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A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 6: Big Willow Decides No Action Is Needed

December 2, 2013

You can read this “Public Letter” in it’s entirety here.

You can download this entire “Public Letter” here.

– August 12th 2013: Second Meeting With Scott and Chris.

Tara and I woke up early to talk about the first meeting we had with Scott and Chris one month earlier and tried to get ready spiritually and mentally for this second stressful meeting.

We again drove an hour to Willow Creek Barrington for our 10am meeting with hopeful hearts. We’d prayed so hard that God would do a work in Jon, Scott, and Bill’s heart, and that we could finally be off the hook. We just wanted to move on with our lives and concentrate on our ministry. So we arrived at Scott’s office about fifteen minutes early, and sat with the lights off, alone, in the waiting room of his office.

A little before ten Scott turned the lights on, greeted us and asked if we needed anything. He mentioned that Chris had to work, so he might be late. Chris arrived right on time and we all sat down at the table. Scott immediately got up exclaiming, “I need to grab the file, I didn’t pull it out because I thought this meeting was tomorrow”.

Between the lights being off in the waiting room, Scott telling us that Chris had to work and might be late (but showing up right on time), and now boldly proclaiming, “he thought the meeting was tomorrow”, we quickly realized that Scott was trying to diminish us and these issues. The message was; you guys are making too much of this, Chris doesn’t even think enough of this to schedule things properly and be here on time, I didn’t even remember to turn the lights on or get the file out because this is so low on my list of priorities, I thought the meeting was tomorrow.

Again Tara and I acted as if none of this was happening. We hoped we were misreading the situation. But any hopes that Scott was being genuine quickly vanished ten minutes later as he pulled out a sticky noted, marked up copy of my letter, explaining how he’d been up the night before making notes and getting reacquainted with the letter in preparation for today’s meeting. Tara and I both knew what was going on, but again we just put our head down and hoped for resolution.

Scott asked us again if our sentiments had changed since the last meeting, and I told him that the letter still speaks for itself. Scott told us he wouldn’t be revealing much of what they talked about with Jon, but the meeting was extensive and they “dug deep”. Scott again started asking me where I get my confidence from and explaining how many people disagree with my view of scripture and this subject. He also explained the way in which I wrote my letter was self-righteous and dogmatic.

Scott told us that what Jon had done was “harmful” and “confusing”, but he didn’t think Jon did it intentionally or that Jon was being deceptive or trying to push an agenda. I asked Scott how that damage would be repaired, and he told me that Willow had no intention of removing Jon or having Jon give a message from the pulpit in regards to homosexuality. He made it clear that Jon wouldn’t be posting any clarification or retraction to his Facebook page. But as you can read in the “Elder’s Letter”, Jon selectively and strategically removed some of the posts himself after our only meeting with him.

Scott told me that if Jon handled homosexuality the same way I did in my letter, Jon would be fired. I asked him to expand on that comment, and he explained, Jon’s job description is to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ. I explained to Scott that I was confused how a church could make up a job description for a pastor, especially one so counter Biblical, when the Bible is explicitly clear on a pastors job. And to think that anyone or any church turns irreligious people into “fully devoted followers of Christ” other then God is counter biblical in so many ways.

In the end, the only action Jon was willing to take, was to have people in leadership positions sign a “Lifestyle Agreement”, assuring the church that they’re beliefs and lifestyles were congruent with the Bible. We have seen no tangible change from the implementation of this “Lifestyle Agreement”. We believe the “Lifestyle Agreement” was put in place to show action on Jon’s part while making Jon unaccountable for the lifestyles of the leadership at his church. We also believe it allowed Jon to appear to take action, while also allowing Jon to keep this ordeal quite. One has to wonder if Jon has been transparent with his pastoral team and other leaders at Willow Chicago about the pressure he’s been under in regards to the issues we’ve raised, issues that you’ll read later made it all the way to Bill Hybels.

Scott explained that personally, Jon could only commit to being more careful in the future, no different then he exclaimed in our initial meeting with him.

There were several common threads or talking points Scott used in our two meetings. Two of these included asking me repeatedly where I get my confidence from, trying to make me question myself. Another was Scott describing me as self-righteous, which I explained can’t be true because I know any righteousness I have comes from God. He also described me as dogmatic and legalistic, many times asking me where my grace was. I explained, it’s hard to have grace when the person doesn’t think they did anything wrong and shows no humility. As far as being dogmatic, I doubt when I get to heaven Jesus is going to rebuke me for taking the Bible to seriously.

The new tactic employed at the end of the second meeting appeared to be Scott trying to play my wife and I against each other. It started out subtle with Scott downplaying my points or describing me as dogmatic, but slowly he was affirming everything Tara said, even when our comments were nearly identical. After the meeting, Tara and I discussed all the ploys and tactics Scott used, and we were very troubled. We realized at that point, God was still writing this story, and Scott’s ways of handling disputes, concerns and issues were to be brought to light for the glory of our Father and the affirmation of others who’ve gone down this same road.

As the meeting was winding down, I had some questions for Scott and Chris. I asked again if Bill was aware of the letter, and neither of them could confirm it, but Scott promised to sit down with Bill and get back with us. Scott added that it wouldn’t be for a couple weeks because Bill takes the two weeks off after the Global Leadership Summit. He finished with an assurance that Bill’s opinion on these issues were similar to his, but he would still sit down Bill and get back with us.

I then asked if the elders of either Willow Chicago or Willow Creek Barrington had been made aware of this issue, and Scott said no. Scott said it was the Elder Response Team’s job to handle these things, and their decision represented the board’s decision. He told us that the board doesn’t typically get involved in these types of matters.

We did everything in our power to bring the issues and comments contained in this letter personally to Bill, but that proved impossible.

So Tara and I were left with very few options. We’d followed Matthew 18 up until the last step, which is to bring it to the church. I knew of no other way to bring this to a church Willow’s size with out making it public. I also needed to follow Timothy 5:19, which as I quoted earlier directs Christians to reprove elders in front of everyone so that others can be warned. I was going to tell Scott about my plans to follow through on Matthew 18, but I was scared and not sure if I could or wanted to follow through on it. While I didn’t directly tell Scott that I’d be taking this public, I’ve made it clear every step of the way that we’d be following the Matthew 18 process.

If you’d like to discuss this further you can email me at justinobriecht@gmail.com

From → Willow Creek

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