Within the period of a single week, Southern Baptists have been informed three times over concerning the heart-rendering circumstances of a very well-known evangelical leader embroiled in a legal nightmare: >>>
- Embattled C.J. Mahaney visits SEBTS (Feb 5th)
- Former aide: Mahaney should be sidelined (Feb 7th)
- Petition calls out silent leaders (Feb 11th)
But Southern Baptists did not learn of this civil-and may even end up criminal--fiasco from any news outlet connected directly with Southern Baptists. Instead we heard about it from ABP, a news agency many of us normally view as catering to "Moderate" or "Liberal" Baptists.
I know some of my questions inevitably get me into all kinds of trouble. Granted. But I have questions nonetheless. And, I would be dishonest if I indicated otherwise. So here's my complicated question–Why? Why have we been strangely (irresponsibly?) silent about about what's going on here with something so close to Southern Baptists? It's not like we have no stake in this issue. Mr. Mahaney is publicly connected with our oldest seminary for heaven's sake. Mr. Mahaney remains on the speaking circuit amongst our entities. He's advising our students, counselling our future pastors and missionaries, and assisting in training our church planters, all the while he's personally named in a civil lawsuit which possesses over a hundred formal complaints of cover-up, abuse, and wrongful actions against several different plaintiffs, actions involving the sexual abuse of children (not that Mahaney himself has been accused of sexual wrongdoing; but the way I understand it is, he allegedly covered-up the abuse others actually committed). This is not a he-said-she-said piece of gossip or innuendo. Rather Mahaney must stand before a court of law and be judged on evidence as to his guilt or innocence.
As the ABP articles make clear, one of Mr. Mahaney's former aides has written a letter to several evangelical leaders begging them to force Mr. Mahaney out of the public spotlight of ministry at least perhaps until the formal civil suits have their day in court (at least that's the way I read this giving the author the benefit of doubt). Included on the list, I counted 16 high profile Southern Baptists. Now I have yet another question: Why should a former aide to Mahaney find it necessary to beg Southern Baptists--or evangelicals generally--to remove from the public spotlight of ministry a man who is as deeply embedded in the legal complications as Mr. Mahaney is? The real tragedy is why Southern Baptists have not already said, in effect, to him,
"C.J. We love you. We've honored your work among us. But there are some real problems you need to work through before you stand before us and minister to our people again. We personally believe you when you say you're innocent. It's not about our loyalty to you. We love you. But we love the cause of Christ more. So, we are not going to fulfill either our invitations to you to speak or the partnerships to which we've committed until we're able to work through this issue. We owe it to Southern Baptists but even more we owe it to the abused children who have been tragically hurt in all this whether or not you actually had a part. Most of all, we owe it to our Lord."
Some of the Southern Baptists to whom the letter was sent were quick to judge the fallen pastor of Hammond First Baptist Church, Jack Schaap, hurriedly pronouncing him a "pedophile" before the ink was wet on the breaking story. Even so, we appear to coddle and even shield Mahaney when it comes to the legal charges against him. We must understand this–this is not a case of blogging accusations. Instead there exist real plaintiffs in a real court of law who swear under oath they possess real evidence of real child sex abuse which will be judged in a real court of law. Real defense lawyers will have to prove the real evidence inconclusive and therefore the real defendant, C. J. Mahaney, is not guilty. It couldn't get any more serious. We need to wake up to this.
I have one last question(s), and it is a sincere question aimed toward the dozens of trustees over the agencies: Is there not a trustee out there who sees what I see here? Is there not a single trustee who feels the need to ask the president of the entity to which he or she has been elected watchman in representing Southern Baptists,
"Mr. President, do you think it is wise to publicly defend Mr. Mahaney, and promote him, and allow him to continue serving Southern Baptists as if this legal cloud hanging over his head doesn't even exist? If so, could you explain this to us?"
What church would allow their pastor to continue in his role as if nothing has happened if his ministry organization he has on the side had over a hundred counts of civil wrongdoing against it and him personally? What if the wrongdoing charges against him and his organization involved the sexual abuse of children? At minimum would we not think a leave of absence would be a worthy pursuit?