In October 2012, a civil suit was filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a small group of neo-reform churches in the US. (2 churches in Canada) Prior posts.
In November, SGM stated the suit:
“…contains a number of untrue or misleading accusations as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent,”
This complaint makes broad allegations that SGM pastors were negligent, resulting in errors and omissions in pastoral counseling and spiritual care, which was voluntarily sought and provided years ago to some families of child abuse victims.
In January the filing was amended to include more defendants, and add more plaintiffs.
SGM stated publicly that under the First Amendment, (religious freedom) they were free to provide pastoral counselling free from government interference.
SGM leaders provided biblical and spiritual direction to those who requested this guidance. This care was sought confidentially, as is a right under the First Amendment. We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided. SGM believes that allowing courts to second guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment, that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse.
As well, SGM wants the lawsuit dismissed claiming that the abusers were not denominational employees. SGM also claims the statute of limitations has run out on some of the abuse claims.
Christianity Today looked at the First Amendment claims of SGM.
Sovereign Grace Ministries cannot claim with this new amendment filed in a Maryland court yesterday that the allegations are broad. The allegations are graphic and specific, and the amended document addresses the failure of leaders to report sexual abuse, and is specific in the allegations leaders required children to meet with them and their abusers to seek forgiveness. As well the amended claim states that SGM leaders:
“conspired, and continue to conspire, to permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purposes of predation, and to obstruct justice by covering up ongoing and past predation.”
A few of the perpetrators of abuse mentioned in the suit were charged and convicted.
Five of the plaintiffs have chosen to no longer be anonymous
Warning: Trigger alert. If you have been a victim of physical or sexual abuse, proceed with care.
SGM was quick with another statement yesterday, there is no mention about their First Amendment rights. As well, one of the defendants, former board member and pastor John Loftness released his own statement to his church. While he has been advised by legal counsel to remain silent, his plea to his church sounds more like the same pattern of ‘don’t talk’:
Let us thank God that we live in a country where there is a judicial system which sorts these things out according to the rule of law. Let’s pray for a fair hearing of this case and a ruling that is in keeping with what is right and true.
Because we are so connected together as a church, this suit presents us all with many temptations. Let’s strive to respond to everyone involved and everyone affected by it with love and grace. We must see it in the context of God’s providence which sometimes presents us with storms of difficulty which seem to have no reason and no end. But just as surely as he has allowed my life to unfold in this way, he will allow this storm to pass—in his good time and in his purposeful way.
And let’s also remember our mission together as a church—to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ so that through our example and our message we can make the grace and truth of Jesus known. I’d ask that you keep your focus on this gospel mission and not allow this suit to distract you from what is most important—knowing Jesus and making him known—together as a church.
There will be an accounting, hopefully in a court in Maryland, for sure some day before Jesus Christ. Alleged covering for child molesters has nothing to do with the gospel, and protecting of victims and justice is not a distraction from the gospel mission. One only has to read SGM Survivors to see that SGM churches have not been safe places, and it is the obligation and right of every parent to make informed and knowledgeable decisions around their childs safety. The patterns of valuing doctrine and the institution above the safety and well being of congregants has to stop.
The civil suit claims conspiracy, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision, and misrepresentation. The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial.
Please pray for the plaintiffs and their families, their lawyers and their families as they continue their arduous trek toward justice.