When pastor Bill Hybels resigned from Willow Creek Community Church in early April after several women (nearly 10) brought allegations against Hybels of sexual harassment, I was shocked, angry, sad and confused. I have so admired Bill Hybels over the years, reading his books, listening to his leadership challenges and often agreeing that his insights are very perceptive and just what I needed at the time. Often I have felt to compelled to act on his challenges. But as it became clear that much of what the accusers have said was indeed true, I felt that my organization, Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives, should address the #MeToo movement.
So on Monday, November 5, we teamed up with Urbana Theological Seminary and hosted a day-long seminar featuring the Rev. Ruth Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor and writer from the Washington D.C. area. Everhart experienced her own sexual violence when she was a student at Calvin College in the late 1970s. Her experience is recounted in her gripping book Ruined. She tells her story and how God ultimately redeemed it and is still redeeming it.
I felt she would bring what we needed, and indeed Ruth spent the day openly and honestly addressing 65 area pastors and leaders on the topic “Jesus, the Church and #MeToo.” There hadn’t been a seminar like this one in area churches ever before, as far as I know. It was a sobering day but I am so glad we did it.
Then on December 13 at the Billy Graham Center on the Wheaton College campus hosted a one-day summit addressing all manner of sexual violence, especially in the Church. And wow, what a day. The summit was streamed live and several pastors and I spent the day watching and interacting as about dozen speakers, mostly women, weighed in on the topic, many of whom had been sexually violated as young girls. Among the speakers were Beth Moore, who was sexually assaulted as a young girl and Max Lucado, who revealed publicly for the very first time that he was sexually assaulted by a community leader in his town when Lucado was a boy. It was another very sobering day.
If you don’t think the #MeToo kind of sexual harassment, assault and violence is not pervasive, you’d be wrong. If you think a lot of the of the harassment, assault and violence against women has not happened in some of the very churches we attend, you’d be wrong again.
Just yesterday (12/21) I read a powerful post from a site called Beggar’s Daughter, where writer Jessica Harris describes how a woman can and should feel about being molested by a leader she trusted and what women can do. I’d highly recommend reading Harris’ essay and others on her site. Harris is a terrific writer and incredibly transparent, thoughtful, wise and courageous.
Friends, what we in the church have seen revealed this year is that for many decades clergy sexual abuse, harassment and violence has been hidden and never dealt with adequately and honestly. Lots of sin has been swept under the carpet and ministers, and priests, send on down the road with people left in the dark about what happened.
But things are changing. Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches are being called out. It’s painful to read. It’s horrible to think about. But light is being shined in heretofore dark places and that’s good, though very painful and hard to think about confronting. But Jesus speaks up for the voiceless, the abused, the overlooked and this is yet another time Jesus wants his followers to stand up, speak up and, well, perhaps let the chips fall where they may. The Church of Jesus Christ will triumph, and I don’t Jesus is very concerned about pastors, leaders and priests being called into the light for horrible indiscretions against boys and girls, innocent women or whomever was harassed or assaulted for that matter. Let the Church be a beacon of light!
My friends, with Christmas we are celebrating the light of Christ coming into the world. We are seeing the Church moving forward, pushing back the kingdom of darkness.
But using both the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, God is once again calling many in the Church to repent — Acts 3:19 and Hebrews 3:13. It is indeed sobering that in 2018 many of the “mighty” have fallen. I doubt the ripple effect is over yet.
Pray for God’s Church, friends. Pray for courage for those who finally feel compelled to speak up (people like the well-known Max Lucado), some who have kept their secrets hidden for decades. When Christ came into the world, the light of Christ descended into darkness. It’s still happening. May God give us courage to address head on the sexual harassment, assault and even violence in the Church.
And may God be merciful to us, sinners all!