Bill Hybels Resigns from Willow Creek

"Megachurch pastor 'accelerates' October retirement weeks after former colleagues went public with misconduct allegations." CToday

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Bert Perry's picture

Combined with attacking his accusers personally, this is not a good sign.  He also all but admits that there is something to a lot of the accusations in his resignation comments.  If he's actually innocent, he needs to get those 1100 emails to a good IT guy to be deciphered.  I personally have coworkers with whom I've exchanged that many emails, so that's not a killer, but the apparent fact that they're encrypted is not a sign of openness for obvious reasons. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

If the congregation wanted to see more contrition, they're assuming some level of guilt on Hybels' part.  I don't know what they're acting on, if anything, but that's bad that some in his congregation think he's got some guilt here--and for that matter are willing to overlook and remain there.  

But regarding contrition, it usually requires one to admit guilt.  Hybels either isn't guilty, or he's not willing to admit it, so contrition at this point wouldn't make sense.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

I personally have coworkers with whom I've exchanged that many emails, so that's not a killer, but the apparent fact that they're encrypted is not a sign of openness for obvious reasons. 

Without commenting on his guilt or innocence, especially since I don't know one way or the other, I would point out that having email encrypted is not by itself evidence of anything, either good or bad.  With the types of security breaches that happen these days, I take every opportunity to use encrypted communications with anyone that has the capability, including my wife and family.  Since my brother and I both know how to use it, I use encrypted email even for "Hi, how are you" emails.  And when using messaging apps with my family, my wife and I use end-to-end encrypted apps whenever possible (i.e. we don't use SMS or similar with each other, and we assume things like iMessage and Facebook messenger are anything but secure).  I even use VPN connections from my home to keep as much as I can private from my ISP.

I also encrypt >90% of what I put in the cloud (everything sensitive, and much that isn't), and I use encrypted hard drives at home.  Obviously, things I post like here, social media, or on the internet are open to everyone, and for that reason, I'm much more careful what I say/write.  That's just the world we live in.  I certainly wouldn't fault anyone, including my pastor, from encrypting as much of his communication as is reasonable or possible, and I know for a fact that a number of the missionaries we support use encrypted communications, due to the fields they are serving on.  That's just good sense.

 

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Sure, there could be an innocent explanation--say "Willow Creek encrypted everything"--but that's not what the report said. It just said 1150 (?) or so emails couldn't be read, and they just happened to be those between the two persons of interest.  "Oopsie"....

And even if everything were encrypted, wouldn't you, if you were the investigator, make clear to Mr. Hybels that the controversy isn't going away until he either provides the key to decipher those emails?  I don't think any competent investigator would fail to do that.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Sure, there could be an innocent explanation--say "Willow Creek encrypted everything"--but that's not what the report said. It just said 1150 (?) or so emails couldn't be read, and they just happened to be those between the two persons of interest.  "Oopsie"....

And even if everything were encrypted, wouldn't you, if you were the investigator, make clear to Mr. Hybels that the controversy isn't going away until he either provides the key to decipher those emails?  I don't think any competent investigator would fail to do that.  

I think it's reasonable that if he wanted the controversy to go away, as you put it, that yes he would provide the key.  My only point was that the presence of encryption does not in itself mean something fishy is going on, especially since encryption generally requires both ends to support it, so only certain pairs of conversations would be encrypted.

Jumping off into even more speculation, there's always the possibility that the encrypted conversations in question were actually used to conceal something other than what the charges are about, but that they still don't want to get out.  That would certainly present a dilemma to the parties involved.

On a tangential point, depending on local laws, it might require both parties to the conversation to consent to having the emails read.  Technologically, encrypted email normally is done with the sender using the private key and the receiver using the public key.  For those laymen reading this, it means that you would need keys from both parties to read all the emails.  Of course, since most email software copies the message on reply, it might take only the key from one side to read nearly all the conversation.  I'm not sure what privacy laws would mean in this type of case.  Easiest would obviously be permission from both parties.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Dave, I'd agree 100% except for the fact that Willow Creek was Hybels' employer, and hence had the right to view documents he created on their systems.  So getting the data should be as simple as "this is required for your continued employment."  If something else was there, well, that would likely be another reason to reconsider his employment, no? 

And if all email was encrypted to protect (for example) missionaries in remote lands, then IT might well have had the key.  So I'm of the view that, with all due respect to the wisdom of encryption in many cases, that the encryption is a very real hint that something just isn't quite right here.

For my part, my wife and I share an email.  We might well do something differently if we were communicating with missionaries from closed countries, but for where we are now, it works fine.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Dave, I'd agree 100% except for the fact that Willow Creek was Hybels' employer, and hence had the right to view documents he created on their systems.  So getting the data should be as simple as "this is required for your continued employment."  If something else was there, well, that would likely be another reason to reconsider his employment, no? 

Hmm.  I didn't really think of it that way, but I can see your point.  I work for a secular employer that requires that, but I've never heard of that for a church.  Maybe one as large as Willow Creek would have that type of policy.  Our church is very small, and we don't really have a policy like that for the pastor, and I wouldn't have really considered us having one like that.  Maybe it's something we would need to consider if we grow larger.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

....one might make a reasonable, if not absolutely conclusive, case that within some bounds, a church cannot afford to have any other policy, no?  How else is one to assure the church that they are, indeed, taking "blameless" seriously?

But that noted, the "contrition" note linked from the ChiTrib bothers me a lot.  People are willing to state, correctly or otherwise, that they have reason to doubt the fitness for office of their pastor, and they're still in the pews.  One might infer that a policy requiring disclosure is nowhere near as important as a congregation requiring honor.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

....one might make a reasonable, if not absolutely conclusive, case that within some bounds, a church cannot afford to have any other policy, no?  How else is one to assure the church that they are, indeed, taking "blameless" seriously?

Well, a small church that doesn't have a large number of employees can simply ask for access to the email account (we use Google paid services for the official accounts), and that factor would certainly go into a how a vote to retain or remove would go.  Before you immediately write that off as stupid or naive, If accusations of something *criminal* came up, it would be a matter of notifying the police (which any church should do), and letting the question of emails/email access be handled by the authorities.  Of course, you can never underestimate the stupidity of criminals, but I suspect that any illicit activity by either of our church's two paid employees would be done on their personal equipment rather than on the equipment owned by the church, and we wouldn't have any more jurisdiction there than any company would.  A police criminal investigation would have access.  So again, I think for our purposes, asking for the email access in the name of "blamelessness" would be mostly sufficient.  If that were refused, I'm the IT admin for the church, and I could get access to at least the online official church accounts if there were sufficient reason (2 or 3 witnesses and the support of the church leadership).  Might not stop data deletion in time, though.

Most large companies install software that allows the company to spy on their own equipment at any time, and pretty much logs 100% of activity.  I think that would be overkill for a small church, and even trying to decide who would have access to that data and when would be difficult to manage.  Without that, though, there would be nothing preventing any incriminating data from being mostly destroyed before any of the church members would have access to the devices in question, and given that we don't have the resources, skill, or money of government organizations that could recover the data, we would still not be guaranteed access.  I can see having that kind of software for an organization as large as Willow Creek.  Not sure it would make much sense for us.

 

Dave Barnhart