I read this article as a response to Willow Creek’s recent change in leadership and feel that the issues we are facing with #MeToo in churches, are still not being addressed. This article is an example. Surratt lists four responses to the recent stepping down of leadership at Willow Creek. He suggests that four traps we can avoid, concerning this issue are: 1) Autonomy of Local Churches, 2) Opacity of Elder Boards, 3) Celebrity of Pastors, and 4) Over Emphasis of Attendance and Growth. What shocked me is that none of these led to the elders stepping down at Willow Creek. While I appreciate Surratt’s support of the leadership’s removal–I noticed that he made only a brief reference to the sexual sin against the women who have come forward. The leaders at Willow Creek stepped down because Bill Hybil has been accused repeatedly of sexual sin, harassment, and inappropriate behavior toward females. They stepped down because they did not respond to the cries of victims who have for many years come forward with claims of sin from their Pastor (who they are to trust and feel safe with). In reading Surrat’s article I did not read obvious issues churches can avoid such as, “treat women with respect as God intended,” or “listen to the voice of victims and take sexual abuse charges seriously,” or “take sexual allegations seriously,” or even, “create a climate where males are taught to value women as co-heirs in the kingdom,” and others.
What shocks me is that the elephant in the sanctuary is staring us in the face, yet we deflect the discussion by blaming “celebrity status,” or “congregational accountability,” and “growth.” Male leaders don’t abuse women because they want to grow as a church–they abuse women because they believe it is their right. They abuse women and harass them because they do not see them as humans in the image of God. They abuse women because they do not believe God hears the cries of the vulnerable in our society (Prov 21:13; 1 Peter 3:7). Church leadership doesn’t hesitate to confront their leader over sin because they have a closed door policy, they hesitate because they believe their Pastor over a female or females who overcome their shame to speak out. They don’t hesitate because their church is autonomous, they resist because they believe that women create false allegations rather than the reality that males have historically oppressed women and kept them silent.
If the church and our leaders want to prevent what has happened at Willow Creek, it must first teach males to treat women as co-heirs in the kingdom and value their voice–or this will continue to be sin for our congregations. The church must ground our theology in a God who hears the cries of the vulnerable rather than the powerful. The church must stand in the camp of the marginalized like our Savior Jesus, the friend of the marginalized and voice of the vulnerable.