Contrasting Cases: Genuine Apologies Versus Deflections

POSITIVE CASE STUDIES: Felicity Huffman / Dan George and Mike Dunwoody, Former Elders at Harvest Bible Church. In several tweets on April 9, 2019, Jessica posted and parsed a secular example of a “good apology” — Felicity Huffman issues apology over college admissions case (April 8, 2019; CNN). Jessica used it as a challenge to the lack of apologies or bad apologies issued on situations of abuse involving Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) and its former lead pastor, James MacDonald.

She then references some genuine apologies by leaders formerly involved with Harvest Bible Chapel, a multi-campus mega-church embroiled in financial scandals and abuse allegations. These apologies relate in great part to a libel lawsuit filed October 17, 2018, by HBC and Mr. MacDonald against bloggers Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant at The Elephant’s Debt — and their wives! — and journalist Julie Roys. These three writers run two of the most extensive sites posting news and documentation on the abuses by leaders of the Harvest Bible Chapel system. The lawsuit was later dropped, but remaining HBC system leaders are still dealing with a backlog of unresolved issues. Here are links to other public apologies Jessica mentions:

DAN GEORGE: Public confession and apology statement (February 22, 2019). Follow-up resignation from HBC Elder Board (March 21, 2019).

MIKE DUNWOODY. Public confession and apology statement (March 1, 2019).

An April 9, 2019, comment from Sandy Beach on this apology highlights how ungenuine, ineffective statements from abusers who are Christian come across: Christianese (godly-sounding language but denying the power thereof), weasel words (generic enough to sound contrite but not specific enough , and manipulation (place unwarranted guilt, shame, fear and responsibility onto the victim rather than the abusive party accepting consequences that should fall to them).

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CONSIDER FOR YOURSELF: Harvest Bible Church Apology for Lawsuit. There apparently have been other confession-repentance-apology statements from the Harvest Bible Church situation, although they did not meet the kinds of criteria Jessica lists: specific, directed to the people harmed, no excuses, accepts consequences.

The official apology issued by the HBC board is worth considering for how it stands up to those basic criteria. For the apology as posted on HBC’s website, see the April 30, 2019, entry on their FAQ page. (That link is from the Internet Archive/WayBack Machine, as the original link on HBC’s site appears to be broken.)

For an analysis and critique by Dee Parsons, a survivor advocate and blogger who followed the HBC situation, see Harvest Bible Chapel Apologizes to Julie Roys, The Elephant Debt, and the EC Credit Union, Leaving Me With Unanswered Questions (May 1, 2019; The Wartburg Watch).

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POSITIVE CASE STUDY: Seth Lloyd. / NEGATIVE CASE STUDY: Tom Randall. On August 24, 2019, Ruth Dhanaraj Hutchins posted a Twitter thread on apologies. As an exemplar for churches, she used a public apology by Seth Lloyd from MIT for his role in enabling a secular community situation involving notorious sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein. I have numbered the five tweets for reference purposes and added related links. Other than that, I have not edited her thread.

Tweet #1. Why is it only secular people who are capable of apologizing clearly when they’ve failed? Here’s MIT’s Seth Lloyd directly and specifically apologizing for his role in supporting Jeffrey Epstein: [LINK: I am writing to apologize to Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, by Seth Lloyd (August 22, 2019; Medium).]

Tweet #2. “The job of a scientist is to look for the truth, and the job of a teacher is to help people to empower themselves. I failed to do my job on both counts. It would have been straightforward to find the true scope of the allegations against Mr. Epstein — thanks to the work of…”

Tweet #3. “…police investigators, journalists, and the victims’ attorneys they were a matter of public record — but I failed to search for them. By continuing to participate in discussions he had with me and other scientists and by accepting his donations…”

Tweet #4.  “…I helped Mr. Epstein protect his reputation, and I disempowered his victims. I should have focused on them instead of him.” No minimizing about a “mistake” or “error in judgement”. If only churches that have failed to do due diligence would speak up as courageously.

Tweet #5. “By not listening to your voices, I participated in a system of privilege and entitlement that protected a powerful abuser and that failed you. I apologize to you and I ask for your forgiveness.” It’s not that complicated. Churches. Come on. [LINK: The Evangelical Machine That Protected Tom Randall — Until Now, by Truth Seeker (August 6, 2019; Medium).]

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POSITIVE CASE STUDY: First Baptist Church; Athens, Texas. /  NEGATIVE CASE STUDY: Willow Creek Community Church and Global Leadership Summit. First Baptist Church of Athens, Texas, issued a public, corporate apology to the women who’d been victimized by Bill Hybels, and to their advocates. They launched this page on Palm Sunday of 2019. At that time, First Baptist had been involved with the Willow Creek Association for 23 years, including hosting its Global Leadership Summit since 1999. So, the positive side of this case study assumes the negative case study context created and maintained by Willow Creek and the Global Leadership Summit.

First Baptist Church they invited the public to review their process and participate in the apology. They did this through their church website. The apology webpate included a link to a 216-page PDF, Process Document: The Path of Accountability (April 28, 2019; updated April 29). “Documents prepared for the discussion and deliberations of the First Baptist Church, Athens Texas regarding its involvement in the Global Leadership Summit.” It includes:

  • Front matter: Title and description, table of contents for all documents included, “List of the accusers, accusations, those seeking accountability and the investigators,” and questions used in evaluation sources to include. [Pages 1-8.]
  • Select primary sources (news reports, court transcripts, blog posts by people directly involved) and secondary (analysis, opinion pieces, social media comments). These references are presented in chronological order and cover March 2018 through March 2019, and often include the full text of the source material. [Pages 9-125.]
  • Examples of false information passed on by individuals or through organizations, and emails, letters, Facebook posts, reports, etc., that document false information and failures to apologize. These are mostly screenshots or full-image scans, some typed texts. [Pages 126-193.]
  • Items related to steps First Baptist Church took in order to find the truth and make things right. [Pages 194-203.]
  • Best practices for responding to sexual abuse allegations, and related policies. [Pages 204-213.]
  • Relational Disclosure [page 214] that details personal and organizational connections with Willow Creek, Global Leadership Summit, and related individuals.

The church also included a link to a Groundswell online petition created by GLS Host Sites Apologizing. The petition is entitled, “To: Global Leadership Summit Host Sites and the Church Apologize to those confronting the Willow Creek System whose motives and outcry were disbelieved.” Here is its opening paragraph:

We recognize that the conversations we had and the information we shared perpetuated a false narrative about the women who bravely told us the truth. Therefore our conscience demands that we apologize specifically for what we have done.

This is followed by a series of specific statements about actions taken (or neglected) and often stating how these were unrighteous/wrong, and taking responsibility for the damaging impact those (in)actions had on the women victims, plus various communities who were affected directly or indirectly.

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Reference Links

1. Stage 1: Repair – Sustaining Hope and Help.

2. Stage 2: Renovate – Hope is on the Line.

3. Stage 3. Reclaim – Hope in Definite Jeopardy.

4. Stage 4. Raze – When Hope Fades or Fails.

5. Introduction to Contrasting Case Studies in Doing Organizational Repairs Wisely or Poorly.

6. Contrasting Cases: Independent versus Internal Investigation.

7. Contrasting Cases: Genuine Apologies Versus Deflections.

8. Contrasting Cases: Transparency Versus Secrecy.

9. Contrasting Cases: System-Wide Repairs Versus No Substantive Repairs.

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