A guest post by Elizabeth Sachs
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn (Prov. 29:2).
Reviewing the details of the many abuses of Larry Nassar against innocent young girls in his medical care, as I listened to the impact statements, it all sounded so familiar.
An environment that denied ongoing abuse. A culture that created incentive for such ignorance, and for actively looking the other way. An authority structure built on the men and women who ran it, and not the straight line of the law of God. Victims who had been groomed, not only by their abuser, but by an entire institution that taught them that questioning any authority was detrimental and destructive to their own well-being.
Even more disconcerting was the victim-blaming, the many people attacking Rachel Denhollander as a “media whore” or someone seeking attention, when what she really was doing was sacrificing everything, most of all her reputation, privacy, and anonymity, to expose and stop a cycle of abuse, which when uncovered had an unimaginable scope, with over 150 known victims.
The most familiar element was the silencing of the victims for false peace: allowing evil to fester, because the cost was too great to uncover it and address it.
This is the standard operating procedure for too many churches in America in light of claims of abuse, many of which turn out to be true. One such instance is well documented in an article by Martin Selbrede entitled “Liberty from Abuse” an article everyone should read to understand just how churches can abandon the oppressed.
In such cases, the victims are too uncomfortable to be around, the need to expose injustice is too costly, and the entire business is a dirty one that doesn’t look very nice or pleasant. Not to mention, as a whole, the abuser is often seen as the victim of the exposure of his crimes, just as Nassar was seen by the many who were circulating petitions of support even as woman after woman came forward to say, “Me too.”
As Christians, we ought to be ashamed. It is a judgment of God whenever the church is the last to expose and confront sin, when the church is more likely than the world to cover up abuse.
It is a judgment of God when those who hate him deliver the truth, while yet in so many cases, churches treat similar cases with silence, or worse, intentional suppression of the truth. It is not only an indictment against the church, but an opportunity for justice to be miscarried twice. Once, when the church dismisses and compounds systemic abuse, much like the gymnastic community in these cases did, and again when the world’s twisted sense of justice takes hold because the church has abdicated her duty.
The church even did so in this very case, according to Rachel Denhollander’s own testimony. Just before she filed a police report, she lost her entire church, her friends, and her support system on account of her advocacy for victims of sexual abuse.
The church, again, abandoned the needy and oppressed.
I cannot say the particulars of why or what her particular church did, but it is not a rare or isolated story. Churches all over the nation expel alleged “troublemakers” who report abuse—abuse in their homes, abuse in their church bodies, abuse in the wider world around them. Those who sound the alarm on systemic and destructive patterns of abuse, as Rachel did, are often the ones labeled “troublemakers” and shamed, distanced, or expelled. Abortion abolitionists calling abortion what it is, demanding its end; battered wives and children seeking safety and protection from men who should care for them, but have exploited and harmed them; and victims of sexual abuse, both of their pastors (who in some cases have been reinstated months later, as their victims lay in the ashes of their tattered reputation) and of other church members. Before you think this is an outlying thing that happens only in rural backwoods or obscure places, consider the prominent men who have been aggressors in this systemic abuse, or who have used their position of power to cover up abuse or to engage in sexual misconduct.
And yet, God saw fit to raise up his daughter, Rachel Denhollander, to proclaim the gospel in that courtroom, painfully absent of the church. She boldly claimed both God’s wrath and justice, and his grace and mercy. She was the embodiment of Christian justice and truth, sacrificing so that others may be saved from further abuse. She said:
I want you to understand why I made this choice knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right. No matter the cost, it was right. . . .
You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others and the opposite of what you have done is for me to choose to love sacrificially, no matter what it costs me.
In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way. . . .
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak 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.
(a full transcript of her victim impact statement can be found here)
The most important part of her statement, and yet most neglected, is the straight line of God’s Word that is the very reason we should call good, good, and evil, evil. Because God has defined these things, we can also. In a courtroom where the prosecutor brought attention to how each woman “spoke her truth,” Rachel alone brought attention to the very reason we are not only able to name, but obligated to oppose it. She did this alone, without the support of the church. Bravely, truthfully, and according to God’s just standard:
Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says, my argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?
Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.
We the church have the truth. We have the light of the gospel. We have no need to cover up the truth, and it is shameful when we do so in order to make life more palatable or comfortable for ourselves. When we do, we deny the power of the gospel to give liberty to the captives and to cut off the wicked. We deny justice for the oppressed, and substitute for it our own personal peace.
We have abandoned Paul’s admonition in Acts 20:26–30 to declare the whole counsel of God, and are thus not innocent of the blood of all. This neglect has left the oppressed in the hands of oppressors, and the wolves with no shortage of victims to devour.
We have abdicated our duty to establish truth and justice, and to use God’s law as intended, to restrain evil, and to ensure liberty for the innocent.
There is no rebuke more fitting than that of Ezekiel 34:
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them (Ezek. 34:4).
Rachel rightly pointed out that the culture itself enables, protects, and hides abusers. When we do not expose and try them, the church is to blame for their freedom and ability to oppress. Instead, we often stand against the oppressed, the broken, and use force to silence to preserve our own comfort.
“As long as the culture is conducive to abuse there will be abusers”
Elizabeth Sacks is a wife and mother, and an Abolitionist. She spends her days teaching her children, loving her husband Allen, and opposing injustice as she is able. She is blessed to fellowship with believers at Independence Reformed Bible Church (Morgantown, PA) where she has been challenged with the truth of God’s Word and the regular application of the whole counsel of God to all areas of life and thought.