Willow Creek Community Church has confirmed another allegation of sexual harassment—this one against former senior pastor Bill Hybels’ mentor, Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian or “Dr. B.,” according to Christianity Today.
In a Facebook post shared over the weekend, a church member accused Dr. B. of kissing, fondling, and pressuring her with sex between 1984 and 1988. The Willow Creek Elder Board confirmed the allegations in a post online on Tuesday night.
“Over the past years, behavior has been brought to light that is both harmful and unacceptable for a Christ-follower,” said the statement. “This sinful behavior that we believe was demonstrated by Dr. Bilezikian and Bill Hybels was wrong, and we hold any person entrusted with leading at Willow Creek Community Church to a higher standard.
“The team believed the woman’s claim that Dr. Bilezikian engaged in inappropriate behavior dating back to the mid-eighties, including but not limited to hand-holding, hugs, kissing, inappropriate touching, and sending overly personal communication.”
Though Bilezikian was never on staff at the church, he was influential in its inception. “There would be no Willow Creek without Gilbert Bilezikian,” Hybels said in an interview with Christianity Today in 2000.
Hybels reportedly drove to Bilezikian’s house while a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and told the professor: “Dr. B., you and I are going to start a church.”
Bilezikian was also instrumental in the inclusion of women in leadership at Willow Creek.
The church member who made her story public alleged that Bilezikian “pursued an inappropriate relationship” with her. She claimed that “he felt he could help the church thrive because I made him happy” and that he would complain about his marriage to her.
“I was young in my faith, new to church, and hungry for someone to invest spiritually in me. He made me feel special, and he was a spiritual authority in a large church, and I did not feel like I could say no to him, even when my gut was telling me this was not appropriate,” she said.
In 2010, she met privately with the church’s leadership to discuss the abuse when she “felt strong enough to begin to confront the spiritual abuse I’d experienced so early in my faith.” But she felt that her conversations yielded little results and that she was potentially “sidelined from leadership.”
Despite her concerns, Dr. B. continued to teach and serve at Willow Creek.
“This was wrong, and we are sorry,” the statement from the Elders said.
In an email, Bilezikian defended himself, claiming that the church’s leadership never approached him before making the announcement public.
“I look for some evidence of professional integrity if not of Christian obligation, and I find nothing else here but a recital of accusations that were delivered to the whole church staff behind my back, without my knowledge and without my having been consulted about their accuracy,” he said. “Need I bring up references in the Bible for prescriptions about conflict resolution and for the correction of offending brothers, especially veteran servants in our midst?”
He finished the email asking the church to thoroughly investigate the charges made against him.
Photo courtesy: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine. She blogs at mikaelamathews.com.