Injustice and Empathy

Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor have posted a very good statement about the Sovereign Grace lawsuit here. I appreciated it very much.

The issue — among thoughtful Christians — should never be whether or not justice should be done. That should be a given. What should we seek out, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)

The issue is that we do not know what the just response is until after a fair and just trial. Just sentences do not fall out of the sky — they proceed from just trials. And in order to have a just trial, it must be managed and conducted by just men, men who hate bribes, men who have a backbone, men who know the law.

If a man is accused of child molestation, a horrendous crime, and charges are made and the evidence is being gathered, then patience is absolutely necessary. If a judge is ruled by the spirit of Prov. 18:17, and he is proceeding with all deliberation, and then he finds himself accused of covering up misdeeds, or enabling such crimes, or being soft on molestation, simply because he did not move straight to the sentencing, then we know that the spirit of injustice is on the loose.
In the case of this statement, certain men who had absolutely nothing to do with the original situation were being attacked simply because they were silent, because they were not speaking out. Spoken out about what? About sexual crimes or about false accusations? When you speak out, shouldn’t you have something to say?

When Christian leaders were asked to speak out about Potiphar’s wife’s troubling accusations against Joseph, what should they have said? When they were asked to speak out about the rape of Tamar, what should they have said?

In Scripture, perjury could be a capital offense, if that perjury were committed in a capital case. When a man’s life is on the line, to be a false witness at his trial was to put your own life on the line (Deut. 19:16-19). That is what justice is like. However bad sexual abuse of children is (really evil), we must remember that false accusations of such behavior are every bit as bad.

From this we may gather that because the accusations in the Sovereign Grace case are really bad that something awful has been done. Either some children had to go through some hellish lies about Christ and the church, or Christ and the church are having some hellish lies told about them. But until after a fair trial has been conducted, we don’t know who the liar is. And we shouldn’t be called upon to act as though we do “in the meantime.”

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27 comments on “Injustice and Empathy

  1. Pastor Wilson,

    As usual, these are good, encouraging, Biblical thoughts.

    Further question: what is the responsibility of the Church (including church leaders) in cases like this where the state says, “We will not conduct a fair trial because the statute of limitations has expired.” In that case, it is entirely possible that “some children had to go through some hellish lies about Christ and the church” and yet nothing is done – at least not until the King comes and sets everything to rights.

    Does the Church have a responsibility to pursue that any further? If so, what would that even look like?

    Just wondering – particularly in this particular case. I also resonated with TGC’s statement, but this thought kept gnawing at me. I could see how the statement could ring hollow to some simply because the court’s decision does not mean that nothing wrong was done – simply that too much time has passed.

  2. Thanks for the word of caution Doug. It seems like people are quick to assume guilt and get worked up in a “mob” mentality around this. It’s also disappointing to see folks lik Boz, from GRACE caught up in it.

    I think another good question to ask is “how would you want people to respond if the accusations where against you?”

  3. There are some other issues here. I also think it is wrong for these pastors who are in different cities to use their statement to endorse CJ Mahaney before all the evidence is in. Why do Carson, DeYoung and Taylor take the time to talk about CJs fruitfulness in this context? It seems very political. CJ has had to step down from ministry and there are many who formerly walked with him who do not trust his ministry and his movement has been split. We are not privy to all the evidence here either but it appears sides are being taken anyway. SGM at its beginning was part of the heavy-handed shepherding movement popular within Charismatic circles in the 70s and 80s. I was in on this movement and there was some very toxic ministry going on. There are polity issues as well. It’s often dangerous in congregational environments for one man to sit atop the whole enterprise. They often seek cover from those who are atop their own movement in different cities and do not listen to those close to them. A common practice within the shepherding movement was to label those who have been hurt as “divisive.” And often there is no system in place where justice may be decided because the head guy is often judge, jury and executioner.

  4. Jim, first, I agree with you on the polity issues. That kind of set-up is just asking for trouble — but I would say that the rank and file parishioners who go into such a setting at the beginning bear a share of the responsibility for what happens. Bad polity is bad polity before anything has gone wrong, and whether or not you are the man at the top or the bottom. In the good days, the strong leader is often elevated by popular demand. But I agree it is a recipe for trouble.

    But the reason it is appropriate for C.J.’s friends to stand with him like this is that he is innocent until proven guilty, not in limbo until proven guilty.

  5. Doug,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. Agree sheep are responsible as well. I’ve had to ask myself why I placed myself in a toxic situation and I bear a primary responsibility. However, the lack of guidance and admonition for those at the top is appalling and we do have faulty systems within the Reformed world to address it. For instance, some of the these guys have a history of raising children who have never been nurtured in the faith or fall away and they get rationalizations from their fellow celebrity pastors. The guy is such a great teacher, in demand conference guy, book writer etc–the show must go on!

    Leaders are responsible to not lord it over and, the abuse coverup accusations aside, there are many accusations against CJ regarding his bullying as a pastor. Joshua Harris who grew up in CJ’s home and was mentored by CJ no longer trusts him and says so publically. CJ has just set up shop in another town and the movement is split. We are seeing celebrity pastors taking sides on the Gospel Coalition website. I think these brothers who labored closely with CJ for decades and have come to these conclusions are heard from as well and should not be dismissed a divisive as some of them are. If we are open to the other side then a vote of confidence is not appropriate. They should have said we will wait and see. Again, it smacks of politics.

    I guess we have separate issues here. A celebrity pastor who steps down and listens to those around him is a rare sight. Carrying on as God’s anointed is much more common. Jim

  6. Still must disagree that this is a “very good statement.” The facts are not out yet and they are siding with SGM. This statement resembles one written by very good defense attorneys.

  7. They do despise C.J., not really sure why. But the “rope committee” has been meeting regularly hoping to bypass the legal system. They’ve been afraid the legal system might toss the case out. I really do think a lot of the blog commentors will be happy with nothing less that C.J. doing the “perp walk.”

  8. Jim – why were you not in church this morning?

  9. Marshall, I attend church at 5pm. Attend every Sunday and I’m a member of a Reformed church. 5pm on Sunday is our only Sunday service and we rent from a church which meets Sunday morning. We are a small church plant. Thank you for asking.

    Zo, that is not a defense at all. What if there has been years of systematic abuse of children and a subsequent coverup? No one is saying CJ is a “perp” but there are accusations of a coverup. I would like to see him step down in humility but not based on these things that are unproven to date but based on the fact that many under his ministry have spoken up about his conduct.

    A former pastor of mine once told me he would step down if those around him felt they couldn’t trust him. He would have to go with their judgment and not his own. It came to pass. He was part of the Shepherding movement, the same movement CJ cut his teeth on. It was hard but he did have a toxic ministry. He stepped down and became a landscaper and I respect him for it. We are now friends. He has since been restored to pastoral ministry after a passage of years and seems to truly care for his flock. Celebrity pastor ever do that? Wouldn’t it be refreshing? Nope, we see the normal sin nature take over and when a pastor is confronted they just set up shop in another town.

    There is a much evidence from those who have walked with CJ for years on his leadership team that he is a spiritual bully–not his fellow conference speakers but pastors under his care are saying these things. Do you want them to deny what their eyes have seen and their ears heard? It can be an act of courage to speak up in such a circumstance. I’ve observed SGM from the inside and the leaders have been trained in the Shepherding movement within the charismatic renewal of the 70s and 80s. Heavy-handed authoritarianism was standard issue. Protect the leaders at all costs.

  10. Jim,

    I’ve seen you make a lot of reasonable points about the danger of ministry without any sort of accountability mechanism, but I haven’t seen you rely the Scriptures to back up your claim that CJM should not be supported by these other conference ministers.

    Have those people who felt wronged by CJ actually told him to his face that he was doing so? Matthew 18 gives us the proper steps to take. First, confront the brother in sin. Second, go with two witnesses, if he won’t hear you. Third, get the rest of the church involved. And then (I Timothy 5:18-20) each accusation needs to be verified by 2-3 witnesses.

    I hardly know anything about SGM, and you may be right that CJ Maheny is a corrupt, wicked minister who ought to be deposed. But have the people with beefs against him actually followed a biblical pattern in dealing with the problem, or did they remain quiet for years and then finally let it out on the internet somewhere? It’s easiest to accuse people behind their backs, you know.

    You’re essentially arguing that the mere presence of accusation alone is enough to make an elder/pastor step down, but I don’t see where you get that idea from Scripture. Pastors Carson, DeYoung, and Taylor are *not* obligated to assume that any of these accusations are correct until each has been proven by the testimony of 2+ witnesses.

    Blessings,
    Luke Nieuwsma

  11. Paul Washer speaks of persecution here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eZe0CLILzc

    It is fitting. When Christians are persecuted, they are persecuted as “enemies of the state, child molesters, bigots, as narrow-minded stupid people who can contribute nothing to society…. This is no game.” I don’t believe these lies for one minute.

  12. “Jim,” did C.J. do you harm? If so, a) I’m really sorry and b) how did he hurt you? Thankx in advance Bro.

  13. Zo, no, I have not been personally hurt by CJ. I’ve had occasion to interact with him, talked to him at conferences, and played basketball with him years ago. He probably doesn’t remember me in the least. However, what is going on with SGM is a very typical pattern with independent churches/movements associated with the Shepherding movement begun in the 70s in Charismatic circles by Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Ern Baxter and one other guy I forgot. If folks care about the sheep who have been hurt, take a look at the toxicity of this movement. They ruled their congregations with an iron fist. If you were trained in that scene it’s real hard to break those habits. I was part of a group of churches associated with CJ’s movement and the Shepherding scene–CJ would speak at our conferences and hang with our leaders.

    This is the pattern. Those who were “under” the top boss at some point tried to correct top guy and it all blows up. So, I was hurt by other leaders trained in this system. But I also hurt others in this same manner and have had to repent. Our little group went defunct. Seeing it from the inside and the outside for over 30 years I do not appreciate other celebrity pastors/celebrity conference speakers, bloggers weighing in when other good brothers are telling a different story and they haven’t had to live with it. The next thing probably coming out of the Gospel Coalition is how “divisive” those who have “beefs” are. When most of these folks desire to serve God but they now have a warped view of pastors–many teachers out there, few fathers. I do know personally those who have been hurt within SGM. It’s a duck folks. It looks like one, walks like one and smells like one.

    I trust my current pastors. We have had folks revile them for practicing church discipline, we’ve had people leave a little disgruntled but we don’t have a trail of tears from heavy handed, lording it over authoritarian leadership. Anyone who leaves has our blessing.

    Another pattern is to shoot the victims further by labeling them as allowing a “root of bitterness” at that point you can completely ignore them as sinful and fighting God’s holy purposes. Top guy is always indispensable and he can spiritualize on a dime. Top guy is usually addicted to ministry too.

    Praise God, my hurt is in the past but I do feel for those who continue to be subjected to this type of thing. I’m friends now with the pastor who hurt me the most. Thank God we were small potatoes with not as much to lose. A good friend of mine, an ordained Presbyterian minister has recently confided in me that he thinks idolizing men is far worse in evangelical and Reformed Protestantism than it is in the Roman Catholic Church. I won’t go that far but I do think we are ignoring a HUGE problem and the many Reformed celebrities on the circuit are not doing much about it but continue to perpetuate the problem.

  14. Doug,

    I do agree that followers do bear responsibility for subjecting themselves to bad polity but the “greater judgement” falls to the leaders. They bear a huge responsibility as well.

    Also, the presumption of innocence is primarily for the legal realm. AG Holder and President Obama I believer are guilty of coverups and obfuscation but they will probably be only tried in the court of public opinion. There are in “limbo” for those who have not made up their minds. Are they innocent until they are impeached and removed and therefore should we publish statements testifying to their character and innocence? I’ve determined that Holder is a leftist political activist who is much more concerned with promoting agendas than the rule of law and he is unfit to be AG. I find President Obama to be an unreasonable crusader for a radical pro-abortion agenda. I doubt if he would even oppose infanticide. I say these things from my reasoned judgment whether or not they are ever convicted by a court or Congress.

    What about the non-Gospel Coalition pastors who have sounded the alarm for years including Joshua Harris?These are men who worked, raised their families with and followed SGM leadership and are finally being heard–sort of. I’d recommend before commenting on this situation that all educate themselves a bit more. Otherwise, it’s probably best not to comment. Jim

  15. I do find it odd that certain figures are innocent until proven guilty, and other are assumed guilty before facts have even come out, much less a trial. I have no doubt that there’s an appropriate bit of rhetoric that will make it all consistent to those who are swayed by such things.

  16. Well, the comments here against SGM remind me about what I’ve read in the last few years of this controversy. Perhaps Jim does not agree with the blogger that said “I hope [this lawsuit] ruins the entire organization [of SGM] “, as quoted by TGC, but it would be good if he distanced himself from that. Because to me a lot of what I have read implicitly supports that attitude. I am trying to be charitable, but I don’t know what else to conclude from the comments.

    Could something bad had occurred? Yes. Did SGM try to address their polity issues with a new polity? Yes. Will it satisfy everyone? Of course not — when have protestants EVER been unified on church government? Historically, significant portion of the differences between us “evangelicals” (although I really don’t like that term, it doesn’t mean anything anymore, maybe I should just say Reformed) have been in the area of church government.

    I have visited SGM churches (but have not been a member of one), and I’ve been blessed by their services. I have also been blessed by their other ministries (books, conferences, music, etc.). If there was some serious injustice 25 yrs ago, and it is proven, then that should be condemned. But even then, I am not ready to just toss the baby out with the bathwater because of an incident that occurred 25 yrs ago. A lot of the people in SGM churches today have absolutely no knowledge of that incident, or for that matter, of many of the other allegations against SGM.

    As for CJ, I will not comment about him, except to say he is no longer the SGM president. However, if I were a betting man, I would be the house that little fact will make very little difference to most of those who feel so strongly against SGM.

    It appears the only way they will ever be appeased is for SGM to cease to exist.

  17. Pastor Wilson,

    I appreciate your work and your stand. I’m a law student at Liberty University (Dean’s List, if it lends me any credibility or lends you any reason to read this), and I’m disappointed in the statement on the Sovereign Grace lawsuit.

    There are two things I think one should look at prior to coming out with this statement. The first is the complaint (http://peterlumpkins.typepad.com/files/second-amended.pdf), the second is Boz Tchividjian’s reaction (http://netgrace.org/where-are-the-voices-the-continued-culture-of-silence-and-protection-in-american-evangelicalism/). Tchividjian, incidentally, is no stranger to child abuse within the Christian environment and is perhaps the most qualified to discuss it, having lead on this issue through the GRACE organization and having dealt with alleged child abuse (and cover-ups) at ABWE, Bob Jones University, New Tribes, and many others.

    The T4G/GC statements evince either a lack of understanding of the legal concepts at play or the specific facts of this case. Contrary to the statement referenced in this article, this case was indeed thrown out on a technicality. I think if you read the complaint (the first link above) you will understand this more fully.

    The reason the judge dismissed the suit was because most of the counts in the class action suit were barred by the statute of limitations. I have a couple things to say about this. First, it is well documented that multiple individuals within SGM counseled the families of the victims to not go to the authorities. This obviously had at the very least a contributing effect to the running of the statute of limitations.

    Second, the statute of limitations frequently bars valid claims of child abuse, for several reasons: 1) it is incredibly rare for children to report abuse, 2) it is VERY, VERY, VERY RARE that a child lies about abuse when it is reported, 3) a child typically does not understand what is happening when they are being raped/abused, 4) long periods of time typically take place before a child comprehends, let alone reports, the abuse. Ruling on the statute of limitations says absolutely nothing about the validity of the claim, only the time in which the claim was brought, and again, child abuse presents a very unique situation when it comes to the statute of limitations.

    Additionally, many of the alleged abusers in the complaint have gone on to rape other children and are now convicted offenders.

    When one combines the reason why the case was dismissed (a technicality/the statute of limitations, allegedly contributed to by SGM staff) and the fact that those who allegedly committed the abuse in this case went on to commit abuse in several other cases, then you have a compelling reason to not make public statements of support.

    Pastor Wilson, I am completely for a just trial, but as someone who has represented THE source of morality boldly in the past, I know you agree that the existence of evil is never determined by the ruling of an earthly judge.

    This does not mean you light the pitchforks, incite a mob, and lynch every alleged abuser in sight. A just sentence is certainly a prerequisite to just judgment.

    This does mean, however, that you unequivocally condemn evil, as you have done and I pray will continue to do.

    For some reason we have a double standard on this. Al Mohler had a scathing post on Penn State and the necessity for Paterno/Spanier to be fired based largely on their failed leadership. He then turned around and co-authored the Together for the Gospel statement publicly supporting Mahaney.

    Many justly condemned Gosnell and his vile acts prior to a just sentence. (Well, not completely just. He didn’t after all get the death penalty.)

    Why did you not write this then:

    “The issue is that we do not know what the just response is until after a fair and just trial. Just sentences do not fall out of the sky — they proceed from just trials. And in order to have a just trial, it must be managed and conducted by just men, men who hate bribes, men who have a backbone, men who know the law.”

    “If a man is accused of child molestation, a horrendous crime, and charges are made and the evidence is being gathered, then patience is absolutely necessary.”

    Why the double standard?

    I’m sensitive to culture wars and the Left’s attempt to demonize any and all things Christian, and the frequent cry of “spiritual abuse” to smear consistent godly men.

    I think if you read the complaint and do some additional research on the alleged offenders here, you will agree this is not what we have here.

    I hope 1) you read this, 2) Christians delve a little deeper into the legal concepts and facts before making public shows of support in these instances, and 3) you continue to be a powerful voice for Christ in the public arena.

  18. Robert, thanks for the comment, and just a couple comments in reply.

    First, I agree with you on the double standard re: Sandusky. Calling for Paterno’s head before a trial of somebody under his authority is equivalent to calling for C.J. Mahaney ‘s head before a trial of someone under his authority. Those situations are comparable. We should have equal weights and measures for Sovereign Grace and Penn State.

    The Gosnell situation isn’t comparable because of the nature of the case — Gosnell was a murderer on the basis of his defense. He was a late term abortionist, something that no one denied. I can assume guilt when the defense is “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”

    And last, I wouldn’t be so confident about the testimony of children — remember the McMartin travesty.

  19. And here you have it, folks. A statement of support for another statement of support for a man using a statute of limitations to avoid accountability for the coverup of sex abuse.

  20. [...] an earlier post, on injustice and empathy, a point rose deep in the comments which needs to be bumped to the [...]

  21. Nick
    Just so you know, that quote was written by a girl who was allegedly raped at the age of 13 at an SGM event. It does add some context.

    Also, if one is innocent until proven guilty, would you let Casey Anthony babysit your grandkids?

  22. Nell,

    That girl, if truthful, does have an existential excuse for the way she feels. My comments were not directed at her in particular, but rather at the vast majority of people that write as if their only purpose in life was to demonize SGM. Hopefully you are not naive enough to think that everyone that criticizes SGM is a victim of sexual abuse. The vast majority of criticisms against SGM in the last few years have nothing to do with the alleged sexual abuse stories, but with “spiritual” abuse related to church polity, and the like.

    As for the babysit analogy, it doesn’t hold water, because Casey Anthony is no longer around (the incident allegedly occurred 25 yrs ago). Those who keep blasting SGM seem to think that time stays frozen and that SGM only consists of one church — the one they visited and did not like.

  23. [...] an earlier post, on injustice and empathy, a point rose deep in the comments which needs to be bumped to the [...]

  24. Caylee Anthony died in 2008. Her mother was found innocent. I am confused by your response.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Caylee_Anthony

  25. Nell,

    All I was trying to say is that the people from SGM that are being accused of either sexual abuse, or coverup, are either: no longer there, or no longer in leadership positions. I was talking about SGM as a whole, and using “Casey Anthony” as a placeholder for those accused at SGM, following up on your analogy.

    Of course, your analogy could still apply to those people, even if they aren’t at SGM. But you were replying to my comments, and I was talking about SGM as a whole. Sorry for the confusion.

  26. […] Carter, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Ray Ortland, Tullian Tchividjian, and Jared Wilson. Doug Wilson and Tim Challies have not gone so far as a supportive letter, but have […]

  27. […] Wax, Joe Carter, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Ray Ortland, Tullian Tchividjian, and Jared Wilson. Doug Wilson and Tim Challies have not gone so far as a supportive letter, but have argued for a wait-and-see […]

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