The situation at Willow Creek with former pastor Bill Hybels continues to deteriorate as reported in this recent article at Christianity Today.
Bill Hybels was for a long time one of the superstars of Christian ministry. He has probably been one of the most influential pastors in the last twenty-five years. Unfortunately, just as he was about to retire, accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment were made. A pastor whom we all hoped would finish well did not finish well.
I don’t want to get into the details of what Hybels did or didn’t do. Willow Creek is not my church and I don’t need to know any more of the details than are required to pray for the church and the victims and Hybels.
But what about pastors (such as myself) who have benefited from Hybels’s books? Should we stop reading all of Bill Hybels’s books since he has been accused of such terrible things?
The first question we should ask is, are his writings now untrue or unhelpful because of his misconduct? Are the leadership principles he taught still valid? Something is true because it is true and not because we like the source. The genetic fallacy is dismissing something because of where it came from. His books should be judged based on their own merits and not by what he did.
Having said that, we should read his books with some awareness of the mistakes he made. We can learn from his mistakes as much as we can learn from his wisdom.
But aren’t we rewarding Hybels by continuing to read his books? Reading his books has nothing to do with his misconduct. In fact our motivation should never have been to reward him but rather to learn to be better leaders and pastors. If you are uncomfortable giving him royalties for his books, buy his books at a second hand store. There might be more copies appearing there soon.
I don’t want to suggest that we pretend that Hybels didn’t do what he was accused of or that his victims’ suffering wasn’t serious. If we are going to continue to read books by Bill Hybels, let us also work hard to build a culture where these crimes won’t take place in our community. Make your community a safe place marked by mutual respect. Ensure that victims have the freedom to state what they experienced. Take charges seriously and investigate thoroughly.
These may be the most important lessons we learn from this situation with Bill Hybels. Read his books but also respond to the #metoo movement in appropriate ways,