Review of Restore Chicago and How it Can Be Improved For Next Year

Julie Roys Restore Chicago took place on November 2, 2019 at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. This blog attended and sat in the back and observed and took notes. In the end it was a good event to attend. This is a summary of the talks that were given and what I appreciated and how this can be improved for next year. 

“James MacDonald just dropped his pants, and we’re gonna give him a spanking.”

Julie Roys quoting her lawyer. 

So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the Lord,
the requirements of their God.” But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke
and torn off the bonds.

Jeremiah 5:5 NIV 

Julie Roys and RT Maldaner

When Restore Chicago was announced I was intrigued. What made it stand out in my mind is that it dealt with two major scandals – Harvest Bible Chapel and Willow Creek Community Church. I considered attending especially after I came to know a number of people from Harvest Bible over the past year. So after hearing some thoughts I decided to throw my hat into the ring and attend from Washington, D.C. What I discovered was something that gave me a lot to chew on and an opportunity to hang with and talk with people who have seen the dark side of religion. 


An Overview of the Day 

The day started out with Julie explaining the Dave and Betsy Corning situation from Harvest Bible Chapel. Julie explained how she saw Betsy shake as she discussed Harvest and how she and her husband lost so much when they left the organization. Close friends had shunned them and they were alone. Nancy Beach who served on the senior staff of Willow Creek Community Church started the first session. She spoke of how she went forward with her story of Bill Hybels. She also explained what it was like to pick up the Chicago Tribune from in front of her house and see the Willow Creek Community Church scandal on the front page and think to herself, “how did we get here?” According to George Barna 4 out of 10 people avoid church due to past experiences.  The question as Nancy said is that church pain is not a matter of it but when. Nancy recalled her own experience in being called a liar, being questioned, and a colluder in supporting people who spoke up. The true danger is when when allow their pain to drive them from God. And its true that adversity does not always lead to growth. She called for people to asses the damage and pointed out the benefit of seeing a counselor. Then Nancy also encouraged people to let go of desires for revenge and to reconcile. She also said that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. And instead of being isolated one should lean into community. Isolation, according to Nancy is not an option to following Jesus. 

Wade Mullen gave a talk about spotting and recovering from spiritual abuse. Wade’s talk felt like a university lecture and so much information was crammed into a brief amount of time. Wade described a spiritual abuser as a thief. He also described how they function by using flattery, giving gifts, and how an abuser crushes dissension. Healthy organizations need dissension. One other note is that abusers over help and in time they gaslight, and shame others.  Abusers can create alliances and manipulate people through them. They can smuggle fear and transport that instead of love. Abusers can cut off support and get others to turn on you as well. Trust is betrayed and it is exploited. Abusers can also engage in name calling, bullying, and break down your self worth. Victims are set up. Abusers live in a warped reality and in a church setting they get people to attack the victim. In some of these churches there are a lot of written and un-written rules. People can be attacked externally and internally. In some church setting people are taught not to trust education, law enforcement, the legal system and even doctors. The goal of the abuser is to get the victim isolated. In communities the abuser sits at the top of the pyramid and the abuser is viewed as key to keeping the community together. Truth tellers are backed into a corner. Examples of abuse include supplication, and also twisting scripture as well. Those who engage in abuse do not follow ethics. And each abuse story can be different. There is not a set blueprint to the abuse. 

Lina Abujamra spoke next and that was followed by lunch. The cafeteria was organized based off the church you were involved in so people could hang together. They had tables for people from Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel at different points in the organization’s history. Julie Roys and RT Maldaner then spoke. A picture of that is what is leading this post. Julie explained how Rt Maldaner reached out to her when he saw troubling stuff inside Harvest. RT explained how Luke MacDonald spoke about how Harvest is a family business. And RT was like, “No this is a church that belongs to the Lord.” He shared about how he left, how he couldn’t attend his daughter’s graduation from Harvest Christian Academy and how he planted a church which made James MacDonald rage. RT explained that while he was done with “churchianity” he still believed in the church. John Secrest also spoke about his situation in Harvest Bible Chapel Naples. He talked about getting the phone call from James MacDonald and working to protect his church and being fired. John spoke of learning about abuse in this difficult situation. He also spoke about owning his mistake and apologizing and what grew out of that today. The last speaker was Julie Roys who spoke about some of her work and did so in a David vs. Goliath context. She encouraged people to go out and take a stand for truth. The event ended with communion and I should also add that Anne Green led worship during the day. 


One Area of Disagreement 

There was one cause of concern that troubled me. And as I say this its important to be careful and respectful. This blog disagrees with what Nancy Beach said about forgiveness. Nancy has gone through a lot and it takes courage to speak up and stand up to someone like Bill Hybels. However, here is the problem that Nancy really didn’t address well. When you are dealing with an abuser forgiveness plays into their manipulation and you open yourself up to being hurt. People like Bill Hybels, James MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, etc… play by a different set of rules. To expect them to go along and follow and abide I think is foolish. And forgiving them is opening yourself up to harm. I addressed this issue in, “Why Forgiveness Should Not Always be Practiced and Why Some Christians are Manipulated Through Forgiveness.” That is one of the issue that bothered me. During lunch I spoke with that briefly with Kristen Draughan about that isue. 


How to Make Restore Chicago Better and What I Enjoyed

For me Restore felt like a retreat. I need to write more about this in the days to come and explain why. Its my hope that events like this can occur annually in the Chicago area. What needed to happen is that Restore needed to be a two day event. I would have died for Wade Mullen to speak half a day and allow more time to process what he said. Restore should also have a session on both financial abuse and sexual abuse. Some of the stories that I heard of what people gave to Harvest Bible stuns me today. And sexual abuse is a major problem. Having a session on abuse and grooming in detail would be helpful. At 2:00 or so some cookies in the back would have been nice, after all a sugar rush could help you get through the afternoon. Also on name badges people should have been able to include their Twitter handle.  

For me what made Restore Chicago well worth attending is the people who I have come to know. You can’t write a blog like this without having access to sources. And over the past year I came to know many people from Harvest Bible Chapel very well. From RT Maldaner to Kristen Draughen and many more, I have a lot of respect for many people who came from Harvest. It was nice to finally shake Dan George’s hand after all that I heard about him. And to finally meet Jessica Hocket was important. 


Humbled by Some of the Feedback that My Blog Received

This next part I didn’t expect but I was taken back by what some people told me about my blog. Some offered constructive criticism which I appreciated. A couple of people told me that they read it regularly during that Harvest Bible Chapel scandal. One person explained that they were thinking of leaving Harvest and reading outside thoughts confirmed for them that it was time to leave. This blog is a lot of effort and I try and stick with topics long term. So to get that feedback was encouraging. A couple of people mentioned specific posts I wrote and commented on the detail and how they articulated what they were thinking. So I found that humbling if I am going to be honest about that information. 


The Icing on the Cake Would Have Been…

While the conference was good there is one aspect that would have been the icing on the cake. There is one personality that everyone who is on Twitter knows, appreciates and laughes with. No conference about Harvest Bible Chapel would be complete without Mega Church Pastor being involved. At the next Restore someone needs to pop out of their seat and state, “FING Moran I have my butter knives with me!!” If that ever were to happen I would be the one laughing and rolling in the aisle. Somehow we need to get Mega Church Pastor involved. 

3 thoughts on “Review of Restore Chicago and How it Can Be Improved For Next Year

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