We’ve seen the headlines and read some news stories, but what’s really going on at Willow Creek Community Church? And why did a campus pastor just resign, saying his “heart and values” didn’t align with Willow’s current direction?
This week on The Roys Report, two people with decades of experience at the church join me. They’ll report what transpired at a “Core” meeting last Sunday where Willow Creek Crystal Lake Pastor Marcus Bieschke resigned. They also have stories suggesting that the abuse by former pastor Bill Hybels is indicative of a much bigger problem. And one has a revealing story about being threatened with legal action by the church.
Theresa has a long history with Willow Creek, attending since she was a teenager, working for the WCA, and serving at Willow Crystal Lake. Theresa is a wife and mother to 3 boys, she’s not afraid to speak her mind & tell the truth no matter the cost, she is an advocate for the underdog.
Dr. James Bedell
I have been a Christian counselor for over 40 years. I am a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the state of Illinois. I see mostly Christians and counsel from the perspective that God should be at the center of our lives and is a resource for coping with life’s struggles. I have been attending Willow Creek Community Church for over 30 years, and have been involved with teaching in the
marriage ministry, the divorce recovery ministry, the men’s ministry, and in the Faithful and True ministry. I have been a small group leader and a coach in the men’s ministry.
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
ANNOUNCER: In the midst of all of today’s noise and confusion, we need a voice that cuts through the chaos to bring wisdom and clarity. Welcome to The Roys Report with Julie Roys—an hour-long show exploring critical issues related to faith and culture from a uniquely Christian perspective. Now, here is your host, Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: About 18 months ago, Willow Creek Community Church was rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct by Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. Hybels resigned. The elder board was replaced. An investigation found that the women’s allegations against Hybels were credible, but the turmoil still continues. Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re going to go behind the headlines to explore what’s really going on at Willow Creek. If you follow the news, you know that last week Marcus Bieschke, lead pastor at Willow Creek Crystal Lake, one of Willow Creek’s eight Chicago area campuses, resigned. But when he resigned, he wrote a very telling letter to his congregation. Bieschke wrote and I quote—“Over the past 20 months, it’s become increasingly clear to me that my heart and values are not in full alignment with Willow’s current direction. I cannot pastor and lead to the best of my ability without being fully aligned in these fundamental areas. I’ve longed for and encouraged Willow to pursue a different path toward healing, but due to a difference of opinion on what that path should be, I believe I must depart.” Now many pastors leave their congregations over a difference of opinion. Even the Apostle Paul and his faithful partner in ministry, Barnabas, at one point, disagreed so strongly that they separated for a time. But what makes this separation so significant is that Bieschke represents a sizable group at Willow Creek—a group that is dissatisfied with Willow’s path to healing. And among them are the women who were victims of Bill Hybels. In July, Willow Creek held what was billed as a reconciliation service. Yet, it wasn’t clear who was reconciling with whom. None of the victims were invited to participate—women who initially had been discredited by the church. And none of the specific sins by Bill Hybels were named. Though, the elders had earlier released a statement saying that they believe the women’s allegations, but there were no apologies to the women at that service. There was no real reconciliation with anyone. Afterwards, one of the women who had exposed abuse by Hybels, Nancy Beach, a former teaching pastor wrote, “I had such hopes for how this group of new elders would steward the information—the stories we had told—and last night, that hope evaporated. I was stunned and devastated.” And so, it seems that Willow Creek is struggling to deal with the sins of its former pastor and his victims. And the church is seeking healing. But there doesn’t seem to be consensus about what that healing should look like. So today, I’ve invited two people with decades of experience at Willow Creek, and some revealing inside information, to come on this program. One of them is Jim Bedell, a licensed clinical psychologist, who’s attended Willow Creek for over 30 years and has been involved in leadership and multiple ministries and leading small groups. So, Jim, welcome. I’m so glad you could join us.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: I’m glad to be here. Thank you.
JULIE ROYS: And also joining me is Theresa Zinkil. Theresa grew up going to Willow Creek and then worked a couple years for the Willow Creek Association and then a couple years at Willow Creek Crystal Lake. Theresa actually had a really devastating experience at Willow Creek about 10 years ago, and she’ll talk about that later in the program. But just within the past 18 months, Theresa’s experienced a remarkable healing and reconciliation with Pastor Bieschke and Willow Creek Crystal Lake. And just recently she’d begun attending church again. So, Theresa, thank you so much for coming and for being willing to tell your story.
THERESA ZINKIL: Thank you for having me.
JULIE ROYS: And I should mention that I also invited Marcus Bieschke to come on the program. He declined. However, he did write me in an email. He said he, “is immensely grateful for how God worked through Jim and Theresa to help us learn and grow as pastors and as a church.” So that’s a pretty cool endorsement of the two of you. I also invited the elders at Willow Creek to join us. They declined. But that invitation is still open. And so I really do hope to get the elders on this program. I would love to talk to them and hear their perspective through what is admittedly just a very, very difficult period for Willow Creek Community Church. But what I’d like to do right now is just start our discussion talking about what happened last week. Both of you are attending Willow Creek Crystal Lake, and your pastor got up—Pastor Marcus—got up and shared with the congregation that he was leaving. There was a core meeting, as I understand it, with what? About 50 people attended that?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Maybe 70. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Okay. Which is a pretty small fraction of the total, right? I mean, how many go to the church?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: I think it’s about what, is it 2500? Something like that.
JULIE ROYS: Wow. So, it’s a really small, small group.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: It’s a very small percentage.
JULIE ROYS: But everybody was invited to this.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Okay. So, and then that’s where he announced this. So, I would like to know, and maybe Jim, you could start us off. What happened in that meeting? And what was that like?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Well, Marcus, read a statement about the fact that he had a fundamental disagreement, as you were talking about, with—very much like Paul and Barnabas—that left him in a position where he felt, in good conscience or in good faith, he could not continue with the organization. Because, I believe, at some level, he felt like that kind of reflected, staying in a situation that you just did not morally feel right about.
JULIE ROYS: And what was it that he had trouble with specifically?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: The fact that—and I would say, from the very beginning, Marcus and Dave Smith, the Executive Pastors, they were the most open and honest about the women’s stories saying that they believed them from the very beginning. And as a result of that—they started way back 20 months ago or so, acknowledging that, owning that, saying that, you know, the church had a problem needed to reconcile with the women. And so, they struggled with the fact that the bigger church did not really want to embrace the deeper healing of doing what First Timothy 5 talks about, you know, rebuking an elder publicly who has sinned. You know, that not because you’re trying to, you know, drag them through guilt and shame but because the behavior, for instance of Bill Hybels, was so egregious, that it had to publicly be called out and recognized as something that was absolutely unacceptable for a pastor. And in doing that, the elders were saying, “we will not tolerate that in the church, and we’ll do what it takes to prevent that from happening.” I think Marcus wanted to see that happen, among other things. Reconciliation, which, you know, they embraced very quickly, once they started realizing that they had been a party to some issues in the past that were unbiblical, that were not based on any attempts to reconcile or have a redemptive outcome. And so he was just troubled by the fact that his church, he could kind of push that, but in the context of the leadership of the larger body, he was, his voice really wasn’t heard.
JULIE ROYS: And I think there’s probably a lot of people listening who don’t even know, when you say, “egregious.” They know there were some allegations by some women. But what really happened? I’ve talked to a number of those women, off the record, and they’ve shared some of what’s happened. And, you know, one of them and this is public, it said when they did tell the elders their story, they were in tears, like the whole entire elder board. And so, when that reconciliation meeting came, they thought, wow, they’re really going to say what actually happened and they’re going to apologize to us because they apologized privately. But they haven’t done it from the stage where they initially said that we were not saying the truth. And so, I know that was a real disappointment. And it’s been a heartache for some. I don’t know all the reasons behind that. And, again, would love to speak to the elders about that. But Theresa, you had just started going to the church because you had had this devastating experience I alluded to. We’ll talk about that in just a bit. So, you walked into this meeting kind of cold on Sunday?
THERESA ZINKIL: Right, yeah. My husband and I and our young son had attended church. And we were actually getting ready to leave. And I ran into Jim in the lobby. And he said are you staying for the core meeting? And I’m like, I’m not really the core. So, I had no idea. And he said, “I really encourage you to stay.” And I ended up going to it. And I have to say, I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was leaving just based on the meetings that I’d had with him personally over the last 18 months. And kind of hearing his heart and this and in some of the burden that I felt like he was carrying alone. And my situation personally, he wasn’t the responsible party for what had happened. But he took responsibility when nobody else would step up and apologize. And I could really feel that from him. So, when he gave the statement that he was leaving, you know, it made me sad for the congregation because I could feel in them, this feeling like they were being almost abandoned. And I didn’t get that sense from him. I just really felt like, you know, he had been praying about this for so long. It was such a heavy weight that he had been carrying. And his family was likely affected by what he had been put through that, you know, it was time to go. And I really commend him for making that decision, especially based on the fact that he had tried many times to do what was Scripturally correct in going to the elders.
JULIE ROYS: And it’s my understanding that at that meeting, some people were not just upset that he’s leaving, but wondering, going forward, what does it mean for us? Can we even secede, I heard, was asked. So, we’re going to talk about that when we come back from break. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. Joining me today, Jim Bedell and Theresa Zinkil. We will be right back after a short break.
ANNOUNCER: Now return to The Roys Report. here’s your host, Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: We’ve seen the headlines and maybe read some news stories, but what’s really going on at Willow Creek? And what caused the campus pastor to resign last week. Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re getting a look at what’s happening at Willow Creek from the perspective of two lay people with decades of experience at the church, Jim Bedell and Theresa Zinkil. Both also have had a lot of contact with Pastor Marcus Bieschke, who resigned last week from Willow Creek Crystal Lake saying his heart and his values were not in alignment with Willow’s current direction. He added that he believed that Willow needs to pursue a different path to healing. And as we discussed in the last segment, there are a lot of people within Willow and victims of Hybels, who have already left, who say reconciliation has not occurred and the church still has not named the specific sins Hybels committed or apologized publicly to the women that he harmed. And by the way If you’d like to join this discussion, the best way to do that is to go online with our social media. To get to us on Facebook, just go to facebook.com/Reach Julie Roys. And on Twitter, our handle is @ReachJulieRoys.
So before the break, Theresa, I said that something that I’d heard is that at that meeting, there were some people who were upset, you know, I mean, here, your pastor who you love, and I know you were saying you’ve got a sort of a special connection with Pastor Marcus there at the church. He’s leaving, and supposedly because he’s at odds with Big Willow. And some people are saying, well, do we need to be a part of Big Willow? Why can’t we just be, you know, Crystal Lake church?
THERESA ZINKIL: Right, right. Yeah. In fact, you know, one gentleman even asked, “Is this an indictment of South Barrington?” You know, another person had, you know, said, “Can we just be our own church with you as our pastor? Do we have to be a part of the Greater Willow Corporation?” And you know, Marcus made it clear that was not an option. And he also was very clear to say, you know, he doesn’t want to be divisive in any way. He kept repeating that he doesn’t want to be divisive. He doesn’t, you know, want anybody to make rash decisions on leaving the church or, you know, anything along those lines. He was very humble.
JULIE ROYS: And that’s what’s always so hard with these things. It’s like anything you say, can be construed as divisive. And so, everybody’s sort of left sitting there going, “What’s really going on? What’s really happening?” Jim, you’ve been at the church a lot longer. Three decades, right? So, what’s your sense with the whole congregation about, you know, is that a commonly held feeling that you’d like to just be a separate church? Or is that just I mean, again, there are only 50 people there. How many people really feel that way?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: You know, I think part of the problem is that there’s been such a lack of communication, honest, forthright communication. So that the extent of the sinful behavior has never really been revealed so that people recognize it’s not just, you know, “Bill Hybels hit on women and it was, you know, a very innocuous kind of thing.” If they knew the details, they’d realize the depth of the sin. And therefore, they would realize how important it is for the leadership to address it, you know, in protecting the women and taking a stance before the world that Willow Creek is absolutely against this kind of behavior. So, there are not enough people that really understand the behind the scenes issues. And so for a great many people even going to Crystal Lake, you know, they just don’t have a grasp of how serious this is and how significant this is. The people that were at the core meeting I think have had more involved And understanding what goes on a little bit behind the scenes.
JULIE ROYS: So, tell me from your perspective, because this is unique. We have someone who’s a clinical psychologist who’s had so much experience in that arena. Tell me, for these women who have had these traumatizing experiences, you’re saying, you know, in the break, you were saying this is kind of a re-traumatizing thing, every time they tell their story. They went in and told that story to the elders expecting something to happen. Tell us a little bit about why this is a real problem.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Well, I mean, trauma is something that, unless you’ve experienced it, you don’t get the level of pain that it inflicts on people and how people try to protect themselves from further experiencing the pain. And so, one of the natural reflexive approaches is to shut down—not talk about it. To talk about it means you’re kind of reimagining and re-feeling, even physically re-feeling, the components of the trauma itself. And so, you know, in a therapeutic setting, you would only bring that out if it’s in the context of having some healing treatment responses. But when these women were brought to a place where they had to share their traumatic stories to people that were not clinically trained, certainly, and the only reason they risked doing that was because they believed that there was going to be a redemptive outcome. And that redemptive outcome for them would be that the elders would make this clear statement about Bill Hybels behavior, the sin of his behavior, the way in which he had inflicted so much damage on women. And when that didn’t happen, it’s like, almost—I look at it as re-traumatization. It’s unhealthy for anybody to ask a trauma victim to share their story if it’s not going to go anywhere. And if it’s just going to be re-experiencing of it without any kind of support around you, or any kind of, you know, understanding of how this can lead to some kind of healing
JULIE ROYS: Well and biblically there needs to be naming of sin right? There needs to be, and that’s it, I went to the reconciliation service. And again, I’m an outsider, I met this and there’s I’m not, and I don’t know what it’s like to be an elder. That’s another thing. I mean, they’re dealing with a lot of things. These new elders are coming in, I’m sure. They probably a lot of them feel like they’re in over their head. So, I mean, I want to give them some deference and that way, but it was just odd to me that we’re like, I’m like, “Who are we reconciling with?” I mean, what? Nothing was named. Nothing. I mean, it was just I felt a little bit like I was in the Twilight Zone. But biblically, I mean, a little bit more needs to happen here. Yes?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Oh, absolutely. I mean, yeah, that was such a bizarre look, you were like everybody else who was saying, “Who who’s reconciling with who?” You know, nobody could kind of put the finger on that. And so, it was confusing. It didn’t really address the deeper issues of sin not only in the sexual area, but it’s very clear from a lot of people’s understanding that there was abuse in the leadership of the church. There was abuse.
JULIE ROYS: Systemic.
DR. JIM BEDELL: Systemic abuse. And the abuse resulted in things like what happened to Theresa.
JULIE ROYS: Okay.
THERESA ZINKIL: Well, and just to point out. In that non-reconciliation meeting, didn’t they make a point to say, “This will be the last time we’re going to talk about right this,” which was huge, especially for the victims. Because it shut them down.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Yeah. And I had been told by one of the elders that they were reading my blogs and that they would meet with me and discuss things. And then I saw that they were having their final meeting and they never followed through on that. They did not get my perspective on you know, the whole situation. I felt just completely betrayed by that.
JULIE ROYS: Well an Scripture says, “Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.” It’s hard to say, “We’re done. This is our last statement.” Especially when the victims don’t feel that they’re done or that they’ve gotten what they want. So, I think, really, really difficult. But we have alluded to Theresa, what happened to you, and I want to tell the story because I think it is indicative of what you said that there was a bigger issue. And not just at Willow, or not just involving these victims, or these women. But there are other victims. You got a letter back in—what year was this?
THERESA ZINKIL: This was 2009.
JULIE ROYS: 2009.
THERESA ZINKIL: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: It says, I’m just going to read a little bit of this, “As you know, issues have arisen regarding your continued involvement as a volunteer as a Student Impact leader at Willow Creek McHenry County. Despite efforts by the church to engage you in constructive dialogue with you regarding these matters, you have chosen to engage and of course of conduct that is disruptive and damaging to the ministries of Willow Creek Community Church. Additionally, you are currently resisting efforts by the church to meet with you and resolve these matters in an amicable and God honoring way. You are hereby advised that you are prohibited from entering any Willow Creek property, including South Barrington buildings and surrounding property, the Willow Creek McHenry County building and surrounding property, any facilities associated with regional ministries. Any attempt by you to enter any building or property associated with Willow Creek will be considered trespass. Willow Creek will at that time contact the police take all appropriate action to prosecute you and prevent you from such trespass. Any false or misleading information about Willow Creek disseminated by you on the internet and any contact by you by any means with any staff volunteer or Student Impact student regarding any ministry related matter will be considered harassment and Willow Creek will take whatever legal action it deems necessary to prevent you from making such contact or disseminating such false information.” Wow, that is quite the letter. I think if I’d gotten that letter, I’d be shaking in my boots.
THERESA ZINKIL: Oh, I was. I was devastated. I was absolutely devastated.
JULIE ROYS: You were shaking. I’m going to give you a chance when we come back from break to discuss what happened leading up to that letter.
THERESA ZINKIL: Sure.
JULIE ROYS: What happened with this whole situation, really amazing story. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys with Theresa Zinkil, Jim Bedell. We’ll be right back after a short break.
ANNOUNCER: More of The Roys Report. Once again, here’s Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: When a megachurch experiences major scandal, how does it heal? And how should it treat victims who are sinned against by a former pastor? Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re discussing what’s happening at Willow Creek Community Church in wake of the scandal involving Bill Hybels. In July the church made what it what it said was it’s final statement concerning the scandal and now it says it’s ready to move on. However, others clearly don’t think enough has been done. The church has not ever specifically named what sins Hybels committed, and his victims say true reconciliation has not occurred. And just last week, Marcus Bieschke, lead pastor at Willow Creek Crystal Lake, resigned his position over this issue. Bieschke said that he did not agree with a path to healing the church was pursuing. And added that his heart and values were not in alignment with the leadership. We talked a lot about Bieschke’s resignation in the previous half hour as well as the differences of opinion concerning this path to healing. And if you missed any part of that, or you just want to listen to the show again or share it with friends. I’m going to be posting the full audio to my website later today. So, you just go to JulieRoys.com and click on the podcast tab. Right now I’d like to return to my discussion with Theresa’s Zinkil and Jim Bedell. Both of them are people who have been at Willow Creek for decades. But before the break, Theresa, we were talking about a letter that you got about a decade ago, it was a legal letter from Willow, saying that it had an issue with you and that you were not engaging in constructive dialogue with this. You had shut everything down. And as a result, you basically were banned from campus and if you came, they said they would arrest you. You were banned from having any contact with any former students that you led as a leader in the ministry. And if you put anything out on the internet that they’d come after you as well.
THERESA ZINKIL: Right.
JULIE ROYS: What on earth did you do to warrant this letter?
THERESA ZINKIL: Yeah, that’s a good question. That’s exactly what I was asking when I received the letter. Just a little bit of a background, I had started serving in student ministries with the Student Impact group, two years prior. And we had become like a family. You know, you develop friendships and relationships with the people that you serve alongside the adults. And I would have these people over every Monday night. We get together in my home, we would, you know, kind of forge these friendships and start talking about very personal things as you do as friendships develop. During the course of building those friendships and those relationships, the head of student ministries, she and I had become friends. And we would talk about, you know, all kinds of stuff. And one night at my house, it was December actually of 2008, we were having a discussion and I was dating my now husband, and she had asked me, you know, point blank in a more vulgar way, actually, but, “Are you sleeping with him?” Which I answer truthfully? And I told her, “Yes, I was.” And with that, I asked her, you know, “Would you like me to step down?” I know, having long experience in Willow, it’s a no-no. You can’t lead while you’re sinning. And I knew that about myself. And I was almost in some ways looking for a way out. My heart really wasn’t in it at the time.
JULIE ROYS: Did you feel conviction about it at the time?
THERESA ZINKIL: At the time I did. I also was at the stage in my life where I didn’t want to disappoint people. And, you know, asking her if I should step down and her responding, “No, it’s okay.”
JULIE ROYS: And she said, “No, it’s okay?”
THERESA ZINKIL: Yeah, she said, “The girls love you,” you know, almost kind of like sweep, swept it under the rug. Like we’re not going to talk about it anymore. There was a lot of other things going on behind the scenes with other people during that time too.
JULIE ROYS: And, when you say that, you’ve talked to me a little bit,
THERESA ZINKIL: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: There was some immorality going on with other leaders. But I mean,
THERESA ZINKIL: Right. That’s not my story, exactly. I was honest with her. And as the months progressed, it was maybe March, my boyfriend and I—we’ve been married now, my husband and I have been married now 10 years—we had gone to Greece. It was March. And I brought the girls and my small group back these little bracelets that were beaded insignificant bracelets, which I thought was just like a nice gesture. We’re still progressing into like, April, May. I got engaged. And by June, I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to return in the fall to serve. That I was getting married. And, you know, it just wasn’t working out. And I kind of pulled away a little bit from the group. And I could feel them pulling away from me too. There was really nothing specific. It was just I told them, “Look, I’m not coming back in the fall. You’re going to have to find somebody else to lead my group.” I loved the girls. I really did. And, and it was such a great time in my life to be able to serve. Anyways, it was about August, early August, I had been asked to come into a meeting with the head of student ministries. And then another gentleman that was serving as maybe like, assistant leader. I’m not really sure. They were about 10 years younger than me. And these people, I thought, were my friends. I went to the meeting at Willow Crystal Lake, and we sat down. And again, this is now August of 2009. And they are very solemn, and looking at me like there’s need for concern and I’m kind of like, “What is going on?” And the head of student ministries tells me, “Well, there have been some parent complaints.” And I was shocked. I said, “About me? What specifically are they complaining about?” “While you went to Greece with a man you weren’t married to and you brought these girls back these bracelets, which signify that premarital sex is okay.” Because you went to another country with a man you weren’t married to. And I was kind of like, “Hold on a minute. This is not making any sense.” And I looked right at her and I said, “You knew. I told you way back in December what was going on? So, don’t sit here and look at me like this is now a shock to you.”
JULIE ROYS: This was nine months after.
THERESA ZINKIL: Right. And the whole thing just, it didn’t make sense. I felt like in a way I was trying to be discredited in some way. And I felt like that was coming from a place of me knowing personal information about leaders that maybe could have cost them their job.
JULIE ROYS: So, you knew too much—was your feeling.
THERESA ZINKIL: That’s what I felt.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah.
THERESA ZINKIL: Which I was never in any capacity going to bring that out. It was not my place. It’s not who I am. You know what, I was just moving on with my life really. But I just felt like it was a case of, “Let’s discredit her.” And I wasn’t buying it. And they knew I wasn’t buying that story because I said, “Who specifically complained?” “Well, we can’t tell you that.”
JULIE ROYS: What do they want from you?
THERESA ZINKIL: I really don’t know. I had already decided not to come back. So, I really have no idea.
JULIE ROYS: To leadership.
THERESA ZINKIL: Right.
JULIE ROYS: You were still attending the church.
THERESA ZINKIL: Yes. I was still attending the church. I wasn’t coming back as a leader. So, I really don’t know. At the end of that meeting, they asked if they could pray for me and I was really upset and I said, “No.” And I left. And as I was leaving, I had my two boys with me, the executive pastor at the time, Karen Franzen saw me. I was visibly upset. I had been crying. I was, you know, I thought these people were my friends. I didn’t understand where this whole bracelet thing was coming from. It seemed really ridiculous to me.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and you were leaving the ministry at that point.
THERESA ZINKIL: Right.
JULIE ROYS: Was there any talk about you know, repentance and reconciliation, restoration for you know, the sin that they were calling out?
THERESA ZINKIL: No, there was nothing. Nothing to that effect.
JULIE ROYS: Okay. We need to go to break.
THERESA ZINKIL: Okay.
JULIE ROYS: I hate to do that at this point. But when we come back, I still don’t know why you got that letter. So specifically, we’ve got the background. I want to hear exactly what precipitated that letter. But then there’s a really redemptive story on the other side of this. Really cool story. Involves your pastor Marcus Bieschke, who just resigned. We need to go to break. But when we come back, we’ll hear all about that story. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report here with Theresa Zinkil, Jim Bedell. We’ll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is The Roys Report with Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: Has Willow Creek tried to move on too quickly from the scandal surrounding Bill Hybels? And what needs to happen to bring people hurt and alienated by the church back into fellowship, or at least at peace with the church? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re discussing “What’s Really Happening at Willow Creek?” Joining me to do that is Jim Bedell, a lay leader at Willow Creek for more than 30 years. Also joining me is Teresa Zinkil, someone who grew up at Willow, and then was very hurt by the church. A very hurtful situation. We’re in the midst of talking about that. But by the way, I want to let you know, if you’d like to listen to this program and hear anything you’ve missed. I will be posting the full audio to my website, JulieRoys.com. Also, before we dive back into our conversation, I want to give you a personal invitation to the upcoming Restore Chicago conference on November 2 at Judson University. This is a one to one of a kind event designed for people really like Theresa like Jim, like a lot of the people that I talked to and got to know when I was doing my investigation at Harvest, who have either experienced spiritual abuse or just have a passion for the purity of the church. Joining me will be Nancy Beach, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, and one of several women who bravely confronted abuse by Pastor Bill Hybels. Also joining me Wade Mullen, an expert on spiritual abuse. RT Maldaner, a former pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel. I know so many have been hurt and disillusioned and really need a place to come and experience some healing. So, I hope you’ll consider coming. If you haven’t registered already, or you just want more information, just go to RestoreChicagoConference.com. Well, Theresa, before the break, you were telling us what led up to this letter that you got basically kicking you out of Willow Creek Crystal Lake back in 2009. What immediately precipitated it though?
THERESA ZINKIL: So, I was asked to come back by the executive pastor and talk about the meeting that I had just previously had, which I was agreeable to. I have email correspondence going back and forth. I said, “Yes, I would be happy to come talk to you.” During the course of that week that we were supposed to meet, there were some things going on. My father had passed, my biological father had passed away. I was getting married. I said, “Can we postpone this meeting just a little bit?” To which she responded, “Sure, no problem.” So, I’m thinking I’ve got some time. There wasn’t a time limit put on when that should be. Within less than two weeks of that—on a Saturday morning—I get a ring at the doorbell. And it’s the mail-lady asking me to sign for a certified letter. And I was kind of you know, “What is this?” I open it up and it’s from Willow Creek attorneys, telling me that I’m disseminating false information on the internet. And then I’m reading what
JULIE ROYS: What was that? You had posted something.
THERESA ZINKIL: So yes, I did. I had posted after that initial meeting, “Leaders need to get off their high horses.”
JULIE ROYS: That’s it?
THERESA ZINKIL: That’s it. That’s what I said. So, that letter brought me to my knees. Because this was a family to me. And I’m thinking, “How did we get from A to Z?” They didn’t even pick up the phone to call me. And they said, you know, the executive pastor said, “I’m okay to have some time.” But never said, “Hey, it’s been a week, we really need you to comment.” I would have gladly gone in and spoken to them. So, I have this letter telling me I will be arrested if I set foot. And this is on Saturday, I had planned to go to church on Sunday with my kids. And it was so devastating because I thought, “If this is coming from a church, what else are they capable of?” First going through my mind, “What are they going to say?” I did. And I immediately emailed Marcus and Scott Vaudrey, who was head of the ERT at that time.
JULIE ROYS: ERT stands for . . .
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Elder Response Team.
JULIE ROYS: Okay.
THERESA ZINKIL: I said I, you know, “I want to meet with you. I’d love to hear what you think I did wrong.” So, my husband and I met with them just a few weeks before our wedding. And I said, “I would like to know what proof you have or what you think that I said.” “Well, we don’t we don’t have anything.” I said, “What are you thinking I’m disseminating on the internet?” “We don’t we don’t have any information. Someone just told us that you were.” I said, “Well, I’ll tell you exactly what I said. I said ‘Leaders need to get off their high horse.’” May be immature of me, fine. But that’s not slanderous. We’re not allowed to say anything about Willow Creek? Even if I did say, “Willow Creek needs to get off its high horse,” big deal. And about resisting efforts, here is the email that I have from the executive pastor stating that I have some time.
JULIE ROYS: So, it was all resolved (laughter).
THERESA ZINKIL: You would think! In that meeting, I do want to point out that head of the ERT was, I felt, very calculated in the way that he was speaking to me. Very condescending. There was clearly no evidence. Marcus was also in that meeting, looking very shaken and very nervous about what was going on. So, they said, the head of the ERT Scott Vaudrey said, “Oops, we may have gotten this one wrong. Okay, you’re clear of any wrongdoing. We still don’t want you to talk to anybody. We still don’t want you to have conversations with any staff or students.” I’m like. “And we don’t want you to talk about this letter.” He personally called me and told me, “Do not discuss the letter. There could be a lawsuit brought against you, if you out that.” You know, he didn’t say, “out this,” but “if you talk about it.”
JULIE ROYS: Yeah.
THERESA ZINKIL: And I was terrified. I was terrified to go back to church. I felt like I was labelled . . .
JULIE ROYS: Could you go back to church? Or do you feel like,
THERESA ZINKIL: Within a month, I mean, within a few weeks of meeting with them, they said, “Oh, you can go back.” Well, thanks. I mean, you just really scared me and brought me to my knees. Do you think I want to set foot back in there?
JULIE ROYS: So, you didn’t go back. Except then you got married about a year later,
THERESA ZINKIL: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: So, you have a baby. You did go back in, but that wasn’t a warm . . .
THERESA ZINKIL: . . . welcome. No, not at all. I’m standing there with, you know, my husband, my older kids, my young baby—the baby was about a month old. And everybody just looked at me like I had some scarlet letter and walked away. And I’m like, “All of these people were my friends. They were in my house. What do they think I did? What is being said?” I was completely cleared of any wrongdoing. But I felt like that, “Completely cleared of wrongdoing” came with, “Just go away and be quiet.”
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. And you did not go back to church for 10 years?
THERESA ZINKIL: Yes, for 10 years.
JULIE ROYS: Wow. And I want to hear the story of reconciliation. But Jim, you’re saying this is not an isolated experience.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: No, I mean, there were multiple situations that I know about. Part of my ability to gather information was because I saw a number of people that were employees of Willow or people that had been sent away the way Theresa was, who could come to me and share. Some of the employees had NDA’s like they left their employment, but they couldn’t really talk about their experience. But they could talk to me because you cannot restrict somebody from going to a therapeutic setting. So I saw this over and over. And I’ve always conceptualized that Willow is more concerned about image than integrity. They’re more concerned about how they look. And so, they’re kind of like a surgeon. Theresa, to them represented a piece of cancer tissue. They had to cut it out, throw it away. Excise it and get rid of them. They never went after her and followed up and said, “What do we need to do to truly restore you back into . . .”
JULIE ROYS: Well in Galations 6 . . .
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: . . . it says “those of you who are spiritual should go to someone gently, in love, and gently restore them.” I mean, there’s a prescription how we deal with sin in the church. And Matthew 18. You know, I mean, those steps weren’t followed.
DR. JAMES BEDELL: No, they weren’t. I mean, you know, to be concerned about the person over the image, the corporate image. And that was multiple stories of people just being sent away. Kind of the leprosy colony of ex-Willow people, because they just, they saw problems. And Scott Vaudrey the ERT, I always said they’re kind of like the Hitmen the Cleaners. They cleaned the church of problems. And so, they would eliminate and separate people out of the church that represented some threat to the image but would never go after them. You know, the church sings about, “[leaving] the ninety-nine and going after the one.” The reality is they never went after the “one” in terms of saying, “Look, you know, whatever you’re doing, it represents some hurt or problem or whatever. We need to be there with you to seek to restore you.” That just didn’t happen.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. And you’re saying I mean, kind of what you’re pushing for right now is, “Hey, listen, we’ve kind of dealt with the tip of the iceberg here with these women, but which we haven’t fully dealt with.” But there’s all these other wounded people that we need to deal with. And it takes time. And it’s not very, you know, we want to move forward and reach the world. Well, you know, it takes time to do this. And it does detract from some other things. But can you move forward when you haven’t dealt with them? Theresa, about 18 months ago, you ran into Marcus. Right?
THERESA ZINKIL: Well, yeah. I had been, you know, I had kept that letter quiet. I kept it quiet for several years. And then within the last three to four really started talking about it a little bit more. I knew it was wrong, what they had done. And I knew that it would come out in time. I saved the letter. I saved the correspondence. I knew that this was not just going to be the end of it. I had actually run into Marcus at a coffee shop, a few years back, and I looked at him and I was like, “Marcus, do you remember me?” And he was like, “No, you know what, I don’t know.” You know, it’s like, “Oh, you don’t remember me and remember my name?” And he was like, “No.” And I said to him, “You should really remember the people you throw out of your church.” Now, obviously, I really feel horrible about that now. But that . . .
JULIE ROYS: that started a process,
THERESA ZINKIL: I was trying to get somebody’s attention to listen to what was going on. He did finally, you know, want to sit down and speak with me. And I think it was after these ladies’ stories came out. I think it opened up a window to kind of see what was going on in the church as a whole. And he was so gracious and so kind. And I think we needed that time. It was in God’s timing that this healing was going to take place. But he sat down and he listened to me—not just what happened with the letter, but my entire story of why that made me feel so abandoned.
JULIE ROYS: And I hate to rush the story but, we’re running out of time, but that resulted with him showing up at your door with a letter of his own coming in. He owned it.
THERESA ZINKIL: He owned it. And he cleared me of any wrongdoing. And he took the necessary steps to go through and talk to the people that were a part of doing this and making everything right. And he took the responsibility when I knew it wasn’t his to take. He was a new pastor at the time. He was believing what Big Willow and the executive pastor and everybody was telling him to do. And when you’re a part of Willow, which is the gold standard of churches, not just nationwide, but globally, you believe pretty much that they’re doing it right.
JULIE ROYS: So, let me bring us back to where we started. This man who you’ve grown to love—and now finally trust, and you finally come back to the church—is resigning. What are you going to do?
THERESA ZINKIL: You know, that’s a good question. I think we’re just gonna have to pray about that. And you know, I’d love to say where Marcus goes, we’d like to go (laughter).
JULIE ROYS: You don’t know where he’s gonna go.
THERESA ZINKIL: We don’t know where he’s gonna go.
JULIE ROYS: Jim, what do you think?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Yeah, he has no immediate plans. He’s going to take time to process.
JULIE ROYS: What are you going to do, though?
DR. JAMES BEDELL: Well, you know, the interesting thing is that Dave Smith, the executive pastor. is taking over for him. And in many ways, Dave, you know, is just as committed to the process of biblically based healing. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out as he takes over. But, you know, to kind of follow through with Theresa’s thing, the church allowed the ERT, which was off site, to deal with local problems. And Marcus was kind of handicapped by the fact that he had to kind of go along with a decision made by somebody outside the church, that really didn’t know the situation thoroughly and made decisions that were unbiblical and they were really unhealthy for everybody. But he had to go along with it.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah, so, so tough. Hey, Jim, Teresa, thank you so much for sharing your stories. I feel like we could talk for hours. Unfortunately we don’t have hours. But thank you for sharing your story. In Joel 2:25, God says, “I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” And there He’s talking about the nation of Israel. But I feel like, this is my prayer for Willow and for those who have been hurt, that the church would be restored. That these years that were so bad and so damaging, would find some redemption. So, I encourage you as you’re listening friends, pray for Willow. Pray for victims. Pray for the leadership. Let’s try to help to move towards some sort of positive resolution. But a biblical one. Thanks again, so much for listening. As a reminder, this show will be posted on my website, JulieRoys.com. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless.