Steve Carter, one of the pastors of Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago, just broke his silence about the sexual abuse allegations against the church’s founder Bill Hybels that eventually led to the resignations of multiple pastors and the church’s leadership team.
He spoke with Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service:
Carter, 38, had become physically ill that Sunday, Aug. 5, after reading an article published that morning in The New York Times about the church’s founding pastor, Bill Hybels. The newspaper reported allegations from Hybels’ former assistant Pat Baranowski, who said that Hybels had fondled her breasts, rubbed against her and once engaged her in oral sex.
For months, the evangelical Christian megachurch in the Chicago suburbs had been rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct against Hybels. Reading Baranowski’s story was “a breaking point,” Carter said.
“I felt like my body was shutting down,” Carter told Religion News Service.
While church leaders scrambled to respond to the Times report, Carter walked out the door, went home and began typing out his resignation. As soon as services ended, he announced his departure on his blog.
It’s refreshing, for once, to see a pastor respond with compassion for the victim instead of calling her a liar, which is par for the course these days.
But his response wasn’t perfect. When other allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced against Hybels, he denied it on stage in front of the congregation. Carter was right there at his side, lending support to the pastor whose known victim list wasn’t complete at the time.
In his first interview since leaving Willow Creek, Carter spoke with RNS about his decision to quit, his feelings about its founding pastor and the questions he still has for the church.
He’s also written a book about why he left Willow Creek, called “Everything to Lose: Doing the Right Thing When the Stakes Are High,” which will be released in November. The book, from publisher David C. Cook, replaces one Carter was planning before his departure, focusing on his leadership role at the church.
Leaving Willow Creek meant giving up a prestigious role at one of the most influential churches in the country.
Carter didn’t commit any of the abuses, but he played a role in minimizing the allegations until it was all but impossible to ignore them. He said in August that he resigned in part because there were disagreements between him and church leadership over how to handle the investigations into Hybels. He stayed on as a courtesy at the elders’ request… but walked out after another bombshell story against Hybels came out.
We don’t know what he said to the church’s elders privately. What he did publicly before resigning, however, wasn’t heroic in any way. You have to wonder how short his forthcoming book will be if it’s all about “doing the right thing when the stakes are high.” What insight could he possibly have when it took months between the first allegations going public and him finally walking out? He may have personally apologized to the victims, but the problem goes well beyond one bad actor.
What’s he going to do about the treatment of women in the evangelical world? About the harmful “purity” myths that permeates those churches? About the mindset that convinces many male church leaders that they can treat women as sexual objects? About the lack of oversight by church leaders when these stories go public?
It’s not that the onus is on him to solve all these problems, but he certainly has a valuable vantage point from which to speak. The question is whether he’ll use his voice to help women within the church or use it to clean the mud off himself so that people treat him as a hero.
(Screenshot via YouTube)