Willow Creek Hires Independent Firm to Help Reconcile With Bill Hybels’ Accusers; Women Say They Want Truth First

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(Screenshot: Willow Creek Community Church)Bill Hybels, pastor and founder of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., announces his resignation at a church family meeting on Tuesday April 10, 2018.

Two weeks after Willow Creek Community Church’s elder board apologized for initially brushing off several women’s sexual misconduct accusations against founder Bill Hybels as lies, some of the pastor’s most vocal accusers have rejected an independent conciliation effort offered by the megachurch as an olive branch.

“The elders have said publicly that they are trying to reach out and ‘care for the women’ involved. But what would true caring look like? In my view, this is not the time to enter into any kind of reconciliation process. That is grossly premature. As I have said in prior statements, truth finding must precede reconciliation,” Nancy Beach, Willow Creek Community Church’s first female teaching pastor, wrote in part in a blog post on Friday.

“The narrative they are putting forward is that this is all about a ‘dispute’ between the Willow leaders and former members that needs to be resolved. Fundamentally, that is not what this is about. It’s about an abusive pastor and church leadership who have not adequately investigated his behavior, have not named it as sin, and have failed to confront and address it, calling for consequences for Bill Hybels,” added Beach, who had reported Hybels to elders in August 2016, for inappropriate conversations and a hug during a trip to Spain.

Hybels was forced to resign as lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church on April 10, after an extensive investigation published by the Chicago Tribune in March. Hybels denied a number of the sexual misconduct allegations against him, which include a consensual affair with a married woman, who retracted her claims. The Tribune report also alleged a pattern of behavior against Hybels that includes suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to some of the women to hotel rooms. Initial investigations commissioned by the church, however, could not substantiate the allegations and the church’s leadership staunchly defended Hybels.

In an about-face earlier this month, however, Pam Orr, former chair of the church’s elder board, apologized to Hybels’ accusers and said after listening to some of them, “we do not believe the stories were all lies.”

Beach’s reaction came just two days after Lane Moyer, the new chairman of Willow Creek’s elder board, announced that the church had hired Crossroads Resolution Group to “serve as an independent, neutral third party to listen to the women involved and discuss with each of them their requests and desired process outcomes.”

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She explained that while she was out of town last Wednesday, she received a voicemail from a Willow Creek elder admitting to making some missteps and expressing a desire to rebuild trust. Beach said she was also invited to have conversations with “a third party.”

“This is the first time any of the church elders have reached out to me since I met with them in August of 2016 and told them my story,” she said.

Moyer said the decision to hire Crossroads Resolutions Group, a Christian conciliation organization, was made after the church spoke with a majority of the women involved in the allegations against Hybels.

“Those conversations have led to deeper understanding,” he noted. “Crossroads’ focus is to work with each woman individually and with the church on a plan that is agreeable to everyone.”

He noted that Crossroads had agreed to provide trained conciliators to serve as an independent confidential resource for anyone who has concerns and does not feel comfortable contacting Willow Creek elders.

“We are committed to providing this resource—and confidentiality—to those in need of it,” Moyer added. “We also continue to walk alongside Bill and Lynne through this difficult season and we ask you to continue praying for them and their family.”

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, however, Hybels’ accusers expressed concern over the hiring of Crossroads Resolution Group as a neutral party. The firm’s founder, David Schlachter, they said, was hired by Willow Creek’s elders 12 years ago to investigate complaints that Hybels had been abusive and bullying toward staff members.

During that time, Hybels refused to take time off to address his behavior and an elder resigned in protest.

Willow Creek told the Chicago Tribune on Friday that Schlachter promised not to personally participate in the conciliation process but will have two members of his staff work with the women instead.

Despite promises from the church, Vonda Dyer, a former Willow Creek Community Church staff member who alleged that she was railroaded out of her job after rejecting perceived sexual advances from Hybels while on a work trip in Sweden in February 1998, also agreed with Beach.

“This is not the time for reconciliation,” Dyer told the Chicago Tribune. “This is the time for Bill Hybels and Willow Creek to tell the truth.”

Nancy Ortberg, who served on the Board of the Willow Creek Association and on staff as teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church for nine years, said in a blog post Thursday that unless the claims against Hybels are independently investigated, there can be no reconciliation.

“Involvement in a conciliation process while the stories of women remain uninvestigated by an independent process would be wrong,” she argued. “More than enough information and disturbing patterns have been clearly offered by many women. These victims should not be asked to proceed to conciliation, rather they should be respected by pursuing truth. Without this sequence the elders are continuing the abuse of these women.

“Furthermore the failure of leadership the elders demonstrated in 2014 when the first of these stories came to them has never been addressed. My deepest hope is that reconciliation will have its day. That day is not today.”

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