The Washington Post published an article about how evangelical Christians are in denial about sex abuse inside evangelicalism. The article tells the story of Rachael Denhollander and how she had to leave Ryan Fullerton’s Immanuel Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky. In response Immanuel contacted The Washington Post and admitted that they were wrong. The statement has some problems, but Immanuel should be encouraged for taking this act and admitting error. Its a step in the right direction for this key 9 Marks church.
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.“
“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”
Mary Tyler Moore
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.
1 Chronicles 29:11 NLT
The embattled and controversial C.J. Mahaney who is drowning in allegations of covering up child sex abuse.
There is a lot of ground to cover but before we get into what happened with how Immanuel Baptist responded to a Washington Post article let’s look at this church.
Ryan Fullerton at the 2017 Immanuel conference on church discipline.
Overview of Immanuel Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky
Immanuel began in 1887 when it was founded as the Germantown Mission Sunday School. It then became Logan Street Baptist Church in 1890 and finally Immanuel Baptist in 1905. Today Immanuel Baptist is a key church in the 9 Marks network and member of The Gospel Coalition. Here is how Immanuel describes itself at The Gospel Coalition church directory. “Building a community from all cultures where Christ is King through truth that transforms lives; community that displays Christ; prayer that cries, “Your kingdom come”; worship that feeds the soul; and mission that welcomes everybody in.” This church is popular with people from Al Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition it has started its own Immanuel Network, which also holds a series of conferences. You can see the resources from the 2017 and 2018 conferences. This church partnered with a number of Baptist churches in the United States and abroad which you can see on their map here. Today the congregation is about 600. Currently this church is led by Ryan Fullerton.
Ryan originally comes from Winnipeg, Manitoba and lived in western Canada. His story with evangelical Christianity began with his step-Mom leading him to the Lord in 1995. He then decided that he wanted to go into ministry and attended Prairie Bible College in Three Hills Alberta followed Tyndale College in Toronto, Ontario. Ryan was deeply influenced by Dr. Stephen Beck of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, PCA. If you would like to learn more about Stephen Beck you can do so here. Ryan worked in different capacities it appears. He worked in the oil industry. Ryan came to Immanuel in 2003. At the time the church had dwindled to 20 members. Ryan no doubt redid the church into a Neo-Calvinist one. Ryan has preached at the CROSS conference, and he is also a writer. This 9 Marks pastor has helped co-write “Pray for the Flock: Ministering God’s Grace Through Intercession” and “Encountering God through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence through God’s Word.” Plus he also co-wrote a journal article with Jonathan Leeman.
But it also must be remembered that in the Sovereign Grace Ministries scandal Immanuel Baptist played a key part. Ryan Fullerton’s church helped rehabilitate the corrupt C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney dropped out of Together for the Gospel as a result of the Rachael Denhollander situation. This is the second time he has dropped out of the premier Neo-Calvinist event. If you want to read the history of Mahaney dropping out of Together for the Gospel you can do so in, “The Run Away Pastor: The Embattled C.J. Mahaney Withdraws from T4G a Second Time.” Immanuel is the church that told Rachael Denhollander to get lost, after all inside 9 Marks one doesn’t question the anointed Mark Dever and his relationship with C.J. Mahaney.
Washington Post Article about Rachael Denhollander
On June 1, 2018 the Washington Post published, “The sin of silence.” The article is by Joshua Pearse who is a freelance writer. He has written for Church Leaders, Relevent Magazine and many other websites including The Washington Post. Joshua’s article in the newspaper looked at the crisis in evangelicalism when it comes to child sex abuse. The article mentions the issue with Rachael Denhollander, and Immanuel Baptist and how they had to leave Immanuel. But getting back to what Josh Pearse wrote, his article I believe is significant because of the context. He doesn’t just write about Bill Gothard, Sovereign Grace or Roy Moore. He writes about a number of issues and weaves it together to show why evangelical Christianity is in a crisis due to sexual abuse and misconduct. When I read the article on Friday I decided to publish it as a recommended read, which I did in, “Recommended Read: Comprehensive Washington Post Article on Denial About Sexual Abuse in Evangelical Christianity.” Some of the issues referenced in the article I have written about at The Wondering Eagle. For example when it comes to C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace I penned, “Has God Foreordained an Alleged Child Sex Abuse Cover up in Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches? Is that why CJ Mahaney is so Sacred?” I also wrote about the Alabama Senate race and the way many evangelicals supported controversial personality Roy Moore who was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court. You can read more about Moore in, “The United States Senate Race in Alabama and the Culture Wars; Plus the Issues Dogging Roy Moore and the Problem of Evangelical Christians Embracing an Alleged Child Molester.”
Immanuel Baptist’s Response to Washington Post Story
When The Washington Post wrote about Rachael Denhollander and the crisis in sex abuse inside evangelical Christianity. Immanuel Baptist responded by releasing a statement to the newspaper. The statement can be read on the website, but I am going to re-print it here at The Wondering Eagle.
Our Pastors’ Statement To The Washington Post
The following is a statement given by the Pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church to the Washington Post.
We Were Rachael’s Church
In January of this year, Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement went viral. Her face-to-face confrontation of her convicted abuser, Larry Nassar, was marked by tremendous courage and grace. As Bible-believing pastors, we delighted to hear Rachael’s clear proclamation of biblical justice and forgiveness. In Rachael’s words, these twin themes were presented with the same balance with which God presents them in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross, God’s justice is satisfied, and His forgiveness is extended. To this day, we delight in the impact that Rachael’s statement and subsequent public witness have had in the cause of protecting the sexually abused.
However, delight was not our only reaction. During Rachael’s impact statement she lamented, “My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church.” As the pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church, we knew that we were that church. After years of membership at Immanuel, Rachael and her husband Jacob had left our church voluntarily just weeks before the Nassar trial began. This departure is why ‘delight’ was not our only reaction to Rachael’s testimony. Instead, we felt confusion, sadness, frustration, introspection, fear, and had a host of other thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, because of Rachael’s decision not to name our church publicly, we were able to enter into a season of deep self-examination without the scrutiny of the outside world.
From Questions to Confession
The weeks that followed produced a flurry of questions, conversations, and clarifications. We read every article, talked to hundreds of our church members, solicited advice from multiple church leaders, met with the Denhollanders personally, spent hours meeting as pastors, and, finally, met with our entire church family. By the time we met with our church family, we saw we had sin to confess. We had come to see that there were ways we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.
Our particular failures did not stem from discouraging the Denhollanders to pursue justice in the Larry Nassar case. We did not discourage them in their pursuit of justice; in fact, we applaud those efforts. Rather, our failures stemmed from not listening to and properly understanding Rachael’s concerns about our invitation to have Sovereign Grace Church leaders preach to our church. We simply did not have the categories to fully discern what Rachael was saying at the time. This misunderstanding then played a role in our seeing the Denhollanders’ articulation of these concerns as divisive instead of informative. Finally, the poor pastoral care that resulted from these assumptions led the Denhollanders (understandably) to choose a new church.
As we interacted with the Denhollanders over their departure from Immanuel, we expressed things which we now deeply regret. In hindsight, we see we were sinfully unloving. We have since thoroughly repented to the Denhollanders and to the church we serve, seeking to confess every known sin. In return, the Denhollanders and our church family have been very gracious and forgiving. The Denhollanders have assured us that there is no longer any breach in our relationship and that all of our wrongs against them are forgiven. It is a deep joy to us that the gospel can restore our relationships when we fail.
Sadly, many will view our listening to Rachael (and the concerns of other abuse victims within our own congregation) as a condemnation of Sovereign Grace Churches (SGCs). It is not meant to be any such thing. While we lament the victims who have experienced abuse while attending SGCs, we do not have any information that would lead us to the definitive conviction that SGC leaders have broken any laws. Instead, we have seen that by partnering so closely with them while accusations against them were unanswered, we unknowingly communicated to those who have experienced abuse that we were not concerned to hear their voices. While charges against SGCs remain unanswered, we have thought it best to discontinue inviting their leaders to minister to our church. This change is in no way a pronouncement of guilt on SGCs. Rather, it is part of our attempt to repent of our failure to listen to the victims of abuse within our congregation.
The Gift of Reproof
During a long, hard pastors’ meeting in which we were beginning to see some of our faults, one of our pastors said, “We have been given a gift.” After months of reflection, we believe this statement more than ever. Being made to see our blind spots has been a gift to us. In the last few months, God has increased our sensitivity to the concerns of the abused. He has called us to look at our own shortcomings as pastors. He has allowed us to seek and receive forgiveness from those we have failed. He has motivated us to ensure that Immanuel Baptist Church is a place where the abused are cared for and abusers are vigilantly protected against. He has renewed our sense of the importance of being held accountable to one another, to our congregation, and to the watching world. We pray that God would continue to write these lessons deeply on our hearts so that the gospel can continue to be clearly proclaimed in and through our lives.
Statement is a Good Start, What Needs to Follow
While this statement has a couple of issues I also want to communicate this point as well. Its a start, and its the beginning of a church to admit that it was wrong. One of the reasons why evangelical Christianity is so sick and toxic today is because Christians don’t own their mistakes or seek forgiveness. That has been the lesson over and over as I write about issues or stories at The Wondering Eagle. What stands out in that statement is the fact that the church was honestly willing to take in feedback and talk about the situation. Another point to consider is that Immanuel decided not to have pastors from Sovereign Grace Churches preach or teach along as the allegations stand. For me this is a significant development. Some people may get stuck on the claim that Immanuel is not condemning Sovereign Grace. Some people will get stuck on that development. To those who think like that I wish they would stop and consider how hard it is for a 9 Marks church to issue a statement and go on the record. In this situation I have more respect for Ryan Fullerton and his church for taking that action. After all how many times have I written about scandal or problems in evangelicalism and the response by the pastor, elder, denomination leader, etc.. is to respond with silence? And while 9 Marks is a troubled theology system the fact that a statement like this was issued also brings about the dawn of hope. After all consider that this came from ground zero of the Neo-Calvinist network. Its the ground zero of Al Mohler and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as Dave Harvey who leads the Sojourn Network that split off Acts 29 which is also based in Louisville. Louisville is where T4G is held and Louisville is where C.J. Mahaney fled and started his illegitimate church plant.
This statement by Ryan Fullerton’s church is a beginning I hope of a further discussion to take the next steps. What are those steps? Well here are some examples.
- People need to ask why is Al Mohler still supporting C.J. Mahaney in light of the allegations which persist? This question needs to be asked by seminary students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
- Other 9 Marks churches need to ask within the network and push back against C.J. Mahaney’s connections to 9 Marks. For example when will Garrett Kell of Del Rey Baptist inquire and ask Mark Dever as to why he still support C.J. Mahaney? When will Nick Roark of Franconia Baptist also ask that same question. I wrote about this issue in more detail in, “From Nick Roark’s Franconia Baptist to Mike McKinley’s Sterling Park Baptist Church; Why is 9 Marks Silent about Rachael Denhollander’s Statements About Allegations of Child Sex Abuse Cover-Up in Sovereign Grace?”
- When will 9 Marks churches stop using Bob Kauflin’s music? Bob Kauflin is a key enabler of C.J. Mahaney as he support him – still. All 9 Marks churches should ask this question. After all Bob Kauflin helped Mahaney run and continues to support him.
- When will these questions about C.J. Mahaney be raised at T4G? When will there be a panel called, “How 9 Marks Should Consider the Sovereign Grace Crisis.” And have a frank discussion on why a pastor who continues to be dogged by criminal allegations continues to be in ministry.
- When will the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) aks why D.A. Carson defended C.J. Mahaney by attacking someone who was raped in Sovereign Grace when they were 13? As things blog writes about the EFCA that is one of the questions that I will continue to ask until the issue is addressed by the EFCA leadership in Minneapolis.
Rachael Denhollander appears to have found some closure it appears in how Immanual Baptist changed its mind, engaged and listened. For their efforts they should be commended for this start. The Wondering Eagle as a blog about atheism, doubt, Neo-Calvinism and the Evangelical Free Church of America was likewise born out of an act of spiritual abuse. My story comes from Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington here in the Washington, D.C. area. Someone who Jordan discipled was evangelizing a guy into Christopher Hitchens at the time. The SGM scandal actually helped make atheism legitimate. The alleged false accusation that I later endured by a military officer also taught me why rape and sexual assault is a problem in the military. But if Rachael found closure one day will I ever find mine from Redeemer Arlington. Ryan Fullerton has a lot to teach other 9 Marks churches. May this be the first step towards that process. To Ryan Fullerton’s Immanual Baptist The Wondering Eagle hopes that this development from you continues over the course of time. Please know that you are loved and valued.