"What a day @IDCRaleigh. Couldn't imagine a more edifying/encouraging day. Grateful for how the Lord used C.J. #grace"
"@Tony Merida. @IDCRaleigh. Good Lord. @CJMahaney should not be preaching anywhere. Look at this man's record."
Patrick Henderson's Response to Merida's Tweet
As the Neo-Cals prepare for their bi-annual gathering, Together for the Gospel, one of their leaders continues to garner bad press — this time in the highly conservative WORLD Magazine.
C.J. Mahaney, founder of Covenant Life Church, figures prominently in an article published yesterday regarding the recent arrest of Larry Ellis Caffery. It begins as follows:
The day before Easter, members of Covenant Life Church learned police had arrested one of their former children’s ministry volunteers on charges of child sexual abuse. The news cast a familiar pall over the Gaithersburg, Md., congregation already struggling under the cloud of past child sex abuse allegations within its membership.
On March 16, Montgomery County, Md., authorities charged Larry Ellis Caffery, 66, with nine counts of child sexual abuse and two counts of false imprisonment. His arrest comes as the threat of a new class-action lawsuit looms over Covenant Life Church (CLC) founder C.J. Mahaney and leaders within Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC,), formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries, over allegations they covered up accusations of child sexual abuse involving church members decades earlier.
A 2012 civil lawsuit alleged Mahaney, CLC, SGC, and others covered up sexual abuse in SGC churches, including CLC, the former flagship church of the SGC coalition, of which it is no longer a member. A Montgomery County judge dismissed the case in 2013 on technical grounds but did not rule on the merits of the case. Mahaney denied the charges against him. In 2014, a Maryland jury convicted former CLC youth ministry volunteer Nathaniel Morales on five counts of sexual molestation related to events in the 1980s and 1990s.
As you read the next portion of the article, keep in mind that C.J. Mahaney, who pastored CLC for 27 years, turned over the reins to Joshua Harris on September 18, 2004, and maintained his office in the CLC facility until Sovereign Grace Ministries headquarters was relocated to Louisville, Kentucky in 2012. Denny Burk shared the announcement in April 2012, and the relocation happened several months later. The move is difficult to document because it appears much of the information pertaining to it has been deleted from the Sovereign Grace Churches website.
The WORLD article went on to state:
In 2004, Caffery began volunteering in the CLC children’s ministry. He served every year, with the exception of 2005, until 2010, according to church records. According to his autobiography, Caffery has been married twice, and in 2005, when the book was first published, had two young children.
Most of the charges against Caffery are felonies. The false imprisonment charge does not necessarily mean an alleged victim or victims were locked up.
“False imprisonment would be when someone goes into a room with another and does not let them out,” Korionoff said.
CLC leaders have expressed sorrow over the situation—while trying to distance the church from the alleged crimes.
“I’m saddened by what’s taken place,” CLC executive pastor Mark Mitchell told Washington, D.C., radio host Kojo Nnamdi during a March 31 interview about Caffery and the abuse cover-up allegations. “And I’m saddened that another person has been the victim of criminal activity. I’m grateful that it did not take place on church premises.”
Although CLC is not under investigation and requires volunteers working with minors to pass criminal background checks, a former SGC leader turned ministry critic, Brent Detwiler, contends church leaders should have known Caffery posed a potential threat, arguing he said as much in his autobiography.
Caffery confessed in the book that he worried issues from his past might cause him to abuse a daughter if he ever had one. Nnambi cited that passage in the book and asked Mitchell if any CLC pastors knew about it.
According to Mitchell, a “senior pastor at that time” received a copy of the book and passed it on to pastor Robin Boisvert for review and possible sale in the church bookstore. At the time of the book’s release, Joshua Harris was CLC’s senior pastor, having succeeded Mahaney in 2004.
Mitchell told Nnamdi that Boisvert gave the book a cursory read and “at that time he did not pick up the detail.” But, according to Nalle, Boisvert did note the “critical tone” of one passage that was in contrast to the book’s theme of grace. He recommended the church not carry the book because “our bookstore does not generally carry members’ self-published testimonies,” Nalle said.
Caffery continued to work in the children’s ministry for another five years.
“I am sure that if that pastor had seen the lines you describe it would have been addressed,” Harris told me via email.
Currently a student at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, Harris has “vague” recollections of Caffery’s book. He had no knowledge of Caffery’s arrest until contacted by WORLD.
How many more sex abuse allegations will come out of CLC and other Sovereign Grace Churches?
None of these shocking developments seem to be affecting the true believers. As a case in point, a church located very close to my home here in Raleigh called Imago Dei enthusiastically welcomed C.J. Mahaney last Sunday. He delivered one of his canned sermons – Cravings and Conflicts. Some of you may remember that before we launched our blog, Dee and I attended Sovereign Grace Church in Apex, where Mahaney preached this exact same sermon. It was January 25, 2009 (link). If you click on the link, you will see the following:
NOTE: This is a recording of the same sermon delivered at another time and place. There were technical issues recording the sermon at Sovereign Grace Church.
As far as we are concerned, the 'technical issue' was that Mahaney spent so much of his allotted time talking about the Duke vs Maryland basketball game which he had attended th day before that he did a poor job with the message. That's why it was replaced with another one (in our ever to be humble opinions). This was our only experience in hearing C.J. in person, and we are surprised that so many Neo-Cals regard him as their hero. After all, the highest level of education Mahaney achieved was a high school diploma, which he wears as a badge of honor.
Imago Dei's Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Tony Merida, who also serves as an Associate Professor of Preaching at SEBTS, sent out this Tweet last Sunday (see screen shot below):
As you can see, Tony Merida got some pushback on Twitter. Dee tells me that Tony has now blocked her.
No doubt it's exceedingly difficult for your hero to be criticized. In his Curriculum Vitae, Merida lists his heroes as follows:
Tony Merida earned all of his advanced degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and his dissertation topic was “The Christocentric Emphasis of John Piper’s Expository Preaching”. Is it any wonder he is "Pastor of Preaching and Vision" — just like his hero Piper?
Tony Merida's reading list is very revealing, with Mahaney's books figuring prominently on the list. Perhaps Mahaney and gang will return the favor and promote Merida's lastest book Ordinary: How to Turn the World upside down at T4G2016. That seems to be the name of the game in the Neo-Cal crowd – you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours…
Folks, this is the predicament conservative Southern Baptists are facing here in the Triangle area. So many churches that should appeal to us are driving us away because they are aligning themselves with Mahaney and gang. I am so grateful that Dee and I began seeing this trend in the latter part of 2008. Since that time the situation has gotten worse. A couple year ago C.J. spoke at a well-established Baptist church here in Raleigh. Mahaney and the pastor who invited him are good friends and served together as Council Members of The Gospel Coalition. Of course, Mahaney resigned his position about a year after that speaking engagement. It was during that visit that I found out from my daughter that Mahaney addressed N.C. State's Cru group (she was a Cru member and has since graduated).
Why the incredible allegiance of the Neo-Cals to C.J. Mahaney? Perhaps the bottom line is that Mahaney has purchased their loyalty. After all, we have him personally giving at least $100,000 to Southern Seminary, and the organization he headed, Sovereign Grace Ministries, donating at least $100,000 to SBTS, not to mention smaller amounts given by Covenant Life Church. Then we have the funds given to Wayne Grudem so that he could do additional research. Thabiti Anybwile recently admitted in a Tweet that Mahaney donated $5,000 to his church after a hurricane struck. Furthermore, it's no telling how much money Mahaney and SGM (now SGC) donated to 9Marks. And, of course, T4G has turned into quite a cash cow. Has anyone considered how much money is being raked in through registration fees, book sales, etc.? What happens to all that money? Just like members of Covenant Life Church and SGM churches who had no idea where their donations were going, T4G participants wouldn't dare challenge their leaders.
As more and more people come forward who have been terribly hurt by Mahaney and gang, we are stunned by the silence of the Neo-Cal crowd. There certainly appears to be a dearth of discernment among those who belong to the 'Mahaney Admiration Society'. They choose to believe the best about C.J. and discount the testimonies of those who express pain as a result of being in Mahaney's network of churches.
Fortunately, some are speaking out against C.J. Mahaney in public forums like Facebook. For instance, here are some screen shots of comments left on T4G's Facebook page:
I'll be checking back to see if they have been removed.
In just a few short years, C.J. Mahaney fled the megachurch he co-founded, moved ministry headquarters from Maryland to Kentucky, stepped down as president of the church-planting network he established, planted a church that got kicked out of a local Christian school and now rents hotel space for its services, and became a Southern Baptist pastor (probably because his Pastors College no longer gets seminary perks). While his ministry has gone backwards BIG TIME, he is more popular than ever with the Neo-Cal crowd.
What is wrong with this picture?