Phil Johnson, C.J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries Sex Abuse Case, Together for the Gospel, #T4G2016, Survivor Blogs
Phil Johnson, John MacArthur’s right-hand man has issued a public statement on his Facebook page regarding CJ Mahaney, the Together for the Gospel 2016 conference, and survivor blogs.
As usual, we don’t see much concern for the victims. And, look how he shames Janet Mefferd for putting victims first! Wow.
Lots of people have been asking my opinion about having CJ Mahaney as a headliner at T4G. Here’s a longish summary of my answer:
In July of 2011 I started reading the original 600-page Detweiler dump. Approximately 375 pages in, I gave up looking for anything substantial. Everything Brent Detweiler complained about was petty and personal: CJ Mahaney was too controlling; he wasn’t transparent with his fellow leaders; he didn’t submit to the same accountability he demanded of them; he was stubborn; he didn’t listen to criticism; etc. I’m no defender of SGM’s continuationist doctrine or their philosophy of ministry. In fact, the Detweiler documents left me with the impression that SGM is practically cultlike in the ways they have tried to achieve “accountability” and “transparency.” (The accountability structures seem even worse than the Roman Catholic confessional system.) But it deeply annoyed me and offended me to read hundreds of pages of private emails in the Detweiler papers without seeing any evidence of the kind of gross, deliberate wrongdoing that might justify that style of public attack on a Christian leader’s character and reputation.
Let’s suppose all the things Detwieler complained about were true. None of it was as bad as Detweiler’s decision to trample the whole point of 1 Timothy 5:19 in order to litigate his personal grievances against his boss on the Internet. His airing of personal complaints against CJ to a worldwide audience predictably unleashed a flood of gossip and speculation among people who had no righteous involvement in any of the conflicts Detweiler described. (See Proverbs 26:17.) It was a strategy whose main aim seemed to be to destroy CJ’s reputation.
Sometime much later (seems like it was almost 2 years later), accusations began to surface that CJ Mahaney had actively participated in a cover-up of several child-abuse incidents within SGM. Given my frustration with the Detweiler documents, my inclination was to be highly skeptical of these new accusations. The charges don’t fit what I know of CJ Mahaney, and (again, in opposition to 1 Timothy 5:19) the notion that Mahaney engineered a cover-up conspiracy wasn’t backed up with any real evidence. I still haven’t seen any damning emails or smoking guns implicating CJ himself. The only “proof” seems to consist entirely of several people who say they are pretty sure it’s impossible that such things could occur in SGM without CJ’s knowledge and approval. Even if it’s totally true that CJ’s leadership style would lend credibility to the charge, we are expressly forbidden to admit the charge without actual evidence. Speculation and suspicions from someone who can’t possibly know what actually happened behind the scenes is not evidence–no matter how many voices join in and echo the accusations.
So in short, I emphatically refuse to assume the worst of CJ. And I’m disappointed in Janet Mefferd for aligning herself with some of the “survivor blogs” where CJ’s guilt is simply assumed and dogmatically declared as if it were already a settled issue. To pretend to be calling for “justice” while committing such a gross injustice is the very height of hypocrisy. The best-known survivor blogs tend to be places where disgruntled former church members mingle with people who are overtly hostile to biblical authority–and a handful of people who are true victims of spiritual abuse. Then they all stoke one another’s resentment and give as much publicity as possible to every accusation that surfaces claiming this or that Christian leader has abused his authority. This is no less unjust than the abuse they complain of. And it is grossly unhealthy to the participants’ spiritual well-being. Mrs. Mefferd of all people ought to have more discernment than that.
On the other hand, I also disagree with the decision to include CJ among the speakers at T4G2016. I was happy to see CJ in attendance but not speaking at T4G2014. I don’t see the wisdom in putting him on the platform two years later when, if anything, the controversy that surrounds him is more fierce than ever. Turning the T4G spotlight on CJ while such a scandal is raging certainly doesn’t help him, and it unnecessarily clouds the message of T4G. I share all of Todd Pruitt‘s concerns about that.
I’m considering this from a practical and personal perspective. If it turned out that two or three of my employees committed criminal child-abuse offenses in the course of their work under my oversight, even if I was totally ignorant of what was happening and personally innocent of any wrongdoing, I would nevertheless decline any outside speaking engagements until all questions about the matter were truly and sufficiently resolved. It would not be right to attach the scandal and reproach of a brewing conflict like that to any other organization. Passing up an opportunity to be a headliner at a big conference would especially seem an important way of countering the charges that a person lacks humility.
In CJ’s case, as I understand it, some of the questions floating around are still being litigated in the courts. I just don’t see any good reason to rush him back into such an important position of high visibility. That’s my perspective.
Still, I would not suggest that there are no difficulties with the course of action I would have taken, either. At some point you have to refuse to cater to the concerns of people who insist on accusing a man when they can’t possibly meet the simple biblical standard of evidence. So I do sympathize with those who had to make the decision for this year’s T4G, and the fact that I would have chosen a different course of action does not in any way diminish my respect for them.