At a conference earlier this fall, former Willow Creek Community Church employee Vonda Dyer discussed the impact of clergy sexual abuse and urged churches to handle accusations with transparency and compassion. Speaking at the “No More Silence” gathering on September 9 at the Dallas Theological Seminary’s Hendricks Center, Dyer addressed going public in 2018 about incidents dating back two decades involving Bill Hybels.
Hybels, who founded Chicago-area megachurch Willow Creek and its Global Leadership Network (GLN), resigned in 2018—and other church leaders soon stepped down too. Since then, a new elder board has apologized to Hybels’ accusers and said the former pastor isn’t engaging in dialogue with them. Initially, Willow Creek leaders defended Hybels against abuse claims by 10 women.
Vonda Dyer: Coming Forward Cost Me Immeasurably
In her talk, Dyer recounts the “painful, life-altering” decision to speak out against Hybels, her former pastor, friend, and mentor. She admits initially thinking the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements were overblown—until she had “a reckoning with the truth” about how Hybels had treated her. (He has denied the accusations.)
Dyer describes a 1998 incident in a hotel in Sweden, which she first assumed was “a lapse of judgment” on Hybels’ part. Gradually she heard from other women, saw alarming behavior, and noticed patterns of perpetration. But once she “got too close to the truth,” Dyer says, she was “purposely discarded,” forced out of her job at the church she loved.
Dyer admits she didn’t want to come forward but realized she needed to speak up, “even if it meant losing everything.” With a wavering voice, she adds, “Some days, it feels as though I almost have.” The cost, Dyer says, has been “immeasurable”—on her marriage, family, health, friendships, and work. The impact was deepened, she adds, when Willow Creek leaders didn’t believe her and publicly assassinated her character. “I was naïve and could not imagine being persecuted, slandered, lied about, and continually bullied by the church on a global scale,” she says.
Such treatment occurred, Dyer notes, despite statistics showing that false accusations are rare. The evangelical church’s recent reckoning with abuse might be happening, she says, “because the church has failed in its biblical responsibility to call out sin and to hold leaders to the high standard of behaviors Jesus requires.”
Since speaking out, Dyer has become an advocate for abuse survivors, saying she wants to “keep lifting up the truth” and help “bring healing to the broken.”
Leaders Must Care for the Bride of Christ, Vonda Dyer Says
Journalist Julie Roys posted video from “No More Silence,” saying Dyer and other victims must be heard so churches can respond better in the future. “I pray victims and their advocates continue to speak out,” writes Roys. “And I pray that the church increasingly listens to these victims, supports them, and takes their messages to heart.”
Dyer’s message to the conference—and to all church leaders—is that we can and must do better. First, she says, allegations must be taken seriously because abuse is “ruinous to lives.” Victims need a safe place to tell their stories, with someone present who’s “able to take action.” Second, churches and organizations shouldn’t try to handle abuse allegations internally. As evidenced by what happened at Willow Creek, she says, that leads to “further victimization.”
Additionally, Dyer warns churches not to make any initial statements, whether private or public, about an accused person’s innocence or guilt. Instead, they should keep congregants informed, resist using “spin” to protect a leader or an organization’s reputation, and publicly call out any sin. That must be followed by apologies, public amends, and appropriate restitution.
Next, Dyer urges church leaders struggling with abusive or addictive patterns to seek help. “Let therapists and churches love you and help you recover the wreckage that you are causing in your own life and the lives of those that you are wounding.”
She closes by reminding leaders that the church, as the Bride of Christ, deserves protection and honor. As evangelicals address and confess the “horror” of clergy abuse, she says, “We must model the character of Christ” and “bring healing to the broken with merciful justice.” Silence is no longer an option, she says, adding that for Hybels, “Repentance is an option still.”
Scott Dyer Addresses Men and Fellow Pastors
Scott Dyer, Vonda’s husband and the worship pastor at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship near Dallas, also spoke at the conference. He began by calling his wife a hero for honoring their marriage vows and for standing up for women as “valuable, cherished daughters of God who are not to be mistreated.”