Steve Carter, the lead teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, has resigned amid new allegations against founder Bill Hybels.
Hybels announced his resignation in April after being 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.”
Hybels, 66, founded the 25,000-strong church 42 years ago.
What's the background?
According to a March Chicago Tribune investigative report on the accusations, Hybels had been cleared on all allegations.
The report noted that allegations against Hybels included inappropriate behaviors including “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms.”
Hybels — who is married — also purportedly engaged in a “prolonged consensual affair with a married woman.”
The woman later reportedly recanted her allegation.
In his April announcement, Hybels said that he was leaving the church six months ahead of schedule due to the swirling controversy, which he said proved to be too much of a distraction to the congregation.
The Tribune reported that Hybels initially reacted with anger after the accusations against him went public. The former lead pastor later apologized for his defensive reaction.
Hybels previously called the allegations “flat-out lies,” but later confused the matter further, saying that some allegations were misleading and others were “entirely false.”
In a statement, Hybels added that he realized “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,” calling himself “naive.”
In July, the church announced that it was sorry for the way it addressed the scandal.
A statement from the church explained that the church’s elders should have believed women who made allegations of sexual misconduct against Hybels.
“We apologize and ask for forgiveness that the tone of our initial response was not one of humility and deep concern for all the women involved. It takes courage for a woman to step forward and share her story,” a portion of the statement read.
“We are grieved that we let Bill’s statement stand for as long as we did that the women were lying and colluding. We now believe Bill entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth,” the statement added.
What else happened since then?
A Sunday report in The New York Times revealed allegations from Hybels' former secretary, Pat Baranowski, who said that the megachurch pastor groped her many times.
Baranowski, 65, also said that oral sex was involved at one point.
Baranowski — who once even lived with Hybels and his wife, according to the report — said that she didn't go public with the allegations because she "did not want to hurt the church."
“I felt like if this was exposed, this fantastic place would blow up, and I loved the church,” she said. “I loved the people there. I loved the family. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. And I was ashamed.”
The former secretary also said that she once confronted Hybels about bearing the weight and guilt of their sinful actions.
He reportedly told her, "It’s not a big deal. Why can’t you just get over it? You didn’t tell anyone, did you?"
She also said that her professional relationship with Hybels began to deteriorate after she spoke to him about the alleged inappropriate actions.
Baranowski — who Hybels once called a "knock-out," as purportedly evidenced by a signed letter — would go on to move out of the Hybels family home and would later resign from her position at the church after eight years.
According to the report, Hybels has denied all of Baranowski's allegations.
A statement from Hybels read, “I never had an inappropriate physical or emotional relationship with her before that time, during that time or after that time.”
What did Carter say?
In a Sunday blog post, Carter announced his resignation as the church's lead teaching pastor, "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," he wrote.
"These most recent revelations have also compelled me to make public my decision to leave, as much as it grieves me to go," Carter added, noting that he has been "gravely concerned" about the church's official response to the women's allegations.
"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," he added.
Carter later wrote that he must follow the path that he believes God set him upon in order to live with integrity.
"That path now diverges from Willow Creek," Carter explained, and revealed that he tendered his resignation "many weeks ago."
According to Carter, church officials requested that he delay his announcement of resignation and soldier on with his church 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," Carter admitted, expressing his desire to be able to meet with the church's congregants personally and on an individual basis in order to thank them for the time he was able to spend with them.
"... It would be misleading of me to stand on that stage as if presenting a unified front," he explained of his decision to simply leave. "I defer to the wisdom of the leadership of this church, so I must stand aside."
Carter closed his posting by thanking the church's congregation, staff, and supporters.
"I thank God for every moment I’ve had with you here, and we will continue to pray for this community and hold it dearly in our hearts," he concluded.