Tullian Tchividjian, Personal Survivor Story, Clergy Sex Abuse
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An Introduction, from Julie Anne Smith and Brad Sargent
Several of those who have alleged victimization by Tullian Tchividjian have contacted me (Julie Anne) over the past year and a half. Rachel (which is her real first name) was one of them. She is the survivor of Tullian Tchividjian’s clergy sexual misconduct in the spring and summer of 2015. She’s also named as “Woman #2” in our recent Partial Timeline post. Discovery of their sexual relationship by staff at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC) led to Tchividjian being asked to resign as Senior Pastor there, and his being “deposed” by the South Florida presbytery (i.e., having his ministry credentials removed).
Rachel’s story is critically important to consider, in part because she tried to inform multiple Christian leaders – mostly men who were supposedly responsible for overseeing or counseling Tchividjian – about what she experienced as his patterns of lies, seduction, and spiritual abuse. She herself admits, she didn’t always do this in the best way, with rants and emotional comments on posts. But she and her family had been harmed, and she was also trying to get Tchividjian to follow through in repaying over $11,000 he had borrowed from Rachel and her husband to hire a private investigator.
So, it turns out that her personal story intersects with the three main ministries that have been parts of Tchividjian’s platform during the past several years: Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Fort Lauderdale, FL), Willow Creek (Presbyterian) Church (Winter Springs, FL), and the Liberate Network. At this point, we know of no other survivor whose actions connect with all three. We are grateful she has agreed to share her story so that others can be warned about wolves in the Body of Christ, and also learn about what real repentance and recovery can look like.
Although the first two posts present most of the unfolding history from 2015 and 2016 in chronological order, this has taken much time and work to put the pieces into sequence. As with many survivors of abuse and trauma, recollections tend to come out in bursts, often with different sets of details, emotions, and/or emphasis. So, it took multiple rounds of her writing and our editing and Rachel’s final additions to produce those two history posts, plus the other two posts with thoughts she has for those involved in situations of abuse.
This is a complex situation that involves numerous individuals and organizations. So, we have added background information at the beginning of some sections. This is to help frame the larger picture of what was going on so some of Rachel’s specific statements have more context. Also, if we added clarifying dates or other details to her text, they will be noted [by being in square brackets]. Most of the links that appear in her text have also been added by us to expand the history and context of what she is saying.
But we wanted to keep it as Rachel’s story, in her own words as much as possible. So, well over 90% of all the material in this series of posts comes directly from Rachel, with some minor editing to help clarify the content. She has reviewed the content of all of these articles and agreed to let them be posted here on Spiritual Sounding Board.
Parts #1 and #2 give the overall history of the clergy sexual abuse Rachel was drawn into, what happened after her involvement with Tullian Tchividjian, and how that ties in with where things stand today for both him and her.
Part #3 shares her process of recovery, and her message of help and hope for others who’ve found themselves drawn into the vortex of supply for someone who exhibits narcissistic behaviors.
Part #4 shares her thoughts directly to Tullian Tchividjian about his attitudes and actions, and a message for those who’ve been shielding him from facing the consequences of his hyper-grace theology that has severely harmed others. It ends with concluding thoughts from us as editors.
Some final notes:
This is Rachel’s story. Although she personally knows many of the others who’ve allegedly been harmed by the actions of Tullian Tchividjian and/or those who try to protect and promote him, these individuals need to be given the choice to raise their own voice – if and when they are ever ready to do so. So, she is not telling the stories of other people, only her own, except where occasionally something needs to be said about others because their stories happen to intersect with hers in ways that affected how things unfolded.
As such, our team of moderators will be watching comments for this series of posts closely. We may delete or edit statements or questions about people other than Rachel as we see fit. Please don’t be pushing for information that is not Rachel’s right or responsibility to give.
Also, please keep comments on-topic, so readers do not have to wade through material that doesn’t relate to the Tullian Tchividjian situation. If a post raises issues that may be important but create a tangent to the post, please feel free to go to the Off-Topic Discussion page.
One additional note: Rachel is not a trained mental health professional, but she uses mental health terms in describing some of Tullian Tchividjian’s behaviors and apparent character issues. These are her opinions based on her limited knowledge, and are not meant to be a factual diagnosis.
Edited to add 11/30/16: 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. ~ja
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MY STORY, PART #1
#1. Being Groomed for Money, Sex, and Power:
April and May 2015
Hi, I’m Rachel.
Before I begin sharing my story, I want you, the reader, to understand my heart in coming forward with it. I have not made the choice to do so easily or without prayer and guidance over many months. I do not hate Tullian or wish to merely embarrass him or monstrify him to you. I do not seek revenge or my own vindication, to be heralded as a victim or excused for my sin.
The reason I am choosing to be open and very vulnerable with you, is to highlight an example of how an abuse system was born and flourished inside the ranks of reformed evangelicalism. This story is a very public example of pastoral sexual abuse – something unfortunately prevalent in the church. It is also a case study in how our ways of doing church often promote someone with a narcissistic personality and cocoon him in a position that only feeds his pathology.
The issues I hope to highlight are much bigger than Tullian Tchividjian, his victims, or one sector of the church. The details, though ugly, do matter so that you can piece together the true picture. That has been difficult because the internet is Tullian’s primary platform, and survivors usually have none. Much media attention has been given to this story, but Tullian’s internet spin can be analyzed alongside details of his covert activities during the same seasons he spoke publicly about his repentance. That’s why I’m being as specific as possible … so you can see and decide for yourself.
My heart breaks telling this story. The events of the past two years have permanently changed my life and those of my husband and two young children. Many other people have been affected in similar ways over a period of many years. Theirs is not my story to tell. To those who have had the courage to come forward before me, I extend my thanks. And to those who will never speak of their experiences, I pray that my words may help you in some way. For my part in the story, I am truly broken and repentant before the Lord. I extend a public apology to all who have been hurt by my sin.
To Tullian, I ask that you would please dedicate the next substantial season of your life to keeping out of the public eye and off of social media. I believe you need to seek serious professional help and a way of supporting your family financially that does not involve Christian ministry or book sales. There is no way we can make recompense for the full damage we cause by our sin. My social media rants (included in this post unchanged) have been angry and emotional. I’m not looking for more money back. I request that you do not seek to re-establish contact with me. I consider that we are both just clay in the Lord’s hands. His, not ours, is the only story I want my life to tell. I fear for your soul and for the damage you continue to cause to the church and her reputation in the eyes of the world. Please stop.
And so I begin …
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My husband and I started to attend Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in the summer of 2014. Our family needed help from the Body of Christ – at the time we started attending, our marriage was running on fumes. But our attendance there did us much more harm than good. CRPC, under Tullian Tchividjian, had become a desperately sick and ill-equipped establishment. His church was largely spiritually immature. Sadly, we didn’t know.
We had moved our household to Fort Lauderdale that spring and now lived close to the church. We had heard Tullian Tchividjian was a good preacher, and a grandson of Billy Graham. But we had never followed him online or read any of his books. Tullian was on summer vacation when we started to attend, and he was not the reason we went there initially. We have young children and were looking for a local church where we could find genuine Christian community.
Tullian’s message appealed to me greatly. Previously, we attended a mega-church where the senior pastor had fallen into adultery. Tullian’s preaching seemed like a breath of fresh air – liberating almost. I had a Presbyterian upbringing, and was inclined towards reformed theology. And CRPC was a member of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America).
Also, I’d had an affair four years prior and the sermons seemed to be exactly what I needed to be able to accept God’s forgiveness for that and move on. As I got to know the women of the church, I invested my life with some of them, sharing my story and my gym habit. I wrote a Christian fitness blog and encouraged many of them in fitness.
Tullian baptized our kids that fall after we became members of the church. At that time he found my email address on the church records and sent me a personal email with a tweeted photograph of our son he had already posted. I replied cordially, though I would’ve preferred to have been asked prior to having a photograph of my child on his very public social media platform. I also thought it strange that my husband did not receive a similar email.
I first talked to Tullian in person at a Thanksgiving football game in 2014. The interaction was very brief. He was wearing shorts and all I remember thinking was that his legs looked very disproportionately skinny. I never felt any physical attraction to him. I never sought him out in any way. I didn’t follow him on Twitter … I didn’t even use Twitter. But my husband felt something that day and said to me that he thought Tullian was attracted to me. I discounted that thought as absolutely ridiculous.
At a Christmas Eve service in 2014, I was asked to do a Bible reading. When I went up to the pulpit prior to my reading, Tullian was sitting there. Much later he told me he had gone up there especially just to see me up close. After my reading I totally forgot he was there. When I climbed down from the pulpit I heard his voice behind me: “Merry Christmas!!” I apologized that I’d forgotten about him sitting there (I was nervous about the public speaking), and wished him a Merry Christmas also. I did not interact with him again until April 2015.
Tullian spends a lot of time at the gym. He emailed me in mid-April 2015 and asked me to help him with training advice. He gave me his cell number and asked me to call him. We started texting. I knew he had a trainer (“Kara”), and since I’m not one, I found that a little “off.” But I sent him some YouTube links for exercises he could use for his back rehabilitation.
Then he started texting me songs to “thank” me for my exercise tips. One song he sent me at this early stage was this: “Still I Wait.” The lyrics were sexually charged: “I really want to lay with you, but I resist because of the pain it puts me through …” [Warning: many of the lyrics for “Still I Wait” by Jonas Steur are beyond merely suggestive, to more sexually explicit.]
I put it on in the car with my kids!!!!! I was horrified. Later, I challenged him on it. He denied ever listening to the lyrics. I never expected my pastor, Billy Graham’s grandson, to be the pathological liar I later discovered that he was.
Prior to the Mockingbird Conference [in New York City; April 16-18, 2015], the nature of our texting relationship was overly friendly. But, apart from the subtle sexual hints and intensity of conversation, not much was really said. We talked about music, working out, fashion, and my “story.” I thought he was charming, somewhat effeminate, and just overly chatty. I believed he genuinely cared about his parishioners and wished to be perceived as really available and “just one of us.” I really liked him. Also, it was becoming apparent how “similar” we appeared to be (we are not at all similar, though he made me feel that way … which I later learned is a “grooming” technique manipulators use).
When he came back from New York, he approached me about his wife, Kim, supposedly having been caught by him in an affair. He singled me out as his right-hand woman, befriending my husband also at this time. It seemed we were becoming special friends, insiders in his life, and strangely vital to his process. He invited himself to stay at our home, paraded around without his shirt when my husband was at work … honestly, I wasn’t that impressed (my husband had a better physique), but he pushed hard into my life and I felt sorry for him.
It turns out he lied ridiculously about Kim, but I’d believed him. I’m a pleaser by nature. I found it difficult, oftentimes, to put a protective boundary in place with people in general, and almost impossible with him.
As Tullian made his way deeper into our lives, he asked to borrow money from us to hire a private investigator. He wanted documented proof that Kim was having an affair. If we paid on his behalf, he wouldn’t have to use their accounts, and that would prevent Kim from finding out about it. We used our credit card for payments on April 25, May 1, and May 6, 2015. He requested all the investigator’s bells and whistles, and the bill totaled over $11,000.
Later on, despite numerous attempts we made to get Tullian to repay, he kept delaying. He promised to pay monthly, but nothing ever came. My husband was embarrassed to keep asking when Tullian seemed to be in such personal crisis. I told my husband to back off, assured that the payment would come. It never did until something happened 10 months later. We’ll get to that soon …
Payment Invoice and Receipt from Private Investigators ~ May 6, 2015
Tullian counseled my husband, bought him a vape, and invited him several times to his home to talk about our marriage privately, without me there. Tullian told me it felt good to be able to counsel him since he was on a sabbatical from CRPC and missed his role as a pastoral counselor. I found out later that he even counseled my husband to divorce me before we separated. And Tullian counseled me in a way that made me feel responsible for the breakdown of my marriage.
Despite the fact that my marriage of 13 years had been very challenging and emotionally harmful at times, I was the one made to feel completely to blame by Tullian. It was in this climate I got involved physically with Tullian. I make no excuses for my sin, but the context is relevant for people to understand the true story.
Emotional self-flagellation was my specialty … and I was emotionally in crisis. I had been with my husband since a virginal teen and my life was blowing up. That made me vulnerable … and I eventually came to see that Tullian always seemed to set people up so that he could turn their own sin against them for his benefit. And he uses false theology to do it.
He is famed for saying, “We are all far worse off than we think we are.” This statement means more than the fact that he had a low anthropology theologically. He means to minimize sin and cause us to believe we have no reason to fight against it in our lives. He denies this of course, but promotes sin by “living above the law” himself. His theology has morphed into something that facilitates his expression of his personality disorder. The false gospel he preaches does not call the sinner to repentance, but rather excuses the sinner to stay in his sin. It is dangerous.
Of course, hyper-grace appeals to those of us who have fallen and who need to know God’s mercy and love for us. Yet Scripture states that our favor with God is contingent on true repentance. This vital point was always neglected by Tullian. He left out the reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that Scripture calls for … he hated “to do lists.” He did not appear to truly know or fear God. He resented spiritual conversation and told me, “You know the Bible better than I do.”
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#2. Beyond Grooming to Sexual Involvement:
May and June 2015
Tullian enlisted me as liaison between the private investigator and himself. I felt desperately uncomfortable in this role. I approached the leadership at Coral Ridge about my awkward feeling and, taking their advice, tried to distance myself. I requested that one of his male employees take the role from me. That happened, though my credit card continued to be charged (despite my request that it wouldn’t) with “no expenses spared” for Tullian’s private investigation of his wife.
Each time I created distance, Tullian pursued me with more intensity. He seemed frenetic and was not handling himself well emotionally. I felt very sorry for him. He texted me constantly, leaning hard on me all hours of the day and night. He had no regard for my family life or other obligations, and I felt obliged to be at his beck and call “in service to the gospel.” I was exhausted and overwhelmed. But I tried to believe the best about him always, doubting myself instead.
While the church had put Tullian on a sabbatical to deal with his “family crisis,” he told me they were pushing him out. I grew very cynical of the church at that time, siding with Tullian. I figured out later that he’d lied outrageously to me, but I continued to believe every word.
In due course, and I believe due to Tullian’s ungracious handling of his situation, the church later called for his resignation. At this stage he was outraged, feeling totally betrayed by them. He had me completely on board. I spent a lot of time with him, telling myself he just needed me as a friend. He told me he had nobody. He told me his “mighty men” had forsaken him. He started contacting lawyers about negotiating a large settlement package to accompany his resignation.
Our relationship became physical from the end of May through June. Wracked with guilt, I told Tullian that I would not be a distraction from his efforts to reconcile with Kim, which he was supposedly trying to do. (Now I fully believe that he had ZERO intention of reconciliation all along. But he wanted then to convince the world that he did.)
I watched Tullian torment Kim by text during our time together. He lied to her about me. He rallied their children with lies against her. I begged him to stop. He truly, truly messed with her mind … gaslighting her to absolutely ensure she would never want to reconcile.
He told me once that he never thought he would be lucky enough to see Kim have an affair. And that he’d wanted to leave her for years and years, but couldn’t because of the collateral damage to his “career.” I always stressed ministry as “God’s call”… but Tullian stressed that it was his “career.” He said he loved his life and hated Kim for potentially ruining it for him.
When our relationship got physical, I absolutely knew we were sinning. Tullian had zero remorse, saying he didn’t believe that pre-marital sex was unbiblical … and he’d been love-bombing me with promises of marriage. He preached the “gospel” and said “tetelestae” [Greek for, “It is paid for,” which among the last words of Jesus on the cross]. He said we were doing nothing wrong.
The unfolding history continues in Part #2.
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Series Table of Contents
An Introduction, from Julie Anne Smith and Brad Sargent
MY STORY, PART #1
- #1. Being Groomed for Money, Sex, and Power: April and May 2015
- #2. Beyond Grooming to Sexual Involvement: May and June 2015
MY STORY, PART #2
- #3. The Light Will Uncover What’s Been Done In Darkness: June and July 2015
- #4. Tullian Starts Divorce Proceedings: August 2015
- #5. Spiritual Business Starts Getting Taken Care Of: August 2015 – March 2016
MY STORY, PART #3
- #6. My Process of Repentance and Recovery (spring 2015 and Onward), and My Message for Those Drawn Into Clergy Sexual Misconduct: There is Help and Hope for Us!
MY STORY, PART #4
- #7. My Personal Response to Tullian Tchividjian: An Open Letter, November 2016
- #8. My Response to Tullian’s Supporters and Protectors: An Open Letter, November 2016
- #9. Final Thoughts From the Editors
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