Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to file a report against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, spoke to Martha MacCallum on Fox News on Friday, March 16, 2018. After playing a significant role in taking Nassar out of his predatory position and the enabling practices of Michigan State University, Denhollander is attempting to shed light on another institution that she believes enables abuse: the evangelical church.
This is not the first time Denhollander has spoken out against the policies that enable abusers in the church, previously she had spoken to Christianity Today about her concerns with Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) in particular. She’s also made several lengthy statements on her personal Facebook page. However, the interview on Fox News is arguably the most visible platform from which she has articulated her concerns.
In this interview, Rachael Denhollander doesn’t just focus on SGC, though. She mentions a “systematic burying of reports of sexual assault” within the evangelical community. Although she doesn’t mention any other churches by name besides SGC, Denhollander says if one looks at the insurance claims that are filed against churches, evangelical ones have the most reports of sexual assault filed against them.
Denhollander claims the same institutional dynamics evident in the Michigan State University case concerning Larry Nassar and the same institutional dynamics evident in the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse cover-ups of the 1990s and 2000s are at play in the Evangelical church as well.
This is something Basyle Tchvidjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, has mentioned before. Tchvidjian shares the insurance claim numbers Denhollander refers to in her Fox interview. According to Tchvidjian, cases involving sexual assault in Catholic churches number approximately 228 a year, whereas there are approximately 260 a year in evangelical churches.
Tchvidjian’s organization, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), investigates sexual abuse allegations in high-profile Christian institutions. It was GRACE that Denhollander recommended SGC employ to clear the air of controversy surrounding the sexual abuse cases of several of their members. SGC refused the advice, stating, among other reasons, they did not feel Tchvidjian’s organization would conduct an investigation free of bias after Tchvidjian made negative comments about the church.
The difference between the Evangelical church and institutions like the Catholic church and the Michigan State or USA Gymnastics is that the Evangelical church has not yet been held accountable, according to Denhollander.
In the Fox News interview, there are four things, specifically, Denhollander believes churches do to bury sexual assault claims:
Counseling victims to forgive and forget
Not reporting to the police
Moving people around within the organization to different church plants
Not warning families who are in contact with known predators
“The way the Evangelical church handles the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence is very much in opposition to Christ’s teaching. It’s in opposition to the Gospel,” Denhollander states.
Despite apparently losing the support of her church in the process of bringing her concerns over SGC to light, Dehollander still calls herself a conservative Evangelical. In the interview with Christianity Today, Denhollander admonished those afraid to speak the truth about sexual abuse and the church’s mishandling of abuse to not feel the need to protect the Gospel in some way.
“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.”
You can see the full interview with Rachael Denhollander here.