Willow Creek Community Church elders on Wednesday issued an apology to women in their congregation who came forward with allegations of misconduct by the suburban megachurch’s founding pastor Bill Hybels.
“We have talked with several of them and are deeply saddened by the experiences they are sharing with us. We do believe we owe these women some apologies,” the elders wrote.
“We do not believe the stories were all lies or that all the people were colluding against him . . . Based on the conversations we have had to date, we believe at least some of Bill’s choices were inappropriate.”
Hybels, 66, abruptly announced his early retirement from Willow Creek in April, denying any wrongdoing but saying the distraction of the claims was “hindering our elders and church staff.
“I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable,” Hybels said in his April 10 announcement. The church later said it would review their investigation.
Allegations of the pastor’s impropriety date back to the 1990s and came to light in a March investigation in the Chicago Tribune. They include “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms,” as well as “an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true.”
Six more women came forward with similar allegations in a Christianity Today report published on April 21.
Willow Creek, now based in South Barrington, has grown to eight Chicago-area locations and is one of the largest evangelical churches in the country. Leaders say it draws 25,000 attendees each week at its locations in Chicago, Glenview, South Barrington, Crystal Lake, Huntley, Lincolnshire and Wheaton.
The church said it would continue to provide updates as it reviews “what additional safeguards could be implemented in the future.”
Here’s the text of the full letter sent to Willow Creek congregants on Wednesday:
An update from the Elders on May 9, 2018
As a Board, we have been working and praying hard over the past few weeks. We promised frequent updates on our progress and, in that spirit, I come to you now.
Since the posting of our letter to the Willow family, we continue to listen and process.
Our top priority has been reaching out to the women who have made allegations against Bill. We have talked with several of them and are deeply saddened by the experiences they are sharing with us. We do believe we owe these women some apologies.
The tone of our first response had too much emphasis on defending Bill and cast some of the women in an unfair and negative light. We are sorry. Initially, it was stated that the stories were all lies and the individuals involved were colluding against Bill. We apologize for those sweeping statements. We do not believe the stories were all lies or that all the people were colluding against him. It takes courage for a woman to step forward and share her story, and we are doing everything we can to listen respectfully.
Based on the conversations we have had to date, we believe at least some of Bill’s choices were inappropriate. We are grieved that this situation is difficult for so many people. On behalf of the Elders, both past and present, we now see that while we have many policies in place, they did not prevent the situation we are now in. We regret that, and we are looking into what additional safeguards could be implemented in the future.
We still have work to do and we are committed to keeping you updated. We plan to provide an update every other Wednesday through the end of this 45-day period.
There continue to be online stories that reflect our processes inaccurately. We know that leaves many of you wondering why we are not responding, but we are convinced that this will not be resolved by going back and forth in a public way. This Board has made every effort to function with integrity and to address the information we have. We will continue seeking to have personal conversations, in a spirit of humility and listening, to speak directly with those who have raised concerns.
We will continue to humbly extend apologies and accept ownership where appropriate, both privately and publicly. We will continue to take steps toward understanding and toward restoring relationships. We will also continue to walk alongside Bill pastorally, and we will work closely with the WCA board to take appropriate next steps with him.
We know we need outside expertise to help, and we have already consulted with several outside experts who are guiding us with next steps. We are working on reviewing our policies and guidelines as well. Specifically, we are looking at ways we can improve our guidelines for how men and women work together, our email retention policy, and our policy on how someone can raise a concern about senior leaders.
In closing, please allow me to say a few personal words. My term as the chair of the Elder Board is up this month, and I will be passing the baton to Lane Moyer. Lane has been a part of Willow since 1988 and is beginning his 3rd year as an Elder. I will leave the seat with a heart that is broken over the grief this season has brought to so many.
Please join me in continuing to pray for everyone involved in this situation and to pray for our church. We are trusting God to redeem this situation in a way that only He can do, and we are continuing to see God work every day. We are as committed as ever to this church and to what God is doing through all of you here and around the world.