I have been asked by friends, family, and a few reporters how I feel and what I think about the recently released report by the IAG (Independent Advisory Group) concerning the allegations related to Bill Hybels (BH). Here’s my bottom line: I believe the report got the big ideas right:
The allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions by BH were credible.
Over multiple decades, the WCCC boards were unable to provide sufficient oversight of BH.
BH verbally and emotionally intimidated both female and male employees.
The organizational culture of WCCC and the WCA was positively and negatively affected by the power, influence and management style of the founder and leader.
That being said, after reading the report I experienced a wide range of emotions – numbness, great sadness, some anger, and an overall feeling of, “Is that all there is?” Last year at this time I was in Florida, waiting for the Chicago Tribune article to come out. One year later, I find myself reflecting often on the extreme challenges, deep pain, and totally unexpected events of this past year. I know I am not alone in this story, and only represent one dimension and perspective on what has taken place. For me it has not been a story of one year, but of 5 years now since I first learned of allegations of a 14 year affair with BH, confessed to Leanne Mellado. I joined a process that spanned the next several years, seeking to bring that truth to light with the elders of Willow Creek and the Board of the WCA. Of course my story goes back decades, to a time when I first met Bill as a teenager and the entire trajectory of my life changed.
Many strategic planners and leadership coaches, including me, use a structure to assess their current reality. Four categories are looked at to bring clarity – what is Right, what is Wrong, what is Confused, and what is Missing. I have chosen to react to the IAG report using this outline. Again, this is my personal perspective…
I want to begin with gratitude and respect for the 4 members of the IAG. These individuals served without any pay, sacrificing countless hours to listen and learn. All four of them have high integrity and brought decades of experience and accumulated wisdom to this process. They listened respectfully and with grace. Their only motivation was to serve the Kingdom, and they were truly independent of both the church and the WCA.
As I mentioned above, their bottom line conclusions were right, in my view.
I affirm the IAG calling out the leaders of the WCA who chose to “second their responsibility,” (to the church), stating that “they should have taken greater responsibility to understand the nature and context of the allegations.”
I think the biggest “Wrong” for me is not the report itself, but the original plan for what the IAG were charged to do. As they stated, this was not an “investigation.” And it was not set up to be one. But this leaves everyone with a lack of closure. This entire situation never had an outside, objective, skilled investigation process. So the report could only look at patterns and recurring themes. I realize that a true investigation will never take place and must accept that reality.
The report stated that “no related email content was recoverable.” I believe there was a big part of the story here that the IAG chose not to tell, concerning how BH made sure, years ago when the reports of the 14 year affair first surfaced, to destroy those e-mails. I am confused why this has not been revealed to the congregation and the WCA in an effort to bring full transparency.
The report makes a recommendation that BH “review any possible financial resources (apart from personal retirement benefits or income) provided to him through WCCC and/or the WCA for support of his ministry after his retirement from WC and return such resources.” I agree with this idea, but think it requires further information and development. I think the donors of the church and the WCA should know what kind of funding BH received and the new elders should discern whether that should be returned.
It is confusing and inaccurate to say that BH was merely a “contract employee” for the WCA. He was the head of the Board, the founder, and the primary voice of the entire organization.
Outrage: The report sounds dispassionate and somewhat clinical. I realize they need to be professional and objective. But if I’m honest, I long for a sense of outrage. What happened grieves the heart of God. So many lives were broken and affected by the sins of BH and the lack of strong oversight by those called to lead the church and the WCA. Jobs were lost. The consequences are immeasurable. The reputation of the church and the ministry of the WCA were seriously damaged. Followers of Christ around the world were heartbroken to learn that a leader who brought so much vision and leadership lessons had let them down. This is not simply a benign series of misjudgments. This was a tragedy of epic proportions.
Lament: Tracing all the way back to last March, I’m wondering where the lament of God’s people has been. Willow Crystal Lake, one of the satellite sites, did hold an evening of lament and confession. But I’m not aware that a similar experience took place at the Barrington campus, or as a part of last year’s Summit. I believe we all need more grieving before moving on. I keep hearing about “the new season” and how the church and WCA were never about one person. That is true. But what is also true is that the founder of a world changing movement, the primary voice and visionary leader followed by scores of people, has committed serious sins and then lied to cover up those sins. I agree with Scot McKnight who called us to lament.
Greater Transparency: What is missing in the report are details. Why do details matter? Because there are still people wondering if this could possibly be an over-reaction, if the women are fully telling the truth, if Bill’s abuse of power was really just “strong leadership.” I am aware of specific evidence and many episodes and stories that were told to the IAG. None of that comes out in the report. But it’s not too late if Willow Creek Community Church and the WCA choose to get all the important information out there. Why not clear the air? What are we afraid of? Details matter.
Specific Apologies: In an effort to move on, I believe what is missing are still some specific, long overdue apologies. These should be made publicly. Several people had their good names and reputations dragged through the mud. The Mellados and Ortbergs were called “colluders” who had a “vendetta” against BH and the church. That is false information. The words spoken by Betty Schmidt, Vonda Dyer, myself and others were challenged and called lies by some. This should be made right. I also believe the elders who resigned should cycle back and apologize more completely for their serious missteps. In addition, the Board of the WCA and its leaders should apologize for not fulfilling their responsibility to take greater care with the information they received, and for allowing misinformation about the victims to be distributed globally. The WCA should also clear up any impression that their former President, Jim Mellado, had any motives to bring down Bill Hybels, the church or the WCA.
Reparations: The IAG recommended that the church consider granting financial assistance for counseling or other resources for those who were directly harmed by their interactions with BH. I agree, but think what is missing would be the scope of this assistance. Specifically, I believe the church should consider making major compensation to Pat Baranowski and Vonda Dyer, who both lost income or incurred financial repercussions because of the behavior of BH. Even though the current church leaders had nothing to do with the sin that affected the victims, I call them to do the right thing for these victims or any others deemed worthy of financial help.
Repentance From Bill Hybels: Finally, perhaps the biggest thing missing are any words from Bill himself. Words of genuine, full, complete repentance. His silence further hurts all the victims. I pray regularly that God will do a work in his heart and spirit, that he will pursue truth, counseling, confession and forgiveness.
If you are still with me, I want to make some final comments. I doubt I will be writing about these events again, and want to make a few commendations, by name. A big thank you to some of the courageous people who played significant roles in this story:
Leanne Mellado. She carefully stewarded information given to her about an alleged affair, and continued to pursue truth for 3 ½ hears as the other womens’ stories emerged. Tenacious. Such high integrity. Leanne was supported all throughout by her husband, Jim Mellado, at great personal risk to himself.
Nancy Ortberg. Took the information to the WCA Board she served on, fighting for an independent investigation. Resigned when she could not support their decision to submit to the church’s internal process. Board members Jon Wallace and Kara Powell resigned for the same reason. Nancy was supported by her husband, John Ortberg, who brought thoughtful wisdom and perspective to us throughout the process, at risk to his own reputation.
Betty Schmidt – While fighting health battles, she bravely spoke truth from her decades as an elder of the church.
Vonda Dyer – a strong voice from the beginning for truth, transparency, and repentance. She is so brave. Her husband, Scott Dyer, brought great insight and discernment.
I also thank Julie Williams, Boz Tchividjian, Mitch Little, Pat Baranowski, Moe Girkins, and Keri Ladouceur. Boz served as an advisor starting in late 2015, bringing years of expertise and godly wisdom. Mitch brought perspective as an elder from another church and as a lawyer with boots on the ground meeting with church leaders. Pat stepped up to tell her story last Spring to the NY Times, which God used to bring about massive change. She could so easily have stayed hidden.
Scot McKnight. I can’t overstate the power of Scot’s prophetic and pastoral voice, at just the right time. He is still bringing wisdom, truth, and grace to bear.
Steve Carter – Steve showed up at my house a week or two after the Tribune article. He simply wanted to apologize. Steve would likely say he didn’t do everything perfectly in this process (none of us did) – but he listened to his heart and resigned from a job he loved. It was a game changer.
Two Elders – Two of the elders who resigned came to our home individually to apologize to me and Warren. They were not defensive at all, just broken hearted and humbled. It meant the world to me that they showed up.
Rob Speight, Dr. Jim Bedell, and others “Searching For Truth”: There’s a group of truth seekers composed of those inside and outside of Willow who have relentlessly sought for transparency and advocated for the victims. I am grateful to all of them.
The Press – including Manya Brachear, Jeff Coen, Bob Smietana, and Laurie Goodstein, and the Wartburg Watch. Without the press, this story would not have come to light.
My Family and Friends – I cannot imagine this past year without my partner, Warren, and our two daughters and son-in-law, Samantha, Will and Johanna. They protected me, listened to me, and helped me gain perspective at every turn. We also have so many treasured friends – you know who you are – who continue to hold me up in prayer and love. Thank you to each and every one.
The historic events that have taken place will be reflected on and studied for years to come. It is my sincere hope and prayer that we will move beyond a sense of Us/Them with people who see things differently – that we will all unite around our original love for a ministry called Willow that God used to transform thousands of lives. I join with others hoping that ALL of us will experience healing and growth – that God’s church will be purged and cleansed, that we will submit to the work of the Holy Spirit, that the Bride of Christ will become more radiant, filled with truth and grace.