The pastor of a Chicago megachurch stands accused of many episodes of sexual misconduct going back years, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
The allegations against Rev. Bill Hybels cover decades and include unwanted kissing, an affair with a married woman and inviting women in his congregation into his hotel room while traveling.
The report has sent the moderate evangelical world into a tizzy—Hybels and his wife are now reportedly estranged from their closest allies including the famous pastors John and Nancy Ortberg.
Hybels led a congregation of 25,000 and the Willow Creek Association, based on his leadership, counts 11,000 churches worldwide as under its influence. He abruptly retired last year.
Hybels emerged as a “cool” youth pastor riding a Harley-Davidson and quickly grew his flock. Unlike many other non-denominational megachurches, Willow Creek elevated women to senior positions—but that allowed the former pastor to prey on ambitious young women, according to Nancy Beach, who started at Willow Creek and is now a prominent evangelical thought leader.
“I feel so conflicted about the whole situation because I’m so protective of the reputation of the church, not just here but globally,” she told the Tribune. “But I have confidence that the truth matters. Even though he’s 66 years old, there are still young women in his path. I certainly wouldn’t want one of my daughters or anyone else to be in this kind of situation.. He changed my life. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve had… But then there’s this other side.”
Another woman, Vonda Dyer, the former director of the church’s vocal ministry and whose husband also worked there, told the Tribune a story about Hybels kissing her on a trip in 1998. She said he should confess and ask for forgiveness.
“I would love for him to experience that kind of redemption,” she said.
Hybels is not apologizing, though.
“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years,” he told the Tribune. “I have a wife and kids and grandkids. My family has had enough and they want the record clear. And they feel strongly supportive of me saying what I have to say to protect my family and clear my family’s name as well.”