Elders of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois have now admitted that founder and former senior pastor Bill Hybels “entered into sin,” adding that they should have believed the women who made sexual misconduct accusations against him earlier this year.
“We apologize and ask for forgiveness that the tone of our initial response was not one of humility and deep concern for all the women involved. It takes courage for a woman to step forward and share her story,” the elders of the evangelical megachurch wrote in a statement published on Saturday.
“We are grieved that we let Bill’s statement stand for as long as we did that the women were lying and colluding. We now believe Bill entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth.”
Hybels, who founded Willow Creek in 1975, resigned prematurely in April following a Chicago Tribune investigative piece published a month earlier, in which several women accused him of sexual misconduct.
The allegations included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms. Hybels firmly denied all wrongdoing and said they were lies.
One woman who accused him of a prolonged consensual affair later retracted her claims.
Willow Creek Community Church’s elder board carried out an internal and external investigation into the allegations, both of which cleared Hybels of misconduct. They also held “family” meetings with the congregation where Hybels denied each woman’s accusation and offered his version of the events.
“The accusations you hear in the Tribune are just flat-out lies,” he said at a meeting in March.
Hybels retired in April while still declaring his innocence, saying the the controversy had become a distraction to the ministry.
In the meantime, newer allegations of misconduct were made.
In May, Pam Orr, then chair of the elder board, admitted that they failed to hold Hybels “accountable to specific boundaries” and not all of the women’s stories were lies.
Willow Creek Lead Pastor Heather Larson also spoke out in a statement on Saturday, noting that she and Lead Teaching Pastor Steve Carter are looking to acknowledge mistakes that have been made in the past few “excruciating” months.
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Source: Christian Post