Recently it came to light that yet another mega church pastor was accused of sexual misconduct, and unsurprisingly the church mishandled the accusations.
This was shocking to many in the Christian community because the Willow Creek Church stands apart from the typical mega church where these allegations take place in one pivotal manner: they treat women as equal. At Willow Creek women regularly preach, and serve as pastors. They have been the epitome of egalitarianism. We, in the Christian community, have upheld them as an example to follow. Willow Creek serves 25 thousand people locally, they plant churches, coach church leadership, and are involved in a variety of good works. Nevertheless, it has come to light that three board leaders have resigned over these allegations. These board members believe Willow Creek mishandled allegations that their senior pastor Bill Hybels engaged in sexual misconduct, and had an affair.
These allegations come with another complicated layer that could be easily overlooked. Bill Hybels has a daughter who is what we some would call Christian famous. She has written extensively within the Christian realm. Shauna has a brand, and a following. She has taught us how to make a home, how to host, and bake bread. We have loved her for it. Shauna is someone many of us would say stands up for women. She's an example. She isn't someone her followers believe would tolerate abuse, or the subjugation of women. We would say these things in part because of her own words, and in part because of those with whom she is connected, the other famous friends she clearly supports.
If you've spent any time in female Christian circles you know who the big voices are, who our female leaders are. And if you pay attention you're also aware that they all know one another. You may even be a little jealous of the time they've spent face to face with each other. After all, we the (relatively unknown Christian female) have leaned on these women to be our examples. They have spoken for us, loudly, emphatically, demanding that we be heard, when we could not. We are so thankful for the Hatmakers, the Doyles, the Voskamps, the Besseys, the Brenes and Hamptons of our world. Sometimes we are barely able to distinguish their voices from our own. Where would be without them?
We are grateful for their platforms. They speak our truth. And this leaves me wondering, now what? Shauna wisely took a week off of social media, and spent some time with her family. But not before declaring her trust in her father's character.
I am wondering, who are our female leaders when someone close to one of their own is accused? How will they respond when the rumors encircle someone they care about? Will they stand up, and still demand the truth as they have in every other instance, when it could cost them personally? We have followed their paths. How will they lead us now?
This is where the rubber meets the road. It's easy to take out Andy Savage, or John Piper. Especially if you're not best friends with his kid and you and his wife aren't on a first name basis. Blasting either of them on the web for their moral failings doesn't cost you much. But commitment to truth, commitment to the fundamental right of victims to come forward and be heard cannot waver just because we personally know the accused. I have read Hybels' books. They're still on my shelves. His words have guided my spiritual journey. I have attended Willow Creek conferences. I would say God met me profoundly at one of them, ultimately setting me on a path toward freedom. None of that can change what needs to happen now. These allegations must be handled fairly and appropriately.
If our female leaders choose to stay silent now, if they don't insist, as they have every other time, in fairness, and truth telling, I fear they will have failed us. I sincerely hope they are brave in this moment, when it could cost them. I am praying they are. Please don't falter. We need your voices to still echo the same truth you've been telling us for years. If they do not choose to demand the truth now, if they do not support the victims now, we have every right to call them out on it. And we should.
For Shauna and her family I pray. Regardless of her father's behavior, she, her husband and children did not deserve this.