Report: Accusers of Bill Hybels are credible, Willow Creek board failed

Allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions by Willow Creek Community Church founder the Rev. Bill Hybels are credible, according to a report issued by an independent group empaneled to investigate the claims and the South Barrington megachurch's response to them.

The 17-page report, issued by a panel of leaders from evangelical churches unaffiliated with Willow Creek, also states that Willow Creek boards "over multiple decades" were unable to provide effective oversight of Hybels.

"As their chief contract employee and the face of the Global Leadership Summit, they should have taken greater responsibility to understand the nature and context of the allegations," the report reads.

Willow Creek's new elder board issued a statement on the church's website saying it will "honor and respect" the panel's work and is looking at church culture, policies and governance model in light of the findings.

"While we cannot change the events of the past, we grieve what has happened, ask for forgiveness, and commit ourselves to pursuing healing and reconciliation," the board wrote.

The Willow Creek Association board, which operates the Global Leadership Summit, issued a statement Thursday stating it accepts the findings and will "live into the next steps outlined in the report."

"We regret the pain that has been caused by past mistakes and believe these directives and information can offer a way forward that allows for acknowledgment, amends and healing," the statement reads.

Hybels retired in April amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving several women in his congregation. Hybels, who founded the church in Palatine in 1975 and grew it into one of the largest in the nation, at first denied the claims. But he later said he "too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. At times I was naive about the dynamics of those situations created. I'm sorry for that lack of wisdom on my part."

The panel, called the Independent Advisory Group, recommends no action be taken against Hybels because he retired. But it states the allegations against him would be sufficient to initiate disciplinary action had he not stepped down.

Among the other findings:

• The credibility of the allegations is based not on any one accuser or accusations, but on the collective testimony and context of the claims.

• Hybels verbally and emotionally intimidated male and female employees.

• The church's organizational culture was positively and negatively affected by Hybels' power, influence and style.

• The good done by the church is significant and should not be minimized or discredited by the allegations against Hybels.

Although the advisory group has no authority over the church, it did make several recommendations, including creating a reconciliation process, financial assistance for counseling for those harmed through the interactions with Hybels, and establishing written policies regarding inappropriate relationships and language.

For Hybels, the panel recommends he "seek counsel for addressing the issues raised in this report."

• Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.

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