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Sexual Harassment Went Unchecked at Christianity Today

Women reported two top leaders’ inappropriate behavior for more than 12 years. Nothing happened.
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Sexual Harassment Went Unchecked at Christianity Today
Image: Christianity Today

Disclosure: This story was reported by CT news editor Daniel Silliman, edited by senior news editor Kate Shellnutt, and published without prior review by ministry executives. Neither editor had access to personnel files or meetings regarding the allegations or investigation. You can read president and CEO Timothy Dalrymple’s statement here.

For more than a dozen years, Christianity Today failed to hold two ministry leaders accountable for sexual harassment at its Carol Stream, Illinois, office.

A number of women reported demeaning, inappropriate, and offensive behavior by former editor in chief Mark Galli and former advertising director Olatokunbo Olawoye. But their behavior was not checked and the men were not disciplined, according to an external assessment of the ministry’s culture released Tuesday.

The report identified a pair of problems at the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism: a poor process for “reporting, investigating, and resolving harassment allegations” and a culture of unconscious sexism that can be “inhospitable to women.” CT has made the assessment public.

“We want to practice the transparency and accountability we preach,” said CT president Timothy Dalrymple. “It’s imperative we be above reproach on these matters. If we’re falling short of what love requires of us, we want to know, and we want to do better.”

In separate, independent reporting, the CT news editor interviewed more than two dozen current and former employees and heard 12 firsthand accounts of sexual harassment.

Women at CT were touched at work in ways that made them uncomfortable. They heard men with authority over their careers make comments about the sexual desirability of their bodies. And in at least two cases, they heard department heads hint at openness to an affair.

More than half a dozen employees reported harassment from Galli or Olawoye to a manager or HR between the mid-2000s and 2019. But neither leader was written up, formally warned about their inappropriate behavior, suspended, or otherwise punished. There is no record that Christianity Today took any corrective action, even after repeated complaints of nearly identical offenses.

“The culture when I was there was to protect the institution at all costs,” said Amy Jackson, an associate publisher who left what she said had become a hostile work environment in 2018. “No one was ever held accountable. Mark Galli was certainly protected.”

The misconduct at CT may not rank with the worst examples exposed by the #MeToo movement, but the ministry has never measured itself by those standards.

“In the midst of our ugly world,” Galli wrote in 2015, “Christianity Today offers an oasis of the true, the good, and the beautiful.”

At the same time that Galli was developing the “beautiful orthodoxy” branding for CT, he made inappropriate comments about women. Three people recalled him talking in the office, for example, about how he liked to watch female golfers bend over. Galli denies the specific comment but said he probably referred to the women on the golf course as “eye candy.”

Remarks about women’s bodies and even the occasional stray hand can be seen as merely “boorish,” said online managing editor Andrea Palpant Dilley, one of the people who pushed for the external assessment. But that behavior has had an impact on the women who work at CT.

“There is a physical fear with sexual harassment, but the bigger fear, for me, is I’m afraid of the diminishment and disrespect,” Palpant Dilley said. “It’s a threat to my professionalism, and that is fundamentally a threat to my ability to flourish and trust that I can be respected as a woman at CT.”

HR complaint brought backlash

Richard Shields, HR director from 2008 to 2019, declined to comment on any specific employees or allegations for this story. But he objected to the idea that HR had fallen short.

“I always took complaints seriously and very, very confidentially,” he told the CT news editor. “I’m very confident that we used the processes we had in place very consistently, very thoroughly, very effectively.”

CT policy dictated that HR document any allegations of misconduct and then report to the executive team. The executive team did not, however, have clear corporate guidelines laying out the consequences for violations, according to Harold Smith, president and CEO from 2007 to 2019.

It wasn’t until after the start of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo social media movements that CT leadership started to review policies and train staff on sexual harassment.

“We were playing catch-up,” Smith said. “And regrettably it was the women who brought this issue to our attention … who were sadly caught waiting and waiting for some resolution.”

When people made allegations, HR opened files and took notes. But then nothing happened, leaving many current and former employees with the impression there were no consequences for any misconduct short of a felony.

For some, reports to HR actually made things worse. For one woman, an HR complaint brought so much backlash that it changed her experience at CT.

Her name, like the names of other women who experienced sexual harassment, is being kept confidential, following CT’s policies for reporting on abuse. The details of each story have, however, been confirmed with multiple sources who observed the same incident, learned about it firsthand at the time, or saw identical instances of harassment.

When this woman was hired on as an editor in the mid-2000s, someone joked that she was only brought on because a senior editor wanted to have sex with her. She didn’t report that to HR, but a colleague did. After that, the woman heard regular comments from men at CT about how she was too quick to see sexual harassment in everything.

Galli in particular began asking her if she was offended when he held a door open for her, she recalled. He would make a banal statement about gender, she said, and then add, “Are you going to report that?”

It made her believe that if she reported anything, she would be treated as if she was crying wolf. “It was pretty chilling,” she said.

A short time later, CT’s advertising director, Olawoye, came into her office and shut her door. He told her how good she looked, she recalled. Then he started talking about how unhappy he was in his marriage and put his hand on her leg.

She did not report it to HR. She did not think it was worth the risk.

“It’s hard for people to come forward with claims of harassment—very hard,” said Sonal Shah, assistant director of employment law services at HR Source. “Most complaints go unreported, so if you’re getting multiple complaints, then the problem is likely more serious and more pervasive than you realize.”

Multiple women who worked at CT between 2000 and 2019 said it was not even clear to them whether HR was responsible for sexual harassment complaints. The state of Illinois mandated sexual harassment training for all workplaces in 2019, and CT now requires employees to complete an annual online course. Before that, the women recalled, the general impression was that HR wasn’t interested in sexual harassment allegations and only dealt with hiring, firing, and retirement plans.

The HR director, Shields, was also associated with a group of senior men at the ministry who played golf, including Galli, Olawoye, and several others. A number of women said they decided not to report harassment because he seemed more likely to sympathize with men in leadership than young women making accusations.

“I was told not to expect anything from HR,” one former employee said, “but just go to other women.”

Women helping women avoid sexual harassment

Women in the office organized informally to protect each other against unwanted attention from Olawoye, who was known at CT by his nickname “Toks.” Several described warning new hires that he did not respect personal boundaries, but frequently invited himself into women’s offices, shut the door, and engaged them in long, personal conversations.

Some even made a pact to pretend to have meetings with each other to create an excuse to politely end conversations with the higher-ranking man.

Despite those efforts, three more women had identical experiences of harassment. Each independently said that Olawoye commented on their physical appearances, told them his wife was not as attractive as she used to be, and mentioned he wasn’t having as much sex as he would like.

“My whole body tensed up and I wanted to throw up,” one woman recalled. “I was just like, ‘Uh, uh, uh, I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to talk to this person alone ever again.’”

None of these women reported the incidents to management or HR. One said she felt like she dealt with it personally, and the others said they were embarrassed and didn’t think it would help.

They may have been right. When others did report Olawoye for inappropriate behavior, they found they were treated as if they were the problem.

One woman told her manager that Olawoye was staring at her breasts during meetings. The manager’s response: “It helps if you wear a scarf.”

The manager, who is a woman, confirmed that account but noted that she did not receive training about sexual harassment when she was promoted and did not know to file a formal complaint.

Another manager, a man, did file a complaint. He went to HR and said that Olawoye was spending an inordinate amount of time talking to a college intern. He seemed to be asking her inappropriate questions—whether she had a boyfriend, whether she’d ever had a boyfriend, and whether she’d like to have dinner at his house.

A few days later, Olawoye stormed into the office of the manager who reported him and demanded an apology. He had learned who made the complaint and was irate about the possibility of an “awful mark” on his record.

The manager did not file any more HR complaints during his time at Christianity Today.

There is no record that Olawoye was formally reprimanded for that incident or that it left any sort of mark on his record.

Olawoye’s tenure at CT ended after he was arrested by federal agents in a sting operation in 2017. He was attempting to pay for sex with a teenage girl. He ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Today he lives in suburban Chicago and is registered as a sex offender. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

After Olawoye’s arrest, HR offered counseling for employees who may have been upset but did not investigate whether anyone had been harmed by Olawoye during his time in the office, according to multiple employees. Instead, CT leaders urged the staff to show Olawoye grace and remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Galli accused of touching eight women

In CT’s editorial department, it was Mark Galli who shared the news of Olawoye’s arrest and delivered the message about suspending judgment. He told at least two women he supervised that he understood how a man could be tempted to pay for sex with a teenager. According to the women, Galli said that he also had unfulfilled sexual urges and that was a common male experience. The important thing was learning not to act on those urges.

Both would later question why he told them that. Both were later touched inappropriately by the then–editor in chief.

In all, eight women said Galli touched them inappropriately.

Six reported the incident to HR. One didn’t. Another had the incident reported by a colleague. Galli was not reprimanded in writing or given any sort of formal warning about his behavior.

“HR is supposed to protect us,” one former employee said. “It’s supposed to handle these situations, but I saw time and again, HR has authority in title, but not authority to actually do anything.”

None of the women saw Galli suffer any repercussions, and several said he seemed to brush the complaints off as a minor annoyance, a generational difference, or a problem of “politically correct” culture.

Today, Galli views the allegations as misunderstandings.

“I have never done anything consciously, deliberately wrong,” he told the CT news editor. “I’m happy to apologize for those areas in which I miscommunicated or made people think one thing when I was actually trying to do another. I’m happy to do that.”

Galli expressed frustration that CT allowed the misunderstandings to “fester” and said he wished the ministry had facilitated reconciliations between him and the women who accused him of inappropriate conduct.

“Some individuals might have interpreted any kind of touching as a sexual come-on,” he said. “Anything I’ve done to trouble, offend, bother anyone, even two years after I left the company, I’d appreciate the opportunity, even with the presence of a third party, to understand what they’re saying.”

The accounts shared with the CT news editor followed nearly identical patterns. Most of the women said he rubbed his hand on their lower back and touched their bra clasp.

Some said his touch seemed sexual and they felt violated. Others said they did not believe he intended it to be sexual, but they were bothered that he didn’t respect boundaries. He acted, they said, as if he could cross any personal or professional lines he wanted.

In one incident in 2008 or 2009, Galli walked up behind a woman at a copy machine and put his hand on her lower back, the woman said. It wasn’t obviously sexual, according to the former employee. But it made her uncomfortable, and she thought, “Why did he need to touch the small of my back?”

The woman reported the incident to HR. She met with Shields. The HR director took notes, she said, and seemed to understand why the behavior made her uncomfortable.

Then nothing happened. A few weeks later, she said, Galli approached her and said, “Just come and talk to me directly next time.” It was only later that she realized that he assumed there was going to be a next time.

“I didn’t feel comfortable talking to HR after that,” she said.

Another former employee recounted how Galli touched her twice in ways that didn’t feel right, including caressing her bare shoulder when they sat next to each other at an event in the late 2000s. According to emails written at the time, she reported the behavior to her manager, but he decided not to file a complaint with HR.

A third woman recalled that in 2012, Galli told her he wasn’t supposed to hug her, but he was going to anyway. She felt his hand linger on her bra clasp.

A fourth said that Galli rubbed her back and got his hand stuck under her bra. When she told a vice president, the senior leader suggested she had misread the situation and discouraged her from “making it an HR issue.”

“The specific words said to me were: ‘No one has ever reported him,’ ‘He has no HR complaints against him,’ ‘He has a spotless record,’” the woman said. “I remember it was said three different ways, and I thought, Maybe I am the problem.”

The employee went to HR anyway. She was later told that, because Galli denied it, there were no witnesses, and there was no previous documentation of inappropriate touching, nothing could be done.

Galli confirmed multiple conflicts over touching people at work but disputed the women’s interpretation of what he did.

“My hand couldn’t have been on her back for more than a second,” he told the CT news editor. “I obviously violated her space. I am really sorry about that. I wasn’t feeling her bra. … I was just trying to physically affirm that I was coming as a friendly person that wanted to have a conversation with her.”

‘Of course, I crossed lines’

After repeated complaints to HR, Galli considered making a personal policy against touching people in the office but rejected the idea, he told the CT news editor. He touched people to encourage them, to connect, and to communicate effectively, he said, and he thought he would just have to live with some misunderstandings.

“Of course, I crossed lines,” he said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me that, working there for 30 years, I probably crossed boundaries. Yeah, that happened. Just to be clear, I never had any romantic or sexual interest in anyone at Christianity Today.”

Galli violated other boundaries as well. In the early 2000s, he told a woman who worked under him that he found her attractive, according to the woman and six colleagues who knew about it at the time. After she quit, Galli said, “You are the type of woman I would have an affair with.”

In 2018, Galli barged into an office where an employee was pumping breast milk. There had been an announcement that a new mother would need privacy and a sign on the door that said, “Do not disturb.” Galli looked at the sign and said out loud, “That doesn’t apply to me,” according to two people who were there.

The incident was reported to HR. Galli was not formally reprimanded or disciplined.

Galli did not cross lines with every woman he worked with. Several current and former employees said they had good experiences: Galli encouraged them, trained them, promoted them, and advocated for them.

More, however, said he was a hard boss to work for. Both men and women said he had a strong authoritarian streak and unpredictable moods. He sometimes got angry, overreacted to criticism, and yelled and slammed things in the office.

No one with authority seemed to acknowledge this behavior or check Galli in any way, current and former employees said. He would act out and then joke that he was a bad boss like the character Michael Scott in The Office.

‘The next incident will be taken seriously’

That status quo continued until August 2019, when Galli was accused of inappropriately touching three women in three days.

First, he walked up to a woman and hugged her from behind by surprise. A manager saw and reported it to HR, according to multiple people who were there.

Jaime Patrick, who succeeded Richard Shields as HR director in 2019, took the report to Timothy Dalrymple, the new president and CEO. Dalrymple, who had been appointed three months before, went to Galli and told him the behavior was unacceptable. It was a verbal warning.

The next incident happened the following day. During a group photo at a public outing, Galli put his arm around a female colleague and rested his hand on her butt. He kept his hand there, the woman said in a written statement to HR, until the photo was taken.

Dalrymple declined to speak about specific HR complaints against specific employees for this story. According to people familiar with the situation, however, he asked HR for documentation of previous inappropriate behavior and to research the legal options for suspending or firing Galli. At the time, nearly 30 years into Galli’s employment at the ministry, an HR staff member found no evidence of disciplinary action against Galli.

Before that anything more could happen, HR received a third complaint from a woman who said Galli grabbed her shoulders and shook her while telling a story.

Dalrymple issued a formal warning. Galli said he signed a statement acknowledging the reprimand. It was the first time any allegation left a record in his HR file.

According to best practices in HR, there should be clear, escalating consequences for misconduct, said Shah, the expert from HR Source. Typically, a first and second offense get a warning, a third gets a suspension, then there’s a final warning and, ultimately, termination.

An investigation and any corrective action also need to be thoroughly documented, she said, so an organization could demonstrate in court that it punished people consistently, regardless of status or other factors, and did its due diligence to protect employees.

“Saying, ‘Hey, don’t do that again’ is not enough,” Shah said. “That’s not taken seriously.”

Galli, however, had received no more than verbal reprimands prior to Dalrymple’s notice.

“The next incident,” an HR staff member told one of the woman who filed a complaint in 2019, “will be taken seriously.”

Galli announced his retirement two months later, in October 2019. In December he published an editorial calling for Donald Trump to be removed from office. In January, he retired.

Another incident occurred in 2021, however. At a gathering in Wheaton, Illinois, Galli hugged a current employee and ran his hand up her back.

“He effectively felt me up,” she told the CT news editor.

Then he stepped back and looked her up and down. She interpreted the gaze as “unapologetically sexual.” Even though she didn’t think there was anything that could be done, since he was a former employee, she reported the incident to her manager, who took the complaint to Dalrymple.

After that, several women, including online managing editor Palpant Dilley, pushed CT to hire an outside firm to assess why Galli’s sexual harassment had been allowed to continue unchecked for so long.

“We need really robust protocols and procedures so that when people fail, the systems behind those people don’t fail,” Palpant Dilley told the CT news editor. “We have to have checks and balances. As Christians, we of all people should have a strong and realistic view of human nature that accounts for and prepares us for human failure.”

Guidepost Solutions, a consulting firm, was contracted in September 2021 to review how CT had handled harassment claims, assess the ministry’s policies and procedures, and recommend concrete changes.

On March 13, Guidepost concluded that while there was no “wider pattern or culture of systemic harassment,” CT could do better.

“CT’s flawed institutional response to harassment allegations could have been influenced, in part, by unconscious sexism,” the report said. Leaders at the ministry “at times tried to minimize or rationalize” sexual harassment, treating it as nothing more than the behavior of “an older male who was out of touch with current workplace mores” instead of recognizing it as “inappropriate by any standards, for any person.”

Guidepost recommended changes for CT to improve its HR response by creating a system for anonymous reporting and putting set procedures in place for investigations. The external review noted that CT had “no provisions governing confidentiality” around HR investigations.

Dalrymple said CT will implement the recommendations and review other potential changes over the next six months.

“Employment practices are in place for a reason,” he said, “and I think we need to be clear with our employees that reporters of misconduct are welcome, they will be safe from retaliation, and their concerns will be taken seriously.”

Broader cultural problems

No one who was hurt at CT thinks the culture of the ministry is uniquely sexist. Some have had worse experiences in other Christian workplaces. But the sexism nonetheless placed an extra burden on women, who now make up more than half of CT’s staff.

Men at the ministry commonly assumed that single women always wanted to get married and have children, current and former employees said. And department leaders assumed that mothers at the company would prioritize their families so much that their work could never be as important to them as it was to their male colleagues.

Current and former employees say there have been ongoing issues with men talking over women in meetings. And it was considered acceptable when some men in leadership said that biological differences between the sexes extended as far as intelligence and that men might just be smarter.

A few former employees blamed sexism on evangelical culture, saying its norms around gender could blur the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Agnieszka Zielińska, a former CT editor who has since left Christianity and considers herself “a happy agnostic,” looks back at her experience at the company from 2000 to 2006 and sees glaring problems.

“The evangelical culture tends to encourage earnestness and improperly boundaried disclosure,” she said. “It promotes the treatment of coworkers as family members. This can feel nice. But it can also create problems, such as a disregard of professional boundaries at work.”

More, however, were disappointed by the ministry’s failure to live up to its Christian commitments and CT’s specific mission. Several pointed to a 2015 editorial where CT issued a call for “honest witnesses to moral failure.”

The piece said that the scandals of individual evangelical leaders are a problem. But the many people who knew and did nothing is devastating.

“If you know something, tell someone,” wrote Ted Olsen, who was then the managing editor for news and is currently CT’s executive editor. “If you’re hoping that something will resolve itself, you need more fear that it will blow up terribly. If you are praying that God will bring something to light, listen to his call to ‘take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them’ (Eph. 5:11, ESV).”

News of an external assessment has been met, by most of those hurt at CT, with wariness. While Dalrymple’s commitment to transparency has raised some hope, there is still a good deal of skepticism.

Current and former employees say they worry that the ministry will be too quick to think that all its problems are in the past. They worry about what happens the next time someone has a complaint they should take to HR. They worry it will be too easy to look away, too easy to let more men cross more lines, and too easy not to hold them accountable.

“I’ve run out of grace for it,” said creative projects director Joy Beth Smith, “and honestly, I don’t know if the institution has.”

[ This article is also available in Français 简体中文, and 繁體中文. ]

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