In Defense of Denominations

Hybels

Over at Religion News Service, Trish Harrison Warren argues that the sexual misconduct by former Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels should force evangelicals to rethink their commitment to denominations.  Here is a taste of her piece “Willow Creek’s crash shows why denominations still matter“:

Denominations, however imperfect, often have more robust accountability measures in place for their leaders (these measures do not rely on close friends or parishioners of the accused).

As merely one example, in my denomination, a bishop can “inhibit” a church leader from future ministry or an ecclesiastical court — comprising both ordained and lay members — can conduct a trial and decide to depose a clergy person altogether (more commonly known as being defrocked). His or her ordination would be revoked and there are systems in place to ensure he or she would never be a leader in any other Anglican church.  (If a leader is accused of a crime, he or she is also mandatorily reported to civil authorities for investigation.)

The point of church discipline is both to help bring the accused person to repentance and also to protect the larger, global church body from harm.

I wonder if the Willow Creek crisis signals a tacit end to nondenominationalism as a model for future church planting. Certainly, a conversation is brewing among evangelicals about the need for healthy institutions and older traditions as we navigate our future.

Clearly, there is a kind of denominationalism that is corrosive and corrupting. Likewise, institutionalism, the idolatry and self-protection of institutions, has produced massive evil. As allegations against several evangelical celebrity pastors came to light last summer, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing large-scale sexual abuse of children and a massive systematic cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s utterly apparent that denominations and ecclesial institutions will not rescue us from sin and abuse of power.

Read the entire piece here.

What is (Still) Happening at Columbia International University?

CIU

Last week we did a post on Mark and Dan Smith.  Mark is the new president of Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College).  Dan is Mark’s son.  Dan did some pretty nasty things when his father was president of Ohio Christian University.  And his father, Mark, has been accused of covering for his son.  (He denies it and Columbia International University stands by Mark).

In the wake of the Smith allegation, alumni of Columbia International are now calling for an investigation into a culture of sexual harassment at the school.

Here is a taste of Lucas Daprile’s reporting at The State:

After The State published its story about Mark and Doug Smith, alumni started an online petition calling for an investigation of the school’s culture. As of Friday, the petition had more than 400 signatures — twice its original goal — since it was created Monday evening.

“It was an accepted part of the culture,” said Andria Baisley, who graduated from CIU in 2007. “Every alumni I’ve interacted with since the story broke had at least one story of sexual harassment or knew of someone who experienced sexual harassment.”

The eight people interviewed by The State spoke about incidents they say happened prior to the Smiths’ arrival at CIU. But most said the newspaper’s reporting on the Smiths’ time at Ohio Christian prompted them to come forward about their experiences at CIU. Since none of the former students reported the alleged acts, there are no formal records of the complaints.

One student said she was sexually assaulted by a faculty member, while some others talked about inappropriate touching. Others heard comments that they considered inappropriate or harassing.

A law firm representing CIU issued a statement saying that the college’s policies prohibit sexual harassment and misconduct. It encourages any student who has been harassed to report it to the university’s Title IX coordinator or university administration.

I am not sure what to make about the law firm’s statement: “the college’s policies prohibit sexual harassment and misconduct.”  Shouldn’t this be stating the obvious?

Read the entire piece here.

What is Going On With Bill Hybels and Willow Creek?

Hybels

While I lived in Chicagoland in the early 1990s I occasionally drove out to Barrington to worship at Willow Creek Community Church.  I was always edified by the sermons of pastor and Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels.

I was thus shocked to see this long Chicago Tribune article on alleged sexual harassment.  Hybels denies everything, but it does seem like there is some credible evidence from his accusers.  Read the piece here.  Christianity Today also has it covered here.  We will see how this unfolds.