An independent group of Christian leaders says the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church are credible.
The Independent Advisory Group was asked to help the church investigate claims of "sexually inappropriate words and actions" brought against Hybels last year.
"The credibility of the allegations is not based on any one accusation or accuser but on the collective testimony and context of the allegations," says the group's report, which was given to the Chicago Tribune. "The credibility of the allegations would have been sufficient for Willow Creek Community Church to initiate disciplinary action if Bill Hybels had continued as pastor of the church."
Senior leaders of evangelical organizations investigated and wrote the report. They included: Jo Anne Lyon, the former general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church; Margaret Diddam, the Wheaton College provost; Gary Walter, the former president of the Evangelical Covenant Church and Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Hybels, who founded Willow Creek more than 40 years ago, resigned last April due to the controversy surrounding the allegations against him.
The alleged misconduct reported on by the Tribune included extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, suggestive comments and invitations to hotel rooms. A married woman also accused Hybels of having an affair with her but later recanted the claim.
"Over multiple decades, the Willow Creek Community Church boards were unable to provide effective oversight of Bill Hybels," the report says.
Church leaders repeatedly cleared Hybels of any wrongdoing during earlier internal reviews of the allegations.
This latest report also concluded that Hybels "verbally and emotionally intimidated both female and male employees" during his time as pastor. It noted that the report's investigators met with Hybels and that he has publicly and privately denied the accusations of sexual misconduct.
Willow Creek's new elder board issued a statement when the independent report was released.
"While we cannot change the events of the past, we grieve what has happened, ask for forgiveness, and commit ourselves to pursuing healing and reconciliation," the church posted on its website. "Thank you for your prayers and faithful engagement in the life and ministry of our church during this season."
The Independent Advisory Group did not advise the church to take disciplinary action against Hybels because he is no longer an employee of Willow Creek.
"Because Bill Hybels has retired and is no longer a pastor or employee of Willow Creek Community Church, the church no longer has disciplinary jurisdiction or authority. The church should not take further action," the report says.
The report does advise Willow Creek to offer financial assistance for counseling for anyone affected by Hybels and maintain a hotline for people to report any future misconduct.
Dr. Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham chair of church, mission and evangelism at nearby Wheaton College called the new findings "an important vindication of the women who spoke up about Bill Hybels' actions."
One of those women, former Willow Creek worship leader Vonda Dyer, told CBN News that she appreciated the effort that went into the report and its conclusion that the women who accused Hybels were telling the truth. Still, she said she's waiting to see what actions both the church and the Willow Creek Association will take in response to it.
Survivor advocate and Church of Christ pastor Jimmy Hinton said Hybel's failure to acknowledge sexual misconduct or apologize is his biggest concern. "In all my work with survivors, one common theme emerges," he said. "They want their abusers to acknowledge their sins/crimes, repent and apologize for the hurt they inflicted."
Boz Tchividjian, a former child sex abuse prosecutor and founder of GRACE, which advises churches on how to respond to abuse, said while he appreciated the finding of credible allegations, the report should have gone farther.
"Less than one page of this report is given to the substantive allegations bravely reported by so many women," he said. "Some of these victims spent in excess of 5 hours painstakingly sharing the abuse by Bill Hybels with this group--and virtually nothing is mentioned about it in the report."
Tchividjian also said he would have liked the investigators to address more of the cultural and governance problems at Willow Creek. He called it "virtually void of addressing the long-standing, life-destroying systemic culture that produced, empowered, protected and defended Bill Hybels."
The new elder board has promised to review church culture, policies and the Willow Creek governance model in light of the findings and provide ongoing communication as it deliberates on its response.