Explaining Billy Graham

Explaining Billy Graham

On May 9, 1979, I attended a Billy Graham Crusade at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. I had access to the lawn area in front of the blue grandstand. I don’t remember that. It says so on the ticket I kept from that night. I don’t really remember anything from Billy Graham’s talk that night either. But I do recall hundreds of people going forward in response to the appeal to invite Jesus into their life. I went forward too. But not to give my life to Jesus. I just went forward to see what happened to all those who did. I meandered through the crowd, overhearing the respondees repeating the sinner’s prayer after their counselor, phrase after phrase like wedding vows. It must have had a big impact on me because I kept my ticket all these years. The 1979 crusade was Billy Graham’s third in Australia. He first landed on our shores in 1959 and that crusade is considered a watershed event in Australia’s religious history. During the ’59 meetings 130,000 Aussies went forward in response to Graham’s altar call. In Sydney alone it was nearly 57,000. It was the closest thing to a revival the city had ever seen. But the Billy Graham phenomenon had begun only ten years earlier in Los Angeles in September 1949. At just

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In the year #MeToo went to church, I had a very Hybels kind of 2018

In the year #MeToo went to church, I had a very Hybels kind of 2018

In the year #MeToo went to church, I guess it was fitting that I had a very Hybels kind of 2018 in the blogosphere. My top three posts for the year all addressed the topic of sexual propriety in the church, each bouncing off the unfolding fall from grace of American megachurch pastor Bill Hybels. Hybels’ story is instructive because allegations against him weren’t taken seriously for many years, even though they were coming from more than one woman. As a highly successful pastor, and an author whose writings focused on integrity and courage, there was a reticence to believe that he could be guilty of the kind of abuse that was being alleged against him. Indeed, some questioned whether the charges could even be categorized as abuse. I mean, if little physical contact occurred and intercourse didn’t take place, is it abuse? So 2018 became the year when the church was forced to acknowledge that the term ‘abuse’ can be used to describe any situation in which a minister, priest or church employee attempts to use their position of power over or proximity to someone to sexualize their relationship. And Bill Hybels isn’t an isolated case. Thanks to both the #MeToo movement, we now know the sexual exploitation of women by ministers is not uncommon. In fact, some researchers suggest

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Overreactive Leadership has us running around like Chicken Little

Overreactive Leadership has us running around like Chicken Little

We all know President Donald J Trump doesn’t cope with criticism very well. After last weekend’s final episode of Saturday Night Live for 2018, featuring Alec Baldwin reprising his satirical impression of Trump, along with Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller, Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh, the president couldn’t take it any longer. He tweeted: Did you get that?  The courts should test whether shows like Saturday Night Live are actually legal!! In other words, the President of the United States of America is questioning whether free speech should extend to criticism of the President of the United States of America. Which kind of makes him sound like the President of Guatemala, 1982, instead of the Leader of the Free World. Of course, this just opened him up to thousands of tweets counter-attacking him for being so sensitive. One such tweet read, “Remember when all those other presidents complained about their little feelsies getting hurtsies by Saturday Night Live? No.  Because none of them were thin skinned, little babies.” I don’t want to lampoon Donald Trump here. But I do want us to think about “thin skinned little babies”, especially when they’re in leadership. In the literature they’re called “overreactive leaders.” Professor Samuel Bacharach from Cornell University defines them this way: “Overreactive leaders take every piece of information,

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“You’ve got ten minutes!”: learning how to preach in the church of Apple

“You’ve got ten minutes!”: learning how to preach in the church of Apple

On September 12, Apple hosted its latest product launch with the tagline “Gather round”, at which they introduced the new Apple Watch Series 4, and the next generation iPhones. The 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater in the Apple Park campus was packed for the 2-hour event. But the intriguing thing about Apple Events is that no video or speaker ever takes more than 10 minutes at a time. At the September 12 event, Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked things off with a five-minute update on sales and products and introduced the subjects of the day: the Apple Watch and new iPhones. Then Apple COO Jeff Williams came on stage and talked for two minutes about the new Apple Watch and they played a video. Williams then presented a scripted ten-minute presentation (maybe a little longer because he was regularly interrupted by applause) before introducing the president of the American Heart Association who spoke for two minutes about the new health feature on the Apple Watch. Back comes Jeff Williams with another four-minute presentation and another video, this one of Apple’s chief designer, Jony Ive speaking for two minutes about the watch. Tim Cook returned to introduce marketing chief Phil Schiller who took over the iPhone portion of the presentation. And so it goes. Ten speakers.  And no one spoke for more

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Pastoring in a post-Hybels world

Pastoring in a post-Hybels world

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen   I’ve never read a Bill Hybels book or attended the Global Leadership Summit. These days that sounds like a badge of honor. But before it was a virtue, and for the longest time, I felt out of the loop with all my friends in ministry who were deeply informed by the Christian leadership industry of which Hybels and the GLS were central. Part of my disconnect with that whole world had to do with my sense that it was drawing on my own worst impulses. When I did read any books by Christian leadership gurus, or listen to talks by them, I couldn’t get past the fact that they were asking me to be me only better. You see, I’m already wired to be a performer. I’m already driven to achieve, to win, to succeed, to influence. You might have thought that being told to achieve more, perform more, influence more, would have been music to my ears. But even I knew that just trying to be me only better wasn’t going to get me closer

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Bill Hybels and the cycle of sexual predatory behavior

Bill Hybels and the cycle of sexual predatory behavior

This is Pat Baranowski. In the 1980s, she was the executive assistant to Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Recently she revealed that while she was in her 30s she was repeatedly sexually abused by her boss over an eight year period. It occurred shortly after she had divorced her first husband. Baranowski is the latest in a string of women who have alleged mistreatment by Hybels. These most recent allegations were a bombshell, resulting in the resignation of one of Bill Hybels’ successors (Hybels retired from Willow Creek earlier this year). But with the fallout of Ms Baranowski’s revelations, and widespread complaints of the church’s handling of the many allegations, it is easy to overlook the lessons to be learned from this sordid tale for anyone in ministry, or working for someone in a position of power. The account of the abuse suffered by Pat Baranowski’s makes for informative reading, according to Dr Julia Dahl. Dahl says this case has all the hallmarks of the cycle of sexual predatory behavior and the abuse of power by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). She outlines the abuse cycle this way:   1. SELECTION It begins with selection. Pat Baranowski talks about Bill Hybels approaching her in the church parking lot. Here’s the New York Times account of

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Can you imagine Jesus delivering a TED talk? No, me either.

Can you imagine Jesus delivering a TED talk? No, me either.

“I hate TED talks. I can’t abide the way presenters pace around the stage, I hate the gravity with which they deliver their message, and being patronised by a smug, overconfident ‘thought leader’ is pretty intolerable.”   Julie Bindel is an English writer and co-founder of the law-reform group Justice for Women. And she hates TED talks. She particularly hates the presenters (whom she calls TED-bots) strutting around the stage, “delivering well-crafted smiles and frowns, well-placed pauses and casual hair flicks.” According to Bindel they’re all overconfident, over-rehearsed, and overly dramatic. This might come as a surprise to those of you who enjoy public speaking, especially preaching, because the rise of the TED talk was always taken as an indication of the fact that the monologue presentation isn’t dead. It is argued, often by preachers, that even though the research tells us people learn very little from a monologue, the popularity of TED talks suggests otherwise. See, the preacher says, it’s not that the monologue is dead. It’s just that people like short, sharp, engaging presentations like TED talks. In other words, sermons need to be more “TED-worthy”. Well, Julie Bindel wouldn’t agree. And the popularity of her Guardian article, “Why I’d never do a TED talk”, suggests she’s not the only one. As most people know, TED is a four-day

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Franklin Graham is coming to town and he’s already having the opposite effect of his father

Franklin Graham is coming to town and he’s already having the opposite effect of his father

It was recently announced that Franklin Graham, the son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, will be touring Australia in 2019. He’s coming for the 60th anniversary of Billy Graham’s historic 1959 crusades in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Launceston, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane, which attracted over 3 million Australians (and another 350,000 across the ditch in New Zealand). Franklin Graham will retrace his father’s steps to six of those Australian cities as part historical commemoration, part evangelistic campaign. The ’59 crusades, which lasted four months, were unquestionably historic. Karl Faase, a member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Australian board, says it was the closest thing Australia has come to experiencing a religious revival. One hundred and forty six thousand people went forward as “inquirers” at the end of the rallies. But Karl Faase says the effect could be seen in more than just the size of the crowds. He says there were appreciable drops in crime, alcohol consumption, ex-nuptial births, and bad debts, as a result of the ’59 crusades. Theological colleges saw a boom in student numbers, as did mission societies. And Bible sales went through the roof. That all sounds definitely worth commemorating. And you’d think Franklin Graham should be the one to do it. He’s not only the great evangelist’s son, he’s the current president and CEO

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Should a pastor ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht?

Should a pastor ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht?

Remember the controversy Tony Campolo caused back in the day when he announced that you can’t own a BMW and be a Christian? Well, the recent revelations about Bill Hybels’ treatment of female colleagues raise the question about whether a pastor should ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht.   Many years ago I recall a Baptist minister telling me how, after moving into the manse or parsonage of his new church, he noticed there were metallic handrails sticking up out of the middle of the back lawn. When he asked the church elders what the handrails were for, he was informed that the church had purchased the property years earlier at an extremely good price but it had a swimming pool in the backyard. The elders felt that it was too ostentatious for a pastor to have a swimming pool, but the house was so cheap they couldn’t pass it up. Their solution: purchase the property, but fill in the pool and plant lawn. Those handrails remained poking through the grass as a tangible reminder of two things – the church’s thriftiness and its modesty. The story about the underground pool always got a laugh and a roll of the eyes every time he told it. Those were the days when pastors were expected to display unstinting

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What Oprah 2020 tells us about the power of the spoken word

What Oprah 2020 tells us about the power of the spoken word

The whole lesson of history is that preaching doesn’t work. – Alan Watts   When Alan Watts made that claim in his provocative talk “Preaching is moral violence” he was convinced by his reading of history that no meaningful change in human conduct ever occurs as a result of listening to a speech or lecture or sermon. He’s not the only one. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that preaching is redundant in the age of Google, that it’s an inefficient method of education, that digital natives are used to interaction and can’t understand monologues, etc etc. But then along comes a moment like Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant acceptance speech at the 2018 Golden Globe awards. Her rousing presentation resembled a sermon or a political stump speech more than a Hollywood acceptance speech. She wove together her own rags-to-riches story with references to Sidney Poitier, Rosa Parks and Recy Taylor, as well as exhortations of press freedom, justice for sexual assault victims, and the contributions and sacrifices of ordinary women around America. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote for Slate, “It was mesmerizing, pitch perfect, and gave voice to many lifetimes of frustration and vindication with eloquence and a full authority she has earned.” It put me in mind of the then Senator Barack Obama’s keynote address at

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Fans Arise!! When nothing is too esoteric to be outraged by

Fans Arise!! When nothing is too esoteric to be outraged by

I’m no Star Wars fan. If you ask me, most of those movies are sort of okay. Some are literally unwatchable. So, I find myself on the outer when it comes to fan fights about the minute esoterica of a film series with which I’m not terribly familiar. I don’t care that replacing Anakin at the end of Return of the Jedi made no sense. I’m not gonna fight about whether it’s believable that a bunch of Ewoks could defeat the Galactic Empire. Jar Jar Binks has zero effect on me. And I have no opinion on whether Han shot first. In fact, reading the high dudgeon being expressed by fans over whether The Last Jedi burns the franchise to the ground or not is kinda quaint to me, actually. When fans start carrying placards protesting that Disney has ruined Lucasfilm, I might look up from my breakfast cereal for a second, but, meh, I don’t care. Good for them. All power to them. I’m gonna keep scrolling through my newsfeed. Which might be the same reaction most of the world has when Christians start splitting hairs and debating the minutiae of their doctrine. Like Star Wars fans, we can get so outraged so quickly by the tiniest difference of theological opinion, while most onlookers are, like, huh? This happened this

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The Impunity of Male Power

The Impunity of Male Power

Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Dustin Hoffman. Bill O’Reilly. Jeremy Piven. Brett Ratner. James Toback. George H W Bush. Hamilton Fish. Black, white, straight, gay, the one thing they all have in common is they are men. They are men who have either admitted to or been accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. And they are powerful men in their respective fields who believed they could assault or harass others with impunity. The recent stories of actor Kevin Spacey routinely groping and soliciting men (one a boy of 14) reveal the true nature of these cases. A member of the Old Vic theatre company, where Kevin Spacey was artistic director, has claimed that everyone knew Spacey was a serial offender. He simply groped whoever he wanted to, whenever he wanted. And nobody said anything. Bill Cosby’s criminal activity is another case in point. Nearly 50 women have claimed he sexually assaulted them over a 40 year period across 10 US states. And Donald Trump’s pre-election boast that he could “move on” any woman he wanted was explained by him because “…when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” This included his notorious comment that he could even grab women’s genitals without repercussion. So while these assaults might have been sexual in

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