Confirmed: SGM leader C.J. Mahaney to temporarily step down

ETA: This news has now been confirmed on C.J.’s blog. I’ve moved my previous disclaimer to the comments to avoid it cluttering up this post.

So apparently the top leader of SGM is temporarily stepping down in light of charges “[including] various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.” More at SGM Survivors (usual warnings apply about the comments not being safe space in various ways). It’s a sudden and somewhat shocking development, at least to me; my reaction to it is mixed and will take some time to process. It’s definitely unexpected given how much of a cult of personality SGM is – one that specifically revolved around C.J. more than anyone else.

A couple things strike me off the bat – one, he focuses exclusively on grievances that former SGM pastors and leaders have with him and SGM, and only talks about other leaders who are friends of SGM as having any role in providing him with “counsel and correction” in considering these charges. This is not the best sign. A huge part of the complaint against SGM has been that leaders are treated as though they have some special extra-godly status while “regular” members are expected to unquestioningly submit to and practically worship them. This doesn’t really alleviate concerns about SGM’s pyramid-like hierarchical and authoritarian culture, especially since most (not all) of the complaints brought against the group have been from regular members, not former pastors or otherwise influential members.

The way he name drops about the bigwigs (for the tiny reformed evangelical world, anyway) who will be helping him (not doing an unbiased assessment, in other words) through this process is particularly disturbing:

I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible.

He’s enlisted them? To serve him personally? That just sounds weird. It really doesn’t sound like he’s going through a period of “discipline.” It sounds more like he’s simultaneously trying to score points for being so humble to voluntarily step down and invite “correction,” while also trying to impress people by his ability to personally summon important reformed leaders to pow wow with him. Bleh.

On the plus side, they are bringing in an outside group with (supposedly) no history with SGM to evaluate the situation, and C.J. says he’s stepping down to make sure there’s no conflict of interest created by his continuing to lead SGM while this group conducts their investigation. That’s good. I’m sure the group is extremely conservative and fundamentalist, which will limit the degree to which they can really see the wrong that’s been done by SGM (e.g., with their queer hating theology). ETA: Not an outside group. The group is linked to Peacemakers, a ministry that has a long, ugly history with SGM, including attempting to “reconcile” a family whose child had been traumatized at an SGM church to the pastors who attempted to cover up the trauma (see here, trigger warning and also not a safe space).

I also gotta point out that it was only a few weeks ago that Josh Harris credited C.J. with the insights that led to the his weak sauce apology to CLC:

For several years now C.J. Mahaney, who was one of the founding pastors of Covenant Life and now serves as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has been leading the pastors of Sovereign Grace to recognize the difference between principle and practice…

C.J. shared something with me recently that turned the light on for me. He quoted J.I. Packer who wrote that the Puritans were known for their ability to “reduce to practice”—in other words, they took biblical principles and reduced them to specific choices and decisions in their lives. This is a good thing. God’s Word, handled rightly, leads to humble and skillful application.

But C.J. pointed out that there can be a problem when we “reduce to only one practice”—and give the impression that there is only one godly way to honor a given principle.

So just six weeks ago C.J. was a great leader who helped the pastors see how wrong they’d gotten things (as it turns out, not that wrong! shocking!). And now he’s the target of accusations so serious that an outside body needs to come in to evaluate them. Accusations that he’s been aware of for years, by his own admission, but has said nothing about, allowing himself to be continually held up as the paragon of perfect leadership and godliness the whole time:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.

Golly. Well. Things sure do change quickly in SGM! “Constant change is always with us,” indeed.



12 Comments on “Confirmed: SGM leader C.J. Mahaney to temporarily step down”

  1. Grace says:

    The disclaimer I added before this was confirmed by SGM, for anyone who is interested:

    Putting this on the record just in case… It occurs to me that the only corroboration we have of this is from the Survivors and Refuge blogs. It has not been confirmed by an outside source.

    I don’t doubt the credibility of the blog moderators, but at the same time, I wouldn’t put it past SGM leaders, or a member acting independently, to plant a letter like this to discredit the blogs. Ridiculous as that might sound, it wouldn’t be the first time an SGM member has attempted to pull a hoax on the ex-members’ blogs.

    Of course, if it is a hoax from inside SGM, it’ll only end up biting them in the ass, because this news is spreading around Twitter FAST and it kind of doesn’t look good when a church or church member is party to a hoax of this gravity. Might even look kinda…y’know…culty.

    Anyway! With the disclaimer that everything I’ve said below only applies if the letter posted at Survivors and Refuge is authentically from CJ, which at this point I’m not assuming….

  2. lee says:

    the “joy” which i sense from those celebrating the demise of sgm and cj is discouraging. No one more than I have seen first hand what both the bloggers and sgm is referring to but did anyone stop to see that there are souls and families involved here.also the Father heart of God is grieved. the only winner here is the kingdom of darkness. blogging has done nothing to change things only to do the most abominable thing listed in the Bible and that is to ” sow discord among the brethren.” we should all hit our knees, fast and pray for revival. the profanity in your blog suggests maybe you too have some heart work to do. I know I do.

    • Grace says:

      I’m sure this news is difficult for many in SGM to deal with. I take no pleasure in that. But the fact is that SGM members past and present have a RIGHT to this information, and none of it would ever have come to light had it not been in part for the blogs. This is information about how your church was run by dysfunctional, petty, backbiting, sin-sniffing leaders. Information about how your leaders lied to you by presenting C.J. as a paragon of humility and presenting a united front when the whole time there was deep disunity as well as ongoing questions about C.J.’s behavior and character.

      You were lied to. Your money was misused. Your church was manipulated. Why are you upset with the people who are pointing you to those facts instead of with the people who lied and manipulated and ran a thoroughly dysfunctional organization? Those are some skewed priorities.

      The fact that you look at profanity as a reflection of the heart is a perfect example of SGM’s focus on outward appearance and conformity. As is your standard issue disclaimer that you have heart work to do, too, even though bloggers are so evil and terrible and whatever.

    • acme says:

      I’m not reading joy — but relief, vindication, sorrow, anger, grief, and so on — and I’ve been on the blogs for a while now. Truth hurts, but it’s better than lies and manipulation and peace-faking in trying to keep the peace.

      • ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’ John 8:32

        This is a season for the vindication of the many victims whose lives have been shredded by the abuse of these men! We do not rejoice in the demise of anyone and certainly we hope the result will be repentance and restoration.

        SECRETS KILL! There is a time to cover sin when exposure is more damaging than the withholding of information but this is a circumstance where the possibility exists for the victims to be vindicated and the perpetrators can be held accountable. We are called to defend the defenseless. In an authoritarian system of government the only hope of that happening is the body at large coming forward and addressing these issues.

        Obviously the process should be conducted by mature individuals. As a body we should stand with the victims to assure them they will be heard and not further victimized by the refusal of the body to address the sin of an elite who have been untouchable until now.

        • StillHurting says:

          The contagion of authoritarianism and “lording over the flock” has infected the entire religious-industrial complex. Hundreds of superstar mega-church clerics have been “mentored” by Mahaney, and their wannabes are legion.

          Lots of hurting people stepping forward here:


        • Sharon says:

          Having been part of a certain church for 21 years that was adopted into SGM about 5/6 years ago I have this to say:
          At first we were all for it. After all, there would accountability for the leadership etc. BUT, several years in it has become apparent to me that SGM does indeed have many similarites to a cult mentality.
          1. Hymns were pushed to the wayside to make room mostly all SGM music.
          2. Our leadership refuses to listen to any “regular” member. They have said and I quote that they are “more spiritual”. Even though many, and when I say many…. 2 dozen or more members over a few years have gone to them with the same concerns they refuse to even consider that the Holy Spirit may be speaking to them.
          3.I especially relate to your paragraph in which you say: SECRETS KILL! There is a time to cover sin when exposure is more damaging than the withholding of information but this is a circumstance where the possibility exists for the victims to be vindicated and the perpetrators can be held accountable. We are called to defend the defenseless. In an authoritarian system of government the only hope of that happening is the body at large coming forward and addressing these issues……….Our pastors have chosen to cover any and all of their sin. Mostly because they do not see it, and I think because they are governed by fear of being exposed. This has caused a split in our church. Many have left. AND they still refuse to SEE that they may be the sinners. The results are broken hearts all over the place. Pride has taken over. God help us.
          4. I say these things having been involved in a cult in my younger years. I know it when I see it.
          May we pray for grace and forgivness as this moves forward.

  3. Mrs Stretch says:

    Here is a link to the back story:

  4. […] that led to C.J. Mahaney stepping down? 9.   Confirmed: SGM leader C.J. Mahaney to temporarily step down 8.   Reaction to Brent Detwiler’s documents – highlights 7.   Damage control at […]

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