Those were my words when the first accusations against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, came out in the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today last spring. My words were in response to a group of men who asked how it felt for me, knowing I had served on staff at the church for four years in the 1990’s.
Those words still hold true for me today; they are just stronger. As weeks have gone by more women have courageously stepped forward to reveal shocking stories of harassment, intimidation and inappropriate behavior they say they experienced from Hybels. He still denies the accusations and the elders are now re-investigating the claims, after months of their own denials and unkind characterizations against the women.
From the perspective of 20 years of distance following four years of immersion in the Willow Creek soil I pray for the following:
- That all the truth finally comes out. The scope and breadth of harmful behavior, crude touching or worse that Hybels apparently directed toward numerous women must come to light. As long as patterns remain hidden or denied they will remain festering and unhealed. For the sake of the women, for the church and for Hybels’ own emotional and spiritual health all of the truth needs to come out.
- For full confession and repentance from Hybels and the elders for their actions and words. Those who have harmed others privately and publicly must confess and repent privately and publicly. This means Hybels admits what he has done. This also means the elders and pastoral staff at the church, and leaders at the Willow Creek Association, many of whom have resigned and have begun to admit their previous errors, take personal responsibility for assumptions they made in defense of Hybels, as well as conclusions they reached and publicized against the women.
- For forgiveness when the time is right—for the women. I disagree with the apology approach that includes the words, “Will you forgive me?’ Those are not the words an offender has a right to say to those he has harmed, let alone a response he has a right to insist from them. The offender’s responsibility is to apologize and repent. It is up to the wounded one to determine when and how she will respond. For her sake choosing eventual forgiveness can bring her peace. But she has every right to decide when and how her heart is be prepared to do that.
- For the names and reputations of Willow Creek and the Association to be eventually restored. The global impact of Willow Creek can hardly be exaggerated. Certainly there will be hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who will spend eternity with the Lord because of the vision and message of the church. It’s my hope that some day, through genuine self-examination, apology and repentance, Willow will be held in high esteem once again.
- That the honor and reputation of the Church at large will be defended. Let those of us who claim to be brothers and sisters of those who have made terrible mistakes of judgment, as well as of those courageous women who have stood up and spoken up, make a commitment to examine our own areas of weakness, selfishness and condescension that harms other Believers, our families, neighbors, co-workers and others who trust us.
- That there might be a time when the women who have been harmed would see a spirit of contrition and humility in Hybels, a spirit already demonstrated by the elders and former pastors, that would cause them to welcome a restored relationship on whatever level is safe, healthy and right for them.
- That I would cease any arrogant spirit that might cause me to think I am incapable of the hiddenness, defensiveness and deceit that Hybels appears to have carried out. May I turn my eyes toward my own wounded story, healing, and repentance, and allow God to build in me a deeper spirit of humility and compassion toward others.
- That God’s name will eventually be magnified and honored because of how those in the center of this profoundly tragic story carry themselves as his followers. And because of how we who call him Lord conduct ourselves.
The challenges we encounter in life have the potential to destroy us. They also carry the equal potential to be defining and transformational steps in increased Christ-likeness. The impact depends on our attitudes and actions in the face of those challenges. I pray this deeply tragic episode causes Willow Creek, the Church at large, you and me to more deeply reflect the Spirit of Christ.
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, and their daughter Gemma. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.