Ann Lindberg went public with her story of abuse by Willow Creek Community Church co-founder, Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, less than a week ago. And since then, there’s been a firestorm of controversy surrounding her allegations and how the church handled them. This week on the The Roys Report, Ann shares vulnerably with Julie Roys about her harrowing story, which began 35 years ago.
She talks about how Willow Creek’s failure to protect her and to restrict Bilezikian after she reported the abuse severely damaged both her emotional and physical health. And she responds to questions about how she could have stayed in a relationship for years with an abuser, sharing openly about the deficits from her childhood that made her vulnerable to abuse.
Note from Julie: In the podcast, I refer at one point to Bilezikian’s relationship with Ann Lindberg as an “emotional affair.” I realize now that was a bad choice of words because “affair” suggests a relationship between two consenting adults and misses the power differential present between a pastor and a parishioner. I’m really sorry about that and hope it doesn’t add to the shame any victim who hears this podcast feels. As Ann expressed, I also pray that this interview brings healing and understanding to other victims.
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
JULIE ROYS: Why would someone sexually abused by a spiritual authority stay quiet and why would a person ever stay in a relationship with someone who’s abusing her? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And today’s podcast is brought to you in part by Judson University, a university shaping lives that shape the world. Well, today I’m going to be discussing a very sensitive subject. Yet sadly, a subject that recently has grabbed headlines and that is sexual abuse in the church. But more specifically, we’re going to be discussing the abuse that my guest today says she endured by Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, a co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church. He’s also a professor of New Testament emeritus at Wheaton College, where he taught for 20 years. In fact, when I was a student at Wheaton College, I actually had Dr. Bilezikian he can for a class he was also known as Dr. B. That was back in the mid 80s, also when my guest today got to know Dr. B. And I remember back then he had a reputation for being a flirt. Everyone knew it. In fact, I reached out to my sister who also was a student. And she texts me back and she said she remembers Dr. B. She remembers the saying that if you wanted in a you sit in the front row, and you wear a short skirt. Friends, this was at Wheaton College. This was at the evangelical flagship school as a lot of people call it. But what everyone said was, “Oh, he’s French.” And somehow that excused his behavior. And I’ll be honest, I was super naive back then. I never would have thought that a spiritual authority a professor, a leader in the church could ever prey on unsuspecting students or members of a congregation. That thought just would not have entered my mind. If that’s what my guest today says Dr. B did to her. Her name is Anne Lindberg. And just a few days ago, Ann posted her story of abuse on Facebook, which started 35 years ago and she reported to the church 10 years ago. Up until this week, there’s been no public admission of any wrongdoing. Dr. B has continued to mentor and teach at Willow Creek. He was honored at the church’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2015 as the Living Legend of Willow Creek. Until 2008 teen the cafe at Willow Creek was actually named Dr. B’s but wow have things changed in a very short period of time. Just two days after Ann posted her account on Facebook. And then I and another blogger, Julie Ann, we re-posted to our blogs. Acting senior pastor Steve Gillen sent an email to staff at Willow Creek. In it he said that the church believes Dr. be engaged in, “inappropriate behavior.” And the harm that he has caused, “was inexcusable.” The next day Willow Creek elders published a statement which, was sent to congregants. It stated that the church is heartbroken over the abuse of a congregant by a church co founder Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian. The elders said that the victim came to them told them about it 10 years ago, and they believed her. The abuse included but was not limited to, “hugs kissing, inappropriate touching and sending overly personal communication.” At that time, the church said it restricted busy came from serving but “the restriction was not adequately communicated, resulting in Dr. Bilezikian serving and teaching in various capacities over the years.” Wow. So and welcome and thank you so much for coming in. You must be exhausted after this week.
ANN LINDBERG: Thank you, Julie. This isn’t a position I ever thought that I would find myself in. And I had to think about it a long time and I didn’t realize how much the secrets weighed on my conscience and on my health. And the only reason I decided to come forward was for the sake of other people, because I was fairly sure that I wasn’t alone. And in that fact, I wish I’d spoken earlier. But I’m here for the people who haven’t had therapy since 1987. And I’m here for those who are still hurting, and still broken and still afraid and afraid to tell anyone. And so I want there to be something out of what I’ve gone through and just stand in front for those people.
JULIE ROYS: We started talking and corresponding months ago.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: And I know your story again, goes back years but could you have even imagined I mean, when you posted on Facebook and I didn’t even know you were going to do it, I saw it go up and then you sent me a private message and alerted me. But I didn’t know you’re going to do it. You You did that. mean one that took some guts. What made you do it now to go public? And what did you think was going to happen?
ANN LINDBERG: Well, I really thought about it back in 2018 when I met with Manya Brachear of the Tribune, but I just wasn’t ready then. I hadn’t gone through all of my journals.
JULIE ROYS: And Manya, by the way, was the reporter who first broke the stories of the women who said they had been abused by Bill Hybels.
ANN LINDBERG: Correct.
JULIE ROYS: Former senior pastor at Willow Creek.
ANN LINDBERG: Correct. Yes. And she left the Tribune before I was able to get all my information together. So I sat with that for a while. And it took me a year of going through 35 years of journals and emails and finding postcards and things like that, to write it. And it was a brutal year writing it. But my health is so much better than it’s been in years. So what finally made me I had been waiting for a go from God. And I didn’t know what it would look like or sound like. But I was listening to a sermon, and the person was talking about when it’s time to express your anger and not. And there was a line in there. And he said, “Sometimes it’s time for the whip.” And he talked about Jesus clearing out the money changers. And . . . I don’t hear God’s voice. But I heard “Go.” And so I thought, “Now? Now it’s time to go?” And so that was about two or three weeks ago. And so that’s when I started trying to reduce 57 pages to an article that people would actually read.
JULIE ROYS: You said 57 pages that ended up being 3000 words. Which again, I posted to my blog, Julie Anne with The Spiritual Sounding Board, she posted to her blog. The word of it spread so fast. And and then Willow Creek responded. But for all these years, my goodness, no one was responding.
ANN LINDBERG: No.
JULIE ROYS: And I know for you that took a toll on your health, right?
ANN LINDBERG: Oh, it was horrible. Everything from breast cancer to a stroke to a nodule in my lung to vocal cords disorder, damaged nerve endings. And my doctors told me it’s all from the stress. And in fact, one of my doctors said that every time I go to Willow, it’s like, ingesting poison and being re-traumatized. And I know that every week I shake every week that I go. But I’ve gone because I loved Willow, and I didn’t want to give up on the people of Willow.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. So you’re still going to Willow Creek?
ANN LINDBERG: Yes. I don’t know, though that they’ll let me in.
JULIE ROYS: Well, you have heard some communication, Jeff Mason an elder, did reach out to you.
ANN LINDBERG: Well, yes. But . . .
JULIE ROYS: And this was, which night was this? This was Tuesday night, he reached out, right?
ANN LINDBERG: Tuesday night, yes.
JULIE ROYS: Where they published their statement.
ANN LINDBERG: And it was, he asked me a couple quick questions. I refused to do it except on a recorded phone call. So I called him back. But then he was ready to get off the phone. And I said, I have a couple questions for you. And so I wanted to know if it was finally, if Steve’s response meant and his calling me meant that the victims who have already come forward about Bill Hybels would finally have their chance to speak at Willow.
JULIE ROYS: You meant Jeff, not Steve.
ANN LINDBERG: I’m sorry, Jeff. Yes, Jeff. And if Steve would finally have his day in and just speak.
JULIE ROYS: And when you say, Steve, you mean . . .
ANN LINDBERG: Steve Carter.
JULIE ROYS: Steve Carter. Yes, former pastor who resigned in 2018 over the way that Willow Creek handled the women the victims of Bill Hybels.
ANN LINDBERG: Correct.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. So you confronted him for that.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes. And the elder told me that they were thinking about that and considering that and can I say what happened after that?
JULIE ROYS: Sure,
ANN LINDBERG: Okay. Well, I texted Steve Carter to say, “Guess what? They said they’re considering letting you speak.” And he responded back saying that actually he had talked with the gentleman that morning and they had told him, “Absolutely not.” So I just felt disheartened to get in another phone call with being told something that apparently wasn’t true again.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. And Steve’s wife Sarah has tweeted. I saved the tweet where she said they have spent $20,000 in legal fees trying to disentangle themselves from the church without signing an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement, which a lot of employees at Willow have done just to get the severance because it’s the only way they can, supposedly, I mean, this is the story that they’re telling. But good for you for asking for that, at least. During that conversation, any apology?
ANN LINDBERG: Well, he said, “On behalf Half of the elder board, we’re sorry for what happened to you.” That was pretty much it. No, not really an apology. Certainly not an “I’m sorry.” One of those vague apologies that Willow likes to do.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. So why did he call exactly?
ANN LINDBERG: I’m not completely sir I’ve maybe to feel out where I was on it or do damage control or hope I’d say everything’s fine or something like that. He got off [not transcribed.] But when I told him I was recorded line he got off as fast as he could.
JULIE ROYS: Sure. By the way, I’ve reached out to Jeff Mason, the elder board, Steve Gillen, the acting senior pastor at Willow Creek. I’ve reached out to everybody that you named in your story. Some of them have responded. If you want to read an story. I did post it JulieRoys.com. You can read the entire account. You can also read the stories as they’ve been breaking and the responses. I also reached out to Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian. At first he said that he would meet with me and interview with me along with his wife. And then after the account came out that Willow Creek was saying they believed you, then he said he didn’t want to meet anymore. And he retracted that, although he said he was postponing, I think till end of February. But we’ll see. And the offer’s still open. I would be happy to talk to him. But what I’d like you to do is take us back. I know,
ANN LINDBERG: Please.
JULIE ROYS: I don’t want to say everything. Obviously, we can’t recount everything that’s happened in 35 years. But help people understand. Because I’ve talked to a lot of abuse victims. And especially when they’re victimized by a spiritual authority. How did you get drawn into this with Dr. B? How did it start and what was it in you that drew you to him?
ANN LINDBERG: I’d already been through a tremendous amount of abuse from early childhood on. And then on top of that, I had an engagement breakup. And we were, I was attending a very small church with only a couple of hundred people. And the way I found out that he was breaking up with me was when his girlfriend told me that they were getting married. So I decided the church was a little too small for the three of us. And I’d been getting invitations to Willow for about four years. But consistently, what they would say was, “It’s really fun and there’s lots of cute guys.” And I thought those were terrible reasons for attending a church. So I didn’t take them up. But I finally decided to try it. And I thought, “God, I’m really serious about getting to know You. So I’m going to sit way up front where I can’t see the cute guys, I won’t get distracted, and where I can concentrate on You.” And so that’s how I picked fifth row, aisle, close to center as I could get because Lakeside [auditorium at Willow] didn’t really have a center aisle. And I sat there consistently. And starting late October. Dr. B preached a lot of the mid-weeks. And I think it was the very first week if not the very first, the second one then, that I saw his eyes fixed on me. And I thought, “That’s bizarre.” Because I was under the, I didn’t understand that you could see past the floodlights. And so I thought, “I can’t imagine why anybody would be watching me, so must be somebody behind me.” Or anything else. But week after week, this kept happening. So I didn’t do anything for over a year. I just sat there, tried to concentrate on God. And finally in December of ’85, so now more than a year later, I’d seen somebody off and on who was all into, speaking in tongues. And so I decided to stand after one of the services and ask Dr. B if he had anything written about speaking in tongues. And I also thought it would answer my question about whether he’d been watching me for over a year. So after the service, I stood in the back of this very long line that reached past the end of Lakeside and into the auditorium. So lots of people. And I’d been standing there maybe five or ten minutes when I saw him lean around the line and look all the way to the back and saw me and he left the front of the line, and came all the way back towards me. And I had no idea what why he was coming. I was afraid I was in trouble. And he grabbed both of my hands, kiss me on both cheeks, and said, “I have been wanting to meet you for so long.” And he said, “Will you please have a seat and wait for me?” And I just sat there in bewilderment. I had no idea what this was about. I could not think of a single reason why the Legend of Willow Creek would be watching me for over a year.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm, the Legend of Willow Creek because here he was, one of the co-founders.
ANN LINDBERG: Right
JULIE ROYS: I know there’s quite the story of him mentoring Bill Hybels.
ANN LINDBERG: Correct.
JULIE ROYS: And the church getting started. So he then talks to you after this service.
ANN LINDBERG: Correct.
JULIE ROYS: And shows you a great deal of attention. I know when you told me this story earlier you said, “Wow, people here at Willow Creek are so friendly.” I mean, at first you were kind of taken, like just that he had a very pure interest in you.
ANN LINDBERG: Exactly. I thought, “Wow. Somebody actually sees me wants to mentor me.” And I thought that was just really cool. I hadn’t had that.
JULIE ROYS: And something you said to me. “He was about the age . . .
ANN LINDBERG: of my father. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Father, why is that significant?
ANN LINDBERG: That might make me cry. Loved my father. I think my father loved me as best as he could. But I don’t think he ever said he was proud of me. He said he loved me after I had a stroke and he was afraid I was gonna die. But other than that, not a whole lot of attention or affirmation from my father. And so Dr. B, being only one or two years younger than my father and him seeming to want to have a relationship with me or be interested in me or think I was interesting or anything like that felt like getting a father’s attention. And that that struck me deeply.
JULIE ROYS: You had this hole.
ANN LINDBERG: Oh my gosh yes.
JULIE ROYS: And any hooked that hole. And I’ve found this with so many abusers or predators that they seem to sense. They have like a sixth sense for what that weakness is. And they know how to hook.
ANN LINDBERG: Yeah,
JULIE ROYS: And you know, I’ve been in co-dependent relationships before. Happened to me once actually. And it was enough. It was devastating. And learned a lot about myself and that whole process. But when you’re in it, you don’t realize what’s going on.
ANN LINDBERG: No, no, I was clueless.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. And you had no awareness that that might be a weakness. And yet, he kind of, describe what happened from there and how you got into, you know, and allowed the abuse.
ANN LINDBERG: Yeah,
JULIE ROYS: I shouldn’t say allowed because I know every time you objected.
ANN LINDBERG: Every time I try to talk them into
JULIE ROYS: Yeah, and forgive me for saying that because I know that’s true.
ANN LINDBERG: Thank you.
JULIE ROYS: But I mean, how you stayed in the relationship, despite the abuse would probably be the way to say it.
ANN LINDBERG: Right. Well, when I finally got to talk to him that day, I told him that I was looking for some information on speaking in tongues. And he said, “No problem. I just wrote something.” He said, “Why don’t you stop by my office and pick it up?” And again, I thought, “My gosh, this church takes such a personal interest in people. I get to go to Dr. B’s office and pick up this literature.’ And I thought maybe learn more about God. I was kind of stunned. And so that afternoon in December, I went up to his office. It was a third floor office, and all kind of all by itself. And it was quite a meeting. He was already talking with three young college men. And so I had some time to look around his office. And it was a fascinating office, lots of books, lots of philodendron plants draped everywhere. But then my attention was caught by a banner that he had across most of his desk. It was about four inches high. And it said, “Better to burn than marry,”
JULIE ROYS: which is the flip
ANN LINDBERG: Correct.
JULIE ROYS: of the verse.
ANN LINDBERG: I knew there was the verse about being better to marry than burn. And I thought, “Why would he have this banner on his desk and that would hurt his wife’s feelings?” And, “What is that about? And he’s a professor.” And I just, I couldn’t imagine why. So that was top of my list of things to talk about. So, when the the young gentlemen left the office, Dr. B invited me to have a seat. You did ask me if you locked the door. And you know, I don’t know if he did. I wasn’t thinking to pay attention to that, or I’d have probably run.
JULIE ROYS: Right, because you were unsuspecting.
ANN LINDBERG: Right. So we spent about five minutes talking about speaking in tongues, and he gave me the literature. And then I said, “Before we talk about anything else I need to ask you about this banner.” And I said, “Can you tell me why this is on your desk?” And that was all he needed. So I got to hear about his life from birth on basically. I got to hear that at four his mother died and you’d never known the love of a woman, never been hugged and told he loved him. And that his father was a cold, loveless man who never told him he loved him. And then I hate talking about Maria. I mean, I had guess I have to say that part too. He said that he had never loved her, that it was a marriage of convenience, that they both wanted to be youth pastors and they were under the under the impression that they had to be married to the youth pastors. And so he said it was more like a business arrangement. And that hurt to just hear that. I hurt for her. And then he said, once she started having children, Maria decided she did not want to be a youth pastor, according to him. And he said he discovered that Maria was a cold, bitter, heartless person, who didn’t even love their children and that he wished he hadn’t married her. And then he went on to say all kinds of things about me that he was, he could see me what this wonderful, empathetic, deep hearted person I was and how he needed somebody like me around to continue doing ministry–it’s draining as it was and all that. And I’m not sure if you talk for an hour, two hours, I just know it was getting dark by the end of the conversation. And so he basically told me he needed me. And this was at a time in my life where I wasn’t sure what God wanted to do with my life. So that was extremely confusing. And so I had enough to wrestle with right then. But when it was, you know, getting dark and it was time to go. We left his office. Well, we walked outside the door and he turned and closed it. And I was on the left side of him–the left side of the hallway, or of the stairs. And without warning, after he locked the door, he turned around and shoved me with both hands against the wall and stuck his tongue down my throat, which is really quite appalling. And then while I was still trying to push him away from me, he grabbed one of my breasts. And I was finally able to push him away. And he started skipping down the steps. I have never seen a 50 something year old man skip. But he was skipping. And he was laughing. And he sounded like a teenager or a child. And he got to the bottom of the steps, and he said, “You make me so happy. You make me feel like I’m a teenager.” And I mean, I was thinking, “What the heck just happened?” And I don’t remember the rest of that day. I kind of went into shock.
JULIE ROYS: I bet. So yeah, your emotional state, I can only imagine after something like that. How did you process that?
ANN LINDBERG: I didn’t have anybody to process it with. I, he had already made it clear I was important to his keeping Willow going. So I loved Willow. So I didn’t want to say anything that might harm Willow. I couldn’t tell my parents, because everything was my fault, according to them, you know. And I didn’t have any friends that I felt safe. I mean, he told me I needed to keep a secret. So I didn’t. It just weighed on me and I didn’t even realize how heavy that weight was.
JULIE ROYS: Wow. And he also really spoke to that need to feel important,
ANN LINDBERG: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: . . . to feel needed, to all of those things. So then what happened from there? And it continued.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: Not specifically like that but . . .
ANN LINDBERG: No, I never let him grab my breast again. And I never went to his office again. And there was never a time when he managed to suddenly attack me and give me a kiss that I didn’t have him away. And I never voluntarily gave him one for sure. In fact, my sole aim was to try to get him to get help, which he absolutely refused time after time after time.
JULIE ROYS: But you would have sort of an agreement. I don’t know if it was spoken or not.
ANN LINDBERG: It was spoken.
JULIE ROYS: It was spoken. Okay. Where you would, whenever he preached, you would sit in your normal location. But you would wait for him afterwards because a lot of people would want to talk to him.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes. And he would ask me to wait. I don’t remember how you initially asked me. But every time he spoke, he would ask me to wait for him. And I did. I still wasn’t sure what to do with the whole, “he needed me and Willow needed me,” and all that kind of stuff.
JULIE ROYS: And that went on. So afterwards you wouldn’t you go to the car and talk afterwards.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes. And we’d wait until pretty much everybody was gone. There were a couple of hanger-on-ers that seemed to want to talk to him, but he didn’t talk to them. So I never have figured that one out. But we’d talk in the church for a while until they basically were vacuuming or something. And then we’d go sit in one of the cars. We didn’t make out in the cars. That wasn’t gonna happen. I did have a door I could get out of. But we would talk for a long time and sometimes we talked about God, which that was the part I liked. And then other times we would just talk about us his life.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. Did he ever physically assault You again?
ANN LINDBERG: Wait it depends upon if you call grabbing somebody and kissing them when you didn’t want it, “assaulting.”
JULIE ROYS: That would be abuse.
ANN LINDBERG: I never allowed them to grab any other parts. There were times that we took walks where we held hands or put arms around each other’s waist. And the only reason I agreed to that was it kept his hands tied up. It meant he couldn’t surprise me.
JULIE ROYS: It eventually broke off.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: And that’s when you started dating your husband?
ANN LINDBERG: Well, I think I’d been seeing him less towards the end of 1987. I know that I saw him on October 31 in 1987. I have in my notes. But yes, my mother had picked out a husband for me. And I was the obedient child. And so this person was willing. I sort of gave in. And then said, this was around Christmas time, and he had Christmas at our house. And I agreed to marry him. And meanwhile, my mother came, was told that she had stage four cancer. And they gave her two weeks to live. And so she asked me to please get married before she died.
JULIE ROYS: So you got married. The relationship with Dr. B
ANN LINDBERG: Changed.
JULIE ROYS: It changed.
ANN LINDBERG: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Okay. How did it change?
ANN LINDBERG: Well, he no longer, I think he’s only, well, that’s my only guess. I can’t prove it unless I talk to other people. I think he only likes single women. So you know, maybe it’s just the thought that somebody else is having relationships that makes him uninterested. I don’t know.
JULIE ROYS: You must have been in a lot of conflict during the, what was it? About two and a half years?
ANN LINDBERG: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: . . . that this was going on, even though you’re trying not to allow him physically to touch you. Yet, there’s an emotional affair going on. And you’ve got to feel bad, as a believer. You know, this is wrong. How did you, explain what was going on inside.
ANN LINDBERG: You know, I was still, even though I grew up in the church, my church really didn’t teach the Bible. They just taught little passages. And so in a lot of ways, I was still a baby believer and still trying to figure it out. And, you know, my parents had told me that I was an accident, not an accident at birth but not the child they wanted, and that I shouldn’t exist. And so, I mean, I hate saying that to my brothers, if you’re listening.
JULIE ROYS: You had a sister who . . .
ANN LINDBERG: . . . who died. A year ahead of me. Yes.
JULIE ROYS: So there was trauma in your family.
ANN LINDBERG: And so I was the replacement child, on top of that. So I wasn’t, given that my mother said I was breathing somebody else’s air, that shouldn’t be there. I wasn’t sure if I had a purpose. And so I was trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life. I really didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know if I had gifts. I didn’t know if I had anything to offer the world. And meanwhile this person is telling me that he needs me for Willow to continue, that if I stopped seeing him, Willow will fall apart. And that I was the only person in the world that understood him. Everyone else had an agenda. They wanted to get close to a famous person. So I kept asking God, “Is this what you want me to do is to just keep begging Him for help?” And I wasn’t mature enough to know that, “No,” God would have said no to that. So that was a lot of it was I kept saying, and he asked me to call him Gil, I would say, “Gil, please get into marriage counseling.” And he would say, “It’s too late for me.” And he’d say, “And besides, I can’t divorce her since she hasn’t cheated on me. And I’d never be allowed to preach again, if I divorced her.” And I’d say, “Please get into a men’s group.” And he’d say, “I don’t like men.” And I’d say, “Please talk to Bill.” And he said, “Bill Hybels would never understand.” That part I’ve wondered about since then. So there are all these reasons I knew. But tell me how depressed he was. And that I was the only cheerful spot in his life and just on and on and on, to where I felt like I was in a cage and couldn’t get out.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. So you got married, your first marriage ended in divorce.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: I know there’s a episode in between where as you were getting the divorce that you say he reached out to you.
ANN LINDBERG: My divorce was final–I’d been separated for a year and a half–my divorce was final January 18, 1998. And he called me on New Year’s Day to tell me that I was this hero for going through a divorce from a very abusive marriage and parenting myself, that he had the greatest of admiration for single mothers. And then 10 days after my divorce was final. I got a postcard from him from I forget which country. And so I guess I was single again. But I didn’t ever allow him to touch me. Except for the one time in 2004 where he kissed me on the cheek.
JULIE ROYS: So, then there’s a lot of years in between. You marry your current husband, Mark.
ANN LINDBERG: The love of my life.
JULIE ROYS: And you begin getting counseling, getting healthier. 2010 . . .
ANN LINDBERG: . . . was brutal.
JULIE ROYS: That’s when you said, “I’m going to tell the church.” Tell me about that.
ANN LINDBERG: I spent 20 years before I told my first therapist. And then the second therapist, I told. And she just went off the rails, she was so upset about it all. And so I started taking it more seriously and talking about it. So in 2010, I finally had the courage and I called and I asked Bill’s assistant, if I could talk to Bill. And she said, “No.” And I said, “This is a really important subject. Can I please talk to him? I want to keep it private.” And she said, “No.” And I actually liked this person. She was just following protocol. And then I asked if I might speak to an elder and she said, “No.” And I said, “Look, this is about Dr. B. And I really wanted to stay private.” And she said, “No.” And so I was referred to the now infamous or famous Elder Response Team, the ERT. And so we ended up having three different meetings that year in 2010, with Scott Vaudrey and Chris Hurta. And to say they were draining is an understatement. I shook and cried through the whole thing. I felt so shameful and wicked and just bad about myself. And they acted like they weren’t hearing anything that was a big deal. And so that just made it worse. Chris not so much. Chris Hurta is a kind person. But Scott Vaudrey is devoid of any of emotion. And I didn’t really get the feeling they took me seriously. And at the end, Scott Vaudrey kind of shuffled his papers, whatever and said, “Well, you know, since this didn’t go to sex. This doesn’t need to go any farther.” And me with my, “Everything’s my fault” mentality thought that meant that that week they weren’t going to kick me out of Willow.
JULIE ROYS: You expected to get kicked out?
ANN LINDBERG: Yes. I thought they meant me. And that they’d let me stay because it didn’t go to sex. So every week,
JULIE ROYS: You must have felt so much shame.
ANN LINDBERG: It was awful. So every week for until we talked to Chris again, I would shake coming into the church. I still shake, actually. I got there because I never knew, “Would this be the week they would kick me out?” “Would this be the week that they told me I was a terrible, horrible person and get rid of me?” So it definitely started affecting my health badly. In 2010, I spent a lot of the year in bed with many doctors. In 2011, I had breast cancer. And at that meeting, yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Did they communicate to you that there will be a restriction put on Dr. B?
ANN LINDBERG: Yes. My husband helped with this asking and we wanted to know, I wanted to make sure Bill Hybels heard about this. And I wanted to know what his response was. And I wanted to make sure the Elders were told. They never really did answer me about the Elders. But I was told that Bill Hybels said that Dr. B would never speak on a Willow Creek stage again. Now they, I didn’t realize that that was such strategic wording until the last few years.
JULIE ROYS: Okay, so fast forward. There’s an incident where you get an email from the head of the marriage ministry, saying that Dr. B is mentoring.
ANN LINDBERG: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: Is mentoring volunteers and there’s an Advance conference coming up and encouraging people to go to it. This was in 2017.
ANN LINDBERG: 2017. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Explain what happened there.
ANN LINDBERG: You know, it’s not her fault. She didn’t know. She was old friends with Dr. B. And nobody had ever told her. And she was very excited about this opportunity. She told us she, I think she contacted everybody who’d ever been in the marriage ministries, and said, “What a wonderful opportunity this was that Dr. B would be doing a marriage leading seminar.” I always thought was so ironic when they were talking about him leading marriage seminars. And so I forwarded the email to Scott Vaudrey and Chris Hurta and said, “You know, you might want to be concerned about this.” And I thought the agreement was, you know, they wouldn’t do this. And the next day, Pat sent out another email saying, you know, “You still have time to sign up for this.” And he still spoke, Scott [Vaudrey] and Chris Hurta.
JULIE ROYS: And there was an email that went out encouraging people still to go to this Advance conference. Now I knowI have reached out to Scott Vaudrey. He said he misread the email. And then in 2018, after he resigned that then he went back and looked and read your email and he said he felt sick at that point and said it was the biggest mistake of his ministry life, that he didn’t respond, he didn’t do anything. How do you receive that?
ANN LINDBERG: What crosses over into slander? My experience with Scott has not been good. I’ve had him yell at me before. I’ve had him say really nasty things. I’ve never had him look at me with anything like empathy. I’ve never heard anything remotely close to “I’m so sorry for what you went through.” I think he’s a very smooth talker, a very smooth rider. And I absolutely don’t believe that.
JULIE ROYS: Did he ever reached out to you and apologize?
ANN LINDBERG: Golly, no, no, heck no.
JULIE ROYS: There also was a situation in 2015, where there was a 40th anniversary. And I have just a short clip from that anniversary. We’re going to play that and then I’d like your response to how you felt when . . .
ANN LINDBERG: Sure.
JULIE ROYS: . . . you heard this.
BILL HYBELS: [Recorded Voice] Tonight, we make our permanent contribution to this historic stadium by installing our one and only true legend from Willow Creek church. And I’d like to ask you to all stand respectfully right now. Stand respectfully.
ANNOUNCER: [Exciting music. Crowd Cheering] Standing five foot seven and weighing 170 pounds, former president of Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon. Professor at Wheaton College and Trinity University, earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Paris his graduate degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and his doctorate from Boston University. An author, a teacher, a much sought after counselor to world leaders. Put. Your. Hands. Together. For the One and Only. The Indomitable. The Living Legend of Willow Creek Community Church. Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian!
JULIE ROYS: The Living Legend of Willow Creek. They say, the church says, back in 2010, it believed your story. Restricted him from speaking. And then immortalized him in 2015. Did you go to that?
ANN LINDBERG: I did.
JULIE ROYS: Wow. What was that like?
ANN LINDBERG: I felt nauseous for one thing and a bit angry too. And then I thought, “You’re breaking what you said.” But then I paid attention. And he wasn’t “on the Willow Creek stage.” So . . .
JULIE ROYS: So technically,
ANN LINDBERG: . . .technically, he didn’t violate what Bill Hybels had said. I had never said, “Please don’t talk about the Legend of Willow Creek.” So I just, It just made me aware that Bill Hybels had not disseminated the information to other people.
JULIE ROYS: Well, I hate to draw this to a close, because I’m sure there’s so much more we could talk about. But I think the final thing I just want to know is what would you have to say to other women out there who have been abused by spiritual authorities and feel like they haven’t been taken seriously? Speak to that person.
ANN LINDBERG: Well, something I’m learning is that you don’t have to always be controlled by your trauma, and that there is life after trauma. So that’s the space I’m starting to enter. And I would give them encouragement to keep doing whatever it is that helps them keep plugged into themselves. For me, it’s been journaling. And I would say, do that. Take the next right step, whatever that is for you. That doesn’t mean go confront immediately. Just, if there’s one tiny–I really believe in tiny steps more than big steps–take that tiny step that you can withstand. And then take the next tiny step that you can withstand. And hopefully have at least a couple people around you who will support that. But the little steps that you take, that you make part of your lifestyle, become permanent. And that’s what’s really important. And that’s what I would encourage other people with is to have hope. To believe that God really does love you and that he can take you through this.
JULIE ROYS: Well Ann, I want to thank you so much for coming in. I know it’s not easy to talk about this and to relive some of the trauma that you’ve experienced. But I’m deeply grateful. So thank you.
ANN LINDBERG: Thank you. But can I just say that I would do this 100 times over if anybody gets helped through this. So, thank you for the privilege.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. Well, again, you’ve been listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And if you’d like to find me online, just go to Julie Roys.com. Thank you so much for joining me. Hope you have a great day and God bless.