In an email sent to his son with instructions to “forward at will,” Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church and professor of New Testament Emeritus at Wheaton College, is asserting that recently publicized allegations that he sexually abused a church member are false.
The allegations by longtime church member Ann Lindberg were posted on Facebook last month and then confirmed by Willow Creek elders. Soon afterwards, two former Wheaton college co-eds came forward with additional allegations of sexual harassment and/or abuse by Bilezikian.
“The allegations about me made by Ann Lindberg are as false today as they were in 2010 when she first made them,” Bilezikian wrote. “I must make this affirmation: I did not engage in any inappropriate behavior with Ann Lindberg or with any person who has made such claims. I categorically deny such claims.”
Bilezikian also wrote that the “slanderous claims” were investigated by both Willow Creek and Wheaton College and that “neither institution substantiated these accusations.”
He added, “Had my conduct been questionable, it is inconceivable that Willow Creek Community Church would have staged an enthusiastic celebration of me as their ‘Dr. B Our Living Legend’ at the United Center for their 40th anniversary, just five years ago.” (video of celebration at end of post)
Bilezikian also noted that in 1981 and in 1992, he was recognized as “Senior Teacher of the Year” by Wheaton College. “These recognitions would have never been granted had my behavior been questioned during my years of service to the college.”
In their statement released last month, the elders of Willow Creek said that when Lindberg first reported the alleged abuse to the church’s Elder Response Team (ERT) in 2010, the “team believed the woman’s claim that Dr. Bilezikian engaged in inappropriate touching and sending overly personal communication.” The elders added that the ERT then restricted Bilezikian from serving and teaching at the church but had failed to enforce the restriction.
Wheaton College has not responded to my request for comment on the allegations against Bilezikian, stating that the college does “not publicly share information on personnel matters.”
However, according to an article in The Wheaton Record, President Philip Ryken sent a message to faculty and staff on January 29, stating that a previously closed investigation into Bilezikian’s behavior was being reopened. Ryken added, “It saddens us deeply that a long-serving member of our community would be found to have engaged in such misconduct.”
According to a letter Wheaton sent to Bilezikian last year, the college began an inquiry into Bilezikian’s alleged misconduct in August 2018 and closed it in September 2019. Wheaton also reinstated Bilezikian’s faculty profile page at that time, which remains posted on the college’s website.
In his letter, Bilezikian directly confronts both Ryken and the elders at Willow Creek for publicizing the accusations against him “without providing me with an opportunity to respond.” In each case, Bilezikian said he was informed of the accusations “second-hand from one of my family members or by reading my emails.”
“What is different today, and clearly a sign of the times,” Bilezikian wrote, “was that 10 years ago I was given a chance to respond directly to the allegations without the irresponsible public disclosure of the harmful accusations that occurred most recently. But we live in a much different world now, where one can be judged and condemned without concern for veracity.”
I have repeatedly reached out to Bilezikian for comment on the accusations against him. Initially, he agreed to an interview, but then canceled saying that “after some reflection, I will bend to the advice of my support group and ask for a postponement of our meeting.” Bilezikian said he was going out of town, but would be back on February 26 and would then would “confer again about the way to go.”
I sent Bilezikian emails last night and today seeking comment, but have not yet heard back.
I also have contacted both Willow Creek and Wheaton College for a response to Bilezikian’s letter but have not heard back. If I do, I will add their response.
Bilezikian’s Complete Letter:Dr. B Letter 2-22-2022 (1)
Willow Creek Honoring Dr. Bilezikian at 40th Anniversary: