Sovereign Grace sex abuse case dismissed

Plaintiffs' attorney vows appeal in case against a ministry with close ties to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

By Jeff Brumley

Citing technicalities including the statute of limitations, a Maryland judge on May 17 dismissed a lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church-planting network with ties to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

The suit's 11 plaintiffs had alleged years of sexual abuse and a subsequent cover up by SGM officials. Their attorney told an online Christian watchdog group that Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon V. Burrell's decision will be appealed.

“We (the victims and the lawyers) all knew about the statute issue at the outset,” attorney Susan Burke said in an e-mail to The Wartburg Watch. “But fighting for justice means doing so even against known obstacles.”

In Maryland sex abuse victims are required to file lawsuits within three years of turning 18, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal reported.

The claims of two other victims, who are under 21, were thrown out because the abuses they allege occurred in Virginia.

The lawsuit was originally filed in October 2012 with three plaintiffs, but that number continued to grow as more plaintiffs came forward with accusations.

The suit accused ministry leaders, including founder C.J. Mahaney, of failing to report accusations of sexual molestation to police, and even counseling those accused of committing the crimes on how to avoid arrest.

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The case has not dampened support for Mahaney across the conservative Christian spectrum. Popular Calvinist author John Piper has weighed in with his support, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary invited him to speak to students earlier this year.

Mahaney’s ministry shares a Reformed/Calvinist theology with Southern Seminary and he has made appearances with school president Albert Mohler at various conferences. Sovereign Grace is based in Lousville.

Plaintiffs in the case against Sovereign Grace told local media outlets they weren’t surprised by the judge’s decision, but also where not discouraged by it.

“It was all just based on technicalities,” plaintiff Renee Palmer Gamby told WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.  “It wasn’t even based on the merit of whether it actually happened.”

In her statement to the Wartburg blog site, Burke praised her clients.

“The victims are all brave and courageous people whose willingness to fight against evil has already made a difference in the world,” she said.

ABPnews was unable to reach either Burke or Sovereign Grace Ministries for comment. However, an attorney for one of the defendants in the case commended the judge for dismissing the case.

“For my clients, yes I am happy because I think it was the right decision,” Robert Worst, an attorney for Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax told WJLA-TV.

With additional reporting by Bob Allen.