By Facts & Trends staff
Bill Hybels has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women in an extensive report by the Chicago Tribune. Hybels denies all of the accusations.
As the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Hybels has been one of the most influential American evangelical leaders. Last year, he announced plans to step down as senior pastor.
Prior to that, unbeknownst to most of the congregation, Hybels had been subject to numerous investigations by the church, former Willow Creek pastors, and an outside firm.
In an interview with the Tribune, Hybels asserted his innocence.
“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years,” he said. “There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”
Multiple women allege Hybels made sexually suggestive remarks to them, arranged to meet them alone in hotel rooms, or made unwanted physical contact with them, the Tribune reports.
Vonda Dyer, a former director of Willow Creek’s vocal ministry, told the Tribune Hybels called her to his hotel suite and unexpectedly kissed her. She said, “It felt like a proposition.”
Nancy Beach, the church’s first female teaching pastor, told the Tribune Hybels spoke about her “most attractive body part,” asked her to his hotel room for a glass of wine, and gave her what she considered to be “a lingering hug that made me feel uncomfortable.”
In an interview with the Tribune, Hybels disputed the women’s accounts and denied any inappropriate actions.
Other women also made accusations but did not want to go on the record, the Tribune said.
Three Willow Creek Association board members resigned in January 2015 after the board decided to drop its investigation into the matter, according to the Tribune.
Jeffrey Fowler, an attorney hired by the church, told the Tribune he reviewed the material available to him and found no misconduct.
Willow Creek responded to the Tribune’s story in a statement on their website stating they have full confidence in Hybels and that he will remain in his role as senior pastor until his planned transition in October.
The accusations against Hybels are part of a broader cultural movement often identified as #MeToo, which began as women on social media shared their own experiences of being subjected to sexual misconduct.
Accusations have roiled institutions from the Catholic Church to Hollywood movie studios.
More than half (54 percent) of women in the U.S. report having experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from men, according to a 2017 Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Incidents like the resignation of Memphis pastor Andy Savage over the sexual assault of a teenager in 1998 have brought out a #ChurchToo hashtag to call attention to these types of crimes occurring in the church as well.
How Do Pastors Think Allegations Should be Handled?
In 2016, Lifeway Research asked 1,000 Protestant senior pastors four questions about how to handle allegations of misconduct.
They included whether a pastor should step down during a church investigation; when, how, and whether the congregation should be informed about allegations of misconduct; and whether a pastor who commits adultery can return to the pulpit.
Here’s what they said.
- Pastors are split over whether a preacher can stay in the pulpit after being accused of misconduct. Forty-seven percent say a pastor should step aside while church leaders investigate the allegations. About a third (31 percent) say the church should leave the pastor in the pulpit. One in 5 (21 percent) is not sure.
- Most pastors seem cautious about sharing details of alleged misconduct with the entire congregation. Few (13 percent) say allegations should be shared with all church members. Most (73 percent) say allegations should be kept in confidence by church leaders during an investigation. Fourteen percent are not sure.
- Pastors are more comfortable sharing details with the congregation if a pastor has been disciplined for misconduct. Most (86 percent) say it is essential for church leaders to let the congregation know in such cases.
- Pastors are split over how long a preacher should step down from public ministry after having an affair. One in 4 (24 percent) supports a permanent withdrawal from public ministry. A similar number (25 percent) are not sure. About a third (31 percent) say a pastor should step down between three months and a year.