In January 2018, Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, read a witness impact statement in a Lansing courtroom. Almost a year to the day later, she was on a different stage, challenging a specific audience.
In her 2019 January Series lecture at Calvin, Denhollander called Christians to respond to sexual abuse in a way that is true to their identity in Christ.
“The moral lawgiver who defines goodness cares about justice and evil. … The reason we feel injustice so keenly is because it’s such an aberration from the pure love and holiness of the one who defines the straight line, and because goodness and evil exist in opposites, they exist in contrast to one another. The more one understands good, the better you will understand the depth of evil.”
Denhollander says that God, as the ultimate standard of holiness, has an unmatched recognition of the injustice of abuse, and Christians should follow his lead.
“As a Christian, you should be the most equipped to condemn sexual abuse and injustice in any form. … You are the most equipped to tell people who have suffered, ‘That was evil, and it was wrong, and it matters to me, because it matters to God.’
“If you diminish the darkness, if you act like something isn’t as evil as it really is, the beauty and holiness of God that is to exist in utter contrast to that evil becomes less glorious and less beautiful. So, the first thing we need to know when we are responding to injustice, is that rather than trying to hide or bury the damage, we acknowledge it, and we grieve it in all its ugliness, knowing that the depth of evil points to the beauty of Christ. Sexual abuse is so vile, because God is so good. And if you mar these truths, you mar the beauty of hope and Christ, and you mar the foundation from which true forgiveness and healing can spring.”
Denhollander also pleaded with Christians not to look at forgiveness and justice as mutually exclusive options when confronted with evil.
“While forgiveness is my personal response to my abuser, justice is ensuring that an outward standard of rightness is followed and the truth is proclaimed. … And this is where the Christian faith portrays the most beautiful and true picture of both justice and forgiveness: the lion and the lamb. See, the Christian faith teaches that not only does God love, but that God is just, that he pours out wrath on evil, because he cares. Because that evil is more glaring and blatant to him in all his holiness than it is to us.”
The little house at 741 Baxter is unassuming from the outside. But don’t be misled by its modest facade. It hides a newly refurbished interior, prepared for a family in need of affordable housing. The Baxter house is part of a new initiative by the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) to address the housing crisis that is quietly escalating on the edge of gentrifying areas in Grand Rapids.
JUSTICE IN THE CITY
As the housing market in Grand Rapids tightens, property values are steadily rising. While this trend is a benefit to many homeowners, it has created a crisis for many renters with lower incomes. Rent prices have skyrocketed, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Displacement is a matter of increasing concern.
Groups of volunteers from around the city, including some Calvin students, have joined ICCF in its effort to address the issue. The Community Housing Initiative was launched in 2018 to provide housing stability in vulnerable areas, where housing is becoming unaffordable for families with lower incomes. The organization carefully chooses properties to act as “anchors” in these areas and refurbishes them to be sold or rented at lower rates.
So far, the ICCF has purchased 213 housing units on 177 properties in Grand Rapids. Because it does not have the resources to renovate all 213 units itself, the foundation is asking local churches to partner with it in caring for their neighbors by choosing a house to “adopt.”
Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church adopted 714 Baxter, which is just down the street. When the congregation heard about the proposed partnership, it responded with immediate and enthusiastic support. Del Willink, a retired builder and Eastern Avenue congregation member, volunteered to oversee the repairs. Volunteers from the church and the surrounding community, including Calvin students led by professor Clarence Joldersma, have logged over 1,000 hours of work at the Baxter house since November.
STUDENTS BECOME BUILDERS TO AID GR HOUSING CRISIS
During interim, Joldersma’s students built, painted, and installed kitchen cabinets for the Baxter house for their course, “Doing Justice in the City, One Kitchen Cabinet at a Time.” They did most of their work at the Home Repair Service, a local organization dedicated to educating vulnerable homeowners in home repair skills and assisting them with renovations. Students not only acquired practical home repair skills through the kitchen cabinet project—as well as an understanding of the history of redlining, zoning, and home finance in Grand Rapids—they also participated in a concrete response to the call to “act justly.”
“I found the class extremely rewarding because I was able to gain hands-on experience building both cabinets and confidence,” said senior Selvi Bunce. “While doing so, the class was given a unique opportunity to learn more about racial justice and equity in Grand Rapids.”
Added junior Kyla Swanson: “There is so much I learned from this class, and I feel like I got to know Grand Rapids a lot better. … Overall, I now understand the importance of investing in your community and listening to the voices of your neighbors, because people are worth it.”
Whether climbing the Great Wall in China, paragliding in Nepal, sailing in Florida, hiking in Hawaii, or traveling in Spain, Calvin students are challenged to connect to new places, meet new friends, celebrate our shared humanity, and see God at work in this world.