A new investigation into former Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels is being opened.
According to Christianity Today, the church’s board of elders sent a letter to members saying: “Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of [Willow] is not done. With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning.”
Hybels recently announced that he was stepping down early (he’d planned on retiring in October), after the Chicago Tribune published an article detailing accusations by several women of inappropriate conduct over the course of several decades. Hybels has denied the allegations.
The church responded informing the public that they had conducted an investigation into the allegation long before the report was published and found that there was no wrongdoing. However, several former leaders at the church said the investigation was inadequate and flawed.
Now, the church has apologized for its initial response: “We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding. We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters.”
The letter this weekend also revealed that new allegations against Hybels—who led the church for nearly 40 years—have arisen.
The elders wrote: “We will examine allegations against Bill that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board. We will respectfully reach out to each woman who has made an accusation, even if she has not brought her concerns directly to the Board. We commit that each woman willing to speak with us will be heard, and that we will respect her story. We commit that making steps toward understanding and toward restoring relationship (sic) will be our primary goals.”
Several women who worked in ministry at the church claim that Hybels would make inappropriate comments to them and seek to spend time alone with them.
The former president of Zondervan publishing, Maureen “Moe” Girkins, told this to Christianity Today: “Bill indicated that if I wanted [to publish] his book, I needed to work on the terms with him personally on the way home in his private jet. I asked if my husband could join us. [Bill] said, no, he needed to find another way home.” After meeting him privately in several locations, he would then make inappropriate comments she said: “The first time he saw me dressed casually, he made a big deal of how I looked in jeans and said I needed to dress sexy more often.” She also said he repeatedly pressured her into secretive private meetings.
There were other stories as well: A woman said Hybels would constantly flirt with her at the gym and touched her inappropriately; another woman says Hybels approached her at a pastor’s convention, and invited her to his hotel room where she spent the night and he rubbed her feet (though, she says nothing sexual happened.)
From The Chicago Tribune: “The alleged behavior by Hybels detailed by the Tribune followed a similar pattern, including 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, the newspaper found.”
In a statement, the church said: “Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries.”
The new investigation will take place over the course of the next 45 days.