Is Phil Johnson from Grace to You the Lt. Frank Drebin of the Reformed Community?

On April 14, 2016 a deeply disturbing conversation took place on Phil Johnson’s Facebook page. Phil Johnson made a statement on the C.J. Mahnaney situation and the alleged cover up of child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries. Phil ultimately said that if specific and detailed evidence comes forth detailing it, then he would believe. Instead he went after Brent Detwiler and the victims from SGM. This is an old topic but one of the many I have been wanting to write about. 

Typical. Zero concern for molested children or their families. Nothing but the utmost concern for the reputations of Mahaney and his gospelly buddies. Grant Layman knew, and did nothing. Josh Harris knew, and did nothing. If Mahaney didn’t know, than his ignorance is culpable. If he did, then his inaction is damnable. He doesn’t belong anywhere near a pulpit or stage.”

Neal Marchuk on Phil Johnson’s Facebook post

Phil Johnson – thanks for throwing those of us who were in SGM under the bus, yet, again. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the neo-reformed elite. The blackmail is very well documented and Mark Prater, the current SGM director, sat at my dining room table and all but said it was justified due to Larry Tomzcak’s behavior. This ought to be grounds, alone, for his disqualification, but to know that the blackmail was related to concealing a sexual abuse was unconscionable. I personally know that the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report was rigged from the onset. The gentleman co-leading the told me and my brother, separately, that they believed that the men around CJ were afraid to speak truth (fear of man) and that he had been accommodated in his abusive leadership by them. None of the concerns this man expressed in his report. When the report was issued, he would not respond to contact him for clarification. Instead, the report vilified those who had to participate in the investigation. So, thanks, thanks for spitting in out faces. It’s nice to know that men who to be pastors are more with protecting their peers than serving the flock.” 

Jenn Grover on Phil Johnson’s Facebook post 

Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers.

Proverbs 21:15 NLT

Phil Johnson of Grace to You  Screenshot from Facebook 

Is this how Phil Johnson is when it comes to evidence and dealing with facts? Note to readers I would stop the video at 2:30. If you watch beyond 2:30 and get upset, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 

This is a post that I have been meaning to do for a while. It has been sitting on my pile of articles to write about. On April 14, 2016 hell broke out on Phil Johnson’s Facebook page and the debate was over his statement on the C.J. Mahaney situation involving the alleged cover up of child sex abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Before I get into that statement we must ask the question…who is Phil Johnson? 

An Overview of Phil Johnson 

Phil Johnson was born in 1953 and I believe he went to and graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  Phil Johnson has been attached to John MacArthurs’ hip since 1981 and he edits the bulk of his work. Today Phil Johnson is the executive director of Grace to You. He also is busy on several websites to include The Spurgeon Archive, The Hall of Church History and the Pyromaniacs blog. Phil Johnson is also one of the many ordained elders at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He has an active Twitter account which you can access here. Phil and his wife Darlene have three adult children and several grandchildren. 


Phil Johnson Statement on C.J. Mahaney on Facebook April 14, 2016 

Lots of people have been asking my opinion about having CJ Mahaney as a headliner at T4G. Here’s a longish summary of my answer:

In July of 2011  I started reading the original 600-page Detwiler dump. Approximately 375 pages in, I gave up looking for anything substantial. Everything Brent Detwiler complained about was petty and personal: CJ Mahaney was too controlling; he wasn’t transparent with his fellow leaders; he didn’t submit to the same accountability he demanded of them; he was stubborn; he didn’t listen to criticism; etc. I’m no defender of SGM’s continuationist doctrine or their philosophy of ministry. In fact, the Detwiler documents left me with the impression that SGM is practically cultlike in the ways they have tried to achieve “accountability” and “transparency.” (The accountability structures seem even worse than the Roman Catholic confessional system.) But it deeply annoyed me and offended me to read hundreds of pages of private emails in the Detwiler papers without seeing any evidence of the kind of gross, deliberate wrongdoing that might justify that style of public attack on a Christian leader’s character and reputation.

Let’s suppose all the things Detwiler complained about were true. None of it was as bad as Detwiler’s decision to trample the whole point of 1 Timothy 5:19 in order to litigate his personal grievances against his boss on the Internet. His airing of personal complaints against CJ to a worldwide audience predictably unleashed a flood of gossip and speculation among people who had no righteous involvement in any of the conflicts Detwiler described. (See Proverbs 26:17.) It was a strategy whose main aim seemed to be to destroy CJ’s reputation.

Sometime much later (seems like it was almost 2 years later), accusations began to surface that CJ Mahaney had actively participated in a cover-up of several child-abuse incidents within SGM. Given my frustration with the Detwiler documents, my inclination was to be highly skeptical of these new accusations. The charges don’t fit what I know of CJ Mahaney, and (again, in opposition to 1 Timothy 5:19) the notion that Mahaney engineered a cover-up conspiracy wasn’t backed up with any real evidence. I still haven’t seen any damning emails or smoking guns implicating CJ himself. The only “proof” seems to consist entirely of several people who say they are pretty sure it’s impossible that such things could occur in SGM without CJ’s knowledge and approval. Even if it’s totally true that CJ’s leadership style would lend credibility to the charge, we are expressly forbidden to admit the charge without actual evidence. Speculation and suspicions from someone who can’t possibly know what actually happened behind the scenes is not evidence–no matter how many voices join in and echo the accusations.

So in short, I emphatically refuse to assume the worst of CJ. And I’m disappointed in Janet Mefferd for aligning herself with some of the “survivor blogs” where CJ’s guilt is simply assumed and dogmatically declared as if it were already a settled issue. To pretend to be calling for “justice” while committing such a gross injustice is the very height of hypocrisy. The best-known survivor blogs tend to be places where disgruntled former church members mingle with people who are overtly hostile to biblical authority–and a handful of people who are true victims of spiritual abuse. Then they all stoke one another’s resentment and give as much publicity as possible to every accusation that surfaces claiming this or that Christian leader has abused his authority. This is no less unjust than the abuse they complain of. And it is grossly unhealthy to the participants’ spiritual well-being. Mrs. Mefferd of all people ought to have more discernment than that.

On the other hand, I also disagree with the decision to include CJ among the speakers at T4G2016. I was happy to see CJ in attendance but not speaking at T4G2014. I don’t see the wisdom in putting him on the platform two years later when, if anything, the controversy that surrounds him is more fierce than ever. Turning the T4G spotlight on CJ while such a scandal is raging certainly doesn’t help him, and it unnecessarily clouds the message of T4G. I share all of Todd Pruitts concerns about that.

I’m considering this from a practical and personal perspective. If it turned out that two or three of my employees committed criminal child-abuse offenses in the course of their work under my oversight, even if I was totally ignorant of what was happening and personally innocent of any wrongdoing, I would nevertheless decline any outside speaking engagements until all questions about the matter were truly and sufficiently resolved. It would not be right to attach the scandal and reproach of a brewing conflict like that to any other organization. Passing up an opportunity to be a headliner at a big conference would especially seem an important way of countering the charges that a person lacks humility.

In CJ’s case, as I understand it, some of the questions floating around are still being litigated in the courts. I just don’t see any good reason to rush him back into such an important position of high visibility. That’s my perspective.

Still, I would not suggest that there are no difficulties with the course of action I would have taken, either. At some point you have to refuse to cater to the concerns of people who insist on accusing a man when they can’t possibly meet the simple biblical standard of evidence. So I do sympathize with those who had to make the decision for this year’s T4G, and the fact that I would have chosen a different course of action does not in any way diminish my respect for them.

A discussion raged back and forth on Facebook and Phil Johnson went back to Richard Nixon and Watergate. The best way to look at the Sovereign Grace corruption is through the lens of Watergate. I have written about that before. To read more I would suggest “When it Comes to C. J. Mahaney; What the Evangelical Christian Church can Learn from Deep Throat and Watergate” and “What C.J. Mahaney can Learn from Richard Nixon’s Resignation and Fall from Watergate: Some Thoughts on Humility.” Phil didn’t believe there is evidence against C.J. Mahaney and he dismissed much of what was said. I would encourage you to read the entire Facebook conversation. However, on Facebook Phil Johnson said the following: 

….I agree that’s evil. But I still want to see proof CJ was fully aware of what was going on. Even Nixon couldn’t be brought down in the Watergate scandal until his own recordings proved he knew about the cover-up. It’s not “justice” if you bypass due process, and people whose main concern is ostensibly to see justice done OUGHT to acknowledge that.


A Significant Comment to Phil Johnson that Offered Strong Push Back

In my opinion this was one of the best comments that was left that strongly pushed back. It really shredded Phil Johnson’s claims.  

Rachael Denhollander As an attorney, I respectfully disagree with the assertion that there is no real evidence that Mahaney knew, for the following reasons:

1 – At least one family has come forward saying Mahaney was involved in counseling to attempt to deal with the mishandling of one case at Fairfax. They claim they have emails from them to Mahaney, and Mahaney to them, discussing the mishandling by the pastors, and Mahaney also oversaw an alleged “reconciliation” meeting with the pastors that was supposed to be mediated by a neutral third party whom this family later learned had been paid several thousand dollars for his presence as a “neutral” mediator.

2 – Mahaney’s brother-in-law, Grant Layman, testified under oath that at least he knew of the abuse by Nathaniel Morales, and that the pastors did not, in fact, report.

3 – A second pastor under Mahaney reported the same thing to reporters.

4 – The *official* policy of SGM and CLC when it came to handling abuse cases stated that the very first thing that must be done with an allegation of abuse is to notify the entire elder board. More than one pastor has repeatedly asserted in closed member meetings with CLC (of which there are audio recordings) that this policy WAS followed in all the cases at issue. Unless these pastors are simply fabricating this, Mahaney, as not only “an” elder, but the head elder was, by their own statements, notified. This is a written policy requiring that all elders be notified, and pastors have confirmed this policy was followed.

5 – Three of Mahaney’s family members (two brothers-in-law and a son-in-law) were directly involved in these cases, including paying for a pedophile’s attorney using CLC funds and writing letters on behalf of some of the pedophiles on church letterhead. These letters are court records that are public. CLC and SGM policy was absolute that monies not be dispensed without head approval.

There is rarely a “smoking gun” when it comes to the men in the primary leadership position, but there is *ample* reason both logically and legally to be asking some very hard questions about how indeed, complete, utter and total ignorance was possible. I am far from the only attorney to say the evidence in this case is some of the most disturbing, and yet most consistent and persuasive seen. These victims ought to have others willing to ask the hard questions, particularly given the substantial body of evidence that does exist and which makes complete ignorance untenable at best.


Is Phil Johnson the Lt. Frank Drebin of the Reformed Community? 

Frank Drebin who is played by Leslie Nielson I would suggest is one of the more well known comic actors in a generation. He successfully played parts of the bumbling cop or physician who often had evidence stare him down but he couldn’t see it. The slap stick humor added greatly to the movies that Leslie Nielson would do.  So Phil Johnson said on Facebook that he would need something detailed in order to believe the accusations of child sex abuse cover up. Like Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun he needs to go inside an office, open up a drawer to a desk and see a paper by C.J. Mahaney that says “How to Allegedly Cover up Child Sex Abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries.” To Phil Johnson that would be like Frank Drebin and he could say “Bingo!” (Note you can see this above) If only it were that simple. I believe C.J. Mahaney to be a psychopath who knows how to manipulate and twist the facts. Only Mahaney could have gotten on stage at T4G and preach from Job. That poor suffering bastard! You are going to allegedly engage in criminal activity, and now you are going to suffer because of what you did? Hasn’t Mahaney read in the Bible about you reap what you sow? People who engage in alleged criminal activity do not leave detailed plans that illustrate what they did. If they did that then I think law enforcement would be thrilled and a large number of crimes from financial, sexual to cyber would be solved by many police departments, the FBI and law enforcement would be thrilled. If only it were that easy. 

So why would Phil Johnson be like this? I believe that this has become a business for Phil Johnson. Its about money. Damn the Bible, damn the least of these. Phil has largely pimped out his soul in being John MacArthur’s right hand man. After all Phil Johnson has been quite the ass kisser and for years he has had his lips puckered up and glued to John MacArthur’s rear end. As he is part of the reformed industrial complex this is a business and its about money for Phil Johnson.  The sexually  abused are an inconvenience. And that brand has to protected, even in the light of allegations of criminal misconduct. Attack the victims and go after Brent Detwiler. That is what Phil had to do. In the next post that will follow I would like to look at the relationship between C.J. Mahaney and John MacArthur. That is it for the day guys. 

Will this be Phil Johnson at an upcoming John MacArthur conference?