An Appeal to the Organizers of Together for the Gospel
April 9, 2016
In 2006 I was delighted to attend the very first Together for the Gospel conference held at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, KY. Who remembers that large banquet room stuffed to the brim with over 2,000 men? I still think about Ligon Duncan’s excellent address on preaching the Old Testament. At the time I was a Southern Baptist pastor who had come to embrace the Doctrines of Grace as being clearly taught in the Scriptures. Together for the Gospel was like a breath of fresh air not least of all because it reminded me that there were many like-minded SBC pastors. I was not alone. It was exciting to be, however peripherally, part of a wonderful new movement. It was exciting to see the attendance of T4G balloon to around 10,000 by 2012. With only two exceptions that I can recall the messages were edifying and God-glorifying.
The year of that first gathering in 2006 was before everyone and their uncle was “reformed.” It was before the word “Gospel” had become a noun, verb, adjective, and prefix attached to everything from preaching to pastries. It was before the public debacle of Mark Driscoll. And it was before many of us had heard any concerns expressed about Sovereign Grace Ministries.
When I first read the reports of spiritual abuse and cult-like control of members in SGM churches I dismissed them outright as the rantings of malcontents. And, as far as my own personal knowledge goes, that may be the case. After years in ministry I have long since abandoned the notion of “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” I have witnessed too many occasions where the smoke came entirely from the mouths of slanderers.
However, the revelations of sexual abuse of children and the cover up of those crimes within SGM churches forced me to reconsider my opinion of “the critics.” It is not my purpose to rehash what has already entered the public record. Suffice it to say, I have found much of the evidence quite compelling that certain leaders within SGM knew about and sought to cover-up the sexual abuse of children. If you are interested you can read more about the horrific situation HERE, HERE, and HERE.
And now, as I have suspected for some months, there will be public protests outside the KFC YUM! Center during next week’s T4G conference. There will also be, no doubt a major media presence. After all, is there anything more delicious to the secular media than an evangelical sex scandal? All of this leaves me asking in stunned wonder: “What are they thinking?” How can the organizers of T4G allow CJ Mahaney a place on the platform this year? The scandal is still growing. Lawsuits are in the offing. The accusations, far from being exposed as lies, seem to have taken on greater credibility.
I understand and value loyalty to friends. I understand that false accusations are made. But I also understand that loyalty has its limits. The details that have been revealed about the various SGM scandals show that there is indeed at least some fire behind the smoke.
I appeal therefore to the organizers of T4G to remove C.J. Mahaney not only from the roster of speakers but also from the organization itself. It gives me no pleasure to write that sentence. I do not know C.J. Mahaney. He may be an honorable man who is truly innocent of every one of the many charges that have been made against him. But to whom much is given, much is required. Mahaney is a pastor. He is and has been for years a spiritual overseer in the church of Jesus Christ. And as we know from Scripture an overseer must be above reproach and have a good reputation with those outside the church.
Of course, at this point to remove Mahaney from the T4G platform at this late date would do nothing to satisfy most of the critics. It would almost certainly be seen as “too little, too late.” It may well be seen as nothing more than a cynical ploy to reduce criticism of the conference. But that does not mean that such an action should not be taken. It would require a humble statement asking forgiveness for not acting sooner. It would mean taking in no uncertain terms a posture of solidarity with the victims of the abuse in SGM churches.
It should never have reached this point.
The decent thing would have been for Mahaney to recuse himself from any more involvement in the leadership of T4G when it was clear that the various scandals of child sexual abuse first surfaced. That he did not, even though he had to know his continued involvement was attracting scandal like flies to a corpse, suggests a tangle of poor motives to which I will add no further speculation.
Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and Al Mohler are men whom I hold in high regard and I will not heap scorn upon them as others have done. I have for years and continue to this day to be blessed by their writing and preaching. But I am dismayed.
My appeal to them in part is driven by my deep desire that these men for whom I feel a great deal of gratitude not be tarnished by another man’s scandal. Primarily, however, this appeal is made on the basis of my love for Christ, his church, and the Reformed faith. Like it or not it is our Lord’s reputation that is taking a beating because of this scandal. It is also the Doctrines of Grace which many of us hold dear that are being mocked because of this. Have we already forgotten how Mark Driscoll’s numerous scandals did great damage to complementarianism and Calvinism (though Driscoll was never a Calvinist)? Certainly the reputation of Jesus and his gospel are of far greater worth than our conferences, paychecks, platforms, projects, and alliances.