The elders of the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, have publicly announced that the church's founder and former senior pastor Bill Hybels "entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth," and that they should have believed the women who accused Hybels of sexual misconduct when the accusations were made earlier this year.
In a statement dated June 30 and published on the church's website, the church's elder board wrote, "We apologize and ask for forgiveness that the tone of our initial response was not one of humility and deep concern for all the women involved. It takes courage for a woman to step forward and share her story."
"We are grieved that we let Bill's statement stand for as long as we did that the women were lying and colluding. We now believe Bill entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth," they wrote.
The two pastors who replaced Hybels, also made their mistakes known and apologized in the statement.
Heather Larson, the church's lead pastor, wrote "I need to publicly apologize to the women who raised concerns about Bill. I can't imagine how painful the past months have been for you, and I am so sorry for my part in that."
"It was stated that the allegations are all lies, and I do not believe that," she continued. "I should have jumped in and declared that personally right away when that statement was made."
Steve Carter, the lead teaching pastor at the church, also wrote, "Specifically, I do not think it should have been said that the women were lying or that they were colluding against Bill and the church. I believe the women and applaud their courage."
"I wish I had done more to prevent the hurtful statements that were made, and to advocate more forcefully for what I believe would have been a more humble and Biblical approach. For this, I am deeply sorry and ask your forgiveness," Carter continued.
The statement concludes with the words, "Join us in prayer for all involved and for His Spirit led guidance and wisdom."
As CBN News reported back in March, The Chicago Tribune published an investigative story detailing the women's accusations and Hybels alleged sexual misconduct. Christianity Today also reported the story.
Pam Orr, then the chair of the Willow Creek elder board, told the church that it initially investigated an allegation against Hybels in 2014. Orr says it centered around a woman who claimed that Hybels had engaged with her in an inappropriate relationship. The woman later retracted her claim.
The Tribune reported that other women accused Hybels of unwanted advances. They include Vonda Dyer, a former director of the church's vocal ministry, who said Hybels called her to his hotel room during a 1998 working trip. He surprised her by kissing her and suggesting they could lead Willow Creek together.
Nancy Beach, a former programming director and teaching pastor at Willow Creek, said that Hybels also engaged inappropriately with her on a working trip the following year. She said he talked about her most attractive body part, confessed to his marital unhappiness and invited her to his hotel room where he gave her a long hug after drinking wine together.
Hybels said all of the allegations against him were untrue at a church meeting in March.
"The lies you read about in the Tribune article are the tools this group is using to try to keep me from ending my tenure here at Willow with my reputation intact," he said.
Hybels who founded the church in 1975, had planned to step down from his position in October 2018 and had already named Larson and Carter to replace him, He retired abruptly in April, one month after the Tribune published their story, still maintaining his innocence.
Today, the church boasts 25,000 in attendance at eight locations in the Chicago area every weekend.