Author and pastor Lee Strobel is breaking his silence following the latest wave of allegations against Bill Hybels, one of the nation’s foremost evangelical leaders.
In a tweet Monday afternoon, Strobel expressed solidarity with Hybels’ accusers, whom he described as “godly and credible,” and said he was heartbroken over the ordeal.
Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, resigned his post as the church’s senior pastor in April, after a series of allegations of sexual misconduct against him surfaced.
Then in early July, Heather Larson, the pastor who assumed Hybels’ role when he retired early, released a statement saying the 66-year-old preacher and author “entered into sin.” She also said the church’s leadership should have addressed the situation differently, particularly when it came to believing Hybels’ accusers.
Yet another accuser came forward over the weekend. In an interview with The New York Times, Pat Baranowski, who served as Hybels’ executive assistant, said the famed minister sexually harassed her in the 1980s.
Strobel, who served as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek from 1987 until 2000, admitted he “never saw any hint of misconduct when I was there.”
My heart breaks for Pat Baranowski and all victims of Bill Hybels at Willow Creek. I never saw any hint of misconduct when I was there. Still, I know these women and they are Godly and credible. I believe them and weep for them. Scot McKnight is right: https://t.co/bH3q6HYKde
— Lee Strobel (@LeeStrobel) August 6, 2018
For his part, Hybels justified his retirement, saying at the time he chose to step down because the “entirely false” accusations against him had proven to be too much of a distraction from his ministry.
On Monday, following the weekend of allegations against Hybels, Larson announced via an email to church members that an advisory council of Christian leaders from across the country will oversee an investigation into the allegations leveled against Willow Creek’s founder.
The body of advisers, Larson said, “will have full autonomy and authority to pursue and investigate any and all allegations.” She noted an “anonymous outside donor” has volunteered to cover the cost of the investigation “to ensure there is no undue influence on the process and the conclusions.”
“The behavior that [Baranowski] has described is reprehensible,” she wrote.
News of the investigation comes the same day Willow Creek’s senior pastor, Steven Carter, announced he is resigning his role at the megachurch, citing serious concerns over the way the ordeal has been handled by the congregation’s governing bodies.
“The new facts and allegations that came to light this morning are horrifying, and my heart goes out to Ms. Baranowski and her family for the pain they have lived with,” he wrote in a statement. “These most recent revelations have also compelled me to make public my decision to leave, as much as it grieves me to go.”