May 8, 2006

In the form of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. Tuesday afternoon, fast at work grading student papers and journals, I got a phone call from Garry Poole. Garry is a friend, a former student of mine at TEDS and now a pastor at Willow Creek. He asked me if I’d be willing to participate in the weekend services at Willow Creek. |inline

December 6, 2019

By Kelly Edmiston

Last week I got a call from my son’s principal at his school. She tells me that she needs to inform me about what happened on the playground because she feels sure that I will not be happy about the behavior and words of my 7-year old. She goes on to tell me that my son and a group of children were playing soccer and one little girl ended up falling down when my son went over to her, stepped on her foot, and declared for the entire playground to hear that “girls suck at soccer.”

As I get on the phone to speak to my son my blood is boiling, my heart is racing, and I am beginning to sweat. In the form of a long and tight-lipped lecture, I correct his very offensive declaration, pointing out that many girls are good at soccer and demanding that he apologize. He apologized and we moved on.

This situation with my 7-year old son reminds me of the pervasive nature of sexism. Sexism, the belief that women are less than men, is the undercurrent of our society, and sadly, it is the undercurrent of many of our churches. My husband and I did not teach my son this sentiment that “girls suck at soccer.” We don’t use this language nor have we ever expressed anything of the sort. We have an egalitarian marriage, we practice mutual submission and we do not adhere to traditional gender roles. And yet, sexism has implanted itself deep within his 7-year old psyche. Sexism did not originate with our culture or this society. Sexism has existed since the fall. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and were cast out of God’s presence. Sexism is the result of this sin. And every lingering behavior that reinforces sexism, such as forbidding women access to leadership positions or roles due to gender, is sin. It is sin as grievous as racism.

It is a sin that Jesus seeks to redeem. Consider the story of the women at the scene of the resurrection.

In the resurrection story, (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20) Jesus first appears to and commissions Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James and Joanna[1] to go and tell the others that he has risen. This group of women were the first to witness and to proclaim the resurrection.

The women are obedient and return to the apostles to tell them the truth about Jesus. But the apostles do not believe the women. Luke has this interesting little phrase to describe how the apostles responded to the story of the women.

“…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:11 (ESV)

The Greek word here is “leros.”’ It means “folly,” or “nonsense,” or “gush.”

The apostles accused the women of speaking “nonsense.” They discredited them and called them stupid because they were women.

Jesus rebukes the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:25) for not believing the women. Jesus appears to the women first intentionally. He knew they would not be believed. However, in his appearing to the women first he has made a strategic and turning point move for the placement of women in the Kingdom of God. Here, and in the events following throughout the book of Acts, Jesus has moved women from property to prophet, from outsider to insider, from no status to equal status.

And yet, in the church there remains a disconnect between our thinking and our doing, between our theology and our practice. This is why sexism is still rampant in churches today.

Consider how, in the church, many times the witness of women is seen as not credible.

You may be familiar with the sexual misconduct scandals over the past couple of years regarding Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Bill Hybels inappropriately touched, groped, kissed, offered inappropriate invitations to his home, and had an affair with a married woman. These stories were covered up and ignored.

Vonda Dyer was one of the first victims who publicly accused Bill Hybels. After all of the investigation and the report of Hybels’ guilt came out, she says this:

That she was grateful for the report’s conclusion that she and others who came forward were credible and that it marked the beginning of identifying what happened at Willow Creek and learning from it.[2]

Dyer was grateful that her witness, and that of many other women, was considered credible after all of the investigations were concluded because their original testimony was not.

In a book called “Saved from Silence,” Mary Donovan Turner writes these words:

“The control of power in relationships affects the voice and silence of each group within a system. One in power easily assumes the right to speak. Others are denied that right or must seek permission in order to be heard. In some cases, even when an oppressed voice speaks, especially without the permission of the powerful, that voice is ineffective, because the powerful cannot bear to hear it. Thus, the struggle for voice is not only a struggle to speak, but also a search for an audience to listen.”[3]

– Mary Donovan Turner and Mary Lin Hudson

The women at the tomb were searching for an audience to listen. The victimized women at WCCC were looking for an audience to listen. Women today are still searching for an audience to listen. They are still wondering whether or not their witness will be received as credible.

One thing you can do this week to live faithfully in the Kingdom of God is you can open your ears and listen to the stories of the women in your life. Whether she is in joy or in pain, you can ask her to tell her story, from her perspective just as she has experienced it. You can lean over and ask, “how do you see this” and “how does this feel to you? Perhaps in this we will join Jesus in redeemed and reversing the damaging and pervasive sin of sexism so prevalent in our churches and in our world. [4]

[1] There were more women than these. Mark tells us that Salome was there too. Luke tells us in 24:10 that there were other women. One of the devastating ramification of sexism is that we do not know who exactly was present at the resurrection. Because they were women, they were not all named.

[2] https://www.christianpost.com/news/vonda-dyer-bill-hybels-accuser-who-was-called-a-liar-rejects-willow-creek-apology.html

 

[3] Turner, Mary Donovan and Hudson Mary Lin, Saved from Silence; Finding Women’s Voice in Preaching.

[4] This is a part of a sermon I preached recently. You can listen to the whole thing here. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/kingdom-of-god-women/id1139391673?i=1000457808430

 

September 14, 2019

In Search of the Common Good

Jake Meador is editor in chief of Mere Orthodoxy, an online magazine and is a director with the Davenant Institute.  His writing has appeared in First Things, National Review, Christianity Today, Commonweal and Books & Culture.

The following interview revolves around Jake’s new book, In Search of the Common Good (foreword by Tim Keller).  The interview was conducted by David George Moore.  A few of Dave’s teaching videos and other videos can be found at www.mooreengaging.com.

Moore:  Give us an idea what, perhaps who, motivated you to write this book.

Meador: It was two separate trends that I was observing in parallel. Within about a five-year window, a number of Christian intellectuals wrote books raising concern about the future of the church in America. Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is the most well-known. At the same time, a number of books also came out from more mainstream publishing houses about the decline of civil society in America. J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy would likely be the most popular on the right. Robert Putnam’s Our Kids is probably the biggest title on the left. What I wanted to do with my book is weave those two trends together so that I could say something about the cause of decline that also offers a clear path forward for Christians. If it’s true that we live in this anxious, lonely, and disorienting world, what does the command to love one’s neighbor call us to in such a context? I wanted to answer that question.

Moore: I would like you to respond to a marginal note I made in my copy of the book.  In thinking of your book, I wrote “If God created the world, we need to guard against doing too much tinkering with it.  Yes, we are stewards who are given the creation mandate, but we must be careful how much we desire the world to be remade in our own image.”

Meador: This is an important question. The Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck said in his work that “grace restores nature,” and I think that’s an important insight into how this ought to work. On the one hand, Bavinck’s framing recognizes that the world truly is fallen and so as we fulfill God’s call to have dominion over the earth and to love our neighbor, both will necessarily involve working on the world in ways that change it. We must, Berry says, break the body of creation simply in order to live–we kill animals in order to eat meat, we break up the earth in order to farm. That being said, “grace restoring nature” comes with a kind of seat belt built into the process: As we are transformed by grace, we are enabled by God to restore nature, not to build something entirely new or to override nature or to crush nature. It’s important we understand the idea of ‘stewardship’ rightly. The power of a steward is relativized by the health of the thing entrusted to them. Theirs is not an absolute dominion, but a contingent one that is defined and judged by how their authority is used to serve the life of the thing they are stewarding. Benedict XVI says that ‘the book of nature is indivisible,’ which means that a human society that survives only by committing acts of exploitative violence upon the earth is itself going to be an unhealthy society—which, of course, is precisely what we have today.

Moore: Early on you write, “…we must face the fact that many of the wounds contributing to the American church’s decline are self-inflicted.”  Unpack that some for us.

Meador: There are two great evils that have been characteristic of American evangelicalism for about the past 30-40 years. The first evil is a disordered relationship to politics that is closely tied to the rise of the religious right. The religious right has distorted our lens for viewing politics by frequently reducing Christian political witness to the accomplishment of certain policy objectives brought about by civic action intended to help the “right” political party acquire power. I don’t think it was originally intended this way, but over time what that has done is it has crowded out other political values, civic virtues, and a more robust approach to political life amongst evangelicals. It has made us power-chasers and, when combined with evangelical fears over persecution, has the effect of (we think) authorizing us to support even a moral abyss like Donald Trump if he will protect us from the godless liberals and pick up a couple policy wins for us. In other words, it makes us entirely indifferent as to political means because we apparently believe that the means justify the ends. I know of no other way to read something like Wayne Grudem’s deplorable endorsement of Trump than as precisely this sort of sub-Christian political thinking.

The other great evil is the seeker-sensitive movement. Willow Creek Church is exemplary of this movement and, if their recent job listing for a senior pastor is any indicator, they learned basically nothing from the abuse scandal involving their founder, Bill Hybels. A seeker-sensitive church is the American version of the “modernist” church lampooned in the old BBC sitcom “Yes, Minister.” In one sketch, a government official is explaining “modernism” to the Prime Minister. He says that the church wishes to be more relevant. The PM, bless him, says “to God?” and the official laughs and says, “of course not!” Later the official explains to the PM that the Queen is a non-negotiable part of the Church of England but belief in God is “an optional extra.” It would not be terribly difficult to translate many of those jokes into the American context with the seeker-sensitive movement as the target.

If you look at something like that Willow Creek job listing, you see a great deal of bleating about leadership and vision, the things valued by the American suburban business class that serves as Willow’s base, and alarmingly little about a rich prayer life, devotion to God, generosity toward the poor, a love of the Scriptures and the sacraments, and so on.

We might put it this way: If we suppose that the Ten Commandments are concerned with piety and with justice, then the seeker-sensitive movement taught us to be indifferent to piety while the religious right taught us to be indifferent to justice. And an ostensibly Christian movement that is indifferent to both of those will not be long for this world and will, indeed, alienate many people—and with good reason! Indeed, it would seem to be precisely the sort of religious movement that the Old Testament prophets as well as Christ himself spend so much of their time condemning.

Moore: You are the beneficiary of parents who live a vibrant and compelling vision of the Christian faith.  How would you encourage Christians struggling with cynicism due in no small part to not seeing a compelling vision of the Christian faith being lived out, even though growing up in so-called Christian homes?

Meador: The first thing I would want to say is that I am deeply sorry.

The second thing is I would encourage them to do everything in their power to find mature Christians who really are wholly given to the life God calls us to in Scripture. Having that support in your life is often going to be essential for one’s own spiritual health.

The third thing would be to attend closely to the voice of God in the Scriptures. The Bible knows something of people who follow God while alone and in the wilderness. And if the biblical record is any indicator, two of the great temptations to people who are attempting to do that are grumbling and despair. The Israelites believe God has abandoned them in the wilderness and grumble. Elijah believes God has abandoned him in the desert and nearly gives in to despair. The answer to both these sins is the same: Believe the promise of God offered to you in the Gospel. God does not forget his people. He is not indifferent to their suffering. He is familiar with sorrow, acquainted with grief.

And also: God is overflowing with life, joyous in his own perfections and delighted to share his goodness with us. So he also calls us to rejoice evermore. St Paul wrote those words and he was in prison when he did so. Why do we rejoice? Because we worship a good and loving God who has made provision for us in the Gospel so that we can know him for eternity. And we can see a taste of that goodness to come even today, even when we are lonely and deprived of Christian fellowship. Even if you lack close Christian community, you still live in the theatre of God. You see his works every day. He lays them out before you and, as the French Catholic writer Sertilanges puts it, his works “desire a place in your thought.” Give them that place. If music delights you, get a record player, buy some of your favorites on vinyl and make a habit of sitting in an otherwise silent room and letting the music roll over you. God made that music and he loves it too. Enjoy that and be comforted.

A similar discipline could apply to any number of things. Develop a good palate for wine. Learn to bake and relish the unique flavors you can create. The world is overflowing with things that are delightful and they are all gifts, they come down to us from ‘the father of lights,’ to quote St John. So cultivate the discipline of looking toward the good, even when there is much ugliness set before you and even when that ugliness takes the particular form of hypocrisy, spiritual pride, self-righteousness, and so on.

Moore: Most people, including most Christians, equate politics with advocacy for one candidate over another.  How can we recover a more expansive (and ancient) sense of politics as what our contribution ought to be to the polis or city where we live?

Meador: Your political life did not begin when you became old enough to vote. It began when you were conceived. From your earliest moments of existence, your life was made possible and sustained by others. You only came into this world after being wrapped, quite literally, in the love of another human being, for what else is a mother’s womb then a place in which we are wrapped in love? We must recover this wider understanding of politics if we are to have anything useful to say about common life at all, including about electoral politics and public policy. We are all naturally gregarious as human beings. Our existence is not possible apart from the existence of other human beings and something inside us longs to be connected to others. One practice that may be helpful is to make a list of the political communities we are part of. We are all part of a family. That’s one. But then we should also list out any community of three or more people that we are part of that is organized around the enjoyment of some recognizable good. That could include our job. It hopefully includes our neighborhood. It might include a local coffeeshop where you’re a regular or your local CSA or a neighborhood board. For Christians, it ought obviously to include your church and, perhaps within your church, a small group. These are all communities that we belong to, that we have some stake in, and that we can contribute to in order to make the lives of others somehow more delightful and enjoyable. So I think we begin there. Recall that when Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor?” is answer was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. One thing we should take from that is asking “who is my neighbor?” is often a cutesy question that is meant to emancipate us from the obvious and immediate obligations put upon us by the people we encounter every day. Learn to love the people you are stuck with. Start there and you’re on your way to a healthy political life—and, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, something of Christian virtue as well.

Moore: You do a terrific job of showing how certain constraints and order bring the best freedom.  In a culture that prizes an untrammeled sort of freedom, how can we winsomely model that the truest freedom comes from sacrifice and delighting in God’s order?

Meador: Pope Paul VI says that Christian love, rightly understood, has four characteristics: Freedom, Fruitfulness, Fidelity, and Totality. Freedom means that love cannot be coerced. I cannot make a person love me. And if I do something kind for another person under duress, they might benefit from what I do but I have not loved them in that act. Most of us are clear on this point. But the others are often neglected, I fear. Fruitfulness reminds us that love produces an outcome. This is most obviously seen in marriage in the form of children. But all love is fruitful. Fidelity means that love must be committed. We recognize this, again, most clearly in marriage. But anyone who has been abandoned or betrayed by a friend will know something of this sting, I think, and therefore why it is that love must be faithful. Totality means that when we love a person, we love them completely. Love is a conscious acting to promote the good of another. But if I merely try to promote my child’s physical well-being by giving them food and a place to sleep while remaining indifferent to their emotional, spiritual, or social well-being then I have not loved my child, even if I make great sacrifices to make sure they have food and shelter. So we need to remember that love requires more than mere freedom. Indeed, there will be times when the most loving course may not feel like freedom to us precisely because we are consciously limiting our own options in order to faithfully love another person. But this is good, and, indeed, is a more perfect freedom because freedom is ultimately not about the multiplication of choices set before you, but about the actualization of a single, correct choice.

Moore: What are two or three things you hope readers take away from your book?

Meador: First, that there is always cause for hope because God’s promises are sure and do not fail. That alone is cause enough, of course. But we can also talk about another lesser reason for hope.

Second, I hope it gives us a tenderness toward our neighbors. We live in a deeply disordered world and that disorder often manifests in depression, anxiety, despair, and various forms of unhappiness. To remember that as we live alongside people is important.

Third, I would love for people to adopt a consistent practice of Sabbath. The Sabbath disrupts us, it reminds us that we are made to know God, and it creates a space in which we can share unhurried time with others. It creates a space in which we can both encounter God through public worship with his people in which we hear the Word preached and receive the Eucharist and in which we can give and receive hospitality to one another. If you want to identify one concrete thing you can do to try and repair civil live in your home place, I think adopting a consistent Sabbath practice of public worship and giving and receiving hospitality would be a great place to begin.

 

September 10, 2019

By Laura McKnight Barringer

She’s worth more than power and protecting a name.

I work in the field of primary education, and I am constantly aware of the complexities of educating girls. Don’t quote me on this, but I read research in the not-too-distant past that highlighted an inherent difference between boys and girls in maths and sciences: When a boy gets a C in a math or science course, he counts himself a success and moves on to the next class. When a girl gets a C in a math or science course, she considers herself “not good” at the subject and discounts it entirely and moves away from any interest in the field.

So the trend educators are seeing, and again don’t quote me on this and I know I’m simplifying a far more complicated topic, is fewer and fewer girls entering the fields of math and science. The decline is connected to girls’ lower self-esteem and false impressions of intelligence and ability.

I tucked this research into my mind but mostly my heart years ago, using it each day to motivate and nurture and encourage the first and second-grade girls in my classroom, particularly in the math classes I teach. (Fortunately for my students, I don’t teach science.) It’s not that I ignore the boys. I don’t. But I know girls are less likely to raise their hand, they want to fit in with their peers more than boys, and they are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. I watch them and talk to them and encourage them and try to do my part in the development of healthy self-esteem. I guess you could say I have a heart for young girls, and I care about their emotional health — not just because they are girls, but I know my gifted girls tend toward even greater perfectionism and isolation than peers. For me, the development of healthy self-esteem in young girls is a hill on which I am willing to stake my proverbial cross. 

And it’s hard. It’s hard to be a girl and grow up in a culture where women are too often disrespected and disbelieved. You’ve heard women tweet #MeToo? And #ChurchToo? Yes, too often. How can little girls even receive a fair shot at developing strong self-worth when this is the culture in which they are being raised? At what point will they too be subjected to devaluation or degradation or verbal or sexual abuse? Larry Nassar, you may remember, sexually abused more than 300 girls and women, including a six-year-old girl. Six.years.old.

So when I learned of Rachael Denhollander’s two recently-released books, I was hooked, and honestly I was hooked before I even read them. I was hooked when I read the titles What Is a Girl Worth? and What Is a Little Girl Worth? I was hooked because I vividly remember Rachael’s compelling and brave courtroom statement directly to Larry Nassar, the former doctor who repeatedly sexually abused her when she went to him for treatment. She is someone I want to follow is what I thought as I listened to her speak to Nassar on that day in January 2018, and I still want to follow Rachael today. I was hooked because of the reason Rachael writes. She is crystal-clear on her advocacy calling, which is to protect young girls from sexual abuse. I was hooked because our girls, like the ones I teach each day, need the message that Rachael brings, and Rachael has the credibility to bring it to them. They need to hear what they are worth. They need to know they are worth more than grades and assessments and class standings. They need to know they are worth more than… well, everything, including what happens to them when they disclose abuse and are disbelieved and maybe even shamed into silence. 

Backing up a bit, Rachael is most known for her successful advocacy in bringing Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University (where Nassar practiced medicine) to justice, but she is an equally respected advocate for survivors of church and clergy abuse, now traveling the country and speaking and voicing a call to action. Not only was Rachael repeatedly abused by Larry Nassar, but she was also abused as a seven-year-old in her church’s Sunday School class. Her family lost friendships because they spoke about it. And then, in her adult years, was again suppressed into silence when attempting to prevent a known offender from speaking at her church. So she has credibility and too much experience with this topic, and she bravely shares her trauma and nightmares and confusion and depression in What Is a Girl Worth? Her story is tragic and yet hopeful, and she stewards it well. She stewards it with intensity and intentionality to raise awareness and protect little girls like the ones I teach each day.

What Is a Girl Worth? is a memoir of sorts, detailing Rachael’s childhood and adult years through the Larry Nassar trial and beyond. She shares her deepest and longest-held secrets, ones she never wanted to have. She shares how speaking up about abuse in her church cost her everything; that leaders and pastors in a complicit church community will protect their own at all costs. Her children’s book What is a Little Girl Worth? is more of a letter or message to young girls, written to them; to tell them they matter because of who they are. My favorite page, and I gifted my copy to my second-grade niece Finley so I don’t have it as I type, is this: What is a little girl worth? She’s worth more than power and protecting a name. Here it is; in my opinion her most important point and reason for writing: Rachael challenges our most powerful churches and leaders to remember the worth of young girls and to do what is right when abuse allegations are reported.

She’s worth more than power and protecting a name. This line is profound in its simplicity and obviously applicable for such a time as this. For a time such as #MeToo and #ChurchToo. How many times have we seen power and name protection taking precedence over a girl’s or a woman’s worth? Too many. We saw it with Village Church and Willow Creek Community Church and the Southern Baptist Churches and USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, and that’s just a start. And girls and women need to know they are worth more. They are worth more than secrecy and shaming and blaming and truth suppression. 

When I look into the eyes of Finley and the little girls in my classes, I am stunned at times by their innocence and purity. And to my horror, they are growing up in a culture where women who disclose abuse against authoritative men are not believed. More times than not, they are shamed and blamed and discredited. Rachael knows because she was one of those women. We should listen to what she says. She speaks with authority on the topic because she has it. She lived it.

So if you are a woman or influence women or girls, these books are important for our time and for #MeToo and #ChurchToo. They are important for adults, and Rachael’s message is equally important to teach our young girls. Young girls need to know they matter, and they need to know their value. 

She’s worth more than power and protecting a name. 

Amen.

 

July 24, 2019

This is Nancy Beach’s brilliant post, used with permission.
No one speaks more wisdom into the Willow situation than Nancy Beach.
No commentary needed. Last night’s meeting at Willow is incomprehensible to me.

Please God……let them do the right thing.

That was my prayer and fervent hope as I walked into the Lakeside Auditorium last night for the meeting led by 9 new elders. The main floor was full, so a kind usher allowed us to sneak up into the balcony. There were 4 of us – my husband Warren, and our close friends who have been Willow members for decades.

The evening began with teaching on Reconciliation, grounded in Scripture.

Good beginning…

Then Shoji Bolt spoke about their process, based on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s work on Reconciliation. She mentioned the first stage was about Listening to the Stories, uncovering truth.

Yes, that is what these new elders have been doing. Now she will tell us what they learned.

But the mic was passed to Sylvia Escobar, who talked about how she was initially judgmental when she learned of the news beginning in March 2018. She challenged all of us to examine our hearts, to see where we have been judgmental and to confess this to God.

Ok, so now she will surely explain what she knows now and she will specifically name the sins and apologize.

But before I knew it, we were taking Communion together, led by Steve Gillen.

 This is a strange order of events….I thought confession and communion would come after Transparency and Truth…

Once we had participated in the Sacrament, the evening began to shift toward the future. Talking about how the Vision of Willow has not changed, updates on the Search for a new Senior Pastor. Prayers for the upcoming Leadership Summit.

I looked at my husband with big eyes and whispered, “That’s it….they’re not going to talk about it!”

I had such hopes for how this group of new elders would steward the information, the stories we told. In the past several weeks, Leanne and Jim Mellado, Nancy Ortberg, and Vonda and Scott Dyer all flew in to meet with them. Warren and I also had a meeting for a few hours, and I sat for 2 ½ hours as Pat Baranowski bravely, once again, told them her tragic story. These elders were compassionate and listened with tremendous empathy. They believed us. Many of them wept when they heard our stories. They apologized for how we were treated. I told many of my friends and family how hopeful I was.

And last night….that hope evaporated. I was stunned and devastated. They never spoke specifically about the information they hold. No names were spoken, including the name of Bill Hybels.

Whereas in March of 2018 there were two public meetings where several of us were labeled as colluders who mounted a campaign to bring down the church, and where the women were called “liars”, this meeting did not name any of the sin and abuse and deceit and failed leadership. Nothing was owned. No apologies were offered. They just taught about reconciliation.

Here is just a partial list of what I had hoped and expected them to say:

  • The story of how Bill Hybels abused his position of power over and over again creating an unhealthy culture of fear

  • The full 4-5 year process of how a group of us tried to work with the former elders and the lack of a truly impartial investigation

  • How that long process eventually led a group of us to make the exceedingly difficult decision to go to the press – after all the other options had been thwarted, including the attempts over 9 months to meet with Bill

  • How Bill instructed that his email evidence be destroyed, learned by the former elders in July 2018

  • The ways in which the character of the Ortbergs, Mellados, Betty Schmidt, Vonda Dyer, and myself were maligned

  • The serious errors of judgment made by the former elders and senior staff to believe Bill Hybels and not pursue the truth relentlessly

  • The severe cost of the abuse and harassment on the lives of all the women involved – Pat Baranowski’s story alone should fill us with outrage

  • The fact that the current elders have reached out more than once to the Hybels and they have declined to engage.

Truth and Transparency must come before Reconciliation. The church continues to refuse to tell the truth, to name what has happened, to call out sin. The meeting last night would have been wonderful if it had been a future step, after we acknowledge the mess and clean it up.

We trusted these new elders with our stories. We were vulnerable and open all over again. I was stunned and profoundly disappointed that they did not steward the stories well, that they did not go public with what they know to be true, other than the written statement released last week with some general statements and apologies. I wish they would have allowed some of us to speak, to share our story and experience with the congregation.

I realize that many who read this may well think, “Those people will never be satisfied.” I understand your point of view and the deep desire to move on. But please try, just for a moment, to put yourself in our shoes. We are only asking for people to courageously speak the truth. To call out and name the sin so that genuine healing can take place.

I lost hope last night that this will be made right. I keep trying to release it to the God of Justice. I am worn out and weary. Father, show me how to let it go…

I will not lose hope in my Heavenly Father. I will not give up on the church. I will continue to pray for and serve the Bride of Christ.

May 29, 2019

By Kellye Fabian, Northern student in our MA in New Testament program

She is the Pastor of Protection, Conciliation, and Doctrinal Casework at Willow Creek Community Church

Author of Sacred Questions: A Transformative Journey Through the Bible.

When I started my masters program at Northern Seminary, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how the experience would impact the ministry I was doing. I didn’t have any specific plans about how I would use what I’d learned or how I might advance my work in light of a new degree. As someone who went to law school to become a lawyer, schooling and degrees in my mind led to particular careers or opportunities. And of course I’m not saying that isn’t the case with a seminary degree. Rather, for me personally, I wasn’t looking for a new career or opportunity and so I wondered what value it would hold.

Also, I felt too old. I would start at age 40. That means I wouldn’t have my degree until age 44! “Isn’t that too old?” I asked a friend and mentor. He responded with these simple and wise words, “Well, whether you go to seminary or not, you’ll be 44 in four years.” Indeed. I decided to go for it because it really seemed God was leading me in that direction and I am a lover of all things learning.

For more information about studying with us,
reach out to our admissions department
or visit the website anytime
at www.seminary.edu/mant/.

Spots are open, so apply today!

I could hardly imagine anything better than reading and talking about theology in an academic environment for four years.

I am now about a year away from graduating (and 43 years old). I still don’t have a new career path in mind, but my seminary experience at Northern has impacted me in a hundred ways, some of which I don’t think I could even identify at this point. But let me name a few that I am very aware of:

  • My faith has deepened and become more grounded. One thing I had not considered when I started seminary was how my faith might be impacted. I had heard that people become more skeptical, cynical, and perhaps even jaded while in seminary. The opposite has happened for me. My love for, allegiance to, and wonder about Jesus Christ has only expanded. This is a testament to my professors and the reading they have assigned. I am at the same time more convinced of the truth of the gospel and more aware of the mystery of the gospel. This deepening of faith allows me to do my ministry work with more trust that God really is at work, and with more compassion for those who are struggling.
  • I know how to respond to questions better. Before seminary, I tended to look at individual passages of Scripture for the answers that I had or that others might pose. Of course this isn’t a bad practice necessarily, but perhaps just a narrow practice. I have learned to look at what Scripture says overall, how to understand a question in the big scheme of what God is doing to redeem and restore the world, and to rely on God’s loving kindness as being at the heart of the answer to any question. Because of this, I don’t fear being asked questions like I once did. I used to think I would be seen as a fraud if I didn’t have a clear answer to a particular question. I do know more now, for sure, but I also am more confident that wrestling through questions and doubts is a central and important feature of faith. Generally, when someone has a question, there is a deeper truth they are wondering about. God grows us, reveals truth to us, and loves us in the midst of our asking and searching.
  • I am more comfortable with mystery and uncertainty. You might think that after going to seminary, you would be more certain of the answers. As if seminary kind of unlocks the mystery that everyone else has to live with. There are definitely facts I have learned and theories I have come to understand. And there are fundamental truths—the actual death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for example. There is also great mystery that surrounds God and the way God works in individual lives, people groups, and the world. Upon seeing and learning from so many scholars, theologians, and pastors, throughout history, I have become more able to embrace this mystery without it undermining my faith. In this way, I can be present with people in their pain, questions, and even anger much more easily. I can catch glimpses of where God is at work and identify that to the people with whom I meet.
  • Church tradition really matters. One of the biggest discoveries for me in seminary has been the thinking and writing of the church mothers and fathers. I still am frequently stunned at the sophisticated thinking that was taking place in the first and second centuries. What a treasure trove of wisdom and brilliance I have missed! The fact that theologians and thinkers have been wrestling with the same truths and ideas that we are working through today is faith-building. I have come to appreciate creeds, traditional prayers, and historical spiritual practices. When the people I meet with question their faith, are at a loss for words because they are in seasons of pain or doubt, or are looking to deepen their own faith, I can point them to these resources for encouragement and grounding.
  • The Church really matters. At a time when people are leaving the church or dismissing it as irrelevant to their faith, I have come to see the importance of the church. This comes from having my eyes opened to the church as more than a Sunday morning service. I can see the church now as a living body that dates back more than 2,000 years now. It is a tradition of faithful believers wrestling with how to follow Christ and live in the kingdom now in light of their own cultural realities. Through my seminary classes, I have realized something that seems obvious: we need other viewpoints to fully understand the depth and breadth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Scripture, God’s presence with us, and the way to live out our faith. My classes include people from different faith traditions, races, ethnicities, countries, genders, socio-economic status, and life experiences. In other words, my classes have represented the church. Only by listening to and spending time with believers with such diverse backgrounds and experiences can I really understand God and faith in practice.

I can’t wait to see what else God shows me about himself and how to better love others as I finish my last year at Northern.

 

 

May 25, 2019

Good morning! This rainbow, not just seen around this area of late, but speaks a promise that the rains will end.

Yea for Tupac!

(CNN)The stress of senior year can be overwhelming. Combine that with challenges at home, and it can derail any high school student’s academic career.

Memphis high school senior Tupac Mosley maintained a 4.3 GPA, scored a 31 on his ACT, and was named valedictorian — all while dealing with the death of his father and the lack of a permanent home.
His accomplishments earned him dozens of college scholarships worth more than $3 million.
“It’s honestly an honor and a blessing,” he told CNN’s New Day.
Mosley had set a personal goal of reaching $1 million in scholarships in an effort to “do the best for my school.” When the offers started coming in, he said “I wanted to beat a million.”
“I actually did not know that I received $3 million until graduation,” he said.
Hardships were never an excuse for Mosley, according to Raleigh Egypt High School principal Shari Meeks, who told CNN that the soon-to-be college freshman always has a smile on his face.
Mosley isn’t the only member of his family to reach academic highs. His older brother was also valedictorian.
Mosley, who at one point was living in a tent, credits his family, friends and all the people at his school for his success.
“They have all been a great support to me,” he said.
In September, Mosley will be attending Tennessee State University where he plans to major in electrical engineering.

Fleming Rutledge displays the uncommon grace called wisdom:

The Roman Catholic Church is profoundly wounded, these days, but they do have teaching—the magisterium—and there is something to be said about that. Living in dialectical tension means showing respect for that, however hypocritical it may seem. I have been influenced, over the years, by the thinking of the Roman Catholic Church on sexual and reproductive matters. This teaching is widely derided by the culture, but I have always been impressed with the way that their best thinkers have worked out comprehensive ethical positions at length. I still remember years ago reading a Catholic defense of the “rhythm method” of birth control that impressed me, even though I never tried to live by it. Ruminating about this sort of double-mindedness has not led me to any fixed position. By writing this down, however, I hope I might make a contribution toward a more forthright way of being Christian in the midst of the impending conflict.

9)      Because there will always be abortions, it will always be the poor, underprivileged women who will suffer. This has often been a decisive factor in the thinking of those who are against abortion but reluctant to make it illegal.

10)  Abortions undergone because of inconvenience are particularly hard to defend ethically.

11)  The role of men who have fathered children who will be aborted is deeply problematic. Suppose a man fathers a child and pressures, or forces, the woman into having an abortion (a frequent scenario). Suppose a man who fathers a child is deeply distressed that the child is to be aborted and seeks to prevent it (less frequent, in my experience, but significant nevertheless). Suppose a man offers to adopt such a child and is refused by the woman who goes ahead with the abortion (also infrequent but significant).

12)  For these and other reasons, it is wrong and deeply unChristian to speak simply of “a woman’s right to choose.” There are two other human beings in this equation, the father and the unborn (not to mention God). Situations in life differ drastically; ethical decisions should not be made with reference to the woman alone.

Very good piece by John Hawthorne, suggesting that Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm revolution model can be fruitful to explain the challenge of people like Rachel Held Evans to “normal” evangelicalism:

This presumed homogeneity of Normal Evangelicalism has been challenged with the availability of the Internet. Suddenly other voices were focused on those questions and perspectives that the dominant paradigm thinks shouldn’t be raised. These new voices, disproportionally women’s voices, didn’t arise from the establishment — as Tish Warren observed in 2017:

This social media revolution has had a unique and immense impact on women, in particular. Women’s voices—which historically have been marginalized in the church—are suddenly amplified in this new medium.

In light of Kuhn’s model, it is instructive that Warren refers to these changes as “a crisis”. She’s correct, especially from the perspective of Normal Evangelicalism.

Rachel Held Evans, Jen Hatmaker, and numerous others occupied the space that Warren was describing. They benefitted from the dramatic way in which social media democratizes and deinstitutionalizes communication. They were able to build significant followings precisely because they were willing to wrestle with the anomalies in Normal Evangelicalism. …

Voices challenging the Establishment paradigm can be seen in a host of other places as well: the #ChurchToo response to abuse in places like Willow Creek and some SBC congregations, the alignment of evangelicalism with pro-Trump triumphalism, critiques of the purity culture movement, and the recent actions of the United Methodist Church on LGBT issues.

It remains to be seen what is on the other side of the Crisis period.. My best guess, following Kuhn, is that new voices which are addressing tough questions and realistically struggling with them through the lens of vital Christian faith will prevail. David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me suggests that the younger generation is eager to engage that struggle.

Building a New Paradigm is hard. The lack of power centers relative to Establishment Evangelicalism makes that more difficult. Yet seeing that develop is the most likely outcome over the long run. I can’t conclude this piece better than Kristin DuMez concluded hers from this morning, so I’ll simply quote her.

It remains to be seen what sort of power Beth Moore and the network of evangelical women she has forged will exert in the face of conservative evangelical networks. It also remains to be seen what will be come of the coalition of progressive Christian women Rachel Held Evans helped forge without Evans herself at its hub. In many ways, however, the future of American evangelicalism will unfold in terms of the relative power struggles within and among such networks and coalitions.

Donating meals, donating 30,000 meals!

LAS CRUCES – The arrival of about 25 motorcycles Friday afternoon announced the donation of 30,000 non-perishable meals for migrants being processed at the former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Brown Road.

Las Cruces Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Daniels, the emergency operations commander on scene, said the donation was a welcome surprise.

The bikers arrived ready to unload five or six pallets’ worth of meals from Pack Away Hunger, an Indiana-based nonprofit that distributes meals in pouches that can be prepared with hot water. The organization delivers to countries worldwide.

They arrived without announcement, and with the help of migrants, who immediately lined up to assist, the meals were unloaded in minutes.

Their first stop had been the nearby transitional living community, Camp Hope, where they delivered 5,000 meals.

City spokesman Udell Vigil told the Sun-News the motorcycle clubs at the scene included the Bandidos, Soldados, Squad, Riga, and Guardians of Children.

Victoria Fisk, a former educator who lives in Las Cruces, told the Sun-News the donation came about after she contacted a friend who worked with Pack Away Hunger.

As it happened, a large shipment was being organized for sites in Guatemala and Honduras, she said, and the organization arranged to send some meals to Las Cruces.

“This went so fast,” Fisk said. “We literally put it together a week ago.”

Daniels said that Border Patrol continued to release the migrants, who are legally present in the United States while applying for political asylum, at the facility Friday, with 216 on the premises at lunchtime. Daily drop-offs of asylum seekers have been ongoing in Las Cruces since April 12.

34, that’s the number!

Thirty-four African American women are expected to graduate from West Point next weekend — the highest number of black women to graduate in the same class in the history of the military academy.

A photo of the historic class of 2019 circulated on social media this week as students finish up their final exams.

“My hope when young Black girls see these photos is that they understand that regardless of what life presents you, you have the ability and fortitude to be a force to be reckoned with,” cadet Tiffany Welch-Baker told the website Because of Them We Can.

West Point was founded in 1802 and, according to the National Park Service, graduated its first African American cadet in 1877. The first class that included women graduated more than a century later, in 1980. Last year, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams was appointed as West Point’s first African American superintendent, CNN reported.

This year’s class will also include the highest number of Hispanic graduates and the institution’s 5,000th female graduate, according to ABC affiliate WABC.

Simone Askew made history in 2017 as the first African American woman to lead the walk-on of the Cadet Corps before that year’s Army-Navy game. Askew’s mother told ABC at the time that watching the Army-Navy game as a child inspired her to attend a military academy.

In 2016, a group of 16 African American women about to graduate from West Point stirred controversy when a photo of them with raised fists surfaced. The military academy opened an investigation into whether or not the students violated the army’s rules on political expression, and later decided to take no punitive action against them.

Vice President Mike Pence will speak at this year’s graduation ceremony, his second visit to the institution.

Yes for libraries!

Right now, libraries in many parts of the U.S. are facing cuts to funding. The most visible case of this is the New York Public Library, which while not technically facing a cut is only receiving an increase from $387.7 million to $388.8 million, which given inflation and increased demand for services, amounts to a cut. High profile figures, including Sarah Jessica Parker have joined the fight to increase library funding in the different boroughs of New York City.

I think libraries are one of the best deals out there today for those who pay taxes. I only occasionally borrow books at the library, but even my occasional borrowing, if I consider the retail price of the book, more than offsets the portion of my taxes.

My basic argument for libraries is that they are one of the most powerful weapons we have for sustaining our democracy, particularly given the growing income disparities in our country.

  • They provide online access, computer terminals, and printing facilities for those who cannot afford these.
  • They offer books for children who cannot afford them, fostering literacy at the most critical time of life.
  • They provide resources for job searches, and often basic courses in job-seeking, and computer literacy that is fundamental for many workers.
  • Many offer homework assistance for students and language assistance for immigrants wanting to learn English.
  • Libraries make available expensive manuals and reference materials for those who by necessity are do-it-yourselfers.
  • Many offer help with college admissions tests, helping to offset the advantages that more affluent students have with test prep courses and other assistance, legal or illegal, in getting admitted to colleges.

In addition, libraries offer so much at no cost to patrons simply for personal growth and entertainment–books, recorded music, videos in both physical and e-formats. They offer a range of programs serving every age group from children to seniors for personal enrichment. The demand for all these services continues to rise, often meaning personnel in the libraries are trying to stretch funding to acquire materials, and often the same people are working harder and longer–many of whom hold at least masters degrees in library science.

Single dad boss with virtue:

I’ve been a member of the publishing workforce for well over a decade, and I’ve had a wide variety of bosses. Those who would look at me sideways if I left the office at 6:00 p.m. to work out, and those who expected me to respond to every email within minutes, even those sent in the middle of the night. I’ve also been fortunate to work at some very healthy media companies who prioritize employee wellness and whose executives set a strong model for what healthy work-life balance might look like – which is the exactly the type of boss that Ian Sohn, president of Wunderman Chicago seems like.

In a note to his employees on LinkedIn, the single dad makes a number of very powerful statements to his staff. “I never need to know you’ll be back online after dinner. I never need to know why you chose to watch season 1 of ‘Arrested Development’ (for the 4th time) on your flight to LA instead of answering emails. I never need to know you’ll be in late because of a dentist appointment. Or that you’re leaving early for your kid’s soccer game. I never need to know why you can’t travel on a Sunday.” He emphasized that he has faith in his staff to make good decisions and doesn’t feel the need to keep tabs on them.

April 15, 2019

By Kellye Fabian, Northern student in our MA in New Testament program

She is the Pastor of Protection, Conciliation, and Doctrinal Casework at Willow Creek Community Church

Author of Sacred Questions: A Transformative Journey Through the Bible.

When I started my masters program at Northern Seminary, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how the experience would impact the ministry I was doing. I didn’t have any specific plans about how I would use what I’d learned or how I might advance my work in light of a new degree. As someone who went to law school to become a lawyer, schooling and degrees in my mind led to particular careers or opportunities. And of course I’m not saying that isn’t the case with a seminary degree. Rather, for me personally, I wasn’t looking for a new career or opportunity and so I wondered what value it would hold.

Also, I felt too old. I would start at age 40. That means I wouldn’t have my degree until age 44! “Isn’t that too old?” I asked a friend and mentor. He responded with these simple and wise words, “Well, whether you go to seminary or not, you’ll be 44 in four years.” Indeed. I decided to go for it because it really seemed God was leading me in that direction and I am a lover of all things learning.

I could hardly imagine anything better than reading and talking about theology in an academic environment for four years.

I am now about a year away from graduating (and 43 years old). I still don’t have a new career path in mind, but my seminary experience at Northern has impacted me in a hundred ways, some of which I don’t think I could even identify at this point. But let me name a few that I am very aware of:

  • My faith has deepened and become more grounded. One thing I had not considered when I started seminary was how my faith might be impacted. I had heard that people become more skeptical, cynical, and perhaps even jaded while in seminary. The opposite has happened for me. My love for, allegiance to, and wonder about Jesus Christ has only expanded. This is a testament to my professors and the reading they have assigned. I am at the same time more convinced of the truth of the gospel and more aware of the mystery of the gospel. This deepening of faith allows me to do my ministry work with more trust that God really is at work, and with more compassion for those who are struggling.
  • I know how to respond to questions better. Before seminary, I tended to look at individual passages of Scripture for the answers that I had or that others might pose. Of course this isn’t a bad practice necessarily, but perhaps just a narrow practice. I have learned to look at what Scripture says overall, how to understand a question in the big scheme of what God is doing to redeem and restore the world, and to rely on God’s loving kindness as being at the heart of the answer to any question. Because of this, I don’t fear being asked questions like I once did. I used to think I would be seen as a fraud if I didn’t have a clear answer to a particular question. I do know more now, for sure, but I also am more confident that wrestling through questions and doubts is a central and important feature of faith. Generally, when someone has a question, there is a deeper truth they are wondering about. God grows us, reveals truth to us, and loves us in the midst of our asking and searching.
  • I am more comfortable with mystery and uncertainty. You might think that after going to seminary, you would be more certain of the answers. As if seminary kind of unlocks the mystery that everyone else has to live with. There are definitely facts I have learned and theories I have come to understand. And there are fundamental truths—the actual death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for example. There is also great mystery that surrounds God and the way God works in individual lives, people groups, and the world. Upon seeing and learning from so many scholars, theologians, and pastors, throughout history, I have become more able to embrace this mystery without it undermining my faith. In this way, I can be present with people in their pain, questions, and even anger much more easily. I can catch glimpses of where God is at work and identify that to the people with whom I meet.
  • Church tradition really matters. One of the biggest discoveries for me in seminary has been the thinking and writing of the church mothers and fathers. I still am frequently stunned at the sophisticated thinking that was taking place in the first and second centuries. What a treasure trove of wisdom and brilliance I have missed! The fact that theologians and thinkers have been wrestling with the same truths and ideas that we are working through today is faith-building. I have come to appreciate creeds, traditional prayers, and historical spiritual practices. When the people I meet with question their faith, are at a loss for words because they are in seasons of pain or doubt, or are looking to deepen their own faith, I can point them to these resources for encouragement and grounding.
  • The Church really matters. At a time when people are leaving the church or dismissing it as irrelevant to their faith, I have come to see the importance of the church. This comes from having my eyes opened to the church as more than a Sunday morning service. I can see the church now as a living body that dates back more than 2,000 years now. It is a tradition of faithful believers wrestling with how to follow Christ and live in the kingdom now in light of their own cultural realities. Through my seminary classes, I have realized something that seems obvious: we need other viewpoints to fully understand the depth and breadth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Scripture, God’s presence with us, and the way to live out our faith. My classes include people from different faith traditions, races, ethnicities, countries, genders, socio-economic status, and life experiences. In other words, my classes have represented the church. Only by listening to and spending time with believers with such diverse backgrounds and experiences can I really understand God and faith in practice.

I can’t wait to see what else God shows me about himself and how to better love others as I finish my last year at Northern.

 

 

March 5, 2019

From Nancy Beach:

I have been asked by friends, family, and a few reporters how I feel and what I think about the recently released report by the IAG (Independent Advisory Group) concerning the allegations related to Bill Hybels (BH). Here’s my bottom line: I believe the report got the big ideas right:

  • The allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions by BH were credible.
  • Over multiple decades, the WCCC boards were unable to provide sufficient oversight of BH.
  • BH verbally and emotionally intimidated both female and male employees.
  • The organizational culture of WCCC and the WCA was positively and negatively affected by the power, influence and management style of the founder and leader.

That being said, after reading the report I experienced a wide range of emotions – numbness, great sadness, some anger, and an overall feeling of, “Is that all there is?”  Last year at this time I was in Florida, waiting for the Chicago Tribune article to come out.  One year later, I find myself reflecting often on the extreme challenges, deep pain, and totally unexpected events of this past year. I know I am not alone in this story, and only represent one dimension and perspective on what has taken place. For me it has not been a story of one year, but of 5 years now since I first learned of allegations of a 14 year affair with BH, confessed to Leanne Mellado. I joined a process that spanned the next several years, seeking to bring that truth to light with the elders of Willow Creek and the Board of the WCA.  Of course my story goes back decades, to a time when I first met Bill as a teenager and the entire trajectory of my life changed.

Many strategic planners and leadership coaches, including me, use a structure to assess their current reality. Four categories are looked at to bring clarity – what is Right, what is Wrong, what is Confused, and what is Missing. I have chosen to react to the IAG report using this outline. Again, this is my personal perspective…

RIGHT

  • I want to begin with gratitude and respect for the 4 members of the IAG. These individuals served without any pay, sacrificing countless hours to listen and learn. All four of them have high integrity and brought decades of experience and accumulated wisdom to this process. They listened respectfully and with grace. Their only motivation was to serve the Kingdom, and they were truly independent of both the church and the WCA.
  • As I mentioned above, their bottom line conclusions were right, in my view.
  • I affirm the IAG calling out the leaders of the WCA who chose to “second their responsibility,” (to the church), stating that “they should have taken greater responsibility to understand the nature and context of the allegations.”

WRONG

  • I think the biggest “Wrong” for me is not the report itself, but the original plan for what the IAG were charged to do. As they stated, this was not an “investigation.” And it was not set up to be one. But this leaves everyone with a lack of closure. This entire situation never had an outside, objective, skilled investigation process. So the report could only look at patterns and recurring themes. I realize that a true investigation will never take place and must accept that reality.

CONFUSED

  • The report stated that “no related email content was recoverable.” I believe there was a big part of the story here that the IAG chose not to tell, concerning how BH made sure, years ago when the reports of the 14 year affair first surfaced, to destroy those e-mails. I am confused why this has not been revealed to the congregation and the WCA in an effort to bring full transparency.
  • The report makes a recommendation that BH “review any possible financial resources (apart from personal retirement benefits or income) provided to him through WCCC and/or the WCA for support of his ministry after his retirement from WC and return such resources.”  I agree with this idea, but think it requires further information and development. I think the donors of the church and the WCA should know what kind of funding BH received and the new elders should discern whether that should be returned.
  • It is confusing and inaccurate to say that BH was merely a “contract employee” for the WCA. He was the head of the Board, the founder, and the primary voice of the entire organization.

MISSING

  • Outrage:  The report sounds dispassionate and somewhat clinical. I realize they need to be professional and objective. But if I’m honest, I long for a sense of outrage. What happened grieves the heart of God. So many lives were broken and affected by the sins of BH and the lack of strong oversight by those called to lead the church and the WCA. Jobs were lost. The consequences are immeasurable. The reputation of the church and the ministry of the WCA were seriously damaged. Followers of Christ around the world were heartbroken to learn that a leader who brought so much vision and leadership lessons had let them down. This is not simply a benign series of misjudgments. This was a tragedy of epic proportions.
  • Lament:  Tracing all the way back to last March, I’m wondering where the lament of God’s people has been. Willow Crystal Lake, one of the satellite sites, did hold an evening of lament and confession. But I’m not aware that a similar experience took place at the Barrington campus, or as a part of last year’s Summit. I believe we all need more grieving before moving on. I keep hearing about “the new season” and how the church and WCA were never about one person. That is true. But what is also true is that the founder of a world changing movement, the primary voice and visionary leader followed by scores of people, has committed serious sins and then lied to cover up those sins. I agree with Scot McKnight who called us to lament.
  • Greater Transparency:  What is missing in the report are details. Why do details matter? Because there are still people wondering if this could possibly be an over-reaction, if the women are fully telling the truth, if Bill’s abuse of power was really just “strong leadership.” I am aware of specific evidence and many episodes and stories that were told to the IAG. None of that comes out in the report. But it’s not too late if Willow Creek Community Church and the WCA choose to get all the important information out there. Why not clear the air? What are we afraid of? Details matter.
  • Specific Apologies:  In an effort to move on, I believe what is missing are still some specific, long overdue apologies. These should be made publicly. Several people had their good names and reputations dragged through the mud. The Mellados and Ortbergs were called “colluders” who had a “vendetta” against BH and the church. That is false information. The words spoken by Betty Schmidt, Vonda Dyer, myself and others were challenged and called lies by some. This should be made right. I also believe the elders who resigned should cycle back and apologize more completely for their serious missteps. In addition, the Board of the WCA and its leaders should apologize for not fulfilling their responsibility to take greater care with the information they received, and for allowing misinformation about the victims to be distributed globally. The WCA should also clear up any impression that their former President, Jim Mellado, had any motives to bring down Bill Hybels, the church or the WCA.
  • Reparations:  The IAG recommended that the church consider granting financial assistance for counseling or other resources for those who were directly harmed by their interactions with BH.  I agree, but think what is missing would be the scope of this assistance. Specifically, I believe the church should consider making major compensation to Pat Baranowski and Vonda Dyer, who both lost income or incurred financial repercussions because of the behavior of BH. Even though the current church leaders had nothing to do with the sin that affected the victims, I call them to do the right thing for these victims or any others deemed worthy of financial help.
  • Repentance From Bill Hybels: Finally, perhaps the biggest thing missing are any words from Bill himself. Words of genuine, full, complete repentance. His silence further hurts all the victims. I pray regularly that God will do a work in his heart and spirit, that he will pursue truth, counseling, confession and forgiveness.
December 21, 2018

Two big ones this year in Chicagoland, two big pastors the foundations of whose empires have been shaken. First it was Willow Creek and Bill Hybels, now it is Harvest Bible Chapel and James Macdonald.

I knew far more about the former than I do about the latter. Neither is specifically in view here. Instead, I speak about a theological and ecclesial problem: pastors and power. What we have in these, and far too many similar church situations is pastoral abuse of power. Today’s post is about power in the pastorate, not about any one pastor — but instead about all of powermongering pastors.

What do we learn when we think about the pastor and power problem? (We could think through this with 1 Kings 21, the story about Naboth and his Vineyard, so I have posted the text at the end. Powermongering always works in similar ways.)

Before we begin, a powermongering pastor is spiritually deformed and unformed. It’s a character issue; it’s a spiritual formation issue. A powermongering pastor is behind the problem of power in the pastorate. Here we go…

First, we need to recognize that it is a culture that empowers, supports, and is morally blind to power abuse. Such a culture has to be created over time. It doesn’t happen because a pastor wants it, though he (I’ll leave this post in the masculine) may well want it. Wanting it doesn’t create it; it takes more than the pastor.

It takes a pastor, some elders and leaders around the pastor, and some systems and structures and policies that emerge into a Power Culture: marked by centralization of power into the pastor’s office, the knowledge on the part of elders and deacons and leaders of stuff going on, the requirement of silence, the punishment of opponents and critics, the labeling of critics, the narrating of an alternative (fake) story of what is going on, the assignment of impure motives by those designated as opponents and the assumption of pure motives by the pastor and elders and leaders… I could go on, you know the story.

Second, what we have learned in studying power cultures in churches is this: churches need to know that the persona on the stage and behind the pulpit (the preaching pastor) is not the person behind closed doors or with his friends.

This is hard to make sense of if you are an ordinary pew sitter, but let’s begin there: far too many in churches where there is a Power Culture are pew sitters who equate the persona with the person. Only those who know the pastor well, and not many will, know the clarity of the difference. Personas are glorified, heroized and valorized; persons are sinners. That pastor, though drunk in a Power Culture, is not the persona.

Third, what happens when ugly and unbiblical and unethical and even immoral realities become known? Power Cultures can only be redeemed when the sin of the Power Culture and pastor is revealed.

Sometimes the sins can be known, and it is a sad reality — next point is coming into play here — that the elders and leaders don’t do due diligence here but often need outsiders to unmask the sin and reveal the persona for the person he is. Sometimes it is a disgruntled employee but these days it seems to be journalists and social media and bloggers. They are driven to this by what happens when the sin becomes known.

Fourth, this is a sad reality about churches: most of these churches stuck in a Power Culture tend to protect the church, its reputation, its ministries, and the finances needed to keep the boat floating. They believe the heroized persona because they don’t know the person, they trust the persona because the Power Culture has colluded to protect the persona and the church with its Power Culture.

Fifth, it happens that the truth becomes known inside and the church begins to want to tell the truth. What happens next? Sadly, churches tend to leak only small bits of information about the realities: some truth, some spin, more hidden than known. The small bits of sin are spun into a story that still protects and fails to confront the Power Culture and the persona.

What is needed is repentance, admission; what is not needed is the most common ploy: blame the leader, blame the system, and then move on as if it was someone else’s fault. The reality is that the Power Culture is not just the pastor but everyone participates in differing ways. (More about that some other day.)

Sixth, because the truth is only admitted in small bits, some more critics speak up. Often the church admits only what it has to admit and no more; the church often knows the sin at a far deeper level but since others don’t know the pervasive presence of sin the church chooses to tell more than it has to.

It is best when actual courageous elders, leaders — some former some current — admit the truth, but often they need to be pushed to tell the full truth.  Then some journalists, bloggers and social media take the issue on. Only then does the truth come out, only then is the Power Culture unmasked and only then does the Persona become a person, a real sinner who needs deep repentance and formation.

Seventh, it is then at this time that the church faces a Y in the path: Will it pursue truth or protect the reputation? Will it turn the reality into a “season” or will it denounce the Power Culture and the Persona’s sinful ways? Will it denounce the elders and leaders who propped up the Power Culture? Will it turn back to basics, to the gospel about Jesus and start over?

Will it repent and admit complicity? will it confess collective responsibility?

Naboth and His Vineyard — Taken by Power-mongering King Ahab

1Kings 21:1   Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.  2 And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.”  3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.”  4 Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

1Kings 21:5   His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?”  6 He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”  7 His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

1Kings 21:8   So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city.  9 She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly;  10 seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.”  11 The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them,  12 they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly.  13 The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death.  14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

1Kings 21:15   As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.”  16 As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

1Kings 21:17   Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying:  18 Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession.  19 You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

1Kings 21:20   Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD,  21 I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel;  22 and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.  23 Also concerning Jezebel the LORD said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’  24 Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.”

1Kings 21:25   (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel.  26 He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD drove out before the Israelites.)

1Kings 21:27   When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly.  28 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite:  29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.”


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