February 7, 2012
SGM-Gate Case Closed
C.J. Mahaney has been reinstated as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, but questions linger about the investigation.
Last year former leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) came forward with accusations against the group's president, C.J. Mahaney. As reported on this blog, Mahaney was accused of "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." In order for the board to investigate the veracity of these claims, Mahaney took a leave absence from SGM.
The scandal, which became known as SGM-gate, and has fueled numerous websites and blogs, came to be seen by some as an indictment of SGM itself and not simply Mahaney. Last year Joshua Harris, senior pastor of Covenant Life Church where Mahaney was the previous leader, resigned from the SGM’s board. Apparently, based on a statement released from SGM, Harris believed God was disciplining all of SGM. Harris said in a Sunday sermon that “our denomination is being publicly spanked, we are being humiliated and being brought low."
But last month after completing its investigation of the accusations, SGM's board decided to reinstate Mahaney as the president. The full report, which is over 40 pages, acknowledges that Mahaney and other SGM leaders engaged in behavior that was “coercive, wrong and sinful,” but the board concluded: “After examining the reports of these three review panels, we find nothing in them that would disqualify C.J. from his role as president, nor do they in any way call into question his fitness for gospel ministry.” (Read the board's announcement and the full report here.)
Mahaney's accusers disagree. In response to the board's conclusions, they have said the investigation was biased because it was conducted by SGM leaders rather than an outside third party. Larry Tomczak writes, "Unfortunately, the examination was basically handled 'in house' by sincere men who had a definite stake in the outcome – namely their livelihood and the preservation of the ministry image." Tomczak believes the investigators mishandled some of the more scandalous accusations including blackmail.
Throughout the report, SGM acknowledges mistakes, sins, and failures of its leaders, but it not did find them to be disqualifying in scope or intensity. The board statement said, “As with all ministers of the gospel, C.J. is not infallible, and this fact is not lost on him.... And so we also affirm that throughout this process of evaluation, C.J. has made genuine confession to the appropriate parties and has demonstrated a desire to grow in areas of weakness.”
What are we to make of SGM-gate the the board's conclusions? One thing is clear, the age of the internet, blogs, and social media is changing the nature of church conflicts. With instant communication both accusations and defenses can move at rapid speed, and matters that were once handled is private meetings are now being aired in very public forums online. This reality means those in leadership will also need to rethink how conflicts are handled.