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Christianity Today Interview with Rachael Denhollander Including Condemnation of C.J. Mahaney & Sovereign Grace Ministries for Covering Up Child Abuse Was Second Most-Read Article in 2018

Rachael Denhollander’s was interviewed by Morgan Lee from Christianity Today last January.  It resulted in the second most-read article in 2018.  It was titled, My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral.  But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness. 

A substantial portion of the article dealt with C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries (aka Sovereign Grace Churches, Inc.).  That section from the article is found below and still extremely relevant and important.  In fact, more victims have come forward since the interview and the cover-up by the Sovereign Grace Leadership Team continues in earnest. Those leaders are Mark PraterMickey ConnollyTommy HillBob KauflinIan McConnellJeff Purswell, and Rich Richardson.

These are the same men who condemned Denhollander after her CT interview and labeled her a false witness.  She responded with a tour de force defense and summary of the evidence.  See Response to Sovereign Grace Churches (March 1, 2018).  All evangelicals should disassociate themselves from the ministry and the men that lead it. 

Given the compelling evidence, Mark Galli and the Editorial Board of Christianity Today called for an independent investigation of Mahaney and Sovereign Grace on March 22, 2018.  That proposal was rejected by the Sovereign Grace Leadership Team.  See We Need an Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  There remains much to expose. 

In the CT interview/article that follows you will find bracketed notes.  Those notes in this type of bracket [ ] are original and supplied by the interviewer, Morgan Lee.  The notes in this type of bracket { } with italic print are mine.  


My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.
Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander spent years discovering God’s perspective on sexual abuse. Then her advocacy for survivors cost her her church.

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 {Immanuel Baptist Church, Louisville, KY} was not specifically because I spoke up {about Larry Nassar}.  It was because we were advocating for other victims of sexual assault within the evangelical community {i.e., within Sovereign Grace Ministries}, crimes which had been perpetrated by people {e.g. pastors, children’s ministry director and assistants, the campus outreach director to international students, members at large}, in the church {C.J.’s Mahaney’s Covenant Life Church} and whose abuse had been enabled, very clearly, by prominent leaders in the evangelical community {e.g., Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, Justin Taylor, and many others}.  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 {Sovereign Grace Ministries} and these leaders {Al Mohler, Mark Dever, et al.}, 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 {e.g. Ryan Fullerton and Ben Hedrick} 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 {a reference to my blog and Todd Wilhelm’s at Thou Art the Man}, 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.

{Rachael contacted me in March 2016 asking for my help.  I put her in contact with victims and provided her evidence, both of which I continue to do.}

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.

{She is primarily referring to the 80 plus evidentiary articles I wrote over six years starting in October 2012.  She told me she had read all of them.}

Was this the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) scandal?

Yes, it was.

[Editor’s note: Denhollander clarified that she and her husband did not attend a 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.”  CT previously reported how Mahaney and SGM were accused of covering up abuse within the church network in a 2012 lawsuit; they denied the allegations and argued that courts shouldn’t second-guess pastoral counseling decisions.  A judge dismissed the suit in 2014, though a former SGM youth leader was convicted of abusing three boys in a separate case.]

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 {evangelical/Baptist/Reformed} community.

{To be precise 38 years.  It began in 1980 when C.J. Mahaney & Larry Tomczak covered up the homosexual predation of Charles Schmitt, a man in the church they considered an apostle.

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. 

{To my knowledge, no evangelical leader has yet to speak out in public against Mahaney & SGM.  For example, all the main session speakers at Together for the Gospel were still endorsing SGM at their 12,000 person conference in April.  Bob Kauflin, who has covered up for Mahaney & SGM and condemned Denhollander, even led worship.  Jeff Purswell has done the same and yet he remains on the Board of Directors for The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).  This must end.  And tragically, men like John Piper continue to publicly endorse Mahaney and refuse to study the evidence.  It is abhorrent.}  

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, prominent evangelical leaders {especially Al Mohler} 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 {calling them liars} or to say things that were at times blatantly and demonstratively untrue about the organization {SGM} and the leader {Mahaney} of the organization.  There was a complete refusal to engage with the evidence.  It did not even matter.  

{On February 6, 2013, I wrote An Appeal to 77 National Leaders Regarding C.J. Mahaney.  It was about the conspiracy to commit and cover up the sexual abuse of children in Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries.  The article began with two personal letters from me to Don Carson, co-founder of The Gospel Coalition.  Carson never responded.  Instead, he led his organization in a categorical defense of Mahaney.  Over the next five years, I continued to send evangelical leaders around the nation thousands of pages hard evidence.  To quote Denhollander, “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 {Michigan State University} 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. 

{Denhollander says, “I would be actively vilified and lied about by every single leader out there.”  That has been my experience for the last six years.  The evangelical community at large has supported Mahaney and thereby condemned the victims of sexual abuse and those who have spoken out of their behalf.  Will anyone ever say they are sorry?} 

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. 

{Denhollander is saying we must not “protect” the gospel by wickedly covering up abuse.  She is right.  The greatest harm to the gospel in recent years has resulted from the scores of evangelical, Southern Baptist, and Reformed leaders who have reprehensibly supported and defended C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Churches, Inc.  despite six years of evidence they refused to examine and act upon.  This kind of partiality and favoritisms is condemned in Scripture and has proven a great disgrace to our Lord Jesus Christ.  And none, not even one, has publicly acknowledge their hypocrisy or wrong doing.}  

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. 

{Amen!  It may cost you everything, even your life.  Someday, I will explain.}

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