Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Culture of Abuse

A 91 member church organization faces accusations of a mass cover-up of sexual abuse.

Sovereign Grace Ministries is a Louisville, Kentucky based church planting group that boasts 91 member churches in 17 countries. T.F. Charlton, founder of Are Women Human?, writes for Religion Dispatches about how Sovereign Grace officials perpetrated and covered up sexual and physical abuse for years.

The accounts are as various as they are disturbing. Charlton writes,

Women and children who came forward were threatened and ostracized if they resisted efforts to “restore” their abusive husbands and fathers to a position of “leadership” in the family. One plaintiff, “Robin Roe,” whose sister was sexually abused by their adoptive father, reports that their mother was advised by CLC pastors to send the victim away so the abuser could return as “head of the household.” When Roe’s mother refused to submit to this and other pastoral “attempt[s] to obstruct justice,” the family was kicked out of the church.

That’s pretty horrible, but another case Charlton presents almost tops that,

An anonymous adult witness mentioned in the lawsuit (who originally shared her story as “Taylor” on SGM Survivors) further alleges that church leaders told her her husband had been “tempted” to molest their 10-year-old daughter because Taylor hadn’t “met [her] husband’s needs physically.” Fairfax pastors instructed her to allow her husband to move back into the home and “make sure [she] had physical relations with him regularly,” and to lock their daughter’s bedroom at night.

These allegations, which seem terrible in an almost unique way, have been deemed “vague” by Sovereign Grace Ministries. In fact, Sovereign Grace’s lawyers asked that the case against them be thrown out because the allegations were too vague.

Charlton alleges that Sovereign Grace’s bizarre leadership culture is at least in part to blame for the abuse. For one, the leaders of Sovereign Grace are not exactly moral paragons. C.J. Mahaney, the president of Sovereign Grace, is a crazy egomaniac. He was recently forced into a short suspension after it was revealed he blackmailed a fellow church official into leaving the church. Even his protege and to-be-successor, Joshua Harris, author of the deeply problematic classic of hip Christianity I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has even turned his back on Mahaney. Although this could simply be because Harris wants to head the church himself.

So add to this a culture that encouraged and even valorized beating children, as Charlton writes,

At Sovereign Grace, abuse culture was literally a part of the teachings. The allegations against CLC co-founder Larry Tomczak bring to mind his bizarrely titled 1982 book God, the Rod, and Your Child’s Bod, a parenting guide that was in heavy use at SGM before his departure. In it, he advises parents to keep multiple instruments for beatings in handy locations so they can “apply loving correction immediately.”
Writing about “disciplining” children who disobey multiple times in a day, Tomczak winkingly describes beatings as “posterior protoplasmic stimulation,” assuring parents that any resulting marks or redness are “nothing to get upset about.” He also recounts giving his 18-month-old son “a series of repeated spankings (with explanation and abundant display of affection between each one)” in a motel parking lot, until the boy “realized that Daddy always wins and wins decisively!” [emphasis his] Tomczak denies physically abusing anyone, but his defense that the current lawsuit’s allegations concern a “disciplinary parental issue” over a “troubled family member” only raises more concerns.

Not only did Sovereign Grace encourage beating children, but it also created an environment that discouraged people from standing up to abusers,

Both women and children are taught that submission is part of a divine plan that should be embraced joyfully, and that even submitting to abusive men is noble and Christ-like. CLC pastor Joshua Harris quotes 1 Peter on this score, praising slaves who obeyed the masters who beat them as following Jesus’ example. Harris interprets this to mean that all Christians are called to submit, even when “suffering” under “unjust” leadership. Therefore wives are called to resist the “sinful” impulse to “fight back” against or even criticize husbands who misuse their “authority.”

Sovereign Grace has defended such teachings in court as an expression of their first amendment right to freedom of speech.

You can read Charlton’s whole article here. It’s a horrific situation, and Charlton deserves commendation for how good of a job she does on reporting on it.

If this whole thing wasn’t depressing enough for you, you can check out SGMsurvivors, which will keep you up to date on how horrible Sovereign Grace Ministries is.

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