Posts tagged ‘Character’

Another Revelation Rocks Willow Creek

Image result for bill hybels

This year was one unlike any other for the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit, which was held last week.  The annual event, which began in 1995 at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has drawn some of the biggest names in the world as its speakers – from U2’s Bono to President Bill Clinton to Prime Minister Tony Blair.  The Summit is broadcast all over the world, including at over 600 locations in the U.S. alone.  But when the Chicago Tribune published an expose last March accusing the Summit’s founder and former Senior Pastor at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, of making sexually inappropriate advances toward multiple women over a period of decades, the event found itself facing an unprecedented crisis.  Over 100 congregations withdrew as satellite host sites.  Speakers who were scheduled to teach at the Summit, including Denzel Washington, cancelled their appearances.

This past week, the Summit and Willow Creek suffered yet another blow as the New York Times published its own bombshell report chronicling a new story of another woman accusing Mr. Hybels of making sexually illicit advances toward her.  The revelations were so shocking that the church’s lead teaching pastor, Steve Carter, resigned his position the next day, citing his grave concern about the:

…church’s official response, and its ongoing approach to these painful issues. After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best.

This past Wednesday, the congregation’s other lead pastor, Heather Larson, along with the elder board, resigned their positions after apologizing for not more sensitively and thoroughly addressing and investigating the accusations leveled against Mr. Hybels.  A church that was once the gold standard for leadership, witness, teaching, and worship has been laid low in a matter of months.

As I have written before, Willow Creek has had a formative influence on me in my ministry.  I am thankful for all the congregation has given the worldwide Church.  Unfortunately, it is now offering the Church a lesson it certainly never planned or wanted to – a first-hand warning of what happens when hypocrisy and secrecy overtakes integrity and transparency.  The results speak for themselves.

Several years ago, Bill Hybels wrote a book titled, Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  In it, he extolled the value of character, which he defined as “what we do when no one is looking.”  Character is being the same person in private as you present yourself to be in public.  He was right in what he wrote.  It appears he was very wrong in how he lived.  And now, not only are he and his legacy left in tatters, the church and Summit he founded, the staff he led, and the family who thought they knew him are paying an inestimably steep price.  Lapses in integrity never affect only the perpetrator.

Because we are all sinful, none of us live with full integrity.  We are all, to one extent or another, hypocrites.  The best way to deal with inevitable lapses in integrity is to tell the truth about them fully and immediately.  Sin is killed by confession.  Unfortunately, our reflex is not to confess our sin, but to cover it up.  When Adam and Eve committed history’s first sin by eating fruit from a tree of which God had commanded they should not, Genesis 3:8 says, “They hid from the LORD.”  Adam and Eve thought it would be better to keep the secret of their sin than to tell the truth about their sin.  They were wrong – a fact to which all of history is still testifying as we endure the effects of their first sin and cover-up.

Secrets, especially when they cover shameful realities, can be awfully easy to keep.  And the truth, when it is embarrassing and damaging, can be awfully hard to tell.  But secrets come with a steep price, as Willow Creek is painfully learning.  The truth, however, even when it is tough to tell, comes with a blessed return of freedom.  Which, in the long run, do you think is better?

August 13, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Character and Civics

White_House_DC

Credit: Wikipedia

The economy is booming.  There is hearty hope for a diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and North Korea.  Pressure is mounting on Iran to come clean about its nuclear ambitions.  And the President of the United States is embroiled in a controversy over whether or not campaign finance laws were violated when his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, $130,000 during the closing days of the 2016 election to, ostensibly, keep her quiet about an affair she now claims to have had with Mr. Trump in 2006.

If the accusations against President Trump are true, this episode is morally disquieting – and not just because campaign finance laws were potentially broken.  Not only that, the responses to this episode are themselves morally disquieting.  Many who are opposed to the president see this episode as a convenient way to defeat a political enemy.  The moral turpitude of what has allegedly happened is merely a pretext for a political power grab.  Others, who are aligned with the president, are quick to cast the allegations against him as nothing more than a witch hunt.  Even if they suspect the charges might be true, they calculate that sexual immorality is a small – and, I would add, historical – price to pay for the power of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Whatever your political proclivities, these accusations present Christians with much to ponder.  On the one hand, it is important for us to remember that character still matters in our leaders.  All the way back in the sixteenth century, Niccolo Machiavelli famously argued that political leaders do not need actual virtue.  They simply need to project the appearance of virtue:

It’s seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, human, honest, and religious.[1]

This is nonsense.  Appearing to be virtuous while not actually being virtuous is, plainly and simply, hypocrisy – a sin that Jesus fiercely and consistently condemns.  Hypocrisy in virtue is not only immoral; it also is dangerous.  If a person cannot lead himself by cultivating in himself basic virtues, he will struggle to lead others as well as he could.  Self-leadership is a necessary prerequisite for other-leadership.

This is certainly not to say that our leaders need to be perfect – no leader is, has been, or ever will be.  But it is certainly preferable that our leaders be self-aware.  Self-awareness cultivates both humility and curiosity – humility over how one has fallen short and curiosity about how one can grow in competence and character.

At the same time it is necessary to encourage character in our leaders, it is also important demand character in ourselves.  A critical part of personal character development, according to Jesus, is to carefully consider our own shortcomings before we address the iniquity of others.  Jesus explains it like this:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5)

Notice that Jesus does not prohibit holding others accountable for their specks of sin, but He first wants us to hold ourselves accountable for our own planks of peccancy.  Understanding and addressing our own struggles with sin gives us both wisdom and empathy to help others in their tussles with transgression.

Over the years, as I have watched the dialogue that unfolds during scandals involving the character of our public officials, I have come to suspect that at least a segment of our population doesn’t care too much about helping the people involved.  Instead, it only cares about maximizing the power it has.  Depending on one’s political preferences, maintaining or overturning the power of this or that politician becomes the driving and deciding factor in how some people respond to any given moral crisis.  When this happens, we’re not really defending our politicians, even if we like them, or honoring them, as the Bible instructs.  We’re simply using them.  And that’s a character crisis in us that, though it may not make the headlines, should certainly serve as food for thought in our hearts.

______________________________

[1] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Tim Parks, trans. (New York:  Penguin Books, 2009).

May 7, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mike Pence and Dining with Your Spouse

58th Presidential Inauguration

It can be fascinating to watch which stories bubble to the top of our cultural conversation.  In a news cycle where the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, a battle royal over a Supreme Court nominee, questions about the surveillance of political actors, terrible chemical attacks against Syrian civilians by a feral Assad regime, and ominous sabre rattling from the North Koreans have dominated the headlines, a heated debate has arisen over a profile piece in The Washington Post on Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, which cited an interview with The Hill from 2002, where the vice president, following the lead of the vaunted evangelist and pastor Billy Graham, explained that he would never eat alone with a woman who was not his wife or one of his close relatives.  Writing in a separate article for The Washington Post, Laura Turner warned:

It will be difficult for women to flourish in the White House if the vice president will not meet with them.  Women cannot flourish in the church if their pastors consistently treat them as sexual objects to be avoided. The Billy Graham Rule locates the fault of male infidelity in the bodies of women, but “flee from temptation” does not mean “flee from women.”

I agree with Ms. Turner that it is important not to confuse fleeing from temptation with fleeing from women.  Sin is what is to be feared.  Not women.  Nevertheless, because of my vocation as a husband and because of my position as a pastor, I have chosen a practice that echoes that of the vice president.  I will not dine alone with a woman who is not my wife or close family member.  I will also not meet alone with women after hours at the congregation where I serve.

Why do I maintain such a practice?

It is not primarily because I am terrified that if I were ever to be alone with a woman, I would not be able to restrain myself from sexual immorality, though I am not nearly so naïve as to believe that I could never fall prey to a compromising situation.  I know far too well from Scripture that my heart is woefully depraved and deceitful and I have seen far too many marriages and ministries wrecked by sexual immorality to believe that I am somehow so spiritually privileged to be above certain kinds of sin.  I also know that merely jettisoning private dining appointments will not expunge me of my sinful nature.  No pious-looking constraint, no matter how carefully contrived, can regenerate a sinful heart.  Only Jesus can do that.  Sin avoidance is not the primary reason I have the practice I do.

I have the practice I do primarily because I respect women, most especially my wife.  I know that if another woman were to invite me to dinner, one on one, that would make my wife – as well as me – uncomfortable.  I also know the people with whom I work well enough to know that if I were to invite a female staff member at our church to dinner one on one, that would more than likely make her feel extraordinarily uncomfortable.  I do occasionally meet privately with women in my office when personal pastoral care needs call for such meetings.  But even then, there are other staff members right outside my office door working through the daily flurry of church activities.  And I have never had any trouble meeting with everyone I need to meet with on campus with others around rather than off campus in one on one settings.

I also I maintain the practice I do because I do want to do my best to remain “above reproach,” as Scripture asks men in my vocation to be.  An unfounded accusation of immoral behavior with another person would not only compromise the credibility of my ministry, it would compromise that other person’s credibility as well.  As much as I desire to protect the integrity of my ministry, I also have a deep desire to protect the reputations of those I know and care about.  Protecting others’ reputations is simply part and parcel of being not only a colleague and a pastor, but a friend.

Ms. Turner appeals to Jesus in support of the stance she takes in her Washington Post piece:

Jesus consistently elevated the dignity of women and met with them regularly, including His meeting with a Samaritan woman in the middle of the day. Scholars suggest that the woman would have gone to the well in the noon heat to avoid interacting with her fellow townspeople, who would have gone at a cooler time of day. Samaritans and Jews were not particularly fond of each other. Yet this Jewish man met this Samaritan woman in broad daylight, asked her for water from the well, and in turn offered her eternal life. The woman, widely thought to be an adulteress, had been married five times and had no husband when she met Jesus. Yet He didn’t flinch from meeting with her. He didn’t suggest that His reputation was more important than her eternal soul. As a result, she lives on as one of the heroes of the faith, a woman who evangelized to her entire city.

All of this is completely true.  But evangelizing someone in broad daylight when Your disciples do not seem to be far away is a far cry from having dinner alone, away and apart from any accountability.  The latter can be a coup de grâce to one’s integrity.  The former is just a coup of grace for a weary soul.

There may indeed be times, as the case of Jesus and the Samaritan woman illustrates, when it is necessary to spend time with someone of the opposite gender privately, especially for the sake of the gospel.  But there are also many more times when it is good not to, especially if a task at work can be accomplished just as well with others around.

May we have the wisdom to discern which times are which.

April 10, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Marriage, Thriving, and Character

Wedding SeatsThis past week, Trish Regan, writing for USA Today, sounded the alarm over what has become an infamous decline in U.S. marriage rates:

According to the Pew Research Center, the American marriage rate hit a rock bottom of 50.3% in 2013, down from 50.5% the previous year. Compare that to 1960, when 72.2% of Americans married. Meanwhile, a new finding by the forecasting firm Demographic Intelligence, suggests marriage rates will continue falling into next year as Millennials choose to opt out of traditional relationships.

Marriage is going out of style and that’s a problem. An economic one.[1]

Regan is concerned about declining marriage rates. Why? Because declining marriage rates lead to increasing economic volatility:

Historically, a rising household formation rate has contributed to America’s financial success. People meet, they marry, they buy a home, they have children and they buy more things. One new household adds an estimated $145,000 to the U.S. economy thanks to the ripple effect of construction spending, home improvements and repairs …

According to an American Enterprise Institute study by economists Robert Lerman and Brad Wilcox, young married men, ages 28-30 make, on average, $15,900 more than their single peers, while married men ages 33-46 make $18,800 more than unmarried men.

Marriage, it turns out, is not only good for love, it’s also good for your pocketbook. Therefore, Regan argues, we need more of it.

But at the same time marriage may be good for your financial situation, Sarah Knapton, science editor for The Telegraph, points out that marriage may not be so good for a woman’s health – at least not as good as we once thought:

Marriage has long been cited as a health booster, with couples living in wedded bliss more likely to live longer and have fewer emotional problems.

Yet a new study suggests that women hardly benefit from tying the knot.

Landmark research by University College London, the London School of Economics and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that single women do not suffer the same negative health effects as unmarried men.

In fact, middle aged women who had never married had virtually the same chance of developing metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – as married women.

And although they showed slightly higher levels of a biomarker which signifies an increased risk of breathing problems, it was far lower than the risk of illness for unmarried men. The same was true of a biomarker for heart problems which was raised 14 per cent in men but was barely noticeable in women.[2]

To marry or not to marry? It turns out that for a woman, it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Many of the arguments I have read in support of marriage at a time when marriage rates are on a precipitous decline are rooted in how this staid institution leads to human thriving. Marriage, it is argued, leads to greater economic stability. Marriage, at least for men, and in some studies even for women, does have certain health benefits. These arguments for marriage are well and good. But if the benefits of marriage are attenuated to only those things which lead to human thriving, when a person feels as though they are no longer thriving in a marriage, they may be tempted to check out and give up. Or, if marriage doesn’t have certain demonstrable and quantifiable benefits, as is the case with the health benefits study from the University College London, it can be all too easy just to opt out of getting married in the first place.

As Christians, we must never forget that as important as human thriving may be, human character is even more critical. And marriage most definitely shapes a person’s character. Over my nine years of marriage, I have learned invaluable lessons about selflessness, commitment, love, advocacy, confidentiality, service, compassion, kindness, and a whole host of other important character traits.

In a marriage, human thriving may help us do well for ourselves.   Human character, however, even when such character is forged through difficult and daunting marital circumstances, compels us to do good for our world. And good is something our broken world needs.

Which is just another reason to get – and to stay – married.

___________________________________

[1] Trish Regan, “Regan: Marriage is going out of style, and that could hurt,” USA Today (6.1.2015).

[2] Sarah Knapton, “Marriage is more beneficial for men than women, study shows,” The Telegraph (6.11.2015).

June 15, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,047 other followers


%d bloggers like this: