“I’d be lost without my blogger.” -Sherlock Holmes Season 1 Episode 3
This weekend, I attended a surprise wedding for Lise whose story you may have read: A Story of Collateral Damage: How a Sex Abuser at Providence Baptist Church Affected More Than Those He Abused. She told us all that it was to celebrate her engagement but when we arrived, she was standing in a cute white dress with red and white Toms wedge shoes, next to a sign that said “Surprise! We’re getting married.” I had guessed that it might happen so I was prepared with a wedding card and wedding gift! Ashley Easter and Shannon Dingle, both friends of TWW, were also there.
Lise’s pastor, Lisa Yebuah, of Southeast Raleigh Table, presided over the wedding with faith, humor and depth. Here is a video in which she discuss race as a gospel issue. She is amazing. But, I had a pit in my stomach because I knew I would have to discuss the Bill Hybels’ situation.
Willow Creek has championed women as pastors and elders so this is hard for me.I am hoping that those who criticize this blog as being focused on Calvinists and issues of abuse of women will take note. This blog deals with it even when it is personally painful.
The allegations against Hybels spans decades
Bill Hybels is known as the man who started Willow Creek Community church which stressed being seeker friendly. Many churches today base their strategy on the Willow Creek model. According to Wikipedia, Hybels
is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the most attended churches in North America, with an average attendance of nearly 24,000 as of 2011. He is the founder of the Willow Creek Association and creator of the Global Leadership Summit. Hybels is also an author of a number of Christian books, especially on the subject of Christian leadership.
Willow Creek promotes women in all levels of leadership and has a huge outreach into caring for the needs in the community. Hybels plans to step down in October, 2018 and will have two pastors succeed him- a man and a woman.
The Chicago Tribune, which presented the accusations against Bill Hybels in After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations, claimed church members had no idea of the charges made and the investigations which had occurred. The Tribune was given access to internal documents and emails by those who wanted this story to be told.
Hybels had been the subject of inquiries into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation — including employees — allegedly spanning decades. The inquiries had cleared Hybels, and church leaders said his exit had nothing to do with the allegations.
The alleged behavior included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true
Hybels and church leaders adamantly claim that investigations were held and that all such accusations are false. This story caused an uproar in the church. Members asked why they had not been notified. According to The Christian Post, Pam Orr, the head of the elder board responded that it didn’t seem fair to say anything since Hybels had been exonerated.
…Some asked why the church never informed congregants in the last four years that their pastor had faced allegations and had been cleared…
Orr said that since the inquiries cleared Hybels, it didn’t seem right to share the fact that there had been an investigation.
“It’s a sensitive matter,” Orr said. “We had concluded in the first investigation that we found no evidence to support the allegation brought forward. To bring that into full light, to bring that to the congregation just did not seem appropriate at the time.”
The people who are spearheading the revelations are long time, close friends with the Hybels. Why would they do something like this to a dear friend unless something was terribly wrong?
I believe that this is one of the weaknesses of the claims of ill will by Willow Creek and Hybels. The two couples are people who were once very close friends. Two other members of the Willow Creek Association, a university president and a female seminary professor, also resigned from the board and called for more investigation.
According to Christianity Today:
The group includes John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek and longtime friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels. It also includes Leanne Mellado, a former Willow staff member who is married to Santiago “Jim” Mellado, the former longtime head of the Willow Creek Association (WCA) and current president and CEO of Compassion International.
…The Ortbergs and Mellados were once close enough to Bill and Lynne Hybels that the three couples were part of a home Bible study. Now they are estranged.
…The WCA board also learned of the allegations. Among the leaders on the WCA board at the time were Nancy Ortberg; Kara Powell, a professor at Fuller Seminary; Jon Wallace, president of Azusa Pacific University; and former Amway president Dick DeVos, who is married to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The WCA board voted against calling for an investigation, in a split decision. Not long after the vote, Ortberg, Powell, and Wallace resigned.
“It is our firm belief that leaders should be open to examination of and accountability for our actions,” Wallace and Powell told the Tribune in a joint statement.
Compassion later canceled a contract to be a sponsor of Willow Creek’s leadership summit.
Since that time, Nancy Ortberg and others have continued to work behind the scenes to address the matter.
Hybels claims that his former friends are colluding against him but can offer no logical explanation as to why they would do such a thing.
He uses strong language calling it a continual and calculated attack. According to the Tribune:
The pastor said he has built his church with a culture of open conversation, strength and transparency, and said he could not understand why a group of former prominent members of his church — some of them onetime close friends — have “colluded” against him.
…“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified,”
… describing the couples as a kind of “vacuum cleaner” pulling in false accusations.
John Ortberg responded that those in the group of four (Mellados and Ortbergs) tried to reach out to Hybels but he claimed he needed to meet with them one on one. They were afraid that he would intimidate them in separate meetings and so the meetings never happened.
It was in this period that Mellado reached out to Hybels’ wife, whom she considered a close friend, to ensure she knew about the allegations swirling around her husband.
For nine months, John Ortberg tried unsuccessfully to set up a meeting between Hybels and the four of them. Hybels said he would meet with them as a group only if he could do one-on-one meetings first. Concerned Hybels may try to intimidate them in individual meetings, they refused, Ortberg said.
The lady who claimed she lied, became suicidal and then allowed Bill Hybels to become her counselor. Huh?
According to the Tribune:
In this situation, Mellado was warned that the woman would deny everything if she was confronted by the church. I beleive this situation is problematic for Bill Hybels. Why was (is?) he involved in counseling this woman who allegedly became suicidal? From the outside, this looks very strange. It could indicate that Hybels has a boundary problem which could give credence to other claims.
…Mellado learned the alleged relationship had lasted more than a decade. At first, she supported this friend and talked through what had happened. Then Leanne Mellado felt she needed to tell the elders at Willow Creek what she had learned.
Mellado said the woman told her things had started after a meeting at Hybels’ home in Inverness, when the pastor pulled her in for an extended hug, which left her feeling awkward. The relationship progressed through intimate communication over email, the woman said.
Mellado told the Tribune that the woman told her the two eventually had consensual encounters, including oral sex.
…Leanne Mellado emailed the woman in late March 2014 saying it was time for light to shine on what had happened. But the woman did not want to cooperate.
“I hope you understand. But if it comes to forcing me, I will be silent,” the woman wrote in an email reviewed by the Tribune. “I feel I should not have trusted you.” The woman did not respond to Tribune requests for comment.
Ortberg recalled that her frustrations with the pastor mounted while the initial allegations of an affair were being considered by the Willow Creek Association board. She recalled that during that debate, Hybels told her that the woman at the center of the inquiry was suicidal. He said he continued to offer her counseling — a clear conflict, in Ortberg’s view, for someone in Hybels’ position.
Bill Hybels admitted to inviting Vonda Dyer to his hotel room. What?
According to the Tribune:
…Dyer (on a trip) was getting ready to go to bed when Hybels summoned her to his room. Her roommate at the time said in an interview with the Tribune that she remembers picking up the phone and relaying Hybels’ message.
Dyer recounted that she went to Hybels’ room where he poured wine and invited her to stretch out on the couch while he sat in a separate chair. She said she presumed it would be a quick chat when he told her that he had taken Ambien, a sleep aid.
The conversation quickly turned uncomfortable, she said, when he started complimenting her appearance and criticizing her husband, and suggested they lead Willow together. She said he came over, put his hands on her waist, caressed her stomach and kissed her.
“He told me what he thought about how I looked, very specifically, what he thought about my leadership gifts, my strengths,” she said. She recalled Hybels told her she was “sexy.” “That was the night that he painted a picture of what great leaders we would be. We could lead Willow together.”
Hybels admitted he called her to his room.
He had invited her to a conference area of his hotel suite, he said, to discuss adding a song to church programming.
Dyer didn’t say anything at the time because she thought she would not be believed. Eventually, she felt she had to tell Hybels to stop flirting with women.
As time went on, Dyer watched Hybels and how women acted around him. By 2000, she remembers that she started to suspect he was flirting, if not trying to seduce others too. She said she confronted him and, after listing the specific women, told him to knock it off. He didn’t deny it, she said.
“Understood,” she remembers him saying. Hybels told the Tribune he did not recall the conversation.
Hybels admits to taking sleep aids and says he does not want to be out of control when taking them.
He said he has a strict protocol for taking sleep aids such as Ambien because he never wants to be out of control, and characterized the rest of Dyer’s story as completely false.
Nancy Beach, Willow Creek’s first female teaching pastor, was invited to, get ready… Hybels’ hotel room for wine and a hug. Then there was the odd *arms* compliment.
It might help if the readers role play this scene in their heads. Imagine being told to loosen up and to tell Hybels what your most attractive body feature is. This is bizarre. This comes up again later in the Willow Creek statement. Beach decided to come forward after she heard others were doing so.(ed. This is common for victims. They gain strength when others step forward.)
Beach served as a key volunteer. She joined the full-time staff in 1984 to oversee the artistic elements of the worship services, and 10 years later she was preaching on a regular basis.
fter dinner, Beach said Hybels invited her to his hotel room for a glass of wine. Before she left, she recalls him giving her an awkwardly long embrace.
“He would always say, ‘You don’t know how to hug. That’s not a real hug.’ So it was like a lingering hug that made me feel uncomfortable. But again, I’m trying to prove that I’m this open person.”
The next day, Beach recalled, Hybels didn’t seem happy. They didn’t have any more long conversations and flew separate flights home. A week later, he asked Beach to stay after a management team meeting and suggested they not tell anyone about what happened in Spain, she said.
… In 1999, he asked Beach to tack two extra days on to a European trip and meet him on the coast of Spain to coach a church, she said. With two young children and a working husband at home, Beach didn’t want to extend the trip but said she also didn’t want to disappoint her boss.
But during their two days there, work took a backseat to leisurely walks, long dinners and probing personal conversations, she said.
Over a three-hour dinner, she said he told her that she needed to loosen up and take more emotional risks. He asked her what her most attractive body part was, then told her it was her arms, she said. It also wasn’t the first time he talked about how unhappy he was in his marriage, she recalled.
The 1,000+ unreadable emails
The woman who reportedly lied and Hybels exchanged 1000+ emails that were unreadable. We are told they exist but that is all. According to the Tribune:
But by April that year, Mellado had shared her concerns with Willow Creek’s highest-ranking elder at the time, Brian Johnson.
Johnson, who did not respond to requests for comment, told Mellado in text messages that he found 1,150 emails between the woman and Hybels, but was not able to read them. He then alerted other elders about the situation, said Pam Orr and Rob Campbell, two elders at that time.
Though Hybels offered his electronic devices and financial records for review, the elders were unable to read the emails.
Hybels told the Tribune that his email had been hacked twice in the last 20 years, so he made sure his messages weren’t archived to prevent sensitive pastoral matters from leaking out.
Hybels denied and continues to deny all charges of impropriety
He claimed that he doesn’t talk about women’s *appendages.* He also made an allegation that Beach may be doing this out of spite. According to the Tribune:
…He said he recalled not giving Beach latitude to do as much teaching at Willow Creek as she might have liked but said he did not know whether that had triggered her making allegations against him. Regardless, he insisted he did nothing wrong.
“When (the allegation) surfaced in 2016, I was like, no, who twisted that one?” Hybels told the Tribune. “I don’t talk about women’s appendages.
The lawyer hired by the church to investigate cleared Hybels. Boz Tchividjian, hired by the other side, claimed there were deficiencies in the church’s earlier investigations.
Boz Tchividjian does not have a horse in this race and his expert opinion should be taken seriously.
Willow Creek elders had taken a more dramatic step, hiring an outside attorney, Jeffrey Fowler of Laner Muchin in Chicago, a law firm that specializes in workplace issues.
Fowler reached out to the Mellados and Ortbergs requesting their participation in a renewed investigation. The Mellados and Ortbergs brought on as an adviser Basyle Tchividjian, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Florida and founder of a nonprofit group the helps victims of sexual abuse and abuse of power by clergy members.
Tchividjian later outlined for Fowler what he viewed as deficiencies in Willow Creek church’s earlier handling of the Hybels situation, calling it a “cursory examination of Pastor Hybels’ electronic devices, finances and travel records,”
Tchividjian said the Mellados and Ortbergs would participate in Laner Muchin’s investigation only if it was, in their view, “thorough, objective, and independent.”
…Fowler ended this most recent inquiry and issued a report in February, again clearing Hybels of misconduct. The woman resigned and declined the church’s requests to keep it confidential.
The problems in the Willow Creek statement that cause me to believe that there is fire hidden in the smoke.
The following quotes are from the Willow Creek website.
The statement does not mention that 1000+ emails were unreadable.
In the external investigation, 29 interviews were conducted, and an information technology (IT) forensics firm was engaged to search the Willow server. In addition, email messages, phone records, church financial documents, personal financial documents, and travel records were all thoroughly reviewed once again.
Hybels I cooperated fully and turned over my phone records, my calendar, my finances, my travel logs, and all my personal devices. I opened my entire life to them.
Hybels mentioned these alleged incidents happened more than 20 years ago as if that makes them less credible. Maybe it was #metoo #churchtoo which gave them courage to come forward now?
It is apparent that Hybels has not been following the Andy Savage story. Jules was assaulted 20 years ago and still bears the scars of that incident. Just because something happened 20 years ago does not make it any less of a sin today.
It is evident from reading the narratives of the victims that they were uncomfortable about coming forward. They expressed concern that they would not be believed. It is common for victims to remain silent for decades. In fact, it may be have been #metoo stories in the press that gave victims the courage to come forward.
Many of these alleged incidents purportedly took place more than twenty years ago. The fact that they have been dredged up now and assembled in a calculated way demonstrates the determination of this group to do as much damage as they possibly can.
The statement mentions the *attractive arms* compliment in a way that appears to blow it off.
I think the church does not realize how odd this compliment was, given the situation that surrounded it. It took place in Spain at what might appear to be an intimate dinner. Both the dinner and the compliment that focused on her physical attributes were inadvisable and the compliment was also a bit creepy.
They outlined how they believed it should be conducted and raised some additional concerns about how Bill related to women. Those additional concerns included one hug that one of the women in the group said she had received and one compliment that another one of the women said she had received about her arms
The church claims that a *small group* actually stated they were out to tarnish Hybels’ reputation.
A statement is sometimes called a declaration of fact. The church is actually that more than one person (a small group) said they were out to *tarnish* Hybels.
It’s not right that a small group of people with a stated desire to tarnish one man’s reputation have sown seeds of distrust throughout our community. We’re so sorry.
I do not believe that for a second. Years ago, I stood up to a church leadership who I believed had not responded to reports about the sexual behavior of a seminary student who is now in prison for abusing a number of boys in the church. I was angry at the leaders. I was frustrated. I didn’t like them very much. However, never once did it enter my mind to *tarnish* their reputation. I just wanted them to deal with what they had done.I believe that this is what Bill Hybels’ old friends are doing.
Hybels accuses them of collusion and all sorts of negative motives. He never once admitted that his old friends may have simply believed that Hybels did something wrong. In his mind, they were simply out to get him. The strikes me as a bit strange.
Why would Bill Hybels’ old friends do this?
Read this statement carefully while thinking about the involved individuals Did John and Nancy Ortberg have a mental break and become delusional? What about Leanne and Jim Mellado? Are they hiding some sort of vendetta which has no basis in fact? No one can give me a good answer to this question.
This small group of former staff members has articulated outright to several people that they believe Bill does not deserve to finish his ministry tenure at Willow well, despite the thorough and conscientious investigative process that has cleared his name. It has become clear to us that they have decided to spread this sentiment through rumors and now through the media. They aggressively shopped the story to multiple media outlets. These actions fail to live up to biblical standards, and they have caused much pain for many people. We have deep sadness over the broken relationships with people we have respected and people we love. We are grieved for Bill and his family. After 42 years of faithfully pastoring you and me, our congregation, and after his family giving sacrificially, this has been painful beyond words for them.
- I don’t believe that there is a collaborative effort by a small group to *take down* Hybels.
- I don’t believe anyone in the small group of former friends made a statement that they were out to *tarnish* Bill Hybels’ reputation.
- I don’t believe that the Ortbergs and the Mellados are just crazy or evil people who are making up concerns about Hybels’ behavior.
- I believe that Hybels appears to have some boundary problems when it comes behavior around members of the opposite sex. He admitted inviting one person to his hotel room.
- I believe that Hybels did compliment the woman on her arms. That seems too weird to be made up.
- Hybels should never downplay abuse just because it happened *20 years ago.* That is naive and condescending to victims who still suffer from abuse *20 years ago.*
- Why is Hybels counseling the woman who supposedly lied? How weird and inappropriate is that?
- Could the lady, who they claim admitted to lying, have actually been telling the truth? She warned them that she would not admit to it if asked. She was also suicidal. I would say that this whole incident is in question and should not be used by the church as a proof that this is all a conspiracy of lies.
- The church needs to understand that some hugs and compliments on physical traits can be inappropriate and creepy.
- There seems to be a fear factor on the part of the victims and the former friends of Hybels. Why is that?
- Somebody needs to do something about the disappearing emails situation. Seriously?
- If Boz Tchividjian says there is a problem, there is a problem.
I also want to say that I believe the victims in these accounts and I am so sorry that they have endured a difficult work environment as well as the scorn from the Board of Elders and Hybels. I also believe that the Ortbergs and the Mellados were acting to protect the women whose stories they believed. Collusion? I don’t thinks so.
Never forget-this about potential abuse and it should be treated with dignity and thoughtfulness. This is not a rock concert, folks.