Jeremiah 5:30-31 “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority.”
Jeremiah 6:13-14 "For from the least of them to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of my people superficially saying, “Peace. peace,” but there is no peace."
We first became aware of Sovereign Grace Ministries when a local Reformed Baptist church began to push Mahaney’s books and the pastor began to quote Mahaney. We later learned that he considers Mahaney a friend. Over the years we have followed, with deep concern, various blogs such as SGM Refuge and SGM Survivors, which have documented story after story of people who have been deeply wounded by this ministry.
Over time, we have boiled down the reasons for this abuse.
1. A belief that all men are so sin infected that they must be led by pastors who somehow get a pass on this sin infection. These pastors then have the honor to tell everyone else what is wrong with them. The favor cannot be returned as reported time after time on SGM survivor blogs. To better understand our point of view, refer to our review of Mahaney’s book, Living the Cross Centered Life, which we deemed a deficient gospel. LINK
2. A rigid, hyper-authoritarian, arrogant, self-absorbed leadership structure that uses heavy-handed methods for dealing with people.
We are not shocked to that Mahaney is in trouble. He should be. In fact, we are surprised this day did not come sooner. However, I am not sure the time for rejoicing has arrived. Here are my concerns. I dearly hope that I am in error.
1. Mahaney’s history in the shepherding movement bodes ill for a change in direction.
As far as we can tell, Mahaney, who got his start in the well-documented abusive shepherding movement in the 1970s, has never issued any apologies for his involvement in the terrible abuses of this movement. It appears to us that Mahaney has been “doing an Amway” (running from reputation) in his career by being a serial name changer: TAG, Gathering of Believers, People of Destiny, PDI, and now SGM. He is even a serial theology changer. Does anyone remember the “apostolic team” or a charismatic emphasis?
Unless he has expressed true repentance for the pain caused by this movement, one has to wonder if he truly believes that shepherding methods are a valid means of coercion in ministry. If this is so, nothing will change but the name.
2. Could Mahaney be pulling off a “John Piper?”
It is no secret that Mahaney admires John Piper who recently returned from stepping down for 8 months to get his life in order. Piper is back, and, from what we observe, nothing much has changed. He is still the much-ballyhooed theologian of the Calvinista movement. We believe that Mahaney hopes to pull off a similar feat.
3. Mahaney’s apology was directed at the pastors/leaders, not the sin-laden masses in his churches.
He may be attempting to limit the damage by restricting the “problem” to the pastors. This sort of issue is easily remedied by making some simplistic changes to the governance structure. The well-documented pain and suffering of many will not be acknowledged.
4. Mahaney made a big point that his sin was not financial or moral.
According to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, LINK, the word “moral” “implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong.” Synonyms include “all right, decent, ethical, honest, honorable, just, good, nice, right, righteous, right-minded, straight, true, upright, virtuous.”
Mahaney seems to be implying that he didn’t steal money or sleep with someone’s wife. This is supposed to make it sound “not so bad.” However, moral has a far deeper meaning. Moral means to understand, and to adhere to, certain notions of right and wrong.
In my opinion, the numbers of people who have reported being abused by SGM leaders, who were put into place by Mahaney, have been deeply wounded by a morally bankrupt leadership who thought more about their own “anointing” than truly loving and serving the people in the pew. Grace appears to be an afterthought.
Even worse, if the documents in the sgmwikileaks are proven to be accurate (so far, no one has claimed otherwise) there are accusations about blackmail, lying, callousness and deceit. In most people’s Book on Morals, these things are wrong and can have far deeper effects on the human soul than stealing some money.
This IS a moral issue and CJ has proven that he doesn’t get it, even now. This does not bode well for any sort of permanent change at SGM.
5. The SGM/Hyper-Authoritarian “Don’t Gossip” Machine is now in full gear in order to “protect” Mahaney.
TWW has written regularly about how spiritually abusive churches and individuals misuse the “gossip” verses to shut down important communication of sin in the church. Here is a LINK to one such post called SHHH, Don’t Talk.”
Here is a quote from Adrian Warnock’s blog on CJ Mahaney’s leave of absence. Warnock is part of the Calvinist movement, which holds up Mahaney as a much admired leader.
He tells his readers
“Not to speculate unhelpfully about these matters online or offline. There is a word for that, gossip, and the Bible has some pretty specific things to say about those who gossip.”
It’s rather interesting that he negatively addresses those who might want to talk about the long and well- documented issues involved yet he doesn’t say one word about warning those who might gloss over the sins of Mahaney and SGM. Why might this be?
If C J Mahaney takes a tumble, it is likely that many in this movement will not be far behind. These people, whom we have dubbed Calvinistas, have exhibited self-assured arrogance in their interpretation of Scripture and authority. Such arrogance breeds pride and self-importance, which places many of them on pedestals. In one of the more ridiculous examples, many of them, Mahaney included, vie for the title of “worst sinner in the world” because, deep down inside, they wish to be thought of as Paul. It is not by accident that, until recently, Mahaney referred to himself as the Head Apostle. The name has changed but the man has not.
(We are planning on having a contest in the near future to help these guys decided, once and for all, who is the worst sinner in the world. Stay tuned for the ballots).
However, the rest of us need to toe the line. I will never forget one pastor’s response when he was confronted by his own failings that resulted in much pain and suffering of some molested boys. He said, I kid you not, “What about MY authority.” No concern about the pain and suffering of others. This man is a Mahaney fan.
6. Be prepared for all of the sycophants to declare that this temporary step down is just an example of Mahaney’s humility.
On Monday, we will discuss the role that cognitive dissonance plays in the denial of Mahaney’s real sin. But, for now, legends worthy of Lord of the Rings are being written. Here is one at Gospel Gripped. LINK
The blogger points out Mahaney’s wondrous response when confronted by these issues. He seems to say that Mahaney is a leader amongst leaders by taking this action.
“The fact is that C.J. was confronted regarding “pride, unentreatability (or being unapproachable), decit (sic), sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.” The world considers this par for the course among leaders. Yet, C.J. will have none of this.”
He is trying to paint Mahaney as this wonderful, godly man who is a leader among leaders. This is patently ridiculous. If the documents, along with the reports of abuse on such blogs as SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge, are to be believed, then Mahaney is among the most callous and self-absorbed individuals in today’s religious firmament. These concerns have existed for years, perhaps decades in some respects. This is not humility; it is hubris! And no amount of redefining will past muster. So can we cut out the fairy tales?
7. Be prepared for the Mahaney apologists to make the reporters into sinners and the sinners into the good guys who have been done wrong.
This is another spiritually abusive tactic, which we have written. We highly recommend the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.
Let’s go through some of these comments from Gospel Gripped post on Mahaney.
“I haven’t been wronged by CJ or by SGM. But I’m tempted to dig deeper into the exact complaints against him when it’s really none of my concern.”
Not your concern, huh? I heard this from people who ignored a bunch of boys who were molested in church and did not receive the help they needed. Your hurting brothers and sisters are your concern and you are responsible when you do not speak out against abusive practices. However, playing ostrich is easier.
“Gossip is casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people. The sgmwikileaks, the sgmrefuge and sgmsurvivors blogs are quite unconstrained. And the authors of those blogs *ought* to be ashamed of themselves for shouting from the rooftops the sins of others against them.”
This person obviously feels that one should keep their mouth shut when confronted by entrenched institutional sin. By this measure, Luther should have never spoken out against the abuses of the Catholic church. Perhaps no one should report those who molest children in churches like has been documented on the SGM Survivors site. LINK to Noelle’s story.
“Those blogs and those documents tempt me to sin by reading them. They don’t build me up, they don’t build up SGM or CJ Mahaney, they only seek to tear down. I would ask you to refrain from publicizing the matter any further.”
Note how he is using spiritual abuse tactics. The victims are the ones who tempt him to sin. The victims are the evil ones. However, Mahaney needs to be built up. I can picture what goes on at the church he attends.
Warning to all who use this tactic: The gig is up. There is a vast difference between "She looks like a whale in that dress" (gossip) and years and years of pain (getting to the truth).
8. Be prepared for organizations and pastors, which have pushed Mahaney, such as The Gospel Coalition, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Mark Dever, and others to go into full-time damage control.
Our guess is that they will stress this is a minor blip in a life-long incredible ministry. There will be talk, almost immediately, about restoring Mahaney to his position. They will not acknowledge the large numbers of reports of spiritual abuse by the great unwashed. They do not matter, only the patriarchal leaders are important. In fact their response in this matter will help us at TWW to solidify our thoughts on this matter.
9. This matter may need outside help, but not by calling Ken Sande.
If you see Points 1-8 occurring, go public. There is only one way to get these guys to respond correctly and that is to get the press to pay them a visit. Already, Gannett has picked up on this development, which means that the cat is out of the bag.
It is always amazing to me that pastors are more than willing to ignore their "flock" when they are questioned about difficult matters. However, they become very concerned when questioned by the press. Could it be that our sovereign God put the press in place to keep certain pastors honest?
Here is my philosophy on this matter. These guys claim to be “missional.” They want to plant churches and have the world observe their witness. So, they don’t get to choose what the world observes. The world will, and should, see the church with all of its ticks and fleas. It’s time to let the light shine on ministries. If the ministry doesn’t like what is showing up, maybe they should do some changing.
As you know, Mahaney has contacted his buddies Mark Dever and Dave Powlison to be his sounding board. If you think this "accountability" is going to help, you might need to think again. We will write more on this matter, along with the evident cognitive dissonance amongst the Calvinistas, next week.
7/9/11 addendum: We received this comment from Matthew Perry, whose blog we quoted. It seems he has had a change of heart.
Matthew Perry on Sat, Jul 09 2011 at 07:13 pm (Edit)
"Thank you so much for linking to my blog. Before you take time to disparage my thoughts on C.J., please note that when I wrote those, I only took C.J.’s remarks at face value, having no knowledge of the significant backstory that had been accumulating for 15+ years. I know it may have been convenient to find a blog to use to make a point about those who are blindly following C.J.
Do not count me among those. Knowing what I know now (if you had read my follow-up comments with that post, you would see this), Mahaney needs help and needs to be away from this ministry for a significant amount of time, if not for good."
Lydia's Corner: 2 Samuel 13:1-39 John 17:1-26 Psalm 119:81-96 Proverbs 16:6-7