Once again, institutional, corporate Christianity reels with groans and the grief that comes from exposure of high level corruption, this time from one of its seemingly untouchables—Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. It is no small stir. News publications such as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times have covered the story.
Colleagues figuratively shook their heads in disbelief, when (2 years ago, almost to the day) I openly criticized Bill Hybels, his World Vision and his Global Leadership Summit for other—shall we say—more organizationally acceptable forms of corruption. To challenge Mr. Hybels and the Willow Creek brand was to commit sacrilege. Yet, that very cult-follower toxicity is exactly what kept Mr. Hybels’ secrets in the dark for so long, and it is also what kept his elder board (made up of mostly lawyers and finance executives) from seeing that they were being complicit to a narcissistic megalomaniac’s defense mechanisms.
Fundamentalist and conservative Evangelicalism is full of churches, associations, and networks, which operate from a corporate pyramid model of leadership that offers little real, mutual accountability. But wait, so does all of Western, institutional Christianity… because, the Reformers of the 16th Century clutched onto hierarchy or “organizational authority,” in order to assert their own legitimacy for spiritual authority, instead of just ditching the professional ministry paradigm along with the other Roman Catholic forms of apostasy that the Reformers discounted.
If Westen Christianity learns nothing from cases like Bill Hybels or from the plethora of other criminal cases of the #MeToo and pedophilia scandals sort, then we’re just headed for more of the same. I’m hopeful Christians everywhere will learn that the Church is people, not an institution or a brand or a political agenda. I hope Christians will stop idolizing public figure leaders, who preach “success,” while leading themselves and their “followers” to perils of the soul. I hope leaders will realize they have no legitimate claim to any authority over others, administrative or otherwise.
As one responded on Twitter:
Seems to (hopefully) reiterate the end of idolizing one “great man” in pulpit (I.e. separate Driscoll issue), and move toward Hauerwas’ call (In Good Company) for collective leadership emphasis.
— Austin Bailey (@austinbaileyws) August 9, 2018
I could not agree more.