King’s Cross Statement on a Third-Party Investigation of Sovereign Grace Churches
From the Elders and Members of King’s Cross Church:
In recent months, Sovereign Grace Churches’ Leadership Team has made two public statements about the allegations of pastoral malpractice with regard to child abuse in our past. After five years or more of public outcry about these allegations, the Leadership Team published on the SGC website a question-and-answer page and their rationale for recommending that SGC not launch an independent third-party investigation.
The issues SGC has faced nationally have not majorly affected us as a local church. We have benefited from SGC’s recommended policies and resources and have eagerly supported our denominational statements on sexual abuse and amendments to the Book of Church Order (section 12.4).
Nonetheless, the national dialogue about this issue and how SGC should respond has affected us for two reasons: First, we believe it is important that our history not be murky, that we must address allegations with honesty and transparency for the sake of our own integrity and for the reputation of the Gospel. Second, we care about what matters to our neighbors — and they care deeply about these issues. A lack of clarity about our past could deter many for whom a local history of clerical abuse is still an open wound.
In the wake of the Boston Globe’s 2002 Spotlight investigations into child abuse within the Roman Catholic church, Manchester, NH, was one of the cities found to have a bishop who enabled abusive priests: Fourteen sexual predators continued to hold positions of power and authority in the church despite the church’s awareness of their sins against God, their flocks, and the state. The institutional cover-up (not to mention the crimes themselves) devastated the reputation of the Catholic church — and, for some, Christianity itself — in one of the most heavily Catholic parts of the country. The Catholic church’s response communicated disregard for the abuse of children, lacking humility, introspection, and repentance.
With this local history recent and personal, our neighbors care about institutional accountability on the issue of child sexual abuse. They want to see courageous and determined systems to ensure current and future accountability for child safety and a humble, transparent accountability for the past. This is a matter of justice that our neighbors feel through common grace, and they have not experienced a church that pursues introspection and care on this issue. While those betrayed by a religious organization are looking for Jesus, we must show them that Jesus’ people will walk with them in their pain and recovery. This includes being honest about potential past mistakes, failures, and malpractice.
The Leadership Team asks, “Does an entire denomination have to prove its innocence, based upon a presumption of guilt, for every accusation made online, whether it has been substantiated or not?” No, and indeed we agree that both the church and its elders have the right to presumption of innocence, and that they are not legally or morally obligated to clear their names. Insofar as we believe that a pastor innocent of the charges laid against him has the right to assert his innocence, we agree with the Leadership Team’s statements. But we also recognize that at times exercise of some rights can hinder Gospel witness.
Take the Apostle Paul’s example: “We have not made use of this right [to pastoral compensation], but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). His aim is the advance the Gospel, a reward greater than the payment he deserved, a reward apparently obtained through his sacrifice of a legitimate right. “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:18). Paul saw fit to surrender a right so that he might identify more deeply with, learn from, and witness to those to whom faithful Gospel witness is due. “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22–23).
Our neighborhood is weak from the injustice of child sexual abuse. With no concrete evidence against them, our pastors certainly have a right to maintain their innocence of the charges of pastoral malpractice, but what is the reward of claiming this right? What is the alternative? Could we win some of the weak by becoming weak — not falsely claiming guilt where we are innocent, but taking on the burden of proof and submitting to impartial (and therefore more credible) investigators?
We have an opportunity to humble ourselves and practice Gospel witness, a chance to show our neighbors, weakened by persistent injustice, that the church is a place for weak people. If we, as the Leadership Team has recommended, refuse to surrender our position of strength, we fear we are refusing to “become all things to all people” and, disastrously, hindering those we serve from hearing simply “of Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
While it is appropriate for SGC elders to assert their innocence, we believe that the church’s right to investigate through a third-party — for the sake of Gospel witness — should also be asserted. Our elders should submit on this matter for the sake of the church’s witness before a watching world. To the best of our knowledge, the allegations of widespread conspiracy to cover up pastoral malpractice within our churches are unfounded. Yet we care about how our witness on this matter is interpreted by our neighbors. We want accountability on this issue and want to know if there are any valid claims about our past concerning pastoral malpractice.
Are their measures we can go to that could establish evidence or innocence on these charges? Yes. Some type of third-party investigation can be commissioned. While the rationale paper presented by SGC’s Leadership Team implies that there is only one option for how to engage this question — a comprehensive church-by-church private criminal investigation that would disregard biblical teaching and amount to an attack on the accused — that is simply not the case. Rachael Denhollander’s public comments have made clear that there are “multiple independent firms capable of carrying out” an investigation that “did not violate SGC’s ecclesiology,” and simple research into the available entities to investigate these claims proves this true.
In our perspective, Sovereign Grace Church’s Leadership Team’s public statements have consistently lacked the appropriate humility about these allegations of pastoral malpractice in our history, and have sidestepped the agreed process our churches have approved in our Book of Church Order.
While we would like to present a case for what a third party investigation could look like, the more critical point to the nature of SGC’s partnership and voice on this matter needs to be addressed. While this may seem like a technicality to some, the reality is that the Leadership Team’s recommendation is only that, a recommendation. It is not binding, nor authoritative for Sovereign Grace Churches. The only body in SGC that can make authoritative, binding decisions and statements for our denomination is the Council of Elders.
This is why we have long maintained that the only appropriate avenue for engaging these allegations is in the Council of Elders. We may not all agree on solutions, but we must all own the decisions together. That is what we agreed to in our partnership agreement. If the elders of SGC do not convene to deliberate and decide on this issue, then our polity will retreat to our apostolic roots which was the time period of these alleged policies and events. If the elders of SGC do not convene to decide on how we will address these allegations about our past, we will be retreating from the important progress we have made in our ecclesiastical union. We must acknowledge our responsibility as the voice of SGC, address whatever mistakes we can from our past, and in repentance and faith, move forward together.
What follows is another letter that we wrote in February, 2018. At the time, we set it aside in the spirit of preserving unity and in the hope that the work and events of 2018 that were in motion would lead to SGC satisfactorily addressing the allegations regarding pastoral malpractice. We publish this letter as well because the arguments in it still deserve consideration.
While we have dissented from the Leadership Team’s position for a while, we have not dissented from our partnership. At this juncture, our eldership feels that we must put forward our thoughts for other elders and members of SGC to consider, along with registering with our broader family in Christ where we stand on this important issue.
With you in the grace of the Gospel,
Pastor Jacob Young,
With the elders and members of:
King’s Cross Church
An Appeal to Sovereign Grace Churches (February 2018)
From the very beginning of our church plant we have been deeply grateful for our partnership with Sovereign Grace Churches. We exist because of their training and equipping. We have thrived thanks to their care, support and friendship. We are a Sovereign Grace Church, and are grateful to be bound with like-minded men and women around a common confession of faith, order of church government, and mission initiatives.
In recent years, Sovereign Grace has walked through very difficult and turbulent waters regarding our past. There have been many questions; questions about allegations of improper handling of sexual abuse within our churches, and questions regarding our policies of pastoral practice. These questions are right to ask. These questions address serious ethical issues. Knowing the love of Jesus for the safety and flourishing of children, and concern for the reputation of his churches and his pastors and thereby the reputation of the Gospel to the watching world, these questions must be answered.
Over the last five years, SGC has had ample opportunity to publicly address these questions. Answering them publicly would have been both humble and wise, and would have bolstered the reputation of the Gospel through our churches. Despite SGC’s virtual silence on these issues, in God’s good providence these questions still demand answers.
Last year, Rachael Denhollander raised serious questions about specific points of our history on this topic, and to date SGC has made three public responses to her, including an initial letter in 2014 about the civil lawsuit dismissal. These responses have been substantively true in judgement but marked with an unnecessarily defensive and combative tone. The Gospel-centered attitude we claim for ourselves should invite critique and acknowledge specific areas of repentance and change. These responses failed to display that attitude, and our posture to point has failed to humbly invite an objective evaluation of our past that give an account to our brothers and sisters in Christ such as Rachel Denhollander.
During our crisis a few years ago we invited a third party investigation into our leadership culture. The resulting report by the Ambassadors of Reconciliation was very helpful in evaluating the dysfunction and unhealthy dynamics of our leadership — issues that needed repentance, faith, and change. Additionally, on an annual basis we have third party evaluations of our finances. With that in mind, it is contrary to our values and history for SGC to baldly refuse any third party investigation into the questions about past allegations.
We strongly disagree with this posture. While we are extremely grateful for the work to improve our churches policies and procedures moving forward, we believe there is still work to be done regarding past allegations. We appeal to SGC to work with a credible third party to investigate these past issues and make a public report. If we truly believe the Gospel says the worst about us but promises unending grace for confession and change, then we have nothing to lose by this investigation, and everything to gain. Further, we have an obligation to our broad family of evangelical brothers and sisters to give an account of these issues because we are bound together in Christ, united by the same Gospel and cause. Our broader family not only looks to us for answers, but also an example of how to respond to these questions in a distinctly Christian manner.
We strongly disagree with the tone and posture of SGC’s public statements regarding Rachael Denhollander’s questions, and SGC’s refusal of a third party investigation with public findings.
In our Father’s good providence, we believe that this issue has been pressed upon us for the good and reputation of our pastors and our churches, and for the advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who himself deeply cares about the safety and flourishing of our children. We fear our negligence in answering these questions has resulted in our leaders delegating leadership in this area to our lawyers, rather than leaning whole-bodied into these questions for our own good, and the good of others.
We must change this. We appeal to all Sovereign Grace elders that we change our tone and posture on this issue. Our elders must call a Special Counsel of Elders to deliberate this issue for ourselves (see BCO 15.2.2). Let us invite a third party investigation with public findings. Our Father cares about this issue, and we must set an example by expressing his heart with public accountability. We must do this for the reputation of the Gospel, for the reputation of our churches, and for the protection of our children into future generations.
With you in the Gospel,
Pastor Jacob Young,
With the elders of:
King’s Cross Church