An independent group of Christian leaders says the allegations and evidence of sexual abuse against Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church are credible.
The Independent Advisory Group was asked to help the church investigate claims of “sexually inappropriate words and actions” brought against Hybels last year.
“The credibility of the allegations is not based on any one accusation or accuser but on the collective testimony and context of the allegations,” says the group’s report, which was given to the Chicago Tribune. “The credibility of the allegations would have been sufficient for Willow Creek Community Church to initiate disciplinary action if Bill Hybels had continued as pastor of the church.”
The alleged misconduct reported on by the Tribune included extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, suggestive comments and invitations to hotel rooms. A married woman also accused Hybels of having an affair with her but later recanted the claim.
“Over multiple decades, the Willow Creek Community Church boards were unable to provide effective oversight of Bill Hybels,” the report says.
Church leaders repeatedly cleared Hybels of any wrongdoing during internal reviews of the allegations.
The council also concluded that Hybels “verbally and emotionally intimidated both female and male employees” during his time as pastor.
Willow Creek’s new elder board issued a statement when the independent report on the evidence was released.
“While we cannot change the events of the past, we grieve what has happened, ask for forgiveness, and commit ourselves to pursuing healing and reconciliation,” the church posted on its website. “Thank you for your prayers and faithful engagement in the life and ministry of our church during this season.”
The Independent Advisory Group does not advise the church to take disciplinary action against Hybels because he is no longer an employee of Willow Creek.
“Because Bill Hybels has retired and is no longer a pastor or employee of Willow Creek Community Church, the church no longer has disciplinary jurisdiction or authority. The church should not take further action,” the report says.
The council does advise Willow Creek to offer financial assistance for counseling for anyone affected by Hybels abuse and maintain a hotline for people to report any future misconduct.