It’s been over a month now since Steve Carter, the lead teaching pastor of Willow Creek, resigned unexpectedly. On Sunday, August 5, 2018 while he was supposed to be onstage at Willow Creek’s main campus in South Barrington, Illinois, Carter was backstage throwing up. Afterward, he drove home and typed out his resignation letter. Carter recently granted his first interview since resigning, in which he shares a little more about his decision to leave.
“Pat’s story was pretty brave,” Carter told Religious News Service. “I thought, what’s the brave thing I am supposed to do?” Pat Baranowski served as Bill Hybel’s assistant for over eight years. When the New York Times published her story on August 5, which included allegations of sexual harassment by Hybels, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Carter. He could no longer serve in a position of leadership at a church that was initially averse and then woefully slow to respond to allegations of sexual harassment involving Hybels.
The church and its leaders had been dealing with the fallout of an article published in the Chicago Tribune in March, in which multiple women shared their own allegations against Hybels and his alleged sexual misconduct and harassment. Carter had even stood on stage when Hybels denounced the allegations as false and described them as an attempt to ruin his legacy. Now, Carter seriously regrets the agreement with Hybels that his physical presence implied.
He also regrets being on stage for any of the “family meetings” (meetings hosted by the elder board of Willow Creek, designed to communicate to the congregation) that occurred after the Chicago Tribune article broke. Carter wrote in a blog post titled “An Apology” what he believes the church leadership should have done at those meetings: “I believe now that what our church needed initially was to practice transparency and repentance, to grieve, and to reflect on what Jesus was inviting us into and to listen to the Holy Spirit.” Carter also apologized for not doing more to “prevent the hurtful statements that were made” about the women who brought allegations forward.
Steve Carter Moves Forward
The mantra Carter is repeating through this process of moving on from Willow is “Grieve. Breathe. Receive.” RNS reports instead of rushing into a new assignment, Carter is “focusing on his own spirituality and asking God what he should do next.”
Before his resignation, Carter had a book in the works with publisher David C. Cook. That book, the topic of which was to be about his leadership role at Willow, has been sidelined. Carter is now working on another project with David C. Cook titled Everything to Lose: Doing the Right Thing When the Stakes Are High. The book will be released in November and will focus on the reasons he left Willow.
According to the interview with RNS, Carter has also been reaching out to the women who have brought allegations against Hybels. He and his wife, Sarah, have also started a GoFundMe campaign called “We believe you.” The campaign is raising money (the goal is $50,000) to create a counseling scholarship program for “those who have been abused and shamed at the hands of churches and clergy.” The campaign description says 100 percent of the funds raised will go to pay for counseling for those seeking help healing from sexual and power abuse.
For Carter, the scholarship program represents a biblical calling.
We know God’s word invites us to bind up the brokenhearted, defend the oppressed, advocate for the marginalized against the powerful and to partner with Jesus in healing their wounds. One of the most redemptive things we can do as Christ’s followers is to partner with God in the restoration of all things. This includes healing and wholeness in Christ as victims bear witness in a safe environment to the devastating things they have experienced.
In a blog post titled “A Time to Mend,” Carter indicated he and Sarah are doing a lot of praying these days. They are praying for Willow, for those hurt and those who “inflicted pain.” In the post, Carter emphasizes his love for the congregation and the church, which is very apparent he believes is still doing good in the community.
“I think the people of Willow are really strong. They love the church,” he told RNS. “That’s one of the pieces that really breaks my heart.”