A Response to the Christianity Today Article
By now you may have read about the turmoil at Christianity Today regarding charges of sexual harassment in recent years. I’m featured in a story as a senior executive who made female employees uncomfortable on a few of occasions. Having spent 30 years at CT, I’m not surprised that I sometimes said or did things that made other men or women uncomfortable or confused. And whenever I heard this had happened, I made efforts to apologize and bring reconciliation to the relationship.
Some parts of the story are, therefore, accurate, though the context is missing. I never gave a hug or a pat on the back unless I was comforting someone after a tearful prayer gathering or wanting to reinforce my affirmation of their work—and always in the presence of others. Certainly I’m troubled that I distressed any woman or man by anything I said or did. But the fact of the matter is that I never in 30 years ever approached a woman with the intent of sexually harassing, intimidating, or “hitting” on her. Never.
As anyone who has read this newsletter knows, I am sometimes apt to write something that I later recognize was confusing or misleading, and I am forced to retrace my steps to clarify. This has also been a character flaw in my interactions with people that crops up now and then, as anyone who has worked with me can testify. So that point in the article is fair as far as it goes.
But I was stunned to read the piece and discover that there were a number of incidents reported that either never happened or the context in which they happened was left out. Just three examples among many: It is said that I lingered over a woman’s bra clip and that my hand got caught in her bra. Never happened. It is said that I “felt up” a woman. Never happened. It is said that I said aloud that I like to watch women golfers bend over. Never said it. These are just some of the falsehoods mentioned in the story. So amidst the stories in which I can see I inadvertently offended or confused some women, there were allegations that just mystify me.
I’m further mystified that so many cardinal rules of journalism were ignored. No accuser went on the record. Anonymous sources were not corraborated. Hearsay was reported as fact. And so forth.
On the one hand, I’m not particularly concerned that CT has aired my dirty laundry, so to speak, because I know I live only by the mercy of God, and such moments drive that truth home ever deeper: I am a sinner saved by grace. Whenever I’ve been told I’ve done or said something stupid or insensitive, I’ve welcomed the opportunity to do some soul searching and seek reconciliation with others. Such incidents have helped me grow in my faith more than any of my successes in life.
The problem in this case is this: I was never given the opportunity to respond to accusations that were handled through through HR.
For example, I was once called into the human resources office because they received a complaint about something I said to a subordinate. I was mortified that what I had said was hurtful, even though done inadvertently, so I immediately went to the person’s office and said how sorry I was for what I said in that conversation.
The person replied, “That didn’t bother me.”
Naturally I asked, “Then why did you report it to HR?”
The person said, “I didn’t.”
So I returned to HR to see if I could have a conversation with the accuser and try to understand what concerned him or her. HR explained they couldn’t do that, since they had a legal obligation to protect the person’s anonymity. I understood, but I was distressed that the situation could not be addressed directly and would never be resolved or healed.
This sort of thing happened three or four times in my last 10 or 15 years at CT, and each time I was thwarted from seeking understanding and reconciliation with the aggrieved party. I get the necessity of allowing people to complain anonymously—it helps the fearful and intimidated come forward. But it seems that in a Christian organization, we’re called to do more than merely register and communicate complaints. Jesus calls for his followers in conflict to come together to discuss their concerns, apologize where necessary, and move toward reconciliation (e.g., Mt. 5:23-24, and Mt. 18:15ff). But this was not a live option at CT. I suggested a couple of times, to people who could make policy changes, that the manner of handling these problems was deeply flawed, but the conversation didn’t go anywhere.
Unfortunately, the pattern continues today, as illustrated in this news story. There were a number of stories/accusations that I had never been made aware of while I worked at CT or even afterward. One would have thought that after collecting anonymous concerns, there would be an effort to bring together the accusers and the accused—yes, with a third party present to ensure psychological safety--to clarify, apologize where necessary, and if possible, seek reconciliation. Instead, an adversarial approach was pursued first. The story was written and published without offering any such opportunity.
In short, I am concerned that those whom I have inadvertently offended or confused remain on the other side of this huge chasm of anonymity. I repeat what I said in the article: I welcome the opportunity to bridge that divide in person, with a third party, of course.
I’m not sure how else to bring healing in such situations. It does seem that this is something we are called to do as followers of Jesus. And as this article clearly demonstrates, without such opportunities for frank conversations, apologies, and reconciliation, misunderstanding, confusion, and hurt can fester for years.