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.