Silence: an Open Letter to Thabiti Anyabwile

Dear Thabiti,

I’m not sure if you remember me.  As part of an open letter to the council of The Gospel Coalition, I sent you this letter in January.  I was dismayed I did not receive an answer.

Injustice: an Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition

I had hoped you, or some other member of TGC council, would take the time to dialogue.  I asked many important questions which I don’t think are properly addressed by the maintenance of collective silence.  However, despite the discouraging silence I have this far received, I wanted to try again.

Specifically, I want to appeal to you.  The reasons for this are simple.

1. You have a reputation as a fair and gracious man who is willing to engage respectfully in difficult conversations.

2. You recently engaged in a Twitter conversation relevant to the topic I want to address: Pastoral Abuse.

As I’m sure you well remember, you recently tweeted the following:

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What ensued was a barrage of tweets regarding your relationship with CJ Mahaney and Together for the Gospel (T4G).  You were hit with accusations from every side and asked many questions.  From what I can tell, you did your best to answer them.

Unfortunately, you seem to be in the dark here.  For someone who claims to be a close friend of Mahaney, you claimed to not know much about the accusations against him.  Along these lines you issued a number of tweets I think it important to discuss.  Because of the length of the thread – not to mention the number of sub-threads that developed – it would not serve us well to try to reproduce the conversation in its entirety.  Instead, I want to focus on a few specific tweets that caught my attention.

Before we get to the matter at hand, I want to be sure to note I am striving here to be charitable in my approach.  I will take you at your word, and unless context demands otherwise I will take your words at face value.  As such, I want to provide a link to the original thread here, to ensure you remember the conversation and so you can judge whether I treated your words properly within their original context.  If I should misquote or misrepresent you, please feel free to correct me.  As this is intended to be a dialogue, your response is obviously quite welcome

The Tweets

Each of the relevant tweets will be treated in turn, and relevant data will be added below to encourage discussion around the topic.

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With this tweet, you answered whether or not you support CJ Mahaney.  It can be honorable to stand beside a friend in time of struggle, and it seems from your tweets this is your opinion of your actions.

But I do wonder how this support stands in juxtaposition to a post you wrote on September 21, 2015, entitled “The Cosby Conversation We’re Still Not Having

This post made some interesting and, in my opinion, relevant points.  I think the following quotes from this post must be considered as a lens for reading the tweets below.

1. “We can significantly impact the safety and well-being of women by breaking our silence, speaking against violence, abuse and sexual entitlement, and insisting on the prosecution of offenders. We must speak up if we ever hope to end this scourge.”

2. “Communities with weak community sanctions against abusive men, with community norms and values supportive of violence, and with a sense of male sexual entitlement are at risk of higher rates of sexual assault against women.”

3. “There are many working in the trenches, but comparatively their numbers are few. And I suspect far too few churches lend their voices to this cause. We are complicit in our silence.”

With these quotes, and their context in the post above, in mind let us consider some tweets.

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I noted that twice above you noted the importance of silence.  You even went so far as to call it complicity.  I wonder then, is refusing to call out CJ’s sins not, by your own standards, complicity in his abuses?

Also, it is one thing to support a friend who has repented his sins from 20 years ago and moved forward.  However, I must ask, has CJ repented?  This is an important question because your statement above about his “troubles” that occurred 20 years ago occurred within the context of being asked about the cover-up of child sex abuse within Sovereign Grace Ministries, and especially at Covenant Life Church.

This statement seems to presuppose that CJ was, in fact, involved in such a cover-up.  Your stance seems to be not that he is innocent, but that he had repented from and learned from “troubles” he had 20 years ago.  Is this what you believe?  Or did you simply misspeak?

Given the implications of your words, how do you respond to the fact that CJ has specifically denied that he was even involved in any of the “troubles” that occurred beginning 20 years ago?

See this article from Christianity Today if you are unfamiliar with CJ’s words regarding the Sovereign Grace lawsuit.

CJ Mahaney Breaks Silence on Sovereign Grace Ministry Abuse Allegations

If these were not the “troubles” you meant, given the specific context of the conversation in which you were asked about the accusations that Mahaney has covered-up child sex abuse at Covenant Life Church, then what precisely were you referring to? Did you have different “troubles” in mind?

It seems to me, if you know CJ was somehow involved and you know he has not repented or confessed this, then in your silence you are complicit in the cover-up.

But as I said, perhaps I have misunderstood your words.  This leads to the next tweet.

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It seems you are completely unaware of the situation surrounding CJ, why he has been sued, and precisely how the court case proceeded.  I have to admit I find this strange, as it has been so strongly reported by the news media.  But I understand you are busy and it can be difficult to keep up with everything.

With this in mind, I’d like to provide you some resources.  You have explicitly stated above that you see the failure to create an environment that combats abuse as a direct act of enabling said abuse.  Given that, I wonder how do you respond to the facts of the Nathaniel Morales case?

Are you aware that Grant Layman, CJ’s own brother-in-law confessed to actively covering up the Morales abuse?

Megachurch Pastor Confesses to Protecting Child Molester for Years

Isn’t CJ Mahaney, the man who set the tone for how Covenant Life Church treated these incidents, responsible for the fact that those directly under him saw fit to protect the image of their church instead of the victims of sexual assault?

Consider that Joshua Harris himself – once the darling of Conservative Christian Modesty culture – has repented of his role in covering sex abuse.  He has said that the atmosphere of Covenant Life Church was “Mom and Pop” and that no one was trained to properly handle these incidents.

Pastor Joshua Harris, an Evangelical Outlier, Heads to Mainstream Seminary

This is a significant statement.  As the head of both Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries when these abuses occurred, didn’t CJ Mahaney have a responsibility to create an environment where this could not occur?  Do you truly believe CJ Mahaney’s family and protégé could know about these abuses, but he was simply in the dark?

Given that you claim to not be entirely up on the details of the case, I encourage you to read these two articles:

Inside the Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministry

The Sex Abuse Scandal that Devastated a Suburban Megachurch

Despite your claim to know little about the abuse scandal, it seems you do have a few thoughts on the matter, however.  For instance:

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This one perplexes me.  You say you trust the court’s decision, but the only decision that has been made in court is that the statute of limitations had expired.  In case you don’t know what that means, here is a helpful resource to help clarify the term.

The point is this, the court did not rule on the veracity of the charges alleged in the class-action suit.  The charges were not heard because it was determined that the crimes were committed in a time frame that stands outside the established statute of limitations for the state of Maryland.

This is important because, already, the charges against Nathaniel Morales have led to a criminal conviction for sexual abusing two boys.  Grant Layman, CJ’s brother in law both knew and covered up this abuse (a fact I already mentioned above).

Megachurch Pastors leave Reformed Evangelical Network Amid Child Abuse Scandal

It is also notable that, after the civil suit appeal was dismissed in 2014, SGM issued a statement in which they denied ALL claims of the civil suit that a cover-up or conspiracy existed.  These claims came despite the fact that Nathaniel Morales has been convicted and that Grant Layman and Josh Harris both admitted to such a cover-up occurring.

Who is telling the truth? Do you deny the testimony of Layman and Harris, and affirm SGM’s claim that no one covered up any abuse?

You seem to have answered this question with this tweet.

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I want to free you of the perceived need to play judge by helping you see that you don’t have to adjudicate the claims.  Nathaniel Morales has been found guilty and Grant Layman has confessed to the cover-up.  The question isn’t if a cover-up occurred.  The only questions left here are:

1. How deep did the cover-up go?

2. How did the culture, created by CJ Mahaney at Covenant Life Church and through Sovereign Grace Ministry through his leadership, play into this cover-up?

Now let us consider these tweets:

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These are red-herring statements.  The question here isn’t whether the law found CJ Mahaney guilty of anything.  It is (as stated above) whether he participated in the cover-up and how his leadership enabled it.

In answer to how deep the cover-up went, I ask you to read these documents.  I warn you, they are disturbing and graphic, but they are important to understanding the charges leveled against CJ Mahaney.

1. Grace Goe accusations

2. Second Amended Complaint from the class action suit (pdf).

I want you to notice that at the same time cover-ups were known to have occurred – a conspiracy again involving Layman, and in which Joshua Harris has been implicated – CJ Mahaney, Grant Layman, and Gary Ricucci were sent on an expensive vacation by Grace Goe’s father.  Do you honestly believe this a coincidence?

How do you feel about the fact that Ricucci remains in leadership under CJ at SG Louisville?  Are you aware that he has also been accused of covering up other repeated sexual abuse incidents over multiple years by a convicted child molester, David Adams?  Given that CJ Mahaney is the senior pastor of SG Louisville, do you think he has practiced Christ-centered leadership by allowing Ricucci to continue in ministry after these very serious allegations?

I also want to talk about a statement I cited above from your Cosby piece.

Communities with weak community sanctions against abusive men, with community norms and values supportive of violence, and with a sense of male sexual entitlement are at risk of higher rates of sexual assault against women.

Now, consider the following sermon from CJ Mahaney on lust and modesty.  How does the logic here not build upon male entitlement?  Do these ideas not excuse the abuses of men by placing the blame for their reactions on women?  Is a community which embraces these teachings not “at risk of higher rates of sexual assault…” against children?

Let us play devil’s advocate for a moment and assume that CJ Mahaney somehow did not know about the cover-up happening directly under his nose.  Let us even assume he is entirely innocent of the charges in the class action suit.  Is his leadership and message such that he is not at all culpable for the environment of abuse and cover-up that occurred within his own ministry?  Is he morally responsible for the ways in which his leadership contributed to this culture?

Now let us return to reality; CJ Mahaney has not repented.  Instead, he has allowed his ministry to issue false statements (as shown above).  Further, he has personally denied that the cover-up took place while continuing to put Gary Ricucci in a position of church leadership.  So I ask you directly,

Is CJ Mahaney morally culpable for the culture of abuse and cover-up that occurred under his leadership within Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries?

This leads me to a final set of tweets.  Within these tweets, you responded to questions you were asked about those identifying as SGM victims.

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I honestly don’t know what you mean here.  Are you saying that no number of victims could away your opinion?  Are you saying that there isn’t a quantifiable number, but that if convinced you would stand up for it?  Or is there some meaning I’m simply failing to ascertain?  Since I do not know how to read these statements, I am hoping you can clarify this for me.

Some Closing Thoughts

I want to close with a final question and an appeal I hope you will consider:

If you continue to remain silent, are you not complicit in the abuses CJ Mahaney continues to perpetrate by denying the sins he facilitated and enabled?  Are you not even now working then to silence the victims?

As a highly respected minister of the Gospel whom people look to for guidance – and as someone who considers CJ’s a close friend – I urge you to confront him regarding these sins.  Further, I urge to call for the removal of CJ Mahaney from Together for the Gospel and Sovereign Grace Ministries.  If your plea will not be heard, then you must – as a man of conscience – choose to disavow yourself of these ministries.

I close by reminding you of your own words once more:

We can significantly impact the safety and well-being of women by breaking our silence, speaking against violence, abuse and sexual entitlement, and insisting on the prosecution of offenders. We must speak up if we ever hope to end this scourge.

I sincerely thank you for considering my words.  I hope you can see I speak them with the love and respect due a fellow brother in Christ.  I hope you will join the few in the trenches and end your silence.

I bid you peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ of God.

Nate Sparks

**Cover Image from http://www.outreachmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/15-ThabitiAnyabwile-420-300×225.jpg**

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14 thoughts on “Silence: an Open Letter to Thabiti Anyabwile

  1. I’ll immediately grasp your rss as I can’t find your email
    subscription link or newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please allow me know in order that I could
    subscribe. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Good job Nate! When Thabiti wrote that article about the Bill Cosby conversation in light of the C.J. Mahaney situation my jaw hit the ground. I actually wrote a post at the time about “the Mahaney conversation that needs to be had.” The disconnect is jarring and stunning

    https://wonderingeagle.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/is-cj-mahaney-the-bill-cosby-of-neo-calvinism-the-mahaney-conversation-that-thabiti-anyabwile-needs-to-have/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jesus said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    It seems to me that if someone believes that Jesus exists and believes that he said those words, their actions would show it. If their actions do not show it, how then do they believe? They are playing a game.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nate

    I guess the only way to say this is

    “You are an incredible, respectful, resourceful blogger. Thank you for engaging in a long, difficult battle to expose child sex abuse in today’s Protestant churches.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. When I read comments like Anyabwile’s it’s difficult not to be physically ill. I have had the whole, “We can’t know for sure, because it’s ‘he said/she said’ thrown in my face about abuse that actually happened to me. By making this claim, he is accusing the victims of lying. But it shouldn’t surprise me anymore. The church as a whole has a long history of being uncompassionate to those who are actually suffering. It makes me want to cry because they are turning people away from Christ because of their twisted version of Christianity in which they offer comfort and the right hand of fellowship to the abuser and the adulterer, but turn their back on the victims, demanding the victim play along, or else.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I hope for a Church one day where that is not the case, but as it stands the Church remains an unsafe place for survivors of abuse. For what little it may be worth, know that you believed here and that there are those of us who care and are fighting to create the safe space you deserve. As always, thank you for having the courage to share from your pain. Your voice is wanted and needed here.

      Liked by 1 person

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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