Willow Creek Association announced Monday that it will soon release details of a new independent advisory council that will oversee another investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against embattled Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels.
The details will be revealed at its annual Global Leadership Summit set for Aug. 9–10.
The announcement comes after The New York Times reported a fresh allegation Sunday, this time from Hybels' former executive assistant, Pat Baranowski. She said while she worked for Hybels at the South Barrington church in Illinois, and at one point lived with him and his wife Lynne, she was subjected to back rubs, pornography and one incident of oral sex with her pastor.
"Let us be clear, the behavior Bill has been accused of is reprehensible. For many weeks we have been working together with Willow Creek Community Church in seeking an independent investigation as requested by the victims to examine any and all accusations made and any others in the future," Tom De Vries, president of Willow Creek Association, said in a statement.
"We will be announcing more details at The Global Leadership Summit about the formation of an advisory council made up of external Christian leaders from across the United States who will oversee an independent investigation. We have been working for several weeks in forming this council. They will have full autonomy and authority to conduct this investigation."
He further explained that an outside anonymous donor would foot the cost for the investigation to "ensure there is no undue influence on the process and the conclusions."
"We continue to trust God to be our Guide through this painful season as we seek truth and justice. Bill's engagement with the Summit and Willow Creek Association was completely severed in early April. He has had no involvement in the 2018 Summit or Willow Creek Association since, and there is no path for him to return," De Vries said.
Just over a week ago, Willow Creek Association revealed that the Hybels' sexual misconduct scandal has resulted in some 111 host sites backing out of the annual summit.
"Certainly, Bill Hybels played a strong role in The Global Leadership Summit and the allegations made against him, as well as his resulting resignation from Willow Creek and the WCA, has had an impact on participation," the WCA said in an earlier statement to The Christian Post.
"The Global Leadership Summit has lost 111 host sites as a direct result of the allegations made against Bill Hybels. Attendance will be impacted by the loss of host sites and the allegations against Bill Hybels. The 2018 global goal was 445,000, but it is way too early to know by how much this goal will be impacted," the organization added.
It was unclear Tuesday if the latest allegations, which Hybels has denied, has resulted in any further loss for the summit.
Contacted for comment Tuesday, Jarrett Ruffino, a representative for the WCA said: "At this time we aren't fielding any additional questions."
Scot McKnight, a professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, called for leaders at both Willow Creek Community Church and the WCA to be removed because of the way they handled the allegations against Hybels before he was forced to resign as the chorus grew against him in April.
"The leaders are complicit. The leaders — Heather Larson, elders, etc — supported that narrative and maligned the women. They, both WCCC/Elders and WCA, refused an independent investigation. They chose not to be transparent. Their time is up," McKnight wrote in a blog post.
"What I mean is that those who created and sustained and continued that narrative — a narrative that both denied the truth of the women's stories and the pastor's sexual inappropriateness — forfeited their ability to lead Willow Creek Community Church and Willow Creek Association. Their time is up."
He argued that a truly independent investigation into the allegations against Hybels is needed to tell the truth about what really happened between the disgraced pastor and his many accusers.
"The time is now to be guided by this independent council of wisdom to tell the truth about Bill, to tell the truth about the women and Bill's inappropriate, sexual relations, to tell the truth about governance that protected Bill's reputation rather than Willow's congregation, to tell the truth about bullying by the leaders through the Human Resources and buying silence through NDA (non-disclosure agreements), to tell the truth about how the WCA's Board was told by the three who resigned when the WCA refused to investigate Bill Hybels, and to tell the truth about the need for an independent investigation," McKnight said.
"The investigators cannot choose those who have to be investigated. An independent leadership council must do the choosing. Willow must be willing to listen to the council. It is also time to tell the truth, in spite of what has been said by leaders after his resignation, about Bill's continued contact with leaders at Willow to shape decisions. It is time now to find the truth, to be transparent, to investigate the governance, and to tell that truth honestly. The women told the truth. The Willow narrative is a false and deceptive narrative."
Hybels resigned prematurely from the helm of Willow Creek Community Church, which he founded in 1975, on April 10, after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. The accusations were made in an extensive investigation published by the Chicago Tribune in March.
The women in the report alleged a pattern of behavior against Hybels that included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, invitations to hotel rooms, and a consensual affair with a married woman, who later retracted her claims.
Hybels adamantly denied the allegations against him with staunch support from the church's elder board.
"I want to be very clear. Our full elder board, as well as each elder that has served over the time of this challenging situation, believes that we have functioned according to biblical standards, with utmost integrity and exhaustive diligence in navigating this situation. We are in full support of Bill and are grateful that he will continue in his role as senior pastor until he plans to transition in October 2018," Pam Orr, then chair of Willow Creek Community Church, insisted in March after the allegations were first made public.
In May, just weeks before she stepped down from her position, Orr released a statement saying the board had looked into the allegations further and no longer believed all the allegations against Hybels were lies.
Since then, advocates have been publicly lobbying for the church to conduct a truly independent investigation.