Sovereign Grace Ministries, a group that runs about 100 churches, including some in Maryland and Northern Virginia, is alleged to have covered up sexual abuse against children and failed to report accusations to police.
“I remember just him, like, taking me to the bathroom,” says a 17-year-old victim. She remembers how she was molested repeatedly when she was three years old by a 15-year-old babysitter. Both were members at the time of Sovereign Grace in Fairfax, but when her parents confronted the church pastors, they were told not to speak about it.
“We were told that we should not talk to any church member about it. Do not tell anyone,” she says.
Charges that churches within Sovereign Grace Ministries turned a deaf ear to child sex abuse committed by church members are laid out in a class action lawsuit. Three female plaintiffs detail repeated abuse in the 1980s and 90s ,but say the church covered up child molestation, worked with sexual predators to mislead enforcement and even blamed the victims.
“We received a few letters in the mail saying we were required to come back and reconcile and we needed to ask the perpetrator’s mother for forgiveness, for upsetting and embarrassing her,” she says.
Two other plaintiffs belonged to Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, one now a 22-year-old college student allegedly abused at age two. The other woman’s sister was allegedly abused by her stepfather.
Pastor Joshua Harris says the church has never tried to cover up abuse.
“There has never been a policy like that. We are very committed to involving the authorities,” says Harris. “Our biggest concern is not our reputation or what anyone thinks of us, it’s caring for kids well.”
But those suing Sovereign Grace don’t buy it.
“The control, the manipulation, the fear,” says the victim.
Pastor Harris says Sovereign Grace Ministries, whose member churches may operate under different names, absolutely wants to get to the bottom of this and insists all children are safe, but critics say nothing has changed and no telling how many victims are still out there.