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A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 8: All Of God’s Word Is Equal

You can read this “Public Letter” in its entirety here.

You can download this entire “Public Letter” here.

Conclusion

After almost a month had passed since our last meeting with Scott and Chris, A month filled with us praying for God to do a powerful work in Jon’s heart and bring him to repentance. After praying that God would take this from us. After praying every night that God would give us a sign if He wanted us to go public or not. Even though God lifted my final hesitation about going public (Bill’s confirmed awareness), I still had human fear and uncertainty.

That was until yesterday morning (I originally wrote this around the beginning of October 2013, and have had patience, grace and hopeful prayer until now) when I started to pray as I do every morning, and my mind was flooded with thoughts to put into this letter. I couldn’t write them down fast enough. They were clear, concise, and definitely not from me.

After the thoughts stopped, and I finally got to praying, I asked God for the hundredth time to give me direction on what he wanted me to do. Almost immediately, a clear thought popped into my head as the Holy Spirit reminded me, “I’ve already told you to follow the Matthew 18 process, and you have one step left”. The silence I’d been hearing from God on this subject finally made sense. He’d already sent us down this path and given Willow, Jon, Scott and Bill every chance to act appropriately, and now He was left with no other option.

Chances that in addition to our efforts, included warning signs like the hundreds of emails described by Scott waiting for him in his inbox in regards to Willow Creeks handling of homosexuality. Chances that included God forcing Bill on stage at the 2011 Global Leadership Summit in order to make his church’s position on same-sex marriage clear (You can watch Bill’s comments here). A chance Bill wasted by taking the most politically correct position possible while still lining up with the Bible. A position that does considerable damage to the LGBT community and is the opposite of loving.

Combine that with the fact that you can’t learn Willow’s position on marriage without calling their office and requesting a copy of their Elders Statement. An Elder’s Statement that doesn’t mention homosexuality, and takes the most hands-off approach possible on such a destructive, confusing, current, clear and Biblical issue.

All this while the yearly series about stewarding your resources, walking across the room, or how to be more generous kicks off, same-sex marriage dominates our culture, headlines and courts and very few members of Willow Creek know how to react.

It’s hard to understand why a church would be so clear and accurate on parts of God’s Word, but be silent on others. All of God’s Word deserves equal attention and is equally important.

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

A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 7: The Last Hesitation

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

You can download this entire “Public Letter” here.

– August 27th 2013: Did Scott Meet With Bill As Promised?

Before I made the decision to warn the church and make this public, I sent an email to Scott asking if he had a chance to sit down with Bill. Eight days later Scott responded with the following email:

Hello Justin,

Sorry for the delay.

I was mistaken when I told you two weeks.  Bill’s return was this week.

I have sent him a note and will get back to you as soon as I hear something.

Thanks,

Scott

 

Remember, Scott told us during our second meeting, that Bill took the following two weeks off after the leadership summit. Tara and I knew that wasn’t the case because on August 17th (5 days after our meeting) we attended the Next Level retreat at Willow Creek Barrington. The retreat concluded with everyone attending the Saturday service in which Bill spoke.

– September 13th 2013: Scott confirms that Bill Hybels and the Executive Team have reviewed the “Elder’s Letter”.

Sixteen days after my initial email, I received the following email from Scott confirming that not only has Bill reviewed the “Elder’s Letter” but so did the Willow Creek Executive Team. You can read that email below:

Hello Justin,

Thank you so much for your patience.

Your letter has been reviewed by the WCCC Executive Team (including Bill).

They are aligned with the process and conclusions of the Elder Response Team.

 

Again, I thank you for the passion and courage it took for you and Tara to communicate your concerns.

If you would like to pursue further meetings to facilitate reconciliation with Jon we would be happy to assist.

Blessings,

Scott

While this was extremely disappointing for Tara and I, it was also a blessing. See one of my biggest hesitations in making this public was the respect I have for Bill Hybels. That respect is what prompted me at every step to inquire about Bill’s knowledge of this issue, and urge the person to bring it to his attention. God answered my prayer asking Him to remove my concerns by confirming Bill’s awareness, which in turn lifted my final hesitation.

After meeting with Scott and Chris and reading the “Elder’s Letter” about his actions, Jon has not reached out to us in any way. Soon after our first meeting with Scott and Chris, Jon defriended me on Facebook, even though I have never interacted with him or his page on Facebook in any way.

Even if you don’t personally agree with me about Jon’s deceptive behavior, it’s clear from Willow’s exclusively reactionary approach, Scott confirming that what John did was “harmful” and Jon removing posts from his Facebook page, that they all found serious reasons for concern.

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

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

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

A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 5: Waiting A Month For Big Willow

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

You can download this entire “Public Letter” here.

– August 7th 2013: We Hear Nothing For 28 days.

After not hearing anything from anyone for twenty eight days, I sent Scott an email letting him know we’d be at “Big Willow” for the Global Leadership Summit the next day, and we were wondering if he could give us an update on their process. I explained that it had been a month since our meeting and this was still heavy on our hearts.

This is where things got really hurtful and weird for Tara and I. Scott responded with the following email:

Hello Justin. 

I typed out an email to you earlier in the week and judging from your email you did not receive it. 

I will check tomorrow and see where things got hung up. 

Chris and I have met with Jon and would like to reconnect with you and Tara. 

You should hear from me tomorrow. I am sorry for the delay. 

The next morning Scott emailed me and said, “OK, I can’t find the earlier email. I am sorry”.

Every thing in this saga had been reactionary from Willow’s standpoint, and now this? To hear someone who handles church concerns and issues for a living, tell me that he typed out an email, thought he sent it, but apparently something went wrong after a month of waiting to hear from him? I kept my feelings close to my chest and responded to him in a professional way as we shared emails working out the logistics for our second and final meeting.

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

A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 4: Big Willow Gets Involved

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

You can download this entire “Public Letter” here.

– June 29th 2013: Contacted By Scott Vaudry.

Six days later, on June 29th, we received an email from Scott Vaudry stating that he worked on the “Elders Response Team” and they would like to meet with Tara and I. I told Scott that it was such a relief to hear from someone, and we would like to meet as well. We exchanged some times and dates and settled on July 10th. The meeting would include myself, Tara, Scott, and another member of the Elders Response Team named Chris. Now the pressure was really on for Tara and I. We were nervous, scared and praying fervently that God would bring resolution to this matter.

– July 10th 2013: Meeting With Scott Vaudry and Chris.

Scott let us know in our initial email exchange that the Willow Creek Barrington campus was closed the week of July 1st as a reward from the executive team for such a successful run. With this in mind, we were grateful that Scott made our meeting happen so quickly.

On that morning, we drove nearly an hour to Willow Creek Barrington for our 11am meeting. After about ten minutes of sitting alone in the waiting room outside of Scott’s office, we were greeted by Scott and asked if we needed anything. Chris arrived soon after, and we all sat down and prayed before the meeting.

Both Scott and Chris were very kind, understanding, and considerate. They made it clear that they’d read the “Elder’s Letter”, and Scott asked if any of our sentiments had changed since we wrote it. We told him no, and in not so many words explained that the letter still spoke for itself.

After about a half an hour of healthy Christian dialogue, Scott began to ask me repeatedly in a very firm and direct way, “Where do you get your confidence from”, “What makes you so confident”, etc. I felt as though he was trying to make me question myself. I explained to him that I get my confidence first and foremost from the Holy Spirit, secondly from the Bible, thirdly from the face-to-face meeting with Jon, and finally from thirty-six years of life, which has equipped me to perceive when someone is being deceptive, evasive, dishonest and hypocritical. I also explained that Jon’s Facebook posts spoke for themselves.

Scott would follow up with comments about how the older he gets, the less sure he becomes about things. He talked about how scholars disagree on interpretations of the Bible, making a vague connection with the way different people view homosexuality in relation to the Bible, but then followed it up by saying that he and Chris were conservative on the issue.

It became clear that Scott was initiating the conversation and Chris was there to wisely listen and add in when necessary. Chris was a very mild mannered, thoughtful and genuine man. Tara and I both felt a warmth from him that made us feel like we could be vulnerable, and we were. There was several times in which Tara and I became emotional during the meeting.

Scott explained that while he thought Jon acted inappropriately and could’ve been more careful, he didn’t think Jon was being deceptive or had an agenda. He told us how people could take what Jon said and be confused by it, but he didn’t think Jon did it intentionally. Scott even admitted in our second meeting that what Jon did was “harmful” to the congregation, but didn’t think anything needed to be done to repair that damage.

It was becoming clear that while both Scott and Chris were very concerned, we didn’t agree on the double-mindedness Jon displayed and the severity of his actions. So we asked a couple questions to gain piece of mind and frame of reference. I asked if Bill had read our letter, and Scott responded that he didn’t know. We asked if Jon was aware of the letter, and they said, not that they know of.

We left that meeting with a promise from Scott that they would meet with Jon and get back in touch with us. Even though very little was sorted out in the meeting, we were hopeful that God would be glorified by Willow’s subsequent actions. We hoped that Jon’s meeting with them would create a repentant heart on Jon’s behalf, change Jon’s heart and mind and lead Jon to rectify the “harm” we talked about in our up coming second meeting with Scott and Chris.

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

A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 10: UPDATE Monday 6/22/15

I will be posting updates of our situation as it relates to Willow Chicago here. Please keep us and everyone associated with Willow in prayer.

Read The Full “Public Letter” Here.

Video of Jon relieving Fran of his job here.

 

Monday 6/6/16

https://justinobriecht.com/2016/06/06/willow-creek-a-false-gospel/

Monday 6/22/15

http://midwestchristianoutreach.org/?p=5964

Thursday 11/29/13

1. On Wednesday we were contacted by Willow Barrington and asked not to attend the campus in Chicago until the “conflict” between Jon and I has been resolved. The first reason given is that there has been no resolution of said conflict. I’m not sure how you resolve a conflict when one party has shown no humility and doesn’t think he did anything wrong. There has never been an attempt by Jon to resolve our “conflict”, and Willow’s last attempt was our last meeting with them on Aug 12th.

The second reason given was for my proclamation during last Sunday’s service of “You should be ashamed of yourself Jon”. I said it during Jon’s speech relieving Fran of his job, which you can view here.

Up until this point I have refrained from discussing Willow’s decision to remove Fran as worship pastor first and foremost because Fran’s told the congregation he wants it that way. Unfortunately that’s no longer possible since I’ve been asked not to return to my church because of something related to Fran’s situation.

We no longer have a conflict with Jon. For many reasons Jon is no longer beyond reproach and in no way should be the pastor of any church until he resigns, repents and is restored by God. My “conflict” with Jon ended when Willow refused to take any action in regards to our concerns. After that my only responsibility to God was to warn His children and leave Willow Chicago.

2. Tara and I have decided to leave Willow Creek. We stopped our automatic tithe today. As always God’s timing is perfect since Tara and I leave for Australia today for a few weeks. This fortunately allows our friend who runs Wash and Worship while we’re gone to continue serving Chicago’s homeless at Willow Chicago.

Please pray that when we get back there is smooth transition that will allow us to continue bringing homeless men and women to another church. I originally wanted to publish the “Public Letter” a month ago, but after praying about it I decided to wait, and in light of Jon’s recent decisions I now know why.

While we wont be attending services or members of Willow Chicago, we both hope to still be able to attend our Next Level Bible studies that we’ve spent the last year a part of.

3. I’d like to address a common question people have asked of me.

Why not get a group of people together and go in front of Bill?- This was my original intent after our last meeting with Willow in August, until someone pointed out to me that Bill’s not going to remove Jon under any circumstances.

Many people have told me that the entire advisory board that was put in place to find a new pastor after Steve Wu’s firing was in strong opposition to Jon being pastor. So strong that when Jon was hired in the face of unanimous opposition, that many of them left the church. When I optimistically told this person about my vision to get concerned members of the congregation together and go before Bill, the person told me that there was more clout, power and influence on the advisory counsel then anything I’d be able to muster.

The history, relationship and ties between Jon and Bill run extremely deep. Beyond work or church or friendship and from what I understand, the decision to hire Jon was a unilateral one made by Bill.

I still believe that Bill is a sincere man that is eager to do God’s will. With this in mind, I urge everyone to write Bill Hybels in regards to Jon. Bill reads everything that is sent to him and he needs to hear from anyone who is interested in saving Willow Chicago.

We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for your support and prayers. The phone calls and emails have been such a blessing.

Sincerely,

Justin and Tara Obriecht

A Warning For Willow Chicago, Part 3: Meeting With Jon Klinepeter

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

You can download this entire “Public Letter” here.

 

– April 30th 2013: The Meeting Between John, Tara and I.

Tara and I sat down with Jon for lunch. After an hour and half of optimistically asking Jon to clarify his position on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and justify or provide an explanation for his Facebook posts, he told us he would be more careful in the future, that he was sorry that we misinterpreted things and for the misunderstanding it caused.

Initially he said he had no position on same-sex marriage, but when faced with his posts as evidence he claimed, “Nothing in those posts was incongruent with the “Willow’s Elder Statement”. I’d told Jon earlier in the meeting that I had a copy of the Elder’s Statement with me. He boldly told me, “he helped write much of it”, which made no sense for someone who had “no position”.

When asked about same-sex adoption, Jon said, “it’s not an issue until all of the children that need homes have been adopted” and “look at all the abuse that goes on in traditional marriages”. When asked about same-sex marriage I had to hear about how broken traditional marriage is and the astronomical divorce rate among Christians. No matter how hopeful I phrased my questions, Jon couldn’t line up with the Bible. He simply wouldn’t state his position.

After realizing that we had accomplished nothing, and receiving an apology for our misunderstanding, I told Jon that we would be taking this to the Elders. A few days later I began to write the “Elder’s Letter” that we would send directly to Bill Hybels via his assistant.

The meeting between Jon, Tara and I is described in great detail in the Elders Letter found here Elder’s Letter.

– May 28th 2013: I Sent The “Elder’s Letter” To Bill Via His Assistant.

After almost a month of fervent prayer, counsel from other members of Willow Chicago, pastors and Christian friends and family, I finished the Elder’s Letter I initially intended to send to the Willow Creek Board of Elders. After more thought I decided to send it directly to Bill Hybels via his assistant, because I have the utmost respect for Bill, and I knew he could handle this unilaterally and minimize any damage to the church.

So on May 28th I sent the “Elder’s Letter” to Bill’s assistant.

– May 31st 2013: Absent a Response, I Send a Follow Up.

After not hearing anything from Bill’s assistant for three days, I sent a follow up email.  She responded immediately and confirmed receipt of the letter. She also noted that she put a copy on Bill’s desk, adding, “I’m sure you’ll be hearing from him soon”.

– June 23rd 2013: Three Weeks Pass, No Word.

After nearly a month of not hearing anything from anyone, I sent Bill’s assistant an email letting her know that we were not contacted. I also asked her to confirm that Bill was aware of our letter and the issues we raised.

Bill’s assistant responded immediately stating,” Bill did receive a copy of your letter, but he has not had a chance to respond yet.”

After waiting almost a month since we sent the letter, and nearly three months since this started, Tara and I were drained, confused, and disappointed. We couldn’t understand how such an intensely sincere and good-hearted man like Bill Hybels could allow this to take place in his church.

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