“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”
Jesus speaking to his disciples (Luke 12:2-3 ESV)
We are absolutely heartbroken about the terrible tragedy that took place this afternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where an expelled student went on a shooting rampage leaving at least 17 people dead and multiple people injured. Both students and adults are among the victims. Please join us in praying for the victims and their loved ones as well as those who sustained injury.
If ever there was proof that the men leading Sovereign Grace
Ministries Churches have no heart, it would be the ill-timed statement they published yesterday. They were responding to Rachael Denhollander’s February 5th request on Facebook that SGC have the Christian organization GRACE “do a thorough independent investigation of the organization’s historical and current handling of abuse complaints, which will be released to the public.” In her FB post Rachael contends that “GRACE has no affiliation with SGM or any survivors and therefore is in a unique position of approaching such an investigation with objectivity and independence”.
This statement by SGC’s Leadership Team came to my attention last night (shortly after it was posted), and my heart breaks when I think of those hurt while in SGM who will be reading it on Valentine’s Day.
In case you haven’t read the testimonies of those who were victimized in this ‘family of churches’, here are links to some of their horrific stories.
(2) Noel’s Story (published by SGM Survivors)
(3) Pam Palmer’s Daughter, Renee (included in the Second Amended Complaint)
Two year old Renee Palmer was victimized by a male teenager who was serving as a “Home Group babysitter”. Often parents in SGM churches would attend ‘home groups’, leaving their children at one of the family’s homes under the supervision of a “home group babysitter”. Items 96-106 of the Second Amended Complaint against Sovereign Grace Ministries, et al. reveal what happened. Here is a screen shot of the beginning of Renee’s testimony.
The Second Amended Complaint confirms that a meeting was arranged between Renee (who had just turned three) and her abuser so they could be ‘reconciled‘. Renee was visibly scared and crawled under a chair upon seeing her abuser. What kind of church does this???
According to the complaint, the named defendants – John Loftness, Gary Ricucci (C.J. Mahaney’s brother-in-law), and Grant Layman (C.J.’s brother-in-law) – “began disseminating false and misleading information to the police and church members about [name withheld pending court ruling on defense motion]’s crimes.” The complaint then states that the defendants (named above) withheld from the police the fact that this unnamed individual had access to other toddlers in his role as Home Group babysitter.
The defendants (Loftness, Ricucci and Layman) instructed the Palmers to remain completely silent about who committed the assault against their daughter, thereby preventing other parents in the church from protecting their own children. The Palmers were threatened with ‘church discipline’ if they named their daughter’s abuser.
According to the complaint, the defendants knowingly permitted Renee’s abuser to participate unsupervised in church activities with children despite his conviction for assaulting three-year old Renee Palmer.
Finally, the “defendants misled the Palmers about court dates in order to prevent them from attending court appearances and filing a victim impact statement”, further preventing parents from knowing that their small children might be in danger.
*** It is important to note that Dee and I have had face-to-face meetings with Noel, Happymom and Wallace, and Pam Palmer. We will NEVER forget their facial expressions as they shared their heartbreaking stories about what happened to their children.
WARNING: Should you choose to read through the entire complaint, you need to know that there is some extremely graphic language, so be forewarned…
For nearly nine years, I have been haunted by comments left over at SGM Refuge by a grieving mother. The date of her first comment was April 21, 2009. It was very early in our blogging (we had launched TWW just a month before this mother posted her comments). Although SGM Refuge has since been taken down, we providentially preserved this mom’s comments in a post about KingsWay Community Church.
Here is the first comment “A Mother’ made over at SGM Refuge: (re-published in our post dated 5/11/09):
April 21st, 2009 at 8:13 pm
Did they know my son was raped??????? Why was nothing said???? 11 years old. Richmond VA.church. Virginia BEACH. South side church knew something and said nothing???????????? We find out when he was eighteen, if I knew when he was sixteen I think I could of helped him, I know I could of helped him. Moved to Virginia beach 1989, left 1994. What more can I say, I just live with this, maybe e-mailing this WILL just make me feel a little better, JUST THAT I HAVE TOLD SOME OF THE STORY.
The remainder of our TWW post (published on May 11, 2009) is included below. Since no one was reading our blog way back then, we are glad to be able to share it with our current readership.
Shhh!!!!!! Don’t Talk Post (Published May 11, 2009)
Here’s a summary of this mother’s testimony. Her son was born in 1977 since she states that he was eleven years old in 1988. Her family belonged to the SGM church in Virginia Beach, which we believe later moved to Chesapeake, Virginia.
In order to understand the connection between the “Richmond church” which is now called KingsWay Community Church (located in Midlothian – a suburb of Richmond), it’s important to understand that SGM labels itself as a “family of churches”. There are often strong ties between SGM congregations, particularly when they are located in the same state. Richmond and Virginia Beach are only about 100 miles apart (estimated driving time 1 hour 15 minutes).
Barry Albert, who is currently in prison near Richmond, served in the KingsWay youth group according to the boy’s mother. Barry met and befriended her son at “Celebration East 1988”. “A Mother” writes:
“This man used this other little boy as a reason to have my son come and visit him in Richmond. He was ‘helping’ care for this other boy and would ask for us to allow our son to visit them in Richmond. Up until that time my son was an innocent young boy, only 11. They, the pastors and police, knew of no reason why we shouldn’t allow the friendship and I don’t challenge that.”
Prior to this statement she explains: “I did do what I thought was right in protecting my son, I contacted the local police in Richmond and the pastors of the Richmond and Virginia Beach church to find out if they knew of any reason why I shouldn’t allow my son to spend time with this man.” She confirmed that Barry did attend the Richmond church, now known as KingsWay Community Church.
She continues: I don’t believe they (the pastors) knew at this point who this man was. This all took place between the year 1988 and 1994ish, way before Megan’s Law. I can’t say that the church could have prevented what happened to my son but they did nothing to find all potential victims once this monster was revealed. Who in their right mind wouldn’t find and contact everyone known to be involved with this man?”
This mother states that she and her husband “didn’t find out about any of this until 1998 and then quite by accident!” It’s important to note that this is the first time she realized her son had been repeatedly raped, and her son did not reveal his rapist’s identity. She then explains that her family moved back to their home state (unspecified) around 1994 and that KingsWay never informed the SGM church they attended in Virginia Beach of this pedophile situation. She asks “Why?”
Her sad lament continues: “I was in contact with the Richmond church in 1995 and ’96 after my son was injured, I wanted to get in touch with Barry, the now convicted felon. My son had been injured and was seriously hurt. I wanted to let this man know that he could be praying for him.”
“A Mother” innocently called KingsWay in the mid-1990s to try and obtain Barry’s contact information, thinking that he would be a good support for her son. Obviously, she had no idea it was Barry who had seriously hurt her son when he was between the ages of 11 and 16. As had been previously stated, she didn’t discover the truth until 1998. Barry’s conviction record shows he was sentenced with “aggravated sexual battery” on December 7, 1995 and on February 20, 1996 as well as “Forcible Sodomy” on February 20, 1996. The church staff at KingsWay obviously knew what Barry had done when “A Mother” called them. Apparently, her son was so traumatized that he never identified the man who repeatedly raped him.
The following comment written by “A Mother” clearly demonstrates the “Can’t Talk” Rule explained previously. Again, this is the most powerful of all the unspoken rules in an abusive religious system. Here we will see that extremely important information was withheld from those who most needed to know it.
“A Mother” writes:
“Now this was all after he (Barry) had been charged, but did the church secretary or Gene Emerson even then try to contact us to let us know about the charges that had been brought against this man? NO! Even then I explained who I was and this man’s relationship to our family and my son. We had lived in Virginia Beach and my son would spend weekends, and later lived with this man for a short period of time. I say this to say the leadership and other members of that church knew my son, as well as my husband and me. They also knew that my son was exposed to this man and they never tried to find us. My son was part of the youth group in Richmond and attended the church, this man served in the youth group.”
Gene Emerson, whom “A Mother” mentions, continues to serve as Senior Pastor at KingsWay Community Church. Here’s the link:
KingsWay was founded in early 1989 in the Emerson home. Apparently, Barry met this mother’s son at a large SGM celebration in 1988, shortly before the Richmond church was established. It’s interesting to note that two years after KingsWay began, they sent several families to help plant a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, which became Sovereign Grace Church in Apex, NC. They also helped establish a SGM church in Roanoke, Virginia. As a point of clarification, the SGM church in Midlothian was called “Southside Church of Richmond” from 1989 to 2002 when it changed its name to KingsWay Community Church. Just last month (April 2009) this church sent families from their congregation to Fredericksburg, Virginia to plant another SGM church. All of this information can be verified by clicking on the above link.
Based on the brief history of KingsWay Community Church, it’s not difficult to discover the primary focus of Sovereign Grace Ministries — church planting. Not only do they “plant” churches, but they “adopt” existing congregations into their “family of churches”. Based on this mother’s testimony, it appears that the needs of the established flock are secondary to expanding the ministry of SGM.
“A Mother” then writes these gut-wrenching words:
“All that I am saying is when it all came out, my son was still of age when we, his parents, could help him or at least try. We were robbed of any chance to press charges or seek help for our son.”
In her testimony, this mother explains that they finally found out about what truly happened to their son in 1998, two years after Barry was convicted. If Barry was first convicted in December 1995, surely the KingsWay staff knew of his horrible crimes against their youth when this mother called.
It’s difficult to read the painful words of “A Mother” as she writes:
“My motivation for leaving the link and screaming out, for the first time, was for some understanding, my heart is still breaking. My son recently was released from the MENTAL WARD at a hospital. The emotion and betrayal that I feel and that I am sure he feels are more than I can ever express in words.”
Here is another link showing Barry Albert as a sex offender in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Lest you think that this is an isolated case in Sovereign Grace Ministries, perhaps you would like to read an extremely detailed account written by Noel, the mother of a three-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by a 15 year old boy caring for SGM children while their parents attended a leaders meeting. After the SGM pastors knew of the boy’s crime, they allowed him to work in the church nursery. The rapist is now married with a child and continues to be a member of the church. His father committed suicide shortly after the crime was discovered. Throughout this outrageous circumstance, the church leaders implemented the “No Talk” Rule to conceal a horrendous crime…
When a church is more interested in self-preservation than the spiritual health of its members (especially the young), you can be certain that Almighty God is taking notice. There are many revered Christian leaders who have turned a blind eye to the horrendous abuses taking place within SGM. Some even want to model their ministries after the authoritarian structure of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Rest assured that our Sovereign Lord is watching, and we believe that one day His judgment will fall upon those leaders who are acting irresponsibly with His children.
Silence is definitely not golden, and that’s why we choose to speak out!
There seems to be a growing AUTHORITARIANISM within some evangelical churches which has us deeply concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who are young in the faith. That’s why we are so dedicated to researching and reporting significant trends within Christendom. We are sounding the alarm! Do YOU hear it?
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42 ESV)
If ‘A Mother’ is able to read this post and re-read her comments from nine years ago, I hope she knows how deeply her story has touched our hearts. We have been calling out Sovereign Grace Ministries (now ‘Churches’) the entire time we have been blogging (nine years on March 19th!).
Perhaps you’re wondering whether Gene Emerson, who founded KingsWay Community Church, is still pastoring there. Well, no he’s not! Back in 2015 the church website revealed that…
Gene [Emerson] was found guilty in Chesterfield County Court of soliciting a prostitute. To this day, he continues to maintain that he is innocent of any illicit activity, though he has humbly acknowledged a significant lapse in judgement regarding his conduct throughout the situation.”
We wrote about it in a post entitled “Another Day, Another SGM Sex Scandal – KingsWay Pastor Resigns Due to ‘Lapse in Judgment’
Now back to the statement posted yesterday by the Sovereign Grace Churches’ leadership team. Here is a screen shot of their opening remarks.
In Warren’s post, you will see one of Dee’s reactionary Tweets, as well as a Tweet by Jacob Denhollander (Rachael’s husband).
There have also been Tweets by the usual Mahaney defenders – Ray Ortlund and Kevin DeYoung. Perhaps you remember that it was Ortlund and DeYoung who served on the impartial preliminary panel that found Mahaney fit for ministry back in the summer of 2011 – we wrote about it here). Notice how Ortlund and DeYoung’s Tweets sound very similar…
Under Warren Throckmorton’s post, ‘Ryan M.’ left an enlightening comment (see below).
Unfortunately, SGM’s behavior in all of this doesn’t surprise me. Right after college, I interned at the SGM church I attended all through college. They’re as corrupt, unhealthy, and spiritually abusive organization as you’ll find in American Christianity. I’m incredibly glad that I got out when I did, roughly ten years ago, and I’m continually amazed that anyone outside of the organization had the temerity to defend them. To anyone reading this who may be thinking about visiting an SGM church: don’t. To anyone who’s thinking about visiting one of the churches that disaffiliated from SGM a few years ago when all of this started becoming public: be real careful, and ask hard questions about what they’ve changed.
As we have observed above from the testimonies of those hurt in churches belonging to Sovereign Grace Ministries, the victims were re-victimized by their church leaders. They were told not to go to the police, to reconcile with their abusers (after all, we are ALL sinners!), and to keep quiet. Shame on them!
Now we have Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to come forward publicly about the police report she filed against Larry Nassar. It was her courage that enabled over 260 more women to come forward and reveal that Nassar violated them, too.
Years before she went public about Nassar, Rachael compiled information that troubled her about C.J. Mahaney and SGM and presented it to the pastors at her non-SGM church. Instead of taking to heart her concerns about this ministry, the pastor defended his friend and colleague C.J. Mahaney and told her and her husband that they needed to find another church. This is how victims like Rachael (who was sexually abused by Nassar) are re-victimized by those who should be wholeheartedly supporting them.
As we see it, Rachael Denhollander is being re-victimized once again – this time by the leaders of Sovereign Grace Churches. Clearly, Rachael has a heart for those who have been victimized, and all SGC’s leadership team wants to do is shut her up, just like they were able to do for decades to those who dared to come forward and reveal the abuse they had experienced in SGM.
What’s most encouraging to us at this juncture is that the world is watching!