The former senior pastor of Chicago megachurch Willow Creek has spoken out about his dramatic resignation over allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against the church’s founding pastor, Bill Hybels.
Despite being due to conduct an interview at the megachurch on Sunday August 5, Pastor Steve Carter was confined to a bathroom stall, vomiting. But this wasn’t food poisoning. Carter, who co-led the enormous congregation with pastor Heather Larson, was having a physical reaction to something he’d just read in The New York Times concerning his friend, mentor and the founder of the vast ministry enterprise that had become Willow Creek.
Bill Hybels was being accused, yet again, of gross sexual misconduct — this time, by a former Willow Creek employee, Pat Baranowski. In her detailed recollection of unwanted sexual encounters with Hybels, Baranowski talked of being groped by Hybels on numerous occasions, as well as one instance of oral sex.
When confronted, Bill’s response was equally concerning, according to Baranowski. The Times reports detailed that the infamous leader began to suggest she was “incompetent and unstable” and berated her in front of colleagues. He also insisted that there was nothing wrong with his behavior.
As you can imagine, for Hybels’ successor, this all made for some utterly sickening reading.
“I felt like my body was shutting down,” Carter told Religion News Service.
Carter knew his response had to be swift and decisive – and he wasn’t about to start trying to defend Hybels’ actions. He marched out of the building, drove home and began jotting down his resignation letter. Later that day, Carter posted to his blog:
“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. These most recent revelations have also compelled me to make public my decision to leave, as much as it grieves me to go.”
Carter found his church’s response to the scandal equally disturbing. Though the leadership decided to introduce an independent firm to conduct a thorough investigation, they never actually spoke with Ms. Baranowski directly. This baffled the outgoing senior leader.
“I assumed that they would have done that. They must not have ever talked to her,” he said, adding that “for his own integrity,” he realized that he could not stay in his position at the church.
Now, Carter says he is entering a season of grief, healing and rest. He has mixed feelings towards Hybels, who was his long-term spiritual mentor. Despite the horrific nature of Hybels’ alleged behavior, Carter has many fond memories of the man who entrusted him to lead the church.
“I have 1,000 good stories with Bill. And I have 10 wounds from him,” he said.
But Carter is also horrified by the experiences of these women. No matter which way he cuts it, Hybels simply wasn’t the man he thought he knew.
In his support of the victims, Carter is setting up a GoFundMe campaign to provide financial support to those who have suffered abuse and are seeking counseling as a result. They’ve named the fundraising effort “A Time to Mend.”
The page details the campaign’s core mission:
“We’re creating a scholarship program for those who have been abused and shamed at the hands of churches and clergy. We are partnering with a counseling group that specializes in areas of power, clergy, and sexual abuse. We are tremendously grateful to the brave survivors who wrestled this darkness into the light and believe it’s time to honor their pain and empower their healing.”
Carter is also releasing a book about his experience of leaving Willow Creek, titled, “Everything to Lose: Doing the Right Thing When the Stakes Are High.”
In a recent post on his blog, the leader talked more about how the book came about in such a short period of time.
“A few weeks ago I found myself in a one-bedroom lodge in Colorado. Just me, my laptop, and some epic heartbreak,” Carter wrote. “It was there that I began to write. At first it was just me pouring out my heart, all the mess and sadness and anger and disappointment. It was wholly human and raw. But it wasn’t long before the words on the screen became a dialogue, some kind of holy way God was speaking to and through me.”
“I wrote this book (all 55,000 words of it) in two weeks time. I know that sounds crazy. It is pretty wild! But, it also makes me think there might just be something in its pages that needed to be said,” he noted.
Carter further explained the brutal predicament he found himself in when more allegations surfaced on that dreadful Sunday.
“Friends, I had everything to lose when I was in the midst of the Willow fallout,” he wrote. “If I spoke in favor of the women, I stood to lose my job and my ability to provide for my family, not to mention the possible loss of many friendships. If I spoke out against the women, I had my own conscience to lose—because by that point, I believed the women. People wouldn’t understand. People would see me as a betrayer, a Judas, a turncoat.”
“But finally, I found the clarity I’d begged God for,” he continued. “I think that dependency on Christ is a gift, albeit a painful one, but one that brings us close to the heart of God. And I know it was one I need and am so thankful for. Leaning on Him and existing in His presence daily has been and will continue to be an incredible healing balm for my soul.”
Carter also shared that 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of his new book will be donated to GRACE — Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment. The justice-seeking organization seeks to “equip others with a vision for authentic responsibility, accountability, and compassion in the care for children and adult survivors of abuse.”
It was set up by a grandson of Billy Graham, Boz Tchividjian. You can learn more about GRACE by watching the video below:
Carter’s new book has a release date of Nov. 13. To pre-order, click here.
(H/T: Religion News Service)