Pam Orr, the outgoing chair of the church’s elder board, said it has been the elders’ “top priority” to reach out to women who have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior.
“We have talked to several of them and are deeply saddened by the experiences they are sharing with us,” Orr told the congregation during a midweek worship service. “We do believe that we owe these women some apologies. The tone of our first response had too much emphasis on defending Bill and cast some of the women in an unfair and negative light. We are sorry.”
In a reversal, Orr also apologized for initial statements that called the allegations lies and castigated former senior leaders of the church who called for a more robust investigation.
“We do not believe that the stories were all lies,” she said.
Hybels stepped down from the helm of the South Barrington, Ill., megachurch last month following a Chicago Tribune investigation that revealed allegations of misconduct with women — including church employees — that ran afoul of church teachings and spanned decades.
The alleged behavior by Hybels detailed by the Tribune included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the newspaper found.
After interviewing current and former church members, elders and employees, and reviewing hundreds of emails and internal records, the Tribune revealed for the first time that Hybels was the subject of a series of reviews by Willow Creek’s elders, including one involving an outside law firm. The Tribune also revealed previously undisclosed claims.
The elders and the outside investigator cleared Hybels of any wrongdoing in the allegations they examined. Hybels also staunchly denied the new accusations the Tribune made public, including one by Vonda Dyer, a former director of the church’s vocal ministry. Dyer told the Tribune that Hybels called her to his hotel suite on a trip to Sweden in 1998, unexpectedly kissed her and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together.
“Based on the conversations we’ve had to date we believe at least some of Bill’s choices were inappropriate,” Orr said. “We are grieved that this situation has been difficult for so many people.”
Orr also told the congregation that her two-year term as chair of the elder board ends this month.
“I will leave this seat with a heart that is broken over the grief this season has brought to so many,” she said.
Steve Carter, the church’s teaching pastor, choked back tears as he asked the congregation to pray for the church, its elders, the women who came forward and the Hybels family.
“God, we’re thankful for the women who shared their stories,” he said. “Can I pray that they would feel seen and known and heard by us?”