Statement by John Ortberg on the Willow Creek Leadership Situation

Observations on the Chicago Tribune article re: Willow Creek Leadership

Published April 2nd, 2018

It takes great courage for women to tell their stories.

Even in ordinary settings, it is often risky for women to report misconduct. The high visibility of Willow Creek Community Church makes it even more daunting than an ordinary setting.

When anyone who believes they have been the object of sexual misconduct finds the courage to step up, a robust process needs to be in place to safeguard their testimony and their reputation, as well as to safeguard the church’s ministry and congregation. Most of us will never know the price a woman pays in such a situation. It is rare that there is only one story of misconduct, and if a supportive process is not in place, others who have important information to share may well be discouraged from coming forward.

I was approached over four years ago with disturbing information that I did not seek out. Along with others who received this information, I directed it to the elders of Willow Creek. The process that followed was, in my view, poorly designed and likely to expose any woman who came forward to grave risks.

An independent investigation by an outside, trained expert should have been thoroughly carried out before the senior pastor was first approached. To my knowledge that did not happen. The firm chosen to investigate (more than a year after the first report) is one that, as stated on their website, “exclusively represents management.” Of course, both sides of an accusation deserve a hearing and fair representation, but a firm that is retained by one side, and whose principal work is to represent one side in such disputes, cannot be considered independent.

These concerns, shared by myself and others, were communicated by counsel (who shared those concerns) directly to Willow Creek attorneys, but they proceeded as planned. As a result, I believe they failed to discover and thoroughly investigate important information. I and others were left with the painful decision to not participate in a process I believed lacked genuine independence and credibility.

This is not a reconciliation issue between Bill Hybels and me. We had no conflict. I spent nine wonderful years on Willow Creek’s staff and taught there regularly and joyfully for years after my departure. My wife served with delight on the Willow Creek Association board. The idea that we have colluded to manufacture or encourage these stories is untrue and a diversion. Any call for reconciliation is a complete distraction from the real story. The stories of the women themselves are the main concern.

Anyone who may have been victimized by people in power needs to know that the church of Jesus is their refuge and champion. In this case, the tremendous courage of several women has been met with an inadequate process that has left them without a refuge and with no way to be assured of a fair hearing. Just one week after the Chicago Tribune reported claims of misconduct that had not been investigated by the church, by women willing to be named and by others as yet unwilling to be named, the church held “family meetings” presenting the senior pastor’s and elders’ position. It is clear they hope this will put all these matters to rest.

In a family, all voices should be heard, and every story should be told. This should happen in a setting where there is a balance of power and independent judgment can be made about their accounts.

The women cannot and must not be silenced.

10 comments on “Statement by John Ortberg on the Willow Creek Leadership Situation

  1. Are there support groups / resources for (emotionally) abused husbands? I’ve endured 34 years on and off.

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  2. You can check out “Crying Out for Justice”. It’s generically a blog for domestic violence and it does cater to women who are much more often victims of DV, but they are not demeaning or denying toward male victims.

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  3. I’m encouraged by Ortberg’s response. He is not being intimidated by WC leadership and has written a clear, concise rebuttal. God bless him!

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  4. Pingback: Statement by John Ortberg on the Willow Creek Leadership Situation | Speakingtruthinlove's Blog

  5. It strikes me that the answer to the Hybels conundrum is in those 1150 emails that couldn’t be read for some reason. I can see people objecting to the cost of a full investigation if the evidence aren’t clear, but in this case, a few hours by a competent IT guy can get you your format, whether it’s encrypted,whether other emails were encrypted, and (if decipherable) what was in those emails.

    “We can’t read ’em” just seems a little too convenient here, and a little less than a good IT guy would be able to do with those files. That, along with attacking his accusers, is not a good sign.

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  6. A computer forensics professional should be able to access those “missing” files. And frankly, how do we really know they are missing? Who actually has checked?

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  7. Hi andresetyon – The National Domestic Violence Hotline might be able to help provide support resources where you live. Below are some links to articles that might help. If you would like some help searching for resources specific to where you live and are uncomfortable calling, please send us an email and I will help you locate resources in your area.

    This article has the National Domestic Violence Hotline number attached: http://www.thehotline.org/2014/07/22/men-can-be-victims-of-abuse-too/

    Help4guys.org also offers resources specifically for male victims: http://help4guys.org/get-help/immediate-help-for-victims/

    Male Survivor offers an online search for resources: https://www.malesurvivor.org/find-support/

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  8. andresetyon – Please know that you are not alone. People here will support and encourage you. I hope that you are able to find a connection in some way to help you through the tough moments.

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