RESTORE Chicago Conference Highlights

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After experiencing hurt and disappointment with the church and church leaders, how do you move on? This week on The Roys Report, on a special program, we’ll hear highlights from the Restore Chicago conference. You’ll hear Nancy Beach and Wade Mullen describe not only how to survive but thrive after experiencing spiritual abuse. And I’ll tell why I believe we’re in the midst of a move of God to purify the church.   Join us for The Roys Report, this Saturday morning at 11 on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life, and on Sunday night at 7 on AM 560 The Answer!

Show Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

Segment 1: 

ANNOUNCER:  In the midst of all of today’s noise and confusion, we need a voice that cuts through the chaos to bring wisdom and clarity. Welcome to The Roys Report with Julie Roys—an hour-long show exploring critical issues related to faith and culture from a uniquely Christian perspective. Now, here’s your host, Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS:  After experiencing hurt and disappointment in the church, how can you move on? Welcome to The Roys Report brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And two weeks ago, hundreds of people gathered at Judson University to wrestle with that question. They came for a unique event called Restore Chicago—a one day conference aimed at restoring faith in God in the church. And today you’re going to hear highlights from that conference by Nancy Beach, former teaching pastor Willow Creek, Wade Mullen, an expert in spiritual abuse, Lena AbuJamra, founder of Living with Power ministries and also myself. Together with Judson, I put together Restore Chicago because I’ve witnessed firsthand the pain and the devastation left by two major church scandals in the Chicago area. One involved Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, which remains one of the largest churches in America. The other involved James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel, another very large multi-site megachurch. So thousands of people in the Chicago area have witnessed the men, who were their spiritual mentors, fall in pretty spectacular fashion. And they are profoundly hurt. And it’s not just in Chicago, people came to the conference from all over the country saying they’ve experienced similar abuses in the church. But so many left the conference encouraged and so that’s why I think you’ll find this next hour extremely helpful. First, we’re going hear from Nancy Beach. Nancy was a top executive at Willow Creek for more than 20 years. But she’s also one of the women who exposed abuse by Bill Hybels. Yet Nancy has not allowed this experience to destroy her faith. Instead, she said the experience has actually made her stronger. Here’s Nancy Beach speaking at Restore Chicago.

NANCY BEACH:  A study that goes back a few years now by George Barna, reveals that nearly 4 out of 10, unchurched people, avoid church life because of a bad past experience in church. And in the past two years, here in Chicagoland, two of our largest and most influential churches have been rocked by pastoral failure and division. 

Now, although church pain is sadly all too common, many of us find ourselves surprised when it happens. I mean, I believe that when we feel betrayed or wounded by church people, it’s worse than similar offenses in the marketplace because we expect so much more from those who follow Christ. But the very next question is, “How will we respond to church pain?” Now many of you are aware of at least some of my story. Julie made reference to it. When I added my voice to the voice of several other women calling out abuse from our pastor, my own experience was a very small one. It had taken place many years ago and I had not shared it because it had not happened again. And I naively thought I was the only one and this had never happened to any other women like it had happened to me. But when I heard stories of other women, I sensed a calling that I need to be an advocate for those who had much more serious stories to tell. And so, I chose to call out the patterns of abuse of power, and deceit, along with the grooming and harassment of women over several decades. 

This was devastating, first of all, for me to uncover and learn about, which happened about five years ago. And then to even believe. You see, I knew my pastor since I was 15 years old. He was my youth pastor and he had a profound influence on me and countless other people around the world. And when I became aware of allegations and stories of his sinful behavior, like most people, I didn’t want to believe it, let alone go public with it. I felt deeply wounded by how church leaders have responded to the information that they were given—both back then, all the way back in 2014 when we first went to the elders, even to today with a new group of elders. It’s been several years for me stewarding this information and trying to be an advocate for truth and repentance, while also forging my own path of healing. And I admit I have not done it perfectly. One of my lowest moments happened after the resignations of, first, the pastor, then the entire elder board and the executive pastor. And one Sunday morning, I went out in my bathrobe to get the Chicago Tribune at the end of my driveway, brought it up into the house, opened it up, and it was a front-page story. And I looked at it and thought, “How in the world did we get here? How did we get here?” I never would have wanted the church I helped to start be broken in this way. And I knew that I had played a part in bringing the truth to light. 

In the month after the story broke, I had not foreseen how difficult it would be to read certain comments on social media—to be labeled and mistrusted by people I know as well as many strangers—to have my motives and character called into

question—to be called a liar and a colluder. 

Now, each of us has massively important decisions to make when we experience church pain. I want to share with you things that have helped me to guard my heart and they occur not in a linear fashion but mostly simultaneously, back and forth. And they occur on some days better than others. But all along the way, especially when you first experienced church pain, it’s important to assess the damages. I had to identify the pain I was feeling and name it specifically. Sally Scammell, in her book Recovery From Church Hurt states this, “Some of the worst actions done in God’s name involves sexual, emotional, physical or spiritual abuse. If you have been on the receiving end of that abuse, I come to you on behalf of the church to say that what happened to you is wrong, very wrong. You did not deserve it. It was not God and it never will be. God never operates in abuse. Those actions are not the heartbeat of Jesus or of His true followers.” 

I don’t know what your story is today. Some of you have experienced the abuse of power. Others were affected by deceit in the church or greed and money mismanagement. Some of us have been sexually or physically abused. Or maybe your experience was one of being excluded or disinvited in some way. Whatever your experience was, don’t sugarcoat it, or deny it, or excuse what happened. Don’t minimize it. You need to name it and assess the damages. It may be helpful for you to write down your story so you can see it in words. Many of us have benefited from seeing a counselor—someone who can help us work through our pain and our hurt. You know, we’re all wired differently when it comes to how we handle our feelings. My big temptation is to try to move on too quickly because I don’t want to feel it all. Many of us seek escape, numbing out with television, sleeping or eating too much, or even substance or alcohol abuse or pornography.

But to guard my heart, I cannot stay stuck with just assessing the damages. I must name it. I must assess them. But then what I will describe next is exceedingly difficult. You and I need to own what we need to own. All along the way, we have to look at our part and ask, “What did I personally contribute to this situation?” Now here’s what rises up in me as soon as I asked that question. And may be rising up in you right now, in capital letters—defensiveness, and also self-righteousness and pride. Because, you know what, I think we’re afraid that if I own whatever I need to own, it will minimize what other people did. It will somehow gloss over their sin. I want to see this situation as the good guys and the bad guys. I have way too much sinful energy bolstering my perspective as the right one and the truthful one. And I want to nurse my resentment and imagine all kinds of horrific things happening to those who offended me. Am I alone in these sins? Am I the only one? Well, here’s what I know to be true. My heart cannot be healthy if it is filled with bitterness and poison and a desire for revenge. That path leads to a truly hardened heart. Let’s look at Hebrews 12 for just a moment—”Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” 

I want to be very clear that we are not letting go of advocacy, for transparency, for justice, for deep and full repentance. We must continue to call church leaders, especially elders and senior staff, to name, specifically, the wrongs that have been committed, to publicly apologize and to make things right with the victims. But I’m seeing that this is wisdom every day from the Holy Spirit—to discern when it is time to speak and when it’s time to be silent. When should we fight the battle for justice? When should we lay down our swords and let God be the judge? 

But perhaps my biggest caution to all of us, regarding the process of healing and guarding your heart, is to lean into community. What you’re doing today. Even if you came alone, you’re seeking community. We can’t attempt to fight these battles on our own. You know, when we’re hurt in a church, we are very tempted—I know I was—to isolate ourselves, to give up on community all together. In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, he says that it was the relationships in prison on Robben Island that got him through 30 years of suffering. While none of us have endured anything close to the pain of his experience, we can learn from his wisdom. Mandela wrote, “The authority’s greatest mistake was to keep us together, for together our determination was reinforced. We supported each other and gained strength from each other. Whatever we knew, whatever we learned, we shared. And by sharing, we multiplied whatever courage we had individually. The stronger ones raised up the weaker ones and both became stronger in the process.”

JULIE ROYS:  Well, what a powerful and redemptive message. Again, that was Nancy Beach, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek, speaking at the Restore Chicago conference. I’m Julie Roys. And you’re listening to a special edition of The Roys Report featuring highlights from the Restore conference. Coming up next you’ll hear a powerful message from Wade Mullen. He’s an expert on spiritual abuse. He’ll not only explain what spiritual abuse is, but give important advice on how to recover from it. We’ll be right back.

Segment 2:

ANNOUNCER: Now we return to The Roys Report. Here’s your host, Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS: There’s a lot of talk today about spiritual abuse, but what is it and how can you tell if you’re in a spiritually abusive system? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And you’re listening to a special edition of this program featuring highlights from the Restore Chicago conference. This was a one-day conference at Judson University on November 2, and it was aimed at restoring faith in God and the church after devastating church scandals here in Chicago. But as I mentioned, in the first segment, people came to the conference from across the country. In fact, I got an email recently from a group of people who came from Nashville and said they’d experienced spiritual abuse there. I met a woman from Ohio who said she had been ostracized from a mega church there for confronting sin in leadership. I also talked to someone from Oregon who said the conference was like nothing he’s ever experienced before. He said he’d recently come out of a wounding situation at a church where there had been wrongdoing at the top and he said he sat down lunch table midway through the conference and began sharing his experience with total strangers. And he said the wild thing is they immediately got it. Why? Because they’ve experienced the same thing, maybe with different players and different circumstances, but the dynamics and the effects were the same. And they’ve gathered around that brother, they laid hands on him and they prayed for him. And I wish I could transmit those prayer times over the radio waves. I can’t obviously, but they were powerful. And I hope if you’re listening and this broadcast, maybe triggers emotions or open wounds that need attention, I hope you’ll find a trusted brother or sister to pray for you. To me, that is where the healing can really go deep. And the Holy Spirit can minister to those broken and wounded areas. Well, in just a minute, we’re going to hear an eye-opening message from Dr. Wade Marlin. Wade is the head of the daemon program at Capital Seminary in graduate school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But he’s also an expert in spiritual abuse and he did his doctoral thesis on tactics Evangelical organizations use when they’re mired in scandal. And I’d encourage you, if you’re able, just grab something to take notes with because listening to Wade is like drinking from a firehose, there’s just so much valuable information. But before I air Wade’s message, I want to mention that the full video of each of the messages you’re hearing the excerpts of will be posted to my website, JulieRoys.com. Nancy Beach’s message, which you just heard in segment one, is posted to my website now. I’ll also be posting Wade’s full talk to my website early next week along with other messages that you’re going to hear today. So again, just go to JulieRoys.com. And if you sign up for updates, you’ll get an email in your inbox as soon as those videos are posted. But now, here’s Wade Mullen, someone who experienced spiritual abuse when he was on staff at a church and he had the unenviable job of confronting the entire elder board publicly. fortunately for him and the church, that led to repentance and restoration. But as you listen to what he has to say, please understand this message comes not just from a researcher and an academic, but from a brother who survived the very thing he describes. Here’s Wade.

WADE MULLEN: Over the past few years, I’ve looked at more than 500 cases of church leaders who have been publicly exposed for all various types of abuse, most commonly the sexual abuse of children. And I will say, I believe it continues to worsen. There’s a lot of good that is being done, but far from being mitigated. There is a problem in our churches. I also scoured the Bible for examples of these tactics and discovered their consistent use by evil itself. So, the pattern I observed among organizations covering up their wrongs were the same patterns I observed in the abusers in my own life. And I now believe that they are the same patterns you will find wherever evil manifests itself around the world and throughout history. So, my goal this morning is to help you to begin to see that pattern. An important step to recovery is acquiring an ability to make sense of what happened to you. It’s to begin to chart a course between the false reality constructed by the abuser and what is actually true. To be able to speak what has been unspeakable, to express what has been inexpressible, to move from confusion, to clarity, from captivity to freedom. And I believe the truth, truth has the power to help us do that. Some of what I share might be difficult for some of you to hear. As I described, the specific ways in which individuals and organizations control information, control people and may bring to mind some of what you’ve have experienced yourself or are currently experiencing. But what is spiritual abuse? I find an appropriate description in the words of God, recorded by the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter five of his book. Listen to these words. “Wicked men live among my people. They watch like founders, like hunters, lying in wait. They set a trap to catch men, like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore, they have grown powerful and rich, they have become fat and sleek. They have excelled and evil matters. They have not taken up cases, such as the case of the fatherless, so they might prosper. And they have not defended the rights of the needy.” 

Notice the emphasis on deception, on dishonesty, on dealing falsely, “houses full of deceit.” And we will witness how churches can be full of deceit of all places. And that deceit reveals itself in language. The late Russian poet and essays Joseph Brodsky, who was expelled from the Soviet Union said this, “You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.” Notice to in that passage from Jeremiah, you may have heard the image of a trap. Hunters lying in a wait. It’s a common description of abuse used throughout the Bible. It’s fitting to think of the spiritual abuser as a thief—someone looking to deceptively gain possession of something they do not have. And that’s what I believe sets most people apart from the person that I’m describing as an abuser, spiritual abuser. Not everyone is out to trap you. But this is what the spiritual abuser does. The thief is setting a trap. They’ve objectified and targeted people. Now how does this happen? If evil begins in the language, evil language usually begins with charm, with what is called ingratiation. Communication designed to increase your approval of the other person, so you will be more likely to comply with their demands. It’s the most frequently use tactic I’ve observed in abusive communities. And there are four charms I want to make you aware of flattery, gifts, helps, and alliances. 

Flattery is a tool of deception because it asks you to look at actual, fabricated, or exaggerated positive characteristics, while keeping you from seeing the true desires behind the person bringing attention to those favorable qualities. It wants you to see something pleasant about yourself, but not ultimately for your encouragement and your affirmation. But to make you feel better about the person who is improving your sense of self. For example, one of the common forms of flattery is to tell others how exemplary they are. This is called exemplification. And it’s meant to make you feel special, perhaps in ways that nobody else has, but comparing you with others in a way that declares you to be better than the rest. But for the person who’s deceiving you, they really don’t care about that. So, they might say, “God has anointed you.” Very powerful words when they’re misused. Or “There isn’t a group of people I’d rather be leading,” said by one pastor who was forced to resign for his mistreatment of those people. Now it can be hard to discern the difference between flattery and sincere encouragement. A major clue that a person is using flattery to coerce, is how they respond when that flattery isn’t accepted or returned. Because remember, they’re setting a trap. So, if you don’t walk into that trap, they might become upset. And abusive spiritual leader often expects praise in return, and when it is returned, and it usually is, a cycle of flattery is created. And as this wheel of praise spins faster and faster—and this is something that I’m observing in our celebrity Christian culture—as this wheel of worship spins faster and faster, flattery becomes embedded in the culture. And as a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to interject a sincere expression of truth. So, the shunning of anything other than praise, anything other than flattery creates blind spots for the community. As people are hesitant to speak criticism and flatters begin to see the criticism as negative, disruptive and disrespectful. So, the eve-breeding flattery crowds out dissension and dissension in any community on any team and any board is an important and necessary safeguard against abuse. Because without that, the abusive leader will renegotiate boundaries happens all the time. They use this charm, they use their words, to convince people to give them what they want. And one of the things that they want is to be able to do whatever it is they’d like. And so over time, they can even convince group of men around a table to renegotiate boundaries that had been previously established, all in the name of trust. All in the name of what is good for the organization. And what the that community, that board, needs to know is that the trust that matters isn’t the trust that they’re forming with that leader, but the trust that they are forming with the people that they are there to help protect. So flattery is very powerful.

JULIE ROYS: Well, again, that’s just an excerpt from a message by Dr. Wade Mullen at the Restore Chicago conference. I’ll be posting the video of Wade’s complete message to my website early next week. So just visit JulieRoys.com. But coming up next is what was hands-down the most emotionally gripping part of the conference. It’s a message by Lina AbuJamra founder of Living With Power ministries. You’re not gonna want to miss this next segment. Stay tuned. We’ll be right back. 

Segment 3:

ANNOUNCER: More of The Roys Report. Once again, here’s Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS: When you’ve been the victim of abuse in your church, how do you heal? And how do you forgive a spiritual leader you’ve loved and respected and served when that leader betrays your trust. Welcome back to Rhe Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And you’re listening to a special episode featuring highlights from the Restore Chicago conference two weeks ago. Restore was a unique conference gathering people who have been hurt and disappointed by the church but who wants to heal. And parts of the conference were just raw and vulnerable in the message you’re about to hear by Lena AbuJamra is gut wrenching. But this is a message I wish every Christian leader would hear because it’s a warning to those who serve. When you’re in leadership, you’ve been given an awesome responsibility to love and nurture those who lead. And if you fail to love well, or even worse, harm those who are following you, the effect can be absolutely devastating. And you’ll hear that in this message. And I think for some of you, you may relate to what Lina is talking about. For years, Lina served as the women’s director at Harvest Bible Chapel, but she left in 2013. That was after she recognized it or pastor James MacDonald was abusing his sheep. Here’s Lina AbuJamra, founder of Living With Power ministries.

LINA ABUJAMRA: It’s been six years. Six years since I first walked out of a church that I loved. Six years since I was finally able to admit that something was terribly wrong at that church. Six years since the pastor who—was my hero at the time—stopped being my hero and my world turned upside down. Six years since I last trusted a church leader. Six years since I’ve been able to tithe without wondering exactly how my hard-earned money would be spent. Six years since I felt safe among God’s people. Six years since I’ve wondered whether God loves them more than he loves me. When it comes to our culture, if there’s one crime that seems more horrifying than any other, it’s the hit and run. Most people would agree that there are few more horrifying things than the driver who hits an innocent pedestrian that just takes off. The very idea that any man or woman could run over someone then just drive away without an ounce of regret or shame or responsibility seems reprehensible even to the most godless in our society. Yet that is exactly what we are here to mourn today. It’s the shepherd who knowingly drove over a sheep, leaving that sheep wounded by the side of the road, trying to make sense of what just happened trying to pick up the pieces while that Shepherd drove away to the comfort of the rest of his life. Even more horrifying is the notion that that driver might be blaming the victim for not paying attention while crossing the road or of getting in the way of the moving vehicle, or of even over inflating the amount of pain that he or she is in, while all the while the driver complaining that he might be the one suffering in that laughable scenario. It seems ridiculous. It seems so soul-less. Yet it’s part of this messy story that brought us here today. 

I had an epiphany last week while I walk the beach trying to figure out a way of getting out of being here today. 

(Audience laughter) 

I realized that I’m still angry. I’m angry at a system that seems to continue to allow someone to get away with running over someone else. I’m angry at the driver who seems to have gotten away with it. I’m angry at the passengers in the driver’s car, who have quietly moved on in their lives, putting the past behind them without a shred of shame. I’m angry at God even for allowing it all to happen. And I’m angry at myself for being angry, for not being able to just move on once and for all. I’ve heard a lot said about unforgiveness that it’s like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. But mostly that the only way to freedom is through forgiveness. Although recently I thought I had forgiven. But like any person who has suffered a latent infection, the moment that flare up happens, the remedy must be taken again and again.

So today, the reason I’m here is for the remedy. Today I’m here to forgive again. They say in order for restitution to occur, there must be both repentance and forgiveness. While I cannot control the repentance part, I know that I want to forgive more fully and more completely, I want to be free. So today, I’m here to forgive again. 

To my former pastor, I want you to know wherever you are that I forgive you. 

I forgive you for taking off after running over the sheep without a thought to our wounds. 

I forgive you for caring more about your future comfort than our future health. 

I forgive you for still seeing yourself as a victim in the story. 

I forgive you for stealing our money and for living a lifestyle that you taught us would never satisfy. 

I forgive you for caring more about the size of your church than the hearts of your people. 

I forgive you for creating a culture that made us feel ashamed for speaking the truth. 

I forgive you for using God’s word to defend your positions instead of using it to speak the truth. 

I forgive you for creating a world where I no longer wants to go to church. 

I forgive you for making me resent anyone in Christian Leadership because of your example. 

I’m also here today to forgive those leaders who supported you and are now hiding God knows where. 

I forgive those who saw you hit and run and chose to transplant themselves to other sunny locations without missing a beat in their life. 

I forgive you for making us feel ashamed for speaking the truth. 

I forgive you for creating a culture of distrust and hate among God’s people, a culture that divides us versus them, instead of seeing the whole as one family ultimately living together under Christ rule in eternity. 

I’m also here today to forgive those who still question why we speak up. 

I’m here to forgive those who still want the shame us into quietly moving on when our hearts are still too wounded to go on. 

I’m here to forgive those of you who have remained in systems of abuse and refuse to see where change is needed. You still feel like this is about bashing a system that we left willfully. Yet you still make us feel uncomfortable every time we run into you at a restaurant or god forbid a gathering of believers. 

I forgive those of you who still think we have a hidden agenda. We do not. We just hurt. Like amputated limbs, we are still adjusting to life outside of your little body of believers. 

And as I forgive and experience the freedom that comes from forgiveness, it is not lost on me that I too, must repent. 

I repent of my anger against you, Pastor, and my desire to see you hurt. 

I repent for questioning God’s goodness and bringing justice in his time and in his way. 

I repent for wallowing in my pain and my self-pity. 

I repent for lumping the whole with the part for doubting all leaders when in fact only a few have done the hurting. 

I repent for holding brothers and sisters at arm’s length because of my past experiences. I repent for sometimes hating the church and sometimes hating believers. 

I repent for hiding. 

I repent for doubting God’s love. 

I repent for my shame—I have done nothing to be ashamed of, so I repent. 

I repent that we have spent so much time fighting with other Christians while the whole world around us is burning. 

I repent for allowing evil to steal my joy. 

I repent for making much of man, for loving material goods too much, for longing for the same so-called material riches and fame that I resented and despise in the broken leaders of our churches. 

I repent of my desire to find peace and escape instead of standing up for the truth and fighting to see wrong righted. 

I repent for much today, but I also rejoice. 

I rejoice that I am loved. Yes, I am loved, not because a man had said it to me as a mantra at the end of a church service. 

But because by God’s grace and despite all of this pain, the King of Kings, Jesus has spoken these words over us forever. 

I am loved. You are loved. We are loved.  And He has forgiven us. Indeed in this, we rejoice.

JULIE ROYS: Well, that’s Lina AbuJamra and the powerful message she delivered at the Restore Chicago conference. I’m Julie Roys. And you’re listening to The Roys Report. And I can tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye at the conference when Lina was done with that message. And by the way, if you want to listen to that, again, a video of that message is posted to my website, JulieRoys.com Well, coming up next, you’ll hear the message that I gave at restore. It’s entitled an Unmistakable Move of God. And that’s because I don’t think these recent church scandals coming to light is some accident. And I think when you hear the amazing account of how many of these stories came to light, you’ll agree. God is purifying his church. And in this there is great hope. We’ll be right back.

Segment 4:

ANNOUNCER: This is The Roys Report with Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS: Well, the scandals that have rocked the church the past couple of years are heartbreaking. But in the midst of these scandals is hope. Because I don’t think these scandals are coming to light by accident, I truly believe God is moving to purify his church. Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And you’re listening to a special edition of the Roys report featuring highlights from the Restore Chicago conference. And by the way, if you’d like to see video of the complete messages I’m featuring today, just go to my website, JulieRoys.com. Lina’s message, which you just heard, is already posted to my website. And my message, which we’re airing in this segment, will be posted early next week. So, you can either check back in my website in a few days. Or if you sign up for updates at my website, you’ll get an email into your inbox as soon as the video is posted. Again, just go to JulieRoys.com. Well, again, as I mentioned, I don’t think what’s being exposed in the church is accidental. I do believe God is purifying his church. And though what’s happening is definitely painful, if it leads us to repentance, it will be for our benefit. So, here’s a portion of the message I gave at Restore. It’s called “An Unmistakable Move of God.”

JULIE ROYS:  I will never forget Wednesday, December 12 2018, I was in the midst of a lawsuit with harvest Bible chapel. 

At about 8:30 at night, I went over to meet with a former member of Harvest. And he had called me and said that he may have some information for me, and would I come and talk to him and his wife and his mentor. So, I went over there around 8:30. We talked for about an hour. And at the end of the time, they asked if they could pray for me. And when you’re in the midst of a lawsuit, and your piece that you’ve been working on for eight months is about to publish, and if someone asks if you want prayer, you say, “Yeah, I would appreciate that. Thank you.” And so, they prayed with me. And then we got up and just were kind of talking and I was talking to him to see if he actually did have some information that might be helpful. And then he just happened to mention, “I have some audio that might be of interest to you.” [I responded with,] “Really?” And then he proceeded to tell me and how he had gotten this audio of James on a hot mic. And he said, “It’s pretty toxic, though,” like, almost like he was afraid to give it to me because it might hurt my feelings. I was like, “No, that’s okay. You don’t have to worry about that. I’d actually be really interested in hearing that.” And he kind of went back and forth, because he’s thinking, “Well, Julie just got sued. And if I give her this audio, I could just get sued. And I mean, what’s going to happen to me if I do this?” And he was going back and forth, and back and forth, and finally this was like, “Forget it. Fine. I’ll just give it to you.” And so, he said, “Follow me down to my car.” And so I did. I followed him down to his car, he opened it up, opened the glove compartment, pulled out this CD and gave it to me. And I got in my car and I put the CD in because my car was that old—it’s since died actually—and I’m driving home. And I’m hearing James MacDonald joke about putting child porn on the computer of Harold Smith, the CEO of Christianity Today. I’m hearing him joke about imaginary headlines about me and Mark Galli, the editor of CT having an affair. I’m hearing him mocking me “riding around on a tricycle with a midget on my back.” And I’m thinking, “Oh my word!” I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because I’d heard from probably over two dozen sources that this is who James MacDonald really was. But I knew convincing the larger world that this is who James MacDonald really was, was going to be a really tall order. And here I had his voice right on a recording saying these things. Now a lot of you know, this is the audio that man Mancow Muller ended up playing on his morning show. And I can’t tell you how it got from me to Mancow. I can tell you I didn’t give it to him. So, it played in the morning. That night, the Elders met. And James MacDonald—was the last straw—and he was fired. Whereas I think he would have resigned otherwise. And it would have been a different scenario. I remember talking to my buddy Matt Walberg. See Matt Walberg was a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute. He’s a believer. But he also, for about 20 years, was an investigative reporter at Chicago Tribune. And I called him, and I described what I just gotten. And Matt’s like, “Julie, stuff like that just doesn’t happen.” He’s like, “In 20 years, I’ve never had something like that happen to me.” And then he something I will never forget. He said, “Julie, I don’t normally say things like this, but he said, “Julie, when stuff like that happens, you’ve got to wonder if God isn’t fighting on your side.” 

About a month ago, I called the source that gave me that audio. I told him what Matt Wahlberg said. And his exact words to me were, “Julie. I just got chills. I just got chills.” He said, “But there’s something you need to know about how I recorded that audio and how it all happened.” He said, “A month before I recorded that audio I had been reading the Elephant’s Debt. And I’d become aware that this whole system was pretty corrupt and pretty toxic. And I was aware of the evil that James MacDonald was involved in.” And he said, “It was so frustrating though, because I felt so helpless, like I couldn’t do anything.” And he said, “I remember I was talking to God about this. And I was coming out. So I remember very vividly coming out of the bathroom at Harvest, and I said this prayer to God, ‘God, would You please help me to do something big, because I feel so helpless?’” And then he said, “A month later, I accidentally recorded that audio.” And he says, “I kid you not. It was accidental.” And he said to me, “Julie, it was something I never thought that I would be involved in.” 

And he said, “But God gave me one smooth stone to slay Goliath. And it still blows me away.”

And as I look back on the past 24 months, I realized God’s given me stone after stone after stone. And it’s been God. It’s been a move of God. But it wasn’t just that audio. Take the lawsuit. Now a lot of people have expressed a lot of sympathy for me, because I was sued by James MacDonald and harvest. The truth is, it was a little stressful at times. But for a reporter to be sued is kind of like Christmas come early.

(Audience laughter)

Like, if I were to write a letter to Santa at that time, it would have been something like this, “Santa, would you please bring me some sources to go on the record?” But even better, would you give me subpoena power?”

 And God gave me subpoena power. 

But there were some tense moments too. I mean, I thought I remember when I first got sued, it was like, “Wow, this is for real. How am I going to pay for this?” Like, I knew that the lawsuit was full of lies. But I was like, “How am I going to pay for this?” Because I’m gonna have to defend myself. I remember I was actually at the Tribune because I was working with Matt on a story. And I remember calling from those offices, and I call the guy in my small group, he was a lawyer. I had no idea what kind of law this guy practiced. None whatsoever. And I called him and I’m like, “Charlie, I just got sued by James MacDonald harvest Bible chapel.” He’s like, “What?” I’m like, “No, I’m For Real. I just got sued.” And he’s like, “Well, do you have the lawsuit?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Send it to me.” So, I emailed it to him. And it wasn’t more than five or 10 minutes after I’d emailed it to him; 

and he calls me back. And he’s like, “Julie, tell me that you want me to represent you.” 

(Audience Laughter)

And I’m thinking, I’m thinking dollars, right? I’m thinking, “How much does this cost? And what is this guy per hour? I don’t even know.” I’m like . . . you know, I’m hemming and hawing here. And he’s like, “Julie! I’ve got your back. You’re not going to pay a thing! Tell me you want me to represent you so I can talk to you.” I said, “Okay, Charlie, I want you to represent me.”

(Audience Laughter)

And then he tells me, “Julie, do you know what law he appealed to and harvest appeal to in this lawsuit?” I’m like, “No, I have no idea. What is it?” He said, “It’s the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act.” He’s like, “Nobody does a defamation suit under the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act. But you know, for the last year, I have been doing a major case in Illinois based on the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This is my wheelhouse!” And let us not forget that he was up against a DUI lawyer of Mancow’s.

(Audience laughter.)

Now friends, I couldn’t have done that. I didn’t have the power to do that. Again, God was with me. I often say I didn’t volunteer for this assignment. I didn’t feel like I got drafted. But God drafted me. And I know that most of you in this room, maybe all of you in this room would say, “I didn’t volunteer for my assignment, either. I didn’t volunteer to be touched by a church scandal or to be a victim of abuse or to play a role and exposing corruption.” But in God’s sovereignty, you’re here now. And I know it’s really easy right now, to be sitting here and saying, “Why me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? What did Lena do to deserve that? What did any of us, what did you do to deserve that?” But I want to ask you to instead of saying, “Why me?” to say, “Why did God choose me to be in this position right here right now? And how am I uniquely positioned to make a difference?” And, “What is my one smooth stone that God’s given me to make a difference? How can I be a part of fighting Goliath?” 

See, none of us are here by accident. None of this is accidental. None of what’s been happening in the evangelicalism church right now, for the past few years, none of it’s accidental. It is a move of God. It’s not just what happened at Harvest. It’s not just what happened at Willow Creek. Right now, God has been exposing rampant sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Church, Misogyny of leaders like Paige Patterson abuse at the Sankey orphanage. And the role the Tom Randall played in that. Incompetency and collusion by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Bullying and control and self-dealing by Jerry Falwell, Jr. I mean, I could just keep going and going. And there is so much more. 

We are at a critical juncture in the Evangelical Church. Much of the leadership at the top is corrupt. And those who aren’t corrupt are looking the other way. And I am convinced God’s bowl of wrath is full. 

And He is raising up an army of David’s to take on this Goliath. And you’re it. You’re it. 

I do some work in the pro-life community. I can tell you that probably 80 to 90% of those in the pro-life community have been impacted by abortion. They’re either post abortive themselves, or they know women who are post abortive, or their mother may have considered an abortion but didn’t. They’ve been touched by it. They know the evil the abortion industry because they’ve been close to it. And nobody, nobody knows what spiritual abuse is like, like you do. Nobody knows. The corruption, the manipulation, everything else like you guys do. You guys are able to expose it. But how do we take on this huge Goliath? How do we do it? Well, I think if we’re going to talk about slaying giants, it’s probably good to look at the story of David and Goliath.

JULIE ROYS: Well, again, that’s a portion of the message that I gave at the Restore Chicago conference on November 2 at Judson University. If you’d like to hear the rest of that message, I’ll be posting a video of my full talk to my website early next week. To view that just go to JulieRoys.com. That video will be posted either Monday or Tuesday of next week. 

Well, I know this is a difficult place to end. And I’d like to say that the condition of the Evangelical Church is better than it is. I’d like to say that we’re a city on a hill, the salt of the earth like the Scriptures say that we should be, and, “If we just continue on our present course that will be fine.” But as these scandals are showing us there is a problem, a big problem. And it’s not just one or two churches. It’s rife through what I call, and many others have called, “the Evangelical Industrial Complex.” But here’s where the hope is. In God’s word, it says “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 

And that’s my prayer for the church. We need healing, not just individually, but corporately. We need repentance. But God is eager to forgive and to restore. As Nancy Beach said at the beginning of this broadcast, “The church remains God’s Plan A for reaching the world. And as broken as it is, I still believe in the church.” So yes, I think we should all be committed to exposing corruption if and when we encounter it. But I’m also committed to praying for the church, to giving to the church to loving the church. The church is our family. And even when family hurts us, even when family disappoints us, we don’t divorce our families. So that’s my encouragement to you. Don’t run away from community. Lean into community. Pray for this church, God’s body, God’s bride. I hope that you will, and I hope that you’ll join me next week on The Roys Report. Have a great weekend and God bless.

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2 thoughts on “RESTORE Chicago Conference Highlights”

  1. Julie, Thank you so much for sharing this! A week or two ago I posted a comment about how hearing each new outrage you uncover could contribute to my feeling stuck, especially since my current church (a Harvest Bible Chapel plant) is so unhealthy privately but reminds everyone publicly, “You are loved.”

    This podcast is a confirmation of God urging us to not give up on Christian community even while processing the hurt.

    It’s very empowering to have the tactics of bad church leaders exposed so we can be wise. The subtle power of flattery and the consistent drift of shepherding towards total allegiance to a bad leader is 110% spot on.

    It’s validating to hear others who are working through forgiveness, but then a PTSD like swell of anger will rise up over all the ongoing injustice we are somewhat powerless to confront.

    The fact you would respond is so helpful in the healing process. Thanks for the balance of accountability and encouragement. May God richly bless and protect your ministry.

    1. I add my thanks to that of John M that you have claimed God’s promise of courage to confront a Goliath of our time and spread the news of the damages that demagoguery perpetuates in the Christian community. I look forward to your post of Wade Mullen’s talk, as I want to share it with the 11 women I meet weekly for Bible study. There is a great need to educate the flock in signs of this malady in the church leadership. Again, my heartfelt thanks for exposing spiritual decay wherever it sets in. God bless you and your ministry to us.

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