Well, a lot has happened since I wrote my first post. Nancy Ortberg, wife of John Ortberg has stepped forward with her own story. Vonda Dyer also came forth with vivid details about her story. And so did Nancy Beach.
Shortly thereafter, Bill Hybels opted out for early retirement. He did not resign. Both he and others at the helm of Willow Creek leadership stayed away from the language of resigning. They even had a prayer gathering on stage after his announcement. They did not pray for Beach, Dyer, or Ortberg. Or other women. There was no affection expressed toward these women. It was pretty much all about Bill Hybels.
Neither his words nor the staff/elders that spoke after him, conveyed any sense of mature attunement or social awareness of the hour. It’s become painfully evident Willow Creek ran an “egalitarian” system where the dominant male was in charge over women who greatly admired him. They never had fully functional, attuned, transparent, interdependent egalitarian relationships at the top.
This is the deeper conversation we need to have about a deeper egalitarianism, unlike anything before.
Three weeks ago, virtually any red-blooded American egalitarian would have ascribed so much "power" to what they thought was a "healthy" egalitarian model led by Hybels. Now we know, with all this stuff coming out---there was a lot of psychological social sexist ministry happening under his leadership that was happening underneath the surface egalitarianism.
There was this enormous male empire happening with a number of highly respected women who deeply respected Hybels and they longed for Willow to flourish. It's been shocking to discover one of the most revered egalitarian men in all the world who wrote books referencing healthy relationships again and again, was out of touch--he lacked profound interdependent attunement with women on his staff or Willow Creek Association.
We have this enormous vacuum in egalitarianism at this critical moment as #MeToo has reached arguably the most influential egalitarian leader in American evangelicalism. As I mentioned in the first post, this Willow Creek model that has been revered by InterVarsity Press, Tyndale, and other publishers as "healthy" has never produced one full length book in forty years on spiritual friendship between men and women.
Google "spiritual intimacy between a man and a woman" and your search is not going to take you to Missio Alliance, The Junia Project, David Fitch, Scot McKnight, or the CBE. There is a void in egalitarian leadership in this cultural moment with an acute sense of anxious egalitarianism. One of the biggest reasons we are here is that Willow Creek egalitarianism never took a woman's intimate personal power in friendship, seriously. Both men and women have a heightened sense of anxiety right now but for different reasons.
They never moved past a deeply embedded patriarchal tradition that told women the who, what, where, when, and why in intimate relationships. We can call it a superficial egalitarianism, anxious egalitarianism, or we can call it, complementarian lite. Neither complementarians nor egalitarians have addressed the deepest roots of benevolent sexism in their church life or leadership.
The notion of any male leader with privilege, power, or platform (significant blog audience and the ability to reap a profit for book publishers) intentionally sharing power and risk with a woman (as co-leaders or spiritual friends) over a sustained season of leadership with no one else present is utterly absent in egalitarian books and blogs. And, progressive evangelicals haven't fared any better, by the way.
Before #MeToo, both complementarians and egalitarians paid lip service to women's intimate personal power in non-romantic relationships.
Both movements ignored the fullness of a woman's intimate self in the presence of a man she's not married to when no one else was around. Both movements could anxiously maintain outmoded psychology for their claims for "healthy" relationships between men and women. Both anxiously veered away for diving deep into the heart of sexism: what does spiritual intimacy look like, feel like, taste like between a man and a woman when no one is around?
Both have profoundly emphasized male detachment, male separation, male dominance as healthy (when men don't give women a full yes or a full no in considering the Billy Graham rule, men are still in control). Said in another way, neither movement has paid serious attention to healthy intimate interdependent relationships with no one else around. The focus and stress on the communal nature of gifts--a gift based egalitarianism--was sufficient.
A Deep Rethinking About Friendship
The Christian tradition has never taken seriously a woman’s personal intimate power in friendship. Never. That is pervasive sexism in our contemporary egalitarian world. Embracing friendship as a foundation for egalitarianism is not throwing a few attributes of friendship like support, vulnerability, loyalty, and availability into a Vitamix, and, presto! No more benevolent sexism! This has been the major flaw in anxious egalitarianism for the past forty years.
The Willow Creek model has always produced opposite-sex friends. Don't misunderstand me. For many years, Nancy Beach and Bill Hybels were "friends." But, it is clear now, that she was also "under" him. Under his leadership. Under his charisma. Under his Willow Creek empire. And there were no egalitarian bloggers with platform or books ever challenging that male privilege.
Sure they were meaningful "friends" at the time. But following centuries of patriarchy in Christian tradition, this anxious egalitarianism never took a woman's intimate personal power seriously. So what happened at Willow--without this full expression of attuned, interdependent, egalitarian relationship at the top--something I would call "friendship"--you have something akin to a deeply embedded psychological doctrine of separate spheres still operating where women are viewed as "friends."
This is assumed in so many egalitarian blogs, books etc. This perpetuates so many dominant male-submissive females in surface egalitarianism. It gives only the appearance of equality. Its the Willow Creek model. And that was the evangelical standard to judge all "healthy" egalitarian relationships from what, 1990s to 3 weeks ago? There is no egalitarian theology of spiritual friendship between the sexes offered by progressive evangelicals or conservative evangelicals. There is no egalitarian theology of spiritual intimacy between a man and a woman who are co-pastors when no one else is around.
Women do not share a fully attuned, social, public, healthy interdependent personal power in this culture. Women have never been given a fullness of intimate personal power, a fullness of voice in this version of complementarian lite. An unrestricted, unhindered, unguarded, full social attunement between men and women has never been prized, valued, treasured, or sought after in this culture. And, again, we haven't seen this among progressive evangelicals, either.
One only has to look at the therapeutic culture to see this profound contrast. In this culture, at this moment, women have been given the fullness of choice--the full range of options--to engage in one-on-one relationships with their male clients with no one else is around.
Although the therapeutic dyad is not an egalitarian intimate friendship, it has many striking parallels. A number of female psychotherapists identify the overlaps in this book. A veteran psychologist has also examined the parallels, here. It is a common, everyday experience in major American cities: a woman’s personal presence modeling intimate power with a male client. Whatever one thinks about the therapeutic culture, it cannot be denied it has opened the door wide open to the what, when, why, where, and how for women’s intimate power when no one else is looking.
Many female therapists meet alone with their male clients, weekly. Often, they have the power to choose which male clients is their "best fit" for their own practice. In many scenarios, they have the full freedom to choose if they will have a therapeutic relationship with this male client and not that one. That's called discerning openness. Female therapists have the power to end appointments with male clients. They have the intimate power to choose which theories to implement and practice. Thousands of women every day choose to be something different than shoehorned into an anxious Billy Graham rule as a social norm that had its place in the twentieth century.
They have the power to bring their fullest self to be present with their male clients. To care for their male clients. To pledge confidentiality. To keep secrets. They have power to act in their client’s best interests. They have intimate power to collaborate with their client. They have the power to tell their client what the client should hear with no one else around.
Many of these attributes of intimate power are necessary for cross-gender friendship!
How many women have been held back, impeded, or smothered by churches clinging to anxious egalitarianism the past forty years? By theologians? By men with huge platforms and blogs? How many women have not been empowered to their fullest and best selves in intimate friendships with men? How many anxious egalitarian male leaders have not welcomed women to the fullness of life? The fullness of love?
Why, yes of course, there are thousands of female therapists who choose to not meet with male clients. For many reasons, they choose to meet with female clients, only. That's the fullness of their attuned choice and where they are. But for thousands of others, there are female therapists who choose to meet with male clients in common, ordinary occurrences across America. And, to flip it around, there are many female clients who choose to meet alone with male therapists. Sure, there are those who don't. But the issue is they have this fullness of egalitarian choice to do that.
A deep rethinking of friendship means inviting women's intimate personal power into the fullness of interdependent relationship. It is nothing less than a social movement toward moving past a psychological doctrine of separate spheres and viewing shared power, shared attunement as the heart and soul of egalitarianism.
A deep rethinking of friendship has to be more than casually tossing attributes of friendship in the Vitamix. There has to be full attunement to a woman's fullness of self. The fullness of love. The fullness of her giftedness.
The opposite of a woman’s powerlessness is not ecclesial power. It includes that. But a woman—baptized and indwelt by the Holy Spirit—her personal power to love others deeply cannot be solely confined to either ecclesial or marital power. Christian tradition (including skeptical egalitarian male theologians) has never celebrated, affirmed, validated, and feasted a woman’s authentic intimate power in cross-gender friendships.
Friendship as the foundation is shared vulnerability unlike anything evangelical egalitarianism has offered.So many questions if we see friendship as a foundation. Next post.