“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:15
This blog post is addressed to you, my fellow members and attenders of Willow Creek Community Church.
Before you read this post, allow me to introduce myself. After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor. I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern. I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor. I have attended the GLS numerous times. Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x). I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.
I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!
I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming. I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update. And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.
As the days marched on with no apparent resolution in sight, I have felt compelled to share more publicly.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.
Your brother in Christ,
Rob Speight (Sp8)
* * * *
Since late March, much has been said and written about the players in the tragedy we are going through: Bill Hybels, the accusing women, the former leaders at Willow, the elders, and the WCA. There is one very important group of people who have been almost entirely left out of the conversation: you, the congregation of Willow Creek. You play an immensely important role in this crisis. And that is why I am addressing you in this post.
As you are well aware, very soon after the accusations against Bill Hybels by several women were revealed by the Chicago Tribune in late March of 2018, the elders held a family meeting for you so that they could address the allegations against Bill.
You responded scripturally to your pastor and elders at that meeting.
- “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…” Hebrews 13:17
It is a rare congregation that responds as well to its leaders’ words and place themselves under their authority as well as you do! Throughout our church’s 42 year history, the congregation has trusted and responded to its leadership. As a result, God has performed spectacular works that could have only come from His hands.
One would assume the family meeting would have put an end to any discussion on the topic of Bill Hybels being inappropriate in his conduct with various women. The elders explained that they had performed multiple investigations over the previous 4+ years, and Bill was found innocent. Plus, Bill vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
THE INITIAL PROBLEM AFTER THE FAMILY MEETING
The beloved former leaders of Willow sought to have an investigation into the allegations against Bill Hybels for 4 years. They would not take the denial of any wrongdoing by Bill as the final word. They believed that the search for the truth in this matter was not complete.
Plus, a few of the offended women continued to seek justice for themselves and others.
What did they know that we in the congregation did not?
THE QUEST FOR THE TRUTH
1 — These former leaders continued to press for a more diligent effort to discover the truth.
Let me encourage you to read the blogs of these former leaders of Willow who we all loved and respected. Click on their highlighted names below to find out their perspective.
2 — In addition, I felt compelled to email the elders as well as the Willow Creek Association during April, May, and June because I felt there were too many unanswered questions hanging out there. My purpose was to be an additional voice that would seek to hold Heather Larson and the elders accountable.
Let me encourage you to click here for my communications with the elders, WCA, and the Elder Response Team. They are in chronological order.
3 — There were stories being published of additional women coming forward to tell their stories of troubling interactions with Bill. The links to those stories are below:
4 — Vonda Dyer has been relentless in her Twitter feed to advocate for the women, to link with pertinent experts on the topic of clergy abuse and to repeatedly call for a totally independent third party investigation to reveal the truth of what really happened with the women and Bill Hybels. Let me encourage you to follow Vonda @Chelseaker
5 — Others have felt compelled to address this sad chapter in Willow’s history:
- New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight wrote two insightful and incisive blog posts:Willow: Why The Women Went Public?
- Clinical psychologist, Jim Bedell, utilized his expertise to give us insight into Bill and his impact on the organization he led.
Time Should Not Heal
- This writer, who addressed the elders privately for 3 months, has started a blog two weeks ago and identified a dozen elephants in the room that the leadership of Willow Creek has yet to admit exist.
- There are several other blogs that contribute a wealth of insight into what we, the congregation of Willow, are going through. Rather than list them all here, let me encourage you again to follow Vonda’s twitter feed. She links to the most salient ones.
PROBLEMS THAT PERSIST
1 — Gradually, baby step by baby step, over the last 3+ months, Heather and the elders have altered their narrative. It has gone from:
- Bill is totally innocent and the women are liars … to
- Not all of the women are liars, and not everything they reported are lies … to
- They have expressed apologies of sorts to the women. And they for the first time ever said that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”
This migration of narrative is very troublesome for several reasons:
- It implies that there is some truth to the women’s stories, but we don’t know what it is.
- It implies that Bill’s declaration that all accusations against him are lies — is not true.
- It indicates that the conclusions of the investigations of the past (Bill is innocent of all charges) differ from the most recent attestations by the elders that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”
- There continues to be obfuscation in the elders’ statements, because we don’t know what the phrase “Bill entered into areas of sin,” means.
2 — The affected women do not trust the elders. And they do not trust the outside groups that the elders have chosen to engage them, But the elders continue to put the responsibility of engagement solely on the women. This is not fair.
3 — Ever since this sad issue was brought to the elders, the women and the women’s advocates (both personal and in social media) have requested a totally independent investigation to be performed so that the truth can be discovered. Yet the elders have denied this request at every turn. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous. Every investigation so far has had fatal flaws in it.
A totally independent third party investigator with expertise in identifying clergy abuse is absolutely essential to discover the truth of this horrible chapter in Willow’s history.
4 — Willow Creek has been a champion of women ever since its origin. The leadership’s treatment of the women who have come forward is a black eye to the church’s reputation and insulting and hurtful to the women.
MY REQUESTS OF YOU, THE CONGREGATION OF WILLOW CREEK
- Please choose to engage with the insight and wisdom contained in the links in this post.
- Share this post with all of your friends at Willow. Remember, the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out — Proverbs 18:15
- Ask God to give you clarity of thought and understanding.
- Ask God to show you what action He wants you to take. Then be courageous and take it. After all, this is YOUR church.
- Finally, pray that the truth will be revealed and set everyone involved in this tragedy free. This freedom may look different for each of the parties concerned.
Dark storm clouds have hovered over Willow Creek for far too long. May God clear the ominous skies and cause the Son to shine more brightly than ever before over the ministry of Willow Creek. Amen.
Please be Advised:
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