A major conference on preaching in Louisville, Kentucky, has been overshadowed by a row over the presence of a pastor who has faced accusations of a cover-up of child sexual abuse at his church.
The Together for the Gospel conference, which finishes today, features leading evangelical figures including Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mark Dever, senior pastor of Washington's Capitol Hill Baptist Church, John Piper, founder of Desiring God, and Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas.
However, the participation of CJ Mahaney, one of its founders and now pastor of Louisville's Sovereign Grace Church, has led to controversy because of previous accusations that he and other leaders of Covenant Life Church (CLC) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, were complicit in covering up crimes committed by its youth leader Nathaniel Morales.
Mahaney was named as a defendant in a lawsuit which alleged that he and several other leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries conspired to "permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purposes of predation and to obstruct justice by covering up ongoing past predation". This case was dropped due to the statute of limitations. However, the case has recently been the focus of media attention in The Washingtonian and Time magazine, which have raised fresh questions about the conduct of Mahaney and others.
Among those urging the conference organisers not to feature Mahaney was evangelical leader Todd Pruitt, who wrote a blog post urging his removal from the speakers list. He said: "The decent thing would have been for Mahaney to recuse himself from any more involvement in the leadership of T4G when it was clear that the various scandals of child sexual abuse first surfaced. That he did not, even though he had to know his continued involvement was attracting scandal like flies to a corpse, suggests a tangle of poor motives to which I will add no further speculation."
Other critics included SNAP, an advocacy and support group for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It said that giving "corrupt" men like Mahaney praise and visibility "contributes to the already strong sense of powerlessness that many who saw, suspected and suffered sexual abuse within churches feel. It decreases the chances they'll find the courage and hope needed to speak up about horrific wrongs. Essentially, it sanctions the concealing of sexual assaults against children."
A Change.org petition urging Mahaney's removal attracted 380 signatures before the conference.
Introducing Mahaney at the conference, Mohler said: "It would be very easy to get up here and just say CJ Mahaney is going to speak for us, but I think faithfulness in my responsibility this afternoon in introducing him is to say we know he has demonstrated endurance in the face of an incredible trial, and he has been a model of endurance for us."
Mohler was criticised by another commentator, former Sovereign Grace pastor Brent Detwiler – a frequent critic of Mahaney – who said: "The appeal of thousands has been rebuffed. This is unsurprising and underscores the magnitude of the problem. The enabling and extolling of CJ continues by some of the most powerful evangelical leaders in the nation. The Lord Jesus Christ is not pleased and he won't be mocked. He reigns on high and on the earth. He will have the final word."