Willow Creek and Rapprochement: Truth THEN Reconciliation; Accountability OR Consequences

I was reflecting on the recent update from the Elders at Willow Creek Church, and the responses from Betty Schmidt, Vonda Dyer, and Nancy Ortberg to it, as well as to the Elders having contacted these women about having hired Crossroads Resolution Group and wanting to seek reconciliation.

It occurred to me that the Elders were once again imposing their perspective and will onto the situation. They did not ask first what the women whom WCC has let be called liars wanted, or those WCC let be called colluders wanted, or what either still-stigmatized group of individuals were willing to consider in terms of a process of rapprochement.

No … they decided, they hired, they “reached out,” they left messages.

But they have not yet admitted to “sins,” at best, only to “missteps.” They have not yet bothered to apologize. They have not yet repudiated or retracted the public name-calling statements. As far as I can see, they are still trying to run the show.

And none of that models being conciliatory. It continues the control.

None of it opens the way for reestablishing harmony. It deepens the hurt.

None of it mends their image. It mars their identity even more.

It may look as if Willow Creek leaders are being conciliatory, but, I believe, they are compounding their offenses. By directing the process, they are being disrespectful to those whom their own employees and board members have publicly offended. I cannot see that Crossroads Resolution Group is the answer to Willow Creek’s damaged reputation or broken relationships. Instead, it has created more for Willow Creek to repair.

Ms. Dyer’s response is entitled, “The Cart Before the Horse.” Ms. Ortberg’s response is entitled, “Sequence Matters.” On these lines, there are lessons to be learned here from the formal process used in post-Apartheid South Africa by their Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

From all that I have studied about this process, the emphasis was to speak openly about what had happened – uncover the truth, raw and horrific though it was. That was necessary so it could no longer be covered up, so that the truth would be known, so that such human rights violations would hopefully never happen again. For if this remained in the darkness, surely it would repeat itself.

Truth must come before reconciliation, if you truly want restored relations.

The Truth and Reconciliation process also offered amnesty for those who had victimized their fellow citizens. However, this part of the process had its own requirements: There was no amnesty without taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Accountability for actions must precede release from consequences, and even then amnesty does not erase all forms of negative impact from misdeeds.

I confess, I am ambivalent about Willow Creek Church, and Willow Creek Association and their Global Leadership Summit. Don’t get me wrong – ambivalence is not the same as apathy. The former is strong emotions going in conflicting directions; the latter is not caring or giving up on caring.

I have hope that Willow Creek can change course and do things right. And I also think the longer they game-play this process, the worse they find it will be. But, that could either make the public pressure for them to come clean even more intense, or could harden them into complete recalcitrance. For the sake of the Kingdom, and for those who are survivors of their institution’s misconduct, I care which way this goes. Truth first, then reconciliation, and accountability or else more consequences – and achieving all of that requires Willow Creek leaders to release control and let those whom they have harmed lead the way from here.

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For those interested, my post on Surprises from Post-Apartheid South Africa shares some background on that era and their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It includes links to other media resources, including the official TRC website.


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