Garrett Higbee released a statement on the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal. This post is just preserving that statement as information has a way of disappearing or changing in regards to church scandal.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT
On February 23, 2019 Garrett Higbee released a statement that gives his explanation of the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal. I am going to do analysis of this statement in my next post. But as items and statements tend to be tweaked, changed or disappear. I want to use this post to capture Garrett Higbee’s statement.
In recent months I have been following the news about HBC in Chicago. I have considered making a public statement for weeks, but instead I chose to stay consistent with a pattern I committed to years ago. I have sent my views to the HBC elders and to those who I thought could affect change. But in recent weeks I have been deeply troubled in my soul. My struggle is how to respond to help those impacted by the ongoing controversy in Chicago with Harvest Bible Chapel. I love the church, many of the front-line leaders and the people who attend. They are some of the most godly and gifted people I have ever fellowshipped and served with. I hope this will bring clarity and help those who are confused and hurting. I want to affirm the good people still left behind who could be part of the healing process when so much bad is being revealed.
Tammy and I left HBC Chicago almost two years ago. Like many, we left quietly to not stir up even more internal strife. I am not sure that was the best decision, but it seemed wise at the time. Privately I made my concerns known to the senior leadership in many ways and many times over 7 years. I also confronted sinful patterns I saw directly with James. Because of my belief that elders are the biblical governance God put in place for the local church, this is where I was most vocal and bold. I was never a blind follower but nonetheless I feel complicit in staying as long as I did when I was so dissident in my soul by 2016. Dissident because change was not happening fast enough or seemed short lived. Not because I knew all the details that are now coming out because I did not. But I saw the growing evidence of pride, anger, and fear and was losing any influence in changing it for the better. I actually tried to leave a year before we finally left. I was again promised significant change was under way. Like many I saw glimpses of hope, behavioral improvement and moments of amazing ministry that can only be contributed to God’s grace.
Looking back, I see just how faithful God was even when ministry was being done with wrong motives. He was working in spite of the leadership dysfunction and sin. He loves His sheep and does great ministry even when leaders are ungodly and hiding sinful behavior. To those who were a part of the church during all this I want to say your relationship with Christ is what matters. Your salvation is based on the circumcision of the heart, not your outward loyalty to a man or a church. If you were complicit, repent and return to your first love. If you are confused and weary, go to Him for soul rest. If you are disenchanted or disillusioned, find a place to get godly counsel. I have felt all those things to some degree. We have had to fight to not give in to despair, fear or bitterness. Do not give up on your faith or on finding a good church or, if staying, on being a part of the healing process.
Like many, I justified staying because if God had not left (His hand was evident in many ways), I felt I could stay. But I focused too much on the fruit. The significant fruit of new believers, spiritual breakthroughs, moments of repentance and hope renewed, and other works of God became an excuse to overlook root issues of a fear-based culture and a lack of consistent character in senior leadership.
Tim Keller in his devotional on God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life speaks to the biggest concern I had well. “When you are ruthless to others, you unleash your heart capacity for cruelty and selfishness. Those appetites get out of control and lead to bad decisions.”
To my knowledge most poor decisions were kept in check by elders and staff most of the time. I believe most of us had no knowledge of blatantly disqualifying sin like is being exposed now. But the elder discipline disaster was an example of when impulsivity and punishment ruled over many speaking against it. Once a decision was made on high everyone had to get in line or be part of the narrative of disloyalty. When power, lack of accountability and insecurity combine in senior leadership a cult like environment prevails. I say cult “like” because there were moments of humility, what seemed to be sincere regret, taking counsel, and even repentance. But they were short lived and by 2016 there were more and more unwise decisions, and I had less and less hope for change.
I was supposed to do what I could to stop any unhealthy patterns on the executive leadership team (XLT) and elder board as the counselor in the room. I felt I was doing some good after gaining influence in 2012 through 2016. But now I realize I was naïve and deceived like so many others. I did not know what was going on when I was not in the room. I did not know of certain calls to repentance by others outside Harvest. I was left out of most major decisions, and when I shared concerns, I was appeased, but my words were not heeded. I saw outward improvement of deportment and attempts at increased accountability. But yes, I saw sin. Yes, when I saw sin I confronted it and often saw remorse. What I did not know then but believe now is that in most cases it was worldly sorrow. More than once I recommended a mandated indefinite sabbatical for James and rebalance of authority and accountability. More than once this was only partially heeded, and we ended up in the same dysfunctional leadership patterns. I see now my desire for deference to the elders was part of an enabling dysfunction that I deeply regret. I now regret not leaving sooner as I believe that would have been my only recourse but might have sent a strong message.
We did leave in the summer 2017 after I shared my concerns that the leadership culture was deeply dysfunctional with the chair of both the executive elders and the elder board. I asked them to consider having all the executive elders recuse themselves and walk out together. Again, there was some initial agreement but no definitive action. Soul Care as a ministry was thriving, but in the last days there, I spent much of my time guarding it from the effects of a toxic culture. We left, pulling a senior, sophomore, and 4th grader out of a school and church they loved. We left a dear circle of friends and a significant platform to advance biblical counseling. But we could no longer be part of what was a culture of fear and performance over grace and dignity. It was very hard to leave Harvest well, and I am so sorry for those who were shot going out the door. We only experienced a fraction of the abuse others have received. I believe certain godly leaders protected us on the way out. We were attacked later for a lack of allegiance but by then God had done a work to show us even more clearly, regardless of slander or threats, that we would help anyone who wanted to get healthy, get right, or speak up.
Though I am in full support of those who have been removed or asked to resign, I am not bitter or celebrating any of the recent removals of leadership. I am grieving. At the same time those hurt or disillusioned by the abuse of power, spiritual abuse, lack of integrity and cruel treatment stir up anger in me. Some anger is at the passivity of many of the elders who knew that James had potential patterns of disqualifying sin but always pulled up short of a full investigation or biblical action (there were those who did not know much of what was going on as elders or tried to speak out who I think could continue to lead). Some of my anger is at those XLT leaders who remained with blind loyalty after 2016 when things went down so publicly with James unilaterally dismantling HBF as well as blowing up at high school students at HCA. Some anger is toward the remaining leaders who still don’t seem to see the gravity of this and are making excuses where repentance is needed. How many people need to leave hurt, disillusioned, and distrusting of spiritual authority?
For all those who have been hurt by this, forgive me for not seeing the wake of abuse sooner. Those of you who said, “I know if you are there things must be on a good trajectory,” forgive me for thinking I was making a difference that was genuine and lasting. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I am heart sick and so sorry for what we all thought was going to change for the better. I grieve what could have been and what maybe could have been prevented. Forgive me for my pride, my naiveté, my seeming support thinking I was making a difference by staying in line with biblical authority at the expense of bringing out the whole truth into the public light.
What now? I believe God could still turn this around for the good of the sheep and for His glory. The only hope for a new day at Harvest is full repentance. Not only from those who were dismissed, although I pray that for them, but for those in leadership who were complicit, passive, or “yes men”. Some still need to go, and others need a time to reflect, repent, and be examined. I pray that the 2020 team is thorough and honest in this process. I hope that those most complicit are asked to take a leave if not dismissed. For their own sake, they must repent and return to Christ as their first love. They won’t do this if they are doing damage control or trying to salvage their role or reputation.
Please pray for the godly leaders and people there in Harvest Chicago. Pray for the hurting sheep and past leaders who were abused, mocked, and dismissed. Pray for those of us who protested this type of behavior but now feel so foolish and grieved for staying too long because of the fruit or thinking we were part of the solution. I now see that as wishful thinking and at times pride. I am so sorry for anyone who was hurt by that ignorance. Again, please call me, write me, and let me pray for you, express my sorrow personally, and if you’ll let me, help you get to some good healing counsel. Look for a church where they consistently put healthy relationships over performance, godly character over talent, and leaders put humble service over leading a church like a corporation. I pray that for HBC Chicago. God will have the final say here. The church will go on, but we have to learn from this. We as leaders have to humble ourselves. We have to heal and care for the hurting. May God be glorified as we collectively turn to Him for forgiveness, comfort, hope and wisdom.