Willow Creek Church Explains Why Staff Sign Non-Disparagement Agreements After Scot McKnight Raises Questions

Scot McKnight, a scholar and former member at Willow Creek Community Church, has asked why churches are making employees sign non-disparagement agreements.

The evangelical megachurch told The Christian Post that such agreements relate to financial care packages offered to staff. It’s an extension of compensation following a termination of employment so they don’t suffer financial hardship. And the former staff member is asked to “refrain from making disparaging or untrue statements about the church for the duration of the financial care agreement.”

“Why in the world is a church in this situation? Are not Non Disparagement Agreements already an admission that something is seriously wrong?” McKnight asked on his Jesus Creed blog on Thursday.

Listing out several more questions, he continued:

“Is it right for a church, and in most cases the Human Resources Department of a church, to demand or to contract silence about an unChristian, unbiblical and perhaps even criminal action? Is the person who signs such a contract/agreement obligated to silence? What if the contract was agreed to under some coercion or duress or threat or bullying? What if the person who signed the agreement comes to a conviction later that the church was profoundly wrong and they now regret having signed it? Can they speak up?”

McKnight, a New Testament scholar who has been highly critical of Willow Creek in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding its founder Bill Hybels, explained that non-disparagement agreements seek to prevent employees from speaking badly about an institution, with money often involved.

He warned that such agreements can sometimes be “profoundly evil,” as they can tempt people with money to hide acts that are morally wrong, and even criminal.

“Sometimes the discussion involves ambushing the employee, sometimes there are threats and bullying and intimidation,” he explained. “Sometimes all that is said is ‘Please finish well’ with a meaning that is very clear to the employee.”

He said that the Willow Creek South Barrington campus has not only signed NDAs, but has initiated more than 50 restraining order-type letters, one of which was shared on his blog last week.

“My contention is that Willow is morally wrong offering such an agreement. I assume there are times when the best situation is for both parties not to talk. However, it is never right to hide a sin for money. I hold the stronger party most liable for creating the situation,” McKnight argued.

“The stronger party (Willow) is asking the employee to compromise her or his moral integrity to sign the agreement. But the stronger party is implicated for sin [by] its own action, because the only reason for asking for the agreement is because it knows something that is wrong has been done and it wants it not known.”

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Source: Christian Post