**Content Editor: Lauren R.E. Larkin**
In the last post, I introduced the reader to Lisa. Lisa allows me to tell her story of being groomed and manipulated by Tullian Tchividjian. Today, I will be recounting the second story in this series, that of Kara.
One of the more interesting things I learned from Kara was that Tullian targeted men, as well as women, for abuse. Tullian had groomed several men to essentially function as his “yes men,” to never question him and to meet his emotional needs whenever he needed someone to reinforce his own opinions. In much the same way as the women, these men were often persons with deep wells of pain related to abuse at the hands of loved ones, friends, and the church.
Looking back, Kara recognizes that Tullian used both men and women to shore up the narrative he wished to advance and to defend himself against persons saying anything negative about his message or attempting to bring his abuses to light. Thus Tullian would not have to personally get his hands dirty. However, a significant difference also exists between how Tullian treated men and women. According to Kara, while, Tullian would manipulate men to further his own narrative, shore up his own ego, and occasionally to pad his own pockets, some of the women were also subjected to repeated sexual advances.
A Brief Disclaimer
Because of the nature of the narrative below, the woman in question has chosen to remain anonymous. I respect that decision, and her decision not to use her real name has absolutely no bearing on her credibility. Her story has been careful vetted through multiple sources, and it is my position that she ought to be believed and afforded to care deserved by every victim of abuse. Further, through talking both to “Kara” and to other sources, I have every reason to believe that the experience she claims to have had hints at a larger trend of predatory behavior practiced by Tullian Tchividjian.
For this reason, any derogatory or negative comments will be deleted. If a reader wishes to express concern or contend the details of this post, they are advised to email me at the address provided on my “About” page.
Groomed by the Church
Prior to meeting Tullian, Kara had walked through a devastating situation in a PCA church, the evangelical wing of the Presbyterian tradition in the United States. She was put through what the pastors referred to as a “process.” Specifically, she was subjected to the scriptural teaching of pastors who asked her to suffer abuse to keep her marriage together. They said, “Jesus was abused and she should make it her life ministry (to be abused)”. These men also told her, “Jesus turned the other cheek to his abusers.” In her own words, Kara states that pastors told her, “Although I did not have to have sex with my husband when he demanded it and said horrible things to me, the pastor asked me if would I still do it, because it might be the silver bullet to change his heart.” According to her, the pastors refused to grant her biblical grounds of divorce citing the PCA doctrine that “financial and emotional abuse are not grounds for divorce in the PCA .”
For over a year, these men – who had zero professional counseling experience or training – claimed they were qualified to counsel her and her spouse, shoring up her ex’s refusal to see a professional counselor. They cited the PCA Book of Church Order to try to convince her that submitting to their “godly authority” required her to trust their “process” regardless of significant negative impact their “counseling” was having on her, her kids, and even her spouse. It became apparent to her that PCA teachings that denied women a voice in the church, and made her feel like she was nothing more than a “body” for male consumption, overflowed into how she was counseled. She was put into a position where she had no way to protect herself financially, emotionally, spiritually or physically. Quite literally, the pastors of her church gaslighted her into believing that her feelings and intuitions were untrustworthy. She was groomed to believe that the men around her were chosen by God to lead her and that, regardless of her own opinion of their words and actions, she had to assume the best and that they were attempting to behave in a godly manner toward her.
Like Lisa, and so many other women, Kara is the victim of Evangelical patriarchy. She was groomed to submit herself to a church who either intentionally robs women of their god-given voice in the home and church or they make them second guess it or put it aside to hold marriages together. They would allow her to express her feelings, but their continued insistence on the efficacy of the counseling process made clear to her that they did not see her feelings as valid. They refused to see the damage their counsel was doing to her and her home. Instead, her church’s belief and teaching of complementarianism as Gospel truth forced her to stay in a process where male authority had to validate her feelings, thoughts, beliefs and actions.
As with Lisa, this set the stage for the ways in which Tullian would manipulate and pastorally abuse her. Further, from talking with other victims of Tullian, she can also say that the patriarchal systems of the Evangelical church also played a significant role in grooming many other persons – both men and women – to be used by Tullian to feed his own ego.
In the time before she first came into contact with Tullian, Kara found her voice. She became aware of the abuses within her church’s theology and took a stand against them. She came to recognize that popular theological buzzwords like “submission, humility, servanthood and godly womanhood” were too easily used by male authority to silence women and by abusers to silence their victims. The gender roles she was taught over a lifetime in church were a breeding ground for men to manipulate, control, and assault women while painting it as sound doctrine.
In this way, Kara told me, “My story is not primarily about Tullian Tchividjian.” She recognizes that Tullian is a predator, but he never would have been able to exploit her had this not been happening her entire life in the church. She has come to realize that predatory men like Tullian Tchividjian rise to power precisely because the Evangelical church has created a system not only of patriarchy, but of kyriarchy – a hierarchy of power predicated on the submission, disenfranchisement, and silencing of women. Ironically, finding her strength beyond the gendered limitations of Evangelicalism was precisely the door Tullian used to manipulate her.
A couple of years prior to meeting Tullian, she had come into contact with Tullian’s books and teachings through the ministries of Steve Brown, Mockingbird, and Elyse Fitzpatrick. The message of grace she found through this group and other authors like Brennan Manning “saved her life and gave her strength to be radically honest about her own sins and accept a love and forgiveness from Jesus that she had never known, though growing up in church.” In fact, knowing how much she was both loved and forgiven emboldened her to stand up for herself and even walk through her church’s “process.”
It was only a month after her ex chose to leave their church and file for divorce that Kara was approached by Tullian through Twitter. She had challenged the views of a PCA pastor and Tullian took notice of her boldness; he reached out to her via direct message, saying, “I see you love the gospel, let me send you some books.” Kara used this opportunity to share her story with Tullian, the impact his teachings had on her life, and the strength that she had received from them.
Looking back, she notes that, at the time, she found her exchanges with Tullian deeply encouraging. His words of support were much needed after months of fighting for herself to be heard and believed. Her early conversations with Tullian were validating. He said he would be her pastor, he affirmed her theology, and affirmed her assertion that the church discipline process she had faced was wrong and abusive.
Prior to meeting Tullian, Kara had already started to build healthy male friendships after a lifetime of being conditioned to put men on pedestals. It was these healthy male friends both inside and outside a different church who had helped her to stand up for herself. They had been instrumental in supporting her to trust God and His truth. The truth that said she did not have to submit to people who said they loved her, but left her no room to have a voice. She was learning to say no to the Church’s abuses and to believe that God loved her more than the institution of marriage. It was these godly men who encouraged her to challenge the counseling “process” her church demanded her to walk through. It was because of these healthy friendships with men, that she believed Tullian would also be a respectful and healthy source of friendship.
Kara describes it thus: “I already felt like I knew Tullian because of his message and so it was easy to talk to Tullian. I loved the message he preached and admired that he had the courage to preach this message in a PCA church. Tullian treated me as a theological equal, which was very meaningful considering this went against my church experience. Tullian and I talked a lot of theology. And of course I was flattered when I heard things we had talked about end up in his sermons.”
They began to talk daily. Tullian was very into fitness and learned she was trainer. As a result, she helped design a personal fitness program. At one point, he asked her to obtain anabolic steroids for him, something she couldn’t do. She learned that he later obtained them through a trainer near him in Florida.
She often talked to her friends about Tullian. She believed that Tullian was being forthright with his wife and church about his communications with her as well. At the time, she assumed that Tullian had reached out to her in a pastoral capacity, to offer friendship and encouragement. She was of the impression he appreciated her for her strong voice and passion for a grace centered Gospel. Tullian offered a sense of solidarity. He made her feel like a theological equal. He seemed like an open book, open and honest about his own story through his teaching. Because she believed that they both had all their cards on the table, Tullian made it very easy to be completely honest. Tullian made himself very accessible and easy to talk to. In many ways, she felt like she had known him for a long time. He continued texting her daily with encouragement, He would send her music and ask for her advice on his training routine. Because she was still walking through a horrible divorce, his friendship was helping her to cope with all the stress in her life.
Face to Face Friendship
Kara first met Tullian face to face at a conference in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the Fall of 2014. He had a Coral Ridge pastor traveling with him, as well as a young couple that had driven to see him from Nashville. After the conference they continued to exchange text messages almost every day for several months.
He then invited her to the Liberate conference in February, 2015, and then to the Mockingbird conference in April, 2015. At Mockingbird, Kara was bothered by how Tullian approached a female DJ to get her number, then immediately started texting her from his phone.
Immediately upon returning to Florida from NYC, Kim’s affair was made public.
Tullian asked her Kara to visit him in May and July. He said that he needed her to visit Fort Lauderdale to support him, to help him walk through his exit from Coral Ridge, and wanted her to be involved in the ministry that he would continue with Liberate. Kara’s friendship with Tullian continued right up until his latest attempt to reenter ministry in September, 2016.
During the months after Kim’s affair became public knowledge in the Spring of 2015, Kara visited Tullian in Florida on a couple of occasions to provide emotional support for him. He had also gathered around other people from all over the country. These people, men and women, joined him in Florida to support what they believed to be his emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and relational needs as he tried to secure the future of Liberate and decide his next move professionally.
On the second of these trips, in early July, 2015, Kara, and several others, spent time with Tullian tempting to meet his needs. On two occasions, Kara and Tullian visited a local gym. On one of these occasions, a woman stopped by to see Tullian at the gym (to protect the identity of this woman, she will be referred to as Sue). Tullian told Kara that Sue had been Kim’s trainer; the two disappeared for a while. Kara felt something seemed off, and was bothered by how intimate they seemed. From the way Tullian and Sue talked, it seemed apparent that the two had known each other for a while.
After their workout, she questioned Tullian his relationship with the woman, but he insisted that there was nothing going on.
On July 30, 2015, it was revealed that Tullian Tchividjian had been having an “affair” with Sue. Kara would later learn that Tullian was also texting and calling Sue regularly for months, even before he learned of Kim’s affair, which at the time he claimed caused him to “subsequently [seek] comfort in a friend.”
After arriving home and finding out about Tullian’s “affair,” Kara began to seriously doubt Tullian’s honesty about many things. She realized that he had been seeing this woman for some time, and that he had been lying to everyone.
She had believed that Tullian’s message of grace freed him to be radically honest with her and the people with whom he said he was being honest. Now she realized that Tullian is only ever as honest as he needs to be: just honest enough to use the situation and people around him to advance his own narrative, to feed his own ego by portraying himself as the “good guy” while creatively masking the depravity of his actions and thoughts.
When this affair was revealed, Tullian directly claimed that this had been a “rebound” affair, that he had simply succumbed to his hurt and loneliness. Yet, his established relationship with her before Kim’s affair reveals two things:
First, it reveals that at least some of his texting arrangements resulted in actual sexual encounters with the women being texted. Given the grooming techniques used with women like Lisa – the sexual comments, and the demonizing of his wife, the use of pastoral counsel to create a relationship of trust and privilege, and the explicit targeting of women from situations of abuse and hurt – it forces the reader to wonder the nature of the texting relationship between Tullian and Sue while he was still married to Kim.
Second, it exposes the ways in which Tullian’s neglect and dishonesty contributed to the dissolution of his marriage. His narrative of a hurting husband wounded by his unfaithful wife simply does not hold water.
Instead, Kara’s story exposes just how willing Tullian was to destroy other persons in order to preserve his own privileges. Tullian chose to openly lie about his wife, destroying her public reputation, in order to maintain his own position of privilege and influence. Further, he leveraged these lies to gain a new position at Kevin Labby’s Willow Creek Church, a move which brought great embarrassment to both Labby and Willow Creek when Tullian’s lies were exposed in March, 2016.
Also, Kara notes that during this time she chose to publicly defend Tullian on social media, she believed Tullian’s stories that he had been treated unfairly. However, after his lies regarding Sue were brought to light, she decided to end public defense. The next time Tullian asked her (and a friend) to target someone online, neither responded to his request.
As we learned from Lisa’s story, this was a common occurrence. He perpetuated a false narrative to convince others to publicly defend him, while avoiding getting his own hands dirty. These actions damaged the lives and reputations who sought to defend his lies, leaving them devastated and hurting at his betrayal.
Over time, Kara would learn of several other women who were in similar texting arrangements with Tullian. Of these women, she learned that several of them received text messages that were sexually explicit, or contained sexual advances.
Reflecting on her own texts with Tullian, Kara realized that he had a tendency to make sexual jokes and use crude language. At the time, she did not think much of these, and did not perceive them as sexual advances toward her. In retrospect, she realizes Tullian used these comments to fish for a response. Because she was never interested in Tullian sexually, she would either laugh at his absurdity or make excuses for him.
On one occasion, Kara found out that Tullian was pursuing one of her friends, even while he was dating his now wife Staci. She confronted him, and he told her that her friend was lying. As time passed, and she learned of each of the several women he was texting,she would ask him about it.
Each time he would call it a lie, say the woman was crazy, or deny knowing her all together.
Also, according to Kara, Tullian also had a large network of people at his beck and call. He kept these persons – men and women – largely disconnected from one another, then exploited them each to meet his needs and fuel his ego. Anytime he felt he needed anything to fuel his ego–financial, emotional, theological, spiritual, or physical—support was just a phone call away
Ever the master manipulator, Tullian kept all of these people thinking that he was there for them, but, in reality, they were only ever there to benefit of him.
In the midst of all of this, Kara still strived to be a “good friend” to Tullian. She continued to see him as a broken man in need of the love and grace he so often preached about. She believed her friendship could be a source of that for him, and tried desperately to get through to him.
From August to March, 2016, Kara didn’t hear much from Tullian. He occasionally called to talk about his divorce, but she could clearly see that he was still refusing to be honest about Sue and how long he had continued to date her after their “affair” had come to light. When he stopped calling, she assumed the reason was: he was either dating someone new or getting the help and counseling he desperately needed.
In March 2016, more of Tullian’s lies came to light. Tullian Tchividjian was accused of further sexual misconduct, which took place in 2014. He was also revealed to have participated in a conspiracy to cover up his conduct, and immediately fired from Willow Creek. After this information came out, she reached out to him to ask him about the affair that had just come to light. He claimed he’d never had sex with the woman in question, and that leadership at Coral Ridge had known about, but he had never told Kim. He also tried to spin the narrative that staff at Willow Creek had always known about this “affair,” and now they were just trying to protect themselves in order to “cover up their own church scandals.”
Shortly after this, Kara learned that Tullian had left the state of Florida, and was living in Texas, and she reached out to him. He began texting her asking her advice about reconciling with Kim. The two had very in depth conversations about his relationship with Kim. He would confess his love for Kim and that she had started talking to him again. He claimed, they were being completely honest with each other for the first time.
It was a couple of weeks later when Tullian would call Kara and confess to cheating on Kim while they were still married. Kara insisted he needed to confess this to Kim if he ever wanted to reconcile, but Tullian was reticent, claiming it was “in the past and he had been forgiven.” Kara disagreed because Tullian’s lies about his actions would directly affect Kim. If they were to have a chance reconciling, they would need complete truth.
During these conversations, Tullian never mentioned that he and his girlfriend Stacie, whom he had been dating for several months, were living together.
When Tullian finally did mention Stacie, he made it seeem as if Stacie had been a rebound relationship. She believed him at the time because she couldn’t honestly imagine any woman being in a serious relationship with Tullian after everything that had been made public knowledge – his divorce from Kim (after 21 years!), the very public collapse of his ministry, and two very public sex scandals which had torn apart his family.
After these conversations, she was encouraged to hear Tullian say he wanted to try and reconcile with his wife. She believed that he truly cared for Kim and was willing to own up to lies and abuses. After he was in Florida for two weeks, he contacted Kara and said he had decided to return to Texas to get his things so he could move back to Florida to be with Kim.
However, unbeknownst to Tullian, while he was leaving Texas to head back to Florida, Kim had called to talk with Stacie. In this conversation, Kim discovered Tullian had been entirely dishonest with her (Kim) about his relationship with Stacie – the length of time they had been dating, that they were living together, and that he and Stacie had intimate relations on his return to Texas.
Kim called Tullian and told him not to come, but Tullian continued to Florida anyway, insisting to Kara that he would win Kim back.
A few days later, Tullian reached out again to Kara and told her it wasn’t going to work out with Kim. He said he would be coming through her area and asked if they could meet up to talk. She agreed to do so.
However, Kara never heard from Tullian. Two weeks later she learned he planned to marry Stacie. She texted him, shocked by this news. She tried to convince him he needed some time to be alone, that it was unhealthy to rush into a marriage with Stacie after everything that had just transpired with Kim. But Tullian insisted, “I can’t be alone. I am at my worst alone.” He spent the entire conversation attempting to justify all his actions. He even insisted one of his counselors, Paul Zahl – a person whom he claimed had “never given him advice before” -supported his marriage to Stacie.
Days later, he texted Kara saying, “It’s right. I’m confident. Be happy for me 🙂 In time you’ll see.”
He then married Stacie.
The two texted sparingly until September 27, when Tullian’s post was published on the Expastors site. She texted Tullian in disbelief of what he had written. In her opinion, he was being entirely dishonest, using misinformation and manipulation to garner sympathy for a false narrative. She was offended that, even after everything that had happened – everything that was made public, and everything she knew that wasn’t pubic information – Tullian was still trying to paint himself as both the victim and the hero of the story.
Especially after the events of the past month – the failed reconciliation and the sudden wedding – she wanted him to see that he still needed to be honest with himself. She believed that preaching radical honesty, while engaging in utter falsehood, would only further hurt everyone involved. As she saw it, if he claimed to represent a God of truth, wasn’t Tullian obligated to expose his own lies?
She texted him to confront him, and he was very defensive. In their brief conversation, he made it clear he was still sticking to his twisted narrative.
Looking back on her friendship with Tullian, Kara now believes that the level and type of attention he gave her was entirely unhealthy, especially for a man with a wife and family. She now realizes that Tullian exploited the needs of many people – men and women – in order to feed his own ego, and cover his own insecurities. He had attached himself to the gospel message in such a way that many of these people believed he had helped saved their life, and he fed off that area of vulnerability.
In reflecting on this, Kara states, “I believe the truth that has come about has forced the separation needed between Tullian and the message he preached. God’s gospel is true and he used Tullian to preach it, even though Tullian didn’t get it on many levels. Tullian taught that one of the first things the gospel does is free you to be is honest, and it’s apparent Tullian can’t be honest, unless it’s a level of honesty that helps his career.”
When I talked with Kara, one of the things she stated strongly was that, while she is angry with Tullian for his many abuses and lies, she also pities him. Just as she was groomed by the Evangelical Church in a way that created an opening for Tullian to exploit, Tullian was also trained by the Church to believe that his ego, power, and privilege were of the highest value. When power and privilege is the highest good, pastors will exploit those placed in their care in order to maintain this elevated status. This creates a kyriarchal system, by which a powerful “elect” group of oligarchs pursue power at the expense of an oppressed constituency.
As I said in my previous post, the Evangelical Church has become an industrial complex fueled by the suffering of victims, producing an endless supply of ego for the men at the top. In this way, Tullian Tchividjian represents a microcosm of a larger system. A system that must itself be dismantled, lest five more abusers pop up in his wake.
It must be recognized that, even now, this industrial complex is allowing Tullian to once again take public platform. He has once again begun spreading a message of transparency – speaking on October 31 at Spring Hills Community Church – and yet he has not actually demonstrated any.
He preached about owning one’s sin and “messiness,” yet to this day he continues to advance a narrative based not on confessing his serial abuses, but on hiding them. As Kara has observed, Tullian uses a message of “authenticity” and “realness” to keep his audience navel gazing, a move classically employed by abusive persons to blind their victims to the ways in which they are being exploited.
Tullian has continued to behave as a serial pastoral predator, using a message of “humility” to lower and exploit those around him, while elevating himself and bolstering his own ego in a way that is entirely self-contradictory.
If the Gospel of Grace that Tullian confesses is predicated on Truth and Love, then it seems that there is no Gospel to be found in his platform and Tullian continues to use people who are desperate for love and truth to build his kingdom and ego.
 Multiple sources confirm that Kara attended both these conferences and was seen hanging out as friends with Tullian Tchividjian.
 Multiple sources have confirmed both that Tullian carried on such arrangements, and that he often made sexual advances to women via text message.
 Multiple sources have confirmed that Tullian did, indeed, travel to Florida to attempt to reconcile with Kim.