No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
– Luke 6:43-45 (NIV)
Yesterday (October 9, 2016), Albert Mohler published an op ed piece in The Washington Post. In this post, Mohler declared unequivocally that any presidential candidate, and indeed any person at all, who would brag about grabbing women by the genitals against their will is a sex predator. As a result, Mohler argues that no evangelical can, in good conscience, defend such a candidate. Thus, as he sees it, support for a sex predator, if left unchecked, will mark the downfall of Evangelical Christianity.
As I read this article, I found my response to be a mixture of agreement and amazement. That is, while I agree with Mohler in principle – he is absolutely right that the tapes contain depictions of sexually predatory behavior and voting for such a man violates the Christian ethic – I am struck by the depths of Al Mohler’s hypocrisy.
On May 23, 2013, Albert Mohler, along with Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever, issued a statement on behalf of Together for the Gospel. In this statement, Mohler declared that, while he cannot pass judgment on accusations against the other individuals named in the SGM Lawsuit, CJ Mahaney is entirely innocent of all the accusations against him.
However, a quick examination of the facts presented in the Second Amended Complaint of the SGM Lawsuit will reveal just how self-defeating this statement is.
Before I proceed, I want to issue a content warning. Below, I describe incidents of child sex abuse as outlined in the Second Amended Complaint of the SGM Lawsuit. While I have attempted to avoid graphic detail as much as possible, the events described below will be disturbing to some readers.
A Far Reaching Conspiracy
While CJ Mahaney was head of Covenant Life Church and served on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries, David Adams molested a young boy on church property. Adams had the young boy sit in his lap and fondled his genitals. These abuses were reported to John Loftness, former chairman of the SGM board and principle at Covenant Life School, by the young boy. The boy, who attended Loftness’ school, was instructed by Loftness to reenact the event with him.
Loftness then, without informing the child’s parents or law enforcement, made the boy attend a reconciliation meeting with Adams, in which he was to extend his assailant unconditional forgiveness. This act had long reaching effects on the lives of other children as well.
For instance, as the young boy entered middle school, he was again molested, this time by a youth volunteer at Covenant Life Church named Nathaniel Morales. However, he chose not to inform anyone, because he feared another “reconciliation” meeting like the one he was forced to attend with Adams. As a result, this abuse went on for years before it was discovered that Morales had also abused multiple other teenage boys. When these boys finally told their stories to Chris Glass, their youth leader, he instructed them to remain silent. Glass then reported the sexual assaults to Grant Layman, CJ Mahaney’s brother-in-law.
Neither Layman, nor any other person in leadership at Covenant Life, informed law enforcement of what had occurred. Morales predatory actions occurred in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, yet he was not brought to trial until 2014, when he was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison. During Morales’ trial, Layman confessed that he knew of the abuses but did not report these incidents to police.
These boys were not the only persons damaged by John Loftness protecting David Adams. In fact, Adams went on to molest and digitally rape his step-daughter when she was between 11-14 years old. Eventually, the girl informed her mother, who in turn reported the abuse to a Covenant Life Church leader, who then informed John Loftness and Gary Ricucci (CJ Mahaney’s brother-in-law).
Despite direct, prior knowledge that Adams was a serial predator, Loftness did not report these incidents to the police. Instead, he worked with Ricucci to try to silence the girl’s mother. In fact, Ricucci – who was informed of Adams’ previous predation by Loftness – told the girls’ mother not to report to law enforcement. Instead, he claimed that the church would handle everything.
When the mother disregarded this advice, Ricucci told her she needed to submit to Adams as her “head of household.” When it became clear she would not comply with the Church’s instructions, Covenant Life kicked the woman and her children out of the CLC. At the same time, they paid for a lawyer for Adams’ defense. In addition, they worked to remove the woman and her daughters from Covenant Life School by denying the financial aid which her daughters had been receiving. When they began to face financial hardship, the Church told her that she was to blame for her situation.
Because his wife refused to remain silent, David Adams was convicted for raping his daughter, and served a prison sentence. However, upon release, he was welcomed back to Covenant Life Church without restriction. The Church membership was not informed of his previous actions, and no steps were taken to restrict his access to children. Instead, Adams was allowed to hold a youth sleepover at his house.
When persons with previous knowledge of Adams’ predatory nature attempted to protest, they were accused of “slander” by Church leadership. Ricucci even went so far as to call Adams his “hero.”
A Statistical Impossibility
Even if only considering the information outline above, it is entirely absurd that Mohler has claimed that backing CJ Mahaney is not, inherently, making a statement about the veracity of the victim narratives. The reality is, Mohler has to face the fact that CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries have made definitive statements declaring all accusations leveled against all SGM affiliated persons untrue.
Albert Mohler cannot back CJ Mahaney without tacitly endorsing his claims that the SGM victims are lying.
This cannot be stressed strongly enough. Studies show that as few as one percent of all child sex abuse reports are false. Thus, given that the Second Amended Complaint of the SGM Civil Lawsuit is 46 pages long and details multiple sexual assaults, perpetrated by multiple persons, against 10 separate child victims, it is simply statistically impossible that all of the victim accounts are false. Further, given the recurrence of the names of men like John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, Grant Layman within each account, it is simply impossible for anyone with any understanding of child sex abuse to believe CJ Mahaney and SGM’s claims that they are all innocent.
Mohler’s endorsement of Mahaney is further damning because both Loftness and Ricucci both still serve in ministry capacity with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mohler had all the information necessary in May, 2013, to recognize that CJ Mahaney is a serial pastoral abuser who chose to orchestrate a conspiracy to silence victims of child sex abuse.
Unfortunately, Mohler has chosen to entirely ignore all of the damning evidence. Thus, instead of declaring CJ Mahaney unfit for ministry, Mohler has repeatedly chosen to reiterate his support. In fact, in April, 2016, Mohler was tasked with welcoming CJ Mahaney back to the Together for the Gospel conference stage.
This introduction, was a source of great controversy, as Mohler chose to again declare that the accusations against Mahaney are false. In fact, he thought it appropriate to make a joke out of it, and the crowd, knowing precisely what Mohler was referring to, roared with laughter.
This approach by Mohler, in which he painted Mahaney as the innocent victim targeted by liars wishing to destroy his reputation, was morally repugnant. It was further disturbing to hear Mohler declare Mahaney the victor, having survived these so-called trials and emerged a kind, humble man, and an effective minister of the Gospel.
But again, the facts presented in court documents paint a much different picture.
Further Child Sex Assaults
Stephen Griney was a kindergarten teacher at the CL School and head of children’s ministry at CLC. While serving in this position, he repeatedly sexually assaulted a young girl who attended the school. Further, on at least one occasion, this young girl, along with two other female classmates, was taken to an empty room in CL School by Griney and John Loftness. The door to the room was locked, and the girls were forced to strip off their underwear and stand bare bottomed in front of the two men. Loftness then proceeded to rub a plastic rod against their genitals, before spanking their bare bottoms with it.
The abuses against this young girl persisted for years, and involved multiple instances in which she was either raped by Stephen Griney, or offered by Griney to other men from the church for gang-rape.
Further, besides the two incidents of child sex assault perpetrated by Loftness (described above), he has also been implicated in the assault of several other children. In one incident, Loftness removed multiple young girls from their classroom. He then took them to a different room and forced them to take off their underwear. Loftness invited various male spectators to watch as he spanked their bare bottoms.
During one of these incidents, the victims state that Gary Ricucci was also present. Ricucci is said to have escorted one young girl into a separate room while Loftness digitally raped another young girl.
Despite all of this, Sovereign Grace Ministries and CJ Mahaney continue to support the ministry of John Loftness as pastor of Living Hope Church in Maryland. That is to say, Sovereign Grace Ministries and CJ Mahaney knowingly and intentionally have chosen to allow a man accused of being a serial sex predator to continue in ministry in their churches.
Sadly, the depths of CJ Mahaney’s depravity do not end here. Instead Mahaney has been directly implicated in the conspiracy to silence the children of a wealthy church member, Charlie Llewellyn. In fact, the SGM lawsuit indicates that Mahaney, Grant Layman, and Gary Ricucci are accused of taking from bribes from Charlie Llewellyn, in exchange for their silence.
According to the court documents, Layman and Ricucci first became aware that Llewellyn was digitally raping his daughter in 1997, when the girl was 13. This abuse continued for several years. Layman and Ricucci orchestrated with Mahaney to convince this girl that they were serving her best interests, while in actuality they were working diligently to cover up the serial sexual predation committed against her and her siblings by their father. In fact, court documents indicate that Llewellyn sexually assaulted each of his nine children (both male and female), including his youngest child who was still living at home at least as recently as 2010.
For 23 years, Grant Layman, Gary Ricucci, and CJ Mahaney knew that a father was preying sexually upon his 9 young children. However, rather than report these incidents to law enforcement, the leaders of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries carried out a conspiracy to silence these children’s stories.
The only way Albert Mohler can declare CJ Mahaney innocent – and thus tacitly proclaim all leaders implicated in the SGM lawsuit innocent as well – is to remain willfully ignorant of these incidents. He does not continue to defend Mahaney because he has practiced careful discernment; he has not, through careful examination, determined the evidence does not hold up. Instead, Mohler has chosen to protect his friend rather than hear the voices of the victims of SGM child sex abuse. And in doing so, Mohler has betrayed precisely the ethical admonitions he has sought to enforce upon evangelicals supporting Trump.
In considering the evidence above, juxtaposed against the putrid sanctimony of Mohler’s Washington Post article, I am forced to wonder:
Is there something about pastors and church leaders sexually assaulting young children that is somehow more palatable to Albert Mohler than evangelicals endorsing a sex predator for the presidency?
Ironically, these evangelicals, in voting for for a sex predator, will not be betraying the evangelical ethic, as Mohler claims; they will embrace the very ethic he has modeled for them.