The pace of sexual abuse allegations and resignations / firings in the wake of the #MeToo movement has been stunning. Since early October when Harvey Weinstein was deposed from his organization, executives, journalists, actors, athletes, and doctors with patterns of abuse have been uncovered and summarily fired, retired, and replaced.
Last week, the trial of US Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar provided the most heartbreaking story yet as 160 women gave victim impact statements, confronting a man who had abused each of them under the guise of providing medical treatment. (As many as 265 people have now come forward accusing Nassar of abuse.) Rachael Denhollander, a victim of Nassar’s as a teen, was the key witness in his prosecution and provided the capstone victim impact statement last Friday. In a 30-minute address in the courtroom, Denhollander spoke bluntly about the systems that had failed her and Nassar’s other victims, about her struggles to advocate for abuse victims, and then about the good news of the Gospel.
Denhollander’s statement went viral. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of Christians, from leaders to laymen, lionizing her courage and willingness to share the Gospel so publicly. But from a close reading of her statement, there was a question stuck in my head: she said that her victim advocacy “cost me my church”. What was that all about?
Yesterday, in a fantastic interview with Christianity Today, the other shoe dropped. Rachael revealed that the church she lost was a church “directly involved in restoring” Sovereign Grace founder C. J. Mahaney, who left his pastorate after being accused of covering up sexual abuse within his church network. She says that she and her husband were told by multiple church elders that this church ‘wasn’t the place for them’ if they were going to speak out for abuse victims that way.
This hits close to home.
Mahaney was a council member of The Gospel Coalition (TGC), a group that is strongly influential in the evangelical circles I’ve been in all my life. TGC leaders have consistently supported Mahaney, with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler making jokes about the accusations against Mahaney while introducing him as a “guest speaker” at the “Together for the Gospel” (T4G) conference in 2016. Mahaney resigned from the TGC council after the abuse scandal broke, but has slowly, without publicly addressing the allegations, worked his way back into good standing with the group. He is now back as a regular headline plenary speaker at T4G 2018.
Mahaney isn’t the only T4G plenary speaker in the penumbra of this kind of allegations. A former student at The Master’s College, founded by John MacArthur, has come forward to allege that the leaders of that college forced her into a “biblical counseling” session with her abuser, and then threatened church discipline if she refused to drop charges, eventually kicking her out of the school.
It’s time for The Gospel Coalition to come to grips with their own #MeToo moment.
TGC is filled with men (and yes, it’s only men) who have served long in ministry and been helpful to many. I’ve personally benefited from the teaching of MacArthur and Matt Chandler and TGC founder Don Carson over the years. But in this cultural moment, their willing blindness to these issues is inexcusable, and their silence is deafening. Indeed, this planned T4G 2018 seminar leads me to believe they still really don’t get it:
We can do better.
How loudly would it speak to the watching world if Rachael Denhollander were invited to be a plenary speaker at T4G18? For the leaders of the theological movement that Rachael and her husband are a part of to recognize their failures in the area of addressing abuse, to repent, and to hear the truth spoken by their sister?
Rachael is a survivor of abuse and mistreatment from the hands of both a despicable doctor and a group of church leaders more intent on protecting themselves than their sheep. Her words cry out to them like the blood of Cain’s brother calling from the ground. From the end of her interview with CT:
First, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.
Second, that obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.
Rachael Denhollander is a hero and example to us all. It’s time for The Gospel Coalition to admit their complicity in these things and show true repentance. Come on, guys, set an example for us. Invite Rachael to speak at T4G. Let’s show the world what it can really mean to be together for the Gospel.