Tullian Tchividjian, Personal Survivor Story, Clergy Sex Abuse
Editors’ note: This is Part 2, a continuation of Rachel’s story which began here. The remaining parts of the series will be posted soon.
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 #2
#3. The Light Will Uncover What’s Been Done In Darkness:
June and July 2015
We were caught by the IT department of CRPC on the second week of June. Tullian received a phone call from a staff member at the church saying that the contents of his phone could be read on the church’s public server. Tullian asked the staff member to delete everything.
Tullian didn’t seem concerned, though I was terrified. I met with the Lord that day, and discovered His displeasure with my sin. It sounds ridiculous that I was so blind up to this point, but the darkness then was very thick and I was caught in the cords of my sin. On June 18th, elders came to our mutual homes to address the evidence they found of our sexual relationship. Tullian was obliged to step down and forget about his settlement deal.
After that, I soon ended our physical involvement. On one memorable occasion around that time, Scotty Smith and his wife went to counsel Kim and Tullian at their home. Evidently, Smith asked Tullian to call me to officially break it off in Kim’s hearing. I received a frantic preemptive call from Tullian to inform me I would be receiving a “break-up” call and to just “go with it.” Later that day the call came, and a few hours later Tullian was back with me acting like nothing had happened. I wasn’t going to let him treat me or his wife or his counsel like that. I started to see then how much of a manipulator Tullian truly is. There was more to come …
When Tullian’s moral failure was made public, a team was assigned to help him. His older brother, Stephan, headed this initiative. Tullian told me his brother was jealous of his success and he couldn’t trust him at all. He orchestrated his situation cleverly to replace those counselors with his friend, Paul Tripp. [It turned out that Paul Tripp played what apparently was a strategic role in Tullian’s eventual filing for divorce from Kim in August. More on that shortly.]
CRPC was reeling in the wake of discovering Tullian’s relationship with me. He should’ve been de-frocked and ex-communicated at the same time. He refused to humbly submit to the denomination’s procedure for dealing with his restoration. But because CRPC merely asked him to resign, Tullian was later able to wriggle through a back door to Willow Creek. He managed to side-step the PCA’s disciplinary procedure, but yet land a position at another PCA church. But his deeds eventually caught up with him there, too.
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From the Editors: Background on LIBERATE and Liberate Network
Consequences of sexual misconduct for Tullian Tchividjian included not just his resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the deposing of his ministry credentials by the South Florida Presbytery. The leaders of CRPC also closed his LIBERATE ministry indefinitely, which included cancellation of the 2016 conference. According to the archived site from CRPC, “LIBERATE exists to connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world.”
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Notice of Closure for LIBERATE
In February 2016, Tullian Tchividjian helped create Liberate Network – a resurrected version of the now-defunct LIBERATE resource ministry that he’d founded at Coral Ridge. The Liberate Network was separate from any connection with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and had nine members on its board of directors. (One of the directors was Pastor Kevin Labby from Willow Creek Church, who hired Mr. Tchividjian after he resigned from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.) Though Mr. Tchividjian was not on the board of directors, he was clearly influential, and this Liberate Network looked to be a relaunching of his speaking/event/publishing platform. Due to revelation of a prior unconfessed incident of clergy sexual misconduct by Tchividjian that came to light in March 2016, the new Liberate Network was dissolved less than two months after its launch.
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#4. Tullian Starts Divorce Proceedings:
I convinced myself I could still be a friend to Tullian if not a lover. I paid for all his hotel stays when he was living apart from Kim, and even booked his flight to see Paul Tripp in Philadelphia. He asked me to organize travel plans and book things for him, but he was happy to charge up my card, never replacing it with his own. He easily wracked up a few thousand dollars in travel expenses that we never got back. [Editors’ Note: Rachel has supplied a sampling of credit card/travel invoices. One is shown later in this post.]
I truly wanted Tullian to give his marriage a fair go, though I knew in my heart he wasn’t going to. He kept me hanging on emotionally, until he got the go-ahead from Paul Tripp to end his marriage. That was in August. He called me saying he had “to stay squeaky clean” as of that night and could no longer be in touch.
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From the Editors: Background on Tullian Tchividjian’s Filing for Divorce
The remainder of this section is important background about Tullian Tchividjian’s filing for divorce. This is necessary information for interpreting where and how Rachel’s account fits in the larger picture.
Paul Tripp became Tullian Tchividjian’s counselor, for at least around the time of the divorce proceedings. Mr. Tripp did something highly out of the ordinary by posting a public notice, saying that he believed the Tchividjians’ marriage was “irreparably broken.” (Tullian Tchividjian’s Divorce, by Paul Tripp, August 26, 2015).
Statement on “Tullian Tchividjian’s Divorce,” Posted by Paul Tripp ~ August 26, 2015
Why is that statement so unusual?
First, because, as a counselor, Mr. Tripp could be accused of violating professional ethics by breaking the confidentiality of a client’s family situation. For instance, Spiritual Sounding Board posted this post about perceived conflict of interest: Is Paul Tripp Violating Counseling Code of Ethics by Releasing Statement about Tullian Tchividjian? (August 26, 2015).
Was Mr. Tripp attempting to make a case for Tullian to divorce Kim? It seems so. Is that something a counselor would normally do for the public? No. Something a friend might do? Perhaps. There seems to be a dual relationship problem here where Mr. Tripp crosses the line from professional to personal by posting such a statement.
That is all very peculiar. But second, the wording seems very particular in talking about the marriage. Mr. Tripp declares it as, unfortunately, being “irreparably broken.” As it turns out, “Under Florida law, one party must establish that the marriage is ‘irretrievably broken’ in order for the union to be dissolved.” (Emphasis added; quote from Tullian Tchividjian Files for Divorce, by Timothy C. Morgan, in The Aquila Report, August 14, 2015). Both Tullian and Kim lived in Florida at that point.
In the light of these two concerns, Mr. Tripp’s statement easily gives an appearance that it was carefully calculated in its timing, in its specifically crafted language, and in the air of credibility to the idea that reconciliation was impossible – lent by a supposed expert. Was all this designed so Tullian Tchividjian could get the freedom he’d told Rachel that he wanted – regardless of what his wife of over 20 years had or had not done to supposedly deserve the dissolution of their marriage?
Public Record, Filing of Divorce by Tullian Tchividjian ~ August 20, 2015
The filing deed was already done. In our opinion, Counselor Tripp’s statement contributed to public spin that seized on a narrative that reinforced Tullian Tchividjian as the victim. That framing of the story goes back to initial statements issued June, 2015, as shared in the Washington Post article, “Billy Graham’s grandson steps down from Florida megachurch after admitting an affair“ (June 21, 2015).
Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian has resigned from his pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, a high-profile church in South Florida, after admitting he had an affair. He released the following statement to The Washington Post:
“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”
Tchividjian, 42, has been married to his wife, Kim, since 1994 and they have three children. Kim Tchividjian sent the following message to The Post Monday morning:
“The statement reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own. Please respect the privacy of my family at this time, thank you. I do thank everyone for the outpouring of love for my family as well during this difficult time and we appreciate all the prayers and support we are receiving.”
Mr. Tchividjian seems to have taken command of the narrative from the outset, seeking to come across as a sympathetic character in a tragic storyline – although in the middle of all his verbiage, he admits to merely acknowledging his sexual misconduct only after being confronted about it, not confessing it on his own by choice.
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#5. Spiritual Business Starts Getting Taken Care Of:
August 2015 – March 2016
In August 2015, Tullian asked me numerous times to come see him at the gym. At the same time, he was recruiting fans such as “Lisa” and a “gospel posse” to be his internet watchdogs. I believe there were numerous other women with whom he was engaging on Twitter and other social media platforms. He had a “type” … usually athletic, often long blonde hair, spiritually inclined, fans of “grace,” and emotionally vulnerable enough to share their worst secrets with him.
Sometimes it was obvious, simply from looking at his Twitter feed, that he was flirting with another woman. He would often tweet song lyrics for me and other women … the masses would like those posts and think he was trying to say something to them.
He had told me about many, many women. Most had names. Some he had history with from his earlier life. He compared them, and compared me to them. He tried to provoke jealousy and had definite hierarchies. It was like we all lived in a fantasy realm together. He told me he almost left Kim for one of them while he was in seminary. That woman still texted him. I saw the texts. I saw the same women tweet at him late at night and him engage them. It was really sick stuff.
In September, as he was moving to Orlando, I talked to him on the phone. I strongly asked for him to apologize to my husband, who by then had separated from me and had abandoned his faith. I also told Tullian in that conversation that we needed the $11k private investigator money back ASAP. He got irritated with me but promised he would apologize in person to my husband and return the money. He sent my husband a lame text with some profuse “apologies” and no mention of the money.
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? Also, he was also hanging out with Stacie Phillips and she had come to visit him, I believe. [He married Stacie Phillips about a year later, August 26, 2016.]
I did not contact or hear from Tullian again until February/March 2016. I was concentrating on my own family dysfunction and trying to get my life straight with God. I spent a lot of time in fasting and prayer in this season. I had few to come alongside me and a very difficult home situation, facing a difficult marriage and the reaction of my children to the chaos.
None of Tullian’s counselors ever reached out to me. Since I’d refused initially to talk with the Coral Ridge elders, no one from the church reached out either. Former friends refused to re-establish relationship when I contacted them. Some came to see if they could hear tasty trifles of gossip, but left again. God cleared out my life to deal with me Himself.
In God’s perfect timing, I reached out to a mature friend at Coral Ridge. She is the wife of a pastor and has been in attendance there for 25 years. She has proved to be one of my truest friends and a mentor through the hardest season of my life. Her husband was assigned to our family’s care. He tried to establish contact with my husband. He also orchestrated a meeting between me and an ethics committee at the church. They were a warm panel who seemed to genuinely care. My membership was deemed in good standing after I told them my story and they questioned me and analyzed my process of repentance. I no longer attend CRPC, but worship at another local PCA church.
In February/March 2016, a series of events started to unfold. It began when I felt the Lord was bringing Tullian back to my mind and that there was business I had to attend to. Shortly after that, I saw online that he was relaunching Liberate Network.
That weekend, a mutual friend introduced me to a woman who turned out to be the woman with whom Tullian had a sexual relationship in 2014. [Named as “Woman #1,” May through July, 2014 in the Partial Timeline post.] I remembered her name from his conversations. We met and exchanged stories. Though her story about what happened was remarkably different to what Tullian had claimed it to be, our backgrounds and experiences were horribly similar. So much that we “shared” … same songs Tullian sent us, same pet phrases he used for us … same intense love-bombing. Tullian had told me some things about this woman, such as her name, and some fantasy stories which were obviously not the truth. But he’d denied to me that he had ever had a physical relationship with any of the women he mentioned. But Tullian played us in the same way … we had very similar backgrounds. We knew we weren’t his first rodeo.
All of this activity with other women was before Tullian filed for divorce from Kim. And he’d given me plenty of reason to believe he was cheating on her, even from the early years of their marriage.
Tullian eventually repaid the $11k bill for our hiring the private investigator when I went on his new Liberate Facebook page, publicly exposing him. He was in a bind with no plan after Willow Creek Presbyterian Church caught him in his web of lies … and we would never have seen our money back if the timing hadn’t been so divinely orchestrated! Here’s how that happened.
APPROACHING CORAL RIDGE AND WILLOW CREEK
My husband and I had been totally stonewalled by Tullian in our previous efforts to collect the money he owed. My husband contacted CRPC around the time Tullian resigned when they found out about our sexual relationship. They told us that we were on our own with Tullian and the debts he owed us. (I had compiled and shown them all the originals of the credit card statements for Tullian’s travels at our expense, detailing charges for his flights, hotels, food, trips to the gym while on the road, etc. Just one trip added up to $1,400. The grand total, including the private investigator costs, was well over $12k.) Their unwillingness to help us collect on the debt angered my husband.
Credit Card Statement for Tullian Tchividjian Travel on Rachel’s Credit Card ~ June 22-26, 2015
We then approached Kevin Labby, the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek. [Willow Creek had hired Tullian on as “Director of Ministry” a couple weeks after he resigned from CRPC.] Kevin seemed to be under Tullian’s spell, too, at the time and must have believed Tullian’s slander of us initially. He did not respond to our calls and email then. Although, later on, Kevin reached out to us with open arms.
EMAILING PAUL TRIPP
I also emailed Paul Tripp on February 21, telling him the whole story at length of how Tullian conned him. He replied the next day basically that I should “run to the body of Christ” and not contact him again.
Rachel’s Email Exchange with Paul Tripp ~ February 21-22, 2016
SUMMARY FROM THE EDITORS:
On the morning of February 21, 2016, Rachel sent a lengthy email to Paul Tripp – it was over 1,500 words (about two and a half pages of single-space type). In it, she reminded him that she’d phoned him in May of 2015, at Tullian’s request. Then she went into detail about some of her story, what the destructive things that had happened within her own family, and some of the difficulties in trying to repent and recover when she had no church support for that process. She didn’t know where to turn, and was hesitant to contact Pastor Kevin Labby at Willow Creek Church where Tullian then worked. Since she’d spoken to Mr. Tripp almost a year before, she was reaching out again now.
But much of what she wrote attempted to make the case from what she herself had seen and heard (1) that indicated Tullian’s “repentance” was all style and no substance, (2) that he showed no evidence of truly attempting reconciliation with Kim (since he was at that time flirting with Rachel), (3) that Mr. Tripp had been taken in, in giving Tullian “clearance” for filing for divorce, and (4) that all Tullian wanted was a relaunch of his career.
Here is how she ended the email:
[…] I believe God will deal with Tullian as He sees fit. But as much as it depends on me, I hope I have been open and honest now with you at this point. I believe you were deceived […].
Thanks for reading this. I don’t expect you to reach out to me unless you feel it important. I’m messed up, but Jesus really has been all I need. Truly. He has sent a very few close mature Christian friends to be the Samaritans. I want to have a clear conscience before the Lord in all this as I heal and move on myself, that’s all. Hope you understand.
Paul Tripp responded by email the next morning with a brief email, empathizing with and responding to some of what Rachel had written. He did suggest she continue finding solace in God’s grace and help in His people, but was not open to extending the email exchange.
COMMENTING ON LIBERATE NETWORK’S FACEBOOK PAGE
I had no voice. My husband had no voice. But Tullian’s fans were, as ever, bewitched by his propaganda. The Liberate Network that Tullian had been so involved with was relaunching [as of February 19, 2016], and I put a comment on their Facebook page. It was there for a while before they deleted it.
Rachel’s Comment on Liberate Network’s Facebook Page ~
Approximately the Week of February 20, 2016
That sure got things moving.
Tullian phoned me late one night, from a blocked phone number so I couldn’t call him back. His agenda was to assess my mind-set, manipulate me, and shut me up. He scolded me about my online rant, yet laced his scolding with remembrances of how “amazing” and “smart” I was, how “special” our time together had been and how great his memories of me will always be. And how he takes “full responsibility” for everything that happened and how sorry he is and how “he will never date again” he fears.
I wanted to be sick. I told him to pay back the money or I would keep exposing him. I told him I feared for his soul and that he is sick and needs to get help. I also challenged him on his wimpy “apology” text to my husband the previous September and asked him to talk to him face-to-face like a man.
He called my husband after that. I heard it didn’t go well. Other things also did not go well for him either.
WILLOW CREEK CHURCH AND PASTOR KEVIN LABBY
I’d contacted Pastor Kevin Labby of Willow Creek Church before. I’d mentioned the woman Tullian had been with in 2014. I’d also posted some rant comments.
And on March 17, I sent an emotional e-mail to him, asking him to get involved with trying to get Tullian to repay us our money for the private investigator. I also apologized for my Facebook and Twitter rants, and told him they were unwise and I regretted them. I also apologized for the awkwardness they caused. He sent back an email within 45 minutes. This is his response. [Note from editors: Pastor Kevin Labby gave permission for his email to be published in this article. It appears here in its entirety, except for items changed as noted.]
Email to Rachel From Willow Creek Church Pastor Kevin Labby ~ March 17, 2016
From: Kevin Labby [e-mail address removed]
Date: March 17, 2016 at 7:59:47 PM EDT
To: Rachel [e-mail address removed]
Subject: Re: The specifics
Hello, Rachel –
Thank you for writing. This makes me sick to read. It grieves me. I would like to review this more thoroughly and respond to you after some reflection.
I will inquire about the check (again), but would also encourage you to consider legal action if it becomes necessary.
Finally, my cell phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. Please give this to [your husband]. If you’d like to speak sometime tomorrow or this weekend, please give me a call.
P.S. Thank you for your graciousness, and even your very kind acknowledgement of social media “awkwardness.” I am thankful that we are now in touch, and I’m hopeful that I may be of help to you and [your husband]. Please express to him my sorrow over this whole situation.
Finally, Tullian’s repayment check for $11,130 arrived. We’d waited 10 months for him to make good on his promises.
Check from William (Tullian) Tchividjian for $11,130,
With Memo Noting it is for Payment of “Private Investigator”
Dated March 18, 2016 and Received March 21, 2016
The check was dated March 18, and arrived March 21 … just several days after Tullian’s first sexual relationship with Woman #1 (May through July 2014) was finally made public. The dominoes were falling. It took a few days for news and official statements to get out.
MAJOR CHANGES, MARCH 16-18
When Willow Creek Presbyterian Church found out about Tullian’s previous adultery and cover-up, they fired him immediately. That was March 16.
It came out that at least three other men knew about his 2014 adultery but had covered it up for 20 months. This included Tullian’s mentor and family friend, Steve Brown, and two elders from CRPC.
It affected Tullian’s Liberate Network, too. After some of their board resigned, on March 18, the rest cancelled their upcoming event and posted that they were ending the organization. [Note: The Liberate Network, which had been relaunched just weeks earlier on February 19th, had five of its nine members on the board of directors resign soon after Tullian Tchividjian was fired. Shortly after that, the remaining members of the board cancelled the 2017 Liberate conference that had been advertised, and shuttered the non-profit. Below is the official notice that still remains on their website, as of today: November 29, 2016.]
Notice from the Board of Directors, Cancellation of 2017 Conference
and Dissolution of the Organization ~ March 18, 2016
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS …
Some final words about Tullian’s history in ministry. When I was with Tullian, I shared about God’s restoration to him. I did not understand then that he had not truly turned from his sin. The events of the past 18 months in his life make this clear to me now. I believe the Lord has shown me that he is a wicked man. He is sick. I pray that one day he will come to an end of himself and truly allow the Lord to “Gloriously Ruin” him for real.
His season at CRPC was for six years – from an Easter Sunday to an Easter Sunday. Tullian reduced the church from a thriving 4,000-plus membership with ministries galore, to a 700-ish not-so-mega-church that was merely a platform for his self-promotion. He told me once that if he left, the place would tank, and that if he could buy the building, he would turn it into a nightclub.
His last sermon series was called “Unstoppable.” But the Lord put a big stop to it, though. By Easter Sunday of the seventh year, the remaining “dirty” elder was asked to resign from the CRPC elder board. This elder, along with another previous elder, as well as Tullian’s mentor/friend Steve Brown, had all known in 2014 about Tullian’s adultery. But they had not disclosed this to the church, putting our family right in Tullian’s destructive path. They underestimated Tullian and he lied to them about the full extent of his involvement with the woman he was sexually involved with in 2014.
God will complete the work He has started in His church and we must fear Him. I trust Him with my story and do not hold anything against anyone I’ve mentioned. But if you are a church or a ministry that seeks to involve yourselves with Tullian in the future, please seek the Lord beforehand diligently. May He deliver His bride from evil and restore His own to walking in truth.
All of that involves God taking care of some business with Tullian. But I still had much “spiritual business” to be taken care of with me …
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Continued in Parts #3 and #4:
- Part 3. 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!
- Part 4. My Response to Tullian Tchividjian’s Supporters and Protectors: An Open Letter, November 2016. And My Personal Response to Tullian Tchividjian: An Open Letter, November 2016. Plus some final words from the editors of this series.