IN DEFENSE OF THE INNOCENT, THE ONLY SIN IS TO BE A COWARD – HOW A CHURCH CAN FALL LIKE A HOUSE OF CARDS.
May 21, 2014
Summary: The Maryland-based Covenant Life Church is embroiled in a child sexual abuse and cover-up scandal – a scandal that has forced senior leadership within the organization to resign; that’s the only good news in this scandal. Yet, this scandal is a teachable moment for all of us to exhibit more courage in our own lives.
Last week, Nathaniel Morales, a former youth leader at the Covenant Life Church (CLC) in Gaithersburg, Maryland was found guilty of sexually abusing three children from 1983 to 1991. This is bad enough, but the abuse was not an isolated incident. In addition to the child sex abuse, coward Grant Layman, a former pastor with knowledge of the abuse withheld incriminating information from the police about the abuse allegations – resigning only in March. In the wake of this scandal, Joshua Harris and C. J. Mahaney: two senior pastors that oversaw the CLC, have resigned from the leadership council of The Gospel Coalition; a coalition of churches in which the Gaithersburg CLC is a member; the Gaithersburg CLC is also part of Sovereign Grace Church (SGC) system, which encompasses some 80 churches.
Huh…an organized religion embroiled in a sex scandal and cover-up? I have never heard of that happening, ever. It’s always easy to make bold proclamations in hindsight, like “this could have been prevented” or ask the question of “how could this happen.” But to make that type of statement places too little attention on the degree of deceit that Morales and Layman employed. Yet, had Layman been an honest man or Morales a repentant one (as Reformed Presbyterian canons demand), further sex abuse victims could have been protected. This actually could have been prevented. Here are some observations and key takeaways from this horrific story:
- Since the SGCs inception in 1977, it has made ZERO reports to the police regarding child sexual abuse. Ignorance is bliss….well, until it isn’t. The Gaithersburg police department was the original source of the investigation. The Gaithersburg police department did good work in their investigation, but it should underscore that it took a community 36 years to hold accountable an institution that actively engaged in covering up sexual abuse. This is why it’s so important to know the warning signs of child molestation, and to report even the first suspicion of sexual abuse to the police department.
- Speaking of sexual abuse cover-ups, last year Mahaney was charged with permitting child abuse under his watch as a senior leader in the SGC, which were ultimately thrown out by the judge because the statute of limitations had expired for the plaintiffs. Consider also that according to the lawsuit brought forth in Maryland against Mahaney, it was noted that Layman “already knew” Morales had abused children.
- Mahaney and Harris are two of the most senior pastors at SCG, and by their (previous) leadership positions in The Gospel Coalition, one could make the argument that they represent the senior leadership of the organization. Leaders can be held responsible for the conduct of their employees – the legal terminology is Respondeant Superiores, literally translated to “let the master answer.” If Maryland has this provision in their civil law, these pastors could be tried on that account.
- Harris alluded to courage in his first sermon since the Morales conviction. He stated that it “took real courage for the men [victims] who came forward” and that he greatly respected them. At least one of these so called leaders has remorse for the victims; the triumvirate of Morales, Mahaney, and Layman closer resembles the supporting cast in Wizard of Oz for their collective lack of heart, brains and courage.
- Even on the darkest of clouds, there tends to be a silver lining around it. In this situation, the example set by Harris – stepping down from his leadership role, and removing himself from the church during its investigation – is a professional and responsible way to react to such a grave miscarriage of justice.
To call Morales, Mahaney and Layman wolves in sheep’s clothing would actually be an understatement – more like wolves in shepherd’s clothing. For the victims in this horrific tragedy, I wish they can build on their healing process which started by facing their abusers in the courts. For Layman, I hope he finds his way into a cell next to Morales; dressed in a cowardly lion suit to boot. And one last bonus observation….
BONUS. This is an extra one…. but here’s a takeaway for you, the reader. The Morales and SGC case is a real life story of what happens when there is no courage among those that can influence change. What kind of person are you? Are you a person that has the fortitude to do the right thing, even when its popular? Most importantly, why not you?
If your child, or a child you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact your local police department and report it. To find out more about the victim’s legal rights, contact Estey & Bomberger today to get a free consultation at (800) 925-0723 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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