It was just a couple of weeks ago when we learned that the founder of the influential Willow Creek Community Church, Bill Hybels, was accused by multiple women of “inappropriate behavior” over the course of several decades.
The allegations were made by women he worked with, and they included a history of “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms.” In addition, one woman claimed to have an affair with him… but when a church leader told her to share that story with people investigating these claims, she retracted everything.
Hybels has denied everything, even claiming former colleagues of his were conspiring against him (for some reason). A day after the Chicago Tribune story broke, he answered questions at the church in a moderated setting, vowed to fight back against the charges, and received a standing ovation from the congregation.
It’s not exactly the visual you want when your pastor is accused of harassment. (It’s also not the first time a congregation has stood up in defense of a pastor whose alleged actions were disturbing.)
Hybels was the senior pastor of the church and he had already planned to retire later this year.
That timetable has changed. Instead, during a “family meeting” with about 1,000 members of the South Barrington (IL) church last night, he announced his resignation effective immediately.
Many in the wider Christian community have been confused by those allegations, he said, and the controversy has distracted his church’s leaders from their mission and has hurt the church’s ministries.
“They can’t flourish to their fullest potential when the valuable time of our leaders is divided,” he said.
That’s a nice way of saying he still denies everything, but he wants the spotlight off of him.
At least one church leader focused on what he wasn’t saying:
[Betty] Schmidt, the longtime elder at Willow Creek who has criticized how the church has handled allegations against Hybels, said that she was saddened but not surprised by tonight’s event.
She was disappointed that Hybels made no specific mention of people he has hurt or specific things he did wrong.
It was all too general, she said. There was no contrition by Hybels, no confession, and no asking for forgiveness from those he harmed.
“I don’t think that was much of an apology,” she said. “An apology with no contrition is no apology at all.”
What his departure means for the investigation of claims against him is now uncertain. It didn’t help that the church tried handling it internally, to the dissatisfaction of some former colleagues, and even when outside help was brought in, many of the potentially damning emails were missing.
What’s also remains to be seen is how the church will honor Hybels moving forward. Any celebration on his behalf at this point would be a slap in the face to the alleged victims. Will the church leaders care? The Tribune notes only that “leaders would be working on a way to appropriately honor the Hybels family.”
(Screenshot via YouTube)