Bill Hybels may be gone from the Willow Creek, but the scandal the megachurch founder left in his wake is far from over.
This week, the entire leadership board of the Chicago-area church blasted the church’s investigation of sexual harassment claims against Hybels and resigned. Those resigning were seen as successors to Hybels, including co-pastor Heather Larson, Vox reported.
On Wednesday, the leadership team released a statement saying that, “Willow needs and deserves a fresh start, and the entire board will step down to create room for a new board.”
Just days before, Larson’s fellow co-pastor Steve Carter had already announced his resignation. Though Hybels himself resigned months ago amid allegations of incidents of sexual harassment stretching back two decades, new details have come to light including a Sunday New York Times report that detailed additional allegations against the megachurch founder.
In the report, Pat Baranowski detailed how Hybels offered her a job as his assistant in the mid-1980’s after her marriage had fallen apart. Hybels and his wife later invited Baranowski to live in their home.
But Hybels soon began making advances, including uncomfortable back rubs, Baranowski claimed. It eventually escalated to fondling and oral sex.
Baranowski, who is now 65, said she did not want to come forward at the time.
“I really did not want to hurt the church,” she told the New York Times. “I felt like if this was exposed, this fantastic place would blow up, and I loved the church. I loved the people there. I loved the family. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. And I was ashamed.”
For Carter, the details shared by Baranowski were something of a last straw.
“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.”
There had long been turmoil within Willow Creek on how to handle the allegations of sexual harassment against Bill Hybels. In 2015, several church elders brought objections to the board that they were failing to take allegations of improper behavior seriously.
Most of this could have been avoided if the elders had done one simple thing from the start–believed the victims. Let this be a hard lesson for those of us in leadership positions in the church. #churchtoo https://t.co/ZGZxFjpJPG
— Jimmy Hinton (@JimmyHinton12) August 9, 2018
Bill Hybels had denied the allegations of sexual harassment but admitted that he “too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.”