In a January 31, 2018 Christianity Today article, former gymnast Rachael Denhollander described her experience being the first to make public abuse allegations against Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar. Her brave disclosures led to many more from other women which eventually led to Nassar’s conviction and sentencing for criminal sexual contact.
In the CT article, Denhollander confronted the topic of sexual abuse in the church and specifically raised the controversial case of Sovereign Grace Churches. She didn’t feel supported in her struggle against Nassar by her church because that church was sympathetic to what she believes to be a past cover up of abuse within Sovereign Grace Churches. Denhollander said she and her husband didn’t feel welcome in the church after she expressed concerns about SGM.
In response, SGC posted a blog entry challenging Denhollander’s knowledge of the case.
On January 31, 2018, Sovereign Grace Churches became aware of an article published that same day in Christianity Today. The article is an interview with Rachael Denhollander. Rachael was the first to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, and her testimony was instrumental in drawing attention to the horrific crimes he committed. We thank God for Rachael’s courage in confronting Nassar and commend her invaluable work on behalf of other abuse victims. Like so many, we were impressed by her faithful witness to Christ in such difficult circumstances. At the same time, it needs to be said that she is mistaken in her accusations made against Sovereign Grace Churches and C.J. Mahaney. The Christianity Today article publicly mischaracterizes Sovereign Grace and C.J. based on accusations of which Rachael had no involvement and which are not true and have never been true. It’s extremely difficult to respond to false accusations without appearing unsympathetic to victims of abuse. It is our sincere hope that this brief statement has done both by speaking truthfully, respectfully and in a way that honors God.
Then, on February 5, Denhollander posted a response to SGC. In it, she issued a challenged to the organization to allow an independent organization, GRACE, to do an independent investigation of the allegations:
I am asking SGC to support their recent claim that I am making “false accusation”, “mischaracterizing” and communicating things that “are not true and have never been true”, and instead show true care for the victims by finally dealing transparently with these concerns, through taking one specific step:
Allowing GRACE, an Christian organization whose expertise is sexual assault and institutional dynamics, to do a thorough independent investigation of the organization’s historical and current handling of abuse complaints, which will be released to the public.
This evening, Sovereign Grace Churches posted a lengthy and detailed response to Denhollander’s request for an investigation by GRACE. In addition to a denial of the bulk of Denhollander’s allegations, the church organization flatly rejected her request.
Rachael calls for a “fair, independent” investigation into SGC led by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) because of the organization’s supposed neutrality. However, Boz Tchividjian, the leader of GRACE, has on multiple occasions written and spoken publicly in ways that suggest he has already prejudged the case against SGC. He has publicly indicted the motives of SGC as it relates to those allegations, and he has publicly criticized others who have expressed any support for SGC.
The rest of the statement takes on some of the points raised by Denhollander as well as others which she did not raise. It also refers to an independent investigation secured by Covenant Life Church. Covenant Life is no longer affiliated with SGC. However, this report has not been released to the public and remains mysterious.
Essentially, the statement from SGM denies a cover up of abuse. Although the church leadership team acknowledges “in hindsight that there were grave errors in judgment, and the abuse should have been reported regardless of the circumstances or a victim’s wishes,” they deny protecting abusers through a policy of not reporting abuse. Furthermore, the organization expressed regret over past mistakes and claimed to have improved their processes for handling allegations in the present.
I reached out to Rachel Denhollander for comment. On her behalf, her husband Jacob said she would respond to this new statement after a careful review. Later, Jacob Denhollander posted this tweet:
We have seen the @SovereignGrace statement, and while it is extremely disappointing, it is not unexpected. I won't be commenting on it for now – it will be better to let the smarter one reply to it first.
— Jacob Denhollander (@JJ_Denhollander) February 14, 2018
Other Twitter reactions to SGM’s statement range from approval to scathing criticism.
To be received and respected as a statement of careful integrity and forthright humility: A Response to Allegations Against Sovereign Grace Churches https://t.co/qaXIdCewgh
— Ray Ortlund (@rayortlund) February 13, 2018
I’m grateful for this careful response and grateful for Sovereign Grace.
— Kevin DeYoung (@RevKevDeYoung) February 14, 2018
Sovereign Grace Church attack Rachel Denhollander and Boz Tchividjian @netgrace_org proving why Mahaney has earned the title of "he whose name must not be spoken." Unbelievable. https://t.co/3hPM5pmQtE
— Dee Parsons (@wartwatch) February 14, 2018
Under oath, it seems that a SG pastor admitted to not alerting authorities about Morales's abuse. How then are these allegations "not true"? @CJMahaney Sovereign Grace Churches Response to Christianity Today Article https://t.co/nLpYJeDer1
— Wendy Alsup (@WendyAlsup) February 5, 2018
I have a genuine question for Sovereign Grace Churches, as a neutral observer who’s eager to see evangelicals handle abuse claims blamelessly. The claim below is in The Washingtonian—a print magazine. Does SGC dispute it? SGC’s statement today didn’t directly address it. Why not? pic.twitter.com/PsQh4rZq7G
— Bernard N. Howard (@BernardNHoward) February 13, 2018