Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—
of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15
Like thousands of other pastors and ministry leaders, I’ve been following the media-saturated, slow-motion drama at Willow Creek Church near Chicago. The church known for presenting drama on its stage has itself become a stage for a drama to the world. The short story is that former senior pastor Bill Hybels has been accused of sexual misconduct, which he has denied. The church has been accused of mishandling the accusations. After Hybels resigned in April, I opined in this blog that the church would shift into silent mode and handle the matter privately.
As it turns out, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. If my predictions about the future were applied to the standard of biblical prophecy, I’d be in heap big trouble. Stones would be flying in my direction. I wouldn’t have to worry about buying a cemetery plot. Thankfully, I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. Various accusers have continued to make public statements about Hybels and Willow Creek. Some of it is new information. Third-party critics have piled on. The church has retracted previous statements, apologized for missteps, and asserted new corrections. Hybels himself issued a limited apology, but has mostly remained silent. Analysis of the situation varies widely, depending on which website you’re perusing. The scandal has escalated into a conflict. Two websites have been particularly helpful to me in navigating the minefield.
Dr. Jim Meyer wrote in his blog:
Having been a pastor for thirty-six years, I know how difficult it is for people inside a church to confront their pastor about wrongdoing. I could probably count on two hands the number of people that came to me personally over the years, so they stand out in my mind … and I’m probably a gentler person than Hybels.
When he denied any wrongdoing, it’s hard for me to believe that Hybels couldn’t recall those confrontations … especially since both women could have escalated matters by approaching Willow’s elders instead.
Conflicts in churches could be avoided and resolved if people would just address matters as they occur … and that’s certainly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:23-26, and what Paul taught in Ephesians 4:26-27.
The Bible doesn’t give us a specific statute of limitations on confronting those who may have harmed us, but to go back twenty years to complain about a comment the pastor made seems vengeful to me.
There are two surefire ways to destroy a relationship: make a long list of someone’s offenses and recite it back to them … and mention offenses they may have committed that go back many years.
This is the way the world works. This isn’t supposed to be the way the church works.
I just wonder who is influencing whom.
Meyer’s blog is posted here: Four Questions About the Willow Creek Train Wreck
The second helpful website is an anonymous blogger who uses the pseudonym “nanapush.” This person wrote:
It is one thing to call for broad investigations but another to come to terms with a comprehensive investigation: all people making allegations should be assessed for motive and reliability; all people making allegations should be asked to provide evidence; all allegations should be rigorously assessed, interpreted, and cross-checked….
Willow Creek Church can be easily destroyed by people denouncing others with a zeal that can, despite the best of intentions, make justice ever elusive, innocence a casualty of a righteous certainty that eschews thoughtful action and lasting reform in favor of virtue signalling and tenuous solidarity.
The challenge for WCC is to understand dysfunction at the level of the individual, the cultural, and the institutional. Singling out individuals, however powerful they may be, can at best lead to dismissals, lawsuits, and public shaming, but unless the institutional culture in which such actions occurred is examined, substantive change and reform will remain elusive.
Nanapush is posted here: https://nanapush.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/darkness-at-noon-willow-creek-church/
The train wreck at Willow Creek is not an isolated case. This is a seismic cultural shift within the evangelical church. Earlier this year, Dr. Paul Nyquist was forced out as president at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago by a media-saturated campaign against him. The latest media frenzy concerns Dr. Paige Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He was unceremoniously fired earlier this week following numerous allegations of mishandling sex abuse situations and creating a toxic culture of power. Like Hybels, Patterson denied the basic charges. The scandal has degenerated into open warfare with media attacks and counterattacks from accusers and supporters alike. This conflict has enveloped the entire Southern Baptist Convention because of related theological disagreements. The SBC discord appears to be much more vicious than Willow Creek’s conflict, which is almost tame in comparison.
This is a tragic situation. Yesterday Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, tweeted: “My heart has been broken for my beloved Southern Baptist Convention in recent weeks, days, hours. Never more than in last few hours. WE are broken down, indeed. I pray for God to rescue us, and all those we are called to rescue.”
Everybody has dirty laundry. In the past, we used to wash our underwear in private, especially if it was soiled in private. If it was a public sin, we confessed it publicly. Jim Meyer tells a story in his blog about how a woman approached him to confess being angry at him for years for not returning her romantic love. The problem was he never knew she was angry at him. He later wished she hadn’t said anything. He believes it would have been better if she had confessed her private sin in private and left him out of it.
Right now evangelicals are waving their dirty underwear alongside the information super-highway for the world to watch – and mock. The #MeToo movement has overtaken male-dominated conservative churches like a tsunami. What we used to handle in private has become public fodder. We do need to clean up our house. Where the church has tolerated abuse in the past, we must stop. But I’m not sure it will be helpful in the long run to do our house cleaning on social media. We have given opportunity for the enemies of God to blaspheme. They are chiming in gleefully.
It’s not a scandal that we have dirty laundry. That’s a necessary consequence of a church which is led by sinners. The scandal is that we’re scandalized by our own sin. Do we think we are no longer sinners?
If we shouldn’t clean our house in public, why am I posting here? It’s simple. Public sin, public confession.
Yep, I was wrong. The Willow Creek scandal will continue to play out in the public eye. There may no longer be such a thing as a private or confidential matter in the age of social media. This wave does not feel like a passing fad. It feels like a power shift. The rules of public ministry appear to be changing.
The church may never be the same. Long ago I was taught that the state (civil government) is God’s agent for law and punishment. I was taught that the church is God’s agent for grace and redemption. Now it appears that the church is becoming an agent of law and punishment. Who will be left to minister grace and redemption to those are broken in the aftermath?