Listen To Article
As an alumnus of Michigan State University, I am deeply upset by the appalling abuse of Larry Nassar. When people say something to me about being a Spartan, I am compelled to acknowledge that I am not very proud to be a Spartan. The school where I learned and thrived was a place of horror, shame, and abuse for so many others for such a long period of time.
As a follower of Christ, my identity was shaken to the core as I read Rachel Denhollander’s story. Rachel, a gymnast sexually abused by Larry Nassar, came forward with allegations of abuse. While Rachel’s courageous public allegations were important to Nassar’s conviction, Rachel lost the support of her church in the process. In Rachel’s words,
“The reason I lost my church was not specifically because I spoke up. It was because we were advocating for other victims of sexual assault within the evangelical community, crimes which had been perpetrated by people in the church and whose abuse had been enabled, very clearly, by prominent leaders in the evangelical community. That is not a message that evangelical leaders want to hear, because it would cost to speak out about the community. It would cost to take a stand against these very prominent leaders, despite the fact that the situation we were dealing with is widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse. Because I had taken that position, and because we were not in agreement with our church’s support of this organization and these leaders, it cost us dearly.”
Another part of my identity, a teacher, became sick and angry when I learned that a local teacher had been abusing children for the past thirteen years. In a small rural area, many people boast that the larger problems of the world don’t touch us here in this close-knit community. Why did the abuse continue for so long? I don’t know, but I suspect it was because no one came forward. Or, if they did, no one believed them. After all, they were children.
As a volunteer, I spent time with my students helping to sort donations at a shelter in my community. Apparently my healthy, Christian community serves hundreds of survivors of domestic violence and abuse each year. This ministry helps primarily women and children to escape, to start over, and to rebuild their lives. This ministry is thriving. Apparently this close-kit Christian community includes those who abuse their families.
As a church member, I need to go through training and background checks so that I can work with children and teach in a church environment. Through the course of this training, I am reminded that abuse of children comes from family members, coaches, teachers, pastors, and youth workers. So in other words, all the people I am supposed to be able to trust to disciple and mentor my children are also the ones most likely to abuse them.
As a parent of daughters, I am told that most women will experience sexual assault or sexual violence during their lives. Too bad that sort of thing happens. But many women lie about it, so maybe I don’t need be concerned for my daughters’ safety.
Why does abuse continue and even thrive? Why does justice feel like oppression to those in power? Who has the courage to put a stop to abuse of power? Who has the courage to believe the truth of abuse and violence and to do something to stop it?