Two days ago the Chicago Tribune reported on the early resignation of Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburbs. I’ve never been a Willow Creeker, but I appreciate the church’s commitment to reaching people in faith. It turns out Hybels may also have been reaching for women in ways that sound an awful lot like sexual misconduct.
This past week’s #MeToo claims aren’t unique to evangelical churches like Willow Creek. Sexual misconduct happens in churches big and small, progressive and conservative, by and to people young and old, rich and poor, sophisticated and simple, male and female, gay and straight and everyone else on the LGBTQ spectrum. In twenty-five years of congregational ministry, just when I think I’ve heard it all, I hear another story of inappropriate behavior, broken trust, deceitful relationships, abuse of power. I think nothing surprises me anymore, and then a new story leaves me shocked and sad.
Sexual misconduct and abuse in the church is nothing new. Many of the apostle Paul’s strong words in the epistles are actually condemnations of inappropriate and dangerous use of sexuality within faith communities. What is relatively new are preventative actions within churches to maintain appropriate boundaries and to keep those who are vulnerable safe and whole.
As pastors in National Capital Presbytery, both John Molina-Moore and I go through background checks and are required to complete sexual misconduct prevention training every three years. We both are committed to observing healthy boundaries in our pastoral ministry and personal lives.
Several years ago, Western adopted a child and youth safety policy required of all who serve with children and youth, paid staff and volunteers. Our PC(USA) Book of Order now requires such a policy of every congregation. Those who are part of Western’s children’s and youth ministry must review the policy every three years, and following worship this Sunday, you have the opportunity to become certified or recertified in the policy. We’ll meet following worship in the Conference Room; if you can’t come this Sunday, please stay posted for other dates and opportunities.
I should add that as I get ready for my fifth presbytery training, a part of me thinks, “Do I really have to do this again?” After all these years, however, I’ve come to value this training as part of Western’s commitment both to healthy sexuality and to remaining an open yet safe space for all. I hope you’ll join me in this movement!
Grace and peace,