It is coming up on 5 years since Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), was exposed in an article in the Chicago Tribune as having been sexually inappropriate with a number of women, both in and out of his church. The elders of Willow Creek Community Church attempted to get ahead of the potentially catastrophic consequences this revelation might create. They orchestrated a couple of what were called “family meetings”. It was obvious that their intent was to shield Bill. The focus of the meetings was to reassure the congregants of WCCC that the allegations that had come forward were untrue. They declared that they had thoroughly investigated them and determined that they were unfounded. The elders and church leadership did a good job of portraying Bill as the innocent object of women who felt scorned by him. and therefore, retaliated by making these accusations. 

The “Me Too” Movement

This all occurred in 2018, which was the beginning of the “Me Too” movement. The “Me Too” movement created an atmosphere of safety for women to come forward and gave validity to the reporting of sexual abuse from high-profile, powerful leaders, mainly in the entertainment industry. This was a seismic cultural shift. The fundamental reason that the “Me Too” approach began to work was the fact that it was not just isolated women, but several women coming out at the same time. Before this, any individual woman who may have described a sexual assault by a powerful person was discredited. They were basically “gaslighted”, which is a way of demeaning and diminishing the credibility of a victim by focusing on some character, or psychological flaw. The difference now was that it was no longer individuals, but women becoming empowered by sheer numbers.

“Me Too” At Willow Creek Community Church

Interestingly, this is what happened at Willow Creek Community Church. There had been a number of accusations against Bill Hybels by individual women over the years. In responding to accusations, he utilized what is called “plausible deniability”. He knew, at some level, that the power differential was such that any individual woman would be discredited easily in favor of supporting his narrative. This shift, in 2018, as multiple women came forward describing similar experiences with Bill, became a tidal wave that could not be so easily disavowed. And the women that came out were high-credibility, high-character individuals. It became increasingly difficult to sustain the narrative of Bill being a victim, as the numbers supported the circumstantial evidence of his guilt.

As things began to crumble, and as accusations ramped up, it became clear that all of his denials and rationalizations were not going to be enough to protect him. The handwriting was increasingly on the wall. A strategic decision was made that Bill would retire earlier than originally planned. Another family meeting was scheduled at WCCC. The intent of the meeting was to announce that Bill was going to move up his retirement and leave his position as senior pastor. In hindsight, this was clearly damage control. The elders, and probably Bill, thought that this would derail the accusations and preserve the image of both Bill and the Church. The subsequent meeting was a tear-jerker. The elders and leadership at the church continued to provide cover for Bill (and probably cover for themselves due to their complicity in enabling his behavior).  The elders and leaders portrayed Bill only in a positive way. It was clear, even to the end, that the elders were swayed by the power of his personality. As a result, they succumbed to protecting him as a victim.  

Family Meetings As A Forum For Spinning A Narrative

At this meeting, Bill had his family on stage, and it came off more as a funeral, with sad faces, and even a dejected sense of resignation. As Bill was discussing his leaving, he strongly emphasized that Willow Creek Community Church was his home, that he deeply loved and cherished his congregants, and that he would continue to be involved. In fact, he indicated that he would be up in the seats attending services because this was his beloved home. WCCC, as he stated, is the “greatest congregation in the world”. Bill was given a severance agreement for his retirement, a “golden parachute”, as his contract with the church specified. This was because the church , ironically, had no morals clause in his contract and the elders and leadership caved to the possibility of legal action. I believe the hope of the elders and leadership was that this retirement would stem the flow of accusations and the turmoil that this situation had created. The ideal situation would have been that Bill retires, the focus goes away from him, and the new leadership would continue unscathed. 

The Final Nail In The Coffin

Then came the New York Times article in August of 2018.  A woman victim came forward, encouraged by a former pastor at WCCC, and with much more graphic detail, exposed a pattern of predatory behavior by Bill.  That, coupled with all the earlier accusations, made it impossible for the church to go forward unscathed. In cascading fashion, the executive pastor, the new lead teaching pastor, and the elders announced that they would be resigning.

I Thought You Said WCCC Was Your Home!

It has been almost 5 years now and there has been no sighting of Waldo, Bill Hybels. How can this be, given the fact that he clearly, and passionately, indicated that he loved this church and would be in a continuing pattern of involvement? But no one has seen him. He appears to have ghosted the congregation, going off into the woods of Michigan. The congregants of WCCC had such a sense of trust and dependency on him and his leadership. They easily engaged in his visions and were sacrificial in seeking to live out what he defined as the work of the church. And then, suddenly, he’s gone. Everything that he had taught was shattered. The real legacy that he left, eclipsing the good that he had done, was one of betrayal and the undermining of trust. Bill left and gave no explanation for his radical abandonment. What explanation would make sense for why he has so radically disconnected from Willow Creek Community Church? It is only explained by understanding the dynamics of a charismatic and narcissistic leader.

Shame, Perfectionism, And Hiding

Essentialy what happened was that Bill lost control. He had been so adept at flicking accusations away as if they were annoying specks on his well-manicured image. Too many women saying the same thing was uncontainable.  He was exposed, and there was no defense or cover, other than his continued declaration of his being a victim. He did what shame-based, narcissist people do. He left and is hiding both literally and psychologically, by staying outside  the eyes of critics. Hiding is the most primitive of coping strategies. It is as old as Adam and Eve, who when they became self-aware, attempted to hide their faces  from  God. They covered themselves. It is as current as children, who when they see the disappointment of their parent, divert and hide their eyes from the gaze of the disappointed parent. 

So, Where Is Waldo? Anywhere But Where His Critics Can Find Him

In summary, Bill Hybels was a tightly and compulsively self-controlled individual who had to project an image of perfection. His developmental history explains the reasons behind his personality formation. Everything about him reflected a need for control, both for himself and for what was essentially an extension of him, the church. Cracks began to form, threatening a revelation of darkness that was beneath the surface. He could not bear it. Could not stand in the presence of those who were beginning to tunnel beneath the facade and see his flaws. He could not bear it and had to flee and hide.

It is very unlikely that Bill will return to his church and the people that so faithfully followed his leadership. The needs of the people he led are secondary to his need to avoid the pain of standing naked in the light of his own brokenness. So this is an abandonment with no resolution. Where is Waldo? In the shadows hiding. 

Guns, Fatherlessness, School Shootings, and Red Herrings

Guns, Fatherlessness, School Shootings, and Red Herrings

Guns And Red Herrings

In this blog I will share some thoughts that have come out of my reactions to the recent school shootings. As a clinical psychologist I have a number of serious concerns about what seems to me to be the underpinnings of this rash of violence.

So many people have attempted to explain what is happening in what I would call a  reductionistic approach, focusing solely on guns as the cause of the shootings. While it is true that guns are the means by which shootings occur, what is neglected in the larger context of the culture is the fact that our national, degenerating, moral and emotional climate is the real cause of what we are experiencing. Guns are the red herring, paraded in front of us, to simplistically focus away from the real reasons that school shootings occur. 

The Insidious Erosion Of Culture

As a philosophy student in my undergraduate years it was easy to follow the drift of culture away from objective  truth and towards subjective values. The rise of existentialism as a philosophic rebellion against objective truth is the fundamental root of the deterioration of our culture. It is clear that we have gone from a society that uses objective standards of right and wrong to evaluate values, to a subjective belief that each individual can determine their own truth and create their own subjective morality. The result of this is the rise of radical individualism and resistance to any attempts to evaluate behavior against deeper truth principles.The concept of existentialism, which is humanistic, proposes that instead of essence preceding  existence, it has turned this historical truth on its head, claiming that existence precedes essence. What does this mean?

Blueprints For Life

The concept of essence can be compared to a blueprint by which something is constructed. To build a house, a vision or picture of what the house should look like precedes the actual building. And the building is guided by the blueprint. So the essence of what a house is precedes its’ building. The existential notion, by contrast, says that we should start building with no pre-existent sense of what the house should look like, constructing as we go along based on the whims or impulses of the builder.

Our culture, by analogy, is telling children to build their own house, without blueprints, or the standardized codes that relate to safety, etc. For most of human history, it was assumed that there was a blueprint for what a human should be and what values should be adopted. This blueprint is in essence like DNA, a code that governs the unfolding of the developing human growth process. The moral code was built into the essence, or DNA notion, so that for a person to become a fully moral and healthy human, they must be directed by pre-existent guidelines. The foundation of this was the Judao-Christian worldview.  With the rise of existentialism this pre-existent blueprint has been discarded. The new emphasis is one that asserts that there are no absolute moral values by which the unfolding of one’s life must be guided. Although this sounds liberating, and emphasizes human freedom, the actual results have produced a culture that has a deep sense of angst and a general lack of purpose.  The scripture that captures the destructiveness of this notion is:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 12:26 

The comfort of pre-existing values and a blueprint for human development has been lost. Individuals today are told that they can create their own values and their own blueprint. The siren call of this humanistic philosophy is the notion that we are all free to pursue our own impulses, and anyone who seeks to impose a judgment on those impulses are haters. 

So we have a culture that fosters a belief that one’s own truth has to be derived from one’s internal set of preferences and that anyone who disagrees is essentially, as said above, a hater. At the worst end of the extreme might be a person who subjectively believes that sexual involvement with a child is perfectly okay. The only way that a subjective culture can argue against this behavior is possibly by saying that the perpetrator’s behavior hurts a child, not necessarily that it is morally wrong. Once you use the words “morally wrong”, you presuppose a pre-existent essence. Logically, from a subjective and humanistic sense, the argument can be used that a sexual molester feels that his impulses are just a part of who he is and it should be ok to identify as a child molester. 

The most recent shooting, in Highland Park, IL was perpetrated by a man who illustrates the deterioration of values into its’ worst logical outcome. His statement on a social media posting was:

“Like a sleepwalker…I know what I have to do,” the narrator says in one video.

“I know what’s in it. Not only for me but for everyone else… there is no past or future, just the now. It is more abstract than I can ever imagine. I can feel the atmosphere pulling me in. It’s unstoppable….I need to leave now. I need to just do it. It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, even myself. Is there such a thing as free will or has this been planned out…it’s what I was sent here to do. Like a sleepwalker…walking blindly into the night.”

This is an example of what happens when existentialism degrades into its’ logical outcome-nihilism.

Nihilism means: the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence or arbitrariness of human principles and social institutions. When the guardrails of values are removed, life deteriorates into a meaningless and purposeless existence. And this is what was going on in the mind of the Highland Park killer.

School Shootings In The Context Of A Subjective Culture

It is my belief that the rise of school shootings is directly related to the deterioration of objective values within our culture, and at its’ worst extreme, boys with nihilistic views of life as meaningless, and that human life is pointless.

Here is the progression, or rather the regression, of the factors involved in the climate that fosters school violence:

              1. Systematically attack and eliminate objective values in the culture.

              2. As a result, infiltrate the notion of subjective truth into the mindset of the culture. 

              3. In throwing out the notion of objective values, deconstruct the notion of the importance of the traditional family. Instead adopt all manner of variants, including same sex parents, trans-parents, parents who cave to the notion of not imposing traditional gender assignment on children, etc.

              4. Weaken the notion of marriage as a covenant connection between two people and instead focus on the subjective notion of marriage as two people who keep each other happy. 

               5. As a result of this diluted notion of marriage, increase the frequency of divorces, resulting in more and more children experiencing separation from parents. 

                6. Have a family court system that devalues the importance of fathers, resulting in children, and most importantly boys, having a lack of significant time and influence with their fathers. 

                 7. As a result of this, and it is backed up by significant research, allow for the deterioration of the mental health of children, particularly boys.

                 8. Create a generation of depressed, anxious, angry, disenchanted, and purposeless children, again primarily boys. 

                 9. Create a sense of impotent rage in many boys.

                 10. And then observe how these boys take out this un-directed rage on innocent children.

But the red herring folks will skip this drama at the back of the stage of causes, and self-righteously only focus on guns.

Our subjective culture cannot have it both ways. When it substantially undermines the limits that objective truth places on human behavior, how can it not understand that the subjective agenda of a school shooter results in a massacre? Guns are merely the instrument by which their agenda is fulfilled. Bombs, knives, and vehicles are other means. 

Of God And Truth

We that hold to objective Truth are labeled  bigots if we do not agree with the right of others to have their own individual set of values. This is so oppositional to the historical notion that truth, in the big T sense of the word, serves to guide individual behavior towards a set of moral absolutes. When you boil down the moral proscriptions of the Judao-Christian worldview, they are seeking to teach people to love and treat people as if they, along with themselves, have sacred value, and must be protected from the self-centeredness that subjective values create. People who follow these values would naturally subscribe to the notion that all people matter, because they are created in the image of God and should be treated as equals. I believe it was Dostoyevsky that said  “Without God all things are permitted”.

 It is clear that this has permeated our culture, entitling individuals to use their impulses and preferences as a justification for behavior that years ago would be shockingly abhorrent. But we have been systematically desensitized to accept what has historically been identified as morally wrong. It has been an insidious process, where in incremental ways, we have drifted to a valueless society. Those who are traditional or conservative in their values, as I am, are attacked as getting in the way of this progressive decline into the moral abyss. This is nowhere more obvious than in the deconstruction of the traditional model of the family.

In a subjective culture, which attacks anyone who judges an individual’s behavior as wrong, is quickly labeled, as stated above,  a hater. This is an attempt to effectively hamstring one’s ability to determine if there are real and true principles by which we are to guide our life choices. Even people of faith get paralyzed by fear that if they support objective truth they will be attacked as having a biased view of life. It is so discouraging that even Christians, who used to hold to traditional values, have been emotionally bullied to change, by saying they now embrace values that they  would previously have said were wrong. This is how the culture is shaping the person, versus a pre-existent value structure guiding one’s choices. 

Angry Boys

So what young boys, and by the way 90% of all shooters are male, grow up in is a culture that fosters a lack of direction and pressure to formulate one’s own subjective values. Our culture has undermined the traditional values that reflect our sense of the absolute sanctity of life. As a result this has dehumanized the traditional view of the grand creative value of individuals. Boys spend enormous times on war related video games, that systematically desensitize them to the value of life.

And then this woke cultural system, that has undermined Truth, has created the context in which boys feel a sense of being adrift, empty, purposeless, and angry. This rage, that resides in the emotional storehouse of the boy’s feelings, seeks an outlet. Unfortunately, since we have culturally undermined the sacred goodness of life, these school-shooting boys create their own sense of purpose, which often involves the acts of violence that give them their 15 minutes of fame. The woke architects of this cultural morass then rail in a moralistic way against guns. The statistics show that there were more guns per capita in 1980 than there are now. What is the factor that explains the fact that there were no mass school shootings back then, while there is an avalanche of these in our modern culture? Its’ the culture and the factors already listed.

This culture has obliterated the historical values that supported the notion of human dignity and purpose. This secularized society has infiltrated the minds of many young boys and has left them adrift. A particularly toxic and destructive element of our current culture is the fact that boys and girls are often separated from their fathers due to the divorce process. I have been a strong advocate of shared parenting if a divorce occurs. The family court system has so distorted the notion of what is in the best interests of children that they engage in a long protracted and extremely expensive process of trying to determine the “best parent” notion. This notion is frequently decided in favor of the mother. All the research has indicated that what is far more important than the subjective concept of the best parent, is the amount of time spent with both parents. All the literature supports the notion that there is a high correlation between the amount of time with parents and the amount of problems that a child will develop including academic, mental health, and negative legal outcomes.

Mental Health And The Deterioration of the Traditional Family

A good deal of research has isolated common factors in school shootings and mental health. One of the most glaring factors is the lack of significant father involvement in children’s lives. This factor, along with frequent bullying, and un-contained rage, are the factors that correlate with the rise of school shootings. The culture, and particularly the family law system, have ignored the real data and continued to see fathers as having less importance than mothers. This ignoring of the facts or the truth, is tantamount to ignoring the real solution to the problem. If this were like medicine, doctors who ignore best practices and continue to use old outdated and ineffective procedures, would be sued for malpractice.

And yet the family law system ignores what would  start to solve the problem of why children develop mental health issues, leaving them vulnerable to acting out violently. Lawyers, who are trained in adversarial litigation, force fit their approach into an area that should not be approached from an adversarial perspective. We are truly experiencing the break down of the traditional family, and family courts have  largely ignored the scientific data. Because of this, it is my belief that the family courts are complicit in the creation of the deep causes that result in school shootings.

Boys And Elephants

In looking at common factors for boys who engage in school shootings, a consistent indicator is that of an absent father. Other indicators are mental health problems which are a direct outcome of the absence of fathers in the home. Boys need the containment of a strong father to process the feelings of aggression that often accompany  their developmental maturity. An example from nature is the story about elephants in a preserve in Africa. The employees on the reserve notice that there were a number of adolescent male elephants who went into puberty, called musk, where their testosterone levels were very high. What they would do with this sexualized energy is attack animals that were weaker than them. They solved the problem by bringing in bull elephants, who contain the aggression of the adolescent elephants. A lesson from nature.

When fathers are absent, boys effectively have no bull elephant, or wise and strong male figures, to contain their feelings of aggression. This may clearly explain the frequency of assaults, rapes, and sexual aggression among our young males in our culture. Family Court is complicit in maintaining an environment in which boys are denied the frequent access to their fathers.

Our culture has broken down traditional family values. Uninformed social influencers have supported the notion that one parent can parent effectively. As a result there has been a deep bias against guaranteeing that children grow up in an environment where they receive the full benefit of two parents. There is no reasonable explanation for the way that the family courts resolve custody in imbalanced way. I’ve said this before and I truly believe it that when children become aware of how the family courts allowed them to be absent from their fathers, for something equivalent to malpractice.  Keeping a child from a parent, many times due to the alienation of a child from the non-residential parent, is child abuse. The current family court system is a “pay to play” scheme, often bankrupting parents, which adds another level of strain on the children, leading to even higher levels of emotional distress. If the current system were the only way to deal with things we would have to accept it, but clearly the research indicates that it is the most unhealthy way to deal with custody.

Two summarize, it is clear that the boys engaged in school shootings are underdeveloped, immature, aggressive males who have experienced the detrimental effect of father absence. If the woke culture we live in would understand the truth of this and address it vigorously instead of, as I indicated, reductionistic glee focusing only on guns, we may be able to see significant progress in reducing these horrific cultural traumas. The reality is that a whole range of social issues are directly connected to the way in which the family courts allow for separation of children from fathers. They should be culpable and held accountable. We need a large grassroots connected force of people who demand reform in the family court system. If not children will continue to be wounded emotionally and shootings will very likely continue. 

Let’s stop only focusing on the Red Herring!