Updated (Jan. 15): The pending lawsuit against SGM has been updated with more names and charges.
Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), a network of Reformed church plants in 21 countries still dealing with the aftermath of an internal investigation of founder and president C. J. Mahaney's leadership, now faces allegations that its president and board chairman, among other leaders, covered up child sex abuse by church members.
Three female plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Wednesday "allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members" throughout the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Associated Press. Mahaney and board president John Loftness, along with six other leaders, are named as defendants for allegedly failing to report incidents of abuse to law enforcement, encouraging parents to not report them, and "mislead[ing] law enforcement into believing the parents had 'forgiven' those who preyed on their children."
The day the lawsuit–which is seeking class-action status–was filed, SGM stated it was "not in a position to comment on the allegations" because it had not yet seen them. "Child abuse in any context is reprehensible and criminal," wrote director of finance and administration Tommy Hill on the SGM website. "[SGM] takes seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well being of all people, especially the most vulnerable in its midst, little children."
The lawsuit "singles out the church's 'Home Group' structure, in which children are provided with day care so that their parents can attend services, as fostering a poorly supervised environment that enabled the abuse to occur," reported the AP.
SGM made headlines last year when Mahaney took a leave of absence in July 2011 for a "season of examination and evaluation" of charges against him by alienated SGM pastors, including "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." Six months later, SGM reinstated Mahaney in January after vetting the charges against him. In May, SGM announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Gaithersburg, Maryland, to Louisville, Kentucky–a move that drew criticism.
In late September, Mahaney's inaugural sermon at his new church "alluded to the tumult, saying he wanted the church to have a quiet launch," reported the Courier-Journal.
But fallout continues.
Two of the three largest churches in the SGM network–Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, Virginia–are mulling plans to separate from SGM and begin a new association of churches, according to former SGM pastor and board member Brent Detwiler, who led the 2011 charges against Mahaney. In addition, Sovereign Grace Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, has announced that it will end its SGM partnership, citing "loss of trust" and "insufficient accountability."
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