July 22, 2011
C.J. Mahaney, Pride, and SGM-gate
C.J. Mahaney’s “leave of absence” and Josh Harris resigns from the board. What’s going on a Sovereign Grace Ministries?
The hurricane of news and accusations swirling around Sovereign Grace Ministries is moving too fast for many of us to keep up with. The story has become so big and complicated that some blogs have actually dubbed it "SGM-gate."
Earlier this month C.J. Mahaney, president of SGM, took a leave of absence when accusations surfaced against him. When this sort of thing usually happens the accusations are of sexual immorality or financial mismanagement. But Mahaney is accused of being a jerk. A statement issued July 6 says "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy" are the reason of his indefinite leave of absence.
Brent Detwiler, a former SGM pastor, has been one of Mahaney’s more vocal accusers. In an email written to Christianity Today, Detwiler said:
"[SGM] has been a wonderful organization committed to planting Gospel-centered churches in the United States and parts abroad. There are many outstanding pastors and people in the denomination. But temptation and sin come with rapid growth and recognition. That was especially true for C. J., and we did not serve him well by allowing him to play by a different set of rules—a double standard. We certainly share the blame for his fall. But C. J. genuinely loves the Lord and people, so I am confident he will respond to God's discipline in his life."
The entire affair has become even more unsavory since 600 emails written between Detwiler and Mahaney were anonymously published online--although Detwiler has since admitted knowing who released the documents.
The latest twist came two weeks ago when Joshua Harris, senior pastor of Covenant Life Church where Mahaney was the previous leader, resigned from the Sovereign Grace Ministry’s board. Apparently, based on a statement released from SGM, Harris believes God is disciplining all of SGM and that the ungodly pride Mahaney is accused of may stretch beyond SGM’s president. Numerous blogs have reported that Harris said in his Sunday sermon that “our denomination is being publicly spanked, we are being humiliated and being brought low."The board does not agree. Harris has since resigned from the board but has agreed to continue attending meetings.
For more on the details surrounding Mahaney, Harris, and what’s happening at SGM, check out this article by Bobby Ross Jr. at Christianity Today.
This mess at SGM comes a year after another prominent Calvinista, John Piper, took a leave of absence. At the time there were no accusations against Piper, but he did site pride and unhealthy patterns in his ministry and family life as the reason for needing "a reality check from the Holy Spirit." After eight months Piper returned to his post at Bethlehem Baptist and his public speaking.
What do you make of the news about Mahaney and SGM? And with both Piper and Mahaney are we witnessing a pattern among large, celebrity church leaders? Is this something unique to the Neo-Reformed movement, or is it broader than that? And when a leader steps down due to adultery or steeling we generally call it a "failure." But what about when a leader steps down because of pride? Is it still a failure, or something to be affirmed--a preemptive and mature decision that comes before engaging in a "real" sin?