Tullian Tchividjian, Personal Survivor Story, Clergy Sex Abuse
Editors’ Note: This is Rachel’s story, and she is sharing what she recalls of her relationship with Tullian Tchividjian. She is sharing her facts, opinions, and what she believes to be true. Tullian is a public figure of interest. It is not defamatory to share opinions, beliefs, and personal stories publicly. In order to prove that she is being defamatory, it would need to be shown that she knowingly told lies, and did so with malice.
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MY STORY, PART #4
#7. My Personal Response to Tullian Tchividjian:
An Open Letter, November 2016
Background, from the Editors
The following comes mostly from a comment on the post “Master of Manipulation” by Nate Sparks (November 23, 2016) about “Kara,” another woman in Tullian’s inner circle that he was grooming. She asked that Nate delete her comment, which he kindly did, as it revealed information about other people’s stories of dealing with Tullian Tchividjian that those people had not yet revealed themselves.
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I read Tullian’s feeble Facebook post today [November 23, 2016]. This is what you had to say to the world:
Facebook Post by Tullian Tchividjian ~ November 23, 2016
And here’s what I want to say to you:
Tullian, you have done NOTHING to address the damage you did to me or to my family, or to so many others you specifically should be addressing … people like Kara who YOU KNOW were your true friends and who would’ve gone to bat for you and often did.
Confess the truth to your wife [Stacie] and to your fans on Twitter … stop with these weak, self-promoting generalizations. If you gave a hoot about us you would have told the world EXACTLY what you did and immediately paid back every single dollar you ever took. (And you would add to that the $150 a week several of us have been paying a psychologist for the past year or more.) If you were someone transparent or to be pitied, you would have fully confessed what you did to me and to my husband and children. You would have done all in your power to get us the help we needed. Instead, you left us in your trail of dust.
Furthermore, you lied to your children and to my local community about me, doing all you could to sully my reputation. Three affairs? You knew every detail of my past. I was transparent with you, but you contorted that for your own purposes, didn’t you?
I’m not “out for a fight,” despite having been reached out to by lawyers who assure me you should be brought to justice. (If I was out for a fight, you would be in court by now.) But my Lord is a man of war and you are an affront to His gospel and to His name. May He judge you as He sees fit.
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#8. My Response to Tullian’s Supporters and Protectors:
An Open Letter, November 2016
Background, from the Editors
This is Rachel’s response to the article Tullian Tchividjian wrote for ExPastors.com (“The Freedom in Losing it All,” September 27, 2016). In it, Mr. Tchividjian speaks about his apparent devastation after the events that disclosed his clergy sexual misconducts, including how he contemplated suicide but opted for “grace” instead. He talks about a journey of the last two years, which Rachel references in her comments analyzing and reacting to such statements of his as this:
The journey God has taken me on over the last two years has been one of complete deconstruction…not just externally but internally. The exploration of who I am, who God is, what is real, what matters, and so on, has been one of pure stripping. It has felt like my skin being painfully ripped from my bones. Just when I think I can’t take anymore, God seems to dig deeper. As painful as it has been, however, it has also been very liberating. As my counselor and mentor told me the other day, “The purpose behind the suffering you are going through is to kick you into a new freedom from false definitions of who you are.” So true. Death before resurrection has always been and will always be Gods mode of operation. Dark desperation always precedes deep deliverance. That is my hope. That is my only lifeline.
Rachel posted anonymously as “Concerned.” This is most of her comment, only changed to turn it from a third-person anonymous to her first-person perspective, now that she has gone public in reporting her story.
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Concerned. Anyone reading this article with some semblance of reason or knowledge of the publicized time line should see that Tullian clearly suffers from narcissism and has no business on a site set up to reach bruised reeds. Only six months have passed since he was caught in a web of lies and lost his position in Orlando with Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. What’s this about two years???? Stop the spin!!!!!
Tullian is married again less than a year after divorcing Kim. Now … is this evidence of repentance, true recognition and dealing with his failure… or AVOIDANCE? What kind of therapist is he listening to? There is ongoing HEARTACHE in his wake in Fort Lauderdale, with two broken marriages as a result, both with children involved. I am the woman he had the affair with in the summer of 2015. I am still in a divorce process, and have been isolated and ostracized by a system that Tullian himself established and even dared to criticize in this post. He was the abuser, not the victim. He went to great lengths to make sure I was cut off and my voice would not be heard. […]
Tullian […] has NEVER publicly addressed his predatory behavior or dealt even close to appropriately with the people involved. Generic statements of apology sound more like Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” to those whose lives have been trashed by this man.
To those applauding him for his “confessions” and granting him respect and sympathy, you know nothing of the reality of the situation at all. It’s a lot darker than has so far been revealed, and the pain that continues as a direct result of his lies and spin is evidence of zero repentance.
There will come a day when all that is hidden will be revealed. Until then, pastors are called to a high calling. Fear God. He will deal with liars. And please stop feeling sorry for Tullian … your sympathy is his narcissistic supply and he will continue to seek it and use it to make a living peddling Jesus. He believes his own narrative. Psychologists say that Narcissistic Personality Disorder in adults takes years of therapy to even begin to address. Tullian should NOT be back in the public eye. Please consider if you are truly helping him by posting his writings on your site, publishing or selling his books, promoting his speaking or events.
Suffice it to say that the Lord creates the ravager to destroy, and puts a limit none can pass. I am thankful for His deliverance, and dealings with me and for His care and beauty demonstrated to me so intimately. He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is there when the rest of the world walks out. He is humble and beautiful and His gospel is TRUE … for all who come to Him IN TRUTH He will in no way cast out.
But He is also to be feared, and those who hurt his flock will not escape His judgment. From personal experience, I can attest that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. His chastening for me was profoundly painful. I’m no man’s judge, though it takes only an ounce of biblical discernment to assess that Tullian was, and remains to this day, a wolf in the Body of Christ.
Tullian will continue making a fool of himself and garnering an audience, doing so until God says, “Enough.” I pray Tullian will come to a place of self-understanding and genuine repentance this side of eternity. Until then, please don’t lend him money or give him your cell number.
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#9. Final Thoughts From the Editors
From Julie Anne:
We had originally planned to post Part #4 on Thursday evening, December 1st, with the two “open letters” from Rachel, plus final thoughts on the series from both myself (Julie Anne) and Brad. However, because of the breaking news about a statement from Willow Creek Church – Tullian Tchividjian’s former ministry employer – my thoughts and emotions are racing, and there are people I need to be in touch with right personally to help process this development. So, I will expand on what I originally planned to post here as my “final thoughts,” and put those into a new Part #5 post when the timing is right.
For now, here is the Statement: Former Church Says Tullian Tchividjian Should Not Be in Ministry, from Warren Throckmorton’s blog:
We are deeply grieved by these latest allegations, and have profound gratitude for the courageous individuals who shared them, as well as those who worked tirelessly to chronicle their stories. I read their accounts multiple times through tears. My prayer is that they will receive the necessary care to move forward, and toward that end we continue to offer earnest prayers and full support.
We would also like to state in the clearest possible terms that we do not believe that Mr. Tchividjian should be in any form of public or vocational ministry. Rather, inasmuch as he is truly repentant and in accordance with his membership vows, we would urge him to immediately return to his church of membership, submit to its leadership, and pursue healing and renewal through repentance in the context of his local church to the glory of God and for the good of the broader Church and her witness to the world.
On behalf of the Session of Willow Creek Church,
Kevin Labby, Senior Pastor
Willow Creek Church – Winter Springs, FL
This statement was posted at about 8:30 PM on December 1, 2016. We posted about this on Spiritual Sounding Board and will continue any updates on the news at least at that SSB post.
Thank you for your support and prayers for all who have been touched directly by this situation, who’ve needed hope that they would be heard and helped. This news is a blessing – thank you to Pastor Labby and the Session of Willow Creek Church! ~ja
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I often think in terms of keeping multiple parts of the whole intact. So, in the case of talking about spiritual abuse and recovery, I try to keep both individuals and institutions in mind. Oftentimes the topics interconnect, which makes sense when we’re thinking about systems of abuse, and how something happens in one part of it affects people and processes in other parts.
There is much I could write about for my “final thoughts” as Part #4 in this series gets posted. But as it turns out, today I had two friends direct message me about different situations. One dealt with issues involving an individual more than an institution, and the other was about institutions more than individual issues. So, I’ve decided to post my responses to each. I’ve summarized what they asked me, and edited what I told them. I have also added a few shorter posts of material from other social media comments I’ve made recently, adding in some other links, and some random reflections I’ve had the past few days. I hope you’ll find the thoughts and resources in these of help … Brad/futuristguy
Bits and Pieces Build the Big Picture
My friend Justin Tse is a professor who writes a lot on culture and evangelicalism. In a Facebook post of his from November 29, he talked about Rachel’s story in Posts #1 and #2 – all that were available at the time – and thought they were amazing. Some stories are just-get-it-out-there-quick, but he felt hers had obviously “stewed” for a long time so the ingredients and flavors could come together and so it was rich and insightful. (You need to read his thread, as his own words are amazing and insightful, too.) This was one of my comments in response:
Part of my theory of recovery from abuse is that we blurt out bits and pieces of our recollections of the experiences, the emotional reactions we had, the perspectives we’re getting — but rarely exactly the same combination. Gradually, we build up to larger and larger chunks of details and interpretation. Eventually, maybe we see the big picture of the systems involved and see how many different individuals get used within such systems. And this could be why we maybe tend to progress from personal recovery, more to advocacy if we’re relationship oriented or activism if we’re more socially oriented. But it take time to — as you said — “stew” on the ingredients til the contours of the story and the stage are more clear.
I have witnessed the process take place with friends who are survivors – both men and women – as they gradually retrieve more and more details of their experience, fill in the bigger picture, interpret the nuances better. Because figuring out our story can be so piecemeal for so long, sometimes people who try to help us with that process end up with “listener’s fatigue.” This is hard work – whether we’re a survivor, family member, friend, fellow church member or leader, trying to sort it all through. Look at how long it took Rachel to get the pieces together in a way that was more comprehensive and coherent, that reflects having done a lot of personal work of recovery in order to get to a better place of discernment. But look at the fruit of her having done so …
Stronger Than Espresso’s “Holiday Healing” Project
My friend Dr. Christy Sim is Executive Director of Stronger Than Espresso, a non-profit dedicated to survivors of violence and abuse. If her name seems familiar, it may be because I’ve posted other times in comments here about her research work on recovery from violence and abuse. That includes her summaries on the small percentage of sexual assault allegations that prove false, and on Bystander Intervention Theory.
Check out Stronger Than Espresso’s “Holiday Healing” page. I believe what they’re doing offers an important opportunity for survivors to participate in some creative, concrete ways that help process feelings and experiences that often get wrapped up in the holiday season.
Giving People Grace As They Deal with Changing Their Mind
As more evidence emerges from the reports of survivors and related documentation, we’ve started to see some shifts taking place among men and women who had previously been promoters and protectors of Tullian Tchividjian. It seems the information is challenging the ways they had seen him and what he’d said about his situation. And we’re witnessing a whole range of responses, even if the number of them that we know about is relatively small at this point.
Some have come forward on social media to share their conclusions. Some have apologized for their roles in pushing back on those who’d questioned his claims of “repentance,” vague apologies, and the like. Others have expressed sadness, anger, rage, or other emotions at having trusted him and now feeling lied to and betrayed. Others have taken concrete steps like removing his books from their library or sermons or links from their website.
Many of us who are survivors of spiritual abuse know exactly what it is to have been duped and/or otherwise turned into pawns. So, we welcome the news of others waking up to having been used for the unjust purposes of celebrity leader. But let’s face it, change is tough, and this is even more so because people may genuinely have been helped by parts of Tullian Tchividjian’s sermons and books on grace, even if they didn’t absorb all the poisonous parts of his unbalanced message.
Understandably, some in the survivor community are asking questions like, “What’s it going to take? How long before his 106,000 Twitter fans catch a clue?” These kinds of questions aren’t necessarily asked with contempt. Often it seems to be more out of frustration at the pace, along with a deep desire for righteousness. In my opinion, discernment has never been about IQ. There’s something else going that presents a barrier to critical thinking in Christendom fandom. What is it? This was a comment I posted in response to one of those types of questions
If it were only a matter of rationality, the evidences would likely be more than sufficient. The bonds of emotional superglue to celebrities are harder to dissolve.
However, we’re seeing that happen, too. Several inner-circle social media people who had promoted/protected Mr. Tchividjian have apologized publicly for having done that. At least one ministry leader announced that, with regret, he was removing sermons from Mr. Tchividjian from his website.
To me, this indicates the Spirit has been at work, whether behind the scenes or in front on stage, and that there is hope for change for any/all.
“There is no statutes of limitations for attempting to bring forth righteousness in the face of past abuse.”
Just this morning, I received a direct message on social media from a long-time friend who’d read this series on Rachel’s story. He was getting in touch because of an unresolved situation he heard of from the church he used to be in. It reportedly involved a violation of fiduciary duty between a pastor and counselee. The counselee went to the elders with the accusation, but they dismissed it. The counselee and friends left and have since been done with church. My friend asked me what I thought would be the right thing to do since this happened years back, and he was hearing it second-hand instead of having been directly involved with the incident. What follows is my response. I haven’t edited it much, so it’s wordy and choppy because it was straight off the top of my heart.
Several key things for survivors. One is the need to speak the truth of what they experienced, and what it did to them – how it affected them: spiritually, emotionally, relationally, sexually, etc. Another is for there to be justice done in exposing the perpetrator so that what they did to the victim won’t happen to others.
When victims are silenced, dismissed, marginalized, deflected, it seems like one of two things typically happens. Either they go silent (implode and internalize the wound so it doesn’t heal) or they go shrill (explode and externalize the wound so it becomes “emotional shrapnel” to others). Those are opposite responses to “exasperation.” Intriguingly, the New Testament talks to fathers about not exasperating their children [Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21] because it will potentially discourage them or stir up anger in them. Not trying to totally proof-text applications, but it does seem to match what’s easily observable in the world of survivors — either we implode or we explode.
Because you had a position of standing in the previous ministry situation — some authority/responsibility — you could legitimately step in now as a sort of father figure/authority figure on behalf of the church and offer to listen. That way, the ones who were silenced at least know they have an opportunity to be heard by someone who has empathy and can help interpret their situation with knowledge of Scripture and what should have happened with that pastor, as well as how God tells us Himself He views injustice and violence. They may not want to take you up on it now, but trust me, they’re very likely to remember your reaching out to them — regardless of whether they take you up on your offer ever or not.
If they’re open to letting you hear their story, and sit with them in their grief, then perhaps that will be all they need for at least some healing to take place. They will feel heard, justified in their earlier attempts to do what’s right for the sake of justice and righteousness. Other steps may unfold after that, but it starts with the listening.
The role of a surrogate father/elder/authority figure by you as someone who attempts to do right in the place now of the ones who did wrong then is what I talk about in this post on “agents of damage” and parallel “agents of healing.” A kind of “transformational transference” moment in time. It was specifically men in authority who perpetrated and perpetuated the abuse; a man who steps in to do what is possible now to make things as right as possible could make a difference.
So, that’s the overall framework worth thinking through in discerning what to do. You don’t have to reveal any/all confidential info you know about the pastor involved that has no bearing on this young woman’s story. But it gives you a perspective of understanding and empathy with her.
There is no statutes of limitations for attempting to bring forth righteousness in the face of past abuse …
My Final Note for Now …
There are many other issues I could write about, but I haven’t had enough time to steep on them yet — let them “stew,” as my friend Justin Tse so well put it. Perhaps I’ll address them in some future posts. For instance, this case study includes systems of genuine versus pseudo-accountability in the American evangelical Church, and how that contributed to both destructive situations and constructive solutions. It’s crucial to see that not every leader or institution involved directly in this situation failed, even if they didn’t succeed perfectly. And there’s also much more to analyze in terms of a “Tullian Tchividjian Industrial Complex” here, and media, organizations, and others who have kept him going – but what will they do now that the narrative is out of his control, as well as theirs?
Last word: I hope for genuine graciousness toward everyone involved in this. It takes time to gather the pieces, to put them together, to figure out what they mean, to discern and decide what to do next, to find support and encouragement in the journey forward. May we have a conciliatory heart toward one another in the midst of what’s been a divisive situation, and wherever possible, be available as Kingdom agents of hospitality and healing.