The Religious Leaders and the Least of These in the SGM Scandal

I have been writing about the mess within SGM for about 2 years. In the main, it was because it was symptomatic of what I saw as a larger problem within evangelicalism.

And I consistently get some variation on the question, “Why do you care about this?”

I simply cannot help but care about this. And silently I wonder, “Why don’t more people care about this?” Would that everyone heard from a victim and a parent of a victim.

Isn’t care for the” least of these” at the core of Christian ethics?

Jesus did not say, “Whatever you do unto the greatest of these, you do unto me.” He identified himself with the “least of these.” The greatest human to ever walk this earth, the one through whom all humans were made, identified with the least of them. The ones most likely to be ignored. The ones most likely to be ridiculed. The ones who labored under the thumb of the oppressor. The ones most likely to have no voice against the wealthy, influential and powerful. That is who he chose to identify with.

What we see in the SGM scandal is a naked attempt to hang onto influence and power. Money too?

What else could this be?

This is what we have to ignore: 11 plaintiffs going public with the most horrific accounts of sexual abuse you can imagine, leveled against a denomination, it’s former founder and leader, two churches, and a number of pastors and leaders within. We know for a fact SGM harbored abusers and has publicly stated accusations against them should be dealt with first by pastors. The one time founder and leader of this denomination never saw fit to subject himself to the discipline he enforced against all the pastors in his charge – when his own church saw fit to discipline him, he went to Mark Dever’s church, outside his denomination. We have highly detailed accounts of the unreported abuse and they will give you nightmares. Women and men willing to go on public record. We have a civil case that was not thrown out on the basis of the evidence but merely because the accusers find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having to file the lawsuit in a state with a statute of limitations for such crimes. And there is a criminal investigation also.

All of this has to be worth very little for the praise that breaks the silence to be seen as a wisdom.

A person would have to fall back on some esoteric principal of waiting for the court’s decision to think we should be quiet and continue on as usual with public support of CJ Mahaney.

But that is not all his colleague’s have done. They chose one angry comment to denounce what they call “discernment blogs.” Out of the thousands of comments they could have chosen from, they chose one by a woman who sounded as if she wished bodily harm on the defendants. That one woman was (allegedly!) a victim of rape at an SGM gathering at the age of 13. Once they were made aware of this, an apology should have been issued. But they did not apologize.

And then they said the case was thrown out because the evidence was paltry. No, the evidence was thrown out because of the statute of limitations. And they said no accusation has been leveled against Mahaney. This is also not true. He is accused of not only covering-up by not reporting the crimes (as required by law) but is accused of accepting lavish gifts by a wealthy member accused of abuse. To say he is accused of nothing is patently false and should garner an apology.

He pastored the flagship congregation where of the allegations took place. This was left out of the TGC statement and the now revised T4G statement.

But there has been no apology. Only repeated praise. No expressions of concern. In fact, the expressions of praise and admiration and support for Mahaney far outweigh expressions of concern for the victims.

At this point I know of no member of The Gospel Coalition (which overlaps with T4G) who has publicly expressed any concern over these allegations against SGM under the care of Mahaney or Mahaney himself. No one has asked him to step out of the spotlight.

Listen, I cannot speak for everyone, but I understand the need to support a friend accused of wrongdoing. But what we have happening with T4G and TGC is, “We will not believe your accusations against our friend till they have been proven in a court of law or he admits to them. And until then we will give no credence to the accusers and their accusations.”

I am not their theological enemy. I have attended T4G and written for TGC.

Jesus identified with the least of these. If we as followers of Jesus have trouble identifying who the least of these are in this story and then identifying with them by supporting them, what kind of discipleship have we bought into? One that is merely intellectual? One that is merely an agenda of ideas and rules?

If we side with those whose theology we agree with but have not love for the victims of abuse, we are nothing.

Question: If everything we know now was to be put in a film for us to watch, would we not at the very least, long for one of the religious leaders of our day to express some concern about how all of this is working out among the religious leaders of our day? Would we not look for a Nathan among our Davids?

No one reads a book, watches a movie or takes in a play to watch jet set influential leaders protect the reputations of other wealthy influential leaders. We long to see the wealthy influential leader empty himself on behalf of the least of these.

Empty themselves? The religious leaders of our day don’t even apologize for the factual errors of their statements.

Let me be clear, no one is suggesting it is irrational for Mahaney’s friends to support him. But it serves no one to change nothing, and then to elevate the praise heaped on him. It does not serve the present victims who allege abuse at the hands of men in his charge, and a cover-up of the crimes under his watch. It does not serve those who have yet to come forward about their abuse because they worry if they will be believed. It does not serve the guilty, who need to face their crimes or failures head on. It does not serve local pastors, who look to the the religious leaders of our day for leadership on everything. It does not serve the evangelical church, when the least of these are waved off with the same hand shaking the ones of the celebrity preachers.

And here’s the thing, every time we knowingly share their articles on social media and retweet them and quote them, we say, “Their silence and unwillingness to speak into this situation with the prophetic urgency they did with Paterno, Gosnell, and others is not meaningful. And I will give them a voice for everything else they will say besides.”

We would not accept such silence from the least of these. Indeed, one cannot escape the feeling the religious leaders of our day would prefer for the least of these – the accusers – to be silent.

18 thoughts on “The Religious Leaders and the Least of These in the SGM Scandal

  1. Bill Kinnon June 7, 2013 / 12:21 pm

    They prevaricate with ease in terms of their stated “legal opinion” as you note.

    Their practiced theology is no different from the charismatics — “do not touch the Lord’s anointed.”

    The correct response for we little people is to question them firmly and continually. If they are shamed, so be it.

  2. knitemjenny June 7, 2013 / 12:33 pm

    Excellent post, Matt. These leaders have become noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Sadly, their hubris has trickled down to the local level. Leaders retain their influence and power because we choose to follow them. We’ve tried to reason with them, but they refuse to listen. IMO it’s time for the sheep to vote with their feet.

  3. Liberty for Captives June 7, 2013 / 5:20 pm

    Thanks for this, Matt.

    I have stood at a distance watching this unfold for the past few months. I have not educated myself about all of the legal aspects, and so I stayed out of the fray. But I can recognize a cover-up when I see one.

    As the survivor of a small cult, I learned all about the “Don’t Talk Rule,” which said that anyone who questioned the pastor or said he had a problem was rebellious, divisive, and malicious. I now know that to say there is a problem does not make me the problem. How these leaders are handling themselves is disgraceful. It shows a culture of power and good-ol’-boy support that simply has no place in the gospel.

    You are right. Jesus would speak up for the victims here, not side with a powerful religious leader who manipulates, controls, and obfuscates. Nor his powerful friends.

    What has happened with T4G boggles my mind. Until those leaders issue an apology and identify their redacted statements, I don’t see how anyone can respect them as men of integrity worth following.

    Leave them. They are blind guides.

    • Kathy Ward June 12, 2013 / 10:39 pm

      Can someone please remind us of the names of the T4G folks (and any others) that we should leave and not follow? I only know of a couple of names and I’m certain there are more. I have only been following this for a few months and thus am not 100% informed.

  4. Karl Winterling June 7, 2013 / 5:50 pm

    My guess is that this will eventually be handled like the Ergun Caner scandal and Mahaney will be allowed to quietly step down without having to admit wrongdoing. Ergun Caner’s defenders had the same attitude: e.g., you need to privately confront him first, you can’t say he lied unless he admits it or a court of law finds him guilty, you’re “gossiping,” etc.

  5. fme2 June 7, 2013 / 9:05 pm

    Thank you, Matt Redmond. I love that you pointed out that Jesus identified with the least of these. If you look through the gospels and take note of Jesus’ criticism, it was for the religious elite of the day. Evangelicalism should take note.

  6. Gail June 7, 2013 / 9:16 pm

    IMO, You have the heart of Jesus, your words always floor me. Thank-You for caring for the least, the wounded, the abused…

  7. PM June 8, 2013 / 7:38 am

    So if ever CJ says to the Lord, Please forgive me for my sins. The Lord’s response would be, CJ… You should have asked forgiveness A LONG TIME AGO. No forgiveness for you!!

  8. Heather Halseth June 10, 2013 / 6:06 pm

    Thanks , Matt , for posting this. PM, you have to acknowledge your sin before you can be forgiven… Nice try..

    • Kathy Ward June 12, 2013 / 11:03 pm

      Forgiveness does not depend on our asking for it. God enables us to forgive someone without their asking. Otherwise, the forgiveness is as murder to our own soul. Fellowship is restored if and when someone displays repentance and asks for forgiveness, but extending forgiveness lies with those offended, not with the one who committed the sin.It’s called GRACE.

  9. williamst June 11, 2013 / 8:05 pm

    Thanks for taking a stand Matt.

  10. Wanting to hope June 14, 2013 / 7:44 am

    Thank you so much for your posts, especially this one. I have been walking through a similar situation with a different Christian institution that is currently being investigated. It is another situation where sexual abuse has been alleged to have been covered for decades.
    There are moments when the hope of God is real and other times where he seems so far away and very unreal. It is very hard to see who God is when He was represented by those who committed and covered sexual abuse. I was trying to sort through it all based on my own circumstances and those of others who had experienced similar circumstances to mine. I was just finally feeling like I was starting to separate God from the things that had happened when I learned about the SGM things that happened. My experiences and those of others I know well, took place in fundamentalism, so I pretty much just tried to separate God from fundamentalism. Then when the SGM stories became public, I felt that any hope that God could be good was pretty much shattered.
    Slowly, I have been trying to sort through it. I feel like I am learning slowly. Sometimes I feel like there is no hope and am unsure why I keep trying to search for it. Other times, I see glimpses of who God is and that glimpse provides such a ray of hope that it propels me to keep searching.
    This post was another ray of hope after several days of just wanting to walk away completely. Your explanation of why you are speaking means a lot. I keep wondering why none of God’s people care. I wonder what kind of God he could be when none of his people care about the victims – only the perpetrators and those who protect them.
    I have heard this about Jesus before – that he came to the least of people. I had just forgotten until you posted it. So maybe he came for us…for all of those the church turned their backs on and seems to despise so deeply?
    I’m still thinking through all of this, but wanted to thank you for posting.

    • Sarah June 18, 2013 / 2:57 am

      Dear “Wanting to hope,”
      Just wanted to let you know that there ARE people who care…Unfortunately, I have a good feeling that a vast majority of them (us) are those who can relate to your experience. I wanted to let you know that I lifted up a prayer for you- that our gracious, loving, PERFECT heavenly Father would give you courage.

      -from a sister who cares…

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