UPDATE: Jim Bedell told me this afternoon that Willow Creek Elder Jeff Mason sent him an email last night requesting a meeting, which Bedell saw this morning. Bedell said Mason suggested that the meeting involve just two elders and Bedell, but Bedell is asking that the whole board be present.
About 120 attenders of Willow Crystal Lake reportedly packed an elder “listening session” after services on Sunday, expressing anger over actions by the elders of Willow Creek, which led to the resignation of their campus pastor, Marcus Bieschke. Longtime member, Jim Bedell, who’s been blogging about Willow Creek, added that someone confronted the only elder present at the meeting—Jeff Mason—asking why Hybels, who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse, was given a “golden parachute.”
According to Bedell, Mason responded that Hybels’ retirement contract was “non-contestable” and had no morals clause. I contacted Mason for comment and he responded, “We believe our biblical mandate is to serve our congregation and communicate directly with them, so we will discuss Jim’s concerns directly with him, as I discussed with him yesterday.”
Bieschke resigned about two weeks ago, saying he disagreed with the “path toward healing” that Willow Creek was pursuing. According to Bedell, Willow Crystal Lake (WCL) attenders now are angry about how the elders are managing the situation, as well. In a post to a private Facebook page, Bedell wrote:
Things are really heating up at WCL . . . I believe it took his (Bieschke’s) leaving to wake people up to the seriousness of the problems with Willow. Many stated that if Marcus did not feel that he could stay with the clearly unbiblical way the the leadership is handling the sin of Bill (Hybels), how can the church tolerate the elders’ lack of real leadership?
Bedell said he and others who attended the meeting want the elders to reveal the full extent of Hybels’ “rampant and systemic sin” against the women who came forward with charges against him in 2018. They also want the elders to rebuke Hybels publicly as 1 Timothy 5:20 instructs, and then to disqualify him from ministry.
Willow Crystal Lake is one of seven Chicago-area campuses of Willow Creek Community Church. All seven campuses are led by the same board of eight elders. Bedell said that at Sunday’s meeting, someone suggested that the Crystal Lake campus should leave Willow and Bieshke should start a new church.
Bedell said that when confronted about the elders’ handling of the women harmed by Hybels, Mason alleged that Willow Creek had been engaging in a “reconciliation process” and implied that the women desire confidentiality. However, Bedell, who’s talked to several of the women victims, said that’s not true. He said they want Hybels’ sins named.
I also spoke with Vonda Dyer, who used to lead the vocal team at Willow Creek and is one of Hybels’ alleged victims. Dyer said she has talked to all but one of the women abused by Hybels and none of them asked the church for confidentiality.
Bedell and Dyer’s accounts agree with a blog post that Nancy Beach, an alleged victim and a former teaching pastor at Willow, posted after a “reconciliation” meeting in July at Willow’s South Barrington campus. Beach said that when the elders failed to specifically name the sins committed against the women and apologize, she was “stunned and devastated.”
Bedell reported that Mason seemed confused at the meeting, “thinking that because Bill refuses to engage in personal repentance that (the elders’) hands are tied.” Bedell said he told Mason that Hybels does not need to engage for the church to publicly rebuke him.
About a week ago, Bedell said he also confronted another elder, Shoji Boldt, asking her why the elders have not yet made a “bold statement” about Hybels’ sin. (Boldt had reportedly come to Willow Crystal Lake that day to answer people’s questions following Bieschke’s announcement to his congregation that he was resigning.)
“I asked her who they were afraid of,” Bedell wrote in another Facebook post. “Was it Bill, the attorneys, the insurance companies?”
Bedell said Boldt replied that the attorneys were involved at first but aren’t anymore. She then claimed that the elders are “gathering information and will have a further statement down the road.”
“(U)nless they had the courage to name, in some level of detail, the sins that Bill inflicted on multiple people, but particularly the women victims, people are left with a bland and innocuous sense that Bill just did some mildly inappropriate things to women.”
Last week, I contacted Boldt for comment and she gave a statement that was almost identical to the one Jeff Mason gave me: “We believe our biblical mandate is to serve our congregation and communicate directly with them,” she wrote, “so we will discuss Jim’s concerns directly with him in accordance with Scriptural mandates to handle disagreements directly, as was committed to him on Sunday.”
Bedell said that to date, neither Boldt, nor Mason, nor any other Willow Creek elder has contacted him.
Bedell added that he told Boldt that if the elders continue to delay in rebuking Hybels and listing his sins, “the intensity of the original trauma will have waned and will be so disconnected . . . that it will have little effect. I told her that unless they had the courage to name, in some level of detail, the sins that Bill inflicted on multiple people, but particularly the women victims, people are left with a bland and innocuous sense that Bill just did some mildly inappropriate things to women.”
Bedell said Boldt replied that “a number of people just want to move on.”
Bedell recorded an episode of The Roys Report with me a little over a week ago. Also joining me was Theresa Zinkil—someone who was kicked out of Willow Crystal Lake about 10 years ago and received a letter from the church threatening her with legal action if she returned. (See below.)
Both talked about what’s going on behind the scenes at Willow Crystal Lake. Plus Bedell, who’s a licensed clinical psychologist, shared why he believes the women abused by Hybels were actually “re-traumatized” when they told their stories to the elders several months ago.
Zinkil also relayed some of the details surrounding her expulsion from Willow Creek, and how the experience “brought her to her knees.”
In the podcast, Bedell explained that he’s counseled a number of former Willow Creek staff members who told have told him similar stories of Willow using legal threats and intimidation.
Zinkil’s story, however, has a redemptive ending. According to Zinkil, Bieschke’s eyes were opened to systemic abuse at Willow after some of Hybel’s victims came forward in 2018. The two met several times, which culminated in Bieschke coming to Zinkil’s house with a letter of apology and a heartfelt expression of repentance. Zinkil said she had just started attending church again when Bieschke announced that he’s resigning.
Click here to listen to read transcript and hear the full podcast, “What is Really Going on at Willow Creek?”
Below is the letter Zinkil received from a Willow Creek attorney:
Below is Jim Bedell’s full first Facebook post about the meeting at WCL on Sunday, October 20:
I wanted to share what happened on Sunday morning at Willow Crystal Lake when Marcus Bieschke announced his leaving. He read the statement that he had sent out about the fundamental disagreement that he had between his Biblical sense of what needed to be done to bring healing and redemptive/reconciliation at willow. He had invited the elders to be present and then announced that they would be available for questions after the service.
I made a bee line for Shoji (Boldt) and waited to talk to her. I started by asking her if she knew who I was. She said yes. I then said that she had emailed me, said the elders were reading my blogs and that they would set up a meeting with me after they had talked to the women victims. Then came the “final” meeting. I told her that I felt betrayed by her and the elders when they did not do what they said they were going to do.
I then asked her what was informing the elders decision in not having a bold statement about the sin of Bill, quoting I Tim 5:20. She stood there like a deer in headlights. I asked her who they were afraid of. Was it Bill, the attorneys, the insurance companies? She said that at first the attorneys were involved but she said that now they are not. I asked her directly why have you been protecting Bill?
She then said that they are still gathering information and will have a further statement down the road. I told her by that time the intensity of the original trauma will have waned and will be so disconnected in time that it will have little affect. I told her that unless they had the courage to name, in some level of detail, the sins that Bill inflicted on multiple people, but particularly the women victims, people are left with a bland and innocuous sense that Bill just did some mildly inappropriate things to women. This allows people to just want to move on. and to see those of us who want more done as troublemakers.
She said that a number of people just want to move on. I basically confronted her with the idea of “are you leaders or politicians ?” Leaders do not take polls of what the people want and then use that to determine their leadership strategies. I challenged her to lead Biblically, to do the right thing in order for true healing to occur.
I also confronted the fact that they have allowed the women to risk retelling their story, with the assurance by the elders that a public telling of the story and asking of forgiveness would result, and then they did very little. She is a therapist and I told her that it was professionally wrong to allow sexual trauma victims to have to retell their stories without a healing or redemptive outcome.
Finally I said that it was unfair to our Crystal Lake church to have to lose our pastor because they will not do the right thing.
She listened intently, nodded, and said that they need to follow through with me and will set something up. I said you have to quit the passive resistance style that you have been demonstrating where you appear to listen, acknowledge what people are saying as legitimate, and then fail to follow through. So we will see if she does what she says she will do. I think she knows that I am not going to let it go.
I know that the elders are overwhelmed, but I believe that is because they have not taken a direct and Biblical approach to admitting the sins and seeking forgiveness. They are gathering too much information and getting overwhelmed due to a lack of action.
Jim Bedell’s Facebook post last Sunday:
I had round two with an elder at a listening session after services at Willow Crystal Lake today. Jeff (cannot remember his last name) was there as the elder representative. The rest of the elders were interviewing one of the candidates for senior pastor at big Willow.
Things are really heating up at WCL, as the meeting room was full with people who were upset with Marcus’s leaving. I believe it took his leaving to wake people up to the seriousness of the problems with Willow. Many stated that if Marcus did not feel that he could stay with the clearly un-Biblical way the leadership is handling the sin of Bill, how can the church tolerate the elders’ lack of real leadership?
One person literally said that the whole congregation should leave Willow and have Marcus start a new church. The elder probably for the first time was hearing the seriousness of congregants’ disgust with how the leadership is not following a Biblical blueprint for healing the consequences of rampant and systemic sin perpetrated by an entitled senior pastor. I believe that this process is the only one that is going to scare the elders into a serious response to this mess.
The elder started talking about how they have been engaging in a reconciliation process and implied that the people that they have interviewed that were harmed by Bill have wanted confidentiality.
I started my comments by saying that I was tired of hearing the word reconciliation. I said we do not need reconciliation; we need repentance and the seeking of forgiveness from the women who have been abused. We need to hear an accounting of the years of abusive governing directed by Bill.
I said that I have been reading the book Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow and I said that Willow used the same repressive tactics to kill any revelation of sexual or corrupt behavior by the same combination of gaslighting, NDA, humiliation, powering up to threaten the employment of any whistleblowers, use of a horrific elder response team that literally terrorized people who represented a threat to the Willow image and BH autocratic control.
When it dawned on me that in many ways Willow operated like NBC in protecting Matt Lauer or like the goons from former Israeli intelligence who spread nasty lies about the women that came forward to expose Harvey Weinstein, I felt sick to my stomach. This is the church!
The elder implied that the people they have interviewed who have been abused by Bill and the church want to stay anonymous. I said that the women that I know want the sins named. I told him that they needed to heed the words of I Timothy 5:20 where leaders are to be publicly rebuked to serve as a warning to other leaders of the seriousness of sin.
The elder seems confused, thinking that because Bill refuses to engage in personal repentance that their hands are tied. I and others said that Bill does not have to engage for the church to publicly rebuke his sinful behavior. I asked what elders were afraid of. Does Bill scare you? Are you afraid of some kind of liability? No response.
Someone asked why we are paying Bill his golden parachute? The elder said that Bill had a retirement contract that was non-contestable. Isn’t this special, Bill did not have a morals clause in his contract. What! A church with no morals clause? By the way they have one more large payment to him.
I finally said that we are in this mess because of the ongoing secrecy that the current elders are continuing. I said that the elders are accountable to the people who are the church, and how can we hold them accountable if they do not even share what they are doing and why. I said we are not children who the elders paternalistically withhold the secret business of the church. This is not the Masons.
One last thing that made me crazy. The elder said that they are not requiring an MDiv for the new senior pastor. When asked why, he said “Well historically this was not a requirement at Willow.” Are you kidding me? To use the history of this church to establish the future requirements for pastoral leadership is ludicrous. As I have said, the church was structured around the framework of a corporation. Given that reality, it is no wonder that an MBA would be more important than an MDiv.
Sorry for rambling. After waiting a week for the elders to call me to set up a meeting, I again emailed them to find out when they will meet. My wife thinks they know enough about what I am going to push for that they are avoiding me. I am not going away!