Catholic drama is epic tragedy: Why is Willow Creek meltdown so important?

At this point, two of America's hottest religion-beat stories have become wedded at the hip, at least in my mind.

I am talking about the latest round of the four-decade scandal in the Roman Catholic Church centering on clergy sexual abuse of children and teens -- the vast majority of them male. Now we have a new #MeToo angle, with numerous reports of sexual abuse and harassment of seminarians and young priests, and some of the attackers have ended up in the episcopate.

The poster-male for this story, of course, is former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the American hierarchy's most powerful networkers and media stars over the past 50 years.

Then there is the #ChurchToo fall of the Rev. Bill Hybels, a superstar megachurch leader who helped create the "Seeker Friendly" evangelical movement of the past couple of decades.

But you know all of that, and I wove those subjects together the other day in a post with this headline: "Who you gonna call? New York Times offers a spiritual piece of the Bill Hybels puzzle."

It will not surprise people who listen to "Crossroads" that host Todd Wilkins and I returned to these topics in this week's podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Look, everyone knows why -- in terms of news -- the Catholic crisis is as has hot at Hades. This is the biggest religion game in town. It's the religion-news Olympics. But why is the Willow Creek story so massive?

Now, the remaining leaders of Willow Creek Community Church have hit the exit doors. Click here for the Chicago Tribune report on that.

Why is the Hybels story so important? Well, on one level, we are talking about the fall of the good guys in American evangelicalism -- the good guys in the eyes of many journalists who have had their fill of bad-guy evangelicals.

Willow Creek was supposed to be the solution to the dead, irrelevant, embarrassing evangelical church problem. Here is a nice summary from a new Christianity Today piece:

As CT, the Chicago Tribune, and now The New York Times have reported on allegations of sexual misconduct and complaints about the Willow Creek board’s response, some less familiar with Willow Creek wonder why the ministry deserves all this attention.
“Willow Creek was revolutionary in that previously, churches assumed that all that was needed to reach unbelievers with the gospel was simply to say it one more time and not do anything particularly different,” said Marshall Shelley, a longtime editor for Leadership Journal. 
Rather than just continue to sling religious language at the world, Willow’s leaders realized that “our culture is spiritually blind and is not going to respond to positively to a message that has grown overly familiar or has grown stale,” said Shelley. “Willow Creek said ‘We need to communicate in a way that is going to get people’s attention. Not say it the way we’ve said it thousands of times before but say it in a way that they’ve never heard it before.’”
This insight grew the ministry of the church and spawned the Willow Creek Association, a network for like-minded churches thousands of congregations strong. 

In other words, Hybels was a cross between an archbishop, a reality-TV star and the CEO of a modern corporation known for its progressive vision of America. He helped cheer up President Bill Clinton, for heaven's sake.

Then: Boom. That's not a story about a single church.

Now, let's end this podcast intro by turning this around.

The whole Willow Creek anti-hierarchy has resigned. Will this megachurch be able to reboot? Who picks the next set of producers to run this television production?

So what happens with American Catholicism? Readers: Who do Catholic leaders need to do to show that they are listening? How much of the structure do they need to blow up?

Please send us URLs -- or put them in the commentary pages -- of what Catholic insiders on left and right are suggesting. Keep it clean, but keep it real.

 Enjoy the podcast.

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