Willow Creek Community Church located in suburban Chicago has long been the progressive darling of liberal Adventism, including Rocklin SDA (now Gracepoint), Stillwater SDA Church in Ohio, Kettering SDA, Toledo First SDA, Wasatch Hills SDA, and Westminster SDA Church in California to cite a few. Each of these churches have been, and are members of the Willow Creek Association. But all is not well in Liberalville, today.
The lead pastor and entire elder board of Willow Creek Community Church have announced they will resign to give the church a “fresh start” following new allegations of sexual harassment against founder and former pastor Bill Hybels.
That announcement came late Wednesday (Aug. 8) at a “family meeting” of the congregation at the church’s main campus in South Barrington, Ill., the night before the start of Willow Creek Association’s popular annual Global Leadership Summit at the church.
“This is really important. Trust has been broken by leadership, and it doesn’t return quickly,” Willow Creek lead pastor Heather Larson said. She resigned on August 8 of last week.
The news follows the resignation over the weekend of lead teaching pastor Steve Carter, who cited differences with the church over how it handled allegations against Hybels and a “horrifying” report in the Sunday New York Times that detailed new allegations by Hybels’ former executive assistant.
A March investigation by the Chicago Tribune and further reporting by Christianity Today documented more women’s claims that Hybels had invited them to hotel rooms, commented on their appearances and, in one case, given a former co-worker an unwanted kiss. The Tribune also reported that allegations previously had been investigated by Willow Creek’s elders and an outside law firm but that Hybels was cleared of wrongdoing.
Hybels — who resigned from the church in April, months ahead of his planned retirement — has denied all allegations.
Missy Rasmussen, who has been an elder at Willow Creek for seven years, said the board now could see that investigation was “flawed.” She apologized for its handling of allegations to all the women who have come forward, including former Willow Creek staff members Nancy Beach and Vonda Dyer.
“While we will probably never know with certainty everything that’s true about each of your stories, we have no reason to not believe any of you. We are sorry that our initial statement was so insensitive, defensive and reflexively protective of Bill (Hybels),” Rasmussen said.
“We exhort Bill to acknowledge his sin and publicly apologize.” Rasmussen announced to applause that the entire elder board will step down by the end of the year to create room for a new board. A first wave of elders will leave by Aug. 15, she said.
As for the children of Adventism, it's another reminder to place our trust in the Word of God and the Son of God, not in human wisdom or institutions.
“Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon" (Zechariah 2:6).