“We all see only that which we are trained to see.” ― Robert Anton Wilson
Before I start, I want to make sure that everyone understands that is not an attack on the lawyers(s) involved in this situation. They are simply doing their job as they were hired to do. The focus of this post is how Willow Creek’s leaders represented who the lawyer is.
Willow Creek said this was an independent investigation.
Here is part of the statement by Willow Creek leaders.
Phase 4 | September 2016–April 2017
19. How was the external investigator chosen?
The Elder Board sought to hire an investigator that fit three key criteria and qualifications: 1) The investigator would have no ties to Willow Creek or the Willow Creek Association, 2) the investigator would have expertise in leading these sorts of workplace investigations, and 3) the investigator would be a Christ follower. The board interviewed three potential outside law firms to conduct the investigation, and at the end of that search process, they selected Attorney Jeff Fowler from Laner Muchin (an esteemed Chicago law firm). Click here to read more about Attorney Fowler.
Atty Fowler is an adept and experienced attorney with a broad range of experience in employment issues. According to his website:
He regularly litigates employment, employee benefits and labor matters, including employment contract disputes, post-employment restrictions, employment-related class and collective actions as well as discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims. He also conducts employment-related corporate investigations in a variety of settings. Jeff also provides compliance-related and strategic advice on a broad range of labor and employment issues.
ECFA Webinar on Churches and Sex Abuse
What is ECFA? According to their website:
Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance. The Christ-centered ministries accredited by ECFA include churches, denominations, educational institutions, rescue missions, camps, and many other types of tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations.
On March 24, 2018, ECFA posted a webinar they were offering titled Creating a Safe Culture.
The recent rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements reveal the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and as further evidenced in the even more shocking #ChurchToo hashtag, churches and nonprofits are far from immune. This webinar will cover the basics of what every church and nonprofit should have by way of rules and administrative procedures to prevent harassment and assault against employees, volunteers, and participants, and to properly address situations that may arise. Ministry-related organizations must not only be vigilant and responsive to minimize legal liability, but also to prevent a culture which opens the organization or its leaders up to the accusation that inappropriate actions were allowed or even encouraged.
There are three lawyers who are (or were?) teaching this course. One of them was Atty Fowler. Pay close attention to his bio on the site.This bio seems to indicate that Atty Fowler is a specialist in representing employers *exclusively.*
Jeff is a partner in the Chicago firm of Laner Muchin, Ltd., a firm that concentrates exclusively in the representation of employers in labor relations, employment litigation, employee benefits and business immigration. Prior to Law School, Jeff served as a Military Policeman in the U.S. Army, and then as a municipal police officer in Illinois. Jeff received his J.D., summa cum laude, from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago where he served on the Law Review Board and was a member of the School’s national moot court team.
I may be naive but I thought the investigation would be focused on BOTH the accused and the accusers. This bio seems to indicate that Atty Fowler only represents employers. At this point, it is clear that this is not an impartial investigation. In fact, if I was counseling a victim of abuse in this situation, I would recommend NOT meeting with the attorney who is ably representing the employer’s interest.
Atty Fowler and his bio have disappeared!
I bet a few of you technocrats out there noticed that, when you clicked on the link for the above information, it was a webcached link. Now look at the link that is currently up on ECFA. Atty Fowler and his bio have been deleted.. The rest remains the same.
Given the explosive nature of the mess at Willow Creek, I can imagine that Atty Fowler’s bio could have raised a few eyebrow. Please be sure yo understand. I have no problem with an attorney who represents the interests of employers exclusively. He is simply doing his job. My problem is with Willow Creek leaders which made a promise that this was an independent investigation. If that deleted bio is true, then the full truth was not presented to the members.
Atty Fowler also served on a community board with Jim Pluymert.
Who is Jum Pluymert? He is a respected attorney who is associated with Willow Creek. According to his Linked In bio:
Jim Pluymert is an attorney and partner at the law firm of Pluymert, MacDonald & Hargrove, Ltd. in Hoffman Estates, where his law practice concentrates in church and not-for-profit law, mediation and arbitration, and civil litigation. Jim is a Certified Christian Conciliator through Peacemaker Ministries, and leads the conciliation team at Willow Creek Community Church.
According to Atty Pluymert’s bio on his law firm’s website
Jim plays an active role in the ministry at Willow Creek Community Church, where he is a member.
I have also heard from sources that Atty Pluymert has provided legal counsel to both Willow Creek Community Church and Willow Creek Association in the distant past.
Atty Fowler and Atty Pluymert served on the Executive Board of Administer Justice together. It appears that there were some social ties to Willow Creek.
Bottom Line: The independent investigation does not appear truly independent
Again, I respect the attorneys and their work on the community board. I respect Atty Fowler who is simply doing his job. They are not the issue here.
The issue is the lack of transparency on the part of the Willow Creek leaders. These connections should have been mentioned to the members so they would understand why the involved parties might not feel comfortable interacting with this attorney.
- I believe that it is time for a truly independent investigation.
- I believe there are victims.
- I also believe that there are some folks who are simply doing what I would do in the same situation. They are seeking truth and justice for others and I applaud them for their steadfastness in the midst of tremendous pressure.
I am praying for everyone.
Total transparency is the best defence against false accusations against respected leaders. If leadership teams would be totally up front they would find they would be able to spend less time on defence.
We are all accountable for our actions. The situation at Willow Creek is one that would be best resolved by involving people like Bob Tchividjian and the GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) organisation.
Nothing to hide? Let in the sunshine!
And no. Not independent.
Well done ‘BELOVED SON’ – beat me to it! 🙂
When there are apparent conflicts of interest due to prior relational and/or financial connections between investigator and client, there most likely will *always* be questions about how thorough the process was and the trustworthiness of any results.
In my opinion, public skepticism of the processes and results is what Willow Creek Church bought, bound up with their choice of the specific attorney/firm they chose to hire. They can continue defending their investigation, but I don’t think the questions will *ever* go away until/unless they undergo a different kind of independent and transparent investigation that is conducted by individuals/entities that don’t have inherent problems of prior connections or dedicated pro-management slant.
This quote from the EFCA seminar really worries me:
“Ministry-related organizations must not only be vigilant and responsive to minimize legal liability, but also to prevent a culture which opens the organization or its leaders up to the accusation that inappropriate actions were allowed or even encouraged.”
Somebody has to pay for the investigation. It’s the church. So not sure how independent it could really be. This is always going to be a problem.
True, that. Which is why I believe the background connections become more of an issue. Along with how/who controls the selection of investigator, processes used, results compiled, and reports.
Weren’t there some kinds of connections like that with the AoR investigation into Sovereign Grace Ministries?
Great investigating! You should work for the FBI (second thought, maybe not). Their pants have now been pulled down.
I checked TWW’s category index, and sure enough, Deb did a post in 2011 analyzing the connections between SGM and AoR when their report came out about SGM.
Deb also did an analysis of the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report on Sovereign Grace
Ministries. Some potential parallels between that situation and the Willow Creek investigation as to the appearance of impartiality and what it may have been in reality.
This is looking more and more like WCA went into damage control and not truth-seeking mode with said investigation. Sad.
Plus, it seems they have no qualms about attacking the Ortbergs’ reputation if it saves their neck with their seemingly misleading communication about the investigation.
Divorce Minister wrote:
To clarify, WCA is the separate organization, Willow Creek Association, that had board members resign over their concerns about the investigation of WCC, Willow Creek Church.
If the board hired the attorney, then doesn’t that mean that the board enjoys attorney-client privilege with the attorney? And doesn’t that privilege, by definition, exclude the alleged victim(s) from having the same level of access to whatever evidence was submitted, as well as to the results of the investigation?
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but if attorney-client privilege exists between the board and the investigator, there’s no way this investigation could be considered impartial or independent. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
@ Chris Parsons:
From the main article up top:
and 3) the investigator would be a Christ follower.
One would think that a Jew or a Muslim, definitely no dog in the fight so to speak, would be better able to maintain a baseline of objectivity in sorting out the details.
Divorce Minister wrote:
…lawyers advising the church on how to maintain their image, defend themselves, and get around the accusations, come out “looking” clean. This is what lawyers do. Professionally.
We all know what this means. Famously innocent, bottom line not so much. Innocent until proven guilty. Every day in law enforcement there are prosecutors who know someone is guilty but cannot take it to court because they also know they do not have a strong enough “case”. Doesn’t mean innocent, just means the case won’t hold in a court of law.
– He said, she said.
– No body, can’t prove murder.
– Conflicting testimony from experts hired by both sides.
– “I didn’t do it” until a blue dress showed up.
– The Franklin Case: victims were intimidated & jailed, and researchers had “accidental” deaths.
Church went through a process last year after massive building cost overruns in which an “independent” entity was to look at whether the powers-that-be had conducted the process appropriately. Someone who was part of the process suggested to the church oversight body the “independent” firm who would do this (and had conveniently arranged for the cost of this work, though didn’t share it with the oversight body). The powers that be who had run the building process controlled all levels of communication with the firm, as well as the questions asked and feedback.
Multiple members of the oversight body asked for input and a chance to ask their own qs, but were stonewalled and ultimately denied. Repeatedly, the powers that be — with full let of the senior pastor — represented the report to the church as 100% independent.
@ Muff Potter:
…like not having to be careful with the Lord’s anointed.
GMFS: And we begin with sport
All happening down on the Gold Coast, where the first medal of the games went to Flora Duffy of Bermuda in the women’s triathlon. Shortly followed by the first medal for the UK home nations – England’s Jess Learmonth was 43 seconds behind in silver. First Scotland medal came not long after when Marc Austin won bronze in the men’s triathlon.
Currently watching the men’s team gymnastics; early doors just now, with England in the lead after rotation one (England on rings) followed by Canada (just done floor) and Wales – only caught a couple of minutes in which no Welsh gymnasts were shown, so I’ll fill you all in later on that. Scotland had a disappointing pommel, and are down in 7th. But, AWWBA, there are six pieces of apparatus in men’s gymnastics and there’s a long way to go yet.
Track cycling, table tennis (look out for 11-year-old Anna Hursey representing Wales) and swimming also happening today. Sadder news is that sprint hurdler Sally Pearson, the unofficial “face of the games”, has had to pull out with an achilles injury. Believe me, I can sympathise – I’ve hardly run for the last six months, and my achilles injury is a minor one.
Fitba’ – well, we did it, with a superb 3-0 win for Liverpool over Man City in the home leg of the GiveUsYerMoney Cup quarter final. Wartburgers will recall my saying yesterday that we ideally needed around an 8-0 lead but, of course, that generally doesn’t happen in fitba’.
@ Nick Bulbeck:
Still watching the men’s gymnastics. Nile Wilson’s just stuck a phenomenal dismount off the high bar. Canada on vault at the moment. Tight competition…
Church Hugs 101
This is hilarious.
Right. I think transparency or lack thereof of the investigation and results is important because of this. And maybe having a separate committee who has no stakes to oversee? There are ways to mitigate the effects of the church paying for investigators.
@ Anonymous Grandma:
This whole thing is causing me to bulk order red flags from Amazon.
Thank you for this. I had a great laugh. I am fasting this morning for a medical test. I loved the fasting hug. For me, I would call it a *can’t have coffee this AM* hug.I look just like her.
There is always a solution.
I used to be a corporate attorney. Now teach law at a U.S. university. The idea that an attorney hired by Willow Creek would in any way be independent is absurd. By very definition, an attorney hired by a client cannot be independent. They represent their client. That is what they ethically must do.
It would not matter whether the attorney was generally by practice a plaintiff’s attorney who specialized in suing organizations on behalf of private parties, such as my brother-in-law now does, or one who represented organizations against the lawsuits of private parties, such I once did. It’s all the same, you represent your client, the one who pays you. The information your client gives you, in almost all cases, is subject to attorney-client privilege, you must be a zealous advocate for the one footing the bill or very bad things can happen to you, such as malpractice claims or ethics sanctions or even disbarment.
So this talk of an independent investigation is either an outright lie or is an example of shocking ignorance on the part of Willow Creek leadership.
Law Prof wrote:
I recalled reading that a significant number of Willow Creek Church elders were lawyers, so I thought it would be relevant to your point to check that out.
I did not spend time searching for the list of WCC elders from the specific time the church contracted with Mr. Fowler to conduct the investigation.
However, the list of current church elders indicates that 3 of the 8 are in the legal profession:
* Lane Moyer (“law degree and MBA and currently works as a corporate legal partner at a firm in Chicago”).
* Verlyn Suderman (“lawyer advising transportation and logistics companies”).
* Connie Tameling (“licensed attorney, having practiced in the area of commercial litigation”).
@ Law Prof:
I completely agree, and there is no excuse that WC was ignorant with respect to the “independent claim. They have lawyers that are elders! Anither xample of “spinning things”, in this case by outright missrepresentation…. i am so sick of churches acting like “corporations”….
Law Prof wrote:
As noted earlier: the church seems to operate outside of professional checks and balances. If a leader can convince someone to fund them or pleasure them, the leader will do as they please. If questioned, the follow-up is a cover-up on behalf of dear leader, (then applause, security protection, secure income, etc.).
Case in point: Andy Savage, and criminal sexual assault of a minor by a professional.
With Bill Hybels, if the accounts are true, it seems clearly, by law, sexual harassment of employees. They went to their boss’s hotel room as requested by their boss as a duty for work, but he serves them wine and chit-chats about their female body type while on drugs. Very close to the behavior of Harvey Weinstein.
How does this happen? There is something wrong in the way a church, as a legal tax-free and professional 501(c)(3) community organization, is set up.
Willow Creek can hire any attorney they want, but If an attorney is hired by and paid by Willow Creek, there is no way he or she can be independent and absolutely no way Willow Creek can claim any work he does is independent. Anyone in a position of leadership in a large organization surely should know this. If they do know this and still try to pass it off as an independent investigation, they are lying and are thus unfit for any leadership position. If they did not know this and simply bumbled into claiming it is an independent investigation, they are utterly incompetent and thus unfit for any leadership position.
Jeffrey Chalmers wrote:
Were I Counselor Fowler, I’d be perturbed at my work on behalf of a large 501(c)(3) being mischaracterized as disinterested or independent. Does anyone know if they ever used the word “independent”? If so, I’d be jumping all over them right now were I Fowler and tell them to release another statement indicating clearly that an attorney-client relationship was formed when WC hired me and that any insinuations that it was truly disinterested are misleading and unethical. I’d worry about my reputation for ethics and my state bar at this point if my work was being misrepresented.
But Mr. Fowler does not, and he’d better exercise some client control if he has a brain in his head.
Law Prof wrote:
Apparently Hybels was not worried about his reputation, and now he pulls down the lot of them, lawyers as listed by @brad/futuristicguy above, with him into the Dark Side.
Join a church but park your ethics and professional standards at the curb before you enter in. Anything goes while the church creates its own fantasy narrative, by “faith”.
And the track record for such church-funded Independent(TM) Investigations is not good.
In four words (from an “extralegal” context), “THE FIX IS IN”.
At least when I’m watching the LOTR movies, playing D&D, or reading MLP:FIM fanfics, I KNOW it’s a Fantasy Narrative.
“Just like Harvey Weinstein, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
Law Prof wrote:
OR The Official Party Line.
Always great to have your shysters in-house.
You go down, they go down with you as co-conspirators.
Quite a motivator, eh?
It’s because this isn’t a church (or at least not anymore), it’s a corporation. Their brand is a certain style of religion, they sell happy feelings. The face of the corporation (ie their “Orville Redenbocker”) is Bill Hybels.
Like any corporation the brand is now at stake (kind of like that Jared guy from Subway when he was caught with nasty images of kids) so the lawyers are hired to do damage control.
A corporation will lie to protect its interests and the interest of the stakeholders. How can we deliver happy feelings when there are unhappy people? The Hybels brouhaha is going to prevent the corporation from meeting its mandate (happy feelings) and part of ensuring those happy feelings get delivered is ensuring the delivery infrastructure (church) remains intact (ie makes money).
Economics not faith is the prime mover here.
Muff Potter wrote:
FEATURE, NOT BUG.
Utter Loyalty to The System Which Can Do No Wrong is a Prime Requisite.
Law Prof wrote:
Lots of parking brains at the curb before entering in going on in churches. Don’t know why it works like this but it is obvious and unfortunate.
Brings to mind the Netflix docu-series, “Wild, Wild Country”.
A friend and his family left a “Christian” community saying, “We even had an executive VP of a major corporation, household name, that would park his brains at the curb every night when he came from work, home to the commune.”
Discard the Unhappy People. They can go away.
Because thinking and Faith are two completely-separate, completely-exclusive things and FAITH FAITH FAITH Must Prevail. Islam’s been operating on that paradigm since the days of al-Ghazali; look at the aftereffects.
“Doubt leads to Thinking.
Thinking leads to Heresy.
Heresy must be Dealt With.
Blessed is the mind too small for Doubt.”
— Warhammer 40K
Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:
Not in my world. God gives us each a brain.
It would be nice if the face of the corporation was Jesus. Irrelevant Hybels could just go away. Maybe in their world, Jesus wasn’t good enough:
“For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Isaiah 53:2 NASB
Jeffrey Chalmers wrote:
Yes. Unfortunately, they keep proving that they are just that…. corporations.
It’s possible for a church to pay for an investigation that’s conducted in a fair and impartial manner, but the church has to WANT for that to occur and has to structure the investigation so that it WILL occur.
I work in a research field that relies on grants from government, business and non-profit organizations. In some cases, those organizations have an interest in the outcome of the research they are funding. But, legitimate research organizations (e.g., universities, NIH, American Heart Association) set up grants and other funding mechanisms so that the funder does not play any role in the way that the research is conducted or reported. Basically, the funding organization awards the grant and then gets out of the way. The organizations involved, as well as the journals that publish the research, follow policies and procedures designed to ensure the independence of the research. Of course, unscrupulous people and organizations can try to thwart the safeguards, but in general the process works quite well.
All that to say – currently and in the foreseeable future, no independent organization exists that could fund investigations of abuse in churches. The churches have to do it. And they CAN structure the investigations in such a way that they are fair, impartial and independent. Basically, they have to hire a truly independent organization, agree to procedures that will ensure an impartial investigation, and then get out of the way while the organization does its work.
To add examples to your point about structuring investigations — I haven’t reviewed all the GRACE investigation reports in depth, but have skimmed parts when posts on various survivor blogs have pointed them out. I think these are instructive for how an organization can set up an investigation by an independent agency, and then either cooperate or not with the processes. Also intriguing to see the definitions and process used by the investigators, and the kinds of things they report on.
See the “Independent Investigations: Conducting Independent, Thorough and Objective Abuse-Related Investigations” section on this page …
… and then check out reports linked to on open and closed investigations.
I’d agree, and this is true of a large number of churches, big and small.
I know what you’re getting at and you’re right. If the guy was harassing women and plying some with drink and hugs and inviting them into the “conference area” alone in his hotel room, and perhaps engaging in an ongoing affair or two while maintaining a highly visible position in Christendom, it’d seem he didn’t care a whit for his reputation.
But when he took the stage to angrily defend his reputation in recent weeks, calling allegations against him the result of liars seeking to destroy his ministry, and spoke of his fancied right to drift off into retirement with that cultivated reputation intact, it would seem more like he was obsessed with his reputation, in awe of it, in idolatry of his precious reputation.
Would highly recommend the book Due Process: A plea for Biblical Justice Among God’s People by Dan Juster. When are we going to get past this idea that subservient submission to a husband or a pastor is going to solve these issues that keep going on. Being subject to one another out of fear and reverence for Christ is what we need.
So, a strong performance from England gave them the mens’ team gymnastics gold, from Canada and Scotland, who recovered very well after a disappointing pommel rotation to take bronze.
The downside of Liverpool’s epic night in European competition last night is that tradition dictates this be followed up by dropping points against mid-table opposition on Saturday. And this Saturday it’s the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park…
A friend of mine just posted this in response to this article I shared on FB. I don’t know what to say to him… Thoughts?
“The fact Fowler served on the board of an unrelated organization with another attorney at a different firm who previously represented Willow doesn’t create an independence issue… or attorneys could never serve on boards.
As far as the three attorneys on Willow’s board are concerned, if they don’t practice that type of law they would probably be inclined to recommend someone who did. It’s like how people who knew I was an accountant always wanted to ask me questions about taxes… I’d always say “I don’t know, ask a tax accountant”.
One thing I do agree with, is that the attorneys on the board probably would have suggested using an attorney vs. an organization like the one the Ortberg’s recommended. They would have wanted to preserve attorney client privilege to protect Willow… which to a certain extent is their job as board members.
You’d need to get some attorneys together to come up with a policy / plan for investigating these situations that would simultaneously protect the accusers and the organization. Not an easy task… particularly after the fact. That’s what they need to do now, so any future claims are handled better.”
In much of the mega church, the Main Thing is not the main thing. Christianity Lite promotes charismatic persona not the Son of God. The authority of Jesus is waning in the American church … it’s all about ‘us’ not Him.
In this situation, there is. clear conflict of interest. I am under the impression That community nonprofit board is tied in with many Willow Creek folks.
Also, let me give you some thoughts I have gleaned in my years of running around community organizations. The ties on some of these community boards run deep. Often, they are set up so that friendships and ties are formed. In fact, some of these boards serve as ways to identify like souls.
Basically, what I am saying is this. Many community organizations are points of contact for people and favors are doled out and people for jobs get recommended by quiet mouth to mouth transmissions of “he is one of us.” I know because served on some of these boards in my younger days.And, in some respects, much to my dismay, participated in some of this “one of us” sort of thing.
If you are saying that this board is totally based on altruism, please forgive my raised eyebrow.
That is precisely what Boz Tchividjian is doing. netgrace.org
@ Muff Potter:
you read my mind
This is an interesting comment. I became a Lutheran (conservative) a few years ago. Thanks to a a friend who is the head of a seminary, I was able to audit a course omg the roles and duties of pastors.
In fact, if the church is functioning like a church, not like a corporation, the duty of the elder board is NOT to protect the pastors but to first protect the members.
Sadly, I am wondering if Willow Creek, along with many other mega, have sold out to the corporate model of church governance. If that is the case (I hold an MBA) I say the all such churches are not places that I would recommend people to consider.
All you need to do is look at the life of Jesus. He was laser focused on the poor, those hurt and abused by the priest classes, the sick, the despised, the little guy, etc. Most of the time he referred to the church rules/governors as snakes, white washed tombs, etc. There was a reason for that. Those priests/Pharisees, Sadducees, etc forgot what they were supposed to do.
Those guys believed that their first duty was to protect the Temple and the income of the Temple. The temple became a marketplace. I am sure some priestly sort came up with a great corporate meme for raising money for the Temple. I can hear it now. “Guys, I got this idea from the Temple of Diana folks. Those dudes really know how to manage a business. Let’s get those money changers into the Temple and take a cut of what is going on. It’ll be a win/win! of course God will love it. he wants his Temple to be successful, doesn’t he?”
Jesus came in and overturned those tables. I think this situation is one that may involved a few tables getting tipped.
Have fun with my answers. I did!
Thank you. Here is a link.
Law Prof wrote:
This is one of the reason I sense something is going on. he is calling his former best friends *liars.* This makes absolutely no sense.
Loved your comment.
Thank you!!!! Brad, you are the best! Great link.
Frankly, they bought themselves a mess. Naive?
The concept framework of an “interlocking directory” is something I learned 45 years ago from an investigative reporter for the regional public TV station. It’s a form of organizational connection that’s on smaller scale than an “industrial complex,” but has many of the same potentially problematic elements that can be conflicts of interest — in perception, or in reality. It’s often a more local/regional kind of relational network.
An interlocking directory occurs when you have a group of people who run interrelated political, social, philanthropical, media, and economic enterprises. Members’ multiple linkages can range from formal to informal, but typically includes things like this: They belong to the same political parties, have a significant degree of overlap in their personal and professional relationship connections, go to the same leisure functions and charity events, serve on each other’s non-profit boards, absorb the same news sources, refer customers to each other’s businesses, etc.
Bringing it back to Willow Creek, I’m not saying there is an automatic conflict of interest if there were, say, several areas of overlap between their non-profit and whomever they hired to conduct an investigation. But if even the perception is there due to multiple personal or institutional connections, it’s likely that the questions will never go away about whether the investigation was truly objective.
When I commented earlier in this thread about how 3 of 8 members of the current elder board, it was with a few unspoken assumptions. First, I’m assuming that the elder board is the non-profit board and therefore are the ones ultimately responsible for actions taken by the organization. Second, I was assuming that lawyers — regardless of particular area of expertise — would help guide the board in compliance with IRS regulatory requirements for non-profits — not do any/all the legal work for the non-profit, but to help keep it on track in running it “in the public benefit.”
But what does that mean? According to the Compliance Guide for 501(c)(3) Public Charities, there are three things the IRS prohibits. In order to keep non-profit agencies functioning in the public interest, they CANNOT:
1. Use the non-profit for personal benefit.
2. Conduct political campaign intervention.
3. Be involved in legislative activities/lobbying.
The first item includes issues like inurement (inappropriate benefits to board members, staff, and/or their family and friends) and related conflicts of interest. In case interested in details, here’s the link to this IRS publication, which is written in very accessible language.
As a point of information for *all* non-profit boards that I’m not suggesting applies to Willow Creek: Even though the IRS has not be investigating religious non-profits since about 2009, if I remember right, that doesn’t change the regulations — or that complaints can be filed with the IRS and/or with state agencies that register corporations and charities. (Which is something the survivor community learned about with the demise of Mars Hill and complaints apparently filed with the Washington state Attorney General.)
“Would highly recommend the book Due Process: A plea for Biblical Justice Among God’s People by Dan Juster.”
how does biblical justice differ from regular justice?
No due process.
Best question I have heard in the past month.
Law Prof wrote:
Transparency is the key. Whether it’s financial or theological, a church needs to be open about where the cash is going & what their real beliefs are.
No one is going to begrudge a pastor having a living wage or maintaining decent buildings to meet in but the sheer tax free excess of some places is a real turn off.
All religious groups then yell “religious freedom!” And that pretty much neutralizes the tax person.
Ask the scientologists. They handed it ro the irs big time back in the nineties.
Regular justice involves fewer stonings.
I’m reminded of the despair.com poster where he fired all the unhappy people and is then all alone in an empty conference room.
Is it when you pay the tithe but neglect the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness?
“how does biblical justice differ from regular justice?”
so far we’ve got:
*no due process
*Regular justice involves fewer stonings
*you pay the tithe but neglect the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness
i’m wondering, if we can mentally/emotionally step away from current events, is there anything inherently good, right, and fair about the notion of “biblical justice”?
is there even such a thing as “biblical justice”? (beyond the ultimate so-called ‘day of reckoning’?)
anything practical, let alone true, for here and now?
(i’m having my doubts.)
(maybe it’s that encountering the word “biblical” is accompanied by as sick a feeling as my memory of smelling formaldehyde in 8th grade biology.)
(but then it’s a conditioned response, isn’t it. “biblical” = manipulation, cruelty, favoritism, laden with self-interest, self-indulgence, unreasonable-ness, narrow-mindedness, small-mindedness, stupidity,…. at this point, what other response am i to have?)
I’m giving the book a read to see what this biblical justice is all about. At this point in my life it seems our justice system is more biblical than bibical justice . . . sigh
Can we say that “independent investigation” is a way of controlling language: something power structures have a tendency to do.
This is a concept that I am familiar with both theoretically and practically. It is more than just networking. In my work I am in regular contact with third sector organisations. The same people crop up regularly in different groups and often where they have a potential conflict of interest.
And sometimes of different people.
Complete tangent here, but that is a feature of the third sector here in Scotland that I’ve noticed too ( it’s also a feature of the small business networking scene). I think in part it’s due to the fact that there are a fair few steering groups etc on which attendance is voluntary, and a subset of third sector folk like (and/or can find the time for) volunteering for them. The set-up has weaknesses and strengths, of course.
“…the same people…” with money.
True. Furthermore, in the end… “… when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.” Isaiah 26.10
For those with money and the right contacts or PC stance. The last thing I would compare it to is the “idea” of biblical Justice. I would rather compare it to its original intent for citizens.
The life of being on boards. “Movers and shakers” being an aspiration, as a trustee, for example.
That is on a global scale now. Big money laundering and protection racket. It’s practiced at every strata of society.
Just saw another major media celebrity going off the air due to losing their sponsors.
Maybe some of these church cowboys should lose their star status by, likewise, losing their sponsors. What does it take?
Mafia of sorts?
Do keep us apprised of the author’s intent.
From what I could peruse online for free, his (Juster) focus seems to be on marriage and ‘sexual sin’ as exhibited in the Hebrew Bible (Torah).
Completely different tangent here, but have you been following the lengthy and informative comments on the Donald MacLeod thread? One name with whom you had an interaction there keeps popping up.
This relates to one of the frameworks I’ve been developing for a forthcoming book on identifying and dealing with abusive systems. My goal is to categorize and describe the kinds of person-to-person tactics that perpetrate abuse, the kinds of institutional tactics used, and to put them into series that shows the escalation of control put onto individuals and institutions, starting with “bounded choice” and ending with a society that carries out a “totalist psychology” of complete social control.
If interested in an older draft of that “ladder” of abuse/control, it’s in this post:
The bible was written a very long time ago and spans thousands of years. Part history, part philosophy, part story.
What you’ve asked could fill a book.
At times the bible does not seem just. Levitical law is replete with the death sentence for various moral crimes, God sent plagues as punishment that killed thousands, He wiped out the world with a flood killing every single human except Noah and his family – Just? Maybe but a little over the top. Slavery is the norm not the exception. God exhorted Israel to kill the Canaanites to the last man, woman, child and farm animal. Job was used as a plaything between two divine beings, his kids were killed in storm (not to worry God gave him new ones – so it’s ok). Even Jesus stated that he did not come to change the law and he came with a sword no less.
But let’s step back and look at the times these books were laid down in print.
The Old Testament is way older than it’s printed form. For example flood stories can found in Sumerian stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Flooding was a big deal in Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates regularly flooded, that’s what made it the fertile crescent – great for farming and by extension city growth -the first cities were built here. The bible tells us that Abraham came from Ur – in Mesopotamia. It is possible, even likely that a flood was what caused Abraham to load up and head out with everything he owned and his family – hence the flood story becomes integral to Israel’s history.
Likewise the story of Job – on the surface God seems like a real jerk. Except that natural disasters, disease and child mortality were real up until modern times. Life was short and brutal . And cheap. When you lose multiple children, when family is regularly struck down by disease, when whether you starve is dependent on unpredictable weather, probably death becomes the norm and you probably have a very different (maybe to 21st century standards, coldhearted) attitude .Job is afflicted by all of these for reasons he can’t explain – yet that would have been normal in ancient times for the majority people alive. Based on stories I’ve heard from folks who suffered the great Depression during the dirty thirties, they would have got this.
In Jesus’ time, in the Roman Empire a boy could inherit estates, run his own affairs and join the army at 14. A girl was of marrying age (and not her choice either!) as soon as her period arrived. People didn’t live much past forty – and those that did were plagued by conditions like dental abscesses, or parasites or rickets or take your pick.
Did warfare involve mass slaughter? Yep, otherwise they would do it to you. Now we would be appalled if our armed forces slew or enslaved enemy civilians en masse. Check recent history, the Somali incident involving the Canadian Airborne Regiment, or Mai Lai or the firebombing of Dresden or or or…. we’re horrified that these events occur but ancient people would have shrugged it off and got back to the business of growing food.
Our world has changed so much since these times – most of the languages that the bible has been translated into didn’t even exist when it was first gathered together.
The problem is when the bible becomes all or nothing. When it’s events are kit bashed into the 21st century as “the way it should be”.
The bible is not a user’s manual. It’s where we were and gives some idea of where we should be going – (ie that whole redemption thing, forgiveness, loving your neighbours and all that)
Can you learn from it? Sure but you need to adapt it to the world as it is not adopt it as written from a long dead civilization.
You have a conscience. You know right from wrong. If you’re going to look at the bible then when you come across passages that are harsh, keep in mind – it was written in a harsh time. Understand where the writer was coming from and take it from there.
As Jiminy Cricket said “Let your conscience be your guide”*
*offer void where prohibited by law.
Can be, when it’s on the very dark side of the spectrum of good and evil.
The researched situation where I first encountered this concept of “interlocking directory” was a region in the Pacific Northwest where a small number of families wielded influence in a wide range of domains: media, business, philanthropy, politics, etc. So, it was more about prestige and power than about wealth (though many of these families were well-off financially). They had a sort of monopoly or gridlock over the social-political-economic direction of the region. The public TV station in the region exposed the connections and how the relational connections were locking out other voices.
Once Entropy sets in over time, and the Old Boys’ Network goes into the rest state of Self-Perpetuating Oligarchy (big words for Hereditary Highborn Nobility with its boots on the necks of the Lowborn — Everybody Stamp Harder).
And all the MegaPastors now turn green with Envy wishing they were David Miscavage.
Unless we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg of Power Struggle?
Who’ll be standing next to who atop Lenin’s Tomb this coming May Day?
“When somebody wags their finger at you and lectures you about ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, remind them that flipping out and turning over tables is a viable option.”
Muff Potter wrote:
i.e. Pelvic Issues and ONLY Pelvic Issues?
I ended up resigning my positions on a couple of boards. As a trustee, I was obliged to act in the best interests of the charities, which started to become problematic when I was party to inside information in my secular employment.
Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:
And running after people with a whip in hand also.
Law Prof wrote:
And everything they dig up and produce is protected by attorney-client privilege. As transparent as blackout shades. It almost always ends up as a whitewash rather than investigation.
Comparing WC to WWC is ludicrous. And Hybels’ alleged behavior does not negate all the good WC has done, under his leadership, in its community and around the world. Whatever goes on behind closed doors, lives have been changed for the better at WC.
And to the person that says they sell “happy,” you’re way off there as well.
I love how people make categorical generalizations especially when it comes to church. The church is made up of people: all flawed. None of us are all good or bad, happy or sad, sinful or sinless.
Great things and terrible things can be done by the same person. I’m sure everyone commenting here can dredge up plenty of examples in their own lives. There’s a lot of gray here. Let’s weed through it before tossing someone in the trash.
@ Muff Potter:
Hopefully he will define “biblical justice” upfront. There could be as many definitions as there are believers.
Pass Social Media, And Successfully Sow More Seeds For The Kingdom Of God, Perhaps?
Higher, and Higher?
Beginning this October (2018), Heather Larson will become the WIllow Creek church lead pastor and Steve Carter will be the lead teaching pastor.
Bill Hybills who has served faithfully at WC as Senior Pastor for the past 40 years will soon serve as Senior Pastor Emeritus.
Willow Creek exists to honor God, to advance the faithful Gospel message of Jesus Christ to all who are lost; to assist all those who have allowed the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God, and God’s Son Jesus Christ to be a part of their lives, washing all their heart aches away, and preparing them for an eternal home in heaven…
“Against ‘The Word of God’, the gates of social media shall not prevail.“ ™
‘Certainly from the ashes, we can build another glorious day…’ (1)
‘Willow Creek is ‘Rolling With The Changes…’ (2)
Just like “Biblical Manhood”?
Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:
Biblical seems to be a code word for something.
Since some are Biblical experts, ‘suppose they have all the answers.
“Biblical seems to be a code word for something.”
it means “I automatically win”.
Wow, that’s telling. Not sure I’d want to go there.
It actually seems to mean “my biblical interpretation of justice, which is the correct and only acceptable interpretation.”
“The problem is when the bible becomes all or nothing…
The bible is not a user’s manual. It’s where we were and gives some idea of where we should be going – (ie that whole redemption thing, forgiveness, loving your neighbours and all that)….
You have a conscience. You know right from wrong….
As Jiminy Cricket said “Let your conscience be your guide”
thank you for taking the time to share all those thoughts. I agree.
all my life i’ve heard the word “biblical” – even as a young kid, i think i reserved the right not to buy into it — something about the biblical God instructing people to kill babies and kids, when he wasn’t doing it himself, made me very cautious about that word at age 7.
a few attempts at pondering my initial question & my brain short-circuited with a fizzle. all i could come up with was biblical justice being about as meaningful as biblical scuba diving.
but i’m interested to hear disagreement. very curious.
@ Law Prof:
Angrily defending one’s reputation from the pulpit, bully pulpit, may work in the church, but it will garner no traction in a real job, the real world. Sexual harassment is criminal. A US Rep. resigned today over improper conduct and a settlement.
“Wow, that’s telling. Not sure I’d want to go there.”
telling,…. as in what would prompt me to have that conclusion?
the only time i have ever heard this word is in persuasion. persuading the audience to buy into the point being made or to buy into the speaker’s ‘expertise’.
i have some convictions about what the bible says. as soon as i qualify them as biblical, many other christians will immediately tell me i’m wrong. they won’t even agree amongst themselves, except for the fact that i’m wrong.
we can’t all be right.
like Muff says, i have hope. i see glimmers of things, & that’s enough. i experience a certain amount of cause & effect (i pray, i get feedback, & at times circumstances shift). these are bonuses.
i love this verse:
“God…has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;” (Acts 17)
i take the ‘preappointed’ bit with a grain of salt (i think Paul was a little off on that idea).
but that image of slowly walking in the dark, hands outstretched, God is just opposite me walking backwards, his hands outstretched to mine just in case. and God is saying to me “good…keep going…that’s it…you’re doing fine…”
that’s me. the only real certainty i have is that God is, and that God is good.
Touching, touched my heart. Thanks so much for this encouraging word, elastigirl. God bless you. Hundredfold.
that makes me happy!
On occasions I’ve seen the “it’s biblical” comeback used to shutdown debate. The most recent case of “it’s biblical” was a non-profit director defending her use of Matthew 18 for the policy on how employees were supposed to direct their concerns or complaints. I had to bite my tongue as the only thing “biblical” that popped into my mind was Matthew 27:5.
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
Well, it is biblical.
“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Galatians 5:12
…i’m kind of partial to this one.
Later today, Man City host Evilchester United, and the significance of the fixture is that if City win, they will secure the Premiership title. I’m a bit conflicted about this. Nobody wants to see Evilchester United pick up points, and it would be good from a fitba’-ing POV for City to clinch the title against their Manchester rivals.
On the other hand, that will mean they can give their undivided attention to the GiveUsYerMoney Cup, in which they play the second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday. If United win this afternoon, then City will need at least two more wins to secure the title. We could do with them being at least a little unfocused for that fixture…
With progressives it’s fashionable to reduce Torah to a caricature of stonings at the whim and fancy of a blood thirsty dessert god.
With fundagelicals, and so long as the justice aspect is confined to sexual mores, the shouts of Amen! and Praise God! will fill the rafters.
I believe there’s a middle ground between the two extremes.
A middle ground with an eye for real life practical ‘Biblical’ justice taken from Leviticus 25.
Author Jonathan Brandow points this out in an essay here:
Food for thought: my understanding is the Hebrew concept of justice is setting things right, putting things into their their proper order. And the Hebrew words for justice and righteousness are near synonyms. So much so that translations into English often swap them. That idea of justice is also closely related to mercy. It’s very different from the Western idea of it being primarily about making a punishment fit the crime, and the idea that justice and mercy are opposites.
@ Muff Potter:
thanks, muff. i read article, but i need to read it again to get a better grasp.
@ Ken F (aka Tweed):
@ Ken F (aka Tweed):
I agree. In Jewish thought there is no separation between ‘faith’ and ‘works’, one completely defines the existence (or non-existence) of the other.
The above story is how an Independedent Study works. The District hired/paid an out-of-state law firm to look into allegations of sexual misconduct among students. Their findings resulted in 34 misdemeanors and 9 felonies, as now charged by the local sheriff.
Furthermore, the Superintendent resigned, the High School Principal is retiring, and the Athletic Director is no longer employed by the District. (Administration claimed ignorance but no one is buying it.)
How one business cleaned up onsite sexual harassment clients-to-employees. The church could do this with the church attending crowd (“customers”).
The business owner deems her solution “elegant”. “The system acknowledges the differences in the ways men and women experience the world, while creating a safe workplace.”
Most important is that the business owner did not hand-wave the problem when she became aware. “I went home and started bawling. I couldn’t believe this was happening right under my nose.”
Then she went back to work and they came up with a solution that works. Real world as opposed to Evangelical “Biblical” Bubble.
I have my own form of spirituality but it’s heavily influenced by “Christian” culture – I was raised Christian, my parents were Christian.
It sounds like “biblical” was kind of defined for you by others as you matured in the church. I don’t know if you remember this but when I first came to this forum, I was trying to re-engage in Christianity.
One of your comments to me was to not let others define what is Christian for me.
That was good advice – I just expanded it to include my entire set of beliefs.
Much of the abuse we see documented here involves others having their beliefs dictated to them, even if it doesn’t seem right. And that’s what causes such misery – Most Christians want to do the right thing…and they wind up giving a standing ovation to a molester. Now if that doesn’t mess with your psyche, I don’t know what will.
Whether it’s a pastor, imam, rabbi or guru, no one person or group should be able to control what you think.
Ultimately no one has the right answer, you’re going to have to look at the evidence before you, don’t shy from the tough questions or be afraid of looking at the answers.
Right now I’m happy trying to work this rubiks cube called life to its conclusion. All I can say with any honesty is “I don’t know”
The fact that you’re even asking these questions indicates that you care about doing the right thing.
Jack, Muff, Ken, the Bible – we’re all right and we’re all wrong.
Here’s a profound quote that has helped me in many a dark moment
“Be excellent to each other….and party on, Dudes!” – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
I might sound Shirley McClane-ish but only you have the right answer.
…or is that “only you can prevent forest fires”?
Shirley, Jiminy, Smoky the Bear – it’s all one philosophical mess…
Thanks for posting those. Everything seems so broken, it’s encouraging to read of some system that works that doesn’t put all the responsibility on women. I just wish WaPo didn’t limit articles. I would have liked to read some of the links at the end of the editorial.
Muff Potter wrote:
at least I’m sort of out wrote:
What’s broken is how the Evangelical churches function. Outside of the churches, regular professional people solve these problems, sometimes, as the business owner said, “elegantly”.
Question for leadership: a pervert enters your church, what do you do? If they are your biggest donor? Even more telling, a leadership bro is found to be a pervert, what do you do? We know what Conlee and his people do: applaud, provide security detail, etc.
Jesus never had a building in His work. Everything was in the open so He never provided predators a playground. He met all types in public places, and He met His own in their homes.
Jude warns of “ungodly men” who had “crept in unawares” (Jude 1:4; also verse 15). Some focus on doctrine – what about behavior?
I don’t remember that comment interaction, but it matches my m.o. of no one tells me what to think, believe, or what to do.
(except for my foray into a controlling church environment — i still don’t know how it happened… it was so sneaky… i’m all bemusement, there. but at least i recovered.)
biblical means ‘truthfully, the truest of true truth’ — but, of course, it is defined by the one speaking. very silly word.
so true, we’re all right and we’re all wrong.
there’s only one thing to do: Be excellent to each other….and party on.
(those could be song lyrics)
plus, moderation in all things.
“I might sound Shirley McClane-ish but only you have the right answer.
…or is that “only you can prevent forest fires”?
Shirley, Jiminy, Smoky the Bear – it’s all one philosophical mess…”
in the end, one’s conclusions are one’s own. seems silly not to work one’s way out of espousing someone else’s conclusions that don’t sit quite right in one’s mind.
your statements just above here instantly brought to mind a tangle of dried moss, grasses leaves, twigs, and a busy ant making its way through it all while carrying a useful building block of some kind for his/her ant world.
that’s us. making our way through the philosophical mess, taking along what useful.
Here’s the solution. Sounds pretty good:
Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:
Owner Erin Wade says the word is out and they rarely have issues now. “Elegant” she says. It’d be nice if churches similarly created safe harassment-free environments for all, participants and employees alike.
Amen. And under no obligation to sign on to a package deal.
I wish that were true!
“Though Denhollander’s doggedness in calling for accountability for Sovereign Grace and Mahaney has received less mainstream attention than her testimony against Nassar, it is just as bold. Sovereign Grace, like USA Gymnastics, remains a large and influential institution. And while Mahaney has many critics, he remains a leader in the mainstream evangelical community. Denhollander has been scathing in her assessment of how evangelicals handle abuse in their own communities. “The ultimate reality that I live with is that if my abuser had been Nathaniel Morales instead of Larry Nassar,” she told Christianity Today, “I would not only not have evangelical support, I would be actively vilified and lied about by every single evangelical leader out there.” ”
As Denhollander said, it is one thing to take on USA Gymnastics and put the predator away, but that hasn’t worked the same in at least some cases in the Evangelical community.
For predators and their victims in the Evangelical community, it’s a different reality, for some reason.
What is nice about Erin Wade’s business solution is that it is preventative.
If they want to get to the bottom of this – then why not subpoena the 1,000 emails between Bill Hybels and the mystery woman from her computer since those on his computer cannot be read.
This. This is what’s disturbing in this whole process (not to mention the women and church members have been traumatized). The complete lack of regard and even acknowledgement of what Scripture has to say for dealing with and resolving these kinds of sins and abuses.
The words of Paul in I Corinthians 6 seem penetrating here; “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?”
And granted – for those who actually know the Scriptures – the situation at Willow is not entirely parallel to what’s going on in I Corinthians 6, but goodness gracious, in all the articles I’ve read on this situation, I haven’t seen one mention on dealing with sinful elders from I Timothy 5, not one mention of church discipline from Matthew 18, or one reference to these this chapter and the prior in I Corinthians on dealing with sexual sin in the church.
It’s as if Willow is so enamored with the corporate world and corporate processes that biblical guidelines are somehow outdated and irrelevant. And I already know the type of response I’ll get to this line of reasoning: “but Willow is such a large and complex organization, the Scripture isn’t equipped to deal with these kinds of situations.
As I heard a favorite preacher of mine say recently, “How do you know when your church is too big? When it’s too big to obey the commands of Scripture!”