What October was to #MeToo, perhaps March will be to #ChurchToo. At least four big developments hit the news this week alone.
1. The man who has done as much as anyone alive today to change the way many people experience church has been the "subject of inquiries into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation — including employees — allegedly spanning decades."
That's according to a blockbuster report in the Chicago Tribune, based on detailed on-the-record interviews and contemporaneous records. Bill Hybels denies the allegations as "so many lies."
Hybels as much as anyone started the modern megachurch movement. He took a survey of people in Chicagoland to find out what they did and didn't like about church. Some would call this a market-driven approach, others basic missiology -- that is, cut out the cultural trappings while keeping the essence of the message. In short, people thought church was boring and preachy, so he offered something more casual and conversational. If church today has more theater seating than pews, guitars than pews, open collars than neckties (or robes), that's as much a result of Hybels and his contemporaries as anything else. His Willow Cerek Church became a megachurch, but even microchurches look like that these days.
So however this turns out, it'll be huge.
2. Andy Savage, the Tennessee megachurch pastor who got a standing ovation after issuing an emotive apology for sexually exploiting a teenager when he was in a position of trust as a youth pastor years ago, has resigned. He and the church had reaped a whirlwind of backlash over what was seen as cheap forgiveness and a minimizing of his offenses.
3. A prominent Mormon official has been accused of an attempted rape, and while he didn't admit this, he did admit to a sexual advance.
4. Christianity Today is calling for an independent investigation of the festering scandal of sexual abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries churches. It's a small denomination but highly influential and visible particularly in New Calvinist circles. Critics say it's never been held to account, and the denomination says it's limited in what it can require its current and former churches to do in response to any request for information. The magazine says an investigation needs to be done to assure not only that Sovereign Grace has come clean but as an example for others.
It's important to remember that this didn't all suddenly surface after the revelations about Harvey Weinstein prompted a calling out of sexual harassers and abusers in many industries. (That didn't happen in the secular world either, as the multiple allegations as varied as those against Donald J. Trump, Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar all predate October 2017. So did the whistleblowing at Pitt's Department of Communcation.) Survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates have been pressing Sovereign Grace for accountability for years, and the Willow Creek allegations have been made and investigated for a long time as well.
Wherever there's power, there's potential for its abuse. And where that potential abuse becomes actual, there's often someone brave enough to challenge it.