Apology and Abuse

**Content Editor: Lauren R.E. Larkin**

As my reader is likely aware, on November 23, 2016, Tullian Tchividjian issued a public statement via his Facebook page.  In this statement, he offered a brief response to recent allegations, specifically to those leveled against him by two women: Lisa and Kara.

tullian-post

I responded to Tullian’s statement briefly in a podcast episode from Ezer Uncaged, with Lauren Larkin and Sarah Taras.  In this interview, Sarah, Lauren, and I made the following observations:

  1. The allegations against Tullian relate directly to his public ministry, thus to present them is not airing “very private matters.” Instead, it is incredibly pertinent information for determining whether Tullian is qualified to conduct any form of public ministry – speaking, preaching, or writing.
  2. The women making these allegations get to decide whether their own stories are “very private.” As has been stated before, there are more parts to this story than can be published at this time, because some of Tullian’s alleged victims feel that telling their stories would be injurious to their own well-being.  In cases of alleged abuse, it is the victim and not the abuser who decides what information ought to be private.
  3. Repentance requires change, and the continuous hard work of pursuing reconciliation with and justice for one’s victims. It does not involve constantly returning to the public stage, and it is neither confession nor repentance to say, “I’m sorry.” only after one’s abuses have become public knowledge.

If anyone wishes to listen to the full audio, it is available here:

These are all important points, and I hope they would be enough for the reader to see the disingenuity of Tullian’s words.  However, I also know some are not convinced, and I feel there are still aspects of this statement which ought to be addressed.  As such, in this post, I want to take a moment to approach Tullian’s words from two additional perspectives:

  1. Tullian’s claim to have pursued reconciliation with persons he admits he has harmed.
  2. The rhetoric employed Tullian in this statement represents certain classic patterns of abuser speech.

In peering through these two lenses, I intend to show the ways in which Tullian’s words actually betray him.

Reconciliation

Tullian claims he has “made amends” for his many abuses, claiming:

Where I have been able to make amends for hurt that I have caused, I have attempted to do so. In most cases, amends have been made and in some cases they haven’t.

However, in talking to the many people I know who have alleged abuse against Tullian, and in reading the accounts of others who have made their stories public, I find it hard to swallow his claim, “In most cases, amends have been made.”

First, I want to consider the public statement of Pastor Kevin Labby.  Labby is the pastor of Willow Creek church in Orlando, Florida.  For those unfamiliar, Willow Creek is the church which hired Tullian mere months after his sexual misconduct was made public in June, 2015.  It was also Willow Creek church that fired Tullian in March, 2016, after it was revealed that he had failed to confess or repent of prior sexual misconduct from 2014.

It is notable, then, that Kevin Labby – speaking on behalf of the session of Willow Creek – states that Tullian has not repented.  Labby specifically urged Tullian to submit to the process of repentance under the disciplinary guidance of his home presbytery in Florida.  Further, Labby explicitly stated that his church has deemed Tullian Tchividjian entirely disqualified from any form of public ministry.

Given the ways in which Tullian has been accused of lying to and using Willow Creek church to attempt a relaunch of his Liberate ministry, while continuing to shift blame and gaslight his wife Kim in both public and private statements, it seems natural that making amends for his many wrongs would lead him to the doorstep of Willow Creek.  However, their public statement strongly indicates Tullian has taken no such actions.

It is also important to consider the ways in which Tullian allegedly told multiple people to target blogger Julie Anne Smith for harassment on social media.  In one screenshot, from Lisa’s narrative, he refers to Julie Anne as a “bitch,” and in another screenshot states explicitly that he wants all his followers to be rallied against her.  In one screenshot, he can even be seen telling Lisa precisely what she ought to say to Julie Anne and advising her to be careful in her approach.

It must be noted, then, that Julie Anne has made the following public statement via Twitter regarding Tullian’s claims to have “made amends”:

julie-anne-tweet

Further, in talking to a number of persons I have spoken to, who have alleged abuse against Tullian, I asked each of them the following question:

Has Tullian Tchividjian ever made any attempt to apologize or reconcile with you?

Without exception, each of them stated a clear and resounding, “No.”  Each person made it abundantly clear that he had never attempted to offer a personal apology or go through any process of reconciliation.  In fact, when I asked Kara this question, she sent me the following reply:

Tullian has never reached out in any capacity to apologize to me, or any of the other victims I know of who have not come forward.  It seems to me he created relationships that he could easily dismiss so he could blame these women and men for being taken advantage of by him.

This is further compounded by reading the recent narratives published by Rachel (Tullian’s 2015 “affair”) alleging serious sexual, spiritual, emotional, and financial abuses by Tullian.  Specifically, it is noteworthy that we have photo evidence in Lisa’s narrative of Tullian explicitly claiming that Rachel had three prior affairs before him.

rachel-accusations

However, Rachel has been explicit that not only is this a false statement, but that Tullian has never once attempted to retract this statement, nor has he apologized to her for the lies he allegedly spread about her to other persons.  Instead, when confronted by the Christian Post about Rachel’s allegations, Tullian could only claim that his family is “trying to breath” in a thinly veiled attempt to paint Rachel as vindictive and himself as the victim.

Again, Lisa’s screenshot shows this is nothing new on Tullian’s part.

rachel-accusations

It is also important to consider another aspect of the screenshot from Lisa’s narrative, provided above.  Specifically, the picture it paints in concert with the way in which Tullian offers the words “I’m sorry” to Lisa.

In doing so, he continues to attempt to advance a false narrative.  He not only presents further lies to demonize Rachel, he also attempts to minimize his 2014 sexual misconduct, claiming it was not sexual.  However, Julie Anne and Brad Sargent, in working with the alleged victims to put together a partial time-line of events, present a brief narrative of the woman whom Tullian allegedly targeted for clergy sex abuse in 2014.  They state the details thus:

May through July 2014 – Tullian Tchividjian is involved sexually with Woman #1. She was married at the time, and was not a congregation member of Coral Ridge. This illicit relationship was revealed publicly about two years later in March 2016, and led the firing of Tullian Tchividjian from Willow Creek Presbyterian Church, where he had been working on staff since late August or early September of 2015. (italics mine, bold original)

Tullian has not yet retracted the seeming lies he has told regarding his alleged abuse of these women in any of his public statements.

Further, in framing his so-called apology to Lisa around a series of carefully calculated lies, Tullian showed the lack of sincerity in his words.  His motive does not appear to be “making amends,” but, rather, to be controlling the narrative in order to maintain influence over her.  Seeing this, I’m forced to wonder:

Is this is what Tullian considers “making amends” in “most cases”?

Abuser Speech

It is, in my estimation, incredibly damning to analyze Tullian’s Facebook statement through the paradigm of abusive speech patterns.  In her excellent critique of public statements made by pastor Saeed Abedini,[1] Dr. Christy Sim offers an enlightening list of speech patterns commonly found in the public statements of abusive persons.  In total, Dr. Sim lists a total of thirteen patterns, but for the purposes of the content of this post, I want to hone in on five of them and demonstrate how Tullian is using these tactics in an attempt to silence his victims.

  1. Objectifying Victims

From the beginning of his statement, Tullian makes it abundantly clear that he intends to craft a narrative in which he is the subject, and the persons accusing him of abuse are little more than utilities for advancing his own narrative.  Notice how he attempts to depict their narratives as his own “very private matters.”

The problem with this is that Tullian is behaving as if these women and their stories are his possessions, to be used only according to his wishes and convenience.  In this way, they cease to be human beings and are instead plot devices in his attempt to control his own public image.

They are nothing more than objects, obstacles in the way of his book deal and rise back to the public platform he began when he spoke at Spring Hills Community Church in Santa Rosa, California on October 31.

  1. Obfuscating

To obfuscate is to intentionally work to confuse or obstruct someone’s understanding; and Tullian does exactly this when he begins the second paragraph.  He refers to allegations of blatant and serial abuse as “some decisions I’ve made, some things I’ve said, and people I’ve hurt throughout my entire life, but specifically in 2014 and 2015.”  And the reason for this is simple.

Tullian is trying to advance a narrative in which he has already confessed everything.  He has (supposedly) owned his sins and is now moving forward.  Until November 21, 2016, the entirety of his publicly exposed sins were two so-called “affairs”[2] – one in 2014 and one in 2015 – and the cover-ups and lies that surrounded them.  It seems to me, Tullian wants to appear as having confessed to his sins and in the process of repentance.

However, as stated above, confession and repentance are not the same thing as getting caught abusing people and then – and only then – offering a vague, broad sweeping public apology.  As noted above, while Tullian is going to great lengths to portray himself as penitent, the collective witness of his accusers – and even the pastor under which he formerly worked (!) – declares that his story amounts to little more than further deception.

Just as he intentionally deleted a reference to 2014 in his Expastors post, he now omits any references to 2016 in his public statement.  He wants to entirely gloss over the fact that he has never admitted anything at all resembling the allegations against him by women like Lisa, Kara, and Rachel.  And he especially wants to distract his audience from the fact that some of the allegations continue right up to his writing of the Expastors post, with screenshots to support several of the claims.

Further, Tullian’s claim that “some of them are true and some of them are absolutely false” stands in stark contrast to a multitude of studies, which have repeatedly demonstrated that false allegations of abuse are few and far between.  It is especially damning that he claims he has no responsibility to actually explain which allegations are false; this does not ring of someone trying to own the specific pains he has caused these women, or seek their forgiveness.

Instead, it seems he is striving to create a situation of confusion and speculation.  His goal is to convince his audience of his innocence by robbing them of their ability to discern the statistical probability of the accusations which have been leveled against them.  And, as has been noted by both Kara and Lisa, gaslighting people in order to advance a false narrative in which he is depicted as the victim is a technique Tullian uses often.

  1. Playing the Victim

The entire statement Tullian has made is carefully crafted in order to make himself appear the victim of a targeted and malicious attack.  Rather than these women being courageous, attempting to tell their stories and find healing and justice, they are painted as vindictive persons spinning half-truths in order to damage the reputation of Tullian Tchividjian.

He is intentionally working to undermine their credibility and create sympathy for himself.  By the end of the statement, he is working to convince his audience that they are capable of absolving him – even going so far as to claim: “I cannot correct every falsehood and I cannot go back and right every wrong thing I’ve done or said.”

However, what Tullian intentionally fails to address is the fact that he has never actually told the truth.  When he cheated on his wife by manipulating Rachel into sex, he attempted to shift the blame onto his wife Kim.  He even went so far as to make a statement to the Washington Post – a statement which Kim explicitly stated did not represent her own story.

He further went on to tell lies about his own brother, about Rachel, and about the woman he manipulated into sex in 2014.  He told everyone who would listen[3]a meticulously fabricated narrative designed to do one thing: preserve his position of power and influence.

And now, with this Facebook statement, he is advancing the same agenda.  Rather than noting that he has never addressed, nor corrected, the many falsehoods he has advanced through both public statements and individual conversations – even directing persons on how to defend him in multiple online arenas – Tullian instead paints himself as the victim of falsehood, instead of the perpetrator.

  1. Blame Shifting

In much the same way, Tullian is painting himself he victim, and also attempting to shift all blame onto these women.  They are made into the ones airing “very private matters” when he just wants to “focus” on his family.”  They are depicted as the ones who are advancing false narratives, while he is portrayed as the one just trying to pick up the pieces.

Just as he blamed his ex-wife Kim for his own abuses – which both Rachel and Kara have noted preceded the alleged affair by Kim – he is now trying to place the consequences of his own actions on these women.  He is working to distract from his own falsehood by attempting to turn his audience’s scrutiny onto his accusers.

He even uses carefully chosen words to create a juxtaposition between himself and his accusers. He is following “godly” counsel, and thus his accusers are opposing the will of God.  He is focusing on his relationships with God and his family, and thus his accusers are focused only on vengeance and ruining his life.  He is “learn[ing] from the past and liv[ing] in the present,” while his accusers are simply refusing to move on.

  1. Minimizing

In doing all the above, Tullian is working to minimize his own abuses.  He doesn’t want his audience to see his actions as carefully thought out maneuvers used to manipulate persons into sexual favors, public defenses, and financial gains. He doesn’t want his audience to see the ways in which he used other people as utilities to fuel his own ego.

Instead, he wants this to be about bad “decisions” and poorly chosen “words.”  He wants his actions to be seen as “hurtful” but not predatory.  And he wants his motives to perceived as “humble” and not a function of his egotistical need, even now, to control the narrative of women whom he allegedly preyed upon and abused.

Conclusion

In the end, Tullian wants his audience to believe that he does not owe his accusers anything.  He wants them to believe that they are judge and jury, that they get to decide whether he is qualified to preach.  Yet he works quite intentionally to undermine his audience’s ability to see his own actions clearly.  He tries to distract and minimize.  He works to create sympathy, to portray himself the victim instead of the perpetrator.

Even while throwing himself at the mercy of the court, he is working his hardest to rig the jury.  Even in his closing Spurgeon quote, Tullian is working to paint the entirety of his suffering as merely the will and machinations of God to make Tullian a better man.

But as I have said before, God does not side with the abuser against their abused.  The Word that God speaks in and through the Gospel does not silence the victim in order to give platform to their abuser.  In fact, the Scriptures depict quite the opposite.

If the Gospel is freedom to those oppressed and held captive, if it is solidarity with the disenfranchised and marginalized, if it uplifts the victim and brings low the oppressor, then it can be asserted with certainty that what Tullian seeks to advance is not the Gospel of liberation, but a Law of condemnation, oppression, and imprisonment to his cult of personality.

**Cover photo is from Tullian Tchividjian’s Facebook page, and was is his profile picture as of 12/4/2016**

[1] I have offered my own critique of Saeed here.

[2] I say “so-called” because the word “affair” invokes concepts of consent.  However, it is my strong conviction that the power imbalance which exists between pastors and those they council and/or members of their congregations makes consent impossible, and thus qualifies as sexual misconduct and/or assault.

[3] He even sold this narrative to Kevin Labby, who hired him at Willow Creek in an attempt to lead him in the process of repentance.  Again, it is important to note the Labby has publicly deemed Tullian unrepentant and disqualified for any form of public ministry.

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8 thoughts on “Apology and Abuse

  1. I see a new book series in Tullian’s future: “Jesus + Nothing + My Ego (^to the square root of) My Remaining Groupies = Everything” Fill your Christmas stockings now with his Pop-Evangelical pearls of wisdom!

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  2. I’m grateful that Nate, Julie, and the Wartburg women are not intimidated to speak truth. Unrepentant, narcissistic, and spiritual bullies like Tullian intend to intimidate in order to protect their reputation. But he and his kind care primarily about reputation, not character, and certainly not truth. Thank you all.

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  3. A couple of notes:

    Tullian says in the text screen shot above that in the situation handled by two elders and three pastors there was no sex. This is not true. I have communicated directly with this particular woman who has told me otherwise.

    Secondly, Tullian says that Rachel had 3 affairs before Tullian. This is also not true. Rachel had one affair before Tullian. She mentioned it in her story which was posted on my blog ( https://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2016/11/29/survivor-of-tullian-tchividjians-alleged-clergy-sexual-abuse-goes-public-with-her-story-part-2/ )

    Tullian started to assassinate my character behind my back while he was still keeping me groomed and entangled. For instance, I found out that he was telling people I’d had three affairs, making me out to be a seductress. Why would he need to do that?

    We need to keep an important thing in mind. Tullian has never confessed to any sexual sin on his own. He has only done so when confronted or pressured to do so. He had a sexual relationship with a woman BEFORE he threw his wife under the bus alleging she had an affair, making it appear that she wronged him, but he was innocent. To this day, he has not come clean on everything. Whatever he says should be taken with a grain of salt. With the amount of deception he has been caught in, why should anyone believe anything Tullian has to say, especially a public note of repentance while he’s attempting to make a public comeback?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JA,

      You said “grain of salt”. I think you meant ‘dump truck load of salt.’ 🙂

      I’m not a psychologist, don’t play one on television (yet), but in the last 11 years I’ve spent a lot of time studying narcissists and psychopaths in church leadership. This in response to the painful experience of my wife and I working for one. Our brief sojourn lasting all of eight months — when we dared suggest the leader live up to his promises — promises used to suck us into his orbit.

      That leader, as well as Tullian, appears to exhibit most, if not all of the symptoms of NPD (via Wikipedia):

      1.  Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
      2.  Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
      3.  Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
      4.  Needing constant admiration from others
      5.  Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
      6.  Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
      7.  Unwilling to empathize with others' feelings, wishes, or needs
      8.  Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
      9.  Pompous and arrogant demeanor
      

      Tullian’s apparent actions with those who have come forward to reveal his reported abuse have shown what appears to be a desperate need for Narcissistic Supply, “a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration from codependents” (also via Wikipedia). He apparently chews them up, spits them out and moves on to his next fresh supply.

      I have a friend who went to RTS with Tullian. When we had a beer together this past spring, he laughed ironically at the TT revelations. He wasn’t shocked by what had come out. According to him, Tullian had consistently traded on his status as Billy Graham’s grandson. He was treated by many of the RTS staff as untouchable Christian royalty. And got away with things for which “normal” students would have been expelled.

      Would that Tullian be the lone example of NPD leadership in the wider church. Sadly he is but one in hundreds.

      Kevin Dutton, in his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths, suggests the #8 position psychopaths are attracted to is church leadership (clergy). I would suggest that in my own anecdotal studies, NPDs would at least be at that level when it comes to seeking power over people in the church.

      Kudos to J.A. & Brad, and to you, Nate, as well as Lauren and Sarah for confronting this story head on. While those who want us to view them as “senior leaders” in the North American church stay strangely silent.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Kind of interesting that he picked 3 former affairs… It is said that “3 is the liar’s number” because so often when someone is lying they will use the number 3.

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Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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