Son of lawyer in 'spanking' documentary heads US 'megachurch' embroiled in sex scandal

Dave Chambers | 2017-02-02 15:35:05.0
Photograph by: Supplied

The son of John Smyth — the Cape Town lawyer accused of abusing boys at Christian holiday camps for decades — has just moved from South Africa to head a US “megachurch” emerging from a child sex abuse scandal.

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PJ Smyth is the new lead pastor at Covenant Life Church‚ in Gaithersburg‚ Maryland. He moved there in December after being at the helm of Johannesburg’s GodFirst church‚ which has congregations in Douglasdale‚ Parkhurst‚ Paulshoff‚ Benoni and Tembisa.

The website of Covenant Life — which has 19 pastors and around 2‚000 members — says: “We convey our warmest thanks to the people of GodFirst Church in Johannesburg‚ where PJ has served for the last 10 years‚ for their faith and generosity in sending PJ and family stateside for a new assignment.”

In December 2012‚ according to Wikipedia‚ Covenant Life withdrew from the Sovereign Grace Ministries network after former congregants — including some from Covenant Life — filed a lawsuit alleging the ministry’s leaders conspired to conceal the sexual abuse of children.

Six months later‚ Smyth’s predecessor as lead pastor‚ Joshua Harris‚ disclosed that he had been a victim of sex abuse and encouraged victims to go to the police after a Maryland judge dismissed the lawsuit due to the statute of limitations.

Harris stepped down from The Gospel Coalition council in 2014 after former Covenant Life youth group leader Nathaniel Morales was convicted on five counts of sexual abuse against three boys between 1983 and 1991.

During the trial‚ former Covenant Life pastor Grant Layman admitted under oath that he had not reported sex abuse allegations.

PJ moved to Zimbabwe from the UK in 1984‚ when he was 13. He studied at the University of Cape Town‚ and Covenant Life’s website says: “In 1997‚ (PJ and his wife Ashleigh) started River of Life Church in Harare with a few friends.

“Over a seven-year period‚ River of Life had become a family of five churches‚ and PJ and Ashleigh felt God calling them to ... plant another reproducing base church‚ this time in Johannesburg‚ South Africa. They started GodFirst Church ... in 2005.

“In 2014‚ PJ handed over the leadership of GodFirst Church to devote himself full time to establishing Advance‚ a family of churches committed to planting and strengthening churches‚ currently working on five continents.”

-TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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