As word continues to spread Wednesday about the resignation of Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of the multi-campus Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, over multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, some members of the church maintain that he was a victim of the #MeToo bandwagon.
"It's very destructive," Jim Tofilon, a member of Willow Creek since 1991, told The Chicago Tribune of the #MeToo movement after Hybels announced his resignation Tuesday.
"It worked. It destroyed an old man's life. Nothing good came out of it. I hope people making the accusations feel satisfied," he added.
In announcing his resignation Tuesday, Hybels staunchly maintained his innocence, calling some of the allegations "misleading" and others "entirely false." Allegations included a consensual affair with a married woman, who retracted her claims, as well as a pattern of behavior against Hybels that includes suggestive comments and extended hugs.
Hybels admitted on Tuesday to being sometimes naïve in his relations with others and noted some of his actions were misinterpreted.
"I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable. I was blind to this dynamic for far too long. For that I'm very sorry."
Two days before Hybels announced his resignation, which had originally been planned for October, Vonda Dyer, one of the veteran pastor's accusers who was a former Willow Creek staffer, elaborated on how she was railroaded out of her job after she rejected perceived sexual advances while on a trip in Sweden in February 1998.
Dyer told the Chicago Tribune in an extensive investigation published last month that she had to flee from Hybels' hotel room when he made sexual advances toward her. She detailed in her blog on Sunday that Hybels had invited her to his hotel room for a leadership talk. While in his room, he described in "great detail specific parts of my body he liked," called her "sexy," said "we could lead Willow together," put his hands on her waist and kissed her, she alleged.
Hybels told his congregation that Dyer's version of their meeting was false and that he neither touched nor kissed her. He said he would deny that took place until his dying breath.
But Dyer said she confided in her husband shortly after the incident and also told close friends at Willow Creek who were all senior leaders, including an elder, Betty Schmidt, within a few months.
Schmidt, who was an elder at Willow Creek for 30 years, released a statement Tuesday accusing Willow Creek leadership of twisting the truth about what happened with Dyer into "untruths."
"My post states the truth of my knowledge of Vonda's personal account. It has been very disturbing to hear my words from the meeting with the WC elders become twisted, added to and extrapolated from. By speaking truth of what I actually said, I hope to make the record clear. The current Willow Creek elders have misquoted and misrepresented me," Schmidt said in part of a five-point rebuttal to Willow Creek leaders.
"I did not say I never had an inkling about whether allegations of misconduct had ever been brought against Bill. It's precisely because I had such concerns (which went beyond an 'inkling') that I wanted to meet with the elders in the first place," Schmidt insisted.
"I did not say that the woman (Vonda) 'claimed to have kissed Bill.' Vonda did not initiate the kiss. Bill did. This is what Vonda told me. This is what I told the elders," she added.
"Women need to know that if they muster the courage to tell their stories, church leadership will listen with compassion and fairness. That has not happened here. Yet. I hope and pray it will."
Willow Creek elders conducted an internal and external investigation into the allegations of several women. All of the probes found no evidence of misconduct, though some former Willow Creek staffers, including John Ortberg, found the investigations to be inadequate.
Willow Creek elders have stood by Hybels and have insisted that they "functioned according to biblical standards, with utmost integrity and exhaustive diligence in navigating this situation."
John Stob, a friend of Tofilon, told the Chicago Tribune that when he got the invitation from Willow Creek to attend the church family meeting Tuesday night he knew it "was not going to be a good news night."
"It felt like walking into a funeral home," Stob, a member of the church for 28 years, said. "I feel sad and hopeful and proud to be part of this church."
Natalie Sum, who has attended the church since 1984, told the publication she felt Hybels' resignation was the right thing to do in light of the controversy over the way the investigation into the allegations was handled.
"I know it was the right thing to do," Sum said. "I think he was right when he said the focus of the church is now being hampered."
Heather Larson, the new lead pastor of Willow Creek, acknowledged that "this season has been difficult beyond words" and that some of the women who came forward with accusations had mentored her. She expressed gratitude to both Hybels for his impact in the church and to the women for the role they played in her life.
"There are relationships to be mended, and I hope this sets up the best trajectory to begin a process of healing and restoration," Larson said in a statement.
"This new season starts a little early for us, but God has always, only, ever been faithful to us, and He knew about this night long before the rest of us. We will keep our eyes on Him, and we will trust Him in the days ahead. Our church needs every one of us, more than ever, to link arms together and join in building a radically inclusive, biblically grounded, people loving, Acts 2 church. Not only does our church need that, but the world around us needs that. Let's return our focus to our neighbors around us."