Recently, the testimony of Rachel Denhollander caught fire in the Christian community for her bringing her faith to bear in the trial of her former abuser, Larry Nassar.
I shared a link to the transcripts of her testimony as I found her statements clear and well-articulated explanations of forgiveness and justice in the light of such serious sin.
Christianity Today did an interview with her after that testimony. The interview by Morgan Lee was published on January 31, 2018 and is entitled (click on title for link to interview):
Like I posted earlier on her testimony, many of the battles she is fighting for sexual assault victims have strong parallels for Christian faithful spouses.
The church has a ways to grow in becoming a safe space for sexual assault and adultery victims.
Denhollander talks at great length in the interview about how the distorted understanding of forgiveness causes much of the problems sexual assault victims experience within the evangelical Christian world.
I would assert that this is accurate for adultery victims–i.e. soul rape victims–as well.
Denhollander had this to say about her experience around hearing other victims of Nassar speak:
But the suffering here on earth is very real, and it does not go away simply because you forgive and release bitterness. These women are going to live, myself included, with lifelong consequences of the sexual assault, and the vast majority of this never needed to happen.
I wish more Christians understood this about faithful spouses who have divorced or were divorced by an unfaithful spouse.
Years later, anniversaries or even just a simple song on the radio can bring back the traumatic memories in a flood. That does not mean the faithful spouse is bitter or unforgiving.
It just means we are human and experienced serious trauma.
I find it interesting, as well, that Denhollander experienced Christians using her experience against her advocacy for sexual assault victims. She says,
When I did come forward as an abuse victim, this part of my past was wielded like a weapon by some of the [church] elders to further discredit my concern, essentially saying that I was imposing my own perspective or that my judgment was too clouded.
A version of this attack is not unfamiliar to me. It is an old play where the messenger is “discredited” as “bitter” or “too hurt” in order to avoid having to face the uncomfortable truth of their message.
Lee asks Denhollander two very important questions in the interview that I think is especially important for this community. Lee asks her to explain what repentance is as well as what Denhollander meant when she said she forgave her abuser.
Faithful spouses struggle here with grasping whether or not their cheater has truly repented. I think this definition of repentance from Denhollander is spot on and helpful in that discernment process:
Repentance is a full and complete acknowledgment of the depravity of what someone has done in comparison with God’s holy standard. And I do believe that entails an acknowledgment of that, and a going in the opposite direction. It means you have repented to those you have harmed and seek to restore those you have hurt.
Notice that Denhollander’s definition requires the offender acknowledges their wrong, repents to those they hurt, and tries to restore–i.e. make restitution. Short of these three things, I agree with her definition that the person is not truly repenting of their sin.
Biblical repentance entails more than a private exchange between the cheater and God.
In conclusion, I want to end this post with Denhollander’s eloquent explanation of what forgiving Larry Nassar means. I think her explanation summarizes what it means to forgive our cheaters biblically.
Denhollander nails down the slippery concept of forgiveness by saying,
It means that I trust in God’s justice and I release bitterness and anger and a desire for personal vengeance. It does not mean that I minimize or mitigate or excuse what he has done. It does not mean that I pursue justice on earth any less zealously. It simply means that I release personal vengeance against him, and I trust God’s justice, whether he chooses to mete that out purely, eternally, or both in heaven and on earth.