A couple of weeks ago I was lecturing about George Whitefield to a group of K-12 history teachers gathered for a summer seminar at Princeton University. I was rambling-on about Whitefield’s celebrity and his ability to attract large crowds. I talked about his ability to unite Atlantic provincials in a common evangelicalism. I described his relationship with Ben Franklin, his founding of an orphanage in Georgia, and his leadership of the First Great Awakening.
At one point in the lecture, an elementary-school social studies teacher who had never heard of Whitefield raised her hand and asked, “So what happened with this guy? As I hear you talk I am expecting some kind of scandal or moral indiscretion. How did Whitefield fall?” This teacher seemed surprised that Whitefield never got caught-up in some kind of sex scandal. She assumed that the Whitefield story ended badly. We stopped and talked about Whitefield’s self-promotion, his ownership of slaves, and the way he divided local congregations, but as far as I know there was never an Elmer Gantry or Jimmy Swaggart moment in Whitefield’s life.
I thought about this teacher’s question as I read more about Bill Hybels and his moral indiscretions while serving as pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. She may have meant her question to be snarky or cynical, but I did not take it this way. It seemed like she had just come to expect this kind of thing from popular and powerful evangelical preachers.
You can get up to speed on the recent developments in the Hybels case by reading Laurie Goodstein’s piece in The New York Times. I also appreciate Scot McKnight’s critique of Willow Creek and Hybels at Jesus Creed. McKnight once attended Willow Creek.
Here is a taste of McKnight’s post; “Willow Creek, Your Time is Now”:
The time is now to be guided by this independent council of wisdom to tell the truth about Bill, to tell the truth about the women and Bill’s inappropriate, sexual relations, to tell the truth about governance that protected Bill’s reputation rather than Willow’s congregation, to tell the truth about bullying by the leaders through the Human Resources and buying silence through NDA (non disclosure agreements), to tell the truth about how the WCA’s Board was told by the three who resigned when the WCA refused to investigate Bill Hybels, and to tell the truth about the need for an independent investigation. The investigators cannot choose those who have to be investigated. An independent leadership council must do the choosing. Willow must be willing to listen to the council. It is also time to tell the truth, in spite of what has been said by leaders after his resignation, about Bill’s continued contact with leaders at Willow to shape decisions.
It is time now to find the truth, to be transparent, to investigate the governance, and to tell that truth honestly.
The women told the truth. The Willow narrative is a false and deceptive narrative.
Why was it so easy for the journalists at Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today to find stories from women but Willow’s so-called investigation turned up nothing?
The time is now. Willow, your time is now. Time to find the truth, tell the truth, and live into that truth.
Read the entire piece here.