The Winter Olympic Games finished a few weeks ago; there were countless engaging stories, laudable achievements, and surprising heroes. What an exciting time!
But after reflecting on the great achievements that we watched, my mind returns to a story from earlier this year that deeply inspired me. It is about Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who was instrumental in bringing to light the crimes of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. Perhaps you have read about her: sixteen years after suffering sexual abuse from Nassar, the former victim shared her story with the Indianapolis Star, and her brave step led to the conviction of a man who had taken advantage of his position to assault over 150 women.
The facts of the situation are mortifying, as Nassar used his authority to assault women (almost entirely gymnasts) for years. That is, until Denhollander took her courageous step and triggered a deluge of reports of abuse by the doctor. The decision, which she says cost her close friends and her church community, inspires us to think differently about leadership. Denhollander vulnerably and publicly shared her experience to expose a monster and protect countless children.
Rachael Denhollander’s costly, selfless act brings to mind what Saint Paul said about Jesus in his Letter to the Philippians.
[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Rather than considering his own interests and exercising his divine prerogatives, Jesus used his power for the sake of others. He emptied himself for humanity and, in the process, provided us with a transformational example for how to use authority. The world will never view leadership the same way.
Racheal Denhollander follows Christ’s cruciform example. Our society desperately needs such leaders who protect the vulnerable and champion the interest of others in spite of what it costs them. They bring life where there is death and usher light into dark places.
What does this mean for us? While the extent of our influence varies, we are all leaders. We all have a voice. And we all shape our community through the way we use our power. Will we, like Racheal Denhollander, use our influence on behalf of the vulnerable and those who do not have a voice? Will we use our positions of power to help those who cannot help themselves? Our daughters and sons watching. Our response will define our community and determine how future generations remember us.
Dr. Drake Levasheff is Senior Director of Azusa Pacific University’s Murrieta Regional Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.