“The Bible you speak of carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
"I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well.”
In 2016, Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to make a public accusation of being sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the former sports doctor of Michigan State University. Since then, hundreds of others have come forward with similar accusations, culminating a few weeks ago in over 100 statements delivered to the judge at the conclusion of the trial of Nassar. Denhollander spoke last.
In her remarkable testimony, after moving through the painful account of her abuse, Rachael eventually turns to address Nassar directly, calling him to face the awfulness of what he has done, to repent, and to experience the merciful forgiveness of Christ.
In a subsequent interview with Christianity Today, Denhollander spoke critically of how churches in general respond when women come forward and speak of being sexually abused by leaders. “It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help,” she stated. She identified three main reasons for this.
To begin with, churches are often ignorant and ill-equipped to deal with such situations. Consequently, their response can only add to the trauma for the victim.
Additionally, when the person being accused is a pastor or other church leader, it is a common impulse for other church leaders to show what is perceived as loyalty by coming to the defense of the accused and giving greater weight to the story of the accused than to the accuser.
Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, Denhollander says that one of the “particularly devastating” dynamics is the poor theology of the church in relation to grace and repentance. When a leader is found to have been guilty of sexual abusing another, if he apologizes and shows some degree of remorse, it is often the case that church leaders and congregations will move immediately to questions about forgiveness and restoration without really going through the slow, painful process of repentance. Victims’ concerns are trivialized, and sexual predators can be allowed to continue their behavior.
There is so much about this that saddens me. I am sickened by the stories of dozens of girls who experienced this form of violation, and by the knowledge that this is just a small representation of a far larger problem. And I am deeply grieved that there might be many such girls and women who are struggling with the question of how to move forward and are thinking to themselves, “Whatever I do, I must not talk to my church about this.”
I pray that these tragic events might be used by God to give his church greater wisdom and godliness in this area. I pray that more and more we would recognize the importance of reflecting God’s holiness and righteousness, in addition to his grace. I pray that we would increasingly be a community where the vulnerable and the abused could be confident in finding refuge and safety. Because the church of Christ Jesus is where that should be found.
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