Welcome to this case study! I will track what happened starting March 2018 with Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) and the Willow Creek Association/Global Leadership Summit (WCA/GLS). This case study includes:
- Primary source materials–news reports, official statements, personal responses–to establish facts of events, timelines, and responses by people directly affected. This mostly involves Willow Creek Elders and key staff members, WCA/GLS Board, reported victims of sexual misconduct and spiritual abuse by Bill Hybels, and whistle-blowers who sought independent investigation and greater accountability.
- Secondary materials to provide commentary that involves analysis, observation of patterns and problems, interpretation, and/or reasoned speculation.
- Summaries and topical learning mini-modules that I have written to provide entries into learning about personal and organizational issues.
If you are wondering why I have invested time into creating this “time capsule,” it’s because I am a futurist — and I describe futurists as “archaeologists of the present.” Developing strategic foresight about the future depends on gaining a grasp on relevant situations in the past and the present. So, among our various tasks, we study the past, sift through the dust of the present before it settles, and act strategically in our reasoned attempts to pinpoint and curate items that seem to have significance for the future.
More specifically, it’s because the case study of systemic abuses pinpointed at Willow Creek Church and Association are crucial for understanding problems with people and paradigms in that stream of evangelicalism. As theologian and professor Scot McKnight has noted:
We need to remind ourselves of the significance of what we are watching: this case will be a textbook case for decades on the failure of a church — its Elders, its Boards — to listen to women, to evaluate accusations, and to have policies in place for handling a one-of-a-kind world-influencing leaders. How the Elders handled this case will be subject to intense discussions. Seminaries around the world will discuss the “Willow Creek Case” for years.
~ Scot McKnight, Willow: Why The Women Went Public? — posted on Jesus Creed, July 9, 2018
People other than just leaders in training, theologians, and ministry practitioners will find this archive of use. Those of us who are abuse survivors, support advocates, and social activists keep finding that centralized resources like this make it easier to study and reference what happened. Truth comes before reconciliation, and having access to the facts, opinions, and critical analysis brings a sort of “spiritual MRI” into the truth-telling process.
This in turn makes it easier to conserve and transfer to next generations the many lessons coming from challenges to destructive individuals, institutions, and ideologies. We want them to have continuity with the resource development that’s already been done so they don’t have to start from scratch. That will equip them with a knowledge base so they can better discern the times in which they live and how best to apply that body of wisdom they’ve received and have developed themselves.
Beside sharing our oral history or written recollections, how can we pass those principles and practices along? What can help with understanding the contours and interiors of real-world situations? Of detecting “disease” and promoting individual recovery and organizational repair?
Here’s the main thing I’ve come to believe about the practicality of case studies on systemic abuse and societal oppression: If we cannot learn to discern malignant people and toxic tactics in a case study, what makes us think those skills will be readily on our radar in real life in our own organization? Whether the situations are contemporary, historical, or well-researched fictional, case studies provide us practice!
I hope you will find this case study useful as you consider problems with power dynamics and systemic abuse in organizations you are involved with, and seek constructive practices to apply to problem identification, resolution, and prevention.