Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels has resigned from Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago after years of misconduct allegations and investigations.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Hybels resigned six months ahead of schedule as a result of ongoing internal controversy. Hybels announced in 2012 that he planned to leave the church in October 2018.
What's the history?
Hybels' resignation comes just weeks after the Tribune disclosed that the megachurch pastor had been at the center of "inquiries by church leaders into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation — including employees — allegedly spanning decades."
According to the Tribune's investigative report, Hybels had been cleared on all allegations.
The Tribune's March report alleged that accusations against Hybels included inappropriate behaviors including "suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms."
Allegations also reportedly included an "prolonged consensual affair with a married woman."
The woman later reportedly recanted her allegation, and said it was untrue.
What did Hybels say?
The outlet reported that Hybels made the announcement of his departure on Tuesday at a church meeting where he was "choking back tears," claiming that it was time to leave the church because the controversy was proving to be too much of a distraction to parishioners.
"It has been extremely painful for Lynne and I to see this controversy continue to be a distraction," Hybels said in a statement.
According to the Tribune, Hybels had regrets over expressing anger when the accusations were made public.
“I apologize to you, my church, for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning,” he reportedly said.
Hybels previously called the allegations "flat-out lies."
During the Tuesday meeting, Hybels reportedly said that some of the allegations laid against him were misleading, while some were "entirely false."
Hybels, in his statement, added that he now realizes "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."
He also added that he "too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid."
"I was, at times, naive about the dynamics those situations created," he admitted.
Hybels now has plans to enter into a time of reflection.
"I feel the need to look deep inside myself and determine what God wants to teach me through all of this," Hybels said. "I have complete peace about this decision and I’m not going to rush this process. Your prayers would be much appreciated during this upcoming season of reflection."
Hybels revealed that he will join the church congregation as a worshipper going forward.
In 2017, the church announced that a female pastor would succeed Hybels after his departure. A church statement on Tuesday said that Heather Larson would be taking the reins of lead pastor effective immediately.
Hybels, 66, founded the 25,000-strong church 42 years ago.
Larson, in a statement, admitted that the news of Hybels' investigation and departure was "hard."
"There is no way to get around it, this season has been difficult beyond words," Larson wrote. "Some of the women who brought their stories are women who have mentored me and invested in me. To those women, I want to say that I have love and gratitude for you and the role you played in my life, and I am so deeply sad for all of us that we find ourselves in this place."
As for the future of the church, Larson wrote, "We will be radically committed to a healthy environment where we can work and serve together."