LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Southern Baptist Convention seminary presidents R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Danny Akin have apologized for their former support of C.J. Mahaney, a pastor accused of concealing sexual abuse at the ministry he used to lead.
Meanwhile, former SBC seminary president Paige Patterson has written a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle defending himself against accusations published in a three-part series this week about sexual abuse among Southern Baptists.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the Chronicle in an interview published Feb. 14 he “erred in being part of a statement supportive of (Mahaney).” Mohler apparently was referencing a 2013 statement issued with Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan vouching for Mahaney’s “personal integrity” after a judge dismissed most of a lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a network of churches Mahaney led until April 2013. The network changed its name to Sovereign Grace Churches in 2014.
The suit alleged leaders at Sovereign Grace, including Mahaney, covered up child sexual abuse. The Maryland judge who dismissed the suit noted the statute of limitations had expired and didn’t address the merits of the alleged victims’ claims.
Mohler told the Chronicle, “I believe in retrospect I erred in being part of a statement supportive of (Mahaney) and rather dismissive of the charges. And I regret that action, which I think was taken without due regard to the claims made by the victims and survivors at the time, and frankly without an adequate knowledge on my part, for which I’m responsible.”
Mohler also said he “was wrong and caused hurt to the victims and survivors” when he made a joke about the controversy regarding Mahaney at the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference.
“What I did was wrong and caused hurt to the victims and survivors who felt that their experience had been trivialized and dismissed,” Mohler said of his joke. “And I grieve that, I apologize for that, it was wrong. I would never make such a comment again.”
Mohler added, “I should have been very clear about insisting on an independent, credible third-party investigation…. I should have said nothing until I had heard from those who were victims and who were making the allegations. I should have sought at that time the advice and counsel of agencies and authorities who were even then on the front lines of dealing with these kinds of allegations.”
Southern Seminary told Baptist Press Mohler’s comments came in an interview the Chronicle requested to talk about Southern Baptists and sexual abuse in general. During the course of that interview, the Chronicle brought up Mahaney.
After Mahaney resigned from Sovereign Grace, in 2013, he planted a church in Louisville, Ky., in part, the Chronicle stated, to be close to Southern Seminary.
In 2014, a former youth leader at Sovereign Grace’s flagship church, which Mahaney pastored for 27 years until 2004, was convicted on five counts of sexual abuse against three underage boys between 1983-91, Christianity Today reported.
In 2018, Mahaney withdrew from the Together for the Gospel conference — an event he founded with Mohler, Dever and Duncan — amid renewed controversy about the abuse allegations. Sovereign Grace critics have called for an independent investigation of the network.
Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the Chronicle he too was wrong to support Mahaney without properly investigating the charges against him and Sovereign Grace.
“Do I think that Sovereign Grace handled the accusations brought against them well?” Akin said according to the Chronicle. “No, I don’t. I think they could have been far more transparent. I think they could have been far more forthcoming. Even to this day, there’s still a lack of clarity.”
Akin added, “I absolutely think they’ve handled (the allegations) poorly and that they have not been as transparent as they should have been or could have been, and (that they) could have saved a lot of people a lot of grief.”
Mahaney spoke at Southeastern in 2008 and 2013, according to BP reports. The Chronicle reported Akin “has not had a close relationship with Mahaney” since Mahaney’s scheduled appearance at a 2014 Southeastern conference was cancelled.
Also in news related to the Chronicle’s sexual abuse report, Patterson, former president of both Southeastern and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a Feb. 14 letter to Chronicle acting editor Steve Riley claiming the paper “slandered” him.
Part one of the Chronicle’s report on Southern Baptists “slandered and totally misrepresented me, and in so doing ha[s] significantly harmed my ministry,” Patterson wrote according to a copy of the letter he emailed journalists. “The events they report are tragic. However, there is no reason to punish the innocent with the wicked.”
The Chronicle claimed “several women have said that Patterson ignored their claims that his ex-protégé, Darrell Gilyard, assaulted them at Texas churches in the 1980s.”
In response, Patterson stated he worked with associates at Criswell College, where he was president from 1975-92, to “uncover and confirm Darrell’s unfaithfulness to Christ.” Then Patterson “expelled” Gilyard from the school, made certain he resigned from the church he was serving and asked venues where Gilyard was scheduled to preach “to cancel his invitation.”
Patterson also defended his handling of alleged sexual assault cases at Southeastern and Southwestern.
“I applaud SBC president Dr. J.D. Greear for doing all that he can to bring this abrogation of righteousness and justice to a halt,” Patterson wrote. “Anyone abusing a child, a woman, or any weaker person is wrong and marked by deviant behavior.”
The Chronicle stated in part one of its report that its investigation of sexual abuse among Southern Baptists revealed approximately 380 instances since 1998 — including more than 250 since 2008 — of “those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned.” The crimes have left more than 700 victims, the newspaper stated.
Part two recounted crimes committed by some of the “at least 35 Southern Baptist pastors, youth ministers and volunteers who were convicted of sex crimes or accused of sexual misconduct but still were allowed to work at churches during the past two decades.”
Part three claimed “more than 100 Southern Baptists described as former youth pastors or youth ministers are now in prison, are registered as sex offenders or have been charged with sex crimes.”