Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual activities.
Shannon Clark is 36 years old. She is a survivor of sexual abuse. What follows is her story.
Below is a photo of Shannon and her siblings. Left to right are Shannon, Shari, Suzanne, Justin, and their grandma.
In 1989, when Shannon was 5 years old, her older sister, Suzanne, began sexually abusing her, Suzanne was 11. The sexual abuse continued for 6 years; Shannon stated the abuse was “constant and progressive.” The abuse ended for a time in the Spring of 1995. Shannon’s mother, Siri, had found out about the sexual abuse when Suzanne confessed to her that she was pretending to “lay like we were married.” Shannon said “I was called into my mom’s room where Suzanne was also. I was basically told that my mom knew what was going on between Suzanne and I. She was very stern and stated this was to stop immediately and that we were never to speak of it again. After my mom dismissed Suzanne she told me I was to tell her if anything ever continued. Then we did not speak of it again until I was 21. I was forced into silence to deal with my trauma on my own. She never asked me questions or checked to see that I was OK. I was yelled at, chastised, and then silenced.”
The Truesdale family was involved with Sovereign Grace Ministries from its earliest days. They were founding members of Covenant Life Church. Jeff Truesdale was, according to my sources, perhaps the best-known individual from Covenant Life Church (CLC) outside of the pastors. Jeff was known as the unofficial historian of CLC. He was a prolific photographer and his photos documented the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries/CLC. If you have seen any photos of the early days of SGM, chances are that Jeff Truesdale was the photographer. Below are a few of his shots.
Shannon told me that Suzanne moved out of the family home in 1996 and then at some point after 1997 she moved back home with her newborn son. Suzanne again molested Shannon!
Some of you are undoubtedly wondering what would cause Suzanne to start sexually abusing her 5-year-old sister, Shannon, in 1989 when Suzanne was only 11-years-old. The answer to that question is Suzanne herself was being sexually abused by both her father and some Covenant Life Church leaders. More on the CLC abuse later. First I will lay out the evidence of the sexual abuse of Suzanne by her father, Jeff Truesdale.
Shannon advised me that “my mother was told of Suzanne’s molestation at the hands of Jeff sometime in 1996 when Suzanne moved back home for a week.” Shannon further stated that “Suzanne told me about Jeff molesting her sometime in 2005 when she was in CLC pastoral counseling.”
Shari found out about her father’s (Jeff) sexual abuse of Suzanne when she was 15-years-old. Shannon said this would have been in 2004 or 2005. Shannon let it slip during a conversation with Shari in which their mother was also present in the room. Shari demanded answers from her mother, but Siri (their mom) would “only abdicate to my father.”
I asked Shannon if Jeff ever sexually abused her or her sister, Shari. She said she has no memory of Jeff sexually abusing her and Jeff has denied ever abusing her. Shannon similarly stated that Shari is not aware of being sexually abused by her father and Jeff has also denied abusing her.
I asked Shannon if she was aware of any other children Jeff had sexually abused. She responded, “I have reason to believe my older, mentally handicapped cousin was also abused but she won’t talk to me, and Law Enforcement won’t pursue unless the victim comes forward.”
I had seen a comment on social media about Jeff Truesdale being an alcoholic up until a few years ago. Since one never ceases being an alcoholic I queried Shannon about this. Here was her reply: “My dad has always drank up until December of 2017. He had binges and struggled with addiction for my whole childhood. He has continued to smoke marijuana and denies it, though I’ve smoked with him more than once. He used alcohol as a huge catalyst for his molesting Suzanne. So why did it take him until 2017 to quit? He also has and had access to children he was related to living in his home, and Suzanne let him babysit her children, one of whom is a girl. All during this time my dad was still consuming alcohol.”
Shari raises a valid point. A man who is a drunk, pot-smoking pedophile is one of the best-known and respected members of Covenant Life Church! I understand Shannon classifying it as a cult! What a dumpster fire! Siri Truesdale’s comment concerning her husband being a pedophile is incredibly sad.
I asked Shannon about Jeff Truesdale’s seemingly close relationship with many of the leaders of CLC. She said that John Loftness “was our family pastor for many, many years, as was Chris Silard and Adam Malcolm. My father still corresponds with Larry Tomczak, went on weekly bike rides with Dave Adams a few years ago, and sympathizes with Steve Griney. My parents can see the Hoffman’s home from theirs.”
I asked Shannon specifically about Jeff Truesdale’s relationship with Gary Ricucci. (Ricucci is the brother-in-law of C.J. Mahaney and on the staff of Sovereign Grace Church Louisville.) Shannon replied, “My dad told me the story of demanding Gary to meet with him, that they had been best friends for more than 20 years and he needed answers. Gary was hesitant and fearful of retaliation. My dad supported Brent Detwiler and also was emailing C.J. Mahaney when they turned hidecoat and ran tail tucked to Louisville.”
Breakfast with a champion? That’s a highly questionable description of Ricucci based on what you will read below.
Below are some key paragraphs from the SGM Second Amended Lawsuit. Keep in mind what Shannon has told us about some of her dad’s friends when you read this.
61. Griney and Hoffman began to lick Plaintiff Thompson all over her body. Plaintiff Thompson urinated on herself from fear. Griney and Hoffman then took off Plaintiff Thompson’s underwear, and performed oral sex on her. Defendants would alternate between screaming at Plaintiff Thompson and patting her on the head, saying she was a good girl.
62. Griney then untied Plaintiff Thompson, and placed her naked body on a short platform. He placed a strand of pearls and a pink feather boa around her neck. He directed her to pose. When Plaintiff Thompson failed to move, Griney climbed up on the platform, and began to poke and tickle Plaintiff Thompson to elicit movement from her.
63. As Plaintiff Thompson moved about on the platform, light flashes repeatedly went off, likely as a result of Plaintiff Thompson being photographed. Plaintiff Thompson perceived a third participant in addition to Hoffman.
90. During the 1985/1986 school year, Defendant Loftness, Griney and Defendant Riccuci brought Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas into an empty room with two other girls. Plaintif Roberts-Thomas recognized the girls, one of whom was Plaintiff Thompson. (The other is not being named here to protect her privacy.) Defendants directed the girls to strip off their underwear, and lay across desks. Defendant Loftness beat Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas on her bare buttocks. Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas heard the unnamed girl crying, and saw Griney hitting her on her bare buttocks. Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas turned over her shoulder to look for Plaintiff Thompson, and realized Defendant Riccuci had taken her out of the room. Defendant Loftness continued to beat Plaintiff Thomas -Roberts’ bare buttocks, and then he inserted his fingers into her vagina.
Based on Jeff Truesdale’s reputation of documenting everything with his camera coupled with his attraction to young girls, I thought it fair to ask Shannon if she had any inklings that her dad might have been the photographer mentioned in paragraph 63 above. Shannon responded, “I have no idea about my dad’s photo stuff.”
But in reference to paragraph 90, Shannon said she was told by Heather Thompson, one of the three girls being sexually abused in the room, that the unnamed girl was Suzanne Truesdale! Shannon “spoke to Suzanne about it at the time. She denied it and said she had no memory of anything ever happening at school.”
Shannon told me that one of the pastors her sister Suzanne received counseling from in 2005 was John Loftness! Of course, Loftness is mentioned in paragraph 90 above as one of the sexual abusers. He is also mentioned in numerous other paragraphs of the lawsuit. This has not hampered the Sovereign Grace career of Loftness in the least. He is a senior pastor, a member of the SGC National Leadership Team, and according to Jon Payne, another leader in the SGC, one of the great benefits of “partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries” is being able to have the pedophile-preacher come and speak to your church!
Back to Shannon for a minute – I wanted to relay a story involving her and Joshua Harris. (I have emailed Harris for a comment on this story, but as of the time I published this I have not heard back from him.)
I was put under church discipline and blacklisted by Joshua Eugene Harris –I was put under church discipline in November of 2007 after 2 years of counseling where I basically refused to do anything the pastors said. John Smith informed me that due to me admitting to having sex outside of marriage and not going to church on Sunday or care group and participating that they were forced to act out Matthew 18. I was not permitted to attend the family meeting where my name was announced as being put under church discipline nor was I permitted to attend a private gathering of those in the church whom I was closest to where they informed them I was going to be put under church discipline. Joshua Harris had my parents stand at that family meeting and had other members lay their hands on them while they prayed for their wayward daughter. I could not go anywhere in Montgomery county without running into a concerned CLC member asking about how my soul was or trying to evangelize to me or running away in fear of being tainted by my presence. In the summer of 2010 I started working at the flower Hill Starbucks which was a major watering hole for CLC members to get coffee. Joshua Harris came into Starbucks one afternoon only to speak with me. He did not order coffee nor did he meet with anyone else who was there. he asked if I would be willing to meet with him at his office to discuss what had happened in my church discipline and for him to apologize. When I met with Josh he said that he was sorry for how he had handled my situation and he was wanting to make restitution. His half-hearted attempt at a suggestion was that he could write a letter to anyone who had attended that meeting that I could list that I may have remembered even though I wasn’t there and he would basically say that he was sorry for what he did. I didn’t see the point in him doing this because it had been 5 years approximately and I didn’t need him to reopen that wound and remind people of what he did. Josh asked me to then come up with a more appropriate apology and sent me on my way. I sought counsel from other members of CLC who I saw as mentors my father was one of them as well as Rick Malament who was a former Care group leader and brother to Larry Malament, former sovereign Grace pastor. I felt that due to the defamation of character and the fact that I had lost 90% of the community I held dear due to Josh Harris’s words and actions smearing my name and reputation that the only restitution I could find feasible was monetary. My family has been a part of Covenant Life since the very first TAG meeting my dad took the picture of that TAG meeting. We were in a care group with Lori and Peter Russell whose son Keirin had had his story written in Josh Harris’s book boy meets girl. When Joshua republished boy meets girl he did not get permission from Kieran to republish his story and Kieran ended up settling for damages and I believe he got partial royalties or a lump sum to take place of royalties. by 2007 I had already been in therapy for approximately 2 years and I felt that I had spent enough money in therapy and would continue to try and process my trauma that money was also inappropriate request so that I could pay for my mental health. I emailed Joshua Harris informing him of this on December 4th of 2012. December 19th I followed up as I had heard nothing from them. I received an email from his secretary at the time Catherine on December 21st saying that he had not read my email and he was behind and that he was sorry for the delay. On Jan 7th she emailed me letting me know that Josh had not made really any more progress and that he needed to share the letter with other pastors to get advice as there was no precedent for what I was asking. 6 months later on June 8th I emailed back as I had heard nothing and requested resolution. I followed up on July 8th with another email requesting resolution and finally received an email back from Joshua on July 14th stating that he was sending another pastor to meet with me. this was the brush off I had been expecting since I hadn’t heard anything from them for 6 months. I was told in this meeting pretty bluntly that if they paid me it would set the precedent and they couldn’t really afford to do that and didn’t want to start that ball rolling.
Sovereign Grace Churches C.J. Mahaney hid behind the pending lawsuit when he made his statement of innocence in 2014. He claimed he couldn’t wait until the lawsuit was settled and he could speak freely. That lawsuit was dismissed years ago on SOL restrictions. We are still waiting for the Humble one to speak. As you will see below, Mark Prater, the guy who in title only is the head of the Sovereign Grace Churches denomination, has stated he believes their crisis days are behind them and they will now be able to move forward.
Personally, I believe until such time as they admit all their crimes, humbly repent, and pay restitution to the many victims such as Shannon, they will never be able to move forward. And I seriously doubt the prideful group of leaders will ever change their ways.
“During a time when CJ Mahaney was senior pastor of Covenant Life Church and in leadership in the parent organization he founded (SGM),
1. SGM had an internal policy of not reporting sexual assault allegations to law enforcement, and instead handling them internally. This is evidenced by statements made by multiple SGM pastors, including in official police reports, and in internal SGM documents.
6. Additionally, three of the elders directly involved in known instances of failure to report were close relatives of CJ Mahaney, two brothers-in-law and a son-in-law. Internal church documents also state that every elder is to be notified of any claims of sexual assault. During many of the known and alleged failures, CJ was an elder in the church in question. Specifically, he was the head elder.
Mr. Liebeler failed to disclose that other children, who the alleged victims from the civil suit reported had also been victims of this abuse, had themselves become sexual abusers at a young age. Some of this abuse is documented in emails to pastors, others were convicted. While this is certainly not conclusive evidence that these additional victims-turned-perpetrators were, in fact, abused as alleged, there is a well-known correlation between sexual assault victims becoming perpetrators themselves. This correlation is particularly indicative of previous abuse if the abuser begins acting out graphic sexual acts at a young age, which these alleged victims-turned perpetrators, did in fact do. It is evidence a prosecutor would examine and consider probative given the correlation between being victimized and becoming an abuser, especially at a young age. Mr. Liebeler did not disclose, nor according to his own oral report, even consider this information.”
Rachael Denhollander, “Public Response To Sovereign Grace Churches”
“The Regional Leaders I do thank God for. They are a very important part of leading in our family of churches. As you mentioned, I presented a 5-10-year strategic plan to the Executive Committee back over the summer. And the very first component of that strategic plan is for the Leadership Team to change its voice from, you know, being more, more policy driven, and crisis management driven to one that is inspirational, vision casting and theologically equipping.
There are so many expressions of that leadership that we’ve begun to implement or are implementing, but a very important part of that is our Regional Leaders. And I just want to take a moment to thank God for them and mention them by name. Jared Mellinger leads the Northeast region, John Loftness leads the Mid-Atlantic region, Mickey Connolly, the Mid-South region, Keith Collins the Southeast region, 98 the Great Lakes region, Greg Dirnberger leads the Midwest-Northwest region, Eric Turbedsky leads the West region, C.J. Mahaney leads the East Central region, and then the South Central region is led by Darrel Schiel. Now guys may not know that Jon Payne led that region for a number of years, but when transitioning onto the Leadership Team, he resigned, and that region chose and voted to affirm Darrel Schiel. For you guys who don’t know Darrel, he’s the Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Pearland, Texas, which is a southern suburb of Houston. He has done a great job of leading that church. And I believe he’ll do a great job of leading that region. So, I thank God for those nine men here in the States who lead their regions so well. And they’re just so important part of what we do as a Leadership Team in strategically leading our family of churches.”
-Mark Prater, Executive Director-Sovereign Grace Churches
December 28, 2020