I just read the Christianity Today article about the G2 Summit of Friday December 13, 2018 hosted by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (my alma mater) on the timely topic: Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence. It was the first interdenominational gathering to address the problem of abusive power figures in evangelicalism since the #MeToo Movement began.
Simply seeing a few excerpts from the G2 speakers newly salves my soul. Speakers such as Ed Stetzer, Beth Moore, Nancy Beach, Max Lucado all stood up and talked about the severity of unchecked power abuses in Christian institutions. They spoke about the need for Christian communities to prevent this type of evil and help those who are hit by it. Oh my stars. I did not expect to experience any such level of validation from a general session of prominent people of “my tribe.” Although none of the keynotes are apprised of events I have endured, somehow, for the first time, I see a glimmer of light that maybe, just maybe, a segment of conservative evangelicals might take note of power abuses that have scandalized me for seven years.
I have never cast my Simpson saga as a #MeToo story. But now, at last, I see that’s what it is. Just saying that feels redemptive. (Thank you, G2.)
I also realize now that telling my Part 1 and Part 2 #MeToo testimony about Bill Hybels seemed #MeToo-ish because it included physical impropriety on Bill’s part. Although my plight at Simpson likewise entails elements of sexual harassment, overall, it didn’t seem like a #MeToo thing because those particular elements paled in my mind compared to my bewilderment at the spider web of lies that Simpson wove around me to entrap me.
At the G2 Summit, Nancy Beach put words to the organizational dynamic that fosters such a toxic work environment: “an inner circle of leaders” who are “complicit in enabling the primary leader’s bad behavior” because they themselves, as members of an elite group, directly benefit from the top leader’s power.
In other words, when an organization is ill, there’s a built-in disincentive for people at the top to tell the truth about its sickness. In an abusive situation, telling the truth amounts to losing personal status. That’s why those who benefit from the system the most usually refuse to listen to the truth, much less make things right.
Ironically, from the outside it appears to naive onlookers that the abusive organization is all the more credible since a whole posse of internal leaders are quick to say, as Willow Creek did, that everything’s fine inside the organization (except for the noisy static of those darn prophets and whistleblowers). This dynamic, too, makes it really tough on whoever is attempting to help the cancerous entity recover from undermining itself and self-destructing.
Another aspect of the problem is that whoever exposes the problem appears to be the problem in the eyes of everyone bowing to the system.
To make matters worse, if you stand your ground and hold the guilty accountable, you will likely be accused of “not forgiving” the perpetrator. How quickly Christians forget that forgiveness does not require enablement. It is not God’s way to say that evildoers should be forgiven, and enabled, and funded to continue their same patterns of abuse.
Part of our service as Christians is to stop the abuse. I Corinthians 5:13 says to “remove the wicked person” from among you. Remove them, so they might possibly get well. Remove them, so they don’t poison the entire organization. Remove them, so that victims are restored, not scapegoated and blamed and further exploited.
The Bible says, remove the wicked person. The perpetrator.
When organizational systems are not busted and cleaned out, the entity – being ill – projectile vomits out anyone who threatens the perpetuity of the abuse. Abuse cannot stand to be eliminated. Therefore, no trace of accountability can be found in such a system. Indeed, every arm and appendage becomes apparatus for sustaining the very problems that accountability processes were originally designed to resolve.
At the G2 Summit, Max Lucado said, “If the structure of your church does not have pastoral accountability, you need to question the structure of that church.”
To that I would add, if the structure lacks effective internal accountability, then it needs to be held in check by external accountability.
Abusive systems do not self-correct. They can’t because they’re too sick to. Power must be applied to overthrow the dysfunction that is suffocating the ministry. Raw power is needed, and that is okay because “power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11).
Yes, the power of prayer is essential. Yes, the power of the Holy Spirit is primary and works miracles. But more often than not, healing a sick ministry run by abusive leaders takes power in the form of a court:
- the court of public opinion via the newspapers (which is how the Willow Creek scandal gave way to its apparent course of healing);
- or the state or federal courts (sponsored by the Romans 13 government);
- or the most benevolent court of a genuinely Christian community that acts out of love for God and neighbor and stops the abuse by pressuring the ministry’s top leaders either to repent or resign.