News

Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels resigns, calls sexual accusations ‘flat-out lies’

The Rev. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., speaks on Jan. 26, 2012. Photo by Marc Gilgen/Creative Commons

(USA Today) — The pastor of a powerful Chicago-area megachurch has resigned after a series of sexual misconduct claims he described as “flat-out lies.”

Bill Hybels, 66, founded Willow Creek Community Church more than four decades ago, building it into an eight-campus evangelical Christian megachurch with a 7,000-seat worship center.


RELATED: Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels denies claims of inappropriate behavior


Hybels has been dogged in recent years by a series of investigations into claims of inappropriate behavior with female staffers and congregants. Accusations of lewd comments and inappropriate touching stretching back more than 20 years are “flat-out lies,” Hybels told the Chicago Tribune last month.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Hybels said church elders had clearly stated that outside, independent investigations found no evidence to support the “allegations brought to their attention.”

“In recent times, I’ve been accused of many things I simply did not do,” Hybels said. But he said he had been “naive” and “placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.”

Hybels said he appreciated what he described as the continued support from within his congregation. But he said the controversy was a distraction from the church’s mission.

“While most of you in the Willow congregation have listened carefully to and accepted the findings of the external investigations commissioned by the elders, some in the wider Christian community continue to be confused and conflicted,” he said.

Hybels had previously planned to retire later this year to focus his energy on the Willow Creek Association, a nonprofit dedicated to leadership development that conducts a leadership summit each year. He said he now plans to step away from both.

“Given my love for both this church and the leadership summit, you can imagine how grieved I have been by the way the controversy surrounding me has impacted both these ministries,” Hybels said in a statement. “But it has been increasingly clear to us that they can’t flourish when the valuable time and energy of their leaders are divided.”

Hybels apologized to the congregation for how he handled the accusations, saying he regretted reacting with anger when they were made public.

“I apologize to you, my church, for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning,” he said.

The resignation comes three weeks after megachurch pastor Andy Savage resigned from the Highpoint Church in Memphis amid accusations he assaulted a teenage girl in Texas 20 years ago. The woman contacted Texas authorities after the case was publicized in January, but she was told the statute of limitations had expired.

About the author

John Bacon

25 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Well, if Pastor Hybels is correct, then we always have THIS guy. A youth pastor, not that I expected anything different.

    From AL.com

    Another day, another religious hypocrite busted on child sex charges. Paul Edward Acton Bowen was arrested on Tuesday and “charged with second-degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes, and second-degree sex abuse” of a male minor under the age of 16.

    AL.com reports:

    Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector said the department’s Special Victim’s Unit first launched an investigation three weeks ago. The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office issued the warrants on Monday.

    “This is certainly one of the more disturbing cases that we’ve investigated in quite some time,” Rector said. “Mr. Bowen is in a highly-respected position of influence and he is trusted by many. We believe he betrayed that trust in the worst kind of way.”

    Bowen was taken into custody in Pelham and transported to the Hoover City Jail. He will be moved to the Jefferson County Jail where he will be held on $90,300 bond.

  • And if there isn’t that one, there is THIS one, though it is already a few weeks old.

    After allegedly threatening to take his life last month over allegations that he raped two underage boys, Ronnie Gorton, a married father and lead pastor of The Awakening Church in Atoka, Tennessee, was indicted Monday on 47 counts of illegal relations with three underage boys.

    Among the charges, according to The Leader, are five counts of aggravated sexual battery, 17 counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child, 16 counts of statutory rape by an authority figure, two counts of exploitation of a minor by electronic means, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, two counts of purchasing alcohol for a child, and one count of rape.

    “The nature of these charges clearly indicate the victims, at some point, were under the age of 13. The age of consent in Tennessee is 18,” Tipton County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Billy Daugherty said.

    Tipton County investigators said last month that that a 17-year-old boy came forward to allege that Gorton, 39, who has been married to his wife, Rhonda, for 15 years, sexually assaulted, molested, and raped him on multiple occasions. The Atoka Police Department also reported receiving a similar charge from a 20-year-old man who alleged that Gorton sexually assaulted him when he was underage.

  • Oops! third one for the week. Remember kids, religion makes you moral.

    A former pastor at a Carlsbad church who pleaded guilty to repeatedly molesting a child over the course of nearly two years was sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday. Prosecutors said the man, who was a pastor at the North Coast Calvary Chapel at the time of his arrest, only turned himself in because his wife caught him abusing the young girl.

    Matthew Tague, 44, was arrested on May 31, on 14 counts of lewd and lascivious acts on one minor victim. According to SDSO investigators, Tague’s victim was allegedly molested by force multiple times. North Coast Calvary Chapel terminated Tague following the arrest.

  • Jesus seems to have felt that capital punishment was appropriate for people who hurt children. But the USSC would likely find tying a millstone around their necks and throwing them into the sea to be cruel and unusual punishment.

  • Unusual. Yes. Cruel, maybe not.

    Three this week. And they are just the kiddy diddlers.

  • Oops! Fourth one for the week. Maybe I should just refrain from posting until 5:00 so that I don’t have to keep saying “oops!”

    Two additional allegations have emerged against a former children’s minister facing charges of sexual abuse of a child.

    William Wesley Williamson, 38, was arrested March 30 and charged with three counts of sex abuse of a child less than 12 years old.

    “The investigation in this case is ongoing and we are limited on what information can be released at this time, but at this time we do have two additional allegations,” said Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza. “There may or may not be more allegations come forth.”

    All allegations against Williamson occurred around the same time at a church camp event, Valenza said.

    Williamson served as the pastor to children at Mt. Gilead Baptist Church on Brannon Stand Road until recently. An interim director to children is in place currently at the church.

    “Mr. Williamson is no longer affiliated with our church,” Mt. Gilead’s Senior Pastor Dr. Bradley Rushing said in a previous statement to the Dothan Eagle.

  • Well, “Hybels apologized”, at least.

    For “reacting with anger”.

    “For a response that was defensive”.

    ALL’S FORGIVEN, THEN.

    For the “series of sexual misconduct claim[ed against him, including] inappropriate behavior with female staffers and congregants … 20 years [of] lewd comments and inappropriate touching”.

  • Years ago I kept a file entitled Ichabod on evil deeds of my fellow born-again Christian brothers & sisters. Scams, infidelities, etc. Then the stories got seedier, uglier, when the honcho for a telecom giant was found guilty of stealing company’s profits & salaries. He was a church elder & Sunday School teacher. Then I came across news about a churchgoing murderer! And lo & behold a Sunday School teacher at my own church got arrested for sexually molesting his students!

    I stop filing away stories like that because God & Jesus Have Left the Building!

    You know what, brother? Heretical to say, but Atheism & LGBTQ Movement Is Justified! Because of Ichabod.

    Take care.

  • Of course it isn’t because atheism isn’t an moral system. But it is wrong inchristianity. And yet, nevertheless, report after report of ministers, no less, molesting kids.

    Seems like Christianity is pretty useless as far as morals go. And as you have demonstrated, over and over and over again.

  • I’m sure I could find a boat load of atheists who molest kids to.
    Just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean they are.

  • I’m sure you could. But there is a difference. According to you, atheists have no morals. According to you, Christians do.

    And yet, there it is in front of you. Christians being immoral. And the “no true Christian” fallacy that you employ shows that you have no arguments.

  • Thanks for the kind words.

    When you remember that YOUR faith is about YOU and YOUR relationship with your god, it becomes a lot easier to deal with your ichabods, who have forgotten this in their never ending quest for power, money, dominion, and in the election of Jabbathe Trump, revenge.

    You know that I am an atheist. But I do respect those with religious beliefs who remember this, and don’t use their faith as a weapon to put down others, or excuse their own real sins while pointing at the alleged sins of others.

  • I still don’t get the appeal of megachurches. Some are like shopping malls with an auditorium for a rock concert with a really bad rock group.

  • Christian rock doesn’t make Christianity better. It makes rock worse.

    And Vice versa.

  • And then afterwards a lecture.

    I’m a born-again Christian until my last breath but oh what I must endure! I remember walking out in the middle of such concert or such lecture. Guess where I went. Yup – the nearest shopping mall. Better there at least than a make-believe shopping mall that bible churches are becoming.

    The logic of mega-churches, though, is no different than that of super-grocery stores and giant bookstores. The small ones just can’t compete to thrive or survive.

  • I thought I’d read all the comments before responding, except that I can’t find a response that sums up the issue neatly. In Hybels’ case, I’m perfectly willing to wait for all the facts, should they be forthcoming. As to the other examples you cited, I can only mourn for the victims and the disservice done to the cause of Christ by such malefactors. In the end, whether perpetrated by “Christians,” Christians, or non-Christians, I am confident that every hidden unholy or immoral act practised throughout the ages will be exposed, and each of us will answer for our own before God. That seems most fair.

  • If you’re “perfectly willing to wait for all the facts … [you] can [NOT POSSIBLY] only mourn” the meantime!

  • I mourn for the division in the Body of Christ which imperils our witness to an unbelieving world.

  • Forget about it. The atheist / LGBTQ movement is justified because of us born-again Christians.

    And what a lame excuse you’ve got there. All the facts you say you’re waiting for, are already here for you all this time, in this breaking news:

    Manya Brachear Pashman and Jeff Coen, “After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations”, Chicago Tribune, March 23, 2018.

  • Is it even possible for you to offer an objective criticism without personal invective?

  • Short: No.

    Long: I go by The Apostolic Rule of Christian Conduct Outside the Church. God judges people outside the church, while His children judge each other inside the church. If you take that as “objective criticism [but not] without personal invective”, that means I AM judging you in accordance with that Rule and it’s working.

    I expect the same from you when I stray.

  • Fair enough…I suppose, still it doesn’t quite concord with my sense of scripture. I mean admonition and remonstrance are biblical precepts, but outside the confrontation of heresy, I hesitate to apply them in a spirit of harshness, or rather…bluntness.

ADVERTISEMENTs