Willow Creek Community Church is a non-denominational church founded in 1975 by Bill Hybels. It has eight sites in Illinois and is evangelical.
In March last year, allegations surfaced in a Chicago Tribune article about Hybels and suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms, causing him to resign in April 2018 despite denying the claims.
In a statement from Willow Creek this week, which it says will be its 'last' statement on the matter, the church leadership acknowledges the harm its founder's behaviour has had on women and the church as a whole and express no doubt about the validity of the claims.
The statement, signed by the nine elders, reads: "In the aftermath of the events made public in March 2018, we experienced a fracture in our church marked by disbelief, confusion, fear, and hurt.
"We have intentionally talked with former Elders, former staff, and the individuals who raised concerns regarding our senior pastor starting in 2014 and went public in 2018. We have also sought to listen to church attenders and current staff who have come forward. We have reached out to Bill Hybels; however, he has chosen not to engage in dialogue at this time. We welcome the opportunity to meet with him to aid in healing and reconciliation. We are issuing this statement because in listening, we recognise that there are some specific harms that must be named."
They then acknowledge that the women who have spoken out have faced intense criticism and the assumption that they were lying, saying: "To the women and their advocates...we learned that the narrative persists in identifying you as liars and colluders despite the apology released by the lead pastors in June 2018 and the former Elders in August 2018. In early 2019, the IAG report found your allegations to be credible, and we unequivocally support their findings. We believe your allegations about Bill. We ask anyone who participated in verbal and written attacks to prayerfully examine their actions, apologise for wrongdoing, and seek to mend the relationship."
The elders also address the former elders, on the board in 2018, some of whom defended Hybels and have since apologised, others of whom resigned, saying "We believe that Bill's denials and failure to acknowledge sinful, intimidating, and overly controlling behavior led leaders to make statements that were misinformed and incomplete" and that they will be treated with grace.
The statement adds a call to Mr Hybels himself to repent: "Bill Hybels served and contributed to Willow for more than 40 years. Simultaneously, unchecked sin and intimidating behavior resulted in harm that is still felt in this present day. Christ died to free us from the power of sin. It is in that spirit that we appeal to Bill to reflect on his years in ministry, repent where necessary, and seek to live out the ministry of reconciliation."
To read the full statement click here.
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