When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy and prosperous. Now, if that man, when he gets all he can and saves all he can, does not give all he can, I have more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man! – John Wesley
The mainstream media is reporting that the former pastor, Bill Hybels, has been accused of sexual misconduct. They report there have been numerous accounts over the course of his ministry. I am baffled, saddened, and sit in disbelief along with thousands of other Christians. According to the article, he has not been legally charged in any way. But we know we will all make some sort of judgment over the next several days.
My first thought is that I find it hard to believe Hybels is the Harvey Weinstein of the church world. And my second thought was that I want to believe the women because (one) I am one and (two) the church has been guilty of such things in the past. Did you just let out a loud sigh? Me too!
I recently heard a podcast by Malcomb Gladwell about the reliability of our memories. It will totally mess with your head, especially when he starts talking about the science. Sometimes our memories get jumbled together. Sometimes we misinterpret a gesture of compassion for flirtation. We all know someone who has been falsely accused of something, anything. It may not be sexually related, but you know someone. I know someone. A few someones. Even a few someones who were falsely accused of sexual misconduct. But, in the case of Weinstein and Hybels, that’s a lot of accusations. Too many to be dismissed. Too many to not ask more questions.
We are all vulnerable. Even you. Even me. Even Hybels. Fatigue, stress, the pressure to succeed and perform and excel all make us vulnerable. I was there. If you are human, then you have been there, too. I could have and would have given in to temptation had the circumstances been right. And the same is true for you, so let’s stop lying to ourselves. It’s why we need accountability.
As a new believer in Christ, I had baggage. And I put myself in situations that left me vulnerable; emotionally, physically, mentally. It was God’s incredible grace that rushed in to provide a way out. I took the warning. A few times I didn’t take the warning quickly enough and God’s grace slapped me upside the head. He reminded me that humiliation is often the ultimate form of grace…and mercy. In my current assignment, I have board members who know they can approach me at any time and they have done so. They have asked if I really meant to say or do something because it didn’t seem appropriate; it didn’t seem in line with my values. They gave me an opportunity to explain and/or to apologize.
I appreciate the #MeToo movement and the stance women are taking now. They are doing their best to overcome fear and intimidation. They are attempting to bring down the patriarchy. I understand. I have experienced harassment in the past as well. In my “former life” (read before becoming a pastor), I was a wedding photographer. One of our bosses used to harass all the women photographers. My (female) co-worker confronted him saying that one day he would “probably be charged with sexual harassment”. His response? He laughed.
My fear is that this will not bring down the patriarchy. Instead, it will serve to prop it up. Women (in the church) will be sidelined once again and relegated to traditional roles. It will serve our complementarian friends well and our egalitarian friends will remain silent. We (women clergy) will be uninvited to the table. And, in the end, the curtain closes and patriarchy is left intact.
I want justice for all the women and all the men. I want justice for all the girls and all the boys. But in our attempt to bring justice are we actually feeding the beast? There must be a better way. There must be a third way. There must be a Jesus way that doesn’t leave us caught in a snare.
I believe Jesus did give us a better way; a third way. We need more [women] at the table, not less. When there are more women at the table is levels out the testosterone in the room. The women are free to be themselves and the men are free to be themselves. And when we are free to be ourselves, then we can be about the business of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Earth.
For some of us, this Hybels story needs to be a wake-up call. We need to implement some accountability in our lives. And by accountability, I don’t mean the “Billy Graham Rule“. Women are not vices. They are people. They are representatives of God on earth. (see Genesis 1-2). Sin is born of our selfish, unchecked, unsurrendered desires (see James; the entire book). As pastors and Christians, we need mentors and friends who will walk with us in life. Too often we cut ourselves off and keep people at arm’s length. And this only serves sin’s purpose.
Here is a great goal for the last half of 2018: find a friend, preferably two or three. Will they let you down? Probably. Definitely. Absolutely. And that is because they need your accountability just as much as you need theirs. Do it anyway! It’s the only way we will bring down the patriarchy and set up the Kingdom of God in its place.