied to us. However, they did want to apologize a second time for not caring for us and poor leadership. We accepted their apologies but there were still unanswered questions. But one hard question was answered; my wife asked pastor MM why they do not warn people at risk when a known sex felon is in their church. His response was, “that perpetrator could grow up and sue us for defamation of character.” So in pastor MM’s mind, the possibility of being sued sometime in the future takes precedence over protecting children from known sex offenders.
An obvious pattern can be seen throughout the story; the pastors were eager to apologize for not caring for us and poor leadership expecting us to forgive, but they would not answer our hard questions. And for some reason they were protecting pastor LG from having to account for the issues we presented. Our forgiveness was premature.
In May 2010, we accused pastor LG of lying, specifically but not limited to the January 2008 meeting we had with him, and 2 consecutive apology letters he had written that were filled with deceptive statements. This led to an “accusation against an elder.” Fairfax’s solution to this was to hire an outside third party mediator to settle things. A professional conciliatory Christian mediator. He was thoroughly impressed with the fact that C.J. Mahaney was involved with this. We reluctantly agreed to do this and had regrets later on. I challenged Fairfax to show us where in the bible do we find that an accusation against an elder is brought to an outside mediator who gets paid for his services? They ignored the question. They were steadfast in maintaining that the struggles we had with the church and pastor LG stay separate and confined to a “family disagreement.” The reality is Fairfax had relinquished their responsibility in dealing with an accusation against an elder so they could walk away from the entire situation. Maybe they were afraid of uncovering pastor LG’s pattern of deception. We had 2 sessions totaling 9 hours in which pastor LG persisted in avoiding our questions and claimed not remembering key facts. The mediator’s summation at the end was that pastor LG had not been deceptive and that we were “sinfully craving answers” according to James chapter 4. We were put in the same category as murderer’s and idolaters!
How did we end up here?
We started out down this road as parents of 2 children who were molested and ended up being thrown into the ring with murderer’s and idolaters!
Only Sovereign Grace Ministries could orchestrate something like this…..
Fairfax was indifferent to the fact that we disagreed with the mediator’s conclusions.
In June 2010, we had our 3rd and final meeting with Fairfax, initiated by Kenneth Maresco and pastor JB as a follow-up to the March 2010 meeting. Kenneth Maresco was not happy with the pastor’s apologies in the March meeting. Apparently they needed to be a little more sincere. They were given the opportunity to apologize once again for the same things they had previously apologized for, not caring for us and poor leadership. But this time, the apologies were more detailed.
A short time after the meeting, our final interaction with Sovereign Grace Ministries was at hand. As a last ditch attempt to at least work out our family difficulties, I asked pastor LG if he would agree to meet with us and another SG pastor. He said, “that aint happening.” And Fairfax backed him up on this. We wanted a person he worked with to witness his response to our questions. We asked C.J. Mahaney, Kenneth Maresco, and pastor VH to intervene and be the witness and they all declined.
Pastor LG’s evasive behavior supported by a shield of protection from Fairfax is a symptom of a much deeper problem in their governmental structure…
The Fairfax church has a history of treating victims of sex abuse and their families in similar ways mentioned in our story. We know 2 other cases and have talked with someone who mentioned knowing 5… all involving the Fairfax church. Noel and Grizzly were told by pastor MM their story had inconsistencies… “Inconsistency” is an Sovereign Grace Ministries euphemism for lying. What pastor MM really meant to say was Noel and Grizzly were lying.
In the minds of Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership they hear from God and tell us what God is saying. If what ordinary people discern fails to line up with their program, they are dismissed. This way of thinking allows them to continuously reinforce their spiritual agenda on a congregation conditioned to think they are being truly humble by accepting this. Where in the New Testament do we find this type of church government?
The faith and well-being of child-B had been severely affected by the molestation and 3 year ordeal with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Our child’s professional counselors have documented the adverse affects of family abandonment and how this contributes to thoughts of guilt and shame in a young child’s mind. Our child’s perception of a loving God had been distorted.
My wife feels the pain of family abandonment plus the abandonment of a church she was a part of for 12 years.
Child-A is grown up and doing very well.
For some reason Fairfax had chosen not to deal directly and not dig deeper into the claims we made concerning pastor LG. He was not held accountable for lying to us. Fairfax hired a mediator who ultimately made the decision as to who was lying and who was telling the truth.
A few of the pastors expressed genuine sorrow for the way our child and my wife and I were treated. Their apologies are nullified because in the end we were the one’s “sinfully craving answers” – murderers and idolater’s according to the paid mediator’s assessment.
We assumed Fairfax was in agreement with this.
Fairfax would say our questions for pastor LG were answered. Here’s the problem; we weren’t there to hear his answers…. They were now finally able to close the door and move on to more important things.
The Fairfax staff told us they have made significant changes in the way they now handle sex abuse issues in their church. Assuming this is true, we applaud their efforts.
The question is how will Fairfax handle their past failures? Will they publicly confess their past sin before our family and the other families who have been hurt by their failure to lead, care, and protect, or will they remain silent and hope no one else comes forward. Will any restitution be made to the families involved?
In light of the damage done, has anyone involved disqualified themselves from professional ministry?
The clergy privilege statute exempts church leadership in Virginia from having to divulge any information to the authorities regarding sex crimes committed by church members. We had contacted a Virginia state senator who had been in the process of pursuing legislation to change this law.
The actions of Fairfax leadership in handling sex abuse in their church are good examples why this law needs to be changed. The senator from Virginia heard our story and agreed.