“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.