Not too long ago I wrote about the testimony of Rachael Denhollander and how she laid down both law and gospel to Larry Nassar after he was convicted of sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment. Her testimony was as powerful as it was clear and left no doubt about the consequences of what Larry had done, the grace that could still be his, and the only way out of the mess he was in.
During this speech and in later interviews Rachael also stated
“My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church.”
Rachael’s audience included the pastors at Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. When they heard her testimony they immediately realized she was talking about them. Why? Because the Denhollanders had been faithful members at Immanuel for years until they left a few weeks before the start of Larry Nassar’s trial.
An article on Immanuel’s website describes their reaction thus:
… we felt confusion, sadness, frustration, introspection, fear, and had a host of other thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, because of Rachael’s decision not to name our church publicly, we were able to enter into a season of deep self-examination without the scrutiny of the outside world.
Note that Immanuel’s first reaction wasn’t “batten down the hatches” nor “rig for silent running” nor “deny everything and claim ‘the corporation’ did it” nor question her motives nor say “we can’t do anything about this.”
What Immanuel’s personnel did instead was begin an immediate quest to get to the bottom of the matter. This meant they –
…read every article, talked to hundreds of our church members, solicited advice from multiple church leaders, met with the Denhollanders personally, spent hours meeting as pastors, and, finally, met with our entire church family.
This is exactly the kind of response I would expect from members of the body of Christ when a well-founded concern is raised about about the church’s behavior. If an investigation into the matter results in an accusing finger pointed straight at the church then the only legitimate course of action for her to take is to own what happened and do whatever it takes to make things right.
In this case Immanuel’s failure was misunderstanding and miscategorizing the Denhollander’s actions as being divisive instead of informative. This in turn led to poor pastoral care and ultimately the departure of the Denhollander family from Immanuel. While this kind of failure is understandable given that the depth and nature of sexual assault is so far beyond most people’s ability to grasp, it does not excuse the church from the consequences of her actions nor from the offence that results.
As they worked through this process one of Immanuel’s pastors noted that they had been given a very precious gift:
“We have been given a gift.” After months of reflection, we believe this statement more than ever. Being made to see our blind spots has been a gift to us.
And in this Immanuel’s pastors were spot-on. People are inherently sinful and have all manner of things that they are blind to. When someone else sees a shortcoming in someone else and expresses a concern about it, they are holding up a mirror and showing a side of that person that they may not be aware of and in fact may even resist looking at.
In this case the mirror the Denhollanders raised to Immanuel was used by God to convict Immanuel of her various sins. However, over time this mirror was also used to work forgiveness and reconciliation between Immanuel, the Denhollanders, and the members of the church the pastors served.
The pastors described it so:
As we interacted with the Denhollanders over their departure from Immanuel, we expressed things which we now deeply regret. In hindsight, we see we were sinfully unloving. We have since thoroughly repented to the Denhollanders and to the church we serve, seeking to confess every known sin.
No rationalization, no excuses, and no holding back – just complete and thorough owning of what they did and repenting of every knowable offence. The response of the Denhollanders? Read on..
The Denhollanders have assured us that there is no longer any breach in our relationship and that all of our wrongs against them are forgiven. It is a deep joy to us that the gospel can restore our relationships when we fail.
And if repentance and forgiveness wasn’t enough, God then bestowed on Immanuel an abundance of other blessings her pastors and staff didn’t even know existed. From the article:
In the last few months,
- God has increased our sensitivity to the concerns of the abused.
- He has called us to look at our own shortcomings as pastors.
- He has allowed us to seek and receive forgiveness from those we have failed.
- He has motivated us to ensure that Immanuel Baptist Church is a place where the abused are cared for and abusers are vigilantly protected against.
- He has renewed our sense of the importance of being held accountable to one another, to our congregation, and to the watching world.
In this one would almost think they were Lutheran!
The Lutheran connection to this is that ABC District started down a similar path when it formed the District Task Force to make a full investigation of the history behind the CEF / DIL collapse. The Task Force then proceeded with their investigation and issued its first report. They were working on their second report when they were shut down by President Schaeffer and the ABC BOD due to “pending litigation.”
What Immanuel voluntarily did to restoration and healing I fully expect the left-hand kingdom of God’s authority on earth to compel ABC District and LCC to experience.Where Immanuel found healing and restoration I expect ABC / LCC to experience the temporal consequences of her behavior.
In fact, it would not surprise me in the least if the church’s stiff-necked refusal to own what she has done will result in a punishment similar to what David received for his sin with Bathsheba:
Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 2 Samuel 12:12
It is truly a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.