Update April 3, 2018
John Ortberg has broken his silence on the allegations since the Chicago Tribune article was published. On April 2, 2018, Ortberg published a post to his blog which articulated his concerns with the way Willow Creek handled the investigation of the allegations. Ortberg believes the investigation was not inherently independent. According to Ortberg, he and some board members of the Willow Creek Association expressed concern over the fact that the firm that conducted the investigation was on a retainer by Willow Creek and “exclusively represents management.” He believes the women who came forward with allegations were not properly represented in the investigation. Additionally, Ortberg says this is “not a reconciliation issue between Bill Hybels” and himself.
“The idea that we have colluded to manufacture or encourage these stories is untrue and a diversion. Any call for reconciliation is a complete distraction from the real story. The stories of the women themselves are the main concern,” Ortberg wrote.
Update March 23, 2018
Willow Creek’s elder board has a released a statement in response to the Chicago Tribune article that was published last night. Pam Orr, the head of the elder board at Willow Creek, shares an outline for the investigation conducted by the church and also the later investigation conducted by an outside lawyer. Orr states:
“I want to be very clear. Our full Elder board, as well as each Elder that has served over the time of this challenging situation, believes that we have functioned according to biblical standards, with utmost integrity and exhaustive diligence in navigating this situation. We are in full support of Bill and are grateful that he will continue in his role as senior pastor until he plans to transition in October 2018.”
Bill Hybels also included his thoughts on the Tribune article. He maintains he did none of the things his accusers are saying and states “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.”
Until today, perhaps the most national news-worthy thing Bill Hybels had done is announce his eventual retirement from being the lead pastor of Willow Creek Church, a transition which he has planned meticulously. That all changed, though, when the Chicago Tribune published a story about allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at Hybels by prominent current and former leaders at Willow Creek.
Hybels has said he believes those making the claims against him have “colluded” against him in an effort to discredit his ministry.
According to the Tribune, which conducted an investigation into the allegations, the claims of misconduct are numerous.
“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, the Tribune found.”
The Tribune interviewed church members (current and former), elders and staff members of Willow Creek, and reviewed hundreds of emails and “internal records.”
After learning of the allegations some four years ago, elders of Willow Creek initiated the reviews. The vast majority of Willow Creek’s congregation was not aware that an investigation had been going on with the lead pastor at the center. However, some privy to the investigation were not convinced it was being conducted properly and “at least three leaders of the association’s board resigned over what they believed was an insufficient inquiry.” Pam Orr, Willow Creek’s highest ranking elder, assures the public the investigation was thorough and trustworthy. Orr says the church hired an outside lawyer to assist in the investigation, and both the lawyer and the church came to the conclusion that there is no clear evidence that Hybels behaved inappropriately.
Speaking to the Tribune, Hybels publicly addressed the allegations and the investigation started four years ago by the elders.
“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified,” he told the Tribune. “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. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.
“I have a wife and kids and grandkids,” he added, praising the elders for their work to look into the allegations. “My family has had enough and they want the record clear. And they feel strongly supportive of me saying what I have to say to protect my family and clear my family’s name as well.”
Hybels’ accusers include Vonda Dyer, former director of Willow Creek’s vocal ministry. In 1998, Dyer claims Hybels called her into his hotel suite while they were in Sweden and unexpectedly kissed her and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together.
Another accuser is Nancy Beach, the church’s first female teaching pastor. The Tribune says Beach recounted “more than one conversation or interaction she felt was inappropriate during moments alone with Hybels over the years.” However, Beach was very hesitant to come forward with her experience due to the fact that Hybels helped propel her career in ministry forward.
Among those who claim the church’s investigation was not sufficiently thorough are a few prominent members on the board of the Willow Creek Association, a nonprofit organization behind the annual Global Leadership Summit. John and Nancy Ortberg (Nancy is a member of the board) learned of an allegation from Leanne Mellado, wife of Jimmy Mellado (currently the head of Compassion International, but previously the head of the Willow Creek Association). A woman approached Mellado with a description of an affair between herself and Hybels. The woman has since revised her claims, but Mellado and the Ortbergs are not convinced.
When the Willow Creek Association also decided to drop the investigation against Hybels, more board members decided to walk. “Ortberg, along with Jon Wallace, president of Azusa Pacific University, and Kara Powell, executive director of a research center at Fuller Theological Seminary, resigned from the association board in January 2015, later citing what they deemed an inadequate review,” the Tribune states.
Additionally, Compassion International, a big sponsor of the Global Leadership Summit, has decided to withdraw its support of the conference this year.
John Ortberg also said he tried for nine months to get Hybels to meet with himself, Nancy, Jimmy and Leanne Mellado to no avail. Hybels refused to meet as a group without meeting with each individual first. The Ortbergs and Mellados decided not to meet under those circumstances.
In Hybel’s interview with the Tribune, he denies any participation in each of the allegations being made against him.