By / May 27

I cannot recall ever sitting down to write something from a place of such profound sadness. The last few days have been cause for deep grief and lament. Chief among them is the sexual abuse cover-up and concerted effort to dismiss the pleas of survivors within a key committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. An independent report ordered by representatives of the churches of the SBC reveals how survivors of abuse reached out to fellow Christians looking for advocacy and help, but got animosity instead. For years, survivors had their claims ignored, forgotten, or tossed aside. It makes me physically ill to know this has occurred.

Remarkably, these brave survivors did not give up. In the face of injustice upon injustice, they continued calling for Christian leaders and for the church, as a whole, to repent and be obedient to God’s Word. The perseverance of the survivor community in the face of all of this is nothing short of courageous. While we should mourn the misdeeds uncovered in this report, be angry about what has been perpetrated under the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, and resolve to correct past injustices, we should also be grateful that these individuals continued calling for justice.

In the wake of this report, it is likely that more survivors will come forth to share their experiences. When they do, we must be ready to hear them. And it is essential that we resist the urge to react defensively or from a position of protecting ourselves or an institution rather than precious individuals made in God’s image. Whether at a church or an entity, we must foster an environment where survivors are confident they will be received, listened to, and supported. It is imperative that the stories of survivors be met with the same compassion Jesus exhibited for those who were marginalized or vulnerable. Moreover, we must respond appropriately, whether that means engaging law enforcement, trauma-informed counselors, or medical professionals. 

At a more basic level, much of the horror detailed in the report’s coverage of the apathy, negligence, and intentional misdirection related to abuse is perpetrated when a Christian begins to focus more on their platform or role in a movement, or the need to protect an institution, rather than the commands to love God and neighbor, and to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God (Matt. 22:37-40; Mic. 6:8). In other words, just as in all areas of life, when one finds their identity in something other than Christ and him crucified, it creates a foothold for the enemy to exploit and our flesh to indulge. And that is what has happened here. Individuals appointed to be Christian servants became operatives who denied protection and care to those who needed it most. All of our hearts should be broken by this and moved to introspection.

At the conclusion of the report, the authors make a number of recommendations and provide multiple avenues for protecting survivors and ensuring that this crisis does not repeat itself. We all await the official recommendations from the wise members of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, and their guidance should be given due consideration by the messengers who are assembling in a few weeks for the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California. What is clear is that a response is needed. The steps already taken by the current trustees and staff of the SBC EC show they are committed to responding biblically and helpfully. The steps already taken by the current trustees and staff of the SBC EC show they are committed to responding biblically and helpfully. As a whole, Southern Baptists must commit ourselves to making our churches and convention a place where the vulnerable are protected and survivors receive the care they need. The injustice revealed in the SATF report must not go unanswered, and I have hope that the messengers will not let that happen. 

All of us, as those who proclaim Christ as Lord, must ask God to search us and reveal any wickedness in our lives (Ps. 139). We must humbly ask him to make us men and women who fear him—in private and in public—and who proclaim from the depths of our hearts, “Not to us Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1). We must be people who commit ourselves to the task of seeing justice done because our God is a God of perfect justice. We ought to be more concerned with the fact that we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an answer for every idle word and action (or inaction), than institutional preservation, however great that institution may be. And, as Southern Baptists, we must join our voices together in California, following our Savior as we affirm the dignity of survivors by turning our lament into just, loving, and decisive action.

By / Apr 25

In What Is a Girl Worth?, Rachael Denhollander described the motive for her final statement at the Larry Nassar trial: “My heart’s cry as I spoke was . . .  to remove the excuse of ignorance. To never again let the world say, ‘We did not know (p. 305).’” These words are also a fitting summary of why she wrote this book. 

Pair that with the first sentence of her book, “Why didn’t you say something sooner (p. 1)?” and you have the bookends for why you should read her book. If we do not understand the answer to her question, we remain dangerously unaware of the things that would allow us to care well for a friend, family member, or church member who has been abused by a person in a position of power. In sincerely trying to be helpful, we could easily contribute to the problem in tragic ways.

Hearing and believing 

We often miss that, before you can heal, you must be heard and believed. Until someone is heard and believed, the damaging aftershocks of abuse continue through the effects of living with shame and secrets. The world is still inverted as the abuser is esteemed-honored-trusted and the abused is ignored-shamed-questioned.

If you wonder, “How would we shame a victim? That seems harsh or exaggerated,” Judith Herman captures well a key element in the survivor’s journey like the one Rachael tells in What Is a Girl Worth? Herman, in Trauma and Recovery, writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. [How?!?] All the perpetrator asked is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, encouragement, and remembering (p. 7-8).” 

As you read Rachael’s book, this quote will come to life. You will see the pivotal role a parent, husband, various professionals, and church family must fulfill for a survivor to be heard, believed, and supported in the pursuit of justice. You will also hear how easy it is for friends, coaches, professionals, those with power/reputation to lose, and friends of the abuser to become an obstacle to a survivor being believed and supported in the pursuit of justice.

As you read, you will have a plethora of myths deconstructed. “Survivors come forward for attention or money,” will become hollow statements as you see the emotional, relational, and financial costs associated with seeking justice. Some readers of this article may even think “seeking justice” is a non-grace, non-gospel pursuit. As you read, you will realize that the motive for seeking justice against those who abuse power to prey on others is to protect future victims. You will see that justice is the pursuit of grace for the innocent and vulnerable.

As you read, you will hear the gospel clearly presented multiple times to many audiences. Personally, I have been troubled by the number of Christians, even pastors, who have attacked and denigrated Rachael because of her advocacy against the cover up of sexual abuse. Somehow, they claim that her words and actions undermine the gospel. I would dare say those who criticize Rachael have not shared the gospel as often, as clearly, to a lost audience that is as compelled to listen, or at greater personal cost than Rachael has.

As you read, you will come to understand why it can be hard to realize that abuse has happened. Read the vulnerable journey of a child trying to process the experience of a leader in her church and a teenager going to a doctor and ask yourself, “What would I have understood about those experiences at that age?” One of the benefits of reading a biography like Rachael’s is that it allows us to ask better questions and to engage with those questions with more empathy for the context in which they must be answered.

How would you respond? 

As you read, I would invite you to ask yourself two questions:

  1. How would your church respond in 2016 if Larry Nassar were a member of your church?
  2. How would your church respond in 2016 if Rachael Denhollander were a member of your church?

The reason I give the timestamp 2016 is that this is when the outcome of the trial was unclear. Everyone knew who Larry was, and no one knew who Rachael was. Realize, you will likely know the people involved by their first name.

This is the context in which your church or you, as a friend, will make the pivotal choices that determine whether you are like the first gym owner to whom Rachael disclosed or the many people to whom disclosures about Larry were given by other gymnasts. Or, whether you will be like Jacob, the Indy Star reporter, Andrea Munford, and Angie Povilaitis. These are the moments that will radically impact the life of the person who trusts you with their disclosure. It will change their life.

After reading Rachael’s book, if you want to learn more about how to care for someone who entrusts you with their disclosure of abuse and equip your church to do the same, I would encourage you to complete the free training available at This is a curriculum to which both Rachael and Andrea Munford contributed.

This article was originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog on December 23, 2019 and was published at the ERLC with the author’s permission.

By / Jun 9

When we encounter abuse and grapple with the evil it perpetrates, many people often wonder, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Sometimes the question comes with the judgment “It’s her fault if she doesn’t” The question is better framed as “Why is she choosing to stay?” There are 4 reasons why I have seen women remain in abusive marriages. As we consider each, I will suggest things Christians can do to support victims.

1. Victims can struggle to see the severity of the abuse or the danger they are in. 

This is very common since oppressors use a cloud of confusion, blame-shifting, and manipulative tactics to maintain control. The result is that victims believe the abuse is their fault, isn’t that bad, or doubt their own memories. Or sometimes, victims wrongly attribute their husband’s behavior to stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors. Discerning the presence of abuse is hard for everyone- harder for those living amidst it.1Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.

Victims need our help to understand both the dynamics of abuse and the specifics of how they are playing out in their marriage. Here are a few ideas on how to patiently and gently share these critical insights. 

  • You might help a victim track incidents of abuse by keeping a log or encouraging her to journal. 
  • Lead her to see that the abuse always serves a purpose for her spouse- like when he flashes anger, he gets his way. 
  • Show her where scripture calls abusive behaviors sinful and speaks to how oppression violates God’s design for marriage.
  • Complete a safety assessment with her to discern her level of danger.2

It can take months, even years, for her to see what you see, so continue to find creative ways to guide her to make an accurate assessment of her situation. 

2. The victim lacks family, community, and church support

They have likely floated the idea of leaving to their trusted circle or have heard teachings frowning upon divorce. The result is that many victims fear that if they separate from their spouse, their faith community or friends and family will judge them. Not only is it difficult for victims to lose friends and familial relationships, but the disapproval of others often results in paralyzing shame. Sometimes victims already find themselves alone since abusers work to isolate their victims. Being devoid of community means she will not have the support she needs to meet future challenges like single motherhood, income loss, divorce, and healing from trauma. Or worse, suppose her faith community has imprinted on her heart that seeking a divorce is sinful. In that case, she will fear that leaving means even God will not come to her aid.  

This is where faithful friends and church leadership can step in. They can help her search God’s word for what it says about his hate of oppression, his promises to rescue his people from oppressors, examples of godly people (David, Abigail, Paul, and Jesus) fleeing danger or teaching on when divorce is biblical. 

Not only is the church equipped to help her answer her spiritual questions they are also able to bless her with the needed resources and personal support. Diaconal funds are one way a church can help. But they can also provide things like babysitting, prayer support, intentional friendships, or needed guidance with surprises like car repairs. When churches lovingly participate in the rescue of a victim, it showcases the Lord’s heart for her. It also puts it on display for her children and other victims who are similarly wrestling with staying or leaving. 

3. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman

Victims instinctively know that if their abuser senses he is losing control, there is the potential for him to go to extremes, which can even mean killing her. In one study, researchers interviewed men who murdered their wives. It found that threats of separation or the act of separation were the precipitating event. Moreover, victims might not just fear for themselves. Many abusers have threatened to kill themselves, the children, or a beloved pet if she leaves. Find out what she is afraid of by asking her directly what she thinks will happen if she goes. You can help connect her to a Domestic Violence expert or shelter.3Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections ( You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse? They can develop a plan to remain safe both while she remains in the home and if she flees abuse. When there is the potential for danger, leaving can mean going into hiding or taking months to plan. All of this is daunting; hence some women choose not to take risks and remain with their abuser. If she decides to stay, continue to care for her, keep reviewing her safety plan and remind her you are willing to help if there is a day she wants to make the choice to flee. 

4. Leaving abuse is extremely difficult and costly. 

Usually, victims agonize and pray over what to do for weeks, if not months and years. Fleeing abuse brings victims new and intensified challenges with their income, children, stability, and other relationships. So, after thinking over the potential costs to them and their children, they choose to stay. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Financial challenges (Their abuser might control the finances, provide the only income, or have destroyed her credit.)
  • Many women fear leaving their children alone with an abuser as joint custody is usually awarded. Additionally, they may fear of losing custody or anticipation parental alienation
  • The belief that two-parent households are best for children
  • They feel that the good times outweigh the bad times. 
  • They have nowhere to go or lack resources. 
  • The effects of trauma on a victim (depression, anxiety, PTSD) might be overwhelming.
  • They have hope that their spouse will change.
  • They believe that divorce is not an option.
  • Fear of not being believed or that the justice system will not rule in their favor

Seek to understand why a victim is choosing to stay. It is easy to think, “I would never put up with that!” or “I’d be out of there.” But until you live under the crushing terrorizing reality of abuse, you really do not know what you would do. Every choice comes at a steep cost. In some cases, you might be able to help ease the suffering, for instance by helping her find a job or housing. If a victim chooses to stay based upon her convictions or children, she will continue to need your support. 

While these are the four main challenges that impact a women’s decision to stay, they are not exhaustive. But they help us see that any step a woman takes to address her abuse will, at least temporarily, make her and her children’s lives more difficult. The very act of sharing her story with you is a tremendous act of courage. It signals progress is being made as evil is brought into the light. This allows you to connect a victim in her anguish to God regardless of whether she stays or goes. 

I know how hard it is when walking with a victim to fear for her. Pray, and patiently persist with a victim until God grants her clarity. Seek to extend her the same patience that God has extended to you (Ex 34:6, 1Tim 1:16), but also entrust her to God. He is always on the move rescuing his people from oppression (Ps 9:9; 72:4; 103:6; 147:7-9).  

  • 1
    Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.
  • 2
  • 3
    Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections ( You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse?
By / Dec 17

How much is a girl worth? 

This question is both the title of Rachael Denhollander’s book and the lens through which she powerfully recounts the childhood sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar and the road to justice that she and many of her fellow survivors courageously forged. 

Her story of abuse is graphic and heartbreaking, illuminating not only the physical realities of abuse, but the emotional scars that follow survivors long after their physical abuse ends. Though I am an attorney and advocate who has walked through trauma with many clients and friends, Denhollander’s detailed account of the suffocating pain and protracted grief that survivors of sexual abuse endure left me gasping for air. I could easily place myself in her shoes.

A trust broken

In hopes of providing an outlet for my unbridled energy and neurotic resolve, my mother had placed me in my first gymnastics class at 3 years old. And it worked. Although a car accident sidelined my ability to compete when I was 8, I was far enough into the competitive gym scene at that point to understand the world Denhollander vividly depicts in her book—a world where little girls are pushed to their physical limits day after day, parents are not allowed in practice areas, and you are punished for questioning authority. 

It was against this backdrop that Denhollander and her fellow survivors were serially sexually assaulted by Nassar. Denhollander graciously and constructively allows her readers to feel the weight of each triggered memory, each significant life milestone marred by the painful scars of abuse, and the perpetual silencing of a victim’s voice by abusers and the institutions who protect them.

The injustice survivors face

Denhollander also walks her readers through one of the questions that looms so large in the face of so many survivors, “Why don’t victims report?” What is a Girl Worth? exposes the tidal wave of inequity that faces each survivor when disclosing abuse. Through her story of survival, Denhollander exposes not only her abuser, but also the institutions and authority figures who failed to protect so many from abuse and fail to follow through when a victim reports—from the church leaders who silenced her abuse at the hands of a church member when she was a small child; to the beloved coach she disclosed Nassar’s abuse to but who discouraged her from telling anyone else; to the university that had multiple reports of abuse but continued to let Nassar have access to children; to the defense attorney who drug her reputation through the mud.

Offering perspective 

But What is a Girl Worth? does more than just detail horrific abuse. It also provides perspective, modeling what those of us who want to help empower survivors and fight for justice can do. It spotlights the courageous survivors and advocates who push back against the seemingly impenetrable darkness; the detectives who listen and investigate fully; the prosecutors who listen and model their strategy based on the needs and desires of the victims and tenaciously argue the case; and the church members and friends who walk alongside survivors. Most importantly, it spotlights the resolute survivors, like Denhollander herself, who persevere despite unthinkable odds, to ensure that their abusers are stopped once and for all and no more little girls are hurt. 

Denhollander asks her readers the same question she asked the judge in Nasser’s sentencing hearing, “What is a girl worth?” And her beautiful testimony of sacrificial love and unrelenting pursuit of justice on behalf of others compels her audience to agree with the answer: Everything. These girls are worth everything.

By / Oct 17

I went to the dermatologist the other day for my yearly checkup. In the course of my appointment, I mentioned that I had broken my arm this summer. The doctor paused and looked at me, asking how it happened. I knew why she asked. It wasn’t simple curiosity that prompted the question. Rather, she is a health professional, trained to look out for signs of abuse in her patients. As soon as I told her I fell while trying to teach my kids how to roller skate, she moved on with the exam.

Educators, counselors, those in law enforcement, and health professionals all receive training in how to identify a victim of domestic violence. Many states require such training for licenses. But for those who work in ministry, too few are aware of the signs of domestic abuse or what to do when they hear about such abuse from one of the members of their congregation.

The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

Statistics report that one quarter of all women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. While men can also be victims of domestic violence, the numbers are significantly higher for women and for the sake of brevity, this article will focus on violence against women. Women that we see in church on Sunday mornings may have witnessed such violence in their homes of origin. Some may have been in such a relationship in the past. And others may even now be married to or dating someone who is abusing them.

Pastors and ministry leaders need to be prepared to hear a woman’s story of domestic abuse and know what do to help her. It’s not only important to know what such a relationship looks like but also what resources are available in the local area that can offer services to abused women and their children. Additionally, a church’s diaconate or mercy ministry should be prepared to help practically and financially if needed.

Carefully ask questions

If you have a woman in your congregation you suspect might be in an abusive relationship, here are some questions you can ask to help you learn more. It important that you ask such questions of her in private and in a place where she feels safe.

  • All couples disagree about things. Tell me about some things that you and your spouse disagree about. Describe a recent one. What do they look and sound like? How do you feel in the midst of them? Do you ever feel frightened during a disagreement? Why were you frightened?
  • Does your spouse ever call you names, curse at you, put you down, make you feel stupid or inferior, or humiliate you? Give me some examples.
  • Do you ever feel controlled by your spouse? Does he keep track of what you are doing? Does he follow you or monitor your phone calls? Does he restrict you from seeing friends or family? Does he control the finances and not allow you any access to it?
  • Does your spouse throw things, punch things, or do other things that frighten or intimidate you? Do you ever fear that he might hit you? Has he ever hit you? Has he ever threatened you with a weapon? Has he ever shoved you, restrained you, grabbed you, choked you, or pinned you down? How often has this happened?
  • Does he threaten you? Does he threaten to take your children away, call authorities on you, or threaten to say things to your family or others that isn’t true?

Consider her safety

Safety is of primary importance and if you learn that the woman you are meeting with is being abused, you must take every precaution to help her stay safe. This is not a situation where you go to her spouse to double check her story. If her spouse knows that she has spoken to you or that she plans to leave, the risk of harm for her and her children increases. Contact your local authorities to find out how they handle domestic abuse in your area. They may suggest that she file a report on the abuse. They might also suggest she get a restraining order. Many areas have local shelters that will take women and children for an extended period of time.

Above all, a woman who is being abused needs to know that what is happening to her is wrong and that the way she is being treated is not love. She is not to blame; no one ever deserves to be abused. What she needs most is someone who can stand up for her and defend her. May the Church be a place of help and support for those who need it most.