Tim Keller, Don Carson, John Piper, et al.
The Gospel Coalition
To the members of the TGC council:
Greetings gentleman. When last I wrote to you, I raised numerous concerns regarding issues I perceived within your organization. I sought to confront you with the injustices cultivated by your theology and expose the systems of oppression your organization perpetuates. I had hoped that an organization claiming to value integrity so highly would be remorseful in the face of their own corruption. Sadly, the reality seems to be the precise opposite.
Despite the many posts that I have written exposing abuses within the TGC, your organization has continued to post content which – given the alarming nature of the issues I raised – is nothing short of bold-faced hypocrisy. Today, I want to take the time to consider one such post, highlighting the utter duplicity inherent within.
In my previous letter, I addressed many issues, spanning a broad range of topics. In each case, I found the evidence to be damning. But perhaps the most damning of all was my analysis of the ways in which several men who are closely associated with TGC have been involved in abuse scandals. I had hoped, at the very least, that drawing attention to these issues would raise awareness within your ranks and lead to a dramatic shift in the way issues of abuse are addressed.
However, my concerns have clearly fallen on plugged ears.
In December, 2015, Jason Meyer wrote “A Complementarian Manifesto Against Domestic Abuse.” In this post, he claimed that abuse within the complementarian tradition is an aberration, a product of a splinter-faction practicing something he calls “hyper-headship.”
But a recent TGC video, featuring Melissa Kruger, suggests perhaps you do not share that opinion.
In this video, Kruger states that there needs to be a distinction made between teaching and practice. Even in churches where complementarianism is taught properly, domestic abuse can “lurk in the shadows.” She then elaborates on what qualifies as domestic abuse, naming (1) violence and (2) harsh words.
It should be noted that this video was intended to specifically address whether a properly practiced complementarian faith prevents husbands from abusing their wives.
This struck me as odd for two reasons. First, I am perplexed regarding what constitutes a properly practiced complementarianism.
Who are the persons setting examples of complementarianism lived out properly?
Second, I am forced to wonder if Kruger is aware of the numerous pastoral abuse scandals that have been perpetrated by TGC affiliated pastors. This concern is compounded by Kruger seemingly limiting the occurrence of domestic abuse to laity.
How does her high view of complementarian theology account for pastoral abusers?
Kruger makes it explicit that even in the best complementarian churches, with proper doctrine being taught, there will still be domestic violence. And on the surface, this is certainly true. Even the best pastor cannot prevent every instance of abuse within their congregation. Abuse is, by all accounts, a prevalent and common experience among both men and women from all walks of life and faith traditions.
However, there is a single glaring question which seems to undermine her premise:
Where does she see proper complementarian doctrine being taught among TGC affiliated pastors?
A representative (and far from exhaustive) exploration of abuse scandals involving complementarian leaders will prove insightful.
As you may recall, in my last letter I addressed an issue at The Village Church, a network of churches in Texas, led by Matt Chandler – the president of the Acts 29 church network. At the time, I asked several questions about how this could’ve happened and what safeguards were put in place.
Since this time, I have researched the abuse that was committed against Karen Hinkley and discovered something disturbing.
I can find absolutely no evidence for any church discipline being applied to the pastors and elders directly involved in persecuting, maligning, and abusing Karen Hinkley.
Email conversations published by Hinkley in blog posts (here and here) provide the names of the specific pastors who were involved in the abuse she suffered during the so-called “discipline” process TVC’s Northway campus leadership subjected her to. The persons explicitly named in both emails and narrative by Hinkley were Steve Hardin (Northway campus pastor, campus elder, and a central elder of The Village Church), Matt Younger (Northway groups pastor, campus elder), Richard Brindley (Northway groups pastor, campus elder), and Matt Chandler (Central Elder, Lead Pastor of The Village Church, Flower Mounds campus elder, President of Acts 29).
While Karen was subjected to the abusive use of church discipline – acts Chandler himself described as a “lack of love, care, compassion, mercy…the brunt of our foolishness…” – none of these pastors were subjected to the same disciplinary process.
Instead, each of these men continues to hold a position of authority in The Village Church today.
It is well known that Chandler has close ties to TGC through his appearances at your conferences, materials published on your website, and his affiliations with multiple council members through the Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference.
It seems to me that the abuses Karen Hinkley faced should raise serious questions about the systems of theology and church governance espoused by Chandler, TVC, and Acts 29.
- Does this not send the message that these men are above reproach?
- While their apology was certainly important, shouldn’t there have been public consequences for each of them showing that these acts were not taken lightly?
- Did the men, including Matt Chandler, who abusively applied church discipline to Karen Hinkley teach and practice the proper form of complementarianism?
In answering the third question, it seems notable that the abuse Hinkley experienced was not an isolated incident. TGC has a significant history of direct connection with abusive pastors within Acts 29 churches.
- Acts 29 was an organization founded by Mark Driscoll, a founding and former member of TGC’s own council. In fact, Driscoll’s rampant abuses (see here and here) led to his resignation from TGC’s council in 2012, and the dissolution of the Mars Hill network of churches and his removal as President of Acts 29 in 2014.
One particularly abusive aspect of Driscoll’s teaching centers around his views on sexuality in marriage.
In a 2007 sermon, Driscoll proclaimed that there are certain acts described within the text of Song of Solomon which are prescriptive for all married women. Specifically, he insisted that every woman has an obligation to perform oral sex on her husband, regardless of her level of comfort with the act.
Driscoll even prescribed using sex acts as a way of manipulating a husband into attending church, saying: “You need to go home and tell your husband that you’ve met Jesus and you’ve been studying the Bible, and that you’re convicted of a terrible sin in your life. And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband. And when he asks why, say, ‘Because I’m a repentant woman. God has changed my heart and I’m supposed to be a biblical wife.’”
He has also elsewhere reinforced placing this obligation upon women by claiming: “A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”
In case these teachings did not strike any of you as problematic, allow me to briefly unpack.
The glaring issue, for me, is that Mark Driscoll used spiritual coercion to force women to perform sex acts for their husbands, convincing them anything less is a sin. This works precisely against the notion of enthusiastic consent.
That is to say, consent cannot occur where the dynamic of a sex act is power differential, coercion, and rhetoric of shame or guilt.
These are precisely the dynamics Driscoll is introducing to the sexuality of married women within his church.
Driscoll is telling married women:
- You are obligated by God to give your husband sex.
This creates a power differential in which a husband can demand his wife “serve him with a deed of kindness (a driscollian euphemism for sexual favors)” which he believes he is biblically entitled to.
- If you don’t do this, you are defying the standards set for a “biblical wife” and thus committing a “terrible sin.”
This is coercive rhetoric allowing a husband to condemn his wife for not giving him a blowjob, giving him supposed “biblical” grounds to demand a sex act.
- If you don’t give your husband sex, and if you don’t maintain a certain level of “physical desirability,” then your husband will likely cheat on you.
This allows a husband to use body shaming and guilt tactics to force their wife into performing a sex act, even if the act makes her feel uncomfortable or degraded, or if she simply does not want to perform or enjoy performing it.
In case this isn’t clear yet, Driscoll’s rhetoric normalizes marital rape!
And while Driscoll dialed back this rhetoric ever so slightly for his book Real Marriage, he continues to teach a power imbalance in marriage, speak of women who deny sex to their husbands (even when due to past sexual trauma) as selfish, and states that a wife’s appearance is about sexual desirability and availability for her husband.
It is astounding, then, that the sermon from which these quotes are taken was delivered in 2007. That is, this sermon was delivered prior to Driscoll’s resignation from TGC’s council. It most certainly begs some serious questions:
- How do teachings which actively undermine consent in marriage work to protect women from abuse?
- If service of Jesus is predicated on treatment of marginalized persons (Matt 25), how is it that Mark Driscoll was allowed to continue as a council member of TGC for a full five years after the above 2007 sermon?
- Does that mean that Driscoll’s teachings were considered in line with the central tenants of complementarianism?
- Were his many abuses overlooked – for a period of at least five years – because he was willing to reinforce complementarian gender roles in the church and home?
- Acts 29 and TGC also share a connection through Darrin Patrick. While details of Patrick’s abuses are sparse, it is well known that, in 2016, Patrick was revealed to have engaged in a pattern of willful and defiant sin, which included a penchant for blatant dishonesty and spiritual abuse of the persons around him. Further, it was revealed that he had “inappropriate” but “non-sexual” relationships with multiple women at his church. As a result of these abuses, Patrick was fired by his church and removed as vice president of Acts 29 and from the council of TGC.
- Given that Patrick’s own church stated he has a “deep historical pattern of sin,” “manipulation and lying,” and “domineering over those in his charge,” how did these abuses manifest in his work as a councilman of TGC?
- Were these abuses ignored by TGC because Patrick taught the proper form of complementarianism?
- Given that Patrick was removed from his pastorate, TGC’s council, and as Acts 29 VP because of his pattern of serial abuse, how did his complementarian beliefs work to prevent these abuses?
- In August, 2016, Rick Trotter, a staff member of Downtown Church in Memphis, Tennessee, was arrested for several voyeuristic crimes, including allegations of filming upskirt videos of women in the church during worship services.
During his arrest, it was discovered that Downtown Church, a church aligned with TGC, had hired Trotter with full knowledge that he had committed similar acts at his previous church, Fellowship Memphis – an Acts 29 church led by pastors John Bryson (who was at the time on the board of Acts 29) and Bryan Loritts (son of TGC councilman Crawford Loritts and brother-in-law to Trotter).
According to a joint statement issued by Fellowship and Downtown, Trotter had previously worked as a worship director at Fellowship from August, 2005, until February, 2010. In February, 2010, it was discovered that Trotter had filmed several women on church grounds while they used the bathroom.
According to allegations, he posted some of these videos online.
The joint statement by the pastoral staffs of Downtown and Fellowship described the incident thus:
In February 2010, it was reported that Trotter was engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature at the corporate headquarters of Fellowship. Specifically, a single incident of Trotter recording people in a bathroom was reported. This was immediately reported to Fellowship’s lead pastor at the time. When confronted, Trotter did not deny the charges and was thereby terminated […]
The individuals victimized, all adults, by this incident were notified of Trotter’s misconduct, made aware that he had been terminated, and asked whether they wanted to press charges. The victims were also offered independent professional counseling paid for by the church. It is our understanding that none of the victims at that time chose to press charges.
It is notable, then, that multiple victims have directly contradicted this statement. For instance, two victims that have come forward were informed by the church that Trotter had filmed them when they were 15 and 16, respectively, according to a story in the Commercial Appeal.
According to these victims, and others who spoke to the Appeal on condition of anonymity, church leadership specifically told them they were not allowed to speak with anyone at the church, except a counselor. According to the 16-year-old girl, the church went to great lengths to encourage her to keep quiet and cover the incident up.
This news article also noted that this information had been corroborated by an unnamed staff member at Fellowship.
Similar allegations were also made by one of Trotter’s victims, who spoke to Leonardo Blair of Christian Post. Blair quoted the victim as saying:
Our worship pastor, Rick Trotter, who is also the PA announcer for the Memphis NBA team, secretly videotaped me, and a host of other women and children in the restroom of the Fellowship Memphis church offices and in his home when he was on staff at the church as the worship pastor.
After getting caught by the staff, Rick’s brother in-law, Bryan Loritts, and lead pastor and elder, John Bryson (ACTS29 Board), claimed to have destroyed the evidence (Rick Trotter’s iPhone) after watching the footage. They told all the women that they had consulted an officer and attorney and if we pressed charges it would ruin Rick Trotter’s life and the video would be played in court.
In addition to the glaring contradictions between the churches statement and the accounts of multiple victims, Bryan Loritts also appears to have made a blatantly dishonest public statement. That is, when confronted about the allegations against Trotter, Bryan Loritts insisted he had reported his brother-in-law to the police.
However, despite this claim, a police representative explicitly stated that no one had reported Trotter’s crimes – to which he personally confessed – in 2010.
In addition to issuing a seemingly false account of Trotter’s sexual crimes, Downtown Church also claimed to have required Trotter to confess his previous sins to the church and placed him under an accountability plan with professional counselors. Yet Trotter continued to deceive them and sexually exploit women, even during worship services.
This raises a couple questions.
- Why is Downtown Church still affiliated with TGC? Does issuing a false statement regarding abuse and failing to hold a known abuser accountable meet the standards for churches associated with your organization?
- How did the complementarian theology of the pastors of Downtown assist them in protecting women from a man they knew to be a sexual predator?
It is also troubling that Bryan Loritts, the son of a TGC councilman, has been implicated in making false statements and silencing victims to protect his brother-in-law’s reputation.
- Given that Trotter is Crawford Loritts’ son-in-law, was Crawford aware of Trotter’s crimes? If so, why did he not report him to police? Did he take action when Trotter was hired by Downtown to ensure he was held accountable?
- Since Bryan Loritts has been implicated in abusing his pastoral position to silence victims, and since he made at least one demonstrably false statement regarding his involvement, why was he allowed to speak at a TGC sponsored conference in Illinois in October, 2016?
Next, I want to consider briefly the statement made by John Bryson regarding his resignation from Acts 29’s board of directors. According to statements by both Bryson and Acts 29, the allegations against Bryson had absolutely no relevance to his resignation. He resigned because he had served his full term.
- Why were these very serious allegations ignored by Acts 29?
- Is there something within Acts 29’s theology which breeds abusive pastors?
Finally, despite everything above, John Bryson continues to serve as the lead pastor of Fellowship Memphis, which remains an Acts 29 church. Further, Jared Cook – an editor working for TGC – is an associate pastor serving under Bryson at Fellowship.
Also, Bryan Loritts – who currently serves as lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship of Mountain View, California – on March 23, 2017, was asked to speak on racial reconciliation in a video for The Village Church.
- Given the serious allegations against both Loritts and Bryson, why are both still associated with Acts 29?
- Why does an editor for TGC currently work as a pastor under the leadership of John Bryson?
- Do you believe that either Bryson or Loritts are still qualified to serve as pastors?
- In January, 2017, Anthony Moore – who served as the campus pastor and an elder of The Village Church’s Fort Worth campus – was removed from his pastorate as a result of, in Chandler’s own words, “grievous, immoral actions against another adult member” which led The Village Church leadership to “believe he is unfit for [pastoral and elder] ministry at this time, including speaking engagements at conferences or other churches.” While the details of Moore’s actions are not known, the language used by Chandler makes it clear he was in some way abusing a person (or persons) under his pastoral care. And as you all well know, these abuses also led to Moore being removed as an associate to TGC’s council.
- Were there warning signs that Moore was committing “grievous, immoral actions” before his removal as a pastor at TVC?
- How did the complementarian theology of TGC function to prevent Anthony Moore from becoming a pastoral abuser?
It seems to me now, with what I have learned since my last letter, that the abuses Hinkley suffered are symptoms of a much larger problem, one which seems to run straight through the middle of The Gospel Coalition.
This leads me to ask several more questions:
- Is there any connection between the teachings of organizations like Acts 29/TGC and the rampant abuse in complementarian churches?
- How does TGC account for the number of abusive pastors with whom they have associated – and in many instances, continue to associate with – over its twelve-year history?
- Why do the leadership and staff of TGC continue to associate with Acts 29? Are the actions described above consistent with TGC’s ethic of pastoral leadership?
- Why does TGC’s website continue to feature teachings by these men? Do the abuses described above cause you to question their theology?
- Would you consider any of these men to teach “true” complementarianism?
Together for the Gospel
Sadly, the incidents mentioned in the previous point barely even scratch the surface of the abuse scandals with which TGC has been directly associated. As was covered briefly in my previous letter, TGC also has a long and sordid history of involvement with CJ Mahaney, who served on TGC’s council for several years.
In the time since my last letter, I had opportunity to briefly, but publicly (Twitter), address the allegations against Mahaney with one of your councilmen, Thabiti Anyabwile.
I presented Thabiti with various accounts regarding the abuses perpetrated against children by persons in positions of authority and influence at Covenant Life Church, the former flagship of Sovereign Grace Ministries (now Sovereign Grace Churches) under the pastoral leadership of CJ Mahaney. I also asked him to consider that several of these victims of child sex abuse have stated that Mahaney was directly involved in silencing them and protecting their abusers. I then asked him to consider whether his appearance at the Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2016 Conference was an act of complicity in Mahaney’s continued effort to conceal these abuses.
My goal was to bring the gravity of the SGM accusations to Thabiti’s attention, but he simply didn’t seem to care. I hoped, however, that this was simply due to limitations of social media
I decided to follow up by sending him an open letter, hoping that a more detailed presentation would convince him.
He unfortunately ignored my concerns and made his scheduled appearance at T4G 2016 anyway.
And he was not alone. He was also joined by Al Mohler, who was tasked with offering Mahaney’s introduction for his return to the T4G stage. Mohler decided the occasion was appropriate to paint Mahaney as the victim of false allegations. He even chose to make a joke about the accusations, encouraging the audience to disbelieve the allegations as little more than internet rumors.
In addition to these two men, a total of ten other TGC councilmen appeared at the T4G 2016 conference and the CBMW pre-conference. Additionally, two of the currently serving Council Associates of TGC also spoke. Darrin Patrick (who at the time was on TGC’s Council) was also scheduled to appear as a speaker, but was forced to pull-out after his abuse scandal went public. Coincidentally, pastoral abuser Anthony Moore was chosen to replace him.
It is also telling to consider TGC’s ties to CBMW, which hosted the T4G 2016 preconference, especially since CJ Mahaney is currently a CBMW council member. This is a position he holds alongside influential TGC councilmen John Piper, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Danny Akin.
Further, many influential evangelical leaders associated with TGC, including Owen Strachan (former president, CBMW), Matt Chandler, Gavin Peacock, HB Charles, Jr., Sam Allberry, Ronnie Floyd, and Jeffrey Jue also appeared at this conference.
In fact, TGC and T4G are so closely associated, that Jeffery Jue published an article on your website in which he stated that both T4G 2016 and the TGC 2015 National Conference demonstrate compelling reasons to endorse the New Calvinist faith.
Given Mahaney’s numerous points of connection with TGC, it seems to me that you ought to be presented with a detailed account of the accusations of conspiracy and abuse leveled against him.
Before I relate these details, I warn you that what you are about to read is disturbing. Below are disturbing details of child sex assault described within the SGM lawsuit’s court documents.
I dare any of you to read and still stand beside the notion that CJ Mahaney is a qualified minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- David Adams
Both John Loftness and Gary Ricucci (Mahaney’s brother-in-law) were made aware that a man at their church, David Adams, was a serial sex predator.
Court documents allege Loftness first became aware that Adams was a predator after Adams had sexually molested a young boy, forcing that boy to sit on his lap and fondling his genitals. When the young boy informed Loftness – who at the time was principal of Covenant Life School, where the boy attended – the boy claims he was met by a second predator. Loftness had him sit on his lap, then proceeded to reenact Adams’ assault upon him.
Loftness then, without informing the boy’s parents, is said to have forced the boy to attend a “reconciliation” meeting with Adams, where he was coerced into “forgiving” his sexual assailant.
It would later be discovered that Adams was also regularly raping his step-daughter over the course of 3 years. When the girl informed her mother, the mother informed a CLC leader. She was referred to Loftness and Ricucci. Even though Loftness knew this represented a pattern of serial predation by Adams, he chose not to inform law enforcement.
Instead, it is alleged that he worked with Ricucci to silence the step-daughter and her mother. Even though he had been informed of Adams’ previous sexual predation by Loftness, Ricucci has been accused of meeting with the girl’s mother and attempting to convince her she needed to continue to “submit” to Adams as her “head of household.” When she refused to comply, she and her children were kicked out of CLC.
Ricucci and Loftness then arranged for CLC to pay for Adams’ legal defense.
When she still refused to acquiesce, her children were denied financial aid to attend Covenant Life School. When this led to financial hardship for the family, she says that church leadership told her she brought the hardship on herself by refusing to submit to her husband.
During all of this, Adams’ serial sexual predation was kept a secret from the church. No steps were taken to limit his access to children, and he was even allowed to host a youth sleepover at his house. When members eventually became aware of Adams’ abuses, they attempted to confront church leadership about this. According to the lawsuit, these people were publicly accused of slander, meanwhile Ricucci publicly referred to Adams as his “hero.”
Adams was convicted and sentenced to jail for molesting his step-daughter.
- Stephen Griney
Even more damning is the alleged involvement of Loftness and Ricucci in protecting serial sex predator Stephen Griney.
Griney served as a kindergarten teacher at Covenant Life School and the head of children’s ministry at CLC. Griney was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting multiple young girls who attended CLS and/or CLC. On one occasion, during a church event held at a campus of Indiana University, Griney is accused of arranging for approximately fifteen children to be brought to an isolated location. These children were then paired off with several adult men from the church, and raped.
Further, in the SGM lawsuit, it is stated that on one occasion Griney, Loftness, and Ricucci removed young girls from their classrooms and took them to an empty classroom. The girls were made to strip, then paired off with each of the men. Griney and Loftness remained in the same room and began violently spanking their respective victims. Ricucci removed the third to another location.
After Loftness was done beating his victim, the girl claims he raped her with his fingers.
Both Loftness and Ricucci were well aware of the multiple child sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by Stephen Griney. However, instead of stopping him or reporting him to police, they are instead accused of choosing to join him in sexually abusing elementary school aged girls.
- John Loftness
John Loftness is also accused of being a serial sex predator in his own right. On numerous occasions, Loftness removed a young girl from both her classroom at CLS and her Sunday School class at CLC. According to court documents, he would take her to an empty room then strip her, beat her, rape her (including with foreign objects), and on at least one occasion he is said to have had her fondle his penis.
During these assaults, he would tell her that he was just trying to teach her “things she needed to learn” about how to be a “good girl.” He used shame tactics to silence her, telling her it was her fault and she would get in trouble if she ever told anyone.
In addition to his alleged behavior as a sex predator, Loftness is also accused of working to silence numerous victims of other predators within the church and school. On one particularly disturbing occasion, a three-year-old girl was raped by a teenager from the church. Loftness is accused of telling the parents not to call the police, instead advising them things would be handled “internally” and insisting it was not a matter for “secular authorities.”
When the parents contacted the police against his wishes, Loftness allegedly worked diligently to interfere in the police investigation and kept information about the assault from becoming known by the members of the church.
Further, according to the girl’s parents, they were forced by church leadership bring their three-year-old daughter to a “reconciliation” meeting with her rapist. The child was so terrified, she hid under a chair in fear.
- Charlie Llewellyn
In 1997, it came to the attention of Gary Ricucci and another CLC pastor, Grant Layman (another of Mahaney’s brothers-in-law), that Charlie Llewellyn was accused of regularly raping his 13-year-old daughter. However, instead of protecting this girl, court documents allege they arranged to cover up the abuses while deceiving the girl into believing they would handle the situation. Instead, they protected her father from any, and all, accountability.
As a result, Llewellyn proceeded to sexually assault each of his nine children (both male and female), with court documents indicating the assaults of the youngest occurred at least as recently as 2010 – a nauseating 13 years after the first abuses were reported to Ricucci and Layman.
Further, the SGM Lawsuit states that CJ Mahaney was fully aware of the accusations against Llewellyn. And instead of reporting these abuses to the police, he, Ricucci, and Layman are accused of accepting bribes to maintain their silence.
Despite all of these accusations, Mahaney has continued to maintain that he knew nothing of these events as they were occurring. However, more disturbingly, he insinuates that allegations against Loftness and Ricucci are lies by his actions.
Ricucci continues to serve as a pastor, employed on the staff of Mahaney’s current church, Sovereign Grace Louisville.
It is inconceivable to me that any person at TGC could be aware of these allegations and still maintain that CJ Mahaney is, in any way, qualified to serve as a pastor or speak publicly. It is sickening that many of you not only support, but participate in his public ministry.
Allow me to explain.
Studies suggest that the odds of a single child making a false accusation of sexual assault is less than five percent. This means that, even if Mahaney was truly previously unware of accusations before they went public, the odds of all the accusations against both Ricucci and Loftness being false are statistically impossible. The evidence suggesting that Ricucci and Loftness both defended sex predators and perpetrated child sexual assaults is simply overwhelming. And perhaps even more damning than the statistical evidence is the fact that Grant Layman testified in open court – during the trial of now-convicted serial sex predator Nathaniel Morales, who sexually assaulted the same young boy previously alleged to have been sexually assaulted by both David Adams and John Loftness – that CLC leadership knew about numerous accusations of abuse and did nothing.
As such, even if Mahaney’s plea of initial ignorance is trustworthy, his continued support of Ricucci and Loftness is indefensible. He cannot in good conscience ignore the severity of these accusations. It is morally reprehensible for anyone to claim to be doing the work of God while supporting Loftness and Ricucci’s continued work as pastors!
I am forced to ask several questions:
- How does TGC justify publishing a letter by Don Carson, Justin Taylor, and Kevin DeYoung which blatantly supports Mahaney’s continued ministry?
- How do you justify councilmen like Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever also declaring his innocence?
- Will TGC support these men’s claim that no substantial allegations were made against Mahaney, despite the info presented above?
- How do you feel about Joe Carter’s public claim that these statements were sufficient, that TGC has no obligation to determine the veracity of the SGM allegations?
- How did complementarian teaching protect the children of Covenant Life Church and School from being sexually assaulted and raped?
- Given the severity of the allegations against Mahaney, how does TGC justify so many of its councilmen, as well as many of its influential leaders and authors, openly supporting him at T4G 2016?
I find it highly dubious that anyone in a position of power or influence at TGC is unaware of the charges against Mahaney. The fact that he resigned of his own volition, and that Tim Keller himself openly stated that it had nothing to do with the SGM sex abuse allegations, seems to confirm that TGC does not consider the alleged actions of Mahaney, and those in his employ, to conflict with its teachings on gender complementarity.
Keller has no issue stating that complementarianism is essential to TGC’s vision of the Gospel, and that the criteria for inclusion within the camp of complementarianism is the belief that Scripture teaches that there are certain roles forbidden to women in the church and home.
- Does Mahaney’s commitment to male authority mean Keller considers his theology to represent “true” complementarianism?
- Is this why Keller did not consider the allegations against Mahaney grounds for his dismissal from TGC’s council?
Recently John Piper was joined by TGC co-founders Don Carson and Tim Keller for a round table discussion on pastors, the church, and moral failure. They were each asked to offer their advice to any church that recently lost a pastor to moral failure.
This is what they had to say:
I think it beneficial to consider just how disturbing each of these statements truly is by interpreting them through the lens of the abuses mentioned above.
- Tim Keller
Perhaps the most notable thing about Keller is the effort he puts into denying that there could be a systemic problem. He explicitly states, “Don’t start getting disillusioned about leadership, or institutions, or even the Church; get disillusioned about human nature.” This statement serves to shame victims of pastoral abuse by implying that there is something inherently wrong with their faith if they experience disillusionment with the church.
And let us be clear, the issue at stake here is absolutely abuse. In the twelve years since it was founded, TGC has seen numerous pastoral abuse scandals. Keller minimizes these as “moral failures,” but his words are indisputably addressed to the congregations in which these abuses took place.
The dangerous and absurd nature of this advice is laid bare when juxtaposed with the abuse of Karen Hinkley. Karen was married to a pedophile, yet her church tried to force her to continue in the marriage. When she chose to annul that marriage anyway, her pastors openly maligned her to the entire membership of the church, some six thousand persons.
Yet this video suggests Keller would advise her (and the entire congregation of The Village) that there is no reason to doubt the leadership of the men who wrongfully sought to punish Hinkley by subjecting her to the heavy hand of “biblical church discipline.” Rather than questioning why the theology of these men led them to commit these acts, Keller seems to think she should instead focus on her own “sinful human nature.”
So, I ask:
- Does this sound reasonable to you? Should Karen Hinkley have simply remained at the church where she was abused, under the leadership of the pastors who abused her?
- Should she trust Acts 29 – the institution which has enabled men like Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, John Bryson, Bryan Loritts, Matt Chandler, and Anthony Moore – to effectively create a church environment which protects its members from abusers?
Keller’s dangerous teachings continue immediately after he tells victims to be “disillusioned about human nature” by declaring, “you’re a human being.” He is explicit that he doesn’t want anyone focusing on the ways in which corrupt church governance and toxic theology culminate in abusive leadership. Instead, he insists not to focusing on “those leaders” but instead think in terms of “those human beings.”
If Keller is to be taken at his word, it seems that he is working to make the victims complicit in their own abuse. In striving to state that all humans are sinful, he appears to be telling pastoral abuse victims not to point a finger at leadership, but instead consider they are “human too.”
Let us again apply this advice to a specific situation.
John Loftness was a pastor at Covenant Life Church and the principal of Covenant Life School.
Would Keller’s advice to the young girls who have accused him of sexual assault be to process that abuse by “look[ing] at yourself?”
His words imply that victims should not focus on the “moral failures” of their pastor/principal. Instead, they must use their abuse as an opportunity to “see what you’re [personally] capable of” and “let it humble you.”
And again, let us be clear. Tim Keller in this video recognizes that moral failures have happened in TGC’s “camp.” The words “moral failure” must, then, logically include the conspiracy to conceal incidents of child sex abuse which CJ Mahaney is accused of orchestrating at Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries, especially since many of the allegations were made public while he was serving as a council member of TGC.
After all, the SGM allegations led to the resignation of Joshua Harris from TGC’s counsel, national news coverage in both the Washingtonian and TIME magazine, and (as mentioned above) Keller to make a statement distancing Mahaney from these allegations.
It seems unconscionable that, while making the statements in this video, Keller did so with no inkling that his words would apply to the many abuses of CJ Mahaney.
So again, questions must be asked:
- Is this really how Keller would speak to victims of pastoral abuse?
- How does telling a victim to look at the “moral failure” of their abuser as an opportunity to “see what you’re [personally] capable of” function to promote healing and pursue justice?
- Isn’t telling a victim to focus on their own sins a way of explicitly shaming and silencing them?
The answer to the third question, in my opinion, is a resounding and unequivocal “YES!” This tactic is well known to those who work to expose and combat abuse in the church. It is commonly called “sin leveling.”
Sin leveling occurs when a person attempts to use guilt and arbitrary moral standards to discredit those seeking to expose abuse. The point is to communicate, “If you seek to expose this, your own filthy sinfulness will also be laid bare.” This is a tactic of shame, and functions only to disenfranchise the victim while enabling the abuser to carry on unchecked.
Keller finishes his remarks by telling those directly affected by pastoral abuse that they are “made of the same stuff” as their abusers.
How has Keller’s commitment to complementarian theology influenced the opinions he presents in this video?
- Don Carson
Don Carson takes up the cause Keller has already advanced by driving home the point about “human nature.” Or, to be more precise, he doubles down on Keller’s words by implying abuse victims need to focus on their own humanity by evoking the Holocaust. While I hope the deeply offensive and anti-Semitic nature of these comments is obvious, it is important to consider how they function in concert with Keller’s statements.
As Carson enthusiastically assents to the idea Keller has put forward, he uses the Nazi genocide of over six million Jews to argue that even abusive pastors can be “fine human beings.” He even dares to say that his advice to the congregation of an abusive pastor would emphasize they, the congregants, are “no different than” Nazis or ISIS fighters.
Now let us tease this out a bit.
First, consider what this would mean to a Jewish audience. Carson seems to think the victims of abuse within a church need to focus on their own sins, and realize that they are human beings who are “no different than” the “very fine human beings” who murdered millions of Jews at Auschwitz.
- Doesn’t this rhetoric devalue the lives of both victims and survivors of the Holocaust?
- Since the Jews are also human beings – possessing the same so-called “human nature” as the “very fine people” who committed genocide against their ancestors – doesn’t Carson’s rhetoric imply they are no different than Nazis?
- Why, throughout his entire statement, does Carson mention neither the victims of abusive pastors nor the Jews who were executed en masse by the Nazis?
While I highly doubt it was Carson’s aim, it can hardly be denied that his attempts to create a level playing field between abused and abuser rings deeply anti-Semitic.
Further, it is hardly a secret that Don Carson is friends with CJ Mahaney. As stated above, he issued a statement with Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor declaring his unequivocal support for Mahaney in the wake of the SGM lawsuit being dismissed (on a technicality unrelated to the veracity of victim testimony). Thus, the question must be asked:
- How do Carson’s views of church abuse expressed in this video factor into his opinions on child sex abuse at SGM?
- Are these opinions a direct result of his complementarian theology?
If Carson is willing to declare that “very fine human beings” were working the gas chambers and furnaces of Auschwitz, it’s hardly a stretch to assume that he thinks Gary Ricucci and John Loftness are also “fine human beings” and that CJ Mahaney is perfectly justified in employing them, despite the accusations of child sexual assault that have been made against them.
- Is this, perhaps, why TGC has been associated with such men as Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Chandler, Patrick, Moore, and Mahaney (to name only a few)?
- Is there anything within TGC’s code of ethics which would prevent them from working with accused abusers?
Joe Carter has offered an answer to this last question. In the comments of a blog post regarding the SGM scandal, Carter stated that TGC would be violating everything it stands for to “be so presumptuous as to speak at the group level for any denomination or local church.” According to Joe Carter, getting involved would “be against everything [TGC] stand[s] for.” Carter has even dared to call the SGM scandal “not related to [the] ministry” of TGC, even though both CJ Mahaney and Joshua Harris were serving on TGC’s council when the accusations against CLC and SGM were made.
Instead, Carter believes it is the responsibility of “the local church, that pastor, and his denomination” to handle accusations of abuse. Which, when again considered considering the SGM accusations, means Joe Carter believes it was the responsibility of Covenant Life Church leadership (which included the two pastors named as sex predators within the lawsuit) and Sovereign Grace Ministries (which was led by CJ Mahaney) to investigate the accusations.
This is absurd, of course, since it represents a profound conflict of interest for accused predators and their accused co-conspirator to investigate their selves.
These comments, and several more, were made sometime between May 19, 2014, when the relevant blog post was posted, and May 21, 2014, when they were captured and saved here.
- If Joshua Harris saw the scandal as something which would be detrimental to the ministry of TGC, why would Carter claim it was entirely unrelated?
- Further, would you agree with Carter that holding CJ Mahaney accountable for his abuses would have violated the TGC’s code of ethics?
When I consider Carter’s statements on the moral commitments of TGC beside the statements of Keller and Carson, it seems safe to say that Carter’s words are a direct result of the teachings of TGC’s founding fathers.
Thus, returning to Carson’s comments, it is also notable the way in which he finishes his remarks.
Per Carson, abusive pastors present the church with a great opportunity to learn about the proper application of church discipline. The church needs to be able to “discipline with outrage over the sin and tears over the fallen [pastor].” He sees all of this as an opportunity for “the instruction of the church” in which “God’s hand of goodness” can be seen “even in all the evil of these things.”
Amidst these comments, it is staggering that no one catches Carson’s glaring omission. He never discusses the victims of the pastor’s abuses. In discussing a hypothetical situation of church abuse he speaks of the opportunity for the church to learn and be instructed by “God’s good hand” and he discusses having “tears over the fallen [pastor].”
He never once thinks to state that the goal of disciplining an abusive pastor should be to enact loving care and justice for the victims of that pastor.
Consider again the abuse of Karen Hinkley. Hinkley withdrew her membership from The Village Church by an official letter sent to her church leadership team on February 11, 2015. According to a congregational email sent out on May 23, 2015, to the six thousand covenant members of The Village Church, Hinkley was placed under church discipline sometime before this date for being unwilling to comply with TGC’s attempts to force her to remain married to a pedophile.
While the exact date under which she was placed under discipline is disputed (rightly) by Hinkley, it is telling when we take TVC at their word. According to their testimony, they attempted to force the wife of a self-confessed pedophile – who admitted to both molesting children and viewing pornography involving children as young as four – to reconcile with the man who married her under false pretenses.
They did not however place the actual pedophile under discipline.
Instead, Jordan Root was offered free pastoral counsel and placed in a men’s group for rehabilitation. At no time did TVC consult any counselors who specialize in treating pedophiles.
Hinkley was then repeatedly maligned by TVC leadership, right up until the time that Matt Chandler offered a public apology in late May, 2015, and a personal apology in early June. This means that, for nearly three full months, the leadership of TVC applied church discipline to Karen Hinkley in a way which Chandler himself described as “domineering.”
Despite these abuses, the process of church discipline was never applied to Chandler or any of the other leaders who abused Hinkley. The question must be asked:
- If Don Carson believes church discipline should be applied to abusive pastors, why has he never publicly questioned what occurred at The Village Church?
- Does Chandler’s treatment of Hinkley, and the lack of accountability for his actions at TVC and Acts 29, cause any of you to question the truth of Carson’s words?
- What evidence is there that Carson would have treated Karen Hinkley any differently than Chandler did?
- Should Chandler have been disciplined for his actions?
- John Piper
John Piper decides to cap the discussion off by looking for hope in the midst of pastoral abuse. While this might seem admirable on the surface, the conversation quickly delves to disturbing depths.
Piper appeals to Psalm 105, quoted thus: “God summoned a famine on the land and he had sent Joseph.” Piper uses this to claim that the “moral failure” of pastors is a blessing sent from God for the good of the church. He argues that God sent calamity (a famine) and sin (slavery of Joseph) to save Israel, implying this is also the way he sends the calamity of abuse and the sin of an abusive pastor to bless the church affected by such “moral failure.”
There are significant issues with the way in which Piper has used this passage. First, Piper doesn’t mention the ways in which this passage functions within the greater context of Psalms 105-106. In these chapters, God is painted as faithful to the nation of Israel in 105, protecting them and delivering them from oppression and honoring the covenant made with Abraham. However, 106 specifically addresses the injustices of Israel.
The people of Israel are painted as faithless and wicked. They joined in the worship of foreign gods and assented to the exploitive practices of their cultures. And when these things were done, God did not tolerate their actions.
This is precisely where Piper’s hermeneutic crumbles.
When God is faced with people who refuse to do justice – whether that be Egypt or Israel – God opposes those actions. When Joseph faced injustice in Egypt, God delivered him and used him as an agent of justice for all the people in the area. God worked through the injustices Joseph faced to bring about good.
But the same goes for Israel. When Israel was the oppressor, when they joined with other cultures to sacrifice infants to idols and engage in exploitive sex practices in the names of foreign deities (both well documented actions within Scripture) God opposed them. The point of this story is not to imply that God foreordains all injustices, but that God pursues justice in the midst of, and against, rampant injustice.
Further, Psalm 105 is more than a little hyperbolic. The author wishes to juxtapose the faithfulness and justice of God against the faithless and unjust actions of Israel. In doing so, he engages in more than a little historical revisionism. Since Piper appeals to 105:16-17, I will engage specifically the historical narrative of verses 1-22.
It is important to note, even if the Joseph narrative is assumed to be historical, there is significant divergence between the story presented in verses 1-22 and the narrative of Genesis. For instance, in verses 12-15, the Psalmist gives a short summary of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob narrative. In doing so, he claims: “When they were few in number, of little account and strangers … [God] allowed no one to oppress them … saying, ‘Do not touch my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm.’”
Yet even in Psalms 105, Joseph is described thus: “his feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron, until what he had said came to pass…” This in every way depicts Joseph – a prophet of God – being oppressed.
The revisionism is also clear to anyone who knows the narrative of Joseph from the book of Genesis. Joseph was bullied and abused by his brothers, who beat him, threw him in a pit Joseph was then sold into slavery, where he was framed for rape and wrongfully imprisoned. In all of these things, it is impossible to say that Joseph faced no oppression.
It is also impossible to rectify the claim of Psalm 105:18-19 with other aspects of the Genesis narrative. The psalmist claims told Joseph remained in in fetters and an iron collar during his entire time as a slave in Egypt, yet Genesis indicates Joseph was made chief overseer of the house of Potiphar, and later made the overseer of a prison. There is no mention of either an iron collar or fetters anywhere in Genesis 39-40. Psalm 105’s poetry may add quite the dramatic flourish, but it directly contradicts the narrative presented elsewhere in the Bible.
This alone ought to have given Piper pause about forming a theology rooted in literalizing the narrative details of Psalm 105.
The psalmist also claims that the patriarchs and their families faced no oppression – an assertion which can only be made through erasing a number of incidents recounted in Genesis. For instance, the rape of Dinah (the daughter of Jacob) was perpetrated by the son of a foreign ruler. Also, Jacob was cheated repeatedly by Laban, and Jacob himself brought discord to his family by cheating his brother (Esau) and deceiving his father (Isaac) at the behest of his own mother (Rebekah). This led to Esau plotting to murder his brother.
All of this, and a great deal more, suggests that Psalm 105 is likely not intended to be literal history. The author is making a sweeping point about the faithfulness of God, not delving into the depths of theodicy.
The hermeneutic Piper creates is predicated not on a careful engagement of the passage, but seemingly emerges from a desire to justify TGC’s failure to critically address issues of systemic abuse within the complementarian faith.
Piper creates a theology in which even the most violent of abuses are “blessings” in disguise, because God ordains them to work good through them.
Piper’s hermeneutic ignores that, if God is to seek justice for the abused he must humble and disempower the abuser.
As a prime example, when Jesus entered the temple courts in Jerusalem, he perceived that the money changers were keeping unfair scales. They were extorting and exploiting the people of Israel while acting as agents of the religious establishment at tables set up within the temple’s outer courts – an area designed to welcome non-Jewish worshippers into the temple.
As such, the temple had become a center of exploitation and exclusion, and this angered Jesus. However, he did not then deliver a sermon on how the people ought to see blessing in oppression. He did not tell the people that God would reveal to them “his good hand” in the work of the moneychangers.
Jesus flipped the tables and drove out the abusers and oppressors. He cleared the temple, making a clear statement that the house of God would be a place of justice and inclusion, not exploitation and exclusion.
This is a theme found throughout the ministry of Jesus. He welcomes Gentiles, women, Samaritans, and lepers but demands that the rich young ruler sell all and give it to the poor. He exalts the faith of children and Gentile women, but decries the injustices of the religious authorities (Luke 20:25-21:4) and declares the Pharisees to be vipers and vessels of decay. Jesus does not declare blessing in oppression and abuse, he exposes the abuses and declares release for the abused (Luke 4:16-30). In Matthew 20, Jesus decried the rule of tyrants and exhorted his disciples to be humble servants.
Piper however seems to promote a different ideology, one which seeks to paint abuse as God’s good will, while entirely omitting any mention of the suffering off the abused entirely
- Does Piper truly believe John Loftness is an agent of God’s good will, brought to Covenant Live Church and School to guide them into God’s blessings?
- Could John Piper honestly look the multiple persons who have accused Loftness of sexually assaulting them as children in the eyes and tell them their trauma is a blessing for the church?
- Does he honestly believe that God sent calamity (rape) through a sinner (rapist), because it was part of his larger plan?
It seems to me that the combined force of these men’s words reduces the suffering of abuse victims to mere utility.
The goal does not seem to be justice for the abused, but rather to answer the question: “How can we benefit from their suffering?”
In promoting a theology which has no consideration for victims whatsoever, it seems to me that these men are failing to uphold even the most basic tenants of the Christian ethic.
One cannot claim to love neighbor while promoting a theology which reduces their suffering to terms of personal or corporate utility. This is, in every way, a dehumanizing rhetoric which fails to consider the need to do justice for “the least of these my brothers and sisters.”
In each case of abuse mentioned above, men at the highest echelons of complementarian leadership have been directly involved in enabling and empowering abusive pastors.
It can thus hardly be said that the abuses described above represent outliers.
When leaders as influential as Tim Keller and John Piper refuse to hold men like Driscoll, Mahaney, and Chandler accountable, how can complementarian theology be anything less than systemically abusive?
It seems to me that the complementarian commitment to male leadership has led TGC and its leaders to consider the suffering of women and children a small price to pay for an international platform for its message.
Your words and actions suggest that protecting children from rape and sexual assault is less central to complementarian theology than excluding women from ordination and equal authority within the church and family.
Can a systemic commitment to disenfranchising women truly be a platform for preventing abuse of any form?
If the above post is any indication, it seems the answer must be a resounding, “No!”
May your hearts be softened to the plight of those you oppress.
In pursuit of Justice,
 All allegations are cited from this post: https://natesparks130.com/2016/10/11/willful-ignorance/
The entire legal complaint, featuring even more accusations in graphic detail is available here.
**Cover Image Source**