Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of the multi-campus Willow Creek Community Church, has denied multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including a consensual affair with a married woman, who retracted her claims. Investigations commissioned by the church also could not substantiate the allegations.
In an extensive investigation of the allegations published by the Chicago Tribune on Thursday night, former members of the church, including those who resigned from high-level leadership positions, argue that the church’s investigations have been deficient. The Tribune report also alleges a pattern of behavior against Hybels that includes suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms.
“This is one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating things I’ve ever experienced—for me, for my family, for our church family,” Hybels said in a statement provided by Willow Creek addressing the alleged consensual affair which was first reported to Willow Creek elders in April 2014.
“I was shocked and saddened when the Elders confronted me with the woman’s claim. She had been not only a hard-working staff member, but also a family friend. I categorically denied the allegation. It was not true.
“When the Elders reached out to the woman, she immediately acknowledged that she had lied, and she sent a very thorough written retraction. She also met with my wife, Lynne, personally and apologized earnestly for the pain her lies had caused Lynne.”
Hybels, who founded Willow Creek in 1975, announced last October that he will be stepping down from the helm of the storied church in October this year. Heather Larson, the current executive pastor at Willow Creek, will take on the role of lead pastor over all Willow Creek locations while Pastor Steve Carter, who currently serves as teaching pastor, will transition into the role of lead teaching pastor.
Pam Orr, current chair of the Willow Creek Elder board, insisted in a statement published on the church’s website, that despite the criticisms of the investigations conducted into the claims made against Hybels, the process was thorough and above board and Hybels would step down in their eyes with his reputation intact as well as their full support.
“I want to be very clear. Our full Elder board, as well as each Elder that has served over the time of this challenging situation, believes that we have functioned according to biblical standards, with utmost integrity and exhaustive diligence in navigating this situation. We are in full support of Bill and are grateful that he will continue in his role as senior pastor until he plans to transition in October 2018,” Orr said.
“Despite the fact that the group of former staff members alleged that Bill was controlling and compromising the validity of the investigation, please understand clearly that Bill submitted himself entirely to the authority of the Elders. He was interviewed as part of the investigation, but he did not lead it or influence it in any way,” Orr explained.
“When the Elders reached out to the woman, she apologized forthrightly for making a false statement and wrote a full retraction that the Elders have on file. She spoke with an Elder three times and apologized for her lies. She also met with Bill’s wife, Lynne, and apologized personally to her. In the woman’s retraction, she freely admits to having become ‘very angry at Willow,’ so much so that she could no longer attend the church. Additionally, in an email to a friend, she said, ‘Now I have to tell everyone that I am a liar, which I basically am. I lied to you and I am so sorry. I wanted to tear [Bill] and Willow down and get it out of my system.'”
The Tribune report noted, however, that there was so much acrimony over the investigation of the allegations about Hybels, three leaders on the board of Willow Creek Association, a nonprofit organization related to the church, resigned over what they believed was an insufficient inquiry.
Hybels is insisting that the whisper campaign against him, which resulted in the Tribune investigation, is false.
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Source: Christian Post