The lead pastor and entire nine-member board of elders of a prominent Chicago megachurch resigned on Monday night over their handling of a sexual misconduct scandal. In a dramatic announcement that prompted tears among many congregants of the Willow Creek Community Church, lead pastor Rev. Heather Larson acknowledged that “trust has been broken” at the church after the founding pastor, Rev. Bill Hybels, was accused of sexually harassing numerous women over several decades. Larson and the nine elders took the blame on themselves for not immediately believing Hybels’ accusers. “To all the women who have come forward, we are sorry that we added to your pain. We have no reason to not believe any of you,” Missy Rasmussen, one of the church’s elders, told congregants. She added that the elders now believe Hybels’ sins go “beyond what he previously admitted on stage.” The church elders and two pastors had initially supported Hybels last spring when he claimed his accusers were lying. He was cleared of wrongdoing by a church investigation but stepped down in April, saying the allegations were too much of a distraction but admitting that he had “placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.” Steve Gillen, a longtime member of Willow Creek’s staff, will now take over as lead pastor at the church’s North Shore site.
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