Please God……let them do the right thing.
That was my prayer and fervent hope as I walked into the Lakeside Auditorium last night for the meeting led by 9 new elders. The main floor was full, so a kind usher allowed us to sneak up into the balcony. There were 4 of us – my husband Warren, and our close friends who have been Willow members for decades.
The evening began with teaching on Reconciliation, grounded in Scripture.
Then Shoji Bolt spoke about their process, based on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s work on Reconciliation. She mentioned the first stage was about Listening to the Stories, uncovering truth.
Yes, that is what these new elders have been doing. Now she will tell us what they learned.
But the mic was passed to Sylvia Escobar, who talked about how she was initially judgmental when she learned of the news beginning in March 2018. She challenged all of us to examine our hearts, to see where we have been judgmental and to confess this to God.
Ok, so now she will surely explain what she knows now and she will specifically name the sins and apologize.
But before I knew it, we were taking Communion together, led by Steve Gillen.
This is a strange order of events….I thought confession and communion would come after Transparency and Truth…
Once we had participated in the Sacrament, the evening began to shift toward the future. Talking about how the Vision of Willow has not changed, updates on the Search for a new Senior Pastor. Prayers for the upcoming Leadership Summit.
I looked at my husband with big eyes and whispered, “That’s it….they’re not going to talk about it!”
I had such hopes for how this group of new elders would steward the information, the stories we told. In the past several weeks, Leanne and Jim Mellado, Nancy Ortberg, and Vonda and Scott Dyer all flew in to meet with them. Warren and I also had a meeting for a few hours, and I sat for 2 ½ hours as Pat Baranowski bravely, once again, told them her tragic story. These elders were compassionate and listened with tremendous empathy. They believed us. Many of them wept when they heard our stories. They apologized for how we were treated. I told many of my friends and family how hopeful I was.
And last night….that hope evaporated. I was stunned and devastated. They never spoke specifically about the information they hold. No names were spoken, including the name of Bill Hybels.
Whereas in March of 2018 there were two public meetings where several of us were labeled as colluders who mounted a campaign to bring down the church, and where the women were called “liars”, this meeting did not name any of the sin and abuse and deceit and failed leadership. Nothing was owned. No apologies were offered. They just taught about reconciliation.
Here is just a partial list of what I had hoped and expected them to say:
The story of how Bill Hybels abused his position of power over and over again creating an unhealthy culture of fear
The full 4-5 year process of how a group of us tried to work with the former elders and the lack of a truly impartial investigation
How that long process eventually led a group of us to make the exceedingly difficult decision to go to the press – after all the other options had been thwarted, including the attempts over 9 months to meet with Bill
How Bill instructed that his email evidence be destroyed, learned by the former elders in July 2018
The ways in which the character of the Ortbergs, Mellados, Betty Schmidt, Vonda Dyer, and myself were maligned
The serious errors of judgment made by the former elders and senior staff to believe Bill Hybels and not pursue the truth relentlessly
The severe cost of the abuse and harassment on the lives of all the women involved – Pat Baranowski’s story alone should fill us with outrage
The fact that the current elders have reached out more than once to the Hybels and they have declined to engage.
Truth and Transparency must come before Reconciliation. The church continues to refuse to tell the truth, to name what has happened, to call out sin. The meeting last night would have been wonderful if it had been a future step, after we acknowledge the mess and clean it up.
We trusted these new elders with our stories. We were vulnerable and open all over again. I was stunned and profoundly disappointed that they did not steward the stories well, that they did not go public with what they know to be true, other than the written statement released last week with some general statements and apologies. I wish they would have allowed some of us to speak, to share our story and experience with the congregation.
I realize that many who read this may well think, “Those people will never be satisfied.” I understand your point of view and the deep desire to move on. But please try, just for a moment, to put yourself in our shoes. We are only asking for people to courageously speak the truth. To call out and name the sin so that genuine healing can take place.
I lost hope last night that this will be made right. I keep trying to release it to the God of Justice. I am worn out and weary. Father, show me how to let it go…
I will not lose hope in my Heavenly Father. I will not give up on the church. I will continue to pray for and serve the Bride of Christ.