Harvard students gave former gymnast and sexual abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander a standing ovation Thursday night after she spoke about living with both justice and forgiveness.
Denhollander was the first person to publicly accuse gymnast doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. She stepped into the national spotlight in January when she was the last of more than 150 women and girls to confront Nassar in court during his sentencing hearing for criminal sexual conduct.
She used the opportunity to share the Gospel with him explaining "I pray that you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so that you may some day experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God which you need far more than forgivenss from me, though I extend that to you as well."
The Harvard Crimson reports that Denhollander spoke Thursday night about her worldview which she defines as "distinctly Christian in nature."
She explained her definitions of justice and forgiveness using the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Denhollander called justice an objective standard. "Justice is not dependent, one way or another, on how I respond," she said, "Because it is an outward standard. Justice is not in opposition to forgiveness. Rather, justice is the foundation for forgiveness."
Bethany Jenkins, vice president of forums at the Veritas Forum, which helped to organize the event, reported that Denhollander was asked about her view of the church responding to the issue of sexual abuse. When asked "how do you trust the church to point to justice and truth in these situations?" Denhollander responded "You don't. You don't trust the church, you trust Jesus."
Jenkins later clarified on Twitter, saying that she had spent ten hours with Denhollander on Thursday and explained "it's clear that she loves the church. Her drive to seek justice in the church isn't driven by animosity, but by love."
Since the Nassar trial, Denhollander has also spoken out about abuse in the church, calling for an independent investigation into Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) which was the subject of a 2012 abuse lawsuit that was later dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. She told Christianity Today that the situation was "one of the worst, if not the worst instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse."
Sovereign Grace called her characterization untrue and the abuse accusations false. Later, pastor C.J. Mahaney, the former president of SGM, stepped down from his annual involvement in this month's Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in order not to be a "distraction." In a statement he maintained his innocence in the face of personal allegations and rejected any possibility of a cover-up by the ministry.
Denhollander spoke to the Crimson about the effect of the #MeToo movement, noting that she's still waiting to see what the long-term effect may be. She said many groups are hesitant to call out abuse in their own circles.
"Evangelicals are plenty happy to talk about MSU (Michigan State University) and Penn State," she said, "and the Catholic Church is great when they talk about MSU and Penn State but they're not so great when they talk about what happened in their church and evangelicals are not very good at speaking out against their own community."
She also spoke at the event about her own restoration over the years and said "being able to speak the truth and grieve the way you were damaged in ways that are non-destructive is really the first step to healing."
Denhollander will speak directly to an evangelical crowd on Monday when she addresses Liberty University students during their convocation hour. She'll also speak at the Liberty University School of Law that day. Her talk is titled "The Lion and the Lamb – How the Person and Work of Christ Should Shape Our Approach to Abuse."