The Chicago Tribune set off a #ChurchToo tsunami last week when it ran a lengthy story (I counted 6,096 words) about the revered pastor of Willow Creek Church, a megachurch and global parachurch ministry hub northwest of the city.
Those of us on the beat were commenting on it almost as soon as the mega-story came out. It was clear to several of us that a ton of work that had gone into this piece and that reporters Manya Brachear Pashman and Jeff Coen must have been working on it for a long time.
Obviously, people have been talking about this situation for some time. The story begins:
Last October, the Rev. Bill Hybels stood before worshippers at his packed sanctuary and made a stunning announcement. After 42 years building northwest suburban Willow Creek Community Church into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential churches, Hybels was planning to step down as senior pastor.
“I feel released from this role,” he said, adding that he felt called to build on Willow Creek's reach across 130 countries with a focus on leadership development, particularly in the poorest regions of the world…
What much of the church didn’t know was that Hybels had been the subject of inquiries into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation -- including employees -- allegedly spanning decades. The inquiries had cleared Hybels, and church leaders said his exit had nothing to do with the allegations.
What follows is a step-by-step recitation of what Hybels was accused of, plus the fact that these accusations have been swirling for at least four years. What was also intriguing is that within hours of the Tribune’s story, Christianity Today, which is headquartered in Chicago’s western suburbs, had its own highly detailed story up on its site.
To have their own investigation –- written by religion beat pro Bob Smietana -- at the ready tells me one thing: If CT was onto this, then a lot of people knew about these rumors and have known about them for some time.