(RNS) — Popular Christian author Shauna Niequist has apologized for her silence following the allegations against her father, Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of suburban Chicago megachurch Willow Creek Community Church. Niequist spoke out about the allegations for the first time in a long Instagram caption posted Monday (Feb. 22) accompanying a simple image with the words “An apology.”
“I apologize for my silence & for all that it communicated. I’m so sorry. I continue to grieve alongside every person who’s grieving,” she wrote.
Hybels retired early from Willow Creek in 2018 after he was accused by several women, who worked for or attended the church, of sexual misconduct stretching back more than 20 years. He has denied the allegations.
His successors stepped down as well, along with the church’s entire elder board. All admitted they had mishandled the allegations against Hybels that had been emerging for years, initially backing their former pastor and calling the women’s claims lies.
An investigation by an independent group of Christian leaders advising the church later found those allegations to be credible. Among them: Women said Hybels had invited them to hotel rooms or made suggestive comments about their appearances. In one case, Hybels allegedly kissed a co-worker against her wishes. In another, he allegedly engaged in oral sex with his former assistant.
“That season shook me to the core, & I shut down,” Niequist wrote in her apology post.
Later that year, Niequist announced she, her husband Aaron Niequist, a former worship leader at Willow Creek, and their children were moving from the Chicago area to New York City. The New York Times bestselling author and her husband enrolled at The General Theological Seminary, an Episcopal school in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Since then, Niequist said she has been “trying to find the words to write about my dad & our church,” noting she has posted before about how painful different aspects of the past few years have been. She apologized for not speaking more plainly.
She had been encouraged to take time to “grieve & listen & recover,” she wrote. She needed it, she said — but she also acknowledged in her post she extended that silence too long.
“I now understand that my silence communicated to many that I defend my father’s actions and his ongoing silence. I don’t. I grieve both of those things,” she wrote. “I now understand that my silence allowed many people to assume that I don’t care about the people he hurt. That’s not true, & that’s something I regret so deeply. I’m so sorry.”
Niequist said she still loves and has a relationship with her father. She cannot apologize or make amends for him, she wrote, but she hopes her post will be a first step toward apologizing to and making amends with people hurt by her own silence.
In recent weeks, the Niequists had received public criticism for not speaking out. Late last month some Twitter users questioned why Aaron Niequist was leading worship online for the Episcopal Church’s Forma conference, given his connection to Hybels.
“Please help me understand the public responsibility I have for my father-in-law’s sin,” Aaron Niequist responded.
Christian writer D.L. Mayfield tweeted back to him, “If you have benefited from publicly being tied to someone who is powerful (like your father-in-law) and they abuse that power in terrible ways, you have a duty to publicly address it.”
Mayfield later named the Niequists in a separate Twitter thread on why she believes people connected to abusers needed to address and denounce that abuse. Mayfield ended up deleting the thread, which had garnered significant attention, both positive and negative.
A number of Christian authors and speakers expressed support for Niequist Monday in the comments on her post, some sharing they did not believe she owed anybody an apology for another person’s actions.
“I love you. You didn’t ask for this or cause it. You were deeply hurt too, and that gets to count. You get to reel and grieve and process trauma too. You have my unending love and support,” said Jen Hatmaker, who spoke alongside Niequist on the 2016 Belong Tour, a women’s ministry conference.
But, Niequist said in her post, public pushback was part of the reason she has been silent: “While I fought to regain my footing, a group of people took their anger toward my dad out on me in very public ways,” which she says drove her further into retreat. “I’m not proud of that.”
“In this area of my life, I’ve been living according to my fear, not my values. I carry so much regret, & I apologize,” she wrote. “I know it might not make sense that someone who writes for a living, literally, could find herself so unable to say what needed to be said. But that’s the truth. I was wounded, & I waited too long.”