Bill Hybels Accusations • Church Self-Defense Law • Johnson Amendment: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    Bill Hybels Accusations • Church Self-Defense Law • Johnson Amendment: News Roundup
    Image: Daniel Schönherr / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Willow Creek Founder Bill Hybels Accused of Sexual Harassment. “A group of former pastors and staff members has accused [Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill] Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct, the Chicago Tribune reported tonight [March 22]. The group includes John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek and longtime friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels. It also includes Leanne Mellado, a former Willow staff member who is married to Santiago ‘Jim’ Mellado, the former longtime head of the Willow Creek Association (WCA) and current president and CEO of Compassion International. At issue are allegations of pastoral misconduct by Bill Hybels, a bestselling author and founding pastor of one of America’s largest churches. ‘The alleged behavior included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms,’ according to the Tribune. ‘It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true.’ Bill Hybels has denied the allegations and says his former friends are colluding against him. ‘This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified,’ he told the Tribune. ‘I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled . . . for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part’” (“Bill Hybels Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Former Willow Creek Leaders,” Christianity Today).

    How should church leaders respond to the #ChurchToo movement? Join attorney Richard Hammar in our free webinar on April 18 to learn the practices he suggests.

    Alabama Senate Postpones Vote on Church Self-Defense Law. “The Alabama Senate has delayed a vote on a proposed revision of the state's self-defense law to clarify that deadly force can be used to defend someone in a church. Senators delayed a Thursday vote after at least one senator threatened a filibuster. Sen. Bobby Singleton said that the legislation is encouraging people to get ‘trigger happy.’ Alabama already has a self-defense law that someone can use deadly force if they reasonably believe a person is about to kill them or another person. The bill adds that people can use deadly force if they believe a person is about to use physical force against a church member or employee” (“Senate Delays Vote on Church ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law,” WTVA News).

    Assess your church’s current security efforts and prepare for potential threats with this downloadable resource.

    Johnson Amendment Repeal Not Included in Spending Bill. “Several non-profit organizations have noted that the 2,232-page version of the omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (full text) made public yesterday [March 21] does not contain a repeal of the Johnson Amendment. A press release from the National Council of Nonprofits says in part: ‘Public trust is essential for charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to do their work—and keeping the Johnson Amendment in place allows the public to continue trusting that our organizations can focus on our missions without being torn apart by divisive partisan politics.’ A Baptist Joint Committee press release expresses similar sentiments, saying in part: ‘Those who depend on houses of worship and community nonprofits can breathe a sigh of relief, as concerted efforts to weaken the longstanding law that keeps the 501(c)(3) sector free from partisan campaigning were rebuked yet again’” (“Omnibus Spending Bill Does Not Contain Johnson Amendment Repeal,” Religion Clause).

    Learn more about the Johnson Amendment (and what a repeal of it would mean) in this October 2016 blog post.

    Former California Pastors Face a Second Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit. “A second lawsuit has been filed against two former senior pastors at Santa Maria's Church for Life, accusing the couple of sexual battery, gender violence and harassment. The civil suit, which was filed in Santa Maria Superior Court by three women on March 7, also accuses the church of not listening to their concerns. The filing against Robert and Cindy Litzinger follows an initial suit in July 2017 by an unnamed female parishioner called only Jane Doe. . . . The attorney for the Litzingers, Paul Greco, said Thursday that the couple denies all the accusations in both civil suits and said he plans to file a general denial in coming weeks. . . . The Litzingers stepped down from their positions with the church two years ago, and have since moved out of state. No criminal charges were ever filed against the couple or the church stemming from the initial suit. The new lawsuit, naming plaintiffs Jane Does 2, 3 and 4, accuses the Litzingers of similar crimes. The suit also alleges that Church for Life ‘failed to investigate claims made by women in the years preceding Robert (Litzinger's) ouster in June 2016, instead, adopting Robert's explanations without question’” (“Second lawsuit filed against former Church for Life pastors charges sexual misconduct,” Santa Maria Times).

    Use this downloadable resource to learn about the top reasons churches go to court and create proactive, effective policies and procedures.

    We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news in the context of expert advice. For more regular updates, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

    Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

    This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

    Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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