After pastor Bill Hybels chose to step down from his role as pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Steve Carter took the reigns. But, as Vox reports, Carter has recently stepped down, mere months after his appointment. Hybels had been accused of sexual misconduct – he allegedly harassed several church employees and parishioners over the course of two decades. The church elders had been made aware of Hybels’ conduct in 2013 and 2014. In addition to the allegations of harassment, Hybels allegedly had a “consensual extramarital affair” with a church employee. The employee, who remains anonymous, spoke to another staffer about the affair. When the staffer did not cooperate with the investigation, Hybels was then cleared of “wrongdoing” in an “internal church investigation.” Now, the church plans to launch a more in-depth investigation into Hybels’ behavior.
Several church elders resigned in 2015 over the church’s handling of the allegations. John and Nancy Ortberg felt the church board had been unwilling to take the allegations seriously. They felt the investigation had been flawed and “poorly designed and likely to expose any woman who came forward to grave risks.” Though the church conducted a second investigation in 2017, they still cleared him of wrongdoing.
Hybels has denied any instances of sexual misconduct, but said that “I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.” Though his congregation was upset about his resignation, Hybels’ assistant, Pat Baranowski, has also come forward with her experience. She reported “reported numerous incidents of sexual harassment, unwanted touching, and sexual contact over a period of two years during the period of her employment in the late 1980s.” Additionally, she alleges that she was forced to watch pornography with Hybels and that he touched her and rubbed up against her. She said that they had oral sex once, but that he “retaliated against her when she asked him to stop.”
In a blog addressing the incident, Carter cites Baranowski’s story as the impetus for his resignation.
“Since the first women came forward with their stories I have been gravely concerned about our church’s official response, and it’s ongoing approach to these painful issues. After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best,” wrote Carter.
He added that though he had planned to quietly resign, Baranowski’s allegations made him rethink his decision. He resigned publically, and far sooner than he had planned. He called Baranowski’s allegations against Hybels “horrifying” and added that his “heart goes out to Ms. Baranowski and her family for the pain they have lived with.”