I take no pleasure in seeing a pastor fall into public disgrace. However great the ideological differences, these men are not enemies and there is no delight in writing about their failures. But the reality is, there is an epidemic of corruption in the Church. Whether it be a volunteer raping a toddler, a missionary addicted to child pornography, or a Christian celebrity couple’s teenage son sexually assaulting his younger sisters, if it happens within the confines of Evangelical Christian culture it is virtually guaranteed that where there is abuse there will be those working actively to cover it up.
The latest in the long line of cover-ups brought to light revolves around Tullian Tchividjian, now deposed former pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Tchividjian’s misdeeds seem to have taken place within a culture of silence and cover-up which allowed him to continue to abuse his pastoral privileges for some time after his first indiscretion came to light.
My purpose here is not to rehash all the sordid details that have been released about the affairs.  Instead, I want to take a more focused approach. Specifically, I want to take a moment to look at two recent statements made – one by Tchividjian and one by Steve Brown – and consider what they reveal about how these incidents are handled in the Church.
On Monday, March 21, 2016, Tullian Tchividjian issued the following statement via his PR firm, Frederick and Associates:
I want to focus on some specific words Tchividjian uses to describe his “repentance.” He states, “The process of repentance is progressive and painful. It involves ongoing confession, not just what’s going on in my life now, but what happened in my life in the past.” I see three issues with his claim:
- Tchividjian fails to note that he has only publicly confessed after the woman with whom he had an affair in 2014 went public with information regarding his misconduct on a Liberate comment thread. Allegations which were immediately removed by the Liberate network.
- Tchividjian also fails to mention that he previously confessed this affair to three men in 2014, two elders from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Founder of Key Life Ministries, Steve Brown. Neither of these elders revealed this information to church leadership or the rest of the elder board.
- In addition, Tchividjian makes no mention of the fact that he continued as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge and the head of Liberate despite the fact that he never made a public confession. In fact, he did not step down until after he was confronted about a second affair by the elder board of Coral Ridge.
With these things in mind, it is important to ask: How is this repentance? While it is certainly possible for a person to repent after a confrontation, it is important to note that Tchividjian did not confess this first affair to the leadership of Willow Creek PCA when they hired him as their Director of Ministry Development a mere two weeks after he had filed for divorce. Nor did he confess to the board of Liberate (which has now dissolved) when the organization decided to relaunch itself and its conference in 2016. He most certainly did not provide this information to his presbytery when they stripped him of his ministry credentials.
Equally troubling, Tchividjian went to great lengths in his public statement in the Washington Post in 2015 to blame his affair on his now ex-wife Kim. This is a key detail. Consider this excerpt from the statement:
As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly, and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign.
In this statement, Tchividjian stated specifically that his second affair – the one for which he actually resigned – was an emotional response to his own wife’s indiscretions. In typical Adam in the Garden fashion, Tchividjian (the male pastor) threw his wife (the woman) under the bus by scapegoating her for his own sins.
Note that in his 2016 statement, he does not address that it was he, not she, who had the first affair.
This smear campaign against his ex-wife quickly became the “official story.” It was the one he sold to many of his close friends. It was the one he told to the public. It was the one he provided the board of Liberate. And it is the story he gave to Willow Creek PCA.
The reality is, despite Tchividjian’s claim, he is not now confessing his lies because he had a moment of clarity, or because he realized the hurt his lies would cause those who had believed him – friends who are now faced with the reality that everything they were told is nothing more than the manipulative machinations of a habitual, narcissistic liar. He is confessing primarily because he was caught.
Even as he now claims to take full responsibility for his actions, his words on repentance seem to be working to subtly twist the narrative in his favor. I admit I want desperately to believe in his repentance. I want to be able to trust that he has turned the corner and is now trying to do the right thing, but his own track record seems to bear witness against him.
This brings me to the second part of my analysis.
Steve Brown’s Statement
One of Tchividjian’s confidants after his 2014 affair, Founder and Director of Key Life Ministries Steve Brown also issued a statement regarding this incident on March 21, 2016. As Steve’s statement is rather long, I will not reproduce it for this post. I do however encourage the reader to read it here and form their own opinion of what was said. For my purposes, a focus on several key points from within Brown’s statement will – I believe – prove enlightening.
For instance Brown says, “I gave Tullian a lot of advice that he didn’t take…I should have pushed Tullian harder than I did.” Yet, while Brown apparently knew in 2014 that Tchividjian had been involved in this affair, in February 2015 he took the stage at Liberate 2015 – a conference run by Tchividjian’s ministry (also named Liberate) and where Tchividjian himself spoke. It forces me to wonder, how was Brown pushing Tchividjian to do the right thing if he agreed to share a stage with him in ministry?
Even more confusing are some of the differences between this statement and a statement Brown issued in July of 2015, following Tchividjian’s resignation from Coral Ridge after his second affair was revealed. For instance, in the 2015 statement Brown intimates that he was not any more in the know than anyone else by stating:
We are never allowed to know anybody’s story but our own, and I don’t know. Someone has said that when Christians sin there are three things that we don’t know about them and what they faced. First, we don’t know the powers that were arrayed against them. Second, we don’t know how hard or how long that person fought against those powers. And third, we don’t know the horror of the shame they felt when they lost the battle.
This is a truly odd statement for someone who, on March 21, 2016, referred to himself as Tchividjian’s “father figure” and confessor during the time of his first affair. The statements simply do not add up.
Unfortunately, Brown’s statements continue to fall apart. Given Brown’s reference to Matthew 18 within his 2016 statement, it is nothing short of astounding that he remained quiet. Matthew 18 explicitly states that when someone is caught in sin, they are to be confronted initially by the person who discovered the sin. If the offender refuses to repent, then they must be confronted by a group of persons. If the offender still refuses to repent, then the matter is to be brought before the church. If the sin still persists after this stage, then the church is authorized to take action, which includes removing the person from the congregation. It is odd then that Brown took no such action.
The reason he gives for remaining silent is even more odd. Brown claims that his status as confessor, combined with the fact that he was not an elder at Coral Ridge or Willow Creek PCA, means he had no obligation to report what had occurred. This statement strikes me as odd because in his 2015 statement, Brown called himself a staff member/teaching pastor at Coral Ridge. Now it is well true he was not an elder, but as a person who identified as on staff at Coral Ridge, why did he not step up and say anything? Was he comfortable being on staff at a church for at least some months (if not a year) during which he knew the senior pastor of the church had cheated on his wife without so much as confessing his indiscretion to the church? By the standards of Matthew 18, which he seems to hold in high regard, did he not have a responsibility to inform the church and/or presbytery of Tchividjian’s actions?
Finally, in the final paragraph of the 2016 statement, Brown says he remained silent because he had made “assumptions” about who knew what regarding Tchividjian’s affairs. But this also is a deeply problematic claim. Given that Brown knew about Tchividjian’s 2014 affair, it is nearly inconceivable that he would not have noticed that Tchividjian included blatant falsehoods in his Washington Post “confession.” And it is even harder to swallow that he “assumed” Tchividjian had been honest with Willow Creek leadership when he was hired.
The reality is, so much here doesn’t jive. Brown’s words regarding his knowledge and actions relating to this controversy seem to be entirely contradictory. There may be more to the story, Brown may have chosen his words poorly, but as they stand they are not particularly convincing. I am left wondering what other pastoral skeletons may be in the confessor’s closet.
What are we to make of all of this? I cannot say for sure. I am not omniscient, I do not have every fact, and I – like most of my readers – only have the information that has been made publicly available. However, the reality is what has been publicly stated paints these incidents as a cover-up. I do not know motives, but it appears that two former Coral Ridge Elders and Steve Brown conspired to keep Tchividjian’s indiscretions a secret. The evidence also seems to suggest that Brown continues to care more about protecting his friendship with Tchividjian than he does the victims Tchividjian preyed upon.
Whatever other conclusions one may draw about the nature of this apparent cover-up, one thing must be made abundantly clear: Tchividjian is guilty of spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse. When a pastor has an affair with a congregant it is, by the very nature of the power imbalance in a pastor-congregant relationship, an act of sexual and spiritual abuse. Further, when said pastor repeatedly lies about the timeline of events in order to cover up abuses that had not yet been made public, this is emotional abuse of his family, who are quite often silenced by the “official story.” And when this pastor works to maintain his place of privilege by convincing others to defend his cause, this is further emotional and spiritual abuse. At every turn, this man, Tullian Tchividjian, has demonstrated that his friends and family are nothing more to him than victims to be preyed upon for his personal gain.
It is often said that we don’t need “negativity” in the Church. Instead, we strive to emphasize unity through a “Positive and Encouraging” message. In the end, so much of our polite “Christian” sensibility amounts to little more than a Kool-Aide cocktail spiked with apathy. We have become comfortable treating victims as acceptable casualties in the fight to maintain our own seat of privilege. Yet, as we again try to silence their voices, I am reminded that when the oppressed are silenced, the very bricks and mortar of our comfortable suburban churches will cry out as witness against our injustices (cf. Luke 19:40).
And so we must not be silent. We must not cover our ears and divert our gaze. If Christ is truly found amongst “the least of these” – our brothers and sisters who suffer injustice all around us – then we must step beyond our comfort, stare into the abyss, and stand in solidarity with the abused in our midst. On this weekend, as Easter approaches and we consider the implications of the crucified Christ, we must look upon the suffering servant of God, who bears the burden of those abused and oppressed (Isa 52:13-53:12). And in his death as one unjustly punished to protect the systems of oppression in this world, we must recognize the call to imitate him (Phil 2:1-11), repent our silence, forsake our own comfort, and examine the theological and ecclesial systems of corruption and greed that leave so many dead and broken in our wake.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me…[and]… whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
 If the reader is unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding Tchividjian, I recommend reading the excellent resources provided at Christianity Today’s and Warren Throckmorton’s website.
**Cover Image from http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-IkSvrRote_A/VYhGhf1Dr-I/AAAAAAAAZho/wHGm6iiRryI/s1600/Tullian%2BTchividjian.jpg**
54 thoughts on “The Lies and the Least”
As someone who was at the receiving end of a pastor’s abuse, I applaud you for taking on this subject. The pain and shame that we deal with are significant. Of course these ministers are sinners, as we all are. And of course they should receive forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean that their behavior and resulting cover ups should not be brought to light.
In reading your article, what I see is the unrealistic expectations we place on men and women in leadership. They are just that, men and women with a gift. If and when they reveal their weaknesses and sins, it’s not up to us to destroy them, but to help them. Their sin has done the job of keeping them from ever being put on that pedestal again.
No one has destroyed Tullian Tchividjian but himself. It is not destructive to talk about how abuse occurs, what it looks like, and how the Church has covered it up.
We enable the abuses of these men when we refuse to talk about it. It is abuse which does the damage, analyzing and discussing us how we begin to correct the problem.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Also, I’d note that Tchividjian was caught in this sin once, and his friends and elders did nothing. He remained on his platform. He was caught a second time, lied, and secured a job at a different church and again pursued a national platform.
Unfortunately the exposure of sin does not guarantee they will be disqualified from ministry because the Church’s obsession with celebrity’s and corruption so often goes unchecked.
What is it the Bible says about sin?
“All sin…and fall short of the glory of God”
Is that it?
All. You. Me. Pastors and Preachers. The Pope. Tullian. Steve Brown. Joel Osteen (wait, he does not belong in a list of probably faithful, my bad.) Politicians…Ted Cruz (yep, sorry I had to bring that up, but saying Donald Trump would be a weak punch line)
Yes, you mister or miss anonymous reader, you, the person reading these words right now (and likely getting their blood pressure somewhat elevated just thinking about it) are just like the subject of the posting.
According to the Bible…that is the truth.
From what I understand that perspective, all sin, does not EXclude pastors and priests. Literally, that INcludes church leaders, elders, deacons and the folks handing out fliers warning people they are going to “hell.”
So why are people shocked when something like the Tullian matter surfaces?
Have you met Tullian? Heard him preach? I have. That means little nor does it change my perspective. He is a good speaker. He is passionate about his beliefs. He talked mostly about grace.
Nothing against Tullian, but this did not surprise me. He preached on “grace”, relied on “grace” and seemed to enjoy the option of saying “God, forgive me!” I never heard him say he was perfect…in fact, just the opposite. And, isn’t that what the Bible says?
Wait a minute, this isn’t a sin of a church cuckold, this was more…like Watergate? A sinister minister cover-up?
Sorry, my friend, but that hint of naivete is worthy of an “LOL.” Most churches I have come into contact with lack a desire for transparency, especially when it comes to one of their own, a leader, being naughty. And being naughty goes far deeper than screwing around (yes, that is the mildest cultural term) I’m not surprised a church covers it up, in fact I would be shocked if a church DID NOT cover something up and was immediately transparent and honest. That would be a shock to the system. And I am reminded this will happen again and again…why? The Bible says…
Wait? So that “all sin” inclusion suggests more than Tullian and includes priests being perverts, pastors playing around with prostitutes, clergy confiscating cash from congregants for high living…on and on. Is this something we can expect? If we expect it…if God even expects it…what does that mean?
OK, we’ve got “all”–that is all, everyone. But what exactly is “sin”?
Rebellion against God? Sloth? Pride? Looking longingly and lustfully at images that pop up when you Google search Miss Universe (or for ladies, “2016 Buff Firefighters Calendar”, btw, I’m the third one from the right…that’s a joke, c’mon!)
Churches preach all types and sorts of sin. Is sin voting for Bernie Sanders? Failing to give $ to the church so they can build more unnecessary buildings while people live in severe poverty on the same block, even some of the church’s own faithful followers? The churches I have attended for decades seem to find sin hanging around every corner, not just the devil in the details but even the sin in the synagogue. And the result we come back to?
What did Jesus say? Didn’t he say all sin…and…hold on to your Bible (King James Version of course, others are translated by Satan)…all sins are what?
All sins are the same? Jesus, say it ain’t so!
Jesus seemed to be pretty specific in removing levels of sin: a lie and gossiping is as bad as murder. Lusting is as bad as what? Actually having an affair with someone’s wife? (Sidenote: I am guessing Tullian probably preached AGAINST that sin a time or two, maybe even while he was doing the same.) Rebellion against God, whether a gnat or a log in the eye, was rebellion against a perfect God and equals…drum roll…sin. All sin…and all sin is the same…rebellion.
Right? Or am I reading the wrong version of the Bible?
Back to Jesus, were the examples he gave saying all sin is the same in God’s perspective just figurative, a kind of a Messianic joke of sorts to get attention? If so, what does the figurative example point to? All sin is revolt against God? And all revolts…all rebellions, big and small…equate to sin.
And all sin is what…the same?
Maybe this is about Tullian and the church folk being…the Big H word: Hypocrites?
If you are looking for the #1 hypocrite finder of the Bible it would appear to be Jesus. He bashed the establishment religious leaders using hypocrite and reminding readers that if you are looking for a hypocrite the best place to look for the biggest and worst examples of hypocrisy is where?
In the leadership of religions. Yep…
That would seem to suggest unbelief and turning away from organized religion would not only seem practical but reasonable. Who needs a bunch of hypocrites…when Charlie Sheen seems to be more honest than the Joel Osteen’s and Tullian’s of the world…what does that say about their religion?
But wait…the Bible has an answer to “All sin”:
All are forgiven with the Bible’s eternally, ever present, clear as fog IF…
The Bible had to turn the table to protect its leaders, build up the bureaucracy, stay organized (and possibly to keep its tax exempt status): “You’re forgiven” IF…
Ah, that little word, “if.” IF seems to be what divides a lot of denominations, at last count, over 20,000 or so claiming official copyright rights to Yahweh. If is “what it takes to be defined by Denomination “X” as a Christian. But at the core of most (not all denominations), IF you accept and follow Christ, be faithful, repent (and never argue with your church leaders and fail to send some weekly or monthly checks to the ministry) you are forgiven.
Does forgiveness apply to the “all” who sin?
If Hitler was truly repentant (in God’s perspective) could he make it upstairs to heaven? What about an abusive priest? What about a genocidal army leader (Joshua)? A lying, conniving person who hears voices and nearly kills his son…like Abraham? A hunky and beyond reason horny bodybuilder warrior like Samson (not Arnold, but close)? A guy that through his savior under the bus like Peter? A doubting guy who said “Prove it!” like Thomas?
Or…a philandering pastor named Tullian?
Is there something that says “NO ADMITTANCE ALLOWED” for certain sins?
What are we to make of this? Forgive Tullian and say “Preach on!”
If that is where you think I’m going I have some property on the San Andreas fault you might be interested in. Listen…If pastors sin as equally as others and God forgives them equally, what is the fascination with any pastors who get caught with their pants down or hands in the cookie jar?
Is the case against Tullian more than tabloid titillation?
Could it be higher standards of behavior for the clergy? The Bible has a variety of stricter behaviors for church leaders. Do you believe in these? Paul laid down the rules. If these are true, in the literal writings, what else does the Bible say in close proximity?
If you accept Paul’s pastoral rules what about all of the other “stuff” Paul says? You can’t have your judgment and ignore it too…
Exclusion of women in church leadership? Condemnation for all people who are not “chosen”, “elect” and failing to accept Christ…all inclusive of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and, according to many evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics and, yes, the worst of all…Democrats?
The point to all this?
When you start following people…including Jesus…and even those surrogates seeming to be and expected to be “better” than others…don’t be surprised if you get a shock.
All sin…literally according to the Bible…OT & NT.
And if you rely on the Bible as a literal “Do this…” non-contradictory, clear-as-a-bell guide for being a Christian and living a perfect life…similarly…don’t be surprised if you get a shock.
The Bible takes you on a long, winding road of faith written long ago in ancient times by ancient people in ancient cultures with ancient thinking and nearly all contributions by Triple A: Ancient Anonymous Authors. If you want to say this and apply that here but not there and avoid the other stuff every where it takes a unique type of faith…faith enough to disbelieve reason in many cases, to turn your head on fairness, equity, empathy, compassion, and yes, love, and that is a faith I cannot reconcile with what objective, reasoning folks would say they know is the truth.
Tullian screwed around and screwed up. Truth. One of many…more to follow.
All sin…the Bible tells me so.
I don’t mean to be obtuse, but I’ve read your comment a couple times and I’m not entirely sure I understand what you are getting at. A couple questions might help to sort through your last comment which, to be frank, was all sorts of confusing. I get the gist, all people sin, I’m not going to dispute that.
But beyond that, I’m left scratching my head. Let’s see if we can sort through my confusion.
What are your feelings about Tullian Tchividjian? Do you feel I’ve in some way been uncharitable to him or Steve Brown?
Do you see a distinction between a pastor hiding that he lied to his wife about eating a hamburger, despite his high cholesteral, and a pastor having an affair with a congregant, lying about it, then throwing his wife under the bus?
Is there a higher standard to which leaders must be held?
Look, I am a person with a lot of sin in my past. I’ve never sought to deny or conceal that in my writing. I have multiple posts in which I confess things I’ve done, including an open apology back toward the beginning of my blogging days.
I’m not some big celebrity, I’m not looking to brand myself, I sure as hell don’t want a bunch of mindless drones following me around and hanging on my every word. I’m a flawed human being daily trying to work out and understand my own brokenness. Some days I do well, others I fall apart at the seams.
I have said it often, and I’ll say it again. I don’t write anything that doesn’t speak into my own brokenness and point four fingers back at me. I speak as part of a “we” and recognize that being one of “us” often means I’ve been complicit in the very thing I’m seeking to fight.
Is this a helpful response? I’m trying my best to respond to what I can make out, the questions above hopefully will help to clarify the rest.
Peace to you.
I offered this, truly, with the same clarity the Bible offers…I will answer your questions one by one but I have offered possibly THE questions you have and in my humble opinion, you will struggle with: What parts of the Bible do you agree with as written? What parts do you disagree with as written? And, why, for each? I respect you and other folks such as Rachel Held Evans and Peter Enns, who are fighting with a truly ancient set of rules and consequential ancient organizational structures…but you all have a challenge: the Bible says “this” and you and others are suggesting the Bible says “that” More in a few to clarify…thanks, in peace and respect
I’m unsure how your comment relates to my critique of Tchividjian and the cover up that took place.
I will say I’m honored to have my name mentioned beside Enns and Evans. Not sure it’s an honor I deserve, but an honor none the less.
I’m entirely unclear which aspect of this post constitutes me saying “that” instead of “this” but at least now I know you’re being critical of me.
Some specifics might be helpful.
Again, because you said you answered the question but in reality didn’t – and since it is precisely the topic of this post – is there a higher standard for leaders?
Is what Tullian did just a run of the mill every day sin, or was it an abuse of his office – the use of pastoral privilege at the expense of others?
I’ve spoken to several people who know more inside details than I do surrounding this. They all agree with my assessment.
And “We all sin” is hardly a reason to ignore or not speak about abuse. Would you ignore if you’re pastor had an affair just because you are a sinner? Would you be okay that he lied to you and covered it up?
“We’re all sinners” is well and good, it levels the playing field between the Christian “elite” and the rest of us. It reminds us we aren’t to follow men and women, all of whom are broken and imperfect’ but to devote ourselves to the God towards which those men and/or women point. When a leader claims for himself a level of privilege by lying and manipulating, he operates under the assumption the rules aren’t the same for everyone. He goes for a “I’m important, I need to be heard” position instead of a “I’ve hurt those who trust me, I need to be in a season of repentance.”
Even though Paul called himself “chief among sinners” he critiqued Peter for transgressing the new equality that exists in Christ by elevating certain persons to an elevated privilege in Galatians 2. He offers a similar critique to the rich at Corinth regarding the Lord’s Table in 1 Cor 11.
Those who assume privilege for themself, and especially those who then abuse said privilege, have no concept of the Gospel of the cross- which according to Paul on Gal 3 – entirely levels the playing field. Again, we can see this theme play out in 1 Cor 1-2.
Once again, it will be very helpful if your critique was specific and relevant to the post at hand. If you wish to critique my position of support for the LGBTQ+ community, you are more than welcome. But understand that has very little to do with this specific post. There are entire posts and comment threads devoted to that.
I would support your perspective on LGBTQ and most other topics…you know this. Why? Not because the Bible tells me but reason, common sensible fairness and equity, tells me. The Bible disagrees with you. My question: how can you support the Bible as the inerrant, non-conflicting “Word” of God but hold such clear, counter positions? (Again I do not disagree with your positions…I can’t see how you and the folks I mention find the Bible as the source of your perspectives…far from it.
Also, I am responding to your questions to help clarify…and I admit, I did meander and blather on..to make a point. Things aren’t always so clear in the Bible. Just ask the members of 20,000 denominations all claiming to know it all…
I know you support my positions. But I was wondering precisely what you were getting at. If you read my work, you’ll realize I don’t do inerrancy. I find the notion laughable.
The Bible is not clear on very many things. Far from it. But neither is Foucault, or Nietczhe, or to go no philosophical, Chaucer or Shakespeare.
It is a work of literature and ought to be read as such. It has history and context and to read it apart from that will create a distorted literalism that not even Jesus himself advocates when addressing Scripture.
Again, disagree profoundly if it helps you, but it helps to know what I believe before claiming I am contradicting myself.
Read for instance, When in Romans. You’ll see that while I hold the Bible to be divinely inspired, I consider it. Very human book. I’m with the dialectic tension of that, with reading the Bible through a lens of careful hermeneutic based in historical, sociological, and literary criticisms.
Has the tent of Christianity somehow expanded since I left the church? You mean you can “fit” under the same doctrinal overhang as Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham, Douglas Wilson, Tullian, Chandler, Judah Smith, Chan, Enns, Evans……and the Pope? Wow, that is news. You say the Bible isn’t clear. I agree. You probably don’t believe the universe is 6000 years old, is the center of the universe and Adam and Eve, Noah, the Canaanite genocide, the exodus, are not literally true???
And that goes back to the same basic question of reconciling your faith through the Bible’s foggy shroud and the evangelical interpretations making their rounds: If you don’t believe those stories are “true”, on what basis do you believe any part of the Bible is true? Is it all subjective?
The point of “fit” is that not everyone is trying to create a Christian monolith. Where people are willing to gather, debate, disagree and love around the central tenant of the cross- that is where I fit in.
To answer your final question, yes it’s All subjective. No that doesn’t mean none of it is true. Objectivity is not a category for discerning truth, it is a category for defining the boundaries of it. I don’t ascribe to that definition.
I don’t believe the point of Genesis is to communicate a literal understanding of how the universe was created. It is an attempt by an ancient people escaping exile to explain why they haven’t been coopted by the religion their captors attempted to force on them. I read it as polemical reaction to Ancient Near Eastern mythology. Doesn’t make it untrue, it means that judging ancient documents by modern categories of truth isn’t always helpful.
If the point of the story is to say, “Our God is different from those of the Babylonian pantheon and our cosmos decidedly less mythological than theirs, then it makes a lot more sense.
Even the Genesis acount of creation isn’t a monolithic tradition in Israelite history. The Psalms, Job, and Isaiah all depict alternate creation myths.
Here are your questions and my responses:
“What are your feelings about Tullian Tchividjian? Do you feel I’ve in some way been uncharitable to him or Steve Brown?”
Response: I have no feelings about Tullian, none whatsoever, no emotional connection. OK, I lied, I think his haircut is out of sync for his age…but that is all: he has what most pastor’s have, bad hair. I have no desire to defend, no need to attack him for his “sins” either . He is what he is–a preacher caught with his hands in the cookie jar. At last comment, how many is that? As for Steve Brown? No different, other than I am not saying Brown has done as Tullian has confessed…or to suggest maybe he has and hasn’t been caught…or to suggest what he keeps in the closet of secrets just hasn’t popped out yet. He’s a church leader–doing his part to make God’s Kingdom on earth more transparent, honest, loving and compassionate…clearly in his own way.
Does that help? Not to be obtuse, but “feelings” as the centerpiece of the query was an interesting premise. Again, I’m not defending Tullian…far from it. Let’s move on to your next question:
“Do you see a distinction between a pastor hiding that he lied to his wife about eating a hamburger, despite his high cholesteral, and a pastor having an affair with a congregant, lying about it, then throwing his wife under the bus?
Is there a higher standard to which leaders must be held?”
Disclaimer: I am not a believer so most evangelicals will (pick one) say 1. I was never a believer in the first place,
2. I’m going through a dark night of the soul or
3. I am Satan, incarnate, with decent typing skills
And in their minds I would lack credibility in offering any challenge to spanking a naughty pastor.
Having said that, I find the entire “church leader” perspective with the inference of higher standards as ridiculous and conflicting as I do with most of what people interpret the Bible to teach. I could actually care less…and most people would say the same (even though we, the majority who consider church leaders as hypocrites as the rule, not the exception, may all be “hell bound” in the reasoning)
Nate, your church leaders, all church leaders, are GUARANTEED to do a little sin and more…sin lite…sin medium and a few, likely hidden sin heavies.
So, holding them to a higher standard? My expectations are pretty clear. It’s a joke to hold them to a higher standard when they stand on a set of conflicting interpretations, human emotions and ancient wisdom all packaged and brought forward to 2016 as “standards of conduct” LOL
I would say priests caught doing something ILLEGALLY with children should be prosecuted to the highest extent of secular law…and any church covering up said act(s) should also be held and charged as guilty of covering up such horrendous acts of perversion…
Adultery? Your turn…is that different than stealing $ from a church? Messing around sexually with a child? Or is adultery just as bad in the book of Nate? 🙂 What does the Bible say? I’m fine if, as one poster says, you consider “stoning them” (that was funny) but that would be illegal. You can fire them, sue them, embarrass them all you want…that is the church people’s options, options based on love, justice, compassion…etc.
I’ll continue but stop here to give you some space to respond…as I have…to each if you choose. More to come…to help clarify.
LOL. No offense, but I’m not sure you even understand what I’ve said, let alone the Bible.
I have said abuse is the norm. Sad and pathetic as that is, where there is an excess of privilege abuse will abound. Whether that be in politics – where our current presidential candidates use war crimes as campaign platforms – or a church.
Here are a few thoughts. You want a clear meaning of Scripture. Paul says anyone who uses privilege to abuse another is against God. You may not hold to my faith, but don’t then lecture me on what my Scriptures say. You won’t see me debating the Qur’an with an Imam because I don’t have the academic knowledge base to do so.
The book of James explicitly states not all should seek to be leaders because leaders are held to a higher standard.
Also, teachers, therapists, doctors are all held to higher standards as well. They are people functioning in a place of trust who need to beheld to a very high standard.
An affair occurs when two people of equal privilege consent to have sex which violates a marriage covenant.
Clergy sex abuse occurs when a pastor abuses his privileges by having sex with a congregant. Just as a student cannot consent to sex with their professor because of the offset of privilege, so a pastor. In fact, far from mere biblical standards, in many states it is illegal for a pastor to sleep with a congregant under the same laws that prohibit therapists from sleeping with their clients.
I’m not sure you even grasp the categories to have this conversation, and that makes stating absolutes as if you are an expert on the topic incredibly ill advised.
Also, I hate to tell you, but the concept of objective thought apart from feeling or subjective categories went out the window around the same time we dropped the atom bomb. We all have a bias, we all read through a lens, and the very disjointed form of your responses doesn’t communicate well-designed objective thought. It belies an agenda for which you see attacking me as merely a pawn in a larger game.
We can agree to disagree, but not sure why today you’ve chosen to target me. No worries.
Nate, I’m not targeting you at all. lol I apologize if you felt that way. Sincerely.
And, having said that, I’m a little surprised and disappointed you thought that, but everyone can have a bad day, bad moment…even a wrong perspective. As for me, I’m actually having a great day…yesterday was my 7th anniversary of my first surgery/diagnosis of cancer. So, given the original odds, I’m very happy, in fact. I’m clear of the burden of argument you find yourself carrying, too. I have reconciled the Bible to how the church leaders behave…I don’t believe it.
I read “The Lies and the Least” … and as it relates to the hypocrisy of church leaders … this is the topic here and what you speak to in many posts, tweets and comments (something I agree with you nearly 100% of the time btw). Hypocrisy sucks…big time. And the biggest hypocrites are easily found…just look toward the top, first.
You say I don’t understand the Bible or what you’re saying? Possibly…I’m getting older…and have less patience for BS…but I would say I’m not your typical commenter, either, given the background, church experiences and perspectives. I could offer my own critique of your reading…like maybe you are simply refusing to answer the question I posed several times (and it directly relates to your post): How can you reconcile your perspectives on church leaders (and other issues like LGBT, women as equals, etc) given what the Bible says, church traditions stresses as proper and church leaders themselves say all pointing to Scripture for support? You and them are all pointing to the Bible…and that is, well, interesting to say the least.
I call them like I see them. Whatever word you want to use for it, you’re purpose was to dismantle my belief or at least encourage me to dismantle my own.
The problem, as I stated before, is you’re describing things I don’t believe. I’m no more a traditional theist – holding to categories created by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus et al – than you are.
I would make this point, people quoting the same book in different directions is hardly novel to Christianity. Republicans and Democrats quote the same constitution in support of opposite beliefs.
Just like the constitution, the Bible is a document which must be interpreted. Nothing that is interpreted can then be held to be monolithic in meaning or application.
There is no one tradition of the historical church anymore than there is a single clear voice of meaning in Scripture.
So I don’t freak out when someone says, “But the Bible clearly says this…” because I don’t believe there are a whole lot of things the Bible says clearly. I don’t wonder, “Do I align with historical Christianity?” because there is not one historical Christianity. There are many traditions I would hold as genuinely Christian, doesn’t mean I agree with them all.
So, as I said before, my response is that you are assuming a monolith where one does not exist. I think a literalist and reductive approach to both Scripture and Church History is a bad category for asking someone to reconsider why others disagree with them.
I don’t think I have THE one right interpretation. I think my interpretation aligns well with my experience and presents and intellectually honest critique of Scripture. I’m fine disagreeing with some. Just as I’m fine agreeing with others.
The last question from your initial response: ” Is this a helpful response? I’m trying my best to respond to what I can make out, the questions above hopefully will help to clarify the rest.”
Nate, you have a wonderful, kind heart. You hold positions that are reasonable, fair, loving, kind, compassionate, tolerant and hopeful…and having said that…
How can you draw all of those right perspectives from a Bible and church traditions and church leaders all fighting you every inch of the way?
That’s the question…
I don’t see the Bible fighting me. As far as the church, that entirely depends how you define the word. If you mean the industrial complex that steamrolls victims for the sake of building pastoral brands , I’ll always be at odds with them.
But so was Jesus. If you mean the people of the church suffering from the sheer hubris of pastors who put their name before the well-being of those they serve, we are all very much on the same side. I don’t see the church as the establishment – the would fall more in line with Revelations image of Babylon (using a metaphor, not invoking end times or calling anyone antichrist). For me the church is and always should be a grassroots movement. I’m well at home with those folks.
I agree with you…and how many churches, church leaders and folks do not? The point: they are using what the Bible says to refute your “grassroots” truths…the Bible nor religion is not supportive, in my humble opinion, of hypocrite bashers…checkout what happened to Jesus, an example the “establishment” has perverted into a Messiah of their own choosing, IMHO. I’m not an atheist…labels don’t work for me. Similarly, I see a lot of Christians saying “God is love” and, well, acting quite differently…
Kind of like Tullian…the person at the center of your post.
I wasn’t meaning to label you. Just saying that monolithic readings are typically unhelpful points of reference. Monoliths are almost always the categories categoriesof privilege and power. I don’t play by those rules.
Nate, you said “your purpose was to dismantle my belief or at least encourage me to dismantle my own”
Not true. That sounds pretty sinister on my part. Let’s see…I use words such as apologize, respect, peace and compliment you on your right thinking, reasoning and say you are courageous…and that is what you think my purpose is in spending this time????
You are wrong on that. You challenge my comprehension. You show me how much respect in even saying that?
I’m not proselytizing, I’m merely chatting, the subject of Tullian “sparking conversation”
Evidently you are reading into what I am saying more than what is meant. I’ve apologized already and I’ve been very complimentary and attempted to not, in any way, be inflammatory or disrespectful… Have you honored me with the same stating what you did about my purpose???
Your blog, your rules, but it isn’t me failing to show a little courtesy or manners, is it? Disagreement does not imply sinister intent…or any intent as you suggest.
I see you’ve responded to some of the other comments but I am taking a break, getting a breath of fresh air.
Talk to you soon.
I’m not encouraging you to do anything like that or trying to dismantle your beliefs.
I just asked a few questions about how you reconcile your beliefs with a Bible that literally contradicts those beliefs in most schools of interpretations and as held by the “monolith” (your word, not mine) of the established church who also continues to disagree. That’s all.
Yes, the Bible can be interpreted differently…you know this, as I do, but most Christians do not see the Bible as ambiguous and open for debate…similar to the Constitution (and many feel the same about the Constitution, too)
I don’t see “challenging my beliefs” as sinister. You have my sincere apology that my words conveyed any such disrespect. I know you mean no disrespect and have taken none from your words.
You are welcome to disagree with me here. But in any conversation featuring disagreement, the reality is both are dismantling and encouraging dismantlement.
I am encouraging you to dismantle your notion that the “monolith” is something Christians need to reconcile with their own beliefs.
In reality, I am both within and without the monolith. As a Christian, part of something larger than myself that has spanned centuries, I am well aware that I am but a small cog in a much bigger machine. I am aware that I am little more than fuel for the fire most days. I’m expendable, and eventually someone will step up to try to replace me. In the end, the purpose of the machine is assimilation (think the critique of modern industrialization and homogenation that is Star Trek’s Borg).
But at the same time I am without. I fight the industrialization and homogenization of the church tooth and nail. Resistance may be futile, but I will not assimilate willingly.
I am a person in tension, I live in a dialectic space and have learned to thrive here. I recognize I am just as much the problem as I will ever be a solution. I can only ever seek to fight that battle within myself and invite others to do the same. My critique of the industrial machine is always a critique of self. I am always pushing myself to better understand and resist my own flaws and destructive tendencies, to dismantle my own systemic privileges.
But I am never innocent. I am never the good guy. I am never the leader to follow. I am only ever a man trying to discover and live out faith in the midst of his own flawed and broken existence.
So my point is not that you are some sinister force. My point is that we are both people wrestling with the same question from different points of view. Your questions are always a part of my work, but they are merely a beginners course in a much larger set of questions that I am trying to answer.
I need to be dismantled, there is nothing sinister about challenging me to do so. In that way, you made targeted and bold statements designed to chip away at a facade.
My point is, I don’t value he facade you are chipping away at. That doesn’t mean your questions aren’t important, but I’m inviting regardless of what you believe about the God I ascribe to worshipping, to join me in asking some much bigger questions.
The focus of your comments tells me you may not have begun to ask questions about how personal privilege and complicity, assimilation and appropriation, and power and abuse play into your daily life. Even in unbelief, these questions are crucial.
I want to invite you, if you’re not already there (perhaps you are and don’t think I am?) to join me. I see those as the questions more important to ask.
Does all of that make sense?
Again I apologize that my words communicated some sinister view of your intent. Not at all. I’m thinking in terms of language theory and deconstruction here. Dismantling isn’t viewed negatively on that lens. I hope that helps clarify.
Take care. Glad you’re still fighting the fight against cancer, that you’ve made it this far and continue to thrive. Also thankful you have taken the time for this conversation.
Peace to you.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Honestly Nate, the focus of your post, Tullian, and the silly sex cover up is no better or worse than Joel “I’m in it for me” Osteen, Franklin “God is GOP Only” Graham, Douglas “Rebel Rousing the South is Gonna Rise Again”Wilson, and others who make a living as church leaders while putting their own selective, respective disjointed spins on the Bible while enjoying lifestyles of the rich, famous and politically correct engaged pastors…LOL
As I noted: if you want to find a hypocrite, it is easy…look to the top realms of religions and work your way back down…from the top. Tullian’s adultery is actually mild in comparison, right?
Hypocrisy is the rule…not the exception. So…why bother with organized religion? If Charlie Sheen comes off as more honest than the religious leaders…why even spend any time on organized religion? I’m not trying to convert you…I’ve made that clear, but ignoring what I’m saying? Well…let me know what you believe in 3 years and we will see if you are leaning more fundamentally in or humanely out of religion. You are thinking the right perspectives and fighting a real monster of religious bureaucracy…it gets old, believe me.
I understand what you’re saying. I really do. But I’m asking the more difficult question than “who’s the worst.” I’m not interested in that question. I’m asking, “What does this tell me about myself?” What about the way we practice our religion created these men, and in what way is there something beyond the industrial machine they’ve created which can still be called “Christian.”
Those are the questions I’m interested in. They aren’t easy. They don’t have clear answers, but they are the questions that need to be asked.
This is why the debate over literalist interpretation is an important one, but entirely beside my point here. That is something someone truly embracing these questions will eventually be forced to face. But it is not my primary question.
The primary question is, what does it mean to be Christian beyond the best boxes of Evangelicalism – or any other codification of Christianity? What does it mean to occupy the messy and difficult liminal space where we look in the mirror and say, “Wow, that’s kinda my fault. What do I do now?”
In that way, I’m already asking the questions you want me to.
I just read this in a response to another comment on Andy Stanley: “Leadership from above has never been the way of Christianity. Even if you look back to Israel, most change happens from below. God has a thing for using outsiders to humble those with privilege and power.” Think about that. Do church leaders agree with that…”from below” reasoning? Does church tradition speak to the type of thinking you reflect here? Most of the people speaking from below were branded heretics and sent above by being burned at the stake or having their heads lopped off. My friend, you are battling a Bible that does not agree with you. That is the question…how are you making peace and reconciling that? That was my challenge? My response was to dig into the Bible…more and more. And, you can see the result: unbelief. Take care…I’m not attacking you, at all, I think you are brave and courageous, but just want you to see the other side of where this might lead… Peace, my friend, and respect, luke
I know you’re not into religious texts anymore, but I sugges reading Bruegemann’s Prophetic Imagination.
You hold both the message of Scripture and the views of the church to be monoliths. That is no more true of Christianity than it is of atheism.
There are leaders within the church who would agree, many who would not. The prophets were slaughtered by the industrial complex of Israel. Jesus was crucified by the industrial complex of Rome. I see an importance in those who resist the industrialization of God’s word and the victimization of people.
I don’t see that as in conflict with Scripture, as much of Scripture spends its time critiquing power structures not strictly establishing them.
I know you see this differently. But I will say it once more, you are telling me my views contradict with a specific approach to Scripture. I am well aware. But that isn’t how I read Scripture and I’m fine with that. I don’t do absolute truth, I don’t look for propositions in the text. I don’t need every historical tidbit to be accurate. Because that was never what Scripture was about and learning to read it that way has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life.
But as I said before, it is difficult to offer a critique using standards your subject has no interest in. I respect your unbelief, always have and will continue to do so. But it helps to know the terms of the conversation before jumping in. In this case, I have written a lot on the topic of reading Scripture. I would advise going back over my library and familiarizing yourself with what I believe.
You may very well still disagree – I’m not expecting to convert you here. But I think you might find it informative to the critique you wish to offer.
Thanks for the conversation.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Stone them all!! Lev. 20:10, Luke 16:18, Luke 18:11
That can be a tempting response. But typically, I’m not much for strict adherence to OT Law. Once we head down that road, we all end up getting stoned in the streets eventually.
I pray for Tullian and his family. I pray for his victims. And I genuinely hope one day he will find healing and true repentance.
But in the meantime, he needs to be removed from ministry, and remain removed. There can’t be any short hiatus or quick return. He can’t simply be out it recoup his image or repair his brand. And we as a Church have a responsibility to ensure we don’t create an environment where that can happen.
Thanks for commenting Greg. Peace to you.
Kool-aide coctail spiked with apathy…I think you just nailed American Christianity.
I’m going to go cry now. 😥
Why do so few care? Why the cover ups? Why the ignoring? I’ve had people tell me to keep quiet about my abuse because love covers a multitude of sins and that by speaking out I am not loving. But why? How did we get to this point? How do we have the nerve to bash other religions for their foibles (ala the Priest scandal) yet turn a blond eye to our own?
It’s all a bit much to take some days.
LikeLiked by 3 people
Totally agree. And I don’t think there is an easy answer here. Above all, Christians are convinced they are at war, and thus any chink in the armor is a “weapon” for the enemy to use. I think the humility described in Phil 2 is a good place to start finding a counter-witness to the abuse and cover-up.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I agree with you on all points and I feel you were fair and compassionate as well as honest.
(One small note, I believe you spelled Coral Ridge wrong)
LikeLiked by 1 person
You’re right, I did. Thanks, it has been fixed.
It was always sort of easy for us outcast pew sitters, our “repentance” was always looked at as pathetic and was rightly mocked, even if we had tears and changed lives. We were basically laughed out of the family so they did not have to deal with it, thus it was effective and the problem (us) was solved.
When you stated above “But the reality is, there is an epidemic of corruption in the Church.” it is an all clear description of the greater church today. Churches that rally around sinful leaders instead of the perfect Savior. There are too many Tullians, Gothards, Duggars and Driscolls where sin of various kinds is covered up for the “sake of Christ’s name”. Matthew 18, Titus 1, 2 Peter 2 are clear what Christian should do with unrepentant sin and false teaching. When will the greater Church stand for truth? When will they stand for righteousness? When will they stand for Godliness? Why haven’t we heard from the Grahams, Swindoll, MacArthur or Stanley? Why are they quiet? Why don’t they set the example? If we are in the end times John’s writing of the church of Laodicea makes perfect sense!
Full disclosure, of the names you listed (Graham, Swindoll, MacArthur, and Stanley) I would only consider Stanley to have anything near a respectable platform. The rest are knee deep in the sewage of the church.
I don’t know where we go from here, but I know we won’t get anywhere until we tear down the systems that keep creating these problems.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Even Stanley was involved in rebuking Gothard’s staff for speaking out against Gothard’s actions and encouraged covering sin after the 1980 scandal. If nothing else these “leaders” need to take a stand against sin in the leadership of the church. The example needs to be lived from above not the voices crying out in the wilderness.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Are you talking Charles Stanley? I was thinking Andy.
Leadership from above has never been the way of Christianity. Even if you look back to Israel, most change happens from below. God has a thing for using outsiders to humble those with privilege and power.
I agree 100% with what you’ve said about Tullian. His “confession” and “repentance” both appear to have been motivated by getting caught, not due to any true contrition.
I think, though, that you’re being a little harsh with Steve Brown. Yes, he messed up, as he freely admits. But on the other hand he obviously holds a high view of confession, a view typically not shared by most Protestants. That puts him in a little different situation than the “let’s see how quickly I can get through the Matt. 18 checklist” viewpoint that seems so common among evangelicals today.
Overall, though, a good read. Thank you.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I have a fairly high respect for confession. But confession cannot be used as a reason to cover abuse. It also doesn’t explain why he continued to serve with and under him in ministry. Somewhefe, there is a disconnect.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for talking about what so many in the church as a whole are not saying. I am of the belief that this is a systematic problem across the protestant church. Silence is the common denominator. It is the cancer of partaking for the sake of the “victims,’ or the “gospel.” Hiding behind the code of silence is what is continuing to encourage and cover the wickedness. It has become a cultural mindset in our churches. It is an epidemic! It’s happening everywhere! Pastors abusing their authority and preying on vulnerable victims is happening in every protestant denomination. Talk to someone who has been in a church where this has happened and they will tell you that normally both abuser and victim leave that local church and move to another church. And of course the problem continues. Tullian is the perfect example.
The problem is so pervasive that I don’t even trust the church overseers to deal with the sin. Just look at CRPC for example, two corrupt elders within the session. How about the presbytery? Steve Brown is a part of the Central Presbytery. Can I trust the presbytery to deal with the issues? I’m not sure I can. It’s the good old boys club. The church has lost the ability or desire to police itself. It is corrupt! It reminds me so much of the Catholic priests sex scandal in Boston. So many people knew, including leaders, other clergy and overseers. I see the same thing happening in our churches. This has become a cultural mindset in the church. We need the authorities to hold these abusers accountable. We can’t continue to allow them to move around from church to church and continue hurting people. They must be held accountable!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thank you so much for this timely and educational post, Nate. I’d like to expound on one thing you wrote here: “Whatever other conclusions one may draw about the nature of this apparent cover-up, one thing must be made abundantly clear: Tchividjian is guilty of spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse. When a pastor has an affair with a congregant it is, by the very nature of the power imbalance in a pastor-congregant relationship, an act of sexual and spiritual abuse.” TRUTH. And even if a pastor uses sexual language (jokes, innuendo) with a congregant without ever touching him/her, it is still clergy sexual abuse. Many people don’t know this, and they need education on the many facets of CSA. Again, thank you for stepping up to the plate on this.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Nate, thank you for addressing this situation with clarity and truth. Call a spade a spade, Tullian does appear to be a narcissist. These people con everyone close to them, it is like they cast a spell on people. And I read the response of Steve Brown at the Key Life website. Those commenters are drinking some really strong Kool Aid over there! I used to attend Willow Creek church for about 10 years. Steve Brown took to the pulpit at least quarterly. He is considered one of the leaders there although he is trying to say he is not on the elder board (straining a gnat but choking on a camel?) When he came out with his recent book, 3 Free Sins, it was an echo of what he would joke about in his sermons. Cheap grace. Stop drinking the Kool Aid people! This is not the Gospel. And people are being hurt by this systemic abuse. It’s all about the good ol’ boys network and covering for each other.
LikeLiked by 3 people
Thank you for this. I agree with everything you said. Old the sayings (based on Scripture) like ‘the truth will set you free, walk in the light, hold your head high with honesty, with your silence – you condone it’ come to mind. These men did none of that. They blame shifted, condoned it, defected, and ignored it.
Thank you for shining a light on it.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks for reading and encouraging Dee 🙂