I have written before about Bill Hybels. In brief he was a very significant leader and someone I looked up to. Unfortunately it is without doubt that he has been guilty of abuse of power and position in various ways which you can read about if you so desire.
What is on my mind at present though is how we as churches and leaders deal with allegations that happen within our community, and beyond that, explanations of what has happened. Once something had been determined to have happened how do we deal with the aftermath? How do we deal with leaders in Church who have failed, sinned, been abusive.
In the Willow Creeks Church case some of the people who have been victims have been very disappointed that the elders have not named what has happened. Initially there was denial. Many of the victims were named and spoken of in a disparaging way. Now that it has been determined than in fact the balance of probability clearly points to the abuse accusations being accurate. The Church recently held a healing service about the whole issue to try and move on. However many of the victims think that the actions of Bill was glossed over, not dealt with or confessed properly. (Here)
I do not envy the Elders at the Willow Creek Church. They are the ones having to carry the burden of leadership at that Church. In many ways they have taken huge steps to resolving this. And great people such as Pastor Heather Larson and Pastor Steve Carter have taken responsibility and left the church. They have met with many of the victims and heard their stories.
However it is also obvious that a significant amount of hurt and pain remain. And remains unresolved in any significant way.
I cannot make a judgment on Willow Creek and how they have dealt with the victims of Bill’s abuse. It is so complex, for me to voice a view would seem involving a higher level of responsibility and authority than I have.
However in general terms it seems to me that as Churches we have this mistaken notion that to be Christian and loving is to sometimes protect people from the truth. One of the most provocative things Jesus ever said was that the truth will set you free. He meant this in a multi-faceted way. The gospel is the truth, and sets us free from sin and death. The truth sets us free in a wide range of life experiences.
Did the Apostle Paul hold back from the truth? I don’t believe so. He wrote letters which would be read aloud and in public at not only the church he was addressing, but also at various other churches as well. In these letters he named names. He publicly rebuked and chastised members who were sinning, had theological issues, who needed to resolve differences. He made it clear that the church should deal with the church as far as possible.
If I was going to give an analogy I remember when first starting out in ministry I opened up the old Baptismal which had been unused for years. When I opened up the old covers to the light, the cockroaches scattered. I cleaned and scrubbed that dirty old concrete until it shone and smelt hospital clean. We then celebrated new life as young people declared their commitment to Jesus.
Until you name something you cannot be free from it. And I suspect as Christians we are far too polite to name it. But it needs to be named. I understand the need to only share information as far as is appropriate. But here is the thing about the Willow situation. Bill’s original rebuttal of the accusations was streamed online, to literally anyone who wanted to see it. The original statements from the church, which have since been retracted, were released online, to anyone who wanted to read them. Now. At a church service for the members and adherents of Willow Creek, suddenly the elders will not name what has so obviously happened? That is probably as far as I would go in stating what I think needs to happen.
The truth will set you free.