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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:17PM

Sovereign Grace: More allege church hid sex abuse
January 15, 2013

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Five people have joined a Maryland lawsuit that
claims a Kentucky-based evangelical church group covered up
allegations of sexual abuse against children and failed to alert
police and shield children from known sexual predators.
Sex scandal: Church turned deaf ear to alleged abuse
Sovereign Grace accused of covering up sex abuse allegations

The new plaintiffs join three women who filed a civil lawsuit against
Sovereign Grace Ministries in October. The suit accuses church
leadership of encouraging parents of alleged victims to refrain from
reporting abuses to police and creating "a culture in which sexual
predators were protected from accountability and victims were

The church moved its headquarters to Louisville last year after three
decades in Maryland. The group has struggled in recent years with
fractured leadership and criticism over its discipline methods.
Leaders at the church must be men and women are not permitted to teach
or to have authority over a man, according its website.

A message left at the church office in Louisville on Tuesday was not
immediately returned. The church said in a statement about the suit
last year that the suit contains "a number of misleading allegations,
as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent."

"Child sexual abuse is reprehensible in any circumstance, and a
violation of fundamental human dignity," the statement said.

Susan Burke, a Washington attorney who filed the suit, said the
defendants have 30 days to respond to the accusations.

Chip Grange, a McLean, Va., lawyer for Sovereign Grace Ministries, did
not return a call early Tuesday afternoon.

The suit alleges a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to
conceal sexual abuse committed by church members in Maryland and

The seven females and one male plaintiff are identified in the lawsuit
with pseudonyms. Attorneys are seeking to build a class-action suit
against Sovereign Grace Ministries, which has more than 80
congregations, including a few outside the U.S. Burke said Tuesday
that more alleged victims have contacted her office.

In the amended complaint filed on Friday, one of the new plaintiffs,
identified only as Carla Coe, accuses church co-founder Larry Tomczak
and others of sexual abuse over a 25-year period, beating her "on her
bare buttocks and assaulting her with "plastic and wooden sticks." The
incidents occurred in Virginia and Maryland, the suit said.

A message left for Tomczak at his office in Franklin, Tenn., was not
returned early Tuesday afternoon.

Another alleged victim, identified as Paula Poe, said she attended
school in Gaithersburg, Md., at Covenant Life Church, a Sovereign
Grace affiliate until recently. She claims she was abused by a pastor
and a children's ministry worker on the church's property, according
to the suit.

A plaintiff identified as Grace Goe says she was sexually abused and
beaten by her father as a child in Maryland. When she and a sibling
reported the abuse to church leaders at Covenant Life Church, the men
told the girl's father, which led to more abuse, according to the

The suit names as defendants Sovereign Grace Ministries co-founder
C.J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace board chairman John Loftness, Tomczak,
Covenant Life Church, Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax, Va., and

The lawsuit includes claims of intentional infliction of emotional
distress, negligence and conspiracy, among other damages.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:19PM

Child Abuse Lawsuit Against Sovereign Grace Ministries Adds Names and Charges
Lawsuit adds five plaintiffs, seeks class-action status. SGM 'asks for
patience' while it investigates claims.
Jeremy Weber
January 15, 2013

The pending child abuse lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries
(SGM) has been amended, adding five new plaintiffs, five defendants,
and 28 charges.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, now alleges that some
defendants engaged in abuse directly, in addition to its previous
charges that defendants covered up abuse within SGM communities.

In response, SGM spokesman Tommy Hill released a statement on the
church's website. "SGM has been carefully reviewing each allegation
since the initial claims first surfaced last October. We consider any
allegation of harm to a child extremely serious and we have been
working diligently in an effort to learn the truth," he wrote. "We ask
for patience as we continue to investigate these new allegations.
Please continue to pray with us for all those affected by this

SGM previously stated that the lawsuit "contains a number of untrue or
misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations
of intent."

The amendment lawsuit comes shortly after SGM flagship Covenant Life
Church voted to sever ties with the denomination, and SGM leader Dave
Harvey, who has written a book on godly ambition, stepped down from
his duties.

More details on the lawsuit, as well as the SGM churches which have
left the denomination, can be found in CT's first report from October.

SGM made headlines in 2012 when Mahaney took a leave of absence in
July 2011 for a "season of examination and evaluation" of charges
against him by alienated SGM pastors, including "various expressions
of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy."
Six months later, SGM reinstated Mahaney in January 2012 after vetting
the charges against him. In May, SGM announced plans to relocate its
headquarters from Gaithersburg, Maryland, to Louisville, Kentucky—a
move that drew criticism.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:24PM


I have been reading this whole thread with interest but I didn’t feel
led to respond to any of the posts till I read this one by Kindred
Spirit (#402). It said:
“I believe that 40 years later, we are coming to terms with the fruit
of these zealous efforts and often misdirected foci that the previous
generation developed as our legacy. Unfortunately, the previous
generation often failed to recognize the skewed nature of some of
their ideals, leaving the inconsistencies for *our generation* to
reconcile (*whatever generations have followed after the era of the
first wave of Baby Boomers who came of age in the mid-sixties).”
I was 19 years old when I first attended Covenant Life Church in 1985
and immediately attached myself to my new “hero,” C.J. Mahaney. I was
22 years old when I worked for People of Destiny International and I
would occasionally baby-sit for my “big boss,” Larry Tomczak. In my
line of work, I got to see the leaders of CLC and PDI up close, got to
go to their homes, got to meet their kids, etc. In my eyes back then,
they could do no wrong and all I wanted was for my own kids to be just
like Larry’s. Through this forum, I later reunited with one of them
(who is now one of the plaintiffs of this lawsuit). While the scales
had already come off my own eyes back in the 1990′s as I was going
through a bitter divorce from my abusive husband and I was simply told
by my spiritual leaders to “forgive…forget…continue to submit…etc” (a
pastor’s wife even told me I would be forever cut off from God if I
filed for divorce)--I was still so shocked and aghast when this
particular child of Larry T. told me what she had gone through behind
closed doors (there are many more horrible stories not even mentioned
in the lawsuit) and I never stopped encouraging her to tell the whole
world since I heard them.
I am now 47 years old and my three kids are all grown. I am so
grateful that despite the divorce, they have grown up well-balanced,
well-adjusted, healthy and happy kids--still in love with Jesus thanks
to the great church I found for us back in 1996. I am a public high
school teacher and I have been the Christian Club adviser at our
school for close to 10 years now. We are currently experiencing rapid
growth as more and more kids in my area are realizing their need for a
Savior (God’s light truly shines brightest in the deep darkness which
is what we are seeing in our nation today). I have the privilege of
daily discipling many of the young leaders who are so zealous for the
Lord and who are reaching their classmates and their community with
the true Gospel of Christ. They remind me of myself so long ago--that
young, radical college student who thought she would follow C.J. in
“reaching the whole world for Christ in one generation” and even
turned down lucrative job offers upon graduation to join “the greatest
Christian organization that there ever was.”
So this morning, allow me to share some things for which I am grateful
for. I am grateful for this forum that allows “nobodies” like me to
have a voice and make the once untouchable pastors and leaders of the
once almighty PDI/SGM system finally quiet down and just listen. I am
grateful for my humble, little church that helped me to finally get my
theology straight and keep my priorities right all these years. (We
used to sing this PDI song that I loved so much: “Give me one pure and
holy passion…give me one magnificent obsession…Jesus, give me one
glorious ambition for my life: to know and follow hard after you.” PDI
had the right idea in the beginning…how sad that they went so far and
so wrong in the end.) I am grateful for my dear friend--this
courageous young woman--and all the other victims in this lawsuit who
had the guts to simply look at the Goliath named SGM/PDI in the eye
and with their tiny pebbles of tragic truth, finally topple it with
one fell swoop. I am grateful that I serve a God of justice who will
soon vindicate every single person who was abused, terrorized and
traumatized--and whose lives were almost utterly destroyed by this
toxic system. And lastly, I am grateful that I serve a God of
restoration and LIFE--that despite what we have to endure in this life
at times, like Job, He returns to us double what the enemy took away.
As I watch and nurture these young high school and college kids under
my care now, who are so ready to do God’s will and bring His kingdom
down here on earth, I also have to be grateful to all my leaders,
pastors and their wives--and even some of my former bosses from PDI.
To them,now I can say thank you for reminding me that the temptation
to think of yourself greater than you really are is very real and the
idea that a spiritual leader can cause “little ones in the kingdom to
stumble” is one that is ever before me. So to you, I say thank you
most sincerely, for showing me so many years ago what I should NOT do.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:26PM


To whoever writes these articles… I am a member of Larry Tomczak’s
family and we left a long time ago from SGM. We were the pioneers of
leaving SGM. Please post something that is correct. No offense but it
makes me sad that you have to post things that are not any longer
true. I would also like you to respect everyone even if they are
wrong. C.J. did hurt our family very badly but we have forgiven him
and gone on with our lives! SGM, yes, indeed is not a good place for
everyone but yet there is much healing that has come about when it
comes to all the people who have left. I happen to be a poster for SGM
survivors and we have been in contact with the heads of the group.
They are great people.

To this I have to say Che and Larry haven’t been connected with SGM in
over 10 years. Please be respectful even to people who don’t agree
with you. Using the word for male anatomy is not a good turn of
phrase. All I ask is respect is due everyone. No, I do not like C.J.
but I respect him as a man!

You post the following: “Larry Tomczak, where the Hell are you in all
your Apostolic Glory? Che Ahn, where are you in all your submission
and authority magnificence?”
* * *
One more thought… you post that Larry turned a blind eye… in fact I
saw him work tirelessly to change SGM’s abusive power but was
unsuccessful. He cried and wept bitter tears over this whole debacle.
He has counseled others that have left as well. If you are interested
in hearing about this, please feel free to post something here and I
would be willing to get in touch with you to discuss it.

Also, please go on Larry’s Facebook page to get in contact with him.
We never left those who needed healing from SGM. In fact, many have
contacted us. So, please, do not think that Larry or Che just up and
left. They have thriving churches who have helped heal these wounds.
You are not alone in your anger, but please, I would request that you
do it respectfully! Again, I do not like the leaders in SGM but I
respect them as men who are albeit a bit confused!


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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:29PM


I haven’t revealed much of my story, and it doesn’t warrant the horror
of the sexual abuse victims involved in the lawsuit. However, I read
and understand exactly how and why parents accepted the church’s
stance on these abuses, because I did the same thing in a different

When we came to SGM (then PDI, the original), my husband was caught up
in living a very ungodly life including multiple counts of adultery. I
was encouraged to win him over with my silent, submissive spirit. I
tried very hard to do this, including much prayer, fasting, and
worship. One day he “felt the Holy Spirit” enter him and gave his life
to the Lord. I was so relieved, as were our children, that our family
would finally be healed, as we had suffered numerous separations. He
confessed to me all of his past infidelities. My heart was ripped to
pieces, but through counseling at the church, I was made to see how
sin was sin and I needed to forgive him and he needed to forgive me.
God’s best, I was told, was that we be reconciled and forgive one
another. All sin was equal. There was no room for my feelings, and
somehow every time I walked out of there the focus seemed to be on how
I needed to change.

Two years later, my husband got into another affair, this time
producing a child. I wasn’t told that I had to reconcile with him, nor
was I released to divorce him. I was instructed to seek God for an
answer. Understand here is where the system speaks for itself. There
is no glory or redemption seen in divorce (or there wasn’t at the
time), so the unspoken pressure, if you’re to live up to the SGM
family model, is to overcome the sin of the partner through
forgiveness. There’s no mention of forgiving but moving forward in a
manner consistent with the destruction a spouse has done.
I forgave my spouse, and we moved away from SGM. This ultimately was a
great thing, because I stopped expecting him to live up to that model
and he stopped cheating. However, I went away believing in a God who
neither cared about my feelings or truly loved me, as He sovereignly
allowed all of these things to happen to me when he could have
prevented them. I was depressed and suicidal, but remember, it was a
sin to seek outside professional help. I couldn’t get counseling or
medical treatment. The problem had to be rooted in sin--my sin, and I
needed my self-confrontational manual to dig it out.

When anger and resentment finally dared to surface, I filed for a
divorce. I walked away from God, committed adultery, and did attempt
to end my life, ending up in an ICU with my husband by my side. From
that point on, he endeavored to love me like Jesus, religion aside. It
took quite a while, but he became that husband that SGM men ought to
endeavor to be. For him, it isn’t a role he’s playing in order to live
up to the image, rather it’s laying his life down in order to treat me
as his own body. I’m happy about that, and I’m thankful for him. Why
then, do I still resent SGM’s spoken and unspoken pressure to be in
faith for my marriage? Because it was without compassion toward my
feelings and experiences. I was the one constantly having to strive to
do what they themselves didn’t know a thing about, but would they
would learn through future generations of their own. I resent that I
wasn’t told that God was as faithful and redemptive in divorce as he
was in marriage….like I had to make the miracle happen with my
unswerving faith. I resent that I was taught that spanking my children
would change their hearts, and that living the formula would produce
godly offspring. I now have godly offspring because God was faithful
in my giving up on the formula. I was on a leave-of-absence from my
faith for the three years following my departure from SGM, yet my
children began to thrive when I stopped seeing only the sin in them
and started enjoying them as the individuals God had created them to
be. I adore them now, whereas before, I saw nothing but the sin I
needed to weed out in order to keep them out of hell.

It’s all grace, I know that now. I’m still healing from the legalism
and the formulas I absorbed. I truly don’t think they understand the
hierarchy they create in their polity. Their own lack of willingness
to honestly communicate true and deep failure works to hold themselves
up in front of wives whose husbands’ real and deep failures seem so
pathetic by comparison. So many wives have confessed to me their
habits of comparing their husbands to the leaders, with the husbands
coming up short.

When will they realize they are not serving the members while holding
onto their pride. When will they say, “I stand up here and pretend to
be more than I am so that you will revere me, yet I work to lower your
view of who you are and who your family members are in Christ”? That’s
what I want to see. Tear down the pedestals. Look for God’s redeeming
grace in failure as much as you do success. Understand that we are
doing our best to live godly lives in a fallen world, and for Pete’s
sake, stop expecting us to be perfect in what we say or do, and how we
deal with our concerns with you. Listen. Hear us. And consider, truly
consider, coming off your prideful pedestal and repenting for the
mistakes of the past.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:32PM



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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:35PM


In 2007, I was having lunch with my pastor and my dear dear friend Tom
Wilkins (Senior pastor of CoG at the time and who attended SGM PC). I
told him then (long before any of this began), that I felt God had a
message for him that I was supposed to deliver…I do have discernment
but never felt led to “deliver a message” but in obedience I did. I
told him that I sensed something was wrong at SGM Corporate…that I
wasn’t sure what it was…that it could be sexual but wasn’t sure. I
also discussed the many concerns my mom had. My message was correct. I
expressed I thought CoG needed to leave SGM. It was and continues not
to be heeded. Two years ago Tom Wilkins was “demoted” to associate
pastor and replaced by a young (20 something) recent grad of PC…Ricky
Alcantar who I don’t know but like and respect. Ricky was raised in
the SGM culture since birth. Last month, Tom was relieved of all
pastoral duties by the SGM heads (Shank, etc.) and like Dave Harvey,
made complimentary “Elder” and a six month severance package…I told my
mom I thought the severance package and the elder position were
nothing more than “guilt offerings” from the SGM bozo department.
I have long left SGM and now live in the Philippines with my wife and
family. I have stayed in contact with Tom and a handful of other
members simply because they are my friends. They know where I stand
and know I support the blogs. I know CoG has been on the fence
deciding whether they should part from SGM or stay. I believe when
they’ve made up their mind to leave they seek wise counsel from the
very men they need to get away from but that’s my opinion. My mom left
last spring and moved close to family in California and God has
positioned her into a “normal”, not perfect, but normal church that
she is blossoming in…God in His sovereignty. Keith Rushing is also a
dear friend of mine and ex-SGM pastor who was thrown under the bus by
Shank and others when he was pastor at the newly planted SGM church in
Las Cruces, NM in the mid-90’s.

Tonight I was cleaning out my bible and I pulled out a folded paper.
To my surprise it was a list of the “Pastors College Class of 2010″.
Imagine my surprise when I read the first name on the page. Ricky &
Jenn Alcantar, CoG, El Paso, Texas!!!
I did not know your Mr. Wilkins, but I can not fathom removing a
mature pastor, in his late forties, and replacing him with a 26 year
old pastors college grade whose only previous claim to fame was a
degree in creative writing from a local university. No life
experiences, no children, life altering condition…nothing that would
explain why SGM would dump a mature man of the cloth and replace it
was a young upstart. Nothing…
Other than a rich dad who is also on the pastoral staff there at CoG!
Terry, you didnt tell us that part of the puzzle. You didnt relate to
us that this could be yet another iteration of CJ’s move to move young
people into positions of authority so that he can control those
churches through those young men. And he loves to do it with a family
tie-in. Like Melinger father son team from CovFel, like Ricucci,
LaymanChesmore, Bradshaw and Whitacre from CJ, like Steve& Travis
Shank is Az, like Bob and Jordan Kauflin (Jordan was a classmate of
Ricky Alcantar in the 2010 Pastor’s class. Like Pete Payne& sons John
and Josh. Like Phil Sasser and his son Nathan and son in law Daniel
Baker. Like Don, Joel and Tim Shorey. Like Bill and Chris Patton. Like
Danny and Jeremy Jones. Like brothers Bob and Jim Donohue, and Dave
and Vince Hinders. Like Warren & Jeffery Bottcher. Like Bill & Dave
Farley. Like Dan & Thomas Kim. Like Jimmy and Jim Cannon.
Oh Terry, I am sad to read your story. I am glad Mom is in a good
church now. But the story you related in #544 has been done and
re-done, time and time again in SGM. It is how CJ works!

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:41PM

Franklin pastor accused of abuse in lawsuit
Nashville Tennessean
By Bob Smietana

A Franklin pastor known for promoting corporal punishment has been accused of physically abusing a woman for 25 years, beginning during her childhood.

The Rev. Larry Tomczak, an associate pastor at Bethel World Outreach Church in southern Davidson County near Brentwood, was named in a Maryland lawsuit filed against leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a denomination he helped found in the 1980s.

The suit was originally filed in October by three alleged victims of abuse, and was amended Friday to add five others. All eight were given pseudonyms.

It alleges that Tomczak, who lives in Franklin, and other church leaders covered up sexual abuse in the denomination and at a Christian school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tomczak is also accused of repeatedly assaulting a woman, who is given the pseudonym Carla Coe, with plastic and wooden sticks. The alleged abuse began when she was a child and lasted more than two decades. When the woman was an adult, the lawsuit claims, Tomczak made her strip and beat her bare backside.

The suit doesn’t say where those incidents occurred or how he met the woman.

Tomczak denies all of the allegations of physical abuse. He also said that as a parent, he was saddened to hear of the allegations. But he said he knew nothing about sexual abuse in the denomination.

“I had no involvement in any of this,” he said.

A book called “The Little Book of Correction,” for sale on Tomczak’s website, advises parents to use a stick to spank their children. He stands by that advice today.

“That book has helped thousands of parents around the world,” he said.

Church leaders at Bethel World Outreach Church, where Tomczak works, were out of town for a funeral and not available for comment.
A controversial past

The amended lawsuit is the latest bad news for the controversial Sovereign Grace Ministries, which has about 100 churches. Tomczak split from the group in the mid-1990s because of a conflict with his co-founder, the Rev. Charles Joseph “C.J.” Mahaney.

Mahaney and other Sovereign Grace leaders had threatened to spread damaging information about Tomczak’s then-teenage son, who had confessed to misconduct, according to a later church report.

In 2011, Mahaney, who has close ties to Southern Baptist leaders like Al Moehler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, took a leave of absence after complaints were lodged about his leadership style.

He was later reinstated as leader of the denomination, which moved to Louisville from Maryland last year. But conflict in the group has continued. In recent months, several churches have split off from Sovereign Grace.

The denomination issued a statement condemning any abuse of children and saying that leaders will investigate the claims in the suit.

“We consider any allegation of harm to a child extremely serious and we have been working diligently in an effort to learn the truth,” the statement reads. “We ask for patience as we continue to investigate these new allegations. Please continue to pray with us for all those affected by this lawsuit.”

David Clohessy, executive director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a support group for clergy abuse victims, said that Sovereign Grace seems to have no structure in place to deal with abuse allegations.

That means victims have no place to turn inside the church, he said.

“These kinds of insular, secretive churches, outside the mainstream, with little or no hierarchy seem especially problematic,” said Clohessy.

According to the suit, victims were told not to report the abuse to the authorities.

That’s a common mistake made by churches, Clohessy said.

“Instead of saying, ‘Get some therapy and call the police,’ they are told to forgive their abusers,” he said.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 23, 2013 01:44PM


Pastor Larry Tomczak greets members before the start of services at Bethel World Outreach Center at the Franklin YMCA in Franklin Sunday, July 15, 2007. / Sanford Myers / The Tennessean / photo


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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: January 26, 2013 07:31AM

Sovereign Grace Ministries: Courts Shouldn't 'Second-Guess' Pastoral Counseling of Sex Abuse Victims

Legal observers question whether clergy-penitent privilege applies to denomination accused of covering up crimes.

Christianity Today
Bobby Ross Jr.

In response to a civil lawsuit alleging that it covered up numerous cases of child sexual abuse, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) has pledged to "carefully review" each accusation.

However, the lawsuit—which claims the association of Reformed church plants discouraged victims' parents from reporting abuse to authorities and had victims forgive their abusers in person—has also prompted the denomination to cite its First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Specifically, SGM has defended its freedom to provide confidential pastoral counseling free of government infringement.

"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," Tommy Hill, SGM's director of administration, said in a November 14 statement.

Such a stance strikes some legal observers as more of a smokescreen than a legitimate defense.

Boz Tchividjian, founder and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations previously for New Tribes Mission and currently for Bob Jones University, readily acknowledges that he does not know all the facts. But the former Florida child abuse prosecutor takes issue with the SGM statement.

"Quite frankly, any time an institution—a Christian institution—responds or defends its behavior as it relates to sexual abuse allegations with quoting laws and hiding behind constitutions, it causes me concern," said Tchividjian, a law professor and grandson of Billy Graham. "I think an authentic, gospel-centered response to sexual abuse disclosures within an institution is to be transparent and to be vulnerable.

"God did his most powerful work when his son was transparent and vulnerable," Tchividjian added, referring to Jesus' crucifixion.

In the November statement, Hill accused plaintiffs' lawyers of seeking to violate SGM's First Amendment freedom "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."

In a January 15 statement, he stressed, "We take seriously the biblical commands to pursue the protection and well-being of all people—especially children, who are precious gifts given by the Lord and the most vulnerable among us. These biblical commands include fully respecting civil authority to help restrain evil and promote righteousness as Romans 13 instructs us."

Hill told CT he was unable to comment further beyond the public statements. SGM stated in November that the lawsuit "contains a number of untrue or misleading accusations as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent."

David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he would need more information to fully assess SGM's defense. However, he stressed that "the First Amendment is not—and shouldn't be—a defense against child abuse.

"There's a pastor-penitent privilege that might protect some kinds of conversations relating to child abuse, although many states purport to override the privilege in cases of child abuse, and to require pastors to report any evidence of child abuse," said Skeel, who recently wrote about the issue for the Wall Street Journal's Houses of Worship column. "I think many of the statutes were enacted after the Catholic clergy scandals of the last several decades."

In Maryland, where the lawsuit was filed and SGM was based until relocating to Kentucky last year, state law does not require the reporting of child abuse if such notification would disclose a communication protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.

However, Tchividjian said the focus of the law "is on perpetrators who may 'confess' and not victims or their family members who may disclose the abuse to their pastor."

The lawsuit, originally filed in October, seeks class-action status. The petition was amended in January, adding five plaintiffs (bringing the total to eight) and alleging that some church leaders—who are among the dozen defendants—engaged in abuse directly.

The amended lawsuit came shortly after SGM flagship Covenant Life Church of Gaithersburg, Maryland, voted to sever ties with the denomination, and SGM leader Dave Harvey stepped down from his duties.

SGM made headlines in 2011 when its president, C.J. Mahaney, took a leave of absence for a "period of examination and evaluation" of charges against him by alienated SGM pastors, including "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." The process proved difficult for the denomination, but six months later SGM reinstated Mahaney after vetting the charges and declaring full confidence in him.

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