Rachael Denhollander To SGM On The Spiritual Dangers Of Tribalism

Not only has there been no loving but firm pressure to submit to accountability and openness, the very dynamic I warned about in the Christianity Today article has been repeated. My gospel presentation and offer of forgiveness to my abuser was heralded nationally… until I applied those same principles to my own community of Reformed evangelicals.

The skill, precision, passion for truth and commitment to Christ that received wide acclaim was instantly denigrated as “zeal without knowledge”, “false accusations” and acting “without the facts”, damaging the gospel. Yet not a single person who levied or repeated this accusation asked, even once, what facts or research I had done, before making that judgment regarding me. As soon as I raised concerns about issues in my own community, it was immediately determined by some that none of the abilities and attention to detail I demonstrated to bring Nassar to justice had been utilized in raising concerns with Sovereign Grace. That I was carelessly and ignorantly damaging the gospel that I had been praised for articulating so well and courageously to Larry Nassar two days earlier.

This is institutional and community protectionism. Brothers and sisters, this is it. We need to realize that the reason we are gaining a reputation for handling these situations so poorly is not because people hate the gospel and make up lies about us, but because we have a real problem in how we think about sexual abuse and how we think about our leaders and institutions.

I warned specifically, “The only reason I am able to have the support of these leaders now is because I am speaking out against an organization not within their community. Had I been so unfortunate 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.” And yet, despite this warning, this is precisely what many have already done. Without listening. Without asking before determining I had no facts and was carelessly damaging the gospel. I was applauded for pushing for independent investigations at Michigan State University, and dismissed for asking for the same type of investigation when it comes to Sovereign Grace.Read more»

Rachael Denhollander, “Response to Sovereign Grace Churches” (March 1, 2018)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Here you have an accomplished, educated woman trying to convince the followers of a man who never darkened a university door (Mahaney) that there was indeed, sin in the camp. Mahaney and his org. has the support of “The Gospel Coalition.” How dare she “touch God’s anointed!”

    This putrid episode makes the church look like a good old boys network. However, every boy that I know would have zero use for the kind that attempted to marginalize Rachel Denhollander. Mahaney’s champions are going to reap the whirlwind.

  2. This denomination is essentially a modified Calvinistic Baptist denomination. I have a very difficult time with her calling them Reformed churches. They have a more Presbyterian form of government than most of the YRR folks, which is good. But there is still quite a bit of problematic aspects of their theology and culture. My experience with these types of churches is still largely the same as that of other YRR churches, because of the type of people they tend to attract. They tend to be very top heavy in a way that is not necessarily healthy. Going from being straight Baptist to this modified form of Baptist is a step in the right direction, but it takes a long time for church culture to change and the type of people who seek leadership or membership in these churches often come from a Baptist background. I’m in a counseling program at my seminary. Pretty much every person I’ve interacted with who experienced abuse in a church stated the church was Baptist or non-denominational; my professors say that tends to be very common. There are healthy Baptist Churches and unhealthy other churches; that’s a given. There just seems to be a pattern when it comes to certain types of churches. And sadly, many seminaries do not require their students to have any kind of course addressing how to handle domestic abuse/violence, sexual assault, addiction, etc. Many pastors are not aware of their legal and moral obligations regarding alerting the authorities.

    • BLJ, you may be interested to know that I have heard reports of abuse victims and their advocates being spiritually abused in all sorts of denominations. I know for sure that many women who are victims of domestic abuse have been spiritually abused and either shunned or excommunicated by PCA churches when they refused to return to their abusive husbands.

      I have heard of his happening in OPC churches too, confessional lutheran churches and other micro-denominations that subscribe in full to one or more of the reformed confessions .

      Please do not think that it’s only in Baptist or YRR types of churches. It is across the board.

      • I essentially said as much in my post. I apologize for not being more clear on that point. I think the basic point I was making is that there are certain environments where abuse thrives. Those environments tend to be churches or organizations that have very little outside accountability. And the churches that tend to have the least amount of accountability or churches that are self governing, which by definition are Baptist and non-denominational Churches. That is just one factor. There are also aspects of group dynamics that create for abusive environments. Abuse happens in all kinds of environments. At least when a church has some sort of outside accountability, there’s at least a greater chance that something may happen to help the victims. The less outside accountability a church has, the more likely people will be victimized. This is true not just of churches but of any kind of group. Accountability matters greatly.

    • Barbara, Apparently I meant to say what you said but left it out. That’s what I get for multitasking, I guess. You are right. Abuse is common in general, even in churches across the board.

  3. This may be a good time to invite Carl Trueman to the Heidelcast in order to make better sense of the “celebrity pastorship” in America.

    • Hi Paul, are you aware that Carl Trueman was one of the three-man panel that deemed C J Mahaney ‘fit for ministry’ after the SGM scandal first broke? And Carl has never publicly renounced what he did there.

  4. Barbara:

    I was not aware that Carl Trueman made such a pronouncement back in 2011 — and I thought I had read reams about this scandal. Thank you for pointing that out. In 2016, without naming names Dr. Trueman had this to say: http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/podcast/39712 topic begins at 5:15.

    It certainly seems to me that he is taking aim at SGM. However, I hope Dr. Clark has
    Dr. Trueman on the show so he can inquire about the issues you have raised.

    Re: denominations and child abuse, it has reached across all lines. Unfortunately, so has the notion that church leaders can choose how to proceed in a criminal case involving a child. I am personally very proud of Ms. Denholland and her decision to come forward in the both the MSU/Olympic scandal and the SGM saga. She does not seem the type to go away quietly.

  5. Barbara:

    Todd Pruitt of “Wages of Spin” made the following statement in 2016:

    >>You must remember the limited scope of Carl’s work with SGM. He was asked to, along with several others to review the hundreds of pages of documents that had been dumped into the public record. Please remember that this was BEFORE any of us knew about allegations of covering up child sexual abuse.<<

    The statement was made at Brentdetwiler.com, a major detractor and former associate of Mahaney. Carl Trueman's role was to determine if the "confessed sins" of Mahaney made him unfit for ministry. The specific sins, as best I can recall, involved behaviors like acting pridefully, etc. At no time were sexual allegations brought up. Detwiler does not dispute Pruitt's contention that sexual allegations were not at issue at that time.

    I personally do not believe that Carl Trueman knew anything about the abuse allegations at SGM before any of the rest of us.

  6. Just a minor technical note: “Denhollander” in misspelled in the OP title.

  7. If I may comment: I was in the SGM world until 2012 (left due to issues).

    There were two waves of scandal. The first in 2011 was about abuse of authority in leadership. Then came the wave of formal allegations about sexual abuse, over a year later. While there were hints about the cover-up in the first wave, the formal evaluation of the culture of leadership done by the Ambassadors of Reconciliation in 2012 did not involve those issues. It was entirely about issues of authority.

    Carl Trueman was asked to review the 1000 pages of materials posted about CJ. The question was solely about whether the documents indicated deposable offenses. Nothing of the allegations of sexual abuse cover-up was included.

  8. Dr. Clark:

    I hope that you will continue to update this situation. Rachael Denhollander, according to the Washington Post, assembled an army and then took down Larry Nasser. She also forced the resignation of a very powerful college president and an equally influential athletic director.

    My guess is that the face of SGM will not be the only person forced to address some very thorny questions. Just as in Nasser case, others are going to be implicated as well. Were I on the receiving end of a couple hundred thousand dollars from Mahaney and his church, I’d be nervous.

    Most people probably assume that scandals within Protestantism are limited to Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart types. Maybe a 21st century scandal will disabuse people of the notion that “power corrupts . . . unless you are a good Christian organization.” Further, it may draw people away from a freewheeling, unaccountable, crony Christianity toward a tradition of substance and structure.

    Mark 9:42, Matthew 23:23

  9. I am not familiar with other NAPARC federations, but I was a member of a URCNA church for about 9 years and I also had a chance to serve as a deacon for 1 year before I moved to another town. In the end, I was amazed at how structured they are as a federation with many checks and balances in place. It is as if they have pre-emptively prepared themselves in dealing with any kind of issue or scandal that could potentially arise locally, and have a protocol in place for each case. I agree with BJM that a sound presbyterial form of church government with a thorough church order is crucial to minimize the risks of scandals. Ultra-grass root/congregationalist churches (which baptists and charismatic calvinists like JC Mahaney tend to be) are much more vulnerable in that respect, given the lack of check and balances. In fact, based on Article 51 of the URCNA church order, it would have been forbidden to hide a case of child abuse from civil authorities. Of course, there is no fool-proof system because humans are sinful, but a sound church government and church order foundation is crucial to minimize the risk.

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