I have been watching the responses to the allegations of misconduct by Bill Hybels, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, determining how best to address them…honoring my love of the Church and the people of Willow Creek. My account regarding Bill’s inappropriate behavior toward me has not changed in more than 20 years. I am simply recounting what happened to me. I have nothing to gain from bringing all of this to light. Until recently I thought that the inappropriate actions by Bill were isolated incidents, which is why I kept silent until now.
In July of last year, I became aware for the first time that many of the situations I had encountered with Bill had also occurred with other women spanning more than 30 years, and that there had been an investigation into the matter. These emerged as patterns-what I now believe to be classic behaviors of grooming, perpetration and abuse of power. And when I found out that the most recent allegations were only a few months old, I realized that women were still at risk.
For clarity, I am including more detailed facts of my story below.
In the mid 90’s Bill singled me out on one of my first international trips with the Willow Creek conference team in Australia. During the first leg of the trip, I was told by a leader that Bill liked how I looked and that I was his “type”. Later on that trip, we stopped at a resort to rest for a few days. Bill asked me to go on a bike ride with him. During that ride, he asked me if I thought I might have the spiritual gift of leadership. He told me to take a gifts assessment test and find out, mentioning that he recognized leadership qualities in me. He then told me that I should take good care of my body and stay thin and fit, because leaders are more respected when they are in shape.
At various times over the next months and years, Bill sent subtle and confusing messages.
The next morning, Bill and I were the first ones at breakfast in the hotel. He pulled me aside and asked me if anything had happened. “You know what happened!” I said, and then he asked me if I was going to tell the elders. I said, “Not this time, but if you ever do anything like this again, I will go to the elders.”
I told Scott shortly after I returned from Sweden, and a few months later I shared it with 3 of my closest friends, all of whom were senior leaders at Willow Creek, including an elder, Betty Schmidt (read Betty's statement here.) I shared it with another close friend and my mother in the months following. Several confirmed the story to the Tribune. Betty asked if they should take it to the larger elder team, and I told her no, that I had confronted Bill and that I warned him not to do it again. At the time, I thought it was simply a weak moment on his part and wanted to be forgiving. I told my friends and trusted leaders, so they would be aware, in case it happened again.
In 2000, I noticed Bill flirting with 5 female leaders that he was mentoring. The term for this behavior among leaders was Bill’s “flavor of the month”. I made an appointment to confront his behavior. I went into his office, sat across from his desk, looked him straight in the eye and listed the women by name (including Nancy Beach), counting on my fingers 1-5. I then said, “You need to knock it off!” He sat silently staring at me. Then I said, “Do you understand what I am saying to you?” He said, “Understood.” I then said, “OK?” and he said, “K”, and I got up and left his office, trembling.
In 2001, Scott and I were asked on a WCA trip to South Africa. Shortly before the trip, Bill called me to his office in the presence of two supervisors and told me, “You’re going. Scott’s staying home. You’re an ‘A Player’, Scott’s a ‘B Player.’” As the team leader, I had to go home and deliver the news to my husband.
I became pregnant and gave birth to my first daughter in December of 2002. In early 2003, while still on pregnancy leave, I was contacted by Willow Creek’s HR department and told that there was an issue. When I returned from my leave, I was told that there were 12-15 people who had issues with me, and that I was not allowed to talk with anyone in the department about it or ask anyone if I had offended them. I was moved to another department and eventually fired with severance. I was given the opportunity to write a resignation letter that painted the situation as my choice to leave. I was required to have it approved by HR, which I did. A couple of years later, a former vocal team member was visiting us in Texas, when she suddenly broke down and tearfully confessed that she had been a part of a plot to remove me from my position. She didn’t go into detail, and she was distraught and crying, so I didn’t press her on it, as I had moved on with my life.
This is what happened to me.
I believe the women who have come forward because our stories are so similar.
For the sake of the other women and for the sake of the church, I cannot stay silent.
“The worst kind of fear isn’t the thing that makes you scream, but the one that steals your voice and makes you silent.” -Abby Norman