Part of the reason why I personally believed the women who blew the whistle on Bill Hybels is because of the way he conducted himself privately with me when I was a volunteer and staff member at Willow Creek (1989-1997).
You can read in my other post that on my first day on-the-job at Willow Creek, I arrived at 6:00 am, and I remember exactly what I was wearing: a loose-fitting royal blue shimmery, long-sleeved, formal dress that hung from my shoulders like drapes with a hem that covered my knees, and black nylon hose, black high heels, and a shiny, silver bead necklace that added white reflections of light to my attire. Back then, my hair was twice as thick, and shaped in a Jaclyn Smith, lioness-like, 1980’s style, and because of my heeled shoes, I stood two or three inches taller than Bill did.
Imagine the scene: Bill is married and in mid-forties, and I unmarried and in my young-thirties, and I’m all excited and over-dressed for work on my first day on staff at Willow Creek.
Consider: It would have been very different had the occasion been a volleyball game or a square dance or some other kind of venue that lends itself to innocent physical touches between men and women that are mindless and mingled in the fun. But the occasion on this morning was one that definitely called for conventionally conservative physical boundaries.
What did Bill do? Well, let me put it this way. I don’t know any other pastor or male ministry colleague who would boldly slip his hand under my think, long hair and hold on to my neck as we walked down the hall. But, to my surprise, that’s what Bill did.
You can see from my other post that there is more to my #MeToo moment. All I’m saying here is that it is especially noteworthy that I got touched like that when I was wearing formal attire that would have signaled to other men–“Don’t touch me.”
Compared to what Bill did to other women, my experience with him was not nearly as sexual, but I am sternly told by experts that, indeed, it was nothing less than sexual. At the time, I couldn’t believe he was brash enough to touch me like that, but I was so naive, and my main thought was that I wanted him to trust me and invite me to co-minister with the teaching pastor team.
Had Bill had any idea of how extremely committed I was to him as a fellow minister and to the mission of Willow Creek, maybe he could have trusted that I had his best interests in mind when I made known the prior that he had lit in to me after I had asked him to adjust his communion message on the day that he had led congregants to thank him personally for “giving” them “life.” (I explain that story in detail in my other post.)
Here the point is that I prayed more for Bill than anyone but myself. So naive was I that I sincerely thought he wanted to be helped not only by me, but by all of us who served on staff.
The brokenness of Bill was matched by the brokenness of the board. The Willow Creek elder board could not stand up to Bill. For those individuals, such as I, who did stand up to Bill, we paid for it dearly.
I learned the hard way that Bill’s capacity to trust others is low or nil. A big part of the tragedy (aside from the other tragedy of the women who were sexually abused) is how isolated Bill Hybels’ existence truly was–and seemingly still is–given that he never acknowledged his improprieties.
In my theological opinion, there is nothing more dangerous than hiding oneself from one’s own self . We all do it, and yet by God’s grace, we can repent from doing it if we open ourselves to God’s Spirit and humble ourselves before others who give us honest feedback and love us enough to “wound” us in the Proverbs way: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).
Those “wounds” come in the form of truth-telling that pierce the human heart, even when they are wrapped in genuine Christian love.