**Content Editor: Lauren R.E. Larkin**
On September 27, 2016, Tullian Tchividjian published a post on the Expastors website on September 27, 2016. Two days later, he gave an interview to Jonathan Merritt of Religious News Services. In both the post and the interview, Tchividjian chose to present a narrative of depression in the wake of the so-called “accusations, attacks, and assumptions” that have been leveled at him. He peppered these posts with vague references to his own deceptions, lies, and betrayals of trust.
In the end, the image of Tullian that emerges from these two articles is a man who has come to grips with his own “darkness” and is ready to pursue a more wholesome life of honesty as he finds new ways to spread the message of God’s radical grace.
Unfortunately, details have emerged which expose this as little more than a carefully crafted facade intended to expedite his return to the public arena.
An Impending Book?
Warren Throckmorton was the first to report that a document has surfaced which appears to be an introductory book chapter written by Tchividjian himself. Throckmorton noted that, while there are significant differences between the two documents, enough similarity exists to suggest that the Expastors post is a heavily edited version of this document.
I have since been able to confirm through multiple sources, who received a copy of the document from Tchividjian personally, that this document is, in fact, an intended chapter for a book Tchividjian was working on in the winter of 2015. According to these sources, this chapter was distributed to friends and family members for review in December, 2015, and January, 2016.
Let’s look at these two texts side by side.
When these two texts are compared to each other, what is shocking is how much of the Expastors post is recycled verbatim from the intended chapter—a document which was written before news of a second sex scandal involving Tchividjian emerged in March, 2016. This is an incredibly significant development when one considers that some of the key claims of the Expastors post indicate that Tchividjian’s view of himself between December 2015 and September 2016 has not changed.
There are two statements which reveal just how blatantly Tchividjian is attempting to shift the narrative here:
- “Both came crumbling down during the spring and early summer of 2015.”
For those unfamiliar, it was revealed in March, 2016, that Tchividjian had been involved in an “affair” sometime in 2014. This was significant, because Tchividjian had previously claimed that he only had an affair after discovering that his ex-wife, Kim, had been cheating on him. However, as noted above, Tullian did not discover Kim’s affair until Spring/Summer 2015.
In the wake of these revelations, it became apparent that in the months after he lost his job at Coral Ridge (in the Spring/Summer of 2015), Tchividjian constructed a false narrative intended to be a smear campaign with the purpose to gaslight his ex-wife while preserving his own privileged status. He then used this false narrative to secure for himself a position on staff at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church, where he intended to relaunch his Liberate conferences.
However, after the second scandal became public knowledge in March 2016, Tchividjian was promptly fired from Willow Creek. He then issued a public statement–using the public relations firm: Fredericks and Associates—in which he attempted (again) to minimize the lies and abuse he perpetrated by painting himself as the “repentant” and “confessing” sinner.
And just as this narrative was paper thin in March, 2016, it remains paper thin now. I am forced to wonder why Tullian has chosen to focus so specifically on Spring/Summer 2015 in this newest post. He certainly edited the original chapter, adding some material, and deleting other. Why, then – if he is truly the repentant and fallen “expastor” attempting to own the lies and abuse he has perpetrated against his former congregants, his friends, and his family – did he not bother mentioning any of the details which have come to light since 2015?
As Tullian himself said in his public statement in March, 2016, the process of repentance “involves ongoing confession…[of]…what has happened in my life in the past.” If this is Tullian’s definition of repentance, it would seem important – in a post specifically about finding grace after his world came “crumbling down” – to also mention how he lost his Willow Creek job and his ministry Liberate was forced to shutter.
This omission is particularly glaring because the original book chapter contains a very brief, and very vague, reference to “personal struggles” which occurred in the year 2014. That is, just this past winter, before his 2014 sexual misconduct was revealed, Tchividjian was willing to paint his actions as “personal struggles.” However, on the other side, now that that exact nature of these “struggles” is a matter of public record, he has chosen to delete any mention to the year 2014 altogether.
- “I was well known for talking about my own messed-upness, talking openly about my sin and selfishness, my faults and fears, my pride and pains. I never pretended to have it all together. In fact, one of the reasons people listened to my sermons and read my books and came out to hear me speak when I was traveling is because I was honest about my brokenness and the amazing grace of God that covers us at our worst.”
Let’s be clear, Tullian Tchividjian attracted an audience because he used the guise of “honesty” to cultivate a carefully calculated persona which appealed to hurting people and gave them the impression that he was “just like them.” What he did not do, however, was honestly talk about his “brokenness” or “talk openly about his sins and selfishness.”
Never once in a sermon, or during a conference, did Tullian Tchividjian confess to the fact that he was caught abusing his pastoral privileges in order get women to sleep with him in 2014. Instead, he, his board of elders, and his mentor Steve Brown worked to cover-up any wrongdoing and keep Tullian in ministry.
Further, when he lost his job at Coral Ridge, he did not publicly confess to the fact that these actions occurred in 2014, well before he learned of Kim’s affair. Instead, he crafted a narrative by which Kim was scapegoated, while he made himself appear to be the hurt and wounded victim who acted out in weakness because of the pain he was suffering.
Given that Tchividjian was willing to sacrifice the reputation of his wife in order to garner sympathy and maintain his place of privilege and influence in the Christian public eye, it is highly unlikely this was the first time he has treated his wife in this fashion. Instead, this sort of behavior is often indicative of predatory abusers, persons so self-absorbed that they fight to save face and maintain power regardless of the collateral damage to others, even those closest to them. These are not the actions of an honest man confessing his sins in order to turn over a new leaf and begin the process of seeking therapy and healing from his own abusive tendencies.
In total, the Expastors post is comprised of just over 1300 words. Of these words, nearly 590 of them are copied word for word from the aforementioned book chapter. That is, in this new post intended to portray a wiser, kinder, humbler Tullian who has learned the error of his ways, nearly 45% of the content was originally crafted to promote a narrative in which his ex-wife was scapegoated while Tullian relaunched his public ministry through Liberate and, apparently, a new book.
Even more telling, Tullian did not even bother to edit the material in order to include the most recent scandals that occurred. Instead, he intentionally redacted the only possible mention – however vague it may have been – to acts of pastoral sexual abuse in 2014 while using specific words which have been carefully crafted to continue a narrative in which he is still, in the end, the “good guy.”
This narrative tendency can be seen most clearly seen when the ExpastorsExpastors piece is juxtaposed with the Religious News Services interview. Specifically, it is telling to consider how Tullian answered the second question posed to him by Merritt. Three things struck me about his words.
First, I was amazed at the ways in which Tullian is working to gaslight his readers. When talking about his critics, he portrays them as persons focusing on his sins in order to hide their own. If only they would focus on their own sins, they would realize that they are no better than he is, and thus have no business critiquing his own sins. He is attempting to discredit and silence his critics by shifting the reader’s focus onto a series of hypothetical sins. Because these critics are supposedly as sinful as he is, listening to those calling out his abuses is “unhealthy.” With this rationale, he can easily justify ignoring their words; after all “only God knows his heart.”
I was also struck by the arrogance required for Tullian to engage in such a blatant tu quo que fallacy. He is looking to shift attention away from legitimate critiques of his deeply abusive actions by selling a “they do it too” narrative. The issue is, even if every one of his critics was actually an abusive pastor using their position of privilege and trust to manipulate and use other persons for personal satisfaction, this does not excuse Tullian’s behavior in any way.
This allows Tullian to execute a disturbingly subtle narrative shift. Tullian begins by “confessing” his own sins. But by the end of the answer, it is not he who has a sin problem, but his critics. After going on about how he is no longer justifying his own actions by focusing on the sins of others, he spends the entire answer attempting to convince the audience that his sins really aren’t that bad, because everyone else is a sinner too.
Tullian is once again trying to build his audience, by selling them his patented “gospel” narrative. The reader is manipulated into feel conviction for their own sins, and thus a compassion for a “fellow sinner. In the end, he is “just like you” and we all know you wouldn’t want to be “judged” like he has for your own “personal struggles.”
This is called sin-leveling. Rather than deny the abuses took place, Tullian is working to normalize and minimize them. It leaves the reader with the rather condescending notion that Tullian is actually better off than his critics. After all, at least he is “focusing on his own sins” instead of getting caught up in the “sins” of others.
And in case you were wondering what Tullian actually thinks his critics sins are, he makes it explicit in the final sentence of the answer:
If I allow myself to be bothered more by other people’s sin than I am my own sin, it proves my unbelief.
Tullian doesn’t want his readers thinking about his abuses, he wants them to remember that these critics are “ungracious” people. Thus resorting to passive aggressively labeling all his critics unbelievers.
In the end, what Tullian has done is subtly painted himself as the “good guy.” He may have done some “bad stuff” but in the end, he figured it all out. Rather than noting that he has yet to take responsibility for the ways in which he lied to the leadership of Willow Creek or publicly gas-lighted his ex-wife while orchestrating a conspiracy to cover up his other abuses, Tullian Tchividjian wants you to know that only someone who doesn’t believe in God’s radical grace would dare to question his narrative.
In fact, as Tullian sees it, his duty as a Christian requires that he continue to preach his “god-given” message in whatever arena made available to him. Thus, while he supposedly has no specific plans for a return in the works, he can none the less signal to his audience that he fully intends to return.
In reality, the Expastor’s post and the interview with RNS represent a carefully crafted distraction, designed to condition his audience to both anticipate and celebrate his clearly impending return. Unfortunately for Tullian, he has attempted to cover his tracks by resorting to classic abuser rhetoric.
Tullian goes to great lengths to highlight all the “disgusting things” he had resorted to in the wake of his failed marriage and firing from Coral Ridge. He notes that this “violent tragedy” sent him into a tail spin, a time marked by:
[T]he rage, the blame-shifting, the thirst for revenge, the bitter arrogance, the self-justified resentment, the dark self-righteousness, the control-hungry manipulation, the deluded rationalization, the deep selfishness, the perverted sense of entitlement.
However, in doing so he also provides a classic profile of a serial abuser. And even my brief analysis of his words above shows that he is still practicing many of these exact same tactics.
For instance, in portraying his critics as unbelievers, he is taking revenge on them, shifting the blame from his own abuses to their supposed “sins.” He attempts to control his audience, manipulating them into accepting a false narrative which minimize his abuses, and using tactics like gas lighting and sin-leveling to rationalize his own actions.
Tullian is painting himself as the guy who has (finally) managed to get his act together. Everyone who questions him needs to stop doing so, and start trying to be more like him. In the end, God is on his side, and thus if you want to be on “God’s side” you need to stop asking questions.
Tullian has gone to great lengths to appear to be humble and repentant, while painting himself as the true victim in his narrative. But his words show just how self-righteous and entitled he truly is.
We ought never to rejoice in the fall of another person, a fellow human being who bears the same image of God that we do. For when a brother or sister falls, the impact and the burden of the fall is felt by the rest of the body of Christ. Thus, there is no pleasure to be taken in revealing the depths of the abuses perpetrated by another human being. In fact, the revelation of such abuses ought to grieve the heart and trouble the mind.
I have no personal vendetta against Tullian Tchividjian. However, I cannot stand by and watch as he is treated as a privileged white male, whose message is more important than the suffering of those persons he has abused.
When a pastor or leader uses their position of power to abuse those in their care, it is not gracious to merely turn a blind eye to this abuse. Such an act is neither loving nor does it qualify as forgiveness. Instead, we must recognize that the justice that is mete out and redefined by the event of the Cross is justice that gives freedom to the captives, power to the disenfranchised, voice to the silenced, and comfort to the abused. It is not justice that keeps an oppressor and abuser in power.
Thus, justice demands that Tullian Tchividjian be removed from positions of leadership, power, and influence, that he remove himself from a place of privilege and allow the voices of his victims to be heard. In as much as Tullian Tchividjian refuses to center the voices of his victims, to lay aside his own ego and allow the truth to prevail, his message is not radical grace but rampant injustice.