The Willow Creek Community Church continues to be a Chicago Tribune fascination. While the Tribune gets credit for exposing the wrongdoings of the Church's founder and following what resulted from this revelation, it appears the story is far from over. The Elders, took "action" after the Tribune's expose and the founder ultimately "went away". No, it was not the Elders' best moment as they actually knew of allegations long before the Tribune's work but chose to stay loyal to the founder. Not a shining moment. And sense the departure of the founder the Elders appear to have stumbled along with a more recent resignation of a replacement education pastor and well..just not making folks happy (or in churchy terms, getting reconciliation moving forward).
Now, according to today's Tribune, the elders are inviting "outside" church leaders to come-in and conduct another investigation of the founder. I am not 100% clear about what the Elders believe will be accomplished with this move and it would strike me that in the worse scenario, the outsiders would affirm that the inside leaders really screwed up (well, it appears they did more than that but...). How does this help the congregation move forward? No idea.
I would suggest that insiders are the answer that would move everything forward. Why do these elders not consult with their members and ask them to investigate and recommend the next steps (which likely includes removing the Elders although that's probably a good reason not to work with the members although I would have thought it was the members who were the original source of the Elders. I mean, where did these folks come from in the first place if not the membership?
So, enough with investigations. The responsible Elders should form member task forces to find the solutions. And yes, if they need outside facilitators, that might be helpful to the process, but bringing in outsiders to do another investigation....just doesn't add value in my opinion.
Yes, being leadership is not a simple task. Most folks are not born with knowing how to govern. Common sense is an important asset for learning the ropes.
Here's the Tribune story.
Willow Creek to launch ‘independent’ probe
Donor to fund inquiry
Critics say yet another Hybels inquiry won’t solve problem
A day after the sudden resignation of its lead teaching pastor, Willow Creek Community Church told members Monday that a council of outside Christian leaders will oversee what the church calls an “independent investigation” of allegations against its founder, Bill Hybels.
“This has been a difficult process because of the public nature of these allegations, but we are working on finalizing this key group of people,” lead pastor Heather Larson wrote to members of the South Barrington megachurch. “This council will have full autonomy and authority to pursue and investigate any and all allegations.”
She added that an anonymous outside donor will fund the cost of the inquiry to ensure that its credibility isn’t called into question. Through a spokesman, the church declined to clarify why another investigation was necessary and whether there were more allegations in addition to those already reported.
Victim advocates and theologians immediately questioned the church’s definition of independence and said in order for more women to feel safe enough to share their stories, the current leadership must step aside.
The only investigations that should be taking place, they said, include a search for more victims and an examination of how the church’s governance allowed Hybels’ alleged abuse to go unchecked. Otherwise, they say, the latest announcement is just another iteration of previous inquiries that absolved leaders, including Hybels.
“The only way a credible independent investigation could possibly occur is if the current leadership all steps down,” said Boz Tchividjian, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Florida and founder of a nonprofit group that helps victims of sexual abuse and abuse of power by clergy members. “They have overseen the last year, and it’s been a disaster. They’ve eviscerated any trust that any victim would have with regard to Willow.”
Hybels stepped down from the helm of Willow Creek in April following a Tribune investigation that revealed allegations of misconduct with women — including church employees — spanning decades.
The alleged behavior detailed by the Tribune included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the newspaper found.
Hybels had been the subject of a series of inquiries by Willow Creek’s elders, including one conducted by an outside law firm, but he had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the allegations they examined, the Tribune reported.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported another allegation by Hybels’ former executive assistant Pat Baranowski that involved back rubs, pornography and one incident of oral sex with her boss and pastor.
The latest allegation spurred theologian Scot McKnight to blog Monday morning about the need for an independent council to find new leaders for Willow Creek.
“It is time to form an independent council of wisdom — leaders chosen by wise, non-Willow evangelical leaders — that can pastor what’s left of (Willow Creek Community Church) and the (Willow Creek Association), to investigate the governance of Willow and how it was able to be so thoroughly wrong, to work out a new governance and find new leaders,” wrote McKnight, a professor of the New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard. The association is an international network of churches loosely affiliated with Willow Creek.
Hours later, Larson released her letter to members introducing the concept of the advisory council. McKnight said it was a positive sign but there were still too many lingering questions.
Hybels no longer has any role with the church that he founded in a rented movie theater 42 years ago and built into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential megachurches.
In the four months since he was accused, the response from church elders and staff has gradually shifted. Their initial defense of Hybels, who called the allegations misleading or “flat-out lies,” turned into a limited apology for dismissing the women’s concerns.
Then last month, lead teaching pastor Steve Carter set in motion a chain of public apologies by church leaders. He wrote on his blog that he had personally apologized to several of the women who had come forward. He also told church elders he believed the church had mishandled allegations against Hybels and the subsequent investigation of those claims.
Larson subsequently delivered her own apology from the pulpit. Willow Creek’s elders later posted a written statement on the church’s website. Still, Carter resigned Sunday, citing “a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best.”
On Monday, Larson told members that she found the behavior described by Baranowski “reprehensible.”
Nancy Beach, the church’s first female teaching pastor, recounted more than one conversation or interaction she felt was inappropriate during moments alone with Hybels over the years. She doesn’t want to discount the church’s effort to do the right thing, but after three so-called investigations over four years, she’s skeptical that women will trust another process devised by Willow Creek leaders.
“One of the weaknesses of the nondenominational world is that we don’t have bishops or hierarchy of people to step in and bring perspective and wisdom and help in these situations,” she said. “It’s a version of that … I do think outside help is important right now.”
But McKnight said the council shouldn’t be a short-term solution. Willow Creek’s integrity has been compromised, he said, and such a council needs to do more than oversee an investigation.
“It also needs to come before the elders and guide the church for the next few years,” he said. “This church needs to be reconstructed.”