Stunned. Saddened. Angered. Grieved. Determined. Questioning.
I have this jumbled mix of emotions upon reading the Chicago Tribune article. How can this be? Who is really telling the truth? I know there are no absolutely perfect professions that get a pass on scandal. No perfect families, no impeccable churches, no spotless tribes of churches, and there are certainly no perfect pastors. (I know that first-hand.) But I find myself scratching my head and proclaiming:
“Not Bill. O Lord, not Bill.”
I am very aware that Bill adamantly denies the accusations. (I so hope he’s telling the truth!) What should I think, since the likes of Ortberg, Jimmy, and Nancy have joined their voices purporting that the accusations may carry some validity. They have been trustworthy friends of Willow Creek (and it feels like friends to so many of us as readers and listeners over the years). Whom to believe?
In the wild wake of #MeToo, the raucous flood of high-profile Hollywood accusations, as well as the skeletons in the closets of a much-too-muddy White House, we have settled into a ridiculous new normal. What we might have known a year ago as a healthy sense of disgust when hearing blasts of smutty news now gives way to a cold case of calloused numbness, a grogginess that’s settled over our collective conscience.
The Hybels accusations serve as a fresh slap to my sleepy soul. I cannot help but wake up and ask: “How can so many mature people who claim to know better act this way? Really? No! Enough is enough!”
“Not Bill. O Lord, not Bill.”
Sadly, such sickening scenarios are lose-lose-lose. Someone is lying while someone is truth telling. In the process, they each lose big-time. But there is another bigger, even sadder set of losers. No matter which side is right, the “skeptics, moralists, and long-time seekers” just grew less trusting and took another step away from the kingdom. I grieve and say to my skeptical and seeking friends, “Please, O please, I beg you to believe that there are still some good and reliable Christians left in the world. I so hope and pray at the end of the day, you remember how much we all need God’s loving grace. That includes Bill—and you and me—and every person pulsing on the planet.”
For many of us, “Me too” is no longer something that remains in the safe distance of a far-off scandal traipsed as tabloid in the Tribune, splashed across Christianity Today’s weekend headline, or blasted across a CNN banner. It hits way too close to home for that friend or family member who suddenly has to leave their job due to a previous season of sinful indiscretion. Many of us know someone not in the presidential, Hollywood, or mega-pastor limelight experiencing something that feels like collateral damage during this dreadfully punitive season. The self-centered choices and slippery compromise finally came home to roost. The pain is real.
In actuality, accusations of infidelity and sexual misconduct are as old as some of humanity’s famous families. The stunning story of Joseph in Egypt features a season when he was rising in influence, second in charge to a powerful man’s household. Joseph was relentlessly tempted; he remarkably resisted but was framed by his seductress. (See the Hebrew Scripture’s account, Genesis, chapter 39 for more of the story.)
Sage workplace author Tom Nelson elaborates: “When it comes to sexual temptation in the workplace, we don’t have to go out of our way to look for it; it often finds us. Joseph’s wise response to sexual temptation in the workplace is a model for us to emulate. Joseph didn’t cozy up to sexual temptation, he fled from it.”
What’s the big deal? Our core struggle with workplace temptation lies deep inside. Jesus’ wisdom shines his probing searchlight on our eyes and hearts (Matthew 5:27-30). Lust is sparked when we indulgently imagine how people can be used for our self-serving interests instead of genuinely loved. God’s style of selfless love aims at practically caring for others’ best interests, not using or abusing them from our own places of power and control.
How do we develop a strategy to stand strong against workplace temptation, or as in Joseph’s case, to decisively run away? In Taking Your Soul to Work, R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung urge these five strategy steps:
(1) Know that your heart’s desires are for God. Hunger and passion for God put all lesser desires into perspective. (2) Reduce exposure to erotic stimulation in your choice of movies, novels, and Internet sites. Put a plan in place that will help you avoid temptation on business trips. (3) Pray for a colleague, a customer, or a supervisor whom you find attractive. Choose God’s perspective on the person instead of treating her/him as “just a body” to be visually consumed. (4) Seek accountability partners; commit to transparently answering tough questions. (5) Identify the early beginnings of lustful thoughts. Heightened vigilance in advance allows you to be more responsive to the Spirit’s guidance.
Instead of being trapped in daily rituals of workplace lust and other sexual sins, we can stand strong. We can run away, stay pure, and truly honor Christ. With such choices, we will honor others with more wholesome love at work.
What is the truly bigger deal about the Bill Hybels accusations? Upon deeper reflection, I am struck with this reality. Instead of saying: “Not Bill. O Lord, not Bill,” I need to be saying, “Not me. O Lord, not me!”
Rather than shaking our heads in dismay over such scandals, jumping on judgment bandwagons, or allowing ourselves to be further numbed by the relentless shock to any remaining thread of moral leadership compass, we must realize we are called to genuine love. After all, virtues like decency, purity, and loving respect for others are God’s high calling for all of us—not just the mega-leaders of today’s world.
New levels of loving respect must start with everyday leaders—like you and me—making those solid, everyday choices. I want to stand strong. I want to stay holy and true to my wife and children, committed through and through as a truly good leader.
Will you join me in making fresh commitments to wholesome and holy love, the kind of love that is relentlessly loyal to those with whom we live and work each day?
May we all join our determined voices: “Not me. O Lord, not me!”
Tom Nelson. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 173.
R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung. Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 26-31.
6 thoughts on “The Bigger Deal About the Bill Hybels Accusations”
The difficulty John is that a pastor can do everything right, and be 100% innocent and all it takes is one unhappy person to lob an accusation at the pastor. The “Not me. O Lord, not me!” is not always that a pastor is vulnerable to falling, but is vulnerable to false accusations. Yes there are guilty pastors, but there are innocent pastors (and other leaders) that are being falsely accused either because someone doesn’t like them or for extortion. Such a sad messy situation.
Thanks John for your thoughts and insight. I spent an hour this morning reading news articles, processing with a friend, while changing my thoughts every 15 minutes on who I thought was to blame. Your post just caused me to stop and look within. “Not me. O Lord, not me.” I needed that. So, I join you and your commitment, Pletch … to stand strong … to stay holy and true to our wife and children, to wholesome and holy love with those we live and work with each day.
Did you read the reply from the elders at Willow? It was released from the Leadership Summit Team yesterday.
Thanks for your article. As a woman, I can relate as well. Jesus called us to be truth-seekers, for “the truth will set us free.” No person is above reproach. I have been following Bill Hybels accusations closely, and I am convinced the women are speaking the truth. Spiritual Sounding Board has a few good articles about this story as well. The Chicago Tribune story is investigative reporting at its best.
Just like the Nassar case and Gothard cases, the accused are men in positions of influence and power. Let us all learn to be vigilant in our thought life and actions, so we can stay holy, pure and strong.
I pray for the Hybel family and for Willow Creek Church, that they will turn to Jesus during this time. May this be a wake-up call for us all.
Good perspective and a most helpful read. Thanks, John.
There’s another side to this in terms of leadership. The greater sensitivity that male “leaders” have for this issue, whether in their own family situation or in church or in business roles…. it seems… the more rigid, stand offish, “out of touch” they (or we) become… which doesn’t make for good leadership. All it takes in a given scenario where a pastor is trying to be “above reproach” is to indicate that he will not meet with a person of the opposite sex alone (think – the fiasco around Mike Pence) OR, when he will with certain “parties” aware… he will be alleged to have made someone “feel uncomfortable” (a specious use of language that lends to all sorts of suspicion which breeds gossip which breeds contempt which breeds “political” attack which breeds resignation). The abuse of power by attractive people is all the more destructive when our “reaction” goes into the policy making phase of institutionalizing so-called protections. Who ends up living out the reactionary isolation… and who goes on their merry way, unchanged?