If you’re an unrepentant megachurch “superstar” pastor, who has been living a double life, the last thing you want is to see your story told. Shortly before you plan to retire. By the New York Times. On a Sunday. But that’s the bed Bill Hybels made for himself.
The Times tells Hybel’s personal secretary’s story:
“That first back rub in 1986 led to multiple occasions over nearly two years in which he fondled her breasts and rubbed against her. The incidents later escalated to one occasion of oral sex.
She said she was mortified and determined to stay silent. “I really did not want to hurt the church,” said Ms. Baranowski, who is now 65, speaking publicly for the first time. ‘I felt like if this was exposed, this fantastic place would blow up, and I loved the church. I loved the people there. I loved the family. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. And I was ashamed.'”
These #MeToo stories are starting to read like 1980s Madlibs. “The first [type of sexual encounter] led to multiple occasions over nearly two years in which he [verb, past tense] her [a body part] and rubbed against [a different body part].
And saddest of all, the “and I was ashamed” phrase, is an oft repeated, concluding refrain.
The New York Times story alludes to how Hybels’s spell on the church members left them so enthralled with him they couldn’t believe Baranowski and the other women who told similar stories. How dare the women even make the allegations many thought. To this day, that’s the view of the church elders who are proving better at group think than leadership. Initially, the #2 and #3 church leaders, Heather Larson and Steve Carter, both a generation younger than Hybels, rallied around Hybels who they felt was being unfairly criticized.
After reading the Times story, I poked around a bit at Larson’s and Carter’s social media. I learned that almost immediately after the allegations fell on deaf ears at their church, they started to feel remorse for not siding with the aggrieved women.
Larson’s mea culpa to the congregation can be viewed here.
Carter did one better by resigning yesterday upon reading the New York Times article.
“I am writing to announce my resignation from Willow Creek Community Church, effective immediately. 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. Since the first women came forward with their stories, I have been gravely concerned about our church’s official response, and it’s ongoing approach to these painful issues. After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best. . . . I offered my resignation many weeks ago, but I was requested to delay an announcement and continue with my duties until the leadership determined how to make the decision public. At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution.”