Willow Creek Co-Founder Accused of Sexual Misconduct Sues Church & Elders for Defamation

By Julie Roys

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, a co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Willow Creek and its elders for statements they made accusing Bilezikian of sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in Cook County Court, accuses the church and elders of falsely stating in a letter and weekend services four months ago that Bilezikian had engaged in “inappropriate behavior” with a congregant, identified elsewhere as Ann Lindberg.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian

The elders stated that Bilezikian’s behavior included “hand holding, hugs, kissing, inappropriate touching, and sending overly personal communication.” They also stated that the congregant had first reported her story of abuse to church leaders 10 years earlier, and that at that time, the church had restricted Bilezikian from serving at the church. They added, however, that these restrictions were not enforced.

The lawsuit claims that the church published its statements without conducting an investigation or ever meeting with Bilezikian, despite Bilezikian’s repeated requests for both. The suit also states that the church rushed to judgment. (The elders published their letter three days after Lindberg had posted her allegations against Bilezikian on Facebook.)

“The Elders and the Church spontaneously rushed to judgment to condemn the plaintiff, their long-term congregant and co-founder, for alleged behavior dating back 35 years or so, and did so in a mere three days without even an investigation or contact of plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also denies that Willow Creek communicated any restrictions to Bilezikian when leaders met with him in 2010 concerning his relationship with Lindberg.

“(T)he ERT (elder response team) advised plaintiff, without more, to simply cut off email contact with Ms. and Mr. Lindberg,” the suit says. “Neither they nor anyone else at the Church conveyed to plaintiff any conclusion or belief that plaintiff had engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any sort or even that he had been accused of inappropriate behavior.”

Dave Dummit

Newly hired Senior Pastor Dave Dummit told Willow Creek staff about the lawsuit in an email last night.

“This development saddens me,” Dummit wrote, “but we stand behind the decision to make those public statements.”

Dummit added that the “statements were necessary to communicate and take ownership for failed communication about (Bilezikian’s) restrictions, which had been violated multiple times.”

However, the lawsuit claims that Willow Creek’s elders “over-reacted to criticism of the former Elders’ response to the allegations against Pastor (Bill) Hybels.”

The entire elder board of Willow Creek resigned in August 2018, admitting it had made a mistake by failing to believe the women who had accused founding pastor, Bill Hybels, of sexual harassment. Hybels retired early following the allegations but has denied any wrongdoing. However, an independent review conducted by the church found that the allegations were credible.

The lawsuit further alleges that the church’s statements were made “in the charged climate of the national ‘Me Too’ movement,” which has been “exploited to condemn innocent men on the basis of false claims without any notion of due process for the accused.”

The lawsuit states that Willow Creek’s statements have severely damaged Bilezikian’s reputation. As a result, it alleges that Bilezikian will lose royalties on books, as well as honoraria from speaking and consulting engagements.

Bilezikian, who was a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College for more than 25 years, was a well-respected scholar and author. However, following allegations of sexual harassment by several former students, Wheaton College rescinded Bilezikian’s title of Professor Emeritus.

“Plaintiff’s employment and profession includes writing, speaking and consulting on matters concerning the Christian Bible and Christian morality, including advocating for gender equality and the inviolability of marriage and against misogyny,” the lawsuit said. “The defendant Elders’ statement therefore prejudices him in his profession . . . His audience will not trust him to teach on matters of Christianity and moral precepts and will deem him hypocritical and immoral.”

The lawsuit is seeking “special” and “punitive damages” as the “Court deems just and equitable.” It also is seeking an injunction, ordering the church to remove from the internet its letter about Bilezikian and video of a service including statements about Bilezikian. Plus, the suit seeks to remove an FAQ the church published apologizing for not enforcing restrictions against Bilezikian.

It appears that both the letter and FAQ have already been removed.

Lawsuit Filed by Dr. Bilezikian:

BilezikianLawsuitVsWillowCreek

 

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15 thoughts on “Willow Creek Co-Founder Accused of Sexual Misconduct Sues Church & Elders for Defamation”

  1. Depressing to see Church Leaders being so fickle and cowardly when they cannot stand by and defend their positions instead of wavering at any government order or a litigations claim. Shows that so many Church Leaders need to be removed from their positions.

      1. @Jason Halton “most churches are just a business.” Really? Can you cite the statistical evidence for that? How many churches are there universally and how many of those churches are “just a business?” The churches in China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia where it is dangerous and deadly to be a follower of Jesus? Churches in Europe where it isn’t culturally helpful to be a Christian? My parents were involved in church planting for 11 years in another country where it was really difficult and hard. They had planned to go back and continue but God changed their plans. A friend who labored for over 40 years in a church in Appalachia of 40-60 people where he sought to help those who were in poverty and caught in a lifestyle of destructive decisions and show them that following Jesus was their only hope for a better life here and hope for eternity. In the circle that I am connected with the vast majority of churches seek to help people follow Jesus and serve their community. Yes, there are the bad ones that make the news and need to be called out. But MOST churches?

  2. Dummit claims they “stand behind the decision to make those public statements.”…and yet they remove the FAQ and the letter from the website immediately? Doesn’t that seem exactly the opposite?

    1. Exactly. It looks cowardly and is cowardly. Probably they are listening to their lawyers, which is almost always a bad idea for churches to do, since the lawyers are concerned with minimiizing at any cost the possibiltiy of losing a lawsuit, rather than having the church do what is good and right but might slightly hur them in court if the judge and jury is unreasonable. Removing the FAQ and letter improves their case legally but is an admission of guilt morally. If they didn’t defame him, they shouldn’t take it down. If they did, they should not only take it down but apologize. I bet they’ll waffle in between and end up paying him settlement money to make him drop the suit. That is probably his goal– to scare them, and collect a little pocket change from their timidity.

  3. Does Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian; former Wheaton NT professor know his Bible.
    1. Christians are not to sue another believer before the secular courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
    2. Personal reputation not to take precedent to the Bride of Christ- His Church- Philippians 2:3-4
    3. Jesus’ example in trusting God (1 Peter 2:21-23)
    4. Major concern about loss of income in book royalties and honorariums from speaking and consulting (2 Timothy 3:2a)

    1. (1) is the key here. I was looking for some statement from Dr. B. in defense of suing fellow Christians. His claim is weak, but even if the church *did* defame him, how can he justify suing them in civil courts? And apparently he doesn’t even care to try to justify himself. Filing a lawsuit without issuing a press release or something telling the Christian world why he’s doing it is inexcusably cold and mercenary.

  4. If one professes to be a Christian and believes that a fellow believer has sinned against them, then Christ commands him to obey Matt.18:15-17 in order to be reconciled and restored. That is what true Christians do.

    In 2 Cor.10:3-6 Christ says “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

    Unregenerate men fight using secular means; lawsuits, injunctions, demands for money,vengeance because that is all they know. Christians use spiritual means to “demolish strongholds” This situation has revealed who Dr.Bilezikian is and was all along.. See also Romans 12:17-21

  5. Parts of this lawsuit are profoundly delicious. Unrepentant predator Willow co-founder Bilezikian names and calls out Willow Creek for their outrageous lies. He outright disowns the other unrepentant predator Willow co-founder Bill Hybels, rightfully naming guilt by association. Absolutely brilliant. Sadly he himself outright lies repeatedly about his repeated sexual assault and harassment not only of courageous hero Ann L., but also of multiple students at Wheaton as well as at Trinity (who have so far amazingly managed to avoid the glare of the public spotlight on their involvement in this horror, not to mention the honorary doctorate awarded to unrepentant predator Bill Hybels.)

    There is so much more to come. Hopefully this spells the beginning of the end for this irredeemably toxic, abusive religious organisation.

  6. If jmac can start over… anything is possible.This old man is needing cash, i will be surprised if he doesnt get some.

  7. Dr. B has clearly forgotten his offensive appearance poolside at a WC retreat at Pheasant Run (I think?) in… about 1982 or 83. I recall He was in his 4″, bright orange/yellow speedo bikini. As 20 somethings, we laughed, rolled our eyes, and said, “What could he be thinking!” The common response was, “Oh, he’s a Frenchman,” whatever that excuses. That image is etched in my brain, thank you very much. I will never be the same. :)

    More seriously, I have still repeated that same question as I ponder the actions of WC in the last 2 yrs. It is unfathomable the lack of biblical wisdom in what they continue doing. Who do they seek counsel from? Fire them. Your Bible could help you, and corporate prayer.

    I’m interested in what the insurance company says this time around, and if Willow will be dropped.
    With Dr. B at 93, I wonder who is actually suing, and why. Just sayin’.
    I also wonder how much suffering must continue until Willow sees their sin and turns? God only knows.

  8. misterjesperson

    And another white-washed septic tank sues because his stream of Mammon has been interrupted by a little too much truth. JMac and now this man are disobeying both the scriptures and common sense because they are too narcissistic to know any better. At least this institution deserves it, God knows. Both sides will waste more of the donor money. In the end this “church” will go bankrupt with changes due to God’s virus–His correction going out to His Church.

  9. “The lawsuit states that Willow Creek’s statements have severely damaged Bilezikian’s reputation. As a result, it alleges that Bilezikian will lose royalties on books, as well as honoraria from speaking and consulting engagements.”

    And this is what deeply concerns a man of God, his future loss of royalties and honoraria? Interesting he is suing the church and not the women who spoke up against him.

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