WASHINGTON – Three female plaintiffs claim an evangelical church group covered up allegations of sexual abuse against children, failed to report accusations to the police and discouraged its members from co-operating with law enforcement, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The lawsuit was filed in Maryland state court against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a 30-year-old family of churches with more than 80 congregations. Most of its churches are in the U.S., but it also has planted congregations in other countries. The alleged abuse happened in Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s.
The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members. They accuse church representatives of permitting suspected pedophiles to interact with children, supplying them with free legal advice to avoid prosecution and forcing victims to meet with and “forgive” the person that had molested them.
“The facts show that the Church cared more about protecting its financial and institutional standing than about protecting children, its most vulnerable members,” the lawsuit claims.
About half a dozen Sovereign Grace pastors and church officials are named in the suit.
Sovereign Grace Ministries statement.
While I am not a big fan of lawsuits, I applaud this one. I hope others join this class action.
For some time Sovereign Grace Ministries has been understandably self-imploding, and events have been well-documented on-line As is common with self-protective organizations, even those documenting and tracking what has occurred have been mocked, lambasted, threatened, condemned, called names, and dismissed; attitudes and behaviour which merely lends credence to the claims of former SGM members.
SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge have the stories of former members, such as Wallace and Noel, and news about what is going on with this diminishing group of churches as well as sections on SGM polity and theology The Wartburg Watch has written extensively on the theology (reform/charismatic) of SGM as well as the polity (or lack thereof) and has looked at the leadership of SGM and the celebrity worship and neo-reform networking.
Regular commenter Brad/futurist guy is an organizational developer, and his latest comment at The Warburg Watch caught my attention for its astuteness.
The past few months, I have made the argument that the scrutiny of American non-profits of all kinds has been irrevocably changed in the post-Penn State world. I’ve suggested that the social overseeing applies not just to issues of dealing with sexual abuse perpetrators and advocacy for those victimized, but also to the system issues of peers, administrators, and boards of directors. In the case of Penn State, investigators found that these other parties held some significant levels of responsibility for the damage done to a host of individuals and their families.
Because of the allegations raised in the just-reported class action lawsuit against churches related to the Sovereign Grace Ministries association, I thought this might be a particularly instructive time to take another look at the Freeh Report on Penn State. So I re-read the 7-page press release, which gave a summary of the investigative team’s findings. You’ll find the press release (7 pages), the full report (267 pages), and press conference video of July 12, 2012, at this site:
As an organizational developer, some of my main concerns for the future of churches, ministries, and Christian non-profit agencies are at the systems level – such as passive boards/trustees and failure to act, lack of holding leaders accountable, active attempts to protect image and reputation at the cost of perpetuating injustice, and ignoring and revictimizing those already harmed by people in the organization. These are exactly the kinds of core problems that were uncovered in the Freeh Report and have come back to haunt Penn State in ways that may never be overcome. And these are exactly the kinds of indicators I have personally witnessed of toxic systems and malignant ministries in multiple Christian settings.
The courts will now sort through the facts and impacts of what happened with those involved in this SGM lawsuit. But if our own organizations are at risk because of deficient and/or unethical systems, what will we do to bring those issues into the light and deal with them … lest we bring on our own lawsuits for our gross negligence and/or active victimization?
So, the Freeh Press Release and Report – worth a reading or re-reading as both a cautionary case study of what NOT to do, and for concrete suggestions on how such system failures can be addressed constructively.
The plaintiffs have hired a good lawyer, and I hope these families have the stamina and thick skin needed for what will be a long and arduous journey through a U.S. court.
There are 3 Sovereign Grace churches in Canada, two in BC and one in Ontario.
Update: The complaint. Montgomery County Circuit Court MD