I have picked at it through the years but till - today - reading the following, I don't think I realized just how depraved this cult is.
Whether it’s the military, a school, or a church, there tend to be some parallels: a culture that’s at least somewhat separate from the outside world, a self-policing elite, a rank-and-file conditioned to revere its leaders.The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch | Washingtonian
In the ministry Mahaney built, some of these features were readily apparent. SGM represented a society unto itself, one that functioned parallel to mainstream culture and that distrusted that wider, secular world. “They believe God’s law comes before civil law,” as one former member says.
Mahaney’s ministry wrote and licensed its own music, stocked its own bookstores, and supported Christian education. “The top tier was homeschooling. The second tier was Covenant Life School,” says Anne Ehlers, a Montgomery County teacher who attended CLC for 21 years. “To have kids in public school, that was like sending your kids to hell.”
Even for adults, questioning leaders was not always tolerated—it meant you weren’t willing to submit to spiritual authority. Members were held accountable for virtually all areas of their lives. And the ministry’s increasingly Calvinist focus on sin at times became an excuse for members to scrutinize one another’s behavior, calling fellow congregants out if they were prideful, if their children were unruly, if their house was unkempt.
These confrontations often happened during small-group meetings—“care groups,” in church parlance. Although meant to be supportive circles, care groups could morph into harsh examinations, in which followers were goaded into confessing faults and transgressions. “It was coded in positive language, as a growth thing,” says Hännah Ettinger, a Peace Corps volunteer who grew up in an SGM church outside Richmond. “But it actually was very nitpicking, negative, self-esteem-destroying kind of stuff.”
It’s a troubling document. Upon hearing about a case of suspected child sex abuse, ministers are advised to notify church elders immediately. They should also call a lawyer, preferably one with “ethics grounded in Scripture,” for legal advice. The document encourages pastors to “establish fact” during a “time of investigation.” It notes that pastors must notify authorities about suspected child molesters if their state’s laws require it. (Not all do.) It also says it may be necessary to call police if the accused is an immediate threat to children—“but this is unlikely,” the memo says. Otherwise, it’s up to the parents to report abuse.
“When Christians appear in a courtroom and they come from the same church community that has fostered trust and spiritual unity,” the guidelines state, “they will likely find the legal process to be highly offensive.” Reconciliation between a repentant abuser and a victim is presented as the ultimate goal.
The following morning, the church celebrated its third anniversary. Mahaney’s congregation filled the ballroom of a suburban Marriott with nearly 300 people, most of them good-looking adults under 35, singing along with the worship band. Elementary-school-age children squirmed in their seats until they were released to go to Sovereign Grace Kids. It was as if Mahaney, now 62, had recreated an earlier time in his ministry—once again assembling a new, makeshift church, an audience full of idealistic young families.
He preached from the book of Job, about a man who loses nearly everything he has. The part of the text that preoccupied him dealt with Job’s tone-deaf friends. They came to Job during his suffering and called him a sinner. Job was blameless, but his friends couldn’t see that: They thought he must have deserved to have so much taken from him.