SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. (BP) — Allegations of sexual misconduct against former pastor Bill Hybels are credible, an independent group of ministers commissioned to investigate the claims concluded in its final report Thursday (Feb. 28).
Disciplinary action would be recommended were Hybels still pastoring Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), the Willow Creek Independent Advisory Group (IAG) said in its report. Since Hybels resigned his pastorate in April 2018, the IAG recommended no action against him, but recommended he seek counseling.
“Allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions by Bill Hybels in the context of his ministry and leadership of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association are credible,” the IAG said in a 17-page report. “The credibility of the allegations is not based on any one accusation or accuser, but on the collective testimony and content of the allegations.”
The IAG had no legal authority to accuse or convict Hybels of any crime or establish civil liability. The Willow Creek Elder Board, which did not have a seat on the group, explained IAG’s scope in an online letter accompanying the report.
“This was not a court of law or a legal proceeding,” the elder board said. “While the IAG members conducted scores of interviews, they did not have subpoena powers and could not place people under oath. They could not compel anyone to speak with them who refused to participate.”
Hybels never admitted to specific wrongdoing. When he resigned, he told his congregation he had been accused of many things he “simply did not do.” Some things were not perceived as he intended, and he at times made people uncomfortable without realizing the damage for far too long, Hybels told his congregation. He also apologized for responding with anger when accused.
Comprising the IAG, which has concluded its work, are Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Washington, D.C.; Margaret Diddams, provost of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.; Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis; and Gary Walter, past president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, Chicago.
The IAG also concluded it believes that Hybels “verbally and emotionally intimidated both male and female employees,” and that he at times blessed and then damaged the congregation he helped grow to a multisite megachurch.
“Some may choose to discount or discredit the past blessings of God on Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association, pastoral leadership, past elders and Bill Hybels because of specific words and actions in 2018 and before,” the IAG wrote. “Mistakes and sins should not be denied or forgotten, but neither should God’s blessings and the faithfulness of God’s people.
“The good accomplished is significant and long-lasting, and should not be minimized or discredited by allegations or disruptions,” the report said. “The good should be celebrated and perpetuated.”
The IAG was commissioned to conduct the study in August 2018, four months after Hybels resigned his senior pastorate amid allegations of sexual abuse and unwanted advances towards women he pastored and counseled. Hybels was never charged with a crime.
Among several preventive and corrective measures the IAG recommended are generally:
— Hybels should seek counseling to address issues raised in the report, and should do so outside of the Willow Creek church and association;
— The church should create criteria to provide financial assistance for counseling or other resources for women and men who were directly harmed by their interactions with Bill Hybels, minimizing their related personal expenses;
— The church and association should establish written policies regarding appropriate and inappropriate language, jokes, relationships and use of alcohol by staff and volunteers;
— The church should establish a written policy and procedure for biblical discipline and restoration of church leaders, with restoration not implying the disciplined person’s return to church leadership, and
— The church and association should establish separate third-party hotlines to receive misconduct reports, and to review them as an ongoing agenda item.