Willow Creek Elders Release Statement Supporting the “Women”; Yet One Woman Says Hybels’ Sins Were “Far Worse” Than Anyone’s Said Publicly

By Julie Roys
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The elders at suburban Chicago Willow Creek Community Church today released a “last statement” about the scandal involving church founder Bill Hybels, charging Hybels with “unchecked sin and intimidating behavior,” and addressing “specific harms” against Hybels’ accusers and their advocates.

In their statement, the elders said they had met with the women accusing Hybels of wrongdoing and their advocates over the past six months. And as a result, they had learned of how the church’s response had led to verbal and written attacks on the women. They said they also learned that a “narrative persists in identifying (the women) as liars and colluders,” despite apologies by the lead pastors and former Elders.

The elders stated that they “unequivocally support” the findings of an independent council, which concluded that the women’s claims of “sexually inappropriate” conduct by Hybels are credible. They added, “We ask anyone who participated in verbal and written attacks to prayerfully examine their actions, apologize for wrongdoing, and seek to mend the relationship.”

Similarly, the elders urged Hybels to “reflect on his years in ministry, repent where necessary,” and seek “reconciliation.” They said they had reached out to Hybels, but he had “chosen not to engage in dialogue at this time.”

In response, Vonda Dyer, one of the women who accused Hybels of sexual misconduct, today also released a statement, expressing gratitude “that the elders believe all of the women’s allegations.” She also praised the elders’ “posture of godly response to the magnitude and depth of Bill Hybels’ destructive behaviors toward me and toward other women spanning four decades.”

Yet Dyer also expressed disappointment that today’s statement “lacks the specificity that I wish it contained.” One of the specifics Dyer noted concerned Pat Baranowski, Hybels’ former assistant who accused Hybels of groping her in a New York Times article. Dyer said that during her last meeting with the elders, they heard Baranowski give three hours of “painful and horrific testimony that left many of the elders weeping, some face down on the table in disbelief and mourning. Bill’s actions toward Pat were not simply missteps, but cruel, manipulative and abusive . . . Bill’s sin is far worse than anyone has been willing to say publicly.”

I reached out to Baranowski for comment but she did not respond by the time of publication. 

In their statement, the elders also acknowledged that the leaders of Compassion International and Menlo Church, who “spoke up for the women,” were also harmed. These leaders include John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Church and a former pastor at Willow Creek, and his wife, Nancy Ortberg, also a former Willow Creek pastor. The couple were some of the very first to publicly support the women in 2018 and to accuse Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct. Also included is Jim Mellado, president and CEO of Compassion International and former president of the Willow Creek Association, now The Global Leadership Network. Mellado joined the Ortbergs in publicly calling for a third-party investigation of the allegations concerning Hybels in 2018.

The elders wrote, “We have learned of mail and email messages threatening these advocates and their ministries. We again ask anyone who participated in sending threatening messages to prayerfully examine their actions, and seek to reconcile with those who have been harmed.”

Today’s statement also addressed what the elders said was “an unfair assumption” that the former elder board “acted with malice.” When the women’s allegations first surfaced in 2018, Hybels called the allegations “flat out lies” and the former board publicly supported him. The new elders said they believe that the former board was misled. “Bill’s denials and failure to acknowledge sinful, intimidating, and overly controlling behavior led leaders to make statements that were misinformed and incomplete,” they said. 

The elders acknowledged that the church had “experienced a fracture,” marked by “disbelief, confusion, fear, and hurt.” They also acknowledged that staff had “suffered harm in broken relationships, trust, and sense of community.” But they expressed optimism about the future, and urged past and present Willow Creek attenders to seek reconciliation and “grow in compassion, grace, forgiveness and unity . . .”

The elders said today’s statement is their “last public statement intended to address the events of 2018,” which included not just Hybels’ resignation, but the resignations of Willow Creek’s lead pastors and its elder board. However, the elders added that they will “continue to work privately with individuals seeking renewed relationships and reconciliation.”

The elders will be leading a “worship and reflection” service this Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Lakeside auditorium of Willow Creek’s South Barrington campus for all “past and present Willow family.”

Dyer said she hopes the elders will provide more detail on Tuesday night about what led them to their conclusions. “I believe that detail, rather than causing unnecessary obscurity and harm, would help illuminate truth and give needed closure to people in the congregation, to the global church, and to the women and their advocates.”

Complete Elder Statement:

Elder Update July 19, 2019

 

Complete Statement by Vonda Dyer:

Vonda’s Response to Elder statment Willow July 19 2019(1) Final

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32 thoughts on “Willow Creek Elders Release Statement Supporting the “Women”; Yet One Woman Says Hybels’ Sins Were “Far Worse” Than Anyone’s Said Publicly”

    1. King David lured an innocent women into his palace, raped her, and had her husband killed. How can we believe a word he said? We should throw out most of the psalms and all the songs inspired by them.

      Or maybe we can see that even deeply flawed people, like all of us, can still be used by God.

      1. You’re comparing apples and oranges. King David publicly repented, on the record, taking full ownership for his sin.

        1. Forgiven from a lot

          Not right away he didn’t…to bad you cant ask Uriah about it:) Fact is God is taking Bill through a process, he rarely lets go of His Children, right…God’s timing. All are sinners, yet GOD chooses to use us. Quite the responsibility for each of us.

  1. A question…
    Did Jesus say that some sexual sins were worse than other sexual sins? Or that some lies are worse than other lies? How about bullying and intimidation? Are some of these offenses worse than others?
    The Catholic church came up with the terms “mortal” and “venial” sins although every and all sins are offenses against our Holy God.
    So why do men come up with the idea there are grades of sins?
    And why do some Christians love reading the nauseating details about the sins of others, especially filthy details about the sins of clergy? Do such “christians” get tittelated from reading what could be described as “christian porn”?
    Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. …And the God of peace will be with you.”

    How about we start thinking like Christ?

    1. n response to Kristy, Vonda did not say that Bill’s sin was worse than has been reported, she said that if Pat’s story is true, the TRUTH about his sin is worse than anyone has been willing to say publicly-read her statement and the context. I’ve also heard Pat’s story. If true (and the elders seem to be saying they believe it is), the nature of Bill’s treatment of her was more than just mis-steps, individual lapses of judgment of an otherwise godly leader. As Vonda said, if true, it was cruel, manipulative and abusive. Nowhere in this did she say there are levels of sin, but intentional, calculated predatory behavior is different than temporary lapses of judgment. I think most people would agree that this truth would be worse than the scenario that many believe-that he was just an otherwise great guy who made some mistakes.

      1. In other words
        his intentional calculated…
        …sin is worse than anyone has been willing to say publicly.

      2. Following euphemisms are assumed false premises within the invalid argument

        …just mis-steps,
        individual lapses of judgment of an otherwise godly leader,,
        …temporary lapses of judgment,,
        … great guy who made some mistakes.

    2. Susan Vonder Heide

      Concerns about such matters should not be glibly dismissed as nosy curiosity. Every member of the body of Christ should be concerned about abuses of power within the church whatever the nature of those abuses of power.

    3. A far better question is, “Does 1 Timothy 5:19-20 apply to this situation?” If these verses do apply, then various influential institutions may be acting contrary to scripture.

      19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
      20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

  2. Peter T Burchard

    In Unmasking Administrative Evil, the authors detail how people (e.g., elders) engage in acts of evil without being aware that what they are doing is wrong. Evil is masked. The former elders acted appropriate for their role and church culture – perhaps what Bill expected of them and they of each other. Later, observers are able to point out the evil. Lesson: The former board acted normally and as expected. In doing so, they participated in acts of administrative evil. For Willow to suggest that they were somehow tricked by Bill because of his lies only adds to the evil. This is moral inversion. The elders supported Bill by going along with him and not having the skill or courage to act outside of Bill’s and each others expectations. Yes – the former board was misled – and they participated in being misled. Excusing their responsibility and role is just another step in masking evil.

    1. Abuse denied compounds the actual abuse itself, not to mention the way that the truth speakers’ character was also attacked.

  3. It is so sad that Bill refuses to repent. Without repentance there is no forgiveness for sin. All his years of leading, preaching and writing books will not protect him when he stands before God. He’s bullied the women but he won’t bully God. He’s going to take his sexual sin with him to the judgement seat of Christ. His arrogance is astounding.

  4. Not much to say just my heart is sadden by the continued abuse of leadership. At the same time, my mentor who is now with the Lord always told me “never fear questioning leadership.” Still does not take away the heaviness in me…who do I trust? What church should I belong to? All is so heartbreaking :-(

  5. ELDERS OF WILLOW CREEK, if this is truly your last statement regarding BH et al indiscretions, you have one chance to get this right tomorrow, just one chance! You promised FULL transparency to the congregation. You have yet to share details of how the former elders had knowledge that BH ordered his hard drive be physically destroyed.

    You owe the congregation an explanation of how much of their tithes have gone towards paying BH and Heather Larson’s severances.

    You owe the congregation to give Steve Carter the opportunity to share his experience with the congregation as he was the first to break ranks when he learned of these sinful acts. There is so much more needed for FULL transparency than what you offered in what you call your last discussion about BH.

    WC ELDERS PLEASE DO NOT blow the opportunity to take full responsibility of exposing the truth of all of this ugliness with the congregation. Without it, it’s difficult to foresee how the church will rebound & rebuild from this wreckage.

    1. Completely agree with above statement. Our family has “hung in there” with WC throughout this train wreck which has been made so much worse by the way it was handled by leadership. We’ve taken them at their word to be fully transparent. We don’t understand how they can say that this is the last time they address this – that should be the congregation’s and victim’s call. There NEEDS to be a Q & A time tonight.

  6. Forgiven from a lot

    OK, so Bill is a sinner and so is everyone else. God chose Bill to do His work, fully knowing this would one day happen, but God chose him anyway. Jesus already paid the price for Bill and all of us from a lot of sinful behavior. I don’t think we would want our lives, with all of the sinful thoughts and actions brought up continually. Bill sinned, and sinning can and does hurt people. There is no getting around that, and those can be painful. But, it is time to heal. The new elders have done a great job so far in trying to reconcile and also help people move on. Moving on doesn’t lessen the pain, but we all have to move on from when we get hurt by the sins of others. God is the judge, and I pray that the Holy Spirit gets Bill attention, but until then, its time to move forward. Spend your energy on making your life the best and pursuing great things, and leave the past in the rear view mirror. I have had plenty of hurt in my life from pastors and other Christ followers…but I would rather continue to purse the best ending possible and keep working for God’s kingdom the best I can.

    1. Dear “Forgiven From A Lot,” do you think Bill will “Profit A Lot” from the full truth remaining under wraps?

      1. Forgiven from a lot

        Not sure it is my place to know nor care on this earth. I trust God to make things right in time. Until then, lets all work together and show people who our wonderful God is through situations like this instead of droning this on and on. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on the accuser, but must live in our hearts as we let go. Who is hurt most by the droning, certainly not Bill…but churches all over. God knows and loves Bill even through this time, as he does you and me. I sincerely pray that the Holy Spirit brings Bill to repent and apologize, but its not my responsibility to bring him to that point…Has to be God, he knows all the details on all sides, and the hearts and motivations of all that has transpired.

    2. Charles Despeville

      By posting this you are not really consistent with your own advice or are you? If you are then why others would not be?

  7. Not sure what happened last night but if the board of elders did not set up a Q and A where they sat on floor …not the stage and allowed attendees seated in a circle around them with microphones set up so that any and all could come to the mic and ask questions. With no holds barred…answering honestly… with fully transparency as the goal…then it fell short.

  8. Most of what I would say about this statement has already been said by others.

    But the paragraph addressing the 2018 Elders is especially alarming. The truth is, those Elders very much “acted with malice” toward the women and their advocates. The “public anger and judgment” directed toward the Elders – who stood their ground in support of Hybels for years, dismissing the evidence even up until The New York Times called their bluff – was righteous. I’m sure the impact on the Elders’ families was “harmful”. That’s a predictable consequence of covering up sin and idolizing a leader & a brand.

    They also say (emphasis added):

    “We believe that Bill’s denials and failure to acknowledge sinful, intimidating, and overly controlling behavior LED LEADERS TO make statements that were misinformed and incomplete.”

    In other words, it wasn’t your fault, 2018 Elders. You didn’t make choices. You’re not responsible…because Bill Hybels exercised a kind of mind-control over that caused you to fail to protect the sheep.

    The 2019 Elders aren’t Eldering well if they can’t discern and speak the truth about their predecessors. This kind of self-interest and self-protection has no place in a church.

    Then again, maybe Willow Creek isn’t really – and never was – a church.

  9. I often wondered why Willow & BH always promoted a business model, maybe that is truly what they are: a well-oiled, very profitable corporation using & manipulating Scripture to disguise it. BH was its CEO & above the code of ethics. He still persists in his arrogant, defiant lack of repentance, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He & buddy James Macdonald should share a jail cell for all their crimes. He could end this entire charade by coming forth in humility, brokeness & godly repentance. But maintaining the corporate image & brand seems more important.
    Notice the perfect timing of this very deficient “last statement”, just before the annual GLN. Gotta keep up appearances.

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