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.