Bill Hybels, Willow Creek, and Defenders of the #MeToo Accused 2


The email subject line read, “What to do when #MeToo comes for you, too.”

The email itself was from one of the original internet marketing gurus, someone who started in the ’90s teaching the ins and outs of Google advertising and who now lives very comfortably in a high end Chicago suburb.

“Louis CK, Bill Hybels, and smashed heroes…” it began.

Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Scandal

Allegations that ranged from “lingering hugs” to an unwanted kiss swirled around Bill Hybels for several years. According to the New York Times, the church first investigated it’s pastor 4 years ago and then hired an outside lawyer to investigate. Both times Hybels was cleared. But now Hybels former assistant has detailed decades-long harassment that includes groping and unwanted oral sex.

Bill Hybels resigned in April of 2018. Initially, Willow Creek’s leadership stood by him. But the NYT article above, where former assistant Pat Baranowski told her story publicly for the first time, changed all that. Three days after the article appeared, the lead pastor and entire board of elders resigned from the church.

Enter Email Ad From Marketing Guru

If your job involves bringing traffic to websites to grow businesses, you already know who I’m talking about. If it doesn’t, the name will mean nothing to you.

But this is someone I’ve admired as one of the “good guys,” who strove to keep marketing ethical in the Wild West days of selling stuff online. I met him personally at an exclusive writing workshop after my career had gone from freelance writer to VP of an online nutritional supplement company. I sat at dinner with him and had deep discussions about religion and how it has treated the feminine.

And he really seemed to get it.

But now this email was glaring out of my inbox, daring me to read it. Because surely it didn’t mean what the subject line insinuated.

Sadly, The Email Was Worse

It began by noting that the day after Willow Creek’s leadership team resigned, the church’s annual symposium on leadership was to begin. Kind of an ironic time for your whole leadership team to step down, it says.

Our marketing guru (or whoever wrote the email in his voice) goes on to say that he attended Willow Creek for a while and really enjoyed it. That he was personally hurt by the fall of one of his “heroes.”

The email continues:

And Hybels is by no means the only “hero” that’s been brought down by the #metoo movement.

Nor will he be the last. Not by a darn sight.

I would imagine a few of your heroes have “bit the dust” over the last couple of years, right?

What do you do when your heroes fall?

What should you do?

What could those fallen heroes have done differently…and why didn’t they do it?

The rest of the email says our guru is having a webinar dedicated to this subject and that there are “profound business and marketing lessons in these stories, too.”

Ironically, just like that, one of my “heroes” bit the dust.

Minimization Is Fuel To The Fire That Is Trauma

“WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK, ____??” read the first line of my response to this email. I continued:

“#MeToo doesn’t “come for you” unless you’ve SEXUALLY ASSAULTED SOMEONE.

What could those “fallen heroes” have done differently? Uhhhhh…. maybe NOT SEXUALLY ASSAULT ANYONE???

Guess what? #MeToo. How DARE you try to turn women who’ve been raped, groped, molested, or in any other way ASSAULTED into a fucking MARKETING EVENT?”

I guess you could say I was a bit upset.

I got a response from a customer service person who apologized that “the ads for this webinar upset you.”

“This webinar wasn’t so much of a marketing event as a time to give some advice to entrepreneurs and business owners in the event they’ve behaved inappropriately, or if someone on their team has behaved inappropriately,” she said. And then went on to chastise me for MY “abusive” language.

Are you with me? Sexual assault is “behaving inappropriately” but dropping an F-bomb is “abuse.”

At this point, my anxiety and C-PTSD was fully triggered. I was in full-blown flashback mode. But why? What is it about the minimization of sexual assault that is SO damaging?

During this time, I saw a video on Facebook by counselor David Bedrick. To see the excerpt that put the puzzle pieces together for me, watch from 25:00 – 26:28:

Finally, I understood.

When I was groped at a concert at 14, I didn’t understand what had happened to me right away. I couldn’t tell anyone, because I couldn’t form the words. I literally didn’t realize what I’d felt for a couple years. So that trauma lay dormant most of my life. By the time I’d figured out what happened, it was already in the past.

Then the infamous Access Hollywood tape came out, and then-presidential candidate Trump was heard bragging about groping women, similar to my experience. Still, the tape didn’t trigger my trauma either.

What finally set me off into full traumatic response was when so many – including my own parents – began to minimize both Trump’s words and my own experience. The more people claimed it was “no big deal” the more I realized it was in fact a VERY BIG DEAL.

Words Matter

Calling sexual assault “inappropriate behavior” is minimizing it. Hosting a webinar telling sexual predators that they “may have behaved inappropriately” and what to do now, calling them “fallen heroes” to boot – that’s a step beyond. It’s not JUST minimizing the trauma of victims, it’s saying that getting predators back to their normal lives is more important than what they’ve done to their victims.

And calling ME the one being “abusive” over bad language was just a twist of the knife.

As Mr. Bedrick says above, trauma victims need to be lovingly witnessed to heal. We need to be seen, for our stories to be believed in order to move past them. The email exchange above sent me into flashback Hell for the better part of a week. The only thing that pulled me out of it was being lovingly heard out by those closest to me.

From now on, whenever you see abuse being minimized, call it out. The perpetrators don’t deserve to be let off the hook, and the victims need your witness. Especially if you’re one of us.


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2 thoughts on “Bill Hybels, Willow Creek, and Defenders of the #MeToo Accused

  • Jeanine Byers

    I am one of you! And I completely understand your feelings about the marketing person. I do call people out, but when something like this happens and I hear about it, I feel so tired. Like there’s just no way to speak the truth to everyone, because there are too many. Glad you didn’t let that stop you! ❤

    • admin Post author

      It is exhausting. I should have mentioned, to take into account your own mental health as well when making that decision. Sometimes it is better to save your strength for another day. We have a long fight ahead of us until EVERYONE is treated with the respect they deserve.