Willow Creek elders to examine new claims against Hybels
The elders of Willow Creek Community Church are pledging to renew their "examination" of the church's former pastor Bill Hybels while also restoring faith in the congregation. The pledge comes on the heels of new accusations against Hybels being published by Christianity Today.
"Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of Willow Creek Community Church and its elders is not done," the church's elders wrote in a letter posted on the church website Saturday morning. "With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning. Moving forward, we have a renewed commitment to engaging well, listening deeply, and further developing a culture of transparency and accountability."
Hybels announced his immediate retirement April 11, six months before his planned retirement and nearly three weeks after publication of a Chicago Tribune story that detailed misconduct allegations against Hybels made by five women.
While continuing his denials at the time, Hybels said he wished his immediate reaction would have been "one of listening and one of humble reflection."
The elders in their letter Saturday said that they also could have handled the allegations better.
"We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding," they wrote. "We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters. We will do better in the future."
Within the next 45 days, the elders pledged to examine the allegations against Hybels, including "some that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board." They will seek "wise counsel" and work with experts, developing a collaborative process rather than an investigation.
"We will respectfully reach out to each woman who has made an accusation, even if she has not brought her concerns directly to the board," they wrote. "We commit that each woman willing to speak with us will be heard, and that we will respect her story."
In an article published Saturday by Christianity Today, the former head of evangelical publisher Zondervan said in private meetings Hybels spoke "sexually inappropriately" with her.
"A good example would be the first time he saw me dressed casually," Maureen "Moe" Girkins told the nonprofit Christian magazine. "He made a big deal of how I looked in jeans and said I needed to dress sexy more often."
One of the private meetings took place at a home Hybels owns in Michigan, she told the Carol Stream-based evangelical magazine. Hybels asked her to pick up wine and dinner, the magazine reported, and that she keep the meeting a secret.
The magazine also reported that two women who met Hybels in the 1980s said they had uncomfortable encounters with the pastor, including an invitation back to his hotel room during a conference.
The elders also promised to review and modify Willow email retention policies to reflect the best practices of organizations that deal with sensitive data and to ensure that the elders will be more available in person to answer questions.
Calls to the church were not immediately returned Saturday.