Friday, May 18, 2018

How much is an image-bearer of God worth? (Part 1)

"How much is a little girl worth?"

This question from Rachael Denhollander in a courtroom in January continues to reverberate. She asked it regarding the crimes against humanity committed by Larry Nassar and enabled by others at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Nassar, team doctor for both institutions, sexually abused girls who apparently numbered in the hundreds over a two-decade span while his employers refused to believe or act on the reports of molestation brought them by victims. A devoted follower of Christ and a lawyer, Denhollander courageously became the first person to go public to report Nassar's assault on her, which occurred when she was a 15-year-old gymnast. Her email to The Indianapolis Star in 2016 set in motion an investigation that resulted in a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison for Nassar.

She was the last of more than 150 Nassar victims to give her impact statement in court before the sentencing, and her question still looms over not only that case but our culture: "How much is a little girl worth?"

More expansively, we would ask: How much is an image-bearer of God worth?

Sadly, the sexual abuse of girls -- and boys -- is not found just in the secular world. Nor are sexual assault and harassment. They have happened too often in the evangelical church, and too often those who courageously reveal their devastating, life-altering ordeals have been greeted by disbelief and scorn from the church. Or church leaders have refused to report criminal allegations to law enforcement authorities. Or pastors and elders have failed to shepherd the victims and their families with mercy and understanding.

Rachael Denhollander and others have pointed out this painfully true reality -- it is abuse, as well as assault and harassment, by those within our own community we find most difficult to address. It is easy to believe the reports of abuse and coverup in an institution we are not a part of and to denounce them emphatically. When it comes to our church or our section of the evangelical landscape, we become much more hesitant to trust the ones bringing the charges against people we hold in high esteem. These allegations may come from young victims of abuse or adult victims of harassment. We may not want to believe them because we don't want to countenance such sinful, maybe criminal, behavior by a Christian leader we have trusted. And we may dismiss out of hand such allegations because we think they would harm our faith or the church or the gospel or even the reputation of Christ.

If we would follow Jesus and rest in His strong name, however, we must repent of and forsake such thinking. We must think biblically about sin and its pervasiveness. We must not carve out exceptions for our favored leaders. We must not fear that the call for us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God" (Micah 6:8b) will undermine Jesus, His gospel or His church.

As Denhollander said in a January interview with Christianity Today, "[T]he gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. . . . Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience."

Let's make certain our knee-jerk reaction is not to side with the powerful because our interest is wrapped up in them being innocent. Let's make certain we listen to and extend mercy to the powerless -- whether it be a child or adult bringing reputable allegations. Let's make certain we seek truth and justice whoever the parties involved may be.

Let's make certain to ask ourselves: How much is an image-bearer of God worth?

-- Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash