On Thursday, March 22, the Chicago Tribune reported their investigation into Willow Creek Church's cofounder and senior pastor Bill Hybels, who is being accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. Their investigation is documented by interviews with former church members, elders and employees, as well as "hundreds of emails and internal records."
According to the Tribune’s report, the alleged behavior includes “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true.”
Hybels denies these allegations, saying former friends are colluding against him. Speaking to the Tribune, Hybels said, “This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified,” he told the Tribune. “I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part."
Claims of harassment and misconduct came to the attention of elders at Willow Creek more than four years ago. At that time, the elders conducted reviews of the allegations. In an interview with the Tribune, Pam Orr, one of Willow Creek’s highest-ranking elders, said that the church was not presented with any clear evidence that Hybels had behaved inappropriately. In the past year, the church also retained a Chicago law firm to “look into allegations against Hybels involving three women."
Orr says the lawyer hired came back to the same conclusion the elders did, that there was no clear evidence of inappropriate behavior on Hybel's part. The Tribune reports that a final, full copy of report was not provided to their editorial team for review.
The Tribune also reported that at least three members of the Willow Creek Association, a non-profit organization related to the church, resigned after arguing to the board that they believed the elders’ review had been inadequate.
Among those pushing for an independent investigation are Hybel’s longtime friends John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek, according to a Christianity Today report.
Nancy Ortberg told the Tribune that the board’s decision not to pursue another inquiry was, in her opinion, a “complete abdication of fiduciary responsibility,” and left the board vulnerable to litigation if the allegations proved true.
Hybels released a statement to his congregation on Thursday evening, saying, “The lies you read about in the Tribune article are the tools this group is using to try to keep me from ending my tenure here at Willow with my reputation intact,” Hybels told his congregation in a statement Thursday evening. “Many of these alleged incidents purportedly took place more than  years ago. The fact that they have been dredged up now and assembled in a calculated way demonstrates the determination of this group to do as much damage as they possibly can.”
Among those who came forward to speak out against Hybels alleged misconduct was Vonda Dyer, a former Willow Creek employee. She told the Tribune that Hybels made a joke about oral sex while they were on his boat with another staff woman. Hybels denies this claim. She also says he repeatedly asked her to come to his hotel room.
Former teaching pastor Nancy Beach told the Tribune that she traveled to Europe with Hybels in 1999. During the trip, he allegedly said his marriage was unhappy, and asked Beach to his room for a glass of wine and gave her a lingering hug.
Hybels, who has spent the last 42 years leading Willow Creek Church, had announced his retirement last October. Willow Creek, one of the nations most influential evangelical churches, is located in the northwestern Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois.
Kelly Givens is the managing editor at Salem Web Network.
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Willow Creek D/CH
Publication Date: March 23, 2018