In another blow to megachurch, lead teaching pastor resigns from Willow Creek

Amid a new set of sexual harassment allegations against Willow Creek founder and former Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, the lead teaching pastor and one of two chosen successors at the South Barrington megachurch abruptly announced his resignation effective immediately Sunday.

The Rev. Steve Carter wrote in a blog post that he was horrified by new accusations in a New York Times story published Sunday from a former assistant who said Hybels repeatedly groped her in the 1980s.

"After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best," Carter wrote. "That is not to say that I am right and they are wrong. But I must follow the path that I believe God has laid out for me to live with integrity, and that path now diverges from Willow Creek."

The latest bombshell to hit the church comes less than four months after Hybels retired ahead of schedule in April as church leaders examined numerous misconduct allegations made against him by women.

In June, Willow Creek elder board Chairman Lane Moyer told a gathering at the church that Hybels "made inappropriate choices in how he conducted certain meetings."

"There's truth that the women who shared their stories felt very uncomfortable and felt that Bill had wronged them. There is truth that Bill was accountable to the board of elders and we should have done a better job of holding him accountable and placing limitations to protect against some of the behaviors. For all of this, we apologize," Moyer said.

Carter, who was chosen as Hybels' successor alongside Lead Pastor Heather Larson, said he has been "gravely concerned" about the church's handling of the situation since the women started coming forward. The most recent accusations "compelled me to make public my decision to leave," he wrote.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Hybels repeatedly groped his former executive assistant Pat Baranowski, starting with a back rub in 1986. The report also alleges Hybels had oral sex with Baranowski once, and asked her to watch porn with him for research.

Hybels denied the allegations to the Times, saying he never had an inappropriate physical or emotional relationship with Baranowski.

Carter announced his resignation just four days before the church is to host its 23rd annual Global Leadership Summit, an event already dogged by defections by at least three scheduled speakers - including Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington - and several churches across the country that had planned to broadcast the seminars.

"I offered my resignation many weeks ago, but I was requested to delay an announcement and continue with my duties until the leadership determined how to make the decision public," Carter wrote. "At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution."

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Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels resigned from his position as senior pastor in April amid allegations of sexual harassment. Daily Herald file photo, April 2018
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