Shauna Niequist has apologized for failing to speak out after her father, Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, was accused of decades of sexual misconduct.
In a lengthy Instagram post Monday, Niequist, a popular author and ministry leader, addressed the allegations along with a simple image that features the phrase “An apology.”
“I apologize for my silence & for all that it communicated. I’m so sorry. I continue to grieve alongside every person who’s grieving,” she wrote.
Niequist, whose husband, Aaron Niequist, formerly served as a worship leader at Willow Creek, said that the “season” in which her father retired from his position at the church after he was accused of sexual misconduct “shook” her “to the core,” causing her to “shut down.”
“Wise people encouraged me to take some time to grieve & listen & recover. They were right--silence was necessary for me initially, but I extended that silence too long,” she admitted.
“I now understand that my silence communicated to many that I defend my father’s actions and his ongoing silence. I don’t. I grieve both of those things. I now understand that my silence allowed many people to assume that I don’t care about the people he hurt. That’s not true, & that’s something I regret so deeply. I’m so sorry.”
Niequist’s social media post comes after she and her husband have been criticized for not speaking out against her father’s actions.
In 2018, The Chicago Tribune published an investigative piece documenting allegations of sexual misconduct against Hybels, presenting various allegations, including suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to some women to hotel rooms.
Hybels, who served as head of Willow Creek for over four decades and oversaw the church as it grew into a multi-site megachurch, denied the accusations. However, weeks after the story emerged, Hybels resigned from his role at the church.
The following February, the Independent Advisory Group released an investigation report concluding that the allegations against Hybels were “credible” and criticized his leadership style.
Several publishers, including Tyndale House and InterVarsity Press, pulled Hybel’s books after evidence of his inappropriate behavior toward women emerged.
Women, some of them church employees, said Hybels had invited them to hotel rooms or made suggestive comments about their appearances. One woman alleged the pastor kissed her against her wishes. According to another account, Hybels allegedly engaged in oral sex with his former assistant.
In her statement Monday, Niequist said she remains “in relationship with my dad.”
“I love him, & I always will. I can’t apologize for his choices, but I do apologize for mine,” she explained. “I can’t make amends for his actions, but today I’m taking the first step in making amends to the people I’ve wounded by my silence.”
The bestselling author admitted that in this area of her life, she has “been living according to my fear, not my values.”
“I carry so much regret, & I apologize. I know it might not make sense that someone who writes for a living, literally, could find herself so unable to say what needed to be said. But that’s the truth. I was wounded, & I waited too long,” she wrote.
Hybels is among a slew of high-profile Christian leaders who have lost their ministry positions in recent years due to revelations of sexual abuse and other sinful behaviors.
In an interview with The Christian Post, megachurch pastor and bestselling author Michael Youssef of The Church of The Apostles in Atlanta stressed that such cases reinforce that “accountability” must be a significant pillar of ministry.
“Accountability is a word that's almost a dirty word among some of the celebrity preachers, and that's got to come back,” he said. “Whether a church has 10 members, 100 members or 10,000 members, he must have accountability. This is a word that is lost in today’s churches and must be returned to our vocabulary.”
“We have put these people on a pedestal,” Youssef stressed. “Weekly, I tell my congregation, ‘If you're here because of me, go somewhere else. If you want to worship Jesus, then, welcome.’ We are about Jesus. We're not about the preacher. We're not about celebrities because that is deadly as far as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is concerned.”
Youssef warned that pastors should never get to the point where they can say, “I trust my own judgment.”
“Because you cannot,” Youssef said. “Scripture tells us the heart is deceitful above all. So what do you do? You build a wall around those areas that are going to cause your downfall.”