“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:15
This blog post is addressed to you, my fellow members and attenders of Willow Creek Community Church.
Before you read this post, allow me to introduce myself. After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor. I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern. I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor. I have attended the GLS numerous times. Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x). I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.
I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!
I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming. I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update. And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.
As the days marched on with no apparent resolution in sight, I have felt compelled to share more publicly.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.
Your brother in Christ,
Rob Speight (Sp8)
* * * *
Since late March, much has been said and written about the players in the tragedy we are going through: Bill Hybels, the accusing women, the former leaders at Willow, the elders, and the WCA. There is one very important group of people who have been almost entirely left out of the conversation: you, the congregation of Willow Creek. You play an immensely important role in this crisis. And that is why I am addressing you in this post.
As you are well aware, very soon after the accusations against Bill Hybels by several women were revealed by the Chicago Tribune in late March of 2018, the elders held a family meeting for you so that they could address the allegations against Bill.
You responded scripturally to your pastor and elders at that meeting.
- “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…” Hebrews 13:17
It is a rare congregation that responds as well to its leaders’ words and place themselves under their authority as well as you do! Throughout our church’s 42 year history, the congregation has trusted and responded to its leadership. As a result, God has performed spectacular works that could have only come from His hands.
One would assume the family meeting would have put an end to any discussion on the topic of Bill Hybels being inappropriate in his conduct with various women. The elders explained that they had performed multiple investigations over the previous 4+ years, and Bill was found innocent. Plus, Bill vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
THE INITIAL PROBLEM AFTER THE FAMILY MEETING
The beloved former leaders of Willow sought to have an investigation into the allegations against Bill Hybels for 4 years. They would not take the denial of any wrongdoing by Bill as the final word. They believed that the search for the truth in this matter was not complete.
Plus, a few of the offended women continued to seek justice for themselves and others.
What did they know that we in the congregation did not?
THE QUEST FOR THE TRUTH
1 — These former leaders continued to press for a more diligent effort to discover the truth.
Let me encourage you to read the blogs of these former leaders of Willow who we all loved and respected. Click on their highlighted names below to find out their perspective.
2 — In addition, I felt compelled to email the elders as well as the Willow Creek Association during April, May, and June because I felt there were too many unanswered questions hanging out there. My purpose was to be an additional voice that would seek to hold Heather Larson and the elders accountable.
Let me encourage you to click here for my communications with the elders, WCA, and the Elder Response Team. They are in chronological order.
3 — There were stories being published of additional women coming forward to tell their stories of troubling interactions with Bill. The links to those stories are below:
4 — Vonda Dyer has been relentless in her Twitter feed to advocate for the women, to link with pertinent experts on the topic of clergy abuse and to repeatedly call for a totally independent third party investigation to reveal the truth of what really happened with the women and Bill Hybels. Let me encourage you to follow Vonda @Chelseaker
5 — Others have felt compelled to address this sad chapter in Willow’s history:
- New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight wrote two insightful and incisive blog posts:Willow: Why The Women Went Public?
- Clinical psychologist, Jim Bedell, utilized his expertise to give us insight into Bill and his impact on the organization he led.
Time Should Not Heal
- This writer, who addressed the elders privately for 3 months, has started a blog two weeks ago and identified a dozen elephants in the room that the leadership of Willow Creek has yet to admit exist.
- There are several other blogs that contribute a wealth of insight into what we, the congregation of Willow, are going through. Rather than list them all here, let me encourage you again to follow Vonda’s twitter feed. She links to the most salient ones.
PROBLEMS THAT PERSIST
1 — Gradually, baby step by baby step, over the last 3+ months, Heather and the elders have altered their narrative. It has gone from:
- Bill is totally innocent and the women are liars … to
- Not all of the women are liars, and not everything they reported are lies … to
- They have expressed apologies of sorts to the women. And they for the first time ever said that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”
This migration of narrative is very troublesome for several reasons:
- It implies that there is some truth to the women’s stories, but we don’t know what it is.
- It implies that Bill’s declaration that all accusations against him are lies — is not true.
- It indicates that the conclusions of the investigations of the past (Bill is innocent of all charges) differ from the most recent attestations by the elders that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”
- There continues to be obfuscation in the elders’ statements, because we don’t know what the phrase “Bill entered into areas of sin,” means.
2 — The affected women do not trust the elders. And they do not trust the outside groups that the elders have chosen to engage them, But the elders continue to put the responsibility of engagement solely on the women. This is not fair.
3 — Ever since this sad issue was brought to the elders, the women and the women’s advocates (both personal and in social media) have requested a totally independent investigation to be performed so that the truth can be discovered. Yet the elders have denied this request at every turn. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous. Every investigation so far has had fatal flaws in it.
A totally independent third party investigator with expertise in identifying clergy abuse is absolutely essential to discover the truth of this horrible chapter in Willow’s history.
4 — Willow Creek has been a champion of women ever since its origin. The leadership’s treatment of the women who have come forward is a black eye to the church’s reputation and insulting and hurtful to the women.
MY REQUESTS OF YOU, THE CONGREGATION OF WILLOW CREEK
- Please choose to engage with the insight and wisdom contained in the links in this post.
- Share this post with all of your friends at Willow. Remember, the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out — Proverbs 18:15
- Ask God to give you clarity of thought and understanding.
- Ask God to show you what action He wants you to take. Then be courageous and take it. After all, this is YOUR church.
- Finally, pray that the truth will be revealed and set everyone involved in this tragedy free. This freedom may look different for each of the parties concerned.
Dark storm clouds have hovered over Willow Creek for far too long. May God clear the ominous skies and cause the Son to shine more brightly than ever before over the ministry of Willow Creek. Amen.
Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.
18 thoughts on “An Open Letter to The Willow Creek Congregation.”
thank you so much for writing this and sharing it. I have been reading as much as I can about this situation and have reached out to the leaders and elders of Willow with my concerns. I refuse to let the church ignore this situation and pray that we will all use our voices and get the church and leaders moving in the right direction. I think for many people at Willow, they just don’t have all the information and I thank you for putting it together with all the links and information that is out there. Praying for our church.
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Prayers for wisdom, courage, honesty, and respect for all involved.
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Rob, thank-you so much for this very moving & thought provoking summary of the tragedy at the Willow Creek Church. The family of the church is in pain & God’s kingdom is suffering. The tragedy for Willow is that they are in essence undoing their reputation for always doing good & following a Christian path. It is clear to me that the leadership at Willow is remiss in both following God’s direction & protecting the innocent. Their current path seems to be one of protecting the WIllow Creek image & brand versus divining the truth.
I sincerely hope that the leaders look at the example of Tate’s Creek Presbyterian Church of how they handled a recent case of a pastor entering into areas of sin (https://tcpca.org/addressing-our-past/). If the leaders examine how they have reacted in the current situation & compare it to TCPC’s response, they should immediately recognize that a completely independent view of what transpired is the true path to healing for Willow Creek. God bless you & those that continue to search for the truth in order to help Willow regain its former reputation by continuing to lead people to Christ.
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I read the first few paragraphs or your open letter. The only thing I have to say to you is look in your review mirror at all of the great things Bill did for this Church and the World. I’m guessing that you are an attorney because you are speaking for all those involved? All the parties involved are adults and a voice, why do you feel they need your input. Your 15 minutes are up move on pursue other interests. I’m speaking for myself and a handful of members I know, we dont want all the information nor need it. Be grateful for what Bill and his vision provided. Forgiveness is a big part of the christian faith…Move on. Dont be a hater which you are illustrating that your are
Robb, no one is discounting the great impact Bill Hybels has had on the church at large. That is not the issue that is at hand. The issue is: numerous women have come forward with similar experiences of interactions with Bill that indicate pro-active systematic, grooming attempts to seduce them. I believe you would think differently if it was your wife that described a seduction attempt that she experienced at the hands of Bill Hybels. Please, Robb, read my post again. And interact with the information contained in a few links. Remember, “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:15. May God give you eyes to see and ears to hear.
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I for one am glad that Rob is doing this. To openly own that only a few paragraphs were read and, yet, list the judgments have you have towards Rob seems unfair to me.
I do not get at all that Rob is being a “hater” or trying to get “15 minutes”.
To me, It’s an unhealthy stance to disregard acts by one person because that person also did a lot of great things.
In fact, since forgiveness IS a big part of the Christian Faith this opens the door and the responsibility to explore the truth even more and not sweep it under the rug.
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Rob, I have no interest in reading your blog or links associated with it. Gossip and hearsay are not biblical either. If Bill was ‘human’ and sinned, ask yourself why the women didn’t come forward years ago? Do you think they are innocent in this? Why are you trying to bring a church and a man down. What are you trying to gain by this?
Perhaps you should be investigating other leaders, mentioned in your blog as well. You may be surprised at their pasts….
If you took the time to read what these women have said, you would have seen how they addressed it in the past and why it wasn’t dealt with many years ago. Many of these women felt that they might not be believed and look what happened. As soon as this became public, they were branded as liars.
When we lived in the Chicago area, we were faithful attenders and supporters of Willow Creek. It is a wonderful church that has done so many good things and all of that would not have been possible if not for Bill Hybels. Bill Hybels has has more impact on my spiritual growth than any other teacher I can think of. However, that doesn’t mean that we should look the other way when our church family members, sitting in the seats next to us, have had to suffer. Attempts were made behind closed doors over a four year period of time to address this situation and we see how it was swept under the rug. We owe it to those women that are part of our Willow church family (past and present) that they be treated with respect and truth.
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I am concerned about the people who are open to whitewashing this whole issue for the sake of convenience or their perspective of the kingdom of God. That is a poor testimony of the church to the world. God does not compromise ethics and godly practices for perceived progress. In the end, even with favored servants, a Nathan needs to come and confront the sin at hand and there are repercussions to sin both eternal and in this present age. And in this situation, we seem to have not one, but a cloud of Nathans and witnesses to the charges of sin at hand.
When we make doctrinal errors (and the elders and staff did precisely this by not putting in practices that acknowledge the depravity of humankind (a positive example would be the Billy Graham rule), folly and things like this become much more possible. When hubris tells a person they do not need such impractical restrictions and life practices, hedges if you will to ensure purity, the enemy delights at such pride, knowing they have already given him the game. A person like Bill ought to have and certainly (displayed by the advice he gave to others) knew better.
I cannot believe that the people responding in such ignorance even took the time to read the plethora of information readily available. Bill Hybels needs to decide whether he is going to respond like King David (in full and unreserved repentance, a great sinner, but foregiven by God’s grace) or like Saul (what we are currently seeing, prideful, unrepentant and unregenerate).
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IMO, as a WC attendee, at the family meetings we were given the facts of the situation at the time. Hind sight is ALWAYS 20/20. We were forced to choose sides, as all of us are now doing. I have a hard time with the accusations being from so long ago when they (the accusers, BH and family) were family friends, co-workers, traveled/vacationed/sailed together, co-authored and wrote forewards in each others books, etc. Back then everything was OK, but now, because of #Metoo or hard feelings, they are brought up? Where is the evidence of predatory behavior? It seems more random, like a personality conflict problem. In the 42 years of BH’s incredible ministry, dealing with probably thousands of employees, and interacting with probably millions of people worldwide, I think 7-9 people having complaints is a very small number (and I do believe the recanted affair story).
Susan, allow me to respond to several of your comments. We were not given the facts of the situation at the first family meeting. We were given the narrative of Bill and the elders. Facts do not change with the passing of time.
No one was forced to choose sides. Unfortunately, that is what many did due to the blanket statements of Bill and the elders that all of the women lied and the ex-staff (aka: beloved former Willow leaders) colluded against Bill. Case closed, right? Choose sides. Who do you believe? Bill and the elders hoped against hope that we would all believe them.
The purpose of my current post is to provide you with the perspectives of others (the accusers, former Willow leaders, and Christian leaders in the community at large). Susan, it would be wise of you to consider their perspectives in addition to the continued changing narrative of the elders.
Regarding the women coming forward “because of #Metoo”: #Metoo has empowered and given courage to victimized women who have suffered ALONE in shame and humiliation and embarrassment for years. Fortunately, some now have the courage to come forward as well.
I address the issue of minimizing the women’s accusations due to the passing of years in my 3rd email to the elders on April 20, entitled “Recent Realizations,” I encourage you to read it.
If you read the links provided containing the statements by the women accusers as well as insights from experts like Jim Bedell, the predatory behavior of Bill should become very apparent to you . . . unless you really don’t want to see it.
May I ask you, Susan, how many women would need to come forward for you to take their accusations seriously? If a lone woman accuser was my daughter, that would be enough for me to take these accusations VERY seriously.
Rob, Yes, I thought we had the facts at the the family meeting, it was held after the Chicago Trib article came out, weren’t those considered “the facts” at that time? BH was initially defending himself after being attacked. Wouldn’t you, if being falsely accused? Afterwards, BH and the Elders DID apologize for how they responded, and since then they have apologized again. Why can’t you accept their apology?
I have read all information about the perspectives and am up to date with all that is written about this, thank you.
What I am saying is the “group” that came forward did so as a group. They used to all be friends back in the time the accusations were from, ^like I said above. It isn’t a #Metoo case when you hang out socially with someone, as adults, and then complain about friendly/goofy/slightly inappropriate behavior 20 years later (remember J Ortberg’s behavior at the time also).
How is it predatory behavior when it’s so random over time? And, please don’t forget, there is NO evidence of exactly what was said or done, it’s strictly she said, he said. The blogs by the victims and the media articles are very embellished/fluffed up. WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE????
I think BH (and the women at the time) did act inappropriately/boundary issues. I just don’t believe BH is a sexual predator/abuser. I think he is a strong willed, type A, passionate person with a sense of humor, that some people just didn’t like or felt threatened by.
This is my opinion, which I’m entitled too. Thank you.
@Susan, The apologies given was not a sincere statement of repentance because they have not been clear admissions of what happened and indications of the process been wrought in sin. I think Scot’s (and Rob’s) posts point this out quite clearly. It only partially addressed the first part of some of the issues. As an old WC statement once said give me the last 15%. If you can condone the practices of a pastor (or just a Christian man) asking single or other married women to a hotel at night for a nightcap and then when they rebuff his advances, well I find that shocking. And the fact that elders knew of these practices and private counseling sessions in his home and the one on one counseling sessions with that woman, just incredibly inappropriate and Bill knew better than that. I can tell you because he advised other men in the early 90’s against such practices. Several women in the above blog have cited predatorial behavior and the fact such close friends and colleagues (who have little to gain from such accusations) have come forward is remarkable and significant. The use of severance pay to gag former employees shows a systematic environment that was not God-honoring. Perceived fruit and progress in the Kingdom never, never gives a pass to impropriety or sin, never. Reflect on the example of King David, a great man building God’s kingdom, nit God will not allow the lump of yeast to go hidden and brings a courageous Nathan to prophetically confront David. It is my prayer than Bill will respond with the same repentance and humility. And it is what I believe the accusers are asking for. But as Rob points out, the church leadership has now been inculcated themselves in such a way that they are also in need of repentance and as others have said: dismissal. And it is not just how many are involved, although there are certainly more than enough to be a scandal, but even the caliber of the people involved, the Dyers, Ortbergs, Beaches, Mellados, and a long time former elder Betty Schmidt. I don’t believe they would go where they went unless they were convinced of the leven in the lump.
Bravo! Well said. John O. and Nancy O. have had an agenda and a vendetta against BH. Any long term member knows that. Susan, I believe you are right about John O “Behavior”. I’m sure Mindy may have insight into that.
Rob, cut with the emotional statements, “if your wife’ ‘if your daughter’. Do you try to motivate through emotions or facts? You have insulted the WC community and I suggest that you delete this blog as it could cause your ‘so called leaders’ past to come out.
Christians are humans everyone makes mistakes and that is why there is GRACE. (GOD RICHES AT CHRISTS EXPENSE)
When I first learned of trouble at the church that I attend and love, it was with heart racing disbelief and silence that my wife and I read the article that would be appearing in the Chicago Tribune. It was Thursday, March 22nd.
As I read the words posted, I kept thinking that there must be some misunderstanding and there was no way that this could be real. But the days have turned into weeks which have turned into months since the public revelations of individuals accounts that have led to where my church is today and the accounts appear to be true rather than the contrary.
Every few days for the past 4 months someone writes an article, blog, post, or blurb regarding the incredulity at what has happened and how the church and its leaders, both past and present, are responsible. There are cries for the board and all senior leadership to resign, the GLS to be cancelled, even that the entire church be closed.
Throughout all of this it should not be surprising that almost everyone ends their words of derision by stating something to the effect of prayers for the church, the congregation, and that God has His way. And this is where I am having a difficult time in what to do next.
I don’t have any difficulty believing that individuals have been hurt or that a person that I trusted has sinned because I have at times been and done both. The hurts and sin may be different, but they have been just as real. The immeasurable difference is the magnitude of the people who are aware of it, interested in it, and who are commenting or talking about it.
I could make a case that the hurts that I have experienced in life are deeper, more evident, and will last longer than what has been described by the numbers of individuals that have stated their experience. There are individuals in my life that I could name and write about every day in order to embarrass and deride as to heap burning coals on their heads. But after all, who would care except maybe the individuals and those who enjoy standing and gawking at the scene of a horrible car wreck.
It is not lost on me the need to address and confront misdeeds, injurious actions, and sin in the church. Especially as high profile as the church I attend and it’s leaders. But I am having difficulty considering how a demand for action, change, and contrition seemingly supersedes Gods divine work in the hearts and minds of those being called to action.
Scripture has been quoted in many ways to defend and prescribe what should happen next. And none of it is wrong except that it is not the whole of the story. Calling on others to follow God’s Word is secondary to what God’s Word teaches to the individual who reads it. It is not only necessary for Christians to confront with Truth, but it is also the same Truth that pierces a human heart according to the timing and call of the God whom both serve.
I wonder how any person or family would hold up under the withering and scathing words of hundreds, even thousands of people that have weighed in for months. How a wife, children, and grandchildren would be discouraged beyond description by not only what’s happened and how to deal with it as a family. But how to go to the gas station or grocery store without feeling the weight of the stares or whispers, real or not.
I believe those that have experienced inappropriate and sinful actions by a person that has been a trusted and influential individual in my life. I pray for them and apologize for my immediate disbelief that this could have happened. I also pray for the sinner, his family, and that he is restored not as I believe is appropriate, but as God sees as appropriate. There but by the grace of God go I.
I love my church and am committed to her. I serve and am served according to how God leads. The Church is the hope of the world, even now. And I am confident that God will still be glorified even in the midst of chaos and trial because He holds all things and is deserving of all praise and honor. And may God love and forgive each of us according to His promise to never leave or forsake those that call on His name. Amen.
Thank you for putting together all this information for us and for sharing your insights. The links are especially helpful! I’d like to hear how the elders responded to your emails, phone calls, and meetings. I think many of us have had similar questions, and would be interested in their replies. I’m continuing to pray for light, truth, and eventual healing for our church.
I have tried to be careful not to misrepresent the elders’ responses to me on social media. So I have limited disclosing their responses. I did share the summary email from the Elder Response Team after our meeting in June as well as my responses to them. Please check the last couple of emails contained in the following link: https://wordpress.com/post/robsp82.com/16 Thanks.
Begin forwarded message:
Date: August 5, 2018 at 1:23:49 AM HST
To: John C Ortberg , Nancy , Nancy Ortberg , Betty Schmidt , Leanne Mellado , james bedell , Vonda Dyer , Scott Dyer
Subject: Pat speaks