Years ago in my MBA program when I took a Business Ethics course and wrote my term paper on the subject of whistleblowers, I learned that all whistleblowers, without exception, are harshly critiqued on account of the method they use to publicize their whistleblowing message. Whether the method of communication is a subdued internal message as with Enron’s whistleblower, Sherron Watkins (who technically didn’t really blow the whistle), or a bold external message as was the case with Willow Creek’s former leader of worship, Vonda Dyer, whistleblowers notoriously are scapegoated as “liars” or “troublemakers” or something of the like, or worse.
For obvious reasons, unrepentant power brokers target truth tellers and create false narratives that ironically make the whistleblowers appear to be disobedient when, in reality, the powers-that-be are right in the middle of getting caught. Because truth shines light, guilty authority figures try to snuff out the light by framing the whistleblower as the problem. In common parlance this terrible tactic is known as “shooting the messenger.”
So, you see, from the vantage point of recalcitrant officials, there is simply no way–no acceptable method–for bringing such truth into the light. As Jesus bluntly put it, “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come into the light, lest his [sic] deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20).
In the Willow Creek crisis, whistleblowers decided to allow the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times to serve as media conduits for broadcasting their testimonies about the sexual abuse they suffered and how the Willow Creek board for over four years sided with Bill Hybels instead of doing its governance job to halt Bill’s alleged, decades-long, grooming-gaslighting, predatory patterns.
When the shocking news was published last spring about Bill Hybels, many people gasped in pain and disbelief. Those who sympathized with the women were instantly morally outraged. But the codependent people who took refuge in denial held to hollow hope in Hybels and framed the victims’ cries as selfishly divisive exaggerations. For those who were too stunned to know whom to believe, the focus fell on the method of how the whistleblowers unveiled their indicting testimonies.
For example, the unretracted part that Willow elder, Heather Larson, said she disagreed with was the women taking their stories to the newspaper.
So before I share my plight involving the Simpson governance board, I first want to acknowledge that Simpson University in Redding, CA is not nearly as well known as Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. Although Simpson is almost a century old (founded in 1921) and named after A.B. Simpson (1843-1919) a profoundly devout evangelist who is credited as the founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination, Simpson University has never quite found its voice or cast a compelling vision.
Still, it’s fair, in my opinion, to liken Simpson University to Willow Creek because the governing boards of both abused their governance power.
When Willow’s whistleblowers were predictably scapegoated for turning to giant newspaper outlets, New Testament professor/author/blogger, Scot McKnight, offered words of spiritual guidance to help believers process the reasons why the women made the matter so public:
Is it biblical then to go public? The Bible’s language for this, and it is all over the Bible, is prophetic action. At times one has to go public, has to announce things public, has to speak the truth to the powers because the powers won’t listen.
In my case at Simpson, that’s exactly what happened to me — the board refused to listen and preferred to be deaf. In fact, the overall theme of my ongoing plight is the Simpson board deliberately depriving me of due process. Due process is the mechanism for discovering the truth, and sometimes hidden truth pertains to big lies told by respectable board members.
In my situation in 2012, the Simpson board itself, along with Simpson administrators, violated due process–and forbade me due process–though they promised me “due process” explicitly in writing in two simultaneous, formal iterations sealed with the hand-written signatures of four Simpson officials, including Board Chair Betty Dean.
In my last post I mentioned the Simpson faculty votes of “No Confidence” in Simpson’s presidents (in 2013 and 2016) and in Simpson’s board leaders (in 2016). All three of those votes of “No Confidence” relate to the board’s involvement in my saga. Be warned! When “Christian” boards do not want to come clean, they can use “Christian mediation” to make things worse. I understand and deeply appreciate why Willow’s whistleblower, Vonda Dyer, wrote this in one of her blogs (before the entire Willow Creek board collectively resigned):
Late Wednesday afternoon, May 23rd, hours before the most recent Willow Creek elder statement went public, I received a text from one of the Willow Creek elders, a friend and former ministry partner who had previously contacted me. He indicated that Willow Creek had engaged a third-party Christian conciliation firm to pursue resolution and reconciliation with the parties involved. This was not previously discussed with me nor requested by me. The engagement was confirmed on Wednesday night by the elders’ public statement, read by new Willow Creek elder board chairman Lane Moyer. Here is part of my response to the elder who contacted me:
“In reviewing the company you referenced (Crossroads Resolution Group), they are clearly Christian conciliators, and not independent investigators of abuse situations, including sexual harassment in the workplace. So, it appears that you are treating this like a relational dispute that needs to be resolved, rather than a 1 Timothy 5 situation of a leader being accused by 2 or more parties of patterns of sin. This is not an issue of relational reconciliation, it is an issue of dealing with the sin of a leader. This latest step by the elder board only further communicates to me that you either don’t understand the nature of the problem, or you collectively have no intention of discovering the truth and holding Bill accountable for whatever he has done.”
What Willow Creek is suggesting is the proverbial cart before the horse.
They continue to refuse to address the presenting issue, which is Bill Hybels’ sexual misconduct and abuse of power. They are skipping over several important steps while trying to catapult this to resolution by conciliation process. Transparency, accountability and repentance must occur before the process of reconciliation or resolution can begin.
Simpson University, likewise, has tried to minimalize my plight and reduce it to a clash of personalities, though clearly it pertains to destructive power abuses that have been called out by various parties. I am just one of the parties.
By God’s good hand of Providence, the timing of the Willow Creek crisis has been converging with the timing of the surging of my saga at Simpson. Even so, it feels vulnerable for me to be attempting to take prophetic action by typing up my story on this blog.
I close with one more line from Scot McKnight:
Prophetic action is profoundly biblical; it has been the agent of truth-telling, repentance, and restoration time and time again in the history of the Bible and the history of the church.