The First 100 Days of the Bill Hybels Crisis

Email 1
Date: Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 3:54 PM
Subject: Laner Muchin

Heather and Pam,

I am a long time Creeker that has been following with great distress the accusations against Bill, the response by the elders, and John Ortberg’s blog response after the family meeting.
In John’s April 2, 2018 blog post, he expressed disagreement with the choice by the elders of Laner Muchin claiming that the firm “exclusively represents management.”  I wondered if that phrase was found in some obscure place on their website. So I checked.  The first sentence of their mission statement is, “Our mission is to strive to be the premier law firm concentrating exclusively in the representation of employers …”
On its face, the firm’s explicitly stated purpose appears to be in direct conflict with the repeated assertion that an independent investigation was performed.
Maybe I am missing something.  And if I feel that way, I suspect others are too.
The optics of this are not good.  Could you please help me (and others) understand how it was determined that Laner Muchin could perform an impartial investigation?
Thanks so much.
A fallen fellow pilgrim,
Rob Speight (Sp8)
 

Email 2

Date: Friday, April 13, 2018 at 3:26 PM
Subject: An Appeal


My appeal to you, the elders of WCCC,

Like thousands across the globe, I could not be more saddened by the events surrounding our church and Bill over the past 3 weeks.  I appeal to you, the protectors of the flock, to be the catalysts that begin the healing.  You must start it.
As far as I can determine, there are just 4 possible options to describe your role in this tragedy.
Option #1:  You are correct in your conclusions regarding Bill and the efficacy of your investigations.  
If so, preach it from the mountain tops!  I want to believe you.  The Christian world at large wants to believe you.  But there’s a problem.  There are other respected leaders who have another story to tell.  And to date, I (and the church) have not heard you respond to their allegations.  I assume that you have read all of their social media posts.  If not, here they are:

Please tell us where their stories are flawed.  

Please give us evidence to counter their claims.  
Please explain why I (and everyone else) should believe that you got it right, and the above folks got it wrong.  
You owe us all more clarity because the above assertions by past senior leaders raise so many more questions, that until answered adequately, cast the darkest of shadows over our church and ministry and your investigations.  Willow’s ministry cannot move forward until the truth is revealed and acted upon accordingly.
Option #2:  You were duped by Bill
You believed his explanations.  You believed he was telling the truth.  But now, you realize his explanations are flawed.  
Please, humble yourselves, and admit that you were fooled.  
Stop perpetuating a narrative that you now know to be false.  
Be courageous!  Tell the truth, so true healing can begin for everyone involved.
Option #3:  You conducted a very shoddy investigation(s) and you now realize that you came to the wrong conclusion
If this is the case, please do not continue to defend what you know to be a poor job that resulted in the wrong conclusion.
Please, humble yourselves, confess that you performed a faulty investigation, and correct your errors.
Option #4:  You have been complicit covering up for Bill
Perhaps you rationalized that God does so much good through His servant, Bill Hybels, that you excused his sinful actions.  Whatever you told yourselves to allow Bill to continue his pattern of conduct with various women doesn’t matter.  You have been complicit in this cover up.
This is the most difficult option for you to face. You NEVER expected this day would come.  Nobody would ever know.  And, after all, God has continued to work and bless the ministry!  And we don’t want to stop that.  But that awful day is here, and it is worse than awful.
Please, humble yourselves and tearfully confess that you have been complicit.  You are living a nightmare.  As difficult as it is, coming clean now is a much better option than waiting and being proven that you colluded with Bill to perpetuate a lie.
* * * * * * 
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not know which option accurately describes you.  Maybe it is a combination of options.  We hear repeatedly how the elders respond with unanimity.  This position makes it that much more difficult to move forward to relate what really happened.  
One must be brave and courageous to stand up when everyone else is sitting down.  If the board is not unanimous, will you be the one to stand?
Whatever option is true, act on it much sooner rather than later.  The 800 pound gorilla in the room is, “What is the truth?”  Only you can tell us.  Bill is off the stage.  You are the leaders and focus of attention on this tragedy now.  Heather may be the lead pastor, but you are the representatives of what is true behind this whole sordid affair.
You have thousands of people in the congregation that ONLY know what you have told them.  They believe you.  They are on your side in your public portrayal of the events.  But then there are thousands of others who are aware of another side as portrayed in the social media posts listed above.  
How devastated will those defenders of Bill be if the truth lies in options 2,3, or 4?  Then, not only is Bill guilty of abusing his power with women, now he and you have perpetuated a lie.  
 
If your work over the past 4 years with regards to this matter has been accurate and correct, then please, please show the other thousands within the Willow family where the assertions in the links above are false.
Everyone wants to know the truth.  And only you, the elders of Willow Creek, can confirm it to the rest of the watching world.  And it is only then when healing can begin.
Just because Bill has resigned, and just because Heather says that the ministry of Willow will now move forward doesn’t make it so.
Willow’s future is in your hands.  Do the right thing.
A fallen fellow pilgrim,

Rob Speight (Sp8)

 


Email 3
Date: Friday, April 20, 2018 at 7:24 PM
Subject: Recent Realizations

This is the third email that I sent.  It was immediately after the elders sent out their most recent email to the congregation, but it was BEFORE I was aware that the elders knew another article was being published in Christianity Today the following day. Here is the link to that article.  https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/april/bill-hybels-willow-creek-promises-investigation-allegations.html

Dear Elders,
 
Thank you!  Thank you for your letter just received. Thank you for your communication!  It is appreciated by all!
 
Like many within (and outside) the Willow family,  Bill’s resignation is a major topic of conversation with my friends and family.
 
As a result of my conversations I have come to a couple of realizations that I invite you to address as a board, only because you don’t have enough on your plates already (note humor and sarcasm ;)).
 
The main reason I believe the realizations are so important is expressed below.  But there is another reason.  Right now, Willow is a house-divided.  There are three camps in Willow that are fairly defined:
  1. The “Bill” Camp — = Bill is not guilty of the accusations.  He has been railroaded out of Willow by disgruntled ex-staff.
  2. The “He’s Guilty” Camp — = You telling me all of these respected leaders and women are lying?  Only Bill is telling the truth?  I don’t think so.
  3. The “I don’t want to talk about it” Camp — = Let’s just move on.
We all know what the Scriptures teach about a house-divided.
 
As you continue to pursue the truth, I believe addressing the realizations below will help the Willow family near and far process the evidence more impartially.
 
Thank you all for stepping up.
 
Rob Speight (Sp8)
                                                                     * * * * * * *
 
Below are a couple of realizations that keep many well-meaning and sincere folks from facing the real issue at Willow:

1) Many are stuck on the methodology of Bill’s accusers going to the press rather than processing the matter soley within the church.
  • Many believe that it was flat out wrong to go to the media with the accusations.
  • Many do not understand why supposedly mature Christian leaders would go public with such salacious allegations against a beloved Christian pastor and leader.
  • Thus many conclude:  Bill has been hanged unfairly by the court of public opinion, and he is the victim of disgruntled former employees of Willow.
2) Many do not understand and thus do not appreciate the very real trauma and internal conflict of women who have endured inappropriate conduct by a person in power.  
  • Many have little idea what the personal impact is on a woman inappropriately approached by a man of power in their lives.
  • MOST have NO idea what the personal impact is on a woman inappropriately approached by their world-renowned pastor and leader!
  • Many think, “Really?  Why did these people wait 20 years to come forward?”
  • Many believe that if something really did occur to the accusing women they should have spoken up immediately.
  • Thus many conclude:  the accusations are illegitimate, or at a minimum the accusations are minimized.
Because of the above sticking points, many are not processing the real issue:
  • Did Bill Hybels abuse his power and conduct himself inappropriately with some women in his sphere of influence?
Towards everyone’s healing,
 

Rob Speight (Sp8)


Email 4

Date: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 2:33 PM
Subject: A request for recusal 

A request to the elders of WCCC,

Let me first express my gratitude to you, the elders, for your attempt to continue the investigation of further accusations against Bill Hybels.  It is a job few would want.  Let me also personally thank two elders, Connie Tameling and Missy Rasmussen, for reaching out to me by phone yesterday and spending a 1/2 an hour discussing my concerns.
Having ruminated on the contents of the family meetings, the blog posts by former senior leaders at Willow, and now the personal testimonies of additional women coming forward, both inside and outside of the Willow family, it appears to me (and many others) that a change in strategy would be a wise decision.
Despite your expressed desire to “resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of WCCC and its Elders,” many have already lost trust in your ability to conduct an independent and unbiased investigation.
It is the truth that will set Willow Creek Community Church free, free to heal and free to move forward to write the next chapter in its history.  But many do not trust your role as the gatekeepers of what is the truth regarding the offended women and Bill’s guilt or innocence.
As I have stated in a previous email to you, there are those who are ONLY familiar with the elders’ and Bill’s attestations that after three investigations spanning 4 years that there is “no evidence of misconduct” on his part.  That is enough information for them to make their decision.  They conclude that Bill is not guilty.  In fact, they believe Bill is the victim in this sordid episode in Willow’s history.
And yet, John Ortberg, Nancy Ortberg, Nancy Beach, Vonda Dyer, Betty Schmidt, Jimmy & Leanne Mellado, Maureen “Moe” Girkins , and Julia Williams have all come forward.  They maintain that the women, and not Bill, are the victims.  It does not appear that any of these people (nor the women who have remained anonymous and not come forward out of fear) have anything to gain personally by not letting go of a call to further investigate Bill’s conduct, even after he has resigned.  
The belief that Bill is the only one telling the truth and all of these people are making up accusations against him (aka: lying) is becoming increasingly difficult to accept.  
Having told me yesterday that there is no governing body to which you are accountable other than to each other as elders and to God, I am requesting that at your board meeting tomorrow evening, April 26, 2018, you consider recusing the elder board from further investigating past, current, and potentially future accusations against Bill.  Further, that an expert on clergy abuse, such as Boz Tchividjian, will be appointed to perform a truly independent investigation that provides a safe place for affected women to come forward and to be heard.
Unfortunately, for too many, the quality of the elders’ investigations has been deemed wanting, flawed and unsafe for impacted women.  Unfortunately, no matter how well further investigations are performed by the elders, the shadow of the previous 4 years of investigating and the inferences of collusion on the part of former staff, implying the unreasonableness of their demands, discounting the women’s accusations because they span decades, and other missteps precludes you from being trusted to be unbiased.
The impact of this debacle has spread globally.  All investigations going forward must be above reproach, and unfortunately, for many, the elder board has disqualified itself.  Thus my request:  please recuse yourselves, and let a truly independent investigation begin. 
Scripture teaches, “As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1, New Living Translation).  The oh-so-pleasing aroma of Willow Creek’s 42 year ministry has been tainted by this current stinking episode, and the stench is spreading across the globe.  Please, step aside, and let a TOTALLY independent investigation take over that will root out the cause of the stench that keeps us all from healing and which will allow the sweet-smelling ministry of Willow to flourish once again.
Do you truly want the women’s accusations to be heard?  Do you truly want them to find resolution?  It won’t happen with you spearheading the investigation.  Please recuse yourselves so the women will sense the freedom to be able to tell the truth of their experiences.  Only the truth will set them free, as well as Willow.
Sincerely requested,
 Rob Speight (Sp8)


Email 5
Date: Monday, April 30, 2018 at 1:27 PM
Subject: A response requested


Elder Secretary,
 

As you know, there is an increasing number of people requesting a totally independent investigation into the allegations against Bill.  The day after I sent my email to the elders, The Chicago Tribune published Cathy Ellison’s opinion to the editor requesting the same.
 
I asked the elders to discuss the topic at their Thursday, 4/26/18 meeting.  I don’t necessarily need to hear from them directly if you happen to know the answer to my request.
 
Potential answers from elders:
 
1)  Yes, we are going to step aside from the investigation and let an independent investigator(s) with expertise in clergy abuse proceed.
  • If so, what is the timeline to establish this investigation?
2)  No, we do not believe an independent investigation is warranted.
 
3)  Maybe.  We are still discussing this.  
  • If so, when do you think you will decide one way or the other?
4)  We did not discuss the topic.  
  • If this is the case, do you plan on discussing the topic in the near future?  
  • If yes, when do you plan on discussing the topic?
Thanks so much for all of your efforts.

Rob Speight (Sp8)

 


Email 6
Date: Friday, May 18, 2018, 1:06 PM
Subject: Clarity requested from the WCA

Tom and Dick,

Thank you for your update of 5/17/18 from the WCA.  I’m sure it was not an easy email to write.  And thank you for inviting us to ask questions as a result of your update.
Having been a pastor/teacher/leader in my life, one of the primary responsibilities that I have taken very seriously as a leader is to be clear.  The burden of communication is on the sender not on the receiver.  Good communication is clear communication.  Receivers of communication should never be left with the task of trying to figure out what the sender is saying.  But that is where I find myself.  I believe you are well-intentioned, but I’m confused as to the meanings of commitments #2 & #3.
You state:
Commitment #2:  Caring deeply for the women who have stepped forward and brought their concerns to light. We will reach out and seek to listen to all with love and respect. Our desire is to see repentance, reconciliation and restoration of relationship, providing an environment of acceptance, forgiveness and healing where the Spirit of God can work for mutually beneficial resolution.
  • Question:  What does “caring deeply for the women” look like in real life?  How will the women know that you care deeply for them?  We are being told by the elders that not all of the women’s stories are lies.  Is that caring deeply for them?  Were 90% lies?  10% lies?  What were lies? Who determines what stories are lies and what stories are true?  What are the true stories?  
  • Question:  What will you do after you “listen to all with love and respect”?  I think the women want more than listening.  They have expressed a desire for a totally independent third-party investigation and that has not been granted.  Is that listening with love and respect?
  • Question:  Who are you calling to repent?  As far as I am aware, no one has confessed anything that they must repent from.  Confession is always the prelude to repentance.
  • Question:  What parties will be involved with “reconciliation and restoration of relationship”?  The women and Bill?  The women and the elders?  The Ortbergs and Mellados with Bill?  With the elders who accused them of colluding?  
  • Question:  What is an “environment of acceptance”?  And how is it relevant in this mess?  
  • Question:  What does a “mutually beneficial resolution” mean?  That phrase sounds like you’re referring to two parties that have had a disagreement for which they seek a resolution as opposed to women who feel they have been sinned against and a true confession and apology is necessary.
You state:
Commitment #3:  Walking with Bill Hybels during an appropriate season of reflection, providing support and help that can lead to a place of reconciliation and restoration. 
  • Question:  What does it mean to “walk with Bill during an appropriate season of reflection”?  What does that look like practically?  Who is in charge of this season of reflection?  Bill?  The elders?
  • Question:  What does “support and help” look like?  Is Bill the victim that needs support and help?
  • Question:  What does “reconciliation and restoration” look like for Bill?  Reconciliation to the women?  To the former senior leaders of Willow who have accused him, who he claimed colluded against him?  Restoration to leading the WCA?  Restoration to teaching at Willow?
I apologize for asking so many questions, but I think the answers to these questions are crucial for everyone’s understanding. Clarity from the elders and the WCA is a necessity.  You are the leaders regarding this tragedy.  And unfortunately, confusion continues to reign in the minds and hearts of many.
Requesting clarity,

Rob Speight (Sp8)

 


Email 7
Date: Saturday, May 19, 2018, 8:52 AM
Subject: Encouragement for elders’ statements to be clear

To the elder board of WCCC:
Your next communication with WCCC is this coming Wednesday.  You know that the leaders of the WCA sent out an update this week regarding the GLS and Bill, along with their “commitments.”  Below is my response to two of their commitments.  My call to clarity to the WCA leadership is also applicable to you, the elders.  Much of what is being communicated to the body at Willow and beyond continues to confuse rather than clarify.  May my comments below serve as an encouragement for your update to be exceedingly clear on Wednesday evening (and going forward).  Thanks so much!
An enemy of obfuscation,

Rob Speight (Sp8)

 


Email 8
Date: Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at 9:28 AM
Subject: Unity

Elder Response Team Members

I thought it interesting, when we were together one week ago, that you placed a very high value on unity in the church especially during these troubling days at Willow.  I even asked you if unity was your highest good because of your emphasis on it.

 

I came upon this tweet from Beth Moore on unity.  I think it is insightful.  

 

 

Thanks again for the encouragement to attend the ongoing updates from the elders.  I look forward to tonight.

 

A fellow pilgrim,

Rob Speight (Sp8)


Email 9
Date: Thursday, June 16, 2018, 4:46 PM
Subject: My Response to the Elder Response Team follow-up

Thank you for inviting me to talk with you yesterday in order to gain increasing clarity regarding the desires, intentions, and goals of my communication with the elders.  Thanks too for providing your summary of the focus and outcome below, as you see them.  My responses to your thoughts are below in red.

 

Rob,
Thank you for taking time to meet with us today.
In holding high the value of clear communication (Yes!) we want to summarize the focus and outcome of our time together with this email.
    We understand from what you have shared that….
  • you are sincerely troubled by how the elders have handled the process so far.  Yes!
  • you feel led by the Spirit to voice your concerns.  Yes!
  • you fear that the elders are unaware of how untrustworthy their responses appear to you and the friends/congregants that you talk to.
    • No.  I do not fear that the elders are unaware that they have lost the trust of many.  
    • They have already acknowledged that they have lost the trust of people in their communications with the congregation.  They have stated that they seek to rebuild trust with the congregation because of their self-proclaimed missteps.  
    • Unfortunately, not only have those missteps resulted in a loss of trust within the Willow family, but also a loss of respect from those outside of Willow.
  • your feel someone should hold the elders accountable and you feel that you have a role to play in holding them accountable.
    • What I stated is that the elders need to be held accountable, especially currently in how they handle the accusations of the various women.  
    • I don’t believe that role of holding the elders accountable should be vested in one individual.  In fact, I believe the elders are accountable to the entire congregation as servant leaders.  
    • I view myself as one voice from the congregation.  
    • I hope others, including the two of you, have the courage to express their (your) concerns to the elders as well when they (you) are troubled with decisions the elders make.
We ask that….
  • you voice your concerns and feedback directly to the elders on Wednesday evenings when they are available in person, and take advantage of the opportunity to process your anger, disappointment, fears and concerns.  
    • Thank you for the invitation to voice my concerns and feedback on the Wednesday evenings when the elders update the congregation and are available in person.  Because of your encouragement, I have already made the decision to attend the next update from the elders on June 6.  And if I have questions on Wednesday night, I plan on engaging in the setting that is encouraged by the elders.  Thank you. 
    • I did not / do not agree to make the Wednesday evening update venues to be the sole way / time that I communicate with the elders.
    • Regarding what I process, I used the descriptors of:  disappointment, fears, and concerns. That is absolutely true.  
    • In the 75 minutes that we had together yesterday, I don’t recall either you or me using the descriptor of anger in my reactions expressed orally nor in my written communications over the past 2 months.  
  • when you voice your concerns, we encourage you to surrender the outcome to the work of God’s Spirit without demanding it be done your way.
    • I am not exactly sure what your point is in this bullet. 
    • Are you equating whatever the elders ultimately decide / conclude to be the work of God’s Spirit? I don’t necessarily agree with that assertion (if indeed you are asserting such). See above statements on elder accountability.
    • Nobody has to do anything “my way.”  And I have not once used the word “demand,” in any of my communications.   
    • I am absolutely trusting God’s Spirit to reveal the truth and bring justice to the impacted women and to begin the healing of our church and its reputation.
  • when you process your thoughts and opinions with friends/congregants that you will continue to use your pastoral discernment and wisdom by  guarding against passing on judgement or accusations with a humble posture that all of us have an incomplete perspective.
    • I promise to prayerfully ask God to give me wisdom and discernment in what, how, and to whom I communicate.  
    • May I point out that the elders’ statements of the women lying and former leaders colluding would fall under the categories of passing judgment and accusing and hardly expressed in a humble posture.  
    • In fact, there are thousands of folks at Willow that formulated their opinions on Bill’s innocence and the accompanying dismissal of the women based on those self-assured judgments and accusations by Bill and the elders. 
Holding the tension of this hard season – with you.  Amen!
Praying that everyone who is involved and affected be responsive to God’s work so that healing can come.   Amen!
 
Sincerely,
Elder Response Team Members

Thanks, Elder Response Team Members, for your desire and efforts to clearly understand one another.  My desire for Willow to move on and minister in power and for unity to be restored is not one iota less than yours.  But all of these desires can only be realized if the truth is made known and we all humbly respond to that truth.  Without the revelation of the truth and accompanying confession and contrition, the ministry of Willow may go on and look similar outwardly as in the past, but it will be without the blessing and power of God.

A co-laborer,
Rob Speight (Sp8)


*****


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