So I see that Al Mohler has now apologized for his past support of CJ Mahaney, and has also apologized for a joke that he once told while introducing Mahaney at an event. For more details, the story is here, and Al Mohler’s statement is here.
Now this story is way problematic, and the problems should not be all that hard to discern. But before getting into it, I think I should remind you that these ongoing problems are clearly the result of not enough people obtaining and perusing A Justice Primer. As RC Sproul would have put it, “What’s wrong with you people?”
A Justice Primer
A basic introduction to the principles of biblical justice, desperately needed in our time.
Woke Justice is Broke Justice:
Now there are two basic layers to the problems in this story. One has to do with what we are supposed to do when a leader is accused of wrongdoing. The second has to do with what constitutes a credible third-party investigation, and who is in charge of approving those credentials.
On the first. Here is one headline from the Courier Journal:
“Southern Baptist seminary chief regrets embrace of religious leader accused of hiding sex abuse.”
The relevant phrase there is accused of. On this basis, each person in Asia who deserted the apostle Paul was well within his rights (2 Tim. 1:15). After all, he was accused of stuff. Maybe we need to revisit Peter’s denial of the Lord—after all, there were multiple witnesses assembled against Jesus (Matt. 26:60). There were many, it says.
But here’s just a little something that I like to call “the Word of God.”
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19).
To illustrate, let me set up a little scenario. Suppose I was slated to speak at an event, and CJ Mahaney was also going to be speaking there. Suppose further that an uproar of this current nature commenced, and people were demanding that I cancel my appearance there. I hope to God that I would flatly refuse to cancel anything. But take it a step further. Suppose that I did speak at this event, with controversy swirling around CJ, and a year later, there was an actual fair trial of some sort and it was found that CJ was guilty of some of the things alleged. Would I apologize then for having spoken at the event? Of course not.
Holding on to the presumption of innocence is not the same thing as taking sides. To the extent you are on anybody’s side, you are on the side of Lady Justice. To the extent you are against a side, it is called being against mobs.
Suppose a man faced down a lynch mob on the steps of the court house, and because of this the trial against the mob’s intended victim was enabled to proceed. Suppose further that the accused was found to be manifestly guilty. Does the man who resisted the mob have anything to apologize for? Certainly not, because his action was not an action of defending a guilty man, but rather the action of defending a righteous process.
The second issue in this rat’s nest has to do with who guards the guardians? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Al Mohler said this:
“I should have been very clear about insisting on an independent, credible third-party investigation.”
Two responses here. First, in his statement Mohler said that he was greatly affected by all the evidence he was shown by Rachael Denhollander. Now the first question is this. Was that “showing of evidence,” what Rachael showed to Al, a credible, third-party investigation? Did it meet the criteria? Was there an opportunity for cross-examination? Was there a presumption of innocence? Was anyone allowed to face their accuser? Was there time allotted for both the prosecution and the defense?
The second aspect is this. In the previous iteration of this controversy, I pointed out a critical fact, a key issue, a salient point, an item of interest. In this context, in this controversy, with regard to Sovereign Grace Churches, that “independent, credible third-party investigation” would have been conducted by GRACE, an organization that Rachael Denhollander has teamed up with, one headed up by Boz Tchividjian. Given the long-distance antics of Boz concerning one of our situations here in Moscow, with which I have had direct experience, it would be more fitting for people to be calling for an independent, credible third-party investigation of that ministry. How can Boz head up an investigation when there are serious allegations, the ones I just made, concerning the manifest biases of GRACE?
Here is something I wrote on that back at that time, which you can check out if you like.
I say this in that linked piece, but I need to reiterate it here. Rachael’s Denhollander’s testimony against Larry Nassar was an example of grace and courage, of just the kind we need in cases like this, and it was done in the kind of setting where these kinds of things need to be handled. She was speaking as a witness, and her testimony—and the testimony of many others—was credible and independently confirmed. Well done.
But she has gotten out of her lane. She has not been trained to identify the ever-present threat of ambulance-chasers, and she has now taken up with one. And so that means that I am confronted with the spectacle—for that is what it is—of Al Mohler distancing himself from a man that I don’t know to be a scoundrel because he is insisting that the case be turned over to a man who is.
So here are the facts you need to know. CJ Mahaney has not been convicted of any crime by a civil court, despite attempts to do so, and he has not been convicted by any ecclesiastical court or investigation. He denies the charges. Neither you nor I know all the facts in this dispute, going back decades. We do not need to know if the charges could have been true. Of course they could have been true. That’s not good enough. We need to know whether they were. In the meantime, we also need to have our behavior be stalwart in our defense of due process. We live in a time where the courts have been corrupted, and mobs are surging back and forth. Live accordingly.
Make no mistake. An independent and credible third-party investigation would be great. But there are no available entities who have the gravitas and moral authority to conduct one. Such an entity would need to be capable of coming back either with a guilty-as-sin verdict or with a not-guilty, and to have all parties accept the judgment, whichever way it goes.
The Tactical Import:
What I have written above is simple biblical justice, 100 proof, straight out of the bottle. What follows below is simply my attempt at some ecclesiastical punditry. Put this in a different category.
The Southern Baptist Convention is teetering right on the verge of getting sucked down the wokehole. In my view, about the only person with enough throw weight to keep that from happening, and who actually might want to keep that from happening, was Al Mohler. And I believe that for all intents and purposes, the bad guys have effectively neutralized him.
One of the hardest things in the world for human pride to do is to seek forgiveness when you have done genuine wrong. This is why it is easy for sensitive and genuine Christians (like Al Mohler) to be manipulated by those who use demands for an apology as a weapon. What they are doing is offering Christians an easy way out that is disguised as the hardest thing that any of us ever have to do. You can give in to the external pressures while believing that you are following the internal pressure of the Holy Spirit.
Remember that I have written before on how apologies have been effectively weaponized.
What is the context? This CJ situation follows hard on the heels of a story that just broke, in which it was revealed that there have been numerous instances of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, going back decades. The Houston Chronicle broke the story, and revealed that the abuses reported involved over 700 victims, and 200 perps.
Before going a step further, let me make sure to indent the next paragraph, and put the whole thing in bold. Let me also say that if I had the technical ability, I would also have the next paragraph in blinking neon.
Whenever sexual abuse of a child occurs, particularly when the abuse is at the hands of a trusted religious leader, the reaction of everyone who loves the Lord Jesus should be one of horror, along with a full embrace of what Jesus taught about this kind of thing. He said would be better for that offender to have a 3,000 pound millstone cinched tight around his neck, and to have that millstone pitched into the ocean (Matt. 18:6).
Now keep in mind the story, of necessity, only deals with perpetrators who were caught or reported, and leaves out of calculation any number of offenses that were never reported, or never prosecuted. So we should factor that in as well. The fact that most of the offenders in the Chronicle story were convicted doesn’t help us with those who were not caught, or those who managed to get employment at another church. In short, there is a very real problem here, and certain common sense reforms (consistent with Baptist polity) should be instituted.
And if you think that this is what the furor is all about then I have some ocean front property in Nebraska I would like to sell you.
Maybe the next two paragraphs should be in neon also.
When a Horror Story happens, and someone tries to minimize the Horror of it by means of contextualizing it (“look at all the Southern Baptist kids that this didn’t happen to”), they deserve all the derision they are going to get. But when a Horror Story happens, and someone starts using it as a lever to introduce some systemic changes in line with their agenda, and someone else responds to this proposal for systemic change with a reminder of the broader context, this is fully appropriate and necessary. This goes double when it is obvious that the Horror Story was broken with at agenda in mind.
For example, if there is a school shooting, and someone tries to comfort us by reminding us how many schools weren’t shot up that day, then he is a blockhead. But if there is a school shooting, and the first thing that happens is a full court press for gun control, and someone responds with some contextualizing data, that is just what ought to happen.
So with that said, these reported offenses in the SBC happened over the course of two decades, and occurred in a denomination with 47,000 churches, one which has 15 million members. For purposes of comparison, the government school system is bigger than this, but is of comparable size. Perhaps we could pursue the edifying exercise (for just a moment) of comparing some statistics of sexual abuse. According to one organization dedicated to fighting sexual abuse in the schools, in 2015 just shy of 500 educators were arrested for sexual abuse. They say, counting from 8th through 11th grade, that about 3.5 million students reported having had some kind of physical sexual contact with an adult, usually a teacher or coach. When sharing porn or exhibitionism is included, the number rises to 4.5 million.
So my point here is not to stand by these numbers as necessarily rock solid. I have my doubts. But it is to insist on equal weights and measures, and on the need to compare apples to apples. If we need systemic change on how to deal with sexual predation of children, then we need to start with the LGBTQ+ grooming in the schools, all the sex ed courses, and the informal labs out behind the gym. Also it is incidentally to point out that the real scandal is how many Southern Baptists still have their kids in the government school system.
This is not a case of us all suddenly discovering that the SBC is a hotbed of unaddressed sexual abuse. Starting with the ouster of Paige Patterson, the SBC is being managed-marched to the edge of the abyss, with the progressives poking them periodically in the back with a sharp stick. In the meantime, ostensible conservatives are standing by, looking on, and asking me, “You aren’t defending sex abuse, are you?”
Southern Seminary has proven itself, two or three times now it has proven itself, susceptible to the wrong kind of pressure. This is the heart of the problem. And anyone who believes that this kind of compromise is going to cause the pressure to let up is a person who doesn’t get out much. The whisper goes, “All you have to do is give into their righteous demands,” and you do, easy-appeasy, and their righteous demands will start to multiply. “Anybody here in our studio audience think that Al Mohler hasn’t gone nearly far enough? Show of hands?”
You have this gratuitous and unnecessary apology, a pulling of the skirts away from CJ Mahaney. You have the apology of just a few weeks back, having to do with the slave-holding of the founders of the seminary, two centuries ago. I can relate to this one because I myself am kind of torn up about the policies of Andrew Jackson.
And perhaps you remember when there was a protest at the seminary a few years ago over a counseling conference, and the issue there was reparative therapy. At that time, Mohler denounced reparative therapy, not because it was reparative, but because it was based in psychology and therefore not biblical. On paper that one is entirely defensible, but this wasn’t on paper. In our generation, there is a mob surrounding biblical counselors and psychologists both, with psychologically-based reparative therapy (for minors) already against the law in numerous states.
Can anyone not see what is actually going on? Parents who support a minor who wants to transition to another sex are called “supportive” parents. Parents who support a minor wanting to be rid of same sex attraction are “abusive” outlaws. Whether reparative therapy works is something that Christians have every right to challenge in a behind-closed-doors debate. But if they challenge it in the context of a howling mob outside, a mob that believes that all attempts to help homosexuals change is bigotry, then the real issue is being made manifest—your susceptibility to pressure. Say the Nazis come pounding on your door because you are a Jew. You reply that you are not a Jew, and that they must have the wrong address. The Jews are next door, right over there. You are absolutely right that you are not Jew. Not a Christian either.
I am willing to guess that some of the pressure is now coming from inside. Southern is a big enough institution to have made some unfortunate hires, with enough faculty going to the wrong kind of conferences, and with some of them actually liking the sulfurous odors coming from that wokehole.
Look for repeated rounds of this same kind of thing, over and over. The adversary will run this play for just as long as it continues to work. And pray for Al Mohler.