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Investigation Finds Author, Pastor Dane Ortlund Likely Retaliated Against Church Employee

Por Sarah Einselen
Dane Ortlund of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois (Courtesy Photo)

Best-selling author and Chicago-area pastor Dane Ortlund may have fired a church employee in retaliation for complaining of bullying and discrimination, an Illinois state investigation has found.

Ortlund is the author of “Gentle and Lowly” and pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church (NPC). The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR), which handles charges of employment discrimination, investigated and found “substantial evidence” of retaliation in the firing of NPC’s former operations director.

El cristianismo hoy reportado por primera vez the investigation’s finding this week. The outlet noted that this type of finding is rare, both at the state level and nationally.

A copy of the finding obtained by El Informe Roys (TRR) shows Emily Hyland had been a longtime church member. In 2013,  the church  hired her as the church’s operations director. Ortlund fired her in March 2021 nine days after she complained of sex-based discrimination to the church’s elders, according to the finding.

Ortlund did not immediately respond when TRR sought comment on the finding.

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In a summary given to TRR, Hyland accused Ortlund of bullying and described months of “escalating discomfort” starting when Ortlund was hired as the church’s senior pastor in fall 2020.

Hyland wrote she was left out of relevant meetings and had duties reassigned. At meetings she did attend, she wasn’t called on for input, she stated.

“Many days I never heard one word from my pastor and boss,” Hyland wrote. “. . . . I felt invisible as a person, as a professional, and as a sheep in a flock I had been part of for 14 years.”

ortlund naperville
Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois (Photo via social media)

Hyland met with two elders on March 10, 2021, and told them she believed she was being bullied and that it was happening because she is a woman, Hyland wrote.

Ortlund denied excluding Hyland or treating her differently based on her gender in responses to the state’s investigation.

The elders promised to meet with Hyland, Ortlund, and the assistant pastor, but the meeting didn’t take place, Hyland wrote.

One of the elders who helped fire Hyland, Dave Veerman, wrote in a statement obtained by TRR that he had no idea anyone had issues with Hyland until a March 16 meeting with Ortlund.

“All indications were that she was a highly valued staff member who was doing an excellent job,” Veerman wrote. But at the meeting, Ortlund told Veerman and another elder he wanted Hyland fired.

That came as a shock, Veerman wrote. He explained that Hyland’s performance had not come up either in previous personnel committee meetings or at an elder meeting a couple days before.

The elders asked Ortlund to meet with Hyland again and try to work things out, Veerman indicated in his statement.

Hyland wrote that Ortlund confronted her March 17 before other staff arrived for the day, looking agitated and denying he had done anything wrong.

The next day, Ortlund told Veerman and other members of the personnel committee “his version of the meeting” with Hyland, Veerman wrote. The committee then agreed to terminate Hyland, according to Veerman.

“I felt at the time that I needed to trust my pastor, to support him,” Veerman wrote. “So, even though I didn’t know (Hyland’s) side of the story, I voted to move ahead with (Ortlund’s) recommendation.”

Veerman wrote he now believes he should have asked more questions and gotten Hyland’s side of the story, too.

Hyland was fired the next day, March 19. She indicated she was told her termination was the “will of the session”—or the body of elders overseeing a Presbyterian church—and the reason was communication.

Hyland wrote that she was offered severance on condition that she sign a non-disparagement agreement (NDA). She added that she refused to sign it.

Advocates have previously told TRR that NDAs and similar contracts have no place in Christian organizations.

After Hyland was fired, she wrote, Ortlund told other staff, church deacons and elders not to contact her. And an elder who helped her clean out her office was removed from the session soon after, according to Hyland.

“I lost my job, my friendships, my relationships with my co-workers, my reputation, and the home where I had worshiped for so long,” Hyland wrote.

Veerman resigned from the session a few months later, and regrets his participation in Hyland’s termination, he wrote. When he resigned, he had been part of the church for more than 30 years and was its longest-serving elder.

The state investigation was not empowered to conclude whether Hyland’s firing was definitely a case of retaliation. But the finding noted that the evidence is in Hyland’s favor, and would indicate the church violated its own policies and state laws against discrimination.

The investigation also explored charges of sex-based discrimination, but did not substantiate those charges. Hyland told TRR that was because she couldn’t prove it.

Standards for proving discrimination in state or federal investigations are “quite high,” researchers note.

Veerman’s recollections and those of another elder were key to proving retaliation, Hyland told TRR. Both elders addressed two key questions investigators posed. They said they had not heard anything negative about her work performance before her firing, and that the decision to fire her clearly came after her complaint, Hyland explained.

Hyland could start a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Commission or file a civil lawsuit against the church based on the finding, according to the IDHR. She told TRR she hasn’t decided yet what she’s going to do.

Julie Roys contribuyó a esta historia.

Sarah Einselen es una escritora y editora premiada que vive en Texas, EEUU.



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39 Respuestas

  1. Sadly, this is commonplace. Leadership can pretty much do what they want and spin it however is most advantageous to them. My story is similar.

  2. What can you say? Narcissists make themselves famous. They are never nice people. Our celebrity class “Christians” are in general just a large brood of vipers. No Jesus to be found here. Jesus is in the humble and the small. Christianity is headed in the wrong direction: away from Jesus and into ever increasing deception.

    1. Ralph, have you read Ortlund? When you say, “Jesus is in the humble and small”, that’s exactly what Ortlund preached as well, so you would have gotten along with his books and words pretty well I would imagine. It’s odd that you’re really swift to call him a narcissist. I think you need to be more careful with your words.

      Dane Ortlund has been a great encouragement to me, and this is really disheartening. Praying for repentance where it’s necessary here.

      1. i observe christian leaders finding it easy to redefine many words & concepts to the point they don’t notice the grating cognitive dissonance.

        i observe them spouting theories (such as “Jesus is in the humble and small”) and then practicing contradictions (like treating women as not quite human, behaving like a totalitarian autocrat,…the list is long).

        unfortunately, entitlement, arrogance, and misogyny (dressed up with theology, resonating christianese language, and usually with a nice smile) are baked into the christian leadership industry as taught.

        1. i observe christian leaders finding it easy to redefine many words & concepts to the point they don’t notice the grating cognitive dissonance.

          My Dear Wormwood,

          I refer you to my previous epistle on Semantics, specifically the redefinition of the Enemy’s words into their “diabolical meanings”.

          Your Ravenously Affectionate Uncle,

          P.S. Nowhere do we corrupt so effectively as at the very foot of the Enemy’s altar!

        1. So, Verman feels he needs to “trust his pastor,” and therefore doesn’t verify.

          Isn’t that the crux of the problem, over and over again? We tacitly hand all the power over to the “Pastor,” making him, rather than Jesus, the head of the church. No real plurality of leaders. And then, of course power corrupts and we get what we get.

    2. Mr. Jesperson. Very very cogent and well thought out response. You obviously are a kind person who cares. Thank you for your insights and have a blessed Christmas season.

  3. Well, if true what a disappointment! I have both of his books which I enjoyed. Losing faith in our so called leaders, one after another just seem not to be who they claim to be.

    1. you mean a church membership that has been duped into silencing their critical thinking skills in exchange for “trusting their pastor” regardless?

      oh, emily was sure to have been given a fair, objective hearing. (sarcasm, of course)

    2. steven,

      Citing Matthew 18 sure is a fad these days as the latest, greatest answer to all interpersonal conflict among true Christians that everyone used to know instinctively but now seem to need a remedial education in.

      Unfortunately, I’ve heard Matthew 18 touted by one too many authoritarians and their cult-of-personality acolytes lately to take at face value anymore the notion that anyone citing this passage is genuinely interested in reconciliation. My first and second-hand experience is that when church leaders do this, something is bothering them that should bother them. They are probably just trying to quash dissent and discourage people under their authority from speaking up when they see something wrong, either in themselves or whomever they’re trying to protect or enable. In other words, they are creating a culture of fear, which is what abusive leaders and their loyalists tend to do.

      What’s especially precious is when a narcissistic leader or someone caught up in said leader’s web doesn’t realize that the process already played out. No, really: People already came forward in confidence, then brought witnesses, then told the church (a.k.a. the elder board or denomination or board of directors, etc.), and that it might well be biblical, righteous, and even possibly a moral imperative that the other party has since, at a point of exhaustion, gone public so that others might be warned away from something dysfunctional or even possibly diabolical. Which is just one way of treating a wayward ministry leader who refuses to see his or her own error “as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

  4. Thank you for covering this clerical misconduct and abuse of power. Truth telling is a form of justice. Thank you for being an ongoing avenue of public truthfulness.

    To Emily, well done and well done.

    lori anne thompson

  5. 100% false story based on a disgruntled employee and a disgruntled Elder. We pray for Emily during this time as Dane could not be a better leader and example of biblical truth. Don’t believe one sided stories just because the other side does not believe gossip is fruitful!

      1. As a part of this congregation who knows the full story from all sides. Angry hurt people get angry and try and hurt people. Sadly the internet is full of folks who jump to conclusions and I assure you there is nothing but falsehoods in this story and it’s shameful reporting. God will prevail, the truth is known to all involved. Allow the church to heal from this sinful attack and please pray for us all.

        1. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” So far, I see 2-3 witnesses in the girl who was fired and the testimony of the elder and the fact that she had no prior grievances. I also see that neither the pastor nor the elders handled the issue according to Matt 18. Instead, it appears they scooted her out the door, demanded her silence with an NDA, and shunned her from her place of worship.

          I find your assertion that you are someone who ‘knows the story from all sides’ to be quite suspect in light of what has been presented here. Even if there was cause to terminate her, nothing about this termination was above reproach.

        2. Hi Bob, It’s good to have inside knowledge. Is the reported attempt to put Emily under a NDA false, or are you unaware of how she was treated?

  6. Proverbs 18:17 “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” One-sided stories like this are unconvincing to me, so I will choose to believe the best. Every church has a disgruntled former staff member or former elder, so I would have to see a fuller representation of the facts before making a judgment.

    It is amazing to me to see the number of commenters who are assuming the worst here. I wonder how many of you read past the headline? This article even explicitly states that Illinois was not able to substantiate charges of sex-based discrimination, and even this disgruntled staff member herself says that she couldn’t prove it! Unfortunately, the author seems to be burying the lede.

    I have a thought-provoking suggestion for future articles. Maybe instead of giving this article the most damning headline possible: “Investigation Finds Author, Pastor Dane Ortlund Likely Retaliated Against Church Employee”, Maybe use the headline: “Pastor Dane Ortlund’s Former Staff Member Fails to Prove Discrimination”. I believe this would be a more true and fair representation of the facts and would avoid the author inserting their opinion by using the word “likely”.

    1. Peter Dwight, “Investigation Finds Author, Pastor Dane Ortlund Likely Retaliated Against Church Employee” happens to be a true statement.

      i marvel that your maxim ‘to believe the best’ automatically sides with the pastor, unquestioningly giving him the benefit of the doubt.

      why do you automatically write emily hyland off as not worthy of the same consideration? as if she couldn’t possible be credible & forthright?

      1. Scottie, the replacement headline I suggested, “Pastor Dane Ortlund’s Former Staff Member Fails to Prove Discrimination” is also true. So, what would motivate the journalist to write the headline that she chose? Both headlines would be factually accurate, but the headline that was chosen for the article is certainly more damning and more provocative, and it appeals to our baser instincts. Perhaps for those that visit this site, it resonates with their past hurts related to various pastors and churches. But is it the most responsible and fair headline? I would say no.

        I’m curious as to why you say that I automatically sided with the pastor? I simply said: “I would have to see a fuller representation of the facts before making a judgment.” This article does nothing to move me to one side or the other, even though I certainly believe that that was the intent of the article. So, for now, I will “believe the best”–an important biblical principle, and one of the defining marks of love (1 Cor 13:7). If we don’t “believe the best” of people, then our past relational wounds and trauma will prevent us from loving or trusting people in the future. I choose to believe the best until there is real proof that I should do otherwise.

        Regarding credibility, I see many inconsistencies in this article. Hyland is quoted saying that retaliation was proved, but the article also says that the state was not empowered to conclude that there definitely was retaliation and was not able to prove discrimination. It seems then that Hyland is exaggerating what the state of Illinois did in this case. Does that help you understand why I don’t accept her version of the facts as 100% credible?

        1. While it’s true that the investigation found no substantial evidence of discrimination, that finding is only newsworthy in light of the state’s finding of “substantial evidence” of retaliation. As the saying goes, dog bites man is not a story; man bites dog is. As noted, it’s very rare for the IDHR to find substantial evidence in these cases. So this finding of retaliation, especially against a pastor and well-known author, is why this story is being reported.

          1. Julie, first off, thank you for what you do. Really, your journalism is difficult to find in the clickbait era of news.

            I would push back because in this case, the story is: “Man (likely) bites dog”. Did he or did he not? In my opinion, “likely” isn’t much of a story. Especially when the “substantial evidence” is that two elders told the IDHR that “they had not heard anything negative about her work performance before her firing, and that the decision to fire her clearly came after her complaint.” I’m sorry, but I don’t see that as substantial evidence. I’m not sure how often the IDHR investigates churches, but it is common for elder boards to be unaware of a staff member that has been underperforming, especially when there is a large staff team or when a staff member quickly escalates their toxic behavior.

            When you publish stories about what pastors “likely” may have done, this causes me to be less interested in this site. It makes the site feel more like the clickbait I’m trying to avoid.

          2. I disagree. A finding by the Illinois Department of Human Rights is worthy of reporting. Journalists don’t wait for a verdict in a trial to report. We report when we deem there’s a compelling public interest in the story and the public’s right to know the information. There are a lot of people following Ortlund and I believe they should know the facts, so they can decide for themselves.

        2. Peter,

          You say “I would have to see a fuller representation of the facts before making a judgment. This article does nothing to move me to one side or the other, …So, for now, I will “believe the best” [of people].”

          Then you enumerate reasons Emily is not credible. You go so far as to cast doubt on her job performance.

          Seems to me you reserve “believe the best about people” for the pastor. To the exclusion of Emily Hyland.

          You said yourself you were undecided and portray yourself as impartial. Her testimony is as likely to be true as untrue. Yet you make an effort to tear her down, while making no comment on the pastor other than to believe the best (about him).

          I observe uneven scales in how you mete our ‘believing the best about people’.

          1. Scottie, I did not cast doubt on her job performance, and I’m not sure how I’m not believing the best about her. I can still believe the best about her and observe that she is exaggerating… believing the best would mean trying to come up with the best explanation for that. Maybe she is not trying to purposefully malign this pastor, maybe she really misunderstands what the state has said.

            I think it would be important for this “jury” of commenters to remember, that the burden of proof is on Hyland. And I just am not convinced by the evidence.

    1. I’m confused by those commenting that there’s information that isn’t known or that there’s been a rush to judgment. Wasn’t there an outside governmental investigation that found that the accusation of retaliatory firing was justified? Is it being asserted that this report is false or incomplete?

    2. Here’s a quote from the link Craig posted above, showing who some of Ortland’s tutors were:

      “Dane Ortlund said…

      Dear Steve/Evangelical Policeman,
      You have obviously spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on your various websites in your zeal to make people aware of SG’s perceived failings. I wonder how much good you might have been able to do had you poured all that energy into working FOR something. It is not too late to redirect.
      I count it one of the greatest blessings of my life to have learned from CJ Mahaney, Josh Harris, and SG.
      Monday, 24 August, 2009”

      And bravo to Hyland for not signing the NDA that would have helped Ortland cover his tracks.

  7. I’m curious. What do all these jobs I’ve never heard of, do exactly? People being left out of meetings because they’re women? Really? 2022, and young preacher comes in and isolates female for BEING female? Really? This story is HIGHLY unlikely in 2023, but anything is possible…just not probable.

  8. This article states that it was Ortlund who fired this woman.

    “Ortlund fired her in March 2021 nine days after she complained of sex-based discrimination to the church’s elders”

    That is incorrect. He recommended to the personnel committee that she be fired. The committee approved this recommendation and the session approved the committee’s recommendation.

    I’m not an employee’s rights lawyer, but would this not mean that it is not Ortlund who “retaliated,” should such be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather the governing body which took the action? How could he be guilty of an action which he did not and could not take?

    If my assumption is true, then the article paints him personally as the possible/likely offender, but that would be impossible and therefore untrue/misleading.

    The article also fails to mention that the employee was notified about job performance concerns prior to the complaint of gender discrimination. This is a key part of the story excluded here, and in my judgment misleads the reader.

    In my opinion this could have been included where the article discusses Veerman’s and the other elder’s recollections, because it does reflect that, prior to her complaint, not “all indications” were that she was “doing an excellent job.” That may have been true from the perspective of one person, but not in light of the whole story.

    1. Dan, are you an elder at NPC or a first-hand witness to these events? I ask because I’ve talked to a former elder who paints a different picture of how things happened. The elder said the session never voted on Hyland’s firing. Instead, Ortlund called him to inform him that Emily was fired. Also, in Jim Veerman’s statement, he says the personnel committee voted to proceed with Ortlund’s recommendation, but adds that he did so because he felt he had to support Ortlund.

      That said, there is more to this story, which we plan to report in the coming days.

      1. I am not an elder at NPC.

        I do not doubt that you heard that. I wish it would have been in the story. But that only slightly changes what I would say, because I was going off what it says in the article above that the personnel committee voted on the action, which Veerman admits and is reported above.

        I would assume, then, that the session has empowered the personnel committee to take such action. Thus it still removes responsibility for the action from the individual, and is therefore still misleading in the story above.

        1. This is a developing story, and we did not have all the information I reported in my comment at time of publishing.

          I have not yet seen a copy of the church’s bylaws, so I’m not sure if the personnel committee was empowered to hire and fire without the session’s approval. But we will be reporting more on this, so I’m hoping to get answers to these and other outstanding questions, and report those.

  9. On the Naperville Presbyterian church’s website they mention they are “fueled by the gospel of grace”…Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh I do not think so… also do NOT meet any of the leadership behind closed doors….it will be your last meeting…

    So sad, I have seen this type of thing happen so many times in “evangelical” churches….

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