Willow Creek, Hybels again answer questions about denied allegations
Willow Creek Community Church held a second open meeting for members Monday night to address questions and concerns about allegations of misconduct with women against founder and Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, which he categorically denies and of which church elders say they have found no evidence.
Monday's meeting in South Barrington was similar in format to one held Friday night, allowing both Hybels and the board of elders to state their perspectives of the allegations first reported publicly in a Chicago Tribune article.
Willow Creek leaders say these allegations have been investigated over the past four years both internally and by an attorney with no prior connection to the church.
"For us, it's just about helping people understand the story," said Teaching Pastor Steve Carter, who co-facilitated both meetings. "We wanted to give people the chance to hear it from us. We're a local church and we're trying to find out what our people need."
Carter added that the next steps aren't clear-cut yet, other than to ensure that all members' questions are answered.
"We're just trying to respond to the questions and needs of our people," he said. "When there's clarity, there's the best chance for unity."
Monday's audience of 1,500 was about half that of Friday's, but both demonstrated strong support for Hybels after hearing detailed explanations of his side of all the allegations. The audience applauding his remarks several times.
Among the allegations addressed at both meetings is that of a woman who says she was invited to Hybels' hotel suite for a glass of wine. An email exchange between the two refutes that, according to Willow Creek Elder Board Chair Pam Orr, who said the woman suggested a late-night meeting wine several times and was repeatedly rebuffed by Hybels.
While Friday's meeting ended with a standing ovation, however, Monday's smaller crowd left more demurely.
Theresa Miksz of Barrington, a member of Willow Creek for nearly a decade, said she was grateful for the chance to hear from Hybels and the church Monday even though her opinion of both hadn't been affected by last week's allegations.
"I just wanted to hear the other side," Miksz said, "I'm glad that we were able to hear it."
The Tribune article released online last Thursday details allegations that include inappropriate conversations, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms, along with the allegation of a consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim was untrue.
The Tribune report references allegations of five women, two identified by name, including a one-time teaching pastor at the church who said Hybels gave her a long embrace and asked her personal questions during a trip to Spain in 1999. Another former employee accused Hybels of putting his hands on her waist, caressing her stomach and kissing her in his hotel room during a trip to Sweden in 1998, according to the Tribune.
Three former board members of the Willow Creek Association, the nonprofit Christian leadership organization Hybels founded, resigned in 2015 after they deemed the church elders' investigation to be inadequate, the Tribune reported.
The former church members and the two women named in the article couldn't be reached by the Daily Herald. The attorney who investigated the allegations didn't return phone calls.