As I have observed the efforts to get churches to pause on their involvement in the GLS as an expression of support for the women who have been abused, another concern has been formulating in my thinking relative to the GLS. In all of my involvements as a participant in the GLS there has been a heavy emphasis on the impact of healthy leadership on the formulation of a healthy organizational culture. So how, with all of this emphasis and all of this championing of great leadership, has it been that Willow Creek Community Church has, at its core, one of the unhealthiest cultures led by someone who is even now denying wrongdoing?
How did a church know for over four years that serious allegations were being made against the senior pastor and no one in the congregation had even a faint whisper of knowledge of a legal evaluation costing thousands of dollars? The culture of patronization of the parishioners whereby only the elders or senior leaders know of these serious issues is incredible. But it is an expression of a pattern that has described the ongoing repression or suppression of negative information in the interest of only showing the good or perfect and hiding the ugly underbelly of the church. Since when is the church to only look good rather than being good? When perfection drives the image of the church, any threat to that picture has to be quickly and effectively dealt with by secretive actions by the leadership.
My view of the church from scripture is that it has a lot of ugliness. Lots of conflict. Lots of leadership struggles. Lots of sin in the midst of the people. Lots of power struggles and faction creating. And it was not hidden. Instead, it was revealed in all of its ugliness so real humans can look at the real human condition in the face of our sinfulness. Nowhere in scripture does it portray a fake, plastic looking body of Christ. Instead it reveals in all of its darkness the real human struggles of people who hurt each other and do things that must come out and be dealt with. In other words, the church of scripture did not hide but rather was transparent so that real healthy solutions could be discussed in light of our sinfulness and our need to grow in the fruits of the spirit. A perfect looking church can only be sustained in an atmosphere of deep repression and suppression of the real brokenness of the people who inhabit its community.
People have come and gone at Willow and nobody really knows why. Many leadership people who were loved by a great deal of the congregation, suddenly left. Questions were always formed as to why, but again the paternalistic attitude of leadership was one of just trust us. But many of us who know the insides of the church know that there has been some ugly conflict, ugly sin, and ugly repressive behaviors on the part of leadership. But just trust us.
As I have discussed before, silence was bought by severance and non-disclosure agreements. People were spirited quickly out of the church by intimidating legal threats because they represented potential ugliness to the church image. And the strong and dominating influence of the senior pastor set the tone. And now the ugliness of his actions must be repressed, denied, minimized, or allowed to fade with time. Same MO. The structural integrity (really lack of integrity) of how to continue an image of perfection is still at work. The leader groomed the current leaders, so this is all they know. Still shameful.
So does a healthy culture produce a perfect looking church? Absolutely not. The thing that makes the church so powerful is not impressing people but modeling for people pathways through ugliness and brokenness. Treating people like children who cannot know the pain or sin that goes on in the internal culture of the church sends a message that they should repress their own brokenness, and not bring it to the body of Christ. Confess your sin one to the other. Novel idea? No the core of authenticity.
How does Willow sponsor and support the GLS for so many years, and still maintain an essentially unhealthy culture? In our personal lives we would call this hypocrisy. So can we call out the WCA and the GLS and say walk the walk before you talk the talk? Do the churches and other leaders know the essential inconsistency that this models to the world? That is the problem I have with the GLS.