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Rachael Denhollander, Paige Patterson, and the Deep Crisis in Evangelical Christianity

Young woman testifies behind a microphone.

In many ways, the #MeToo movement has proven a cultural watershed. Americans decided to believe women (and men) who came forward claiming sexual assault, and when those claims were verified, the allegations brought down politicians, Hollywood elites, and one particularly notorious Olympic doctor. The reckoning has also come to evangelical Christian churches, and it helps highlight a serious deficiency of discipleship in modern America.

Rachael Denhollander, the outspoken victim who moved America in her denunciations of former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar, also told the harrowing story of being met with mistrust after a licensed counselor warned that a fellow church member seemed to have been "grooming" her when she was 7 years old. The girl's mother told her Bible study group, and the group not only refused to listen, but warned that they wouldn't let their kids play with Rachael, fearing she might accuse them. This led Denhollander to blame herself and to keep her silence when Nassar later abused her.

More recently, Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was forced into early retirement last month after reports that he had sexualized a teenage girl and discouraged a wife who claimed to have been raped from protecting herself from her husband. Illinois megachurch pastor Bill Hybels also retired after women said he had made lewd comments, forcibly kissed them, and invited them to his hotel rooms.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, notably declared that "the judgment of God has come" to the Southern Baptist Convention. "The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over."

"Sexual misconduct is as old as sin, but the avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear," Mohler admitted. He remarked that Protestants thought "this was a Roman Catholic problem," with the command of priestly celibacy and an "organized conspiracy of silence" fostering horrific abuse of children.

When this sexual abuse crisis hit the evangelical churches, Mohler admitted that his movement "cannot blame a requirement of priestly celibacy" or "an organized conspiracy of silence," but it appears there has been an "unorganized conspiracy of silence."

Mohler wondered whether the problem was theological, a result of evangelical churches teaching "the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Chillingly, he asked, "Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?"

To a limited degree, this may indeed be the case. In his book "Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time," pastor Greg Ogden warned that the Christian church faces a crisis in discipleship. "There appears to be a general lack of comprehension among many who claim Jesus as Savior as to the implications of following him as Lord," he wrote.