March 23, 2018

Bill Hybels Facing Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Influential megachurch pastor Bill Hybels is facing several disturbing allegations from women and former colleagues who say that he engaged in multiple incidents of sexual misconduct. Hybels (pictured above) is the senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church, a Chicago-area megachurch that draws 25,000 in weekly attendance.

The Chicago Tribune reports the allegations include “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms” and “a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the Tribune found.”

Christianity Today said several of the allegations come from former Willow Creek staff including prominent Christian authors John and Nancy Ortberg and Leanne Mellado, a former Willow Creek member, and wife of Compassion International CEO and President Santiago “Jim” Mellado.

Among the unsettling allegations are claims that Hybels invited female colleagues to join him in his hotel rooms while on business trips, unwanted lingering hugs, caresses, kisses, and lude jokes made by the Willow Creek pastor.

Hybels fervently denies the allegations, telling the Chicago Tribune, “This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified.”

“I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false.” Hybels told the Tribune. “There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”

In a video posted on Willow Creek’s website, Hybels expressed, “This is one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating things I’ve ever experienced—for me, for my family, for our church family.”

“The lies you read about in the Tribune article are the tools this group is using to try to keep me from ending my tenure here at Willow with my reputation intact,” he said. Hybels added that he is “determined to lead strong” until he steps down as lead pastor in October 2018, as previously planned.

“Let me be clear: none of these allegations are true,” said Hybels during his emotional video statement.

Pam Orr, Chair of Willow Creek’s Elder Board, also shared comments in the video message. She accused two couples of “a coordinated effort to undermine Bill’s reputation.”

Orr explained that in April 2014 a couple brought an allegation against Hybels before the church elders. “The Elders thoroughly investigated it,” said Orr. “They even sought outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. After doing so, we found no concerns, nor did outside counsel.”

“To be clear, there is no ongoing investigation of wrongful conduct. We have looked into every allegation that was brought to our Elders,” Orr held.

Detailing the extent of internal and external investigations of the claims, Orr insisted, “We have full confidence in Bill’s character, and we look forward to him continuing in his role as Senior Pastor until he transitions as planned in October of this year.”

The Institute on Religion and Democracy has been critical of Bill Hybels’ unassertive approach to the same-sex dilemma (here) as well as his wife Lynne’s “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace” narrative (here and here, for example). However, there is no joy here in learning of this controversy surrounding Hybels. These disturbing allegations grieve me. We can only pray that the Lord reveals the truth and delivers the healing necessary to mend the damaging impact on all those involved, including the Church’s public witness. Whatever the truth and outcome, there will surely be long-lasting scars.


27 Responses to Bill Hybels Facing Sexual Misconduct Allegations

  1. Jason says:

    Chelsen, I’m disappointed in you. The article by the Chicago Tribune is clearly nothing but a hit piece designed to attack a Christian leader and to drag the faith into the mud. Your article here is engaging in gossip and slander, which is something that I never thought I would see in a piece connected to the IRD.

    There was an independent inquiry by a lawyer who was not connected to the church. The newspaper quotes him as saying: ““After looking at thousands of documents, after interviewing 29 people, and doing as much as I possibly could, I concluded that there was no basis for believing that Pastor Hybels had engaged in a pattern and practice of misconduct, and to the extent any specific incident had been raised with me, I concluded that his actions in those instances were not inappropriate.”

    I have no connection with Hybels, just a journalist who is tired of seeing my career field used to promote rumor and innuendo and advance people’s personal agendas without facts to back it up; the salacious allegations in the Chicago Tribune article have no facts to back them up. In fact, the fact an independent investigation gave no credence to those claims means in the objective view of this situations there is no truth to them.

    Please reconsider the publication of this article. Due to the lack of actual fact proving misconduct, this is not something that an organization that stands on Biblical truth should be publishing.

    • David Fraser says:

      Well said

    • Chelsen Vicari says:

      Greetings Jason,
      I am grateful for your comment and your honest thoughts. Truly. However, I in no way attempt to conclude Hybels guilty or innocent. I too am leary of the court of public opinion. My only intention here is to report the back-and-forth claims being reported by the Tribune and Christianity Today and the video message posted on Willow Creek’s website so that our readers are made aware of the sad, messy allegations and also Hybels and Orr’s statements. Nothing here is intended with malicious intent or judgment, as I note in my brief conclusion. If there is anywhere in this post where it seems I make a presumption of guilt, please point it out to me. At the end of the post, I do note that I am grieved by the allegations. I am. Not because I have determined them either true or false, but because I understand they will have an impact on Hybels, his family, the Christian women putting forth the claims, and Evangelicals’ witness that the world is closely watching. I genuinely pray the Lord reveals the truth of this matter.

      • Bill Bjoraker says:

        Well said, Chelsen. You were careful not to ascribe guilt or innocense to Hybels, but to report the fact that these accusations are happening, that it is greiving…these facts help us pray for truth and healing. Thank you.

        • Dave Gingrich says:

          Hybels deserves tremendous credit for Willow Creek. It has been a blessing to thousands. Unfortunately, at least to me, the allegations sound very credible. I would love to see Hybel cleared of all charges (we don’t need another sexual scandal among Christian leader), but critics of Chelsen’s reporting should remain open-minded. As the great Jan Hus said, truth will prevail.

    • Greg says:

      Well said Jason. I am shocked at how many Christian publications have fallen into the gossip trap. This article is not helpful. Chelsen, we really do not need any “Evangelical Jerry Springers” mocking the church, because She is not perfect. Disappointing.

      • Chelsen Vicari says:

        Thank you for your comment, Greg. I agree with you that the Church is a hospital reliant on our Savior’s goodness and mercy. But I kindly disagree that I am somehow an “Evangelical Jerry Springer” mocking the church by reporting what is being said on both sides in this blog post. Again, my intention is simply to make readers aware of the allegations as well as Hybels and Orr’s recent refutations posted on Willow Creek’s website. There is no intention of malice or condemnation.

        • Adekunle Olusanya says:

          Hmnn. A good number of those who read your supposedly impartial report would not read or care to read about Hybel’s rebuttal or Orr’s clearance. I believe there’s a sinister abjective to this story anyway. As a journalist myself I always dig deep about any story which has the potential of inflicting emotional wounds on an individual or organisation before publishing. Enough of this “pull him down syndrome.”

    • Greg says:

      Pretty typical of men to defend the behavior of the abuser and discount women’s allegations. All part of patriarchy and complementarian theology in the church apparently.

  2. Greg says:

    Well said Jason. I am shocked at how many Christian publications have fallen into the gossip trap. This article is not helpful. Chelsen, we really do not need any “Evangelical Jerry Springers” mocking the church, because She is not perfect. Disappointing.

  3. Tim says:

    It’s shocking that no one is taking these reports seriously. The church is the worst abuser of women in America. There will be thousands of men thrown out of their churches because of their manipulation of women. This has been 2000 years in coming. Get ready.

    • Rebecca says:

      The church did take the reports seriously and investigated them. There was nothing to them. Men and women lie for all sorts of reasons. Note, no one has taken the pastor to court.

      • Sandra says:

        A church cannot investigate itself. If it does, it will always find in favor of itself in every situation, every time. To do otherwise, is to put itself in great jeopardy. The outside investigator is being paid by the church. It is always a sham when churches do that. They hire labor attorneys to investigate, but in truth, the attorney is gathering information for the church, before any lawsuit is filed against them. This is common modus operandi.

    • Josh says:

      “The church is the worst abuser of women in America”

      Good Lord, man – what world do you live in? Come down here in the real world and minister side by side with local pastors and social workers who daily seek to help women who have are hurt by abuse.

      “Worst abuser of women” – that’s the stupidest thing I have heard in a while. When men are filled with the love of God, they become the best husbands and fathers ever. The peace of God comes to homes that never knew it. My father was not a Christian and did not go to church and was very verbally abusive. I probably would have ended up imitating him if God had not pulled me out of spiritual darkness.

    • David says:

      Whoa, Tim! “The church is the worst abuser of women in America.” Really. Not pornographers? Not sex traffickers? Not pimps? The church?
      Why is the church majority women in most places if they are so abused in the church?
      I am by no means saying the church is perfect, but really? Your claim?

  4. Alan says:

    It is sad how the gossip charge is tossed around to defend those accused of misconduct. When the church released a video that was news.

  5. Lois Phelps says:

    We believe that Bill Hybels is a man of God! My husband and myself have been attending Willow Creek for over 20 years.
    Our country is in a sad state when we publishs articles without any proof and try to destroy people in the process.

  6. Neil says:

    Chelsea here is just exploring all sides of the issues.Its just a fair journalism on her part.On my part I just asked God’s guidance and understanding on dealing with this storm.

  7. Brad Reis says:

    First, these are accusations that have been made by, supposedly, credible people who served many years with Bill, in partnership and praise for one another. When Nancy Beach left she stated that Bill was an outstanding person to serve with. What would be their (her) motive to discredit him now? How would they benefit from such accusations? It has been reported that Bill wanted to meet separately and individually with each of them but they declined. Secondly, as far as I understand, there has been no proof from phone records, bank accounts, etc, that would put Bill in a position of back peddling or appearing guilty as charged. Thirdly, my understanding is that the accusers are now calling other women to see if Bill was ever “innapropriate” with them. Why? Didn’t they have enough evidence during these four years to convict Bill? Bottom line for me is that this whole thing is crazy and bizarre and it brings much sadness to both sides. My feeling is that there is a story within a story that is missing and may never be recovered. Certainly, there may have been some innapropriate behavior over the years (hugs, jestures, etc.), but nothing that borders on moral failure or criminal activity. If so, it would be glaring to the church. My two cents.

    • Jan says:

      You don’t find 1100 unreadable emails a little odd

    • Saddened says:

      It’s very disturbing that people do not see the abuser-esque behavior and speak following these abuse disclosures. This is one reason many churches are very unsafe and sexually abusive pastors permitted to rule and control the discourse for years. Secondly, victim blaming and a cover-up are textbook responses by ABUSERS to disclosure. The tragedy is not ” a great Christian man who has fallen” but how the pastor is over-valued and women he preyed upon, undervalued.

      Bill Hybels shows NO signs of concern, remorse, repentance, or responsibility for crossing sexual boundaries in a predatory way multiple times with multiple people. He then smeared the victims and continues to do so. THIS is NOT a godly Christian leader- nor response. We allow churches to harbor this type due to a shocking ignorance in their tactics. Particularly following disclosure.

      Read -How He gets into Her Head by Don Hennessy and the blog Crying Out for Justice. Let’s make our churches holy and safe places where these types are marked and cast out!!

      I think a lot of men see this as ‘Uh oh- look how easily a man can be wrongly abused.” WRONG. Instead….look at the patterns of the really bad serial abusers and pedophiles…they misuse power….they only care about image….google narcissism….see how they treat staff who are let go….There’s a pattern here and it’s called “cultic control” “narcissism” and “spiritual abuse.” Once you understand the patterns…this is easier to spot (AND PREVENT)

  8. Joe says:

    I wonder if it’s a coincidence that this coming out as Holy Week unfolds? A time when we look back on history when Roman and Jewish leaders, people thought to be people of God with all the strategies of power plan on taking down Jesus. A week when we reflect on how Judas’ act of betrayal turns into deception. In the end Jesus rose, and He will triumph in this situation as well. Who is playing what parts?

  9. MikeS says:

    A joke I once heard (told by a preacher):
    Businessman says to a preacher: “Preacher, it must be nice to be in a line of work where everyone loves each other”.
    Preacher says to businessman: “Loves each other!? In my line, people will stab you in the back, and tell you that God told them to do it!”.

  10. Jan says:

    Bill Hybels himself taught that the church envrironment will only be as healthy as its top leaders. The only issue I have is that obviously things got really unhealthy with Mr Hybels and several long time friends. The question to be asked is why? Whether it be that Hybels did commit adultry or if he didn’t , he does play a part in this getting to be an unhealthy environment. He needs to take responsibility for bad decisions, he does admit to hotel room meetings. 1100 unreadable emails to a woman accusing him of an affair but then taking it back. His continued counseling this same woman after she made the accusations. There are lessons to be learned for others from his mistakes.

  11. Jack Brooks says:

    Just my two bits: It sounds to me like pastor Hybels became, over time, much too relaxed and familiar in his interactions with women. Too much touching, overly-relaxed standards for speaking & texting, and definitely not enough circumspection. Private meetings in a hotel room alone should have been verboten. Also, people will let leaders act in ways that they wouldn’t tolerate from the guy in the next cubicle over, and that isn’t good for the leader. Being a “hugger” in the #MeToo era is unwise. Billy Graham followed strict rules in his many interactions with women, but people knew he was still a warm person.

  12. Saddened says:

    Again….this is not about “being a hugger.” Sexual abuse by pastors is REAL and until the church really cares about it…and sees it for the atrocity it is….you all will minimize the depth of this sin. It is a monstrous sin. I am a survivor of sexual abuse by a pastor….there is coercion, brainwashing, and many victims being atheists. SNAP is a Catholic org however, the tactics of the abusive leaders are the same. We must be able to discern between good and evil- people. A hug….flirting…nothing. You are comparing slight shades of personal comfort with truly intentional monstrous acts that involve deception, destruction, and allow the narcissistic leader to sexually use and then discard his target. By painting this issue of “over sensitivity” or “persecution of godly men” you are missing a GROSS evil that hides in the evangelical church and indeed many homes. Wake up people!!

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