Willow Creek elders hope to put Hybels harassment scandal to rest in statement

Willow Creek Community Church elders have issued what they described as a final public statement on the sexual harassment scandal involving founder Bill Hybels, saying they still wanted to meet with the charismatic pastor but that he had chosen not to engage yet.

To female parishioners who had accused Hybels of misconduct in 2018 and suffered retaliation by members of the evangelical megachurch, the elders said Friday, "We believe your allegations against Bill."

"We ask anyone who participated in verbal and written attacks to prayerfully examine their actions, apologize for wrongdoing and seek to mend the relationship."

An independent panel of Evangelical Christian leaders in a report last year found allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions by Hybels toward several women in the congregation credible and that he verbally and emotionally intimidated church employees.

Hybels founded the South Barrington-based church in 1975 and resigned early in April 2018. His exit was followed by a slew of departures by top church staff members and the previous elder board.

Hybels contributed to Willow Creek for more than 40 years, but "unchecked sin and intimidating behavior resulted in harm that is still felt to this present day," the elders said.

"This is our last public statement intended to directly address the events of 2018 ... We will continue to work privately with individuals seeking renewed relationships and reconciliation."

The church will hold a related worship and reflection service at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, in South Barrington.

In the last months, the board of elders had reached out to former staff members and elders, women victimized by Hybels and to the pastor himself, they explained.

"We welcome the opportunity to meet with (Hybels) to aid in healing and reconciliation," the statement noted. Elders said they issued the statement because there were "specific harms that needed to be named" involving Willow Creek staff members, the previous elder board, and organizations with connections to Willow Creek.

For example, "there was an unfair assumption that you acted with malice," the statement said of the 2018 elders. "We have seen the public anger and judgment directed toward you. We believe that Bill's denials and failure to acknowledge sinful, intimidating, and overly controlling behavior led leaders to make statements that were misinformed and incomplete."

And, to past and current staff members, "we recognize that you too have suffered harm in broken relationships, trust, and sense of community," the elders said.

Willow Creek is based in South Barrington but has other locations including Crystal Lake, Huntley and Wheaton.

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