On March 23, 2018, along with the rest of the world, I found out about the allegations against Bill Hybels regarding sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Like so many others—and because of my gratitude and respect for Bill and Lynne and their family—I also hoped it was all one big misunderstanding and that it wasn’t true. However, I quickly stepped into my egalitarian responsibilities, which includes—among many other egalitarian responsibilities—“listen to the witness of the women.” Jesus did. The New Testament church did. So must we.
I was shocked and saddened at the allegations against Bill. However, I was not surprised at how Willow Creek has mishandled the situation before and since March 2018. Nor was I surprised at the systemic problem of abuse of power and of sexual perversion.
Others have written on the abuse of power and on how the elders and senior leaders have mishandled the allegations before and since March 2018. Scott McKnight has written a comprehensive and well detailed summary, which I highly recommend reading, click here for his article. However, no one has tackled the systemic and prevalent problem of sexual perversion that goes back to the foundation of Willow Creek.
The women who have raised allegations against Bill have requested for Bill’s misconduct to be investigated and for the investigation to go back to Bill’s college years. To make such a request, these women must certainly know something that the rest of us don’t know. Additionally, during these last few months since the scandal made news, more and more stories are surfacing regarding the sexual misconduct and mishandling of inappropriate sexual behavior of several senior leaders dating back years.
Today, five months after the scandal broke, I still hear Willow Creek defenders dismiss the experiences of women. They accuse the women of exaggerating and making a big deal out of nothing. “There is nothing wrong with a hug.” “There is nothing wrong in a compliment for having toned fore-arms.” Here’s one that many of us recognize, “These women are a bunch of flirts!” Translation: they are “temptresses”, which is the typical and default patriarchal attack against women. These attacks come out of the lips of professed ‘egalitarians’ at Willow Creek.
Very few people are aware of the kind of “extended” or “awkward hug” women at Willow have survived. Such details have not been made public by the media—not that I’m aware of. Below is a detailed and highly graphic and very disturbing account of one such “awkward hug” from a founding elder at Willow Creek—not Bill Hybels. The witness chooses to remain anonymous and asks for privacy. I am publishing her personal account with her permission as detailed below.
I arrived at his home around lunch-time for one of our typical meetings. His wife was upstairs resting in her bedroom. When I entered the living room to greet him and give him a hug, he puts his left hand behind my back. I tried to give him my typical side hug which keeps my breasts from touching the person I hug. But that didn’t happen.
He instead pulls me firmly against him and my breasts are pressed up against his chest. I was taken by surprise and hurriedly tried to pull away. I did so briefly, but then he pulls me back in firmly. Again, I tried to pull away. Again, he pulls me back in. It happened at least three times and very quickly. He was bouncing my breasts up against his chest as if he was dribbling a basketball quickly and in short intervals. All the while, he had a gloating grin on his face, enjoying the bouncing of my breasts up against his chest. I finally was able to put both my hands between our chests and pry myself away from him. My elbows and forearms hurt due to the pressure I had to exert in order to finally be able to pry away.
I was furious! And when he saw my furious facial expression, his gloating grin changed to ‘concern’. He asked me, “What’s wrong? Are you in pain? Are your breasts tender from your period?”
I was not in pain, I was furious! After fondling my breasts up against his chest, he tried to divert the “awkward” moment and the conversation to his ‘concern’ for my tender breasts and my period.
Throughout the years I interacted with him, he said and did several sexually perverted things to me before and after the “awkward hug” incident. I would tell him and clearly communicate to him that I did not feel comfortable having intimate conversations with him about my sexuality. Yet, he would repeatedly try to engage me in such conversations and other sexually “awkward” incidents.
Since the beginning of that year, the year of the “awkward hug”, I had been growing weary of our friendship. His attitude toward me that year had been growing extremely hostile and I didn’t know why. Later that year, I made the decision to end our friendship after he exposed himself to me in his underwear (incontinence diapers). That was “the last straw” that led me to end our friendship. I have had little interaction with him since. The “awkward hug” incident took place in early/mid 2014.
What I didn’t know then, and I know this now from reading up on the current scandal, is that in early/mid 2014, the first investigation of Bill’s sexual misconduct was wrapping up. The accusers of Bill Hybels contacted this founding elder prior to the start of the first investigation to ask him for his advice. He advised the women to seek “two or three witnesses”, 1 Timothy 5:19, as Scripture requires in order to bring forth an allegation against a senior leader. From the investigation, the elders made the decision that Bill had not done anything inappropriate. Around the time the elders were acquitting Bill, this founding elder gave me the fondling “awkward hug.” Only recently did I put together these pieces of the perversion puzzle.
This founding elder did not mention to the women accusers, as far as I know, that the Old Testament accepts a woman’s account of sexual abuse as a stand-alone account and without the requirement of “two or three witnesses”. This scriptural passage, Deuteronomy 22:25-27, is a counterbalance to and a more pertinent passage to address sexual abuse than his advice to seek “two or three witnesses”. The founding elder would have been aware of the Old Testament passage and should have shared it with the women who approached him—considering he is a biblical scholar and a ‘friend’ to the women who approached him about Bill’s misconduct.
Things get worse. As founding elder, this man has served as mentor to Bill and other senior leaders at Willow throughout the years since the founding of Willow Creek.
Things get even worse. I recently found out that this founding elder and biblical scholar is currently mentoring and/or advising Heather Larson, Steve Carter and other senior leaders at Willow and is helping Willow navigate thru the current scandal of sexual misconduct surrounding Bill Hybels. I have been informed that he was very upset at Steve, Heather, and the elders for issuing apologies a few weeks ago. [Update: Steve, Heather, and the elders resigned earlier this week.]
I have never spoken publicly about the sexual perversion this founding elder has directed at me. However, I have shared privately my experiences with a few individuals. I have made attempts to share my experiences beyond my close friends. The difficulty I find when trying to expose this founding elder is that when I attempt to speak to someone who might be in a position to do something about this man—there seems to be none—and who is or might be also aware of his perverted side, I am met with excuses. “Oh, he is just being himself.” “That’s just how he is.” “He’s old and forgetful.”
I’m aghast at how easily others dismiss his perversion as no big deal and with disconnected excuses as “old and forgetful”. No one seems to be willing to expose him. No one. Which means, he will keep doing what he’s been doing for decades and he will keep enabling sexual perversion in other senior leaders as he has been doing for decades and by that make impossible any attempts to “clean up” Willow Creek.
Given the account of Anonymous Woman above, clearly, there is more to an extended or “awkward hug” than simply a woman feeling “uncomfortable”. Clearly, there is much more sexual perversion beyond Bill Hybels. The depth and extent of that sexual perversion will continue to be re-outlined by the personal accounts of women as their stores surface. And, their stories will continue to surface as long as Willow Creek continues to deny and prolong enacting real change to address their structural problems and moral deficiencies.