An accusation of sexual misconduct has surfaced involving Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, a mentor of Bill Hybels. Bilezikian, or “Dr. B” as he is often called, is a well-respected leader in the global evangelical church, and, according to Hybels, was pivotal in the founding and growth of Willow Creek Community Church. Now, an allegation from a long-time member of Willow Creek has gotten the attention of the leadership not only at Willow, but other Christian leaders as well.
“It began with subtle flirtations after weekend services, and grew to include hand holding, emotional sharing and intimacy, kissing and fondling, and pressure to have sex,” Ann Lindberg said about her relationship with Dr. B.
The Allegations Against Dr. B
Lindberg posted her account of the alleged spiritual abuse and unwelcome sexual advances from Dr. B to her Facebook page on Saturday, January 25th. What she calls an inappropriate relationship with Dr. B took place from October 1984 to 1988, while Lindberg was attending Willow Creek.
Besides the overt gestures Dr. B made, according to Lindberg, that were not only inappropriate but could be considered sexual harassment and aggression, Lindberg said Dr. B “confided about his unhappy marriage, his lack of joy, and desire for a better partnership.” According to Lindberg, Dr. B told her he would rather be with her instead of his wife, Maria. He also told her he was “very depressed and that being with me gave him energy and hope.”
Lindberg’s story follows a classic pattern of spiritual abuse. When a Christian is new to the faith, low in self esteem, or perhaps struggling with previous sin or a destructive habit that is overtaking them, they often reach out for help. Sometimes these people end up being victimized by leaders whose motives are less than altruistic. According to Lindberg, such a thing happened to her. She explains:
I was young in my faith, new to church, and hungry for someone to invest spiritually in me. He made me feel special, and he was a spiritual authority in a large church, and I did not feel like I could say no to him, even when my gut was telling me this was not appropriate….He told me that he felt he could help the church thrive because I made him happy. This put an enormous and confusing pressure on me to allow the “affair “(clergy abuse) to continue, because I did not want to hurt the church or him….He told me I was the only one in the world he could really talk to, that everyone else had an agenda. He knew how to manipulate my weaknesses, and I honestly believed that I was the only one who could help him. I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped. I didn’t want to continue as things were, but wondered if this was my purpose in life, to support him so that he could keep Willow Creek alive and growing, as I had been told. I was too naïve to figure out there was no way God wanted that for me, no way to maintain the “friendship” in a godly way, and that that had never been Dr. Bilezikian’s intent.
Lindberg Goes to Willow Creek Leadership
As to why Lindberg waited so long to say anything publicly about Dr. B’s behavior, she says she did go to the leadership of Willow Creek in 2010. Lindberg said she and her husband, Mark, went to two of the elder’s assistants, Scott Vaudrey and Chris Hurta. According to Lindberg, “They said that since it didn’t lead to physically having sex, the issue of concern didn’t need to go further than that meeting.” When she expressed her concern that there may be other women Dr. B victimized, Vaudrey said he was “confident” there were not, according to Lindberg’s account.
In 2011, Lindberg says she and Mark met with Chris Hurt and the Elder Response Team. Lindberg says that once again, her account was minimized and the group even threatened her. Lindberg says the group made it clear that if she discussed her experience publicly, “I could lose my positions of leadership in ministries I volunteered in, or could be asked not to attend altogether.”
From the point of that second disclosure until 2016, Lindberg says she was “constantly and quietly criticized, rejected in leadership, accused falsely of wrong-doing and even had one of the security guards watching me while I was at church.” It was this cold-shoulder treatment Lindberg experienced that led her to turn to Steve Carter—Willow Creek’s lead teaching pastor and one of the two leaders slotted to replace Hybels in his eventual retirement from the church he founded. When Lindberg reached out to Carter the first time, she did not include her allegations against Dr. B. According to Lindberg, Carter responded in a pastoral way and arranged a meeting with the people “involved in the attacks against me.”
In 2017, Lindberg met again with Vaudrey and Hurta. This time she brought postcards and a letter Dr. B sent Lindberg during his alleged abuse. Lindberg says she was thankful she took a picture of the postcards and letter because rather than taking these things to the elders, which is what Lindberg had asked them to do, she later found out that Vaudrey shredded them.
The next thing Lindberg did was go to Carter again—this time disclosing the alleged abuse by Dr. B. Linberberg speaks highly of Carter and his actions in her account:
Steve [Carter] reacted with his characteristic kindness, concern, respect and alarm, which I appreciated. After we spoke, Steve immediately went to Scott Vaundrey to alert him to the emergency, assuming that no one knew yet. Surely, he later said, had they known I would have been pastored and cared for better. But Scott and Heather Larson responded by saying they already knew. Soon after, Mark and I met with Steve Carter, Heather Larson, Scott Vaudrey, and Chirs Hurta. In the meeting, they told me it wasn’t my fault, that he (Dr.B.) was in a position of spiritual authority. I didn’t expect to hear that.