I joined Christianity Today as its president and CEO in May of 2019. In August of the same year, it came to my attention that one of our editorial leaders had treated his female reports unprofessionally, engaging in unwanted touch despite repeated communications that such behavior was wrong, unwelcome, and needed to stop. I gathered more information about the history of the issue, and it was clear that earlier incidents with this individual had been addressed primarily through one-on-one conversations.
Without any written warnings in place, our options in August of 2019 were limited. We disciplined him, we documented it, and we warned him that he would be suspended or fired if it should happen again. No further allegations of unwanted touch or other inappropriate conduct arose between then and his retirement.
However, in September of 2021, two current female employees approached me and CT’s executive editor, Ted Olsen. They presented a more thoroughgoing narrative regarding this individual’s conduct, one that extended back many years and continued even after his retirement.
We hold these women in the highest regard and were deeply saddened to hear their stories. They described highly inappropriate comments and unwanted touch that left them feeling disrespected, objectified, and unsafe. Our immediate response was to grieve with them, thank them for their courage, and commit to a process that rigorously examines what we got wrong as a ministry and what we must do differently going forward.
(We were also aware of a second narrative, also years ago, in which another CT employee, who worked in advertising, was charged with a sex crime outside of the workplace and was fired from the ministry as soon as possible thereafter. We wished to examine whether we should have done more in that case as well.)
Committed to change
Confronted with the full scope of these narratives, and committed to change, we invited the women who made the report to be a part of shaping the institutional response. It was important to us that they should have a voice, and they have spoken into the process throughout with wisdom, care, and integrity.
We also reached out immediately to Rachael Denhollander, an attorney who has proven to be an invaluable source of wisdom on these matters. She has provided support to our employees and given insights into the process we should follow. I informed CT’s board of directors about the situation. The board supported strong action.
At Denhollander’s recommendation, we hired Guidepost Solutions, a respected company helping organizations establish best practices related to harassment and misconduct prevention, compliance, monitoring, and investigations. Guidepost conducted an independent assessment of our ministry and its response to the allegations we received. We also wished to know whether there was a wider problem with harassment or abuse at CT and how we might develop our culture, policies, and practices so that harassment is prevented, identified, investigated, and disciplined properly.
There was little we could say publicly before this assessment was completed. We did not want to distort or preempt Guidepost’s work, and we hold confidentiality obligations to our current and former employees. But we committed from the outset that we would publish Guidepost’s assessment. We felt a strong responsibility to operate as transparently as possible about what we learned and how we intend to move forward.
Why is this transparency important? We owe it to the women involved to say we believe their stories and we are deeply sorry the ministry failed to create an environment in which they were treated with respect and dignity.
We also owe it to our readers, our employees, and the church. Christianity Today as a ministry exists to serve the church, and one way we serve the church is by holding ministries accountable to the ideals of our faith. As such, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, too. When we fall short of those standards, we must demonstrate transparency, accountability, and confession. Perhaps the best way we can serve the church in this season, when so many churches and ministries struggle with questions of harassment and the proper relationships between the sexes in the workplace, is to be as open as possible throughout our journey and invite others to learn with us.
A comprehensive assessment
Given that commitment, we publish today the assessment made by Guidepost. Guidepost surveyed current employees, conducted interviews with many current and former employees, and examined numerous documents.
We are grateful that Guidepost, as the report states, “did not find any pervasive harassment or abuse problems at CT.” But we lament the areas in which our institutional responses were significantly lacking, and we thank Guidepost for identifying what we should do differently henceforth.
Along with the Guidepost assessment, we also invited Daniel Silliman, CT’s news editor, to consider reporting on our ministry’s situation just as he has reported so expertly on others. We allowed Daniel and our senior news editor, Kate Shellnutt, to evaluate independently whether this was a story CT would publish if the same circumstances involved another church or ministry. They decided it was.
Daniel’s investigation ran parallel to the Guidepost assessment, without intermixing the two. We did not provide Daniel or Kate with documents we cannot legally share with our own employees, and the first time they will see Guidepost’s assessment is when it is published today. However, we have invited them to follow the story wherever it might lead.
Neither I nor any other member of the executive team at Christianity Today have shaped their report, nor will I or any member of the executive team see that report before it publishes. We believe in the power of journalism to shine a light on the truth and promote accountability, and we should hold ourselves to the same high standards as other ministries. We will link to Daniel’s report here as soon as it is published.
What we are learning
What, then, have we learned? Guidepost’s assessment is full of excellent recommendations that would be helpful to any church, ministry, or business. We encourage everyone to read it.
For Christianity Today, we hereby commit publicly to implementing the six high-priority recommendations Guidepost makes on pages 5 and 6 of its report. We also commit to informing our readers of the ministry’s progress through another editorial within the next six months. Beyond the (important) details of policies and processes, however, let me emphasize three immediate points we are learning.
First, our ministry succumbed to the temptation to explain away inappropriate conduct as misunderstandings—misunderstandings between men and women, or misunderstandings between members of different generations who have different expectations for appropriate workplace behavior. In other words, as Guidepost expressed so well, we overemphasized the intent of the perpetrator and underemphasized the impact on the recipient.
Divining intent is always a dubious enterprise, but sexual harassment is sexual harassment whether or not it is sexually motivated. It makes the person on the receiving end feel objectified, manipulated, and mistreated because of his or her sex. Rather than saying, “He doesn’t really mean anything by it,” we should have heard, “But it means pain and humiliation for her.” We should have responded more forcefully earlier to protect our colleagues and to communicate that such behavior will lead swiftly to termination.
Second, representation matters. Over half of CT’s employees are women. Over half of the editorial staff members are women, including some in mid-level leadership positions. But the top leadership of the ministry and the CT editorial team has been predominantly male. We see in ourselves what we have seen in countless other organizations: Decisions concerning the interests of women will rarely be wisely made when women have little or no voice in those decisions.
CT presently has one woman on the executive team (having lost another to retirement recently). We plan to have three women on the executive team by the end of the year and to continue working toward better representation and diversity in the ministry’s leadership and staff in the years to come. Furthermore, since talented women are the heart of our ministry, we will examine other ways in which we can make absolutely certain our female employees are valued and flourishing in their work.
And third, communication is paramount. The staff needed to hear from CT leadership clearly and consistently that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and that reporters of misconduct or harassment will be received in a loving and thoughtful manner. We might have avoided a great deal of hardship, for the victims as well as the ministry, if we had offered an independent and anonymous reporting mechanism and if we had been more committed to formal discipline and documentation procedures.
Committed to truth
We pray that transparency about our errors will help other organizations avoid their own.
We anticipate, especially in this hyperpolarized moment, that we will receive criticism for this. We welcome feedback. There are, however, two possible criticisms I want to address preemptively.
One line of criticism might be that these revelations undermine our reporting on cases of church or ministry misconduct. I do not believe that to be the case. The news reporting team at Christianity Today has done outstanding work, recently as well as historically, holding some of the most powerful ministries accountable when they fall short of their calling. What would undermine our credibility is if we showed that we were only committed to the truth selectively because we sought to protect ourselves through concealment of the sin in our own house.
We have seen too many cases where Christian organizations cover up their failures because they believe the mission they serve is too important to be derailed by a few hurting people. This argument is tempting but wrongheaded. We cannot love the many by being cruel to the few. We cannot serve the truth by covering it up. It is because we are more committed to the kingdom of God than to our own institutional interests that we must be honest about our failures and share what we learn from them. We remain committed to rigorous journalism about ourselves and about others.
Another line of criticism may be that we are genuflecting to radical feminism and overreacting to behavior that is not truly harmful. We are not aware of any sexual abuse, assault, quid pro quo efforts, or the like within the ministry. The misbehavior we know of, however, persisted long after it had been expressed that it was unacceptable and needed to stop. Women we hold in the highest regard were hurt because we did less than love requires of us. The harassment itself left them feeling as though their dignity as women, their standing as professionals, and their ability to feel safe and valued in the workplace were taken away from them. This was deeply harmful not only to the two women who brought forth their report in September of 2021, but to other women as well. They were left to wonder whether we truly stood on their side. We grieve with them, confess our sin, and ask for their forgiveness.
In closing, we again encourage you to read the Guidepost assessment and to read Daniel Silliman’s independent report when it publishes. We hope the church can benefit as often as possible from things we do well. If the church can also benefit through us sharing honestly what we have done poorly, then to God be the glory. It is, after all, God’s glory and not our own that is the point of all we do.
Tim Dalrymple is president, CEO, and editor in chief of Christianity Today.