Rachael Denhollander is a true hero of mine. As a victim who was sexually abused by Larry Nasser she was the first individual to file a police complaint against him. More than 260 other women have since come forward to confront Nassar. Rachael was also the last victim to make a statement against Nassar at his recently concluded trial.
The judge sentenced Nassar to 175 years in prison. You can read more about this story at The Wartburg Watch in an article titled “Rachael Denhollander, the First Victim to Report Larry Nassar, Goes After Mahaney/SGM in an Interview with Christianity Today.”Rachael, along with her husband, Jacob, are former members of Immanuel Baptist Church of Louisville. They have not mentioned their former church or pastor by name and have requested others not to do so. I trust after reading this article you will understand why I have not complied with their request.
Rachael, a lawyer by trade, was distressed over the fact that Immanuel Baptist leaders had invited Mahaney to speak at their church and Immanuel Pastor Ryan Fullerton has spoken twice at C.J. Mahaney’s church in Louisville. I wrote an article about this two years ago which may be viewed here.
Rachael conducted much research on C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries and presented the results of her work to Immanuel Baptist Church leadership, hoping to persuade the men in leadership that supporting Mahaney was not compatible with Scripture.
The result: Denhollanders left the church “because we were told by individual elders that it wasn’t the place for us.”
Below is a lengthy excerpt taken from the Christianity Today interview of Rachael Denholander. The article is titled “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral, But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.” You can read the full interview here.
Image: Jeff Kowalsky / AFP /Getty Images
In your impact statement, you mention that it took you a long time to reveal your own abuse with other people. Was church included in that?
Yes. Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.
In your impact statement, you say, “My advocacy for sexual assault victims … cost me my church.” Can you share about when you decided to share with your church that you were going to speak up about this and what happened?
The reason I lost my church was not specifically because I spoke up. It was because we were advocating for other victims of sexual assault within the evangelical community, crimes which had been perpetrated by people in the church and whose abuse had been enabled, very clearly, by prominent leaders in the evangelical community. That is not a message that evangelical leaders want to hear, because it would cost to speak out about the community. It would cost to take a stand against these very prominent leaders, despite the fact that the situation we were dealing with is widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse. Because I had taken that position, and because we were not in agreement with our church’s support of this organization and these leaders, it cost us dearly.When I did come forward as an abuse victim, this part of my past was wielded like a weapon by some of the elders to further discredit my concern, essentially saying that I was imposing my own perspective or that my judgment was too clouded.One of them accused me of sitting around reading angry blog posts all day, which is not the way I do research. That’s never been the way I do research. But my status as a victim was used against my advocacy.
Church leaders thought that your own experiences made you biased?
Correct. So rather than engaging with the mountains of evidence that I brought, because this situation was one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen, ever, there was a complete refusal to engage with the evidence.
Was this the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) scandal?
Yes, it was.
[Editor’s note: Denhollander clarified that she and her husband did not attend an SGM church, but a Louisville, Kentucky, church “directly involved in restoring” former SGM president C. J. Mahaney. She said that she and her husband “left because we were told by individual elders that it wasn’t the place for us.”]
After you had confronted church leaders and you decided that you were going public with your own abuse, you realized that your church would never take this seriously?
That’s exactly right. When you support an organization that has been embroiled in a horrific 30-year cover-up of sexual assault, you know what that communicates to the world and what it communicates to other enablers and abusers within your own church. It’s very obvious that they are not going to speak out against sexual assault when it’s in their own community. So that leaves me with the question: What happens when it’s a trusted person at this church? What happens when it’s a trusted person in these other evangelical organizations? The extent that one is willing to speak out against their own community is the bright line test for how much they care and how much they understand. We have failed abhorrently as Christians when it comes to that test. We are very happy to use sexual assault as a convenient whipping block when it’s outside our community. When the Penn State scandal broke, evangelical leaders were very, very quick to call for accountability, to call for change. But when it was within our own community, the immediate response was to vilify the victims or to say things that were at times blatantly and demonstratively untrue about the organization and the leader of the organization. There was a complete refusal to engage with the evidence. It did not even matter.
The ultimate reality that I live with is that if my abuser had been Nathaniel Morales instead of Larry Nassar, if my enabler had been [an SGM pastor] instead of [MSU gymnastics coach] Kathie Klages, if the organization I was speaking out against was Sovereign Grace under the leadership of [Mahaney] instead of MSU under the leadership of Lou Anna Simon, I would not only not have evangelical support, I would be actively vilified and lied about by every single evangelical leader out there. The only reason I am able to have the support of these leaders now is because I am speaking out against an organization not within their community. Had I been so unfortunate so as to have been victimized by someone in their community, someone in the Sovereign Grace network, I would not only not have their support, I would be massively shunned. That’s the reality. …It’s devastating enough when money and medals are put against sexual assault victims. But when the gospel of Christ is wielded like a weapon against sexual assault victims, that’s wicked. There’s no other way to say it.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
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.”
Now here is where the story takes an interesting turn and why I feel I am justified in naming names. You will recall that the Denhollanders were told by individual elders that Immanuel Baptist Church wasn’t the place for them. I am uncertain whether one of the elders that delivered this message was Ryan Fullerton, but you can be certain if Fullerton did not speak the actual words he was fully aware that the message would be conveyed and most likely it was conveyed at his behest. Typically a church fashioned after the 9Marx model, which Immanuel Baptist is, is “elder ruled.” Also typical is the ruler of the elders is an authoritarian senior pastor. Nothing happens in these types of churches without the knowledge and blessing of the top dog. (9Marx leaders Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman continually point out that such church structures are not what they advocate, but simply a neophyte leader misapplying their principles. I disagree. When you see churches continually “miss-applying” the principles in the wrong way you can conclude that what you see in church after church is actually what was taught.)
So, fresh off giving the Denhollanders the official “right foot of fellowship” out the doors of Immanuel Baptist Church for Rachael’s advocacy for sexual abuse victims and daring to oppose Ryan Fullerton’s blossoming friendship with C.J. Mahaney, anyone care to guess what subject our wannabee celebrity Ryan Fullerton is now waxing eloquent on?
Shocked? You really shouldn’t be. These Calvinistas obviously have no shame. Their hypocrisy is boundless. They are experts at sensing what the culture around them is speaking about and then pontificating about it. It starts with a sermon to their church, then they start getting invitations to speak to other churches about their new-found area of expertise, next they write books about it, and then if they play their cards right, they worm their way into conference speaking engagements.
In comments of the tweet above somebody asked Pastor Croft if they had recorded Fullerton’s words of wisdom. Croft responded that they had not, but you could hear the same talk on Immanuel Baptist’s website. So I made my way over there and tracked down the relevant sermon.
I have once again subjected myself to listening to a Calvinsta drone on and on so that you, my faithful readers, do not have to endure such misery. Around the 30 minute mark is where my BS meter went off the charts. See if you don’t agree with me.
After all my years of keeping tabs on these charlatans I must say that this performance by Ryan Fullerton is truly award-winning. I bestow on him my first “Elmer Gantry of the month award.”
What I really wonder is how any human capable of critical thought can sit through a sermon by this clown, how they can donate money to support him, how they can continue to be a member of a church led by him?
But then, I am continually amazed by what people will accept in the name of Christianity.
“Information concerning the leaders, which the group defines as negative, is suppressed by demeaning those disciples who speak out. This humiliation frequently is done by:
– imposing a standard by which disciples are often caused to feel guilty or ashamed
– continual judging of members hearts or motives – threatening to rebuke the “offending” disciple, sometimes even in public
– arbitrarily dismissing disciples or causing them to want to leave when the disciple merely disagrees with the opinions of the leaders.
When a person can’t freely share doubts about an important matter without the threat of expulsion or other negative repercussions, it can cause great inner struggles and leave one emotionally devastated.”
“Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free From Churches That Abuse” by Mary Alice Chrnalogar, pages 20-21