The following is a statement given by the Pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church to the Washington Post.
We Were Rachael’s Church
In January of this year, Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement went viral. Her face-to-face confrontation of her convicted abuser, Larry Nassar, was marked by tremendous courage and grace. As Bible-believing pastors, we delighted to hear Rachael’s clear proclamation of biblical justice and forgiveness. In Rachael’s words, these twin themes were presented with the same balance with which God presents them in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross, God’s justice is satisfied, and His forgiveness is extended. To this day, we delight in the impact that Rachael’s statement and subsequent public witness have had in the cause of protecting the sexually abused.
However, delight was not our only reaction. During Rachael’s impact statement she lamented, “My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church.” As the pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church, we knew that we were that church. After years of membership at Immanuel, Rachael and her husband Jacob had left our church voluntarily just weeks before the Nassar trial began. This departure is why ‘delight’ was not our only reaction to Rachael’s testimony. Instead, 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.
From Questions to Confession
The weeks that followed produced a flurry of questions, conversations, and clarifications. We 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. By the time we met with our church family, we saw we had sin to confess. We had come to see that there were ways we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.
Our particular failures did not stem from discouraging the Denhollanders to pursue justice in the Larry Nassar case. We did not discourage them in their pursuit of justice; in fact, we applaud those efforts. Rather, our failures stemmed from not listening to and properly understanding Rachael’s concerns about our invitation to have Sovereign Grace Church leaders preach to our church. We simply did not have the categories to fully discern what Rachael was saying at the time. This misunderstanding then played a role in our seeing the Denhollanders’ articulation of these concerns as divisive instead of informative. Finally, the poor pastoral care that resulted from these assumptions led the Denhollanders (understandably) to choose a new church.
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. In return, the Denhollanders and our church family have been very gracious and forgiving. 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.
Sadly, many will view our listening to Rachael (and the concerns of other abuse victims within our own congregation) as a condemnation of Sovereign Grace Churches (SGCs). It is not meant to be any such thing. While we lament the victims who have experienced abuse while attending SGCs, we do not have any information that would lead us to the definitive conviction that SGC leaders have broken any laws. Instead, we have seen that by partnering so closely with them while accusations against them were unanswered, we unknowingly communicated to those who have experienced abuse that we were not concerned to hear their voices. While charges against SGCs remain unanswered, we have thought it best to discontinue inviting their leaders to minister to our church. This change is in no way a pronouncement of guilt on SGCs. Rather, it is part of our attempt to repent of our failure to listen to the victims of abuse within our congregation.
The Gift of Reproof
During a long, hard pastors’ meeting in which we were beginning to see some of our faults, one of our pastors said, “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. 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. We pray that God would continue to write these lessons deeply on our hearts so that the gospel can continue to be clearly proclaimed in and through our lives.