When it comes to dealing with the carnage left by out-of-control lusts, our culture is having a hard time of it. I am speaking specifically of sexual abuse and its aftermath. Many churches heal the wound lightly, saying that it is a “spiritual” matter, something to be taken care of “internally.” Victims are often told glibly to “forgive,” as though an “all-better” forgiveness for sexual assault came in a cardboard box, like Band-Aids do. At the same time, other Christians naively assume that the “civil authorities” have their act together on this, which they frequently do not. Our cultural degradation really does create a dilemma for responsible believers who care about protecting victims. Remember we live in a time when our civil authorities have thrown their full support to homosexuals “marrying,” the bloody fruitlessness imposed by the abortionist’s bloody instruments, the selling of the pieces afterwards, boys transitioning to girls, and vice versa. The iniquitous muddle goes all the way up. We cannot assume we live in a time when sexual abusers can simply be handed over to righteous civil authorities. Our civil authorities have taken the lead in mandating various forms of sexual abuse. Our current civil establishment is a travesty. The thing is a royal mess.
Apologies beforehand. This post is a bit longer than usual.
Rachael Denhollander’s Accomplishment:
In the middle of all this, Rachael Denhollander’s recent testimony at Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing was a breath of high mountain air. She was clear, articulate, poised, and measured. Above all she was courageous. She affirmed the hard-as-nails reality of God’s justice, and at the same time showed genuine compassion for someone who had grievously wronged her. There was grace in her words, but it was no cheap grace. She was the one who set the case against him in motion, and she took that first step at great risk to herself. Nassar was convicted, but not on the basis of anonymous whispers. He was confronted by his victims, scores of them. There was a reason why her statement resonated with so many believers, and that reason should be evident to anyone who watches her statement.
For those who falsely assume that in matters of sexual justice, I have been assigned a role of protecting predators, a role I continue to refuse, with decreasing politeness, this confrontation of Nassar is how it should be done. It was in open court, there were multiple witnesses, the confrontation was face-to-face, and hard justice was meted out. This was a good thing.
Denhollander’s full statement to the court is readily available online, and I commend it to you. The video embedded here contains just a few moments from that statement.
Rachael Denhollander’s Mistake
So what mistake am I talking about? Given her own life experience, and the climate of our times, Rachael’s mistake is natural enough. But it is significant nonetheless, and here is how it goes. I am not here talking about her able confrontation of Nassar. But as World magazine reported (3/17/18), she has also taken up a concern with an old set of cases that happened with Sovereign Grace Churches many years ago. I am not talking about that either. But as part of her proposed solution she has called for an “independent investigation” conducted by Boz Tchividjian, and his organization GRACE, and therein lies the difficulty. That’s the mistake.
I am not delving into the original allegations of sexual abuse at Sovereign Grace Churches, being in no position to do so. I am not evaluating their response to the allegations, and I am not saying anything about Rachael Denhollander’s general response to SGC’s defense. My point is a very narrow one. I am speaking about one aspect of this that I have direct experience with. I am limiting myself to that.
But let me set the stage first. There are two layers to this kind of mistake. The first has to do with what constitutes a true “independent” investigation. It is the mistake of asking the surgeons if you need surgery, instead of asking the radiologists.
The second layer is revealed by the fact that some surgeons are aware of their biases and tendencies, and so they helpfully refer you to the radiologists. They have no problem with second opinions from outside the scope of their narrow discipline. But others have true tunnel blindness, and on top of that they are not very good surgeons. All surgeons are surgeons (to be taken into account at layer one), but not all surgeons are good surgeons (at layer two).
More about the first layer later.
So the second layer to Rachael Denhollander’s mistake is the mistake of commending Boz as an objective outside investigator. A few years back here at Christ Church we spent some time in the limelight over a couple of sex abuse cases, and during that period Boz was every inch an ambulance chaser. In Rachael’s efforts to bring Larry Nassar to justice, she was falsely accused of being an ambulance chaser. It is unfortunate in the extreme that she has made the (serious) mistake of identifying with a genuine ambulance chaser. In all sorts of ways, Boz behaved in a foolish, shameful, and very partisan fashion. “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, It is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13). He did not know where our files on these cases were, but he certainly knew where the spotlight was. He was utterly uninterested in hearing both sides of that dispute. But Scripture displays quite a different interest. “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; But his neighbour cometh and searcheth him” (Proverbs 18:17). And then, as the nicely browned meringue on top of that particular pie, when we attempted to remonstrate with GRACE behind the scenes, away from the public fray, we were confronted with a threat of a lawsuit, clean contrary to what the apostle Paul requires of believers (1 Cor. 6:1-4). In short, if the SGC were foolish enough to call on Boz for an objective outside set of disinterested eyes, what they would actually get is the photo negative of that.
I know that the standard I am applying to this is a standard that Rachael understands and agrees with. That is why I am hoping that this statement of mine will be considered as a friendly caution to her, and not as a rebuke of her. In her critique of the SGC review, she says a couple of noteworthy things. “The firm used poor methodology. They chose not to speak with key witnesses.” And in another place, “He did not even speak with these key witnesses.” Exactly so. When it came to some complicated cases that had occurred a decade before, and with Boz in possession of a mere fraction of the information available, he showed not the slightest hesitation about entering the fray. Now of course, the Internet is Dodge City in the Wild West and Boz can be a gunslinger if he wants to be. All well and good, free country and all that. I am simply maintaining that he is temperamentally unsuited to the office of sheriff. Let’s not make someone with that kind of character a sheriff, amirite?
Here is Rachael’s commendation of him:
“Before suggesting Boz Tchividjian’s organization, GRACE, as the best option for leading an independent review of how Sovereign Grace has handled these cases, I reviewed every statement Boz Tchividjian had made, including Facebook and Twitter posts. While he has indeed spoken out about the situation, he has been clear that his concern is specifically the lack of investigation. He has specifically stated that he has not investigated the merits of the claims. I personally verified with him, before suggesting GRACE, that this remains true.”
But we know for a fact that Boz Tchividjian is not objective. He is not even-handed. He is a partisan hack. He has an organization with a business model that depends on the finding instances of abuse. Such businesses are not unlawful in themselves, but he is not disinterested. And to compound that absence of disinterestedness, even given the lawfulness of that business, he has disqualified himself by the way he has drummed up business, if you know what I mean.
There actually needs to be an independent investigation of GRACE. If there ever were a genuinely independent investigation of GRACE (but for that, see below), I am available to testify.
In her statement to the court at the sentence hearing, Rachael Denhollander said that when she and her family first went to see Larry Nassar, others had already been informed of his criminal behavior and yet it was possible for them to walk through the doors of his office unwarned. Nobody said anything to them, nobody warned them. I am resolved that nothing comparable happen here. Nassar’s evils and Tchividjian’s sins are in a completely different category, but they have this one thing in common. Neither of them have any business being in the role they were entrusted with occupying. If Rachael identifies with Boz, she is putting at risk much of the good she has accomplished thus far, and which I recognize and applaud.
And incidentally, she mentioned that Boz offered to recuse himself personally from the SGC investigation, were the task assigned to them. But this is no good. When Boz was disgracing himself in our controversy, the organization GRACE as an organization backed him up fully, despite our private appeals. They are not qualified for such a task either.
Back to level one. There are reputable organizations that perform the most necessary service of evaluating your ministry. (I am not against good surgeons doing necessary surgery.) If you look at Sovereign Grace’s statement on all this, you will notice that they have engaged one of these organizations, an outfit called MinistrySafe. A representative of MinistrySafe, Kimberlee Norris, gave a very capable presentation to the Council of the CREC just this last fall. She understands very well how sexual predators get away with their abuses in a church environment. She underscored how many churches are really naïve about this whole subject, operating in this area—to use one of my daughter’s metaphors for this problem—as though potato salad can safely be stored at room temperature. Nancy and I were suspicious in all these areas before being suspicious in these ways was cool. We took a dim view of sleepovers and lock-ins, we monitored our kids whereabouts very closely, and I followed the Mike Pence rule for decades before I had ever heard of Mike Pence. So there are reputable organizations that will help you look squinty-eyed, in the right kind of charitable way, at anyone who wants to be a youth minister at your church.
But even here, organizations that exist to help you set up firewalls to guard against abuse are not necessarily competent in knowing how to investigate alleged crimes. They are not necessarily equipped in handling the rules of evidence. Even assuming even-handedness, the skill sets of investigators, defense attorneys, judges, journalists, and so on, are all different. Surgeons and radiologists again.
When this reality is ignored or under-emphasized, the result is that a mob mentality can take over, and when that happens, justice suffers.
A Part of the Problem?
We live in a time when it is possible for a sexual predator employed by a church to molest a bunch of kids, get caught, get quietly fired, and then set up shop down the road at another church. That does happen; it can happen. It happens in Roman Catholic churches and it happens in evangelical churches. We also live in a time when it is possible for a well-respected minister with a fine reputation to be forced to step down from his ministry because twenty-five years earlier some junior high kids were playing grabass at a church-sponsored youth camp. And the cabin counselor, barely out of high school himself, dealt with it by means of a brusque and inadequately-trained “knock that off or I’ll tell Smitty.” In short, we live in a time when people do stupid things and we also live in a time when they do dark things. We have to deal with both idiots and orcs.
The reason we have rules of evidence is that we absolutely must have a way of identifying and distinguishing the two scenarios. Not only so, but the two kinds of scenarios are on a dimmer switch, not a binary on/off switch. There are all kinds of complications and gradations. We also live in a fallen world, which means that we have no absolutely infallible way of making sure we have done our job correctly. Sometimes injustice happens because the culprit gets off scot-free, at least until the last day. Other times injustice happens because an innocent person is condemned for something he or she did not do. That’s bad enough. But the fact that injustices will still happen does not mean that we couldn’t make it all worse by throwing the rules of evidence in the dumpster.
And unfortunately, our generation has now developed a peculiar form of injustice—we now live in a time when anyone who wants a careful investigation that is bound by oath to due process and the rules of evidence is himself accused of being a defender of the dark deeds. Boz has actively engaged in furthering that particular form of injustice. He is not a qualified doctor for this disease; he is a carrier of it.
One More Thing: The Rules of Evidence Are the Patriarchy
I have been referring to the rules of evidence. By them I mean things like due process, the presumption of innocence, the right to confront your accuser, the requirement of two and three witnesses, hearing both sides before making a determination, and so forth. These principles are deeply embedded in our legal system, which in turn was Christian in its origins. They have been badly corroded in recent years, but they are still functional and still most necessary. But because they are deeply embedded in our legal system, they are part of the establishment. They are part of the “way things are.” This means they are an essential element in what feminists like to call the patriarchy. As far as the climate of the times is concerned, they are part of the oppression.
So for a certain class of person, the principles of justice, the rules of evidence, are themselves sexual offenders, and should be put on a registry.
We live in a time when we are seeing the weaponization of virtually everything. Having an independent review is in principle a good thing, but in these troubled times, independent reviews that are genuinely independent are an extreme rarity. A successful independent review would be one where all parties recognized the authority and legitimacy of it. The independent review would not play favorites. They would be willing to come back with an unpopular decision if the facts demanded it. Their moral authority would be such that they could easily quell all the voices clamoring for tribal justice, justice defined as that which is favorable to their faction, their party. And right now, out of the options that are on the table, I don’t see a truly independent review as one of them. I do see options that would be immediately picked up as weapons in pursuit of an agenda that is not that of disinterested justice. And my fear is that Rachael Denhollander’s courage has been high-jacked.
A Lifter of Faces:
But what does the Scripture require?
“But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).
The word rendered as “having respect of persons” is prosopolempteo. This is one of those situations where etymology is really edifying. This verb is a hapax (meaning it only occurs this one time in the New Testament), and it is a compound word. The first half of it comes from the word for face, and the second is from the verb to receive (lambano). The word for showing favoritism is therefore a word that literally means to “receive a face.” It is quite possibly related to a Hebrew idiom, “to lift a face.” Before we render a verdict, before we pass judgment, the partial and biased judge says, let us lift up your face and see who it is we are talking about.
The same thing occurs when some of Christ’s enemies were trying to trap Him. They were disingenuous in what they were affirming, but they were at least affirming the right thing. After all, they were talking to Jesus who was right there. “And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly” (Luke 20:21). The word for accept is lambano, and the word for person is face.
In rendering judgment, the enemy of justice is identity politics. The judge is not allowed to “lift the face” to see who it is. “Oh, Murphy . . . not guilty.” We may not do this with Murphy, and we may not do it with groups. “Oh, you are white, or black, or a self-identified victim, or a member of my country club.” This is why the symbol of Lady Justice blindfolded is a profoundly biblical one. She does not know if the faces are lifted or not. She does not know because she does not care. It is irrelevant to her task.
Ministry and Fear:
When Sanballat was trying to derail Nehemiah, he said all kinds of things—and indeed, he even brought in the unimpeachable Gashmu—“and Gashmu saith it” (Neh. 6:6). But as Scripture records, the point of everything he tried was to introduce fear into the equation, to make cowardice a player when it comes to doing the right thing.
“Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart. For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” (Nehemiah 6:8–9).
“And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.” (Neh. 6:12–13).
And what is the right thing? That really does depend on the circumstances. Sometimes it means calling the cops, even when the people you must report are dear to you. Sometimes it means standing up to online lynch mobs. Sometimes it means insistence on due process and withholding judgment until you know all the facts. Sometimes it means taking a pounding because a sexual predator has professed repentance and wants to attend your church. But in all cases it means that you need to have a backbone that was not carved out of an overripe banana.
“And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it” (Deut. 1:16–17).
“nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit” (Exodus 23:3, ESV).
“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev. 19:15).
Having your thumb on the scale is as wicked when you are a judge as when you are a butcher. God hates unequal weights and measures. They are an abomination to Him (Prov. 20:23).
Do not lift the face of a man in judgment, and do not fear the face of man.
I was recently talking to a man who has been through this particular wringer, and he was wondering at how many ministers had pulled their skirts away from him. He said “they are biblical men. They run successful ministries. I know they can follow an argument from the text. Why would they do this kind of thing?” My reply was that my friend was making the mistake of thinking he was watching them respond to an argument, when what he was really doing was watching them respond to heat.
Not the same thing at all.
Incidentally, for those who think that I sometimes get carried away when writing about this kind of thing, I should say that at various times I have been tempted to refer to the man behind this particular curtain as the Wizard of Boz. But this was clearly a temptation, and I manfully refrained.