An independent group convened to investigate sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Hybels, founder of the Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, called them “credible” and recommended counseling for him as well as a raft of changes to improve the organizational culture at the church and Willow Creek Association, rebranded as the Global Leadership Network.
The recommendations were among 15 suggestions as well as a list of conclusive points made by the Independent Advisory Group in a 17-page report released by the church’s new elder board on Thursday.
“Our desire is to move forward into this new season with transparency, acknowledging that truth coming to light can oftentimes be difficult and painful,” the board said in a statement released with the report.
The report, which paints Hybels as a flawed, hard to contain, charismatic leader, comes 10 months after his premature resignation from the multicampus megachurch on April 10, 2018.
“Bill Hybels verbally and emotionally intimidated both male and female employees. Over multiple decades, the Willow Creek Community Church boards were unable to provide effective oversight of Bill Hybels,” the four-member IAG concluded on Feb. 26, six months after the group first convened last August.
Hybels was forced to resign as lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church after an extensive investigation published by the Chicago Tribune in March 2018 detailed a pattern of sexual misconduct allegations. Hybels denied a number of the allegations, including a consensual affair with a married woman who retracted her claims. The Tribune report also alleged a pattern of behavior against Hybels that includes suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to some female staffers to hotel rooms. Initial investigations commissioned by the church could not substantiate the allegations and the church’s leadership staunchly defended Hybels.
In an about-face after the scandal snowballed into a national story, Pam Orr, former chair of the church’s elder board, apologized to Hybels’ accusers and said after listening to some of them, “we do not believe the stories were all lies.”
The group of investigators that conducted extensive interviews included: Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis, Indiana; Margaret Diddams, provost of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois; Gary Walter, past president of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington D.C.
The group concluded that the collective testimony of Hybels’ victims is credible.
“The credibility of the allegations is not based on any one accusation or accuser but on the collective testimony and context of the allegations. The credibility of the allegations would have been sufficient for Willow Creek Community Church to initiate disciplinary action if Bill Hybels had continued as pastor of the church,” they said.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair