Clergy Sex Abuse, Sexual Abuse/Assault and Churches, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Authority, Tullian Tchividjian, Women and the Church

Issues of Language: Removing Neutrality Toward Abusers and Negativity Toward Survivors


Tullian Tchividjian, Spiritual Sounding Board, abuse, language

by Brad Sargent aka brad/futuristguy

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Introduction: Changing Our Language to

Remove Neutrality Toward Abusers and Negativity Toward Survivors

Who typically gets trusted or distrusted by default — the reported perpetrator, or the victim who reports? That is especially important in understanding the realities faced by survivors of abuse. Language is crucial to communicating what abuse took place, and specifics of whether it involved violation/violence that is emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual, or all of the above. But there are problems with victims speaking up about such things.

For instance, as we’ve seen in the case of Rachel’s report of experiences with Tullian Tchividjian, it often takes many months to have enough understanding to articulate what actually happened. When it is ripe, it includes:

  • Observations and evidences that are relevant and rich with detail.
  • Analysis that is robust and critiques actions of self and others.
  • Interpretation that is well-reasoned and insightful about the big picture of what happened.

The extensive version she presented over several posts on Spiritual Sounding Board built up gradually over time for her. (For more about that process, see the Final Thoughts section on “Bits and Pieces Build the Big Picture,” in Rachel’s story, Part #4.) But her transparency and her thoroughness contributed to why it appears to have served as a turning point that “flipped the script” on Mr. Tchividjian’s seemingly contrite serial communications over the past two years that at most acknowledge vague sins, mistakes, and harmful actions and respond with a façade of guilt, regret, and apparent repentance.

I sensed something significant had shifted when I saw this news agency report on December 1, 2016, in a Christian Post article by Czarina Ong: Women Accuse Tullian Tchividjian of Being a Liar and Serial Manipulator, Claim He Made Advances on Them. That news article was posted about a week after the accounts of “Lisa” and “Kara” appeared on Nate Sparks’ blog (November 21 and November 23, respectively). Does anything in particular strike you about that headline? Anything seem unusual about it?

Here’s what I noticed: “Tullian Tchividjian” is the object of the verb, not the subject. It isn’t about what he said, or that he did — but what others are saying about him, doing to him. Start looking at Christian news/magazine reports, and they overwhelmingly have his name as the subject of the verb in the headline. But not that one on December 1st. And he has been the object of headline verbs more frequently since that date.

For instance, in the first two examples below, Tullian Tchividjian is the subject of the headline (even if his name is not the first thing that appears), and in the last two examples, he is the object of the verb in the headline:

1. November 26, 2016. Christian News Network. Year After Affair Admission, Divorce, Tullian Tchividjian Emerges With New Wife, Preaches God ‘Bends Toward’ Sinners, by Heather Clark.

2. November 28, 2016. The Christian Post. Tullian Tchividjian Allegedly Tried Reconciling With Ex-Wife Before New Marriage, Asked Woman to Pray for Brother’s Death, by Leonardo Blair.

3. December 6, 2016. Christian News. Publisher Won’t Pull Tullian Tchividijan Book Deal Despite Former Mistress Coming Forward, Calls for Repentance, by Heather Clark.

4. December 7, 2016. Christian Daily. Pastors and friends call on Tullian Tchividjian to repent and quit Christian ministry, by Lorraine Caballero.

I emphasized that these are from news agencies, because that is already the kind of headline we’d more likely see on an abuse survivor blog. That’s because survivors have a platform there to find their own voice and speak out about their abusers. (If you want to check out this hypothesis for yourself, use the Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation listing of article titles to see how news agencies and survivor blogs title articles differently, and any shift in emphasis around December 1, 2016.) Check other examples in the Resource Bibliography. Even if the name “Tullian Tchividjian” appears first in the above headlines, the gist of the sentence is still what others say about him or suggest he do, etc.

I think about words and their meanings a lot, in part because my formal academic training is in anthropological linguistics and teaching English as a second language. Also, because I have had ongoing excursions into journalism since my preteen years. And because, over the past 45 years, I have spent more time serving in “recovery” ministries working with survivors of abuse and those overcoming addictions than in any other area.

Thankfully, spiritual discernment is not dependent on degrees or I.Q. And it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to discern how abusers and those who support them try to control the narrative, how they misuse or manipulate terms and leave false impressions. These are issues I’m continuing to learn about — ones I believe we as survivors and/or bloggers need to consider more deeply.

For instance, here are some pairings of terms that illustrate the essence of what my friend Jason stated in the opening quote: We tend to trust the abuser, doubt the accuser. What do you see in these various words and phrases that supports abusers’ “it isn’t so bad” narratives and amplifies their shade-throwing onto their victims?

Alleged, supposed — versus — reported.

An affair, an inappropriate relationship, adultery, it was consensual — versus — I was seduced, he seduced me, he exhibits sexual predator behaviors.

Mistake, failure, put myself in a compromising position — versus — clergy sexual abuse, clergy sexual misconduct.

An instance of moral failure — versus — a pattern of sexual indiscretions, sexual addiction, womanizer.

Controlling the narrative minimizes the offense and marginalizes the victim. It attempts to view the abuser at least neutrally, if not positively. For instance, it spins the sins to portray the perpetrator’s actions as an incidental event that was consensual — instead of as a pattern of intentional acts that were seductive. In other words, a passive scenario of “It just sort of happened because we fell in love,” versus an active scenario where he was seeking and stalking her so it was predatory.

This kind of language manipulation grants reported perpetrators an automatic “benefit of the doubt” because “there are two sides to every story.” It lets their promoters and protectors repeat that those accused are “innocent until proven guilty.” It issues demands that so-called evidence by accusers be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

This language tends to leave the survivors struggling in the dust, often all alone in trying to figure out what happened, and deciding whether it’s worth it to try to tell their side of things or just remain silent. And if they do decide to speak out against a celebrity, what platform do they have? If no one listens and they get louder and go shrill, will they end up going silent anyway?

Words have power to harm and to heal, to help us take responsibility for our action or attempt to shirk accountability. We need to keep exploring deeper into this.

What other terms have you seen used that automatically favor the reported perpetrator, or automatically hold the survivor in disfavor?
What vocabulary issues do we as survivor bloggers need to consider?
If you could recommend changes in language that Christian news agencies currently use about abuse survivors, what would they be?

Post your comments to let our communities know …

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A Facebook Conversation: Language of Seduction

that Seeks to Neutralize the Perpetrator’s Responsibility

In light of the importance about our continual learning about the language of abuse, what follows is a recent discussion — December 1, 2016 — on my Facebook page. It followed a thread where I posted the link to the breaking news about Tullian Tchividjian. Because that particular post was a “Friends Only” post in terms of privacy settings, I asked Jason (who is a Reformed church pastor) and Erica (who is a biomedical research scientist) for permission to copy their comments into this post, which they kindly agreed to. I had also previously asked my friend Dr. Christy Sim if I could quote a Facebook dialogue we had, and she also said yes.

I have edited out side comments to keep the focus on the issues of language raised there. Those gaps are noted by […], and any notes to summarize the missing content are also in square brackets.

It’s important to note that my friends Jason and Erica are highly aware of issues of abuse survivors, and have always shown concern for supporting victims, advocating for justice, and addressing systemic abuse. We’ve had numerous discussions about these and related topics over the 15+ years I’ve known each of them. I believe the high quality of their thoughtfulness and empathy shines through the following thread.

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JASON. I’ve been wondering what the role of publishing houses is when events like this occur. I don’t know how contracts are written, but someone’s behavior runs counter your “brand” or your ethics as a Christian publishing house then I imagine there is an important role to play. It’s got to be about more than the profit margin.

[…] [NOTE: Then there were some comments about what some publishing houses and denominations have done in cases of extreme plagiarism, and sexual harassment and abuse by authors, etc. I plan to use these in a forthcoming case study to illustrate how to do things right in requiring accountability.]

ERICA. Let’s name the behavior by the pastor by its true name- it is “seduction” of vulnerable females. The term comes from the Latin which means ” to lead astray”.

Having serial affairs while in leadership is bad enough, but this is worse because it appears to be deliberate and intentional serial seduction of women based on my reading between the lines of the articles. Seduction was a crime in the past and carried severe emotional, economic and social consequences for women in society. In modern society this activity is more hidden and not seen for its true nature. Understanding what seduction is and its power should help victims of seduction because the perpetrator is responsible for the sexual relationship and it cannot be viewed as having the same moral equivalency as an “affair” has for both parties.

BRAD. These are crucial points, Erica — thanks for sharing them. Survivor communities need to pay ever more attention to our language and how the terms we use come across. Will be sharing what you posted with others … and see below in thread for more.

BRAD. Erica posted in a reply just above this with important points about what terms we use to describe the behaviors in this case: “seduction” …does not have the same moral equivalency as an “affair” has for both parties. (see above for full quote.)

I’m reposting here an exchange from a thread from the comments on Parts 1 and 2, if I remember right, between Dr. Christy Sim and myself, on terminology that we used in the [Spiritual Sounding Board article] title: “Survivor of Tullian Tchividjian’s Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse Goes Public with Her Story.” This is a version I posted on a blog thread, so it’s got an introduction from that version. QUOTE:

An important interaction from Facebook, with my friend Christy Sim who is Executive Director of Stronger Than Espresso, a non-profit dedicated to survivors of violence and abuse. I’m copying it here, as my Facebook posts [have privacy settings marked] “Friends” not “Public.”

Christy Sim One thing… it starts off with the word “alleged” to describe victims. It’s a word we fight so hard against.

The word ‘alleged’ makes it sound fake. Instead we encourage the word “reported.” It gives the same intention without the weight of… “oh she ‘allegedly’ claimed to be raped. But no one believes her and we can’t prove it.” (That’s what we hear in ‘allegedly.”)…That it hasn’t been proven yet and it’s up for debate on if she’s full of crap.

We hope by changing the language people start thinking differently.

She “reported” gives the picture that she turned in her story. That’s what we want. She voiced her story. And we have no reason not to believe it.

Brad That is very, very helpful, Christy, and thank you for noting that for us. There are many issues with words that we agonize over in writing for and from spiritual abuse survivor communities. So it’s crucial to keep striving for terms that are more accurate, that are more supportive, and that don’t carry implications that minimize what’s being said or — even more so — those who are saying it. I’ve been writing on related issues, and case studies, and helping people share their story for nearly a decade, and still important things to learn …

Christy Sim Thank you for hearing me! I was so worried that I overstepped.

Brad I’m really glad you said what you did, Christy! We know that words have the power to crush or encourage. So we have to keep stretching ourselves to communicate better. It’s too important to ourselves as survivors, to the friends we support and advocate for, for those we seek to challenge for abuses and protecting abusers.


BRAD. I’m starting to list sets of words to sort through for the nuances they do/don’t convey. It’s messy.

ERICA. Thanks, Brad, for this enlightening discourse about the unintentional but nevertheless subtle bias in our language. When women speak up about an illicit sexual relationship with leadership, it’s important to distinguish the features of a seduction from a mutual affair. The nuances of well-chosen words can accurately and succinctly communicate the severity of the transgression, and also focus the responsibility where it belongs, which is squarely on the shoulders of the seducer. A target of a seduction is not complicit in the active pursuit.

Conversely, use of the term “affair” to incorrectly characterize a seduction shifts at least partial responsibility to the victim of seduction by implying mutual agreement. This difference in use of the word “seduction” to describe the context of the sexual relationship could be extremely empowering for the victim and also result in her account being taken more seriously by others, although that remains to be seen.

JASON. Erica thank you for drawing this out. These women were groomed by a person in power and influence over them for the express purpose of sexual advancement. Tullian normalized the adulterous nature of his intent and actions by manipulating theological words, phrases, and ideas. He manipulated the person by perverting and using her/their own faith against them for his own gain. A faith he was helping form. Pastoral leadership is not an ordinary kind of leadership. He misused it and perverted it, which to me is unconscionable. Though he was disciplined by his denomination, I think it is unfortunate that he was allowed to resign. He should have been fired after due process. He is allowed to retain his “innocence” while his victims live with the shame of being groomed and exploited.

BRAD. Well stated, my friends, Erica and Jason. The image that comes to mind is from fundraising fairs we had as a kid, and “The fishing booth.” You know, a pole with a string and some kind of hanger or magnet on the end, and you cast it over a curtain and when the “fish” yanks on the other side of the curtain, you pull it back and see what you hooked. All very exciting!

Well, there’s a difference between two magnets getting attracted to each other [“affair” – “adultery”] versus someone in a position of power and control (like a pastor) tossing a line and magnet out into the pool and working it around to see who he can drag back [“seduction” – “clergy sexual misconduct”].

ERICA. Jason, you’ve aptly stated the seriousness of his breach of trust, and the failure of his denomination to apply the appropriate censure commensurate with his actions. The garden variety seduction is egregious enough, but when seduction is committed by a person entrusted with spiritual formation it reaches an exponentially higher level of harm to the individual who was targeted.

BRAD. The power/influence dynamic is why this is sometimes identified as “Clergy Sexual Misconduct” and a “violation of fiduciary duty” by a person in a position of power. The law on this is not consistent because it is implemented state by state, but some states disallow the seducer in such cases the defense of “it was consensual.” Same goes for counselors/clients, officers of the law/prisoners, medical practitioners/patients. No. It is *not* consensual.

Research Tools: State-by-State Laws on Sexual Violence Issues, Including Clergy Sexual Misconduct (aka “Fiduciary Duty”)

BRAD. In those states that explicitly disallow the defense of “consensual” for sexual assault, it generally applies to “religious workers,” not specifically “Christian pastors.” And sometimes there are additional specifications about counseling relationships. But basically, keep in mind, it’s NOT “an affair,” it’s an assault.

If you’re interested in an overview of which states have laws about this, check out this post on The Wartburg Watch. One night when I had insomnia, I went through the entire RAINN state-by-state website and posted the state and key portions of their legal code. One state per comment. Here’s the link, and search for comments by “brad/futuristguy.”

It’s Clergy Sex Abuse; Not an Affair!

ERICA. Read this link to see one professionals’ opinion about the difference between seduction and rape.

Don’t Be Seduced! Six Crucial Warning Signs. [NOTE: The subtitle sentence for this Psychology Today article is, “Seduction seeks sex whether or not it harms the seduced.”


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Two Final Thoughts

1. Please check out the article Erica recommended: Don’t Be Seduced! Six Crucial Warning Signs and also this site from Baylor University on Clergy Sexual Misconduct, with research by Dr. Diana R. Garland and Dr. Mark Chaves.

The Psychology Today article has a “checklist of seduction,” and it also explains well the differences between seduction and rape, and the issue of “consent.” Then take that knowledge and checklist, and go through Rachel’s story to see where reported actions of Tullian Tchividjian fit with the various points. I think you’ll find that homework quite enlightening …

The Baylor site has an especially good Executive Summary page that includes sections on definition of Clergy Sexual Misconduct (CSM), and its prevalence, how it happens, and strategies for prevention.

2. Blog commenters who are adamant about both parties in adultery having equal moral culpability … I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to discuss this in ways that show they have any “theology about seduction.”

They want both parties to share equal responsibility, as if they were full, peer partners in the sin. I don’t hear them talk about deception, manipulation, power dynamics. They generally refuse to accept the legal concept of clergy sexual abuse, which is sometimes called clergy sexual misconduct, or violation of “fiduciary duty” — where members of the clergy or other specified professions are legally barred from claiming consent as a defense for sexual assault with a congregant, counselee, etc.

The only things that seem to matter to these commenters are (1) that the parties engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, and (2) it was by mutual consent. Yes, “consent” distinguishes sexual interaction as adultery or fornication instead of as rape. But these commenters have a limited view of what consent is about, when it comes to issues of seduction. Apparently, rape is only about physically overpowering someone and forcing them to engage in sexual activities. Where is the acknowledgement of emotionally overpowering someone, or using one’s position of authority/power in the relationship (such as mentor, pastor, counselor, employer) and what you know about the person’s emotional vulnerabilities as a result of being in that official relationship of trust, oversight, ability to fire, etc.?

So — this directly relates to the commenting policy here at Spiritual Sounding Board. You may find your comment edited or removed at the discretion of SSB moderators if you comment about situations of sexual abuse in ways that do not acknowledge any dynamics of power/seduction going on with survivors, or the manipulation of potential victims through preliminary emotional/relational grooming. A lack of theology about seduction means using language that blames the victim and minimizes the responsibility of the person in a role of power. It silences the voices of the victims. And that is not tolerated here.

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Update: Link to the Baylor University site added in the final section on 01-06-2017.

35 thoughts on “Issues of Language: Removing Neutrality Toward Abusers and Negativity Toward Survivors”

  1. All very good points, especially about seduction. Another thing we try to do at BJUGrace is use the word “account” instead of “story,” because “story” carries a connotation of possibly being fictitious whereas the connotation of “account” sounds more like a police report.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good job, and very astute on-the-money observation, Brad. What it really boils down to is Tullian tracked his game and baited traps.


  3. That’s helpful, @Rebecca — thanks. Depending on context and what other words I’ve already used, I trend to draw from a set that includes: report, story, narrative, account, details, etc. They’re not exact synonyms, and each with nuances. I find I’m using the word story less, but it’s still in there. Need to rethink that …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brad – I am only two paragraphs in and I thought of this Ted Talk that I watched not too long ago. It addresses the issue of language (3:00 mark) – especially using passive voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “The only things that seem to matter to these commenters are (1) that the parties engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, and (2) it was by mutual consent.”

    The “Defend the skeezy pastors and restore them to the pulpit ASAP” industry seems to sometimes engage another angle: (3) in many cases: “that the parties engaged in sexual activity outside of the church“. By abuser apologists putting forth this aspect either directly or indirectly, it de-links the spiritual authority/spiritual abuse from the narrative. If the woman is church staff or volunteer, this could also apply to employer/employee sexual harassment. Finally, this “off the job” narrative attempts to remove the woman’s “not able to consent”, hence no rape, no abuse (just an inappropriate relationship) and voila – no victim (and thus, no need for watchbloggers or anyone to stand with victims, since there aren’t any).

    One of the most widely reported case like this was during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. The abuse defender compartmentalizes the offender’s personal life and professional responsibilities, which enables this narrative: “what someone does on their personal time between consentiing adults in private and of no consequence, and who are you to judge? As long as they can do their job during ‘office hours’ then let it go”


  6. Thanks for this, Brad. What defenders of abuser leaders also ignore is God’s admonition that those who presume they have the gift to teach will be held to a higher standard than those who do not. Simply put, even in a scenario where a woman was sexually aggressive and threw herself at Mr. Tchividjian (I am not assuming this is what happened in any case at hand), Mr. T would still be subject to greater judgment, based on his self-proclaimed authority to teach those within the Church. The defenders seem to have it exactly 180 degrees wrong, they almost invariably give special consideration to the one whom the Lord proclaims greater judgment upon and condemn the one whom the Lord apparently does not judge as strictly. But of course, what of it? When do they get anything right? Ever?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sadly, we live in a time of “political correctness” (how much damage alone has this monstrosity caused, especially in certain fields?). We also live in a sensationalist, self-love time, as strengthened and promoted by irresponsible, vulgar, and glib users of social media. Because of these things, coupled with the worship of so-called personalities/stars (be they from Fakewood or whether they are some religious fake), the victim/accuser WILL suffer and be treated as a liar or attention-seeker.
    What is good will be called evil and vice versa.

    And that’s why sites like these (and others) are so climacteric in trying to turn the balance the other way. If your daughter (God forbids) tells you that she’s been raped by some superstar rock pothead (for instance), or a youth pastor, or a “counselor”, etc., will YOU tell her she is making it up? That she is only alleging it? Or ask her if she is sure? Or tell her that the rapist is well-known and important (meaning your daughter is not?) and that there will be unpleasant consequences?

    No, you won’t. And so it’s a good time to strike back at all those who think that spiritual/sexual abuse is not a crime. It is a heinous crime, and the abuser deserves to be punished accordingly, no matter who he thinks he is, or what the media thinks he is, or what his silly social media groupies think he is. And those who seduce their victims are the lowest of the low; the guano on the rocks.

    And when reporting on it, the victims should be given the benefit of the doubt (unless proven otherwise), and the abuser should feel the brunt of his sick mind from here to eternity. The negative focus should be on him, and the sympathy, from the beginning, should be on the abused/victim/broken women/girl. Then, maybe then, these perverts will keep their minds from the gutter and their other things in their pants (as though a single one of them is even worth looking at, BTW. Urgh!)

    But this is a sick world, isn’t it? We can just do our bit, and leave revenge to God, and believe me, that’s a good thing.


  8. These comments are so helpful and humbling.

    I have a decade of pastoral experience and 5+ years of leadership experience outside of the church in an organizations that reached 2000+ employees. Although the work may appear to be very different I have come to see that ALL organizations, by default, self-protect. Leaders in any organization are part of a protected class. The leader gets the benefit of the doubt and the victim gets doubted by default, and often doesn’t even receive the dignity of a fair hearing.

    When someone accuses a leader of misconduct the whole organization (staff, leaders, members) goes in to self-protection and ego-protection. What’s going to happen to my church if this is true? Did I believe a lie? What does it say about ME that I trusted such a person and even gave allegiance and money? So the accuser/victim is treated like an invasive disease that must be surrounded, quarantined, picked apart, and done away with. Either comply with the system or get out.

    That’s why it is incredibly important that we give the voiceless a voice. The leader has the protection of his/her office as “leader.” A pastor often has the trust of the staff, lay leaders, and many of the congregation. There is a core of support that will buffer all narratives contrary to the story they have told themselves about their leader. The victims have no platform. They often are heard by those on the edge of the organization, but can rarely penetrate the “core” that self-protects.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. But these commenters have a limited view of what consent is about, when it comes to issues of seduction.

    With seduction often comes lies. Lies about emotions involved, lies about leaving a spouse or what the spouse has done or even that the spouse exists!

    The nuances of well-chosen words can accurately and succinctly communicate the severity of the transgression, and also focus the responsibility where it belongs, which is squarely on the shoulders of the seducer. A target of a seduction is not complicit in the active pursuit.

    This is an excellent point and also very important in the context of relationships with pastors because the idea of the female as the aggressor is so prevalent!

    On language: Allegedly is a weird word because it does convey that ‘they said this but we don’t really believe it’ but it’s also used commonly in news stories and for legal protection so people also kind of make jokes using it that make it mean ‘we have to say allegedly but everybody knows this is true’. So sometimes you have to determine if it’s being used sarcastically!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m so glad Brad did this post. Brad and I spend a fair amount of time going over our language in posts. It’s been a great experience for me to do the Tullian Tchividjian posts together. There are many trials and errors, for sure, before we hit the publish button, but one of the more important parts of writing articles on a survivor blog is paying attention to the words we use and how they affect survivors. Of course at the back of my mind is always the thought of a defamation lawsuit, so I’m also very careful about using wording that avoids potential risks.

    I remember when we were working on the title to the Tullian series and I said that Tullian’s name had to be in the title, but Brad wasn’t keen on seeing his name in “lights.” Boy, I sure get that. I try to make sure that articles will be seen by the largest audience – not because I like blog views, but because the man is dangerous and needs to be exposed. The more who know the truth about him, the better. Unfortunately, Tullian’s name is a keyword that generates more hits, so it was important to have his name in the title; however, we could make him the object in the title instead of the subject (as Brad explained above). This deliberate effort in our wording empowers victims, rather than the abuser.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What does it say about ME that I trusted such a person and even gave allegiance and money?

    I think this is a HUGE part of the problem with respect to celebrity/Christian ‘leaders’. People would rather believe that somebody is lying about them and trying to take them down than that they were wrong.

    It hurts their pride to believe that they were wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. @Lea said:
    What does it say about ME that I trusted such a person and even gave allegiance and money?

    I think this is a HUGE part of the problem with respect to celebrity/Christian ‘leaders’. People would rather believe that somebody is lying about them and trying to take them down than that they were wrong.

    It hurts their pride to believe that they were wrong.

    This is, in part, why I have significant empathy for people like those men and women who signed the Call to Repentance; those who have publicly apologized for their active protection of Tullian Tchividjian on social media; those who have publicly withdrawn support and/or noted they’ve removed his books, sermons, links, etc., from their website. It takes humility to acknowledge being duped, and fortitude to take restorative actions like these.

    Even if some people criticize them for “too little, too late,” my philosophy is that there are no statutes of limitations for doing with is right/righteous. And we can’t dictate the pace or have a checklist formula for remediation and redemptive actions after such failures. This is not letting anyone off the hook, but just trying to recognize that a major course correction involves the spiritual equivalent of culture shock, and time to adjust, and more time to see the depths to which the deception perpetrated on us goes and to keep rooting it out.

    Another contributing factor for empathy is that I have been in that same position myself. I was taken in by someone slick who turned out to be disqualified from any role in public ministry. Not only did I have to come to a point of discernment to see where his so-called “ministry” was misleading people and causing terrible damage, and leave when I sensed I was being released from staying there [which is a lengthy story]. I then felt accountable to share my reasoning with (1) a sizeable group of friends I’d encouraged to get involved with this man’s endeavors, (2) those who’d challenged me up front about why I was getting involved with this man, because they could already see something was desperately “off,” and (3) those who seemed to just be starting to get sucked into this man’s toxic vortex. I’d commended and recommended him; I had a responsibility to undo what damage I could.

    In some cases, it took as much as three years of waiting on my part until some of those who likewise got duped were ready to leave that enterprise and process their experiences. In one case of someone who challenged me early on about my involvement, it took seven very long years to get to where interaction could be normal again — because some key friends of theirs had gotten hurt by being involved in this malignant man’s sick systems, and they were angry.

    Seduction may have mostly sexual connotations in our language, but the deception and manipulation that goes on with it is exactly what happened in the situation I’ve just described.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Seduction may have mostly sexual connotations in our language, but the deception and manipulation that goes on with it is exactly what happened in the situation I’ve just described.

    Yes, and I was thinking it would possibly help them to understand that the women involved with Tullian were also lied to, seduced, fooled. They thought well of him and they were wrong. I have been there.


  14. In considering the “abuser/victim” shift from the “equally sinful” affair, I have been reminded of the description in 2 Timothy 3:6-7 about the evil men who surreptitiously and purposefully “lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Frankly, this has always been a troublesome set of verses for me because it makes women sound so dopey in an era when we women are finally discovering our agency and strengths. It does sound almost like victim-slamming.
    Instead of “sins,” we tend to use words that are euphemistic and therefore more acceptable to our thinking: vulnerabilities, issues, woundedness. I wonder if this tendency to soften a definition of sin stems from our inadequate understanding of GRACE. Many of us have been exposed to the harshness of “worm” theology where we sinners are compared to despicable and loathsome lifeforms and consequently the supposedness of God’s reluctant grace. With such a niggardly understanding of grace, no wonder we shun the acknowledgement of our primal sinful nature, which makes all of us–men and women–targets for deception by predatory authority figures.
    It is especially tragic and egregious that Tchividjian used “grace” as a primary hook and weapon. Such cruelty!! But real GRACE is amazing and seeks out the bewildered victims of such heartless evil seducers!!
    My words seem to me to be inadequate and half baked to express the nuances of what I am trying to say. Forgive me and bear with me!! I so mean well!! His GRACE is so much more than our sin, but our sin is so much more serious than we want to know. The deceivers play a shell game with us continually switching around truth, half truths and lies. But GRACE…!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “I have come to see that ALL organizations, by default, self-protect. Leaders in any organization are part of a protected class. The leader gets the benefit of the doubt…”

    That’s a very good point.

    It’s why Christian organizations were not supposed to be organizations in any traditional sense, just a group of believers united around love for Jesus.

    It’s why Jesus was clear that leadership was not supposed to be like leadership in any secular sense with rulers setting the vision and calling the shots, collecting salaries, proclaiming, as Mr. Driscoll purportedly once did “I am the brand.”

    It’s why Christian organizations are supposed to be about organic relationships, a living body, coequal priesthoods, rather than little kingdoms and elites who love to mingle with other elites and disdain those beneath them in their unbiblical hierarchies.

    It’s why if things are catastrophically wrong (such as a person who proclaims they have the ability to teach others about the truth of God who is simultaneously carrying on illicit affairs with multiple others), the people of the Body of Christ should be empowered to recognize the cancer and move as a group (not a handful of self-proclaimed leaders in a private counsel) to cut it out, because it is an existential threat to the body, rather than the elites moving to minimize damage to their man-made organization and covering up.

    It’s why the majority of what people call “churches” today are not churches in any meaningful sense, but man-made institutions that are being used to abuse and render ineffective the true church.

    It’s why the situation has in some cases boiled down to:either follow Jesus or attend a place primarily structured to render impotent the gifts the Lord has given His people.

    It’s why I’m a done.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “Outside the church”

    Jason. The church is the body of Christ not a religious organisation.

    Once you are joined to Christ’s church there is no “outside”.

    I think you mean “outside the religious establishment called the church which is not the ekklesia”.

    Yes, I know what you meant.

    But the two aren’t the same thing.

    And it’s a fundamental truth worth repeating over and over.

    Until the real church get it.

    I’m a done also.

    But only done with the church not built by Jesus.

    Bravo on this post Brad.


  17. Another term needing to be clarified often, IMO: “root of bitterness.” Tullian would be an example (allegedly, reportedly) of a poisonous root of bitterness that needs to be rooted out of the church, lest many be defiled, according to Hebrews 12:15. He reportedly, allegedly fits the description. Those who are reporting his sins do not. (This is a language issue that has bothered me for quite some time.)

    Liked by 2 people

  18. ” Let’s name the behavior by the pastor by its true name- it is “seduction” of vulnerable females. The term comes from the Latin which means ” to lead astray”.
    Having serial affairs while in leadership is bad enough, but this is worse because it appears to be deliberate and intentional serial seduction of women ….” etc

    Yep. The apostle Paul didn’t mince words and feign neutrality. Though he did call the women weak willed, he clearly spent most of his time condemning the one doing the seducing.

    2 Tim 3:1-9
    “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.”

    Seems terribly appropriate. How’s that hyper grace “I don’t need God’s law” stuff working with the apostle Paul here?


  19. Rebecca Davis – also he is one of those “wolves” that come in among you, not sparing the flock, one of those men that arise from “among your own selves.”

    (Acts 20:28-31) “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,e which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”


  20. I agree, terriergal–I had the privilege of working with Jeff Crippen on his book “Unholy Charade,” and one thing Jeff talks about a whole lot is those wolves in sheeps’s clothing!

    Incidentally, someone contacted me recently because the Tullian Tchividjian exposure was stirring in her some memories and understanding about some things from her own past. “Clergy sexual abuse” or “seduction” were terms she had never thought to use until now. The effects of these posts is rippling out much farther than simply this one man, and for that I’m thankful, as more wolves in wool are being exposed for what they truly are.


  21. The effects of these posts is rippling out much farther than simply this one man, and for that I’m thankful, as more wolves in wool are being exposed for what they truly are.

    Yea!!!!! 👏👍💕 That’s encouraging to hear, Rebecca.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Julie Anne,

    That’s what I’ve hoped for from the beginning of this current wave…that your posts would ripple out and reach many shores. May it become a tsunami; it’s so desperately needed.
    I cannot thank you and your team of detectives and researchers enough. (It has even hit home, JA)

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Along the way while I was preparing this post, my friend Erica sent me some links and thoughts. Here are some of the links she shared about “seduction” with quotes that I think are particularly relevant.

    The Law Dictionary article on What is Seduction? states:

    What is SEDUCTION?

    The act of a man in enticing a woman to commit unlawful sexual intercourse with him, by means of persuasion, solicitation, promises, bribes, or other means without the employment of force. In order to constitute seduction, the defendant must use insinuating arts to overcome the opposition of the seduced, and must by his wiles and persuasions, without force, debauch her. This is the ordinary meaning and acceptation of the word “seduce.” Hogan v. Cregan, 6 Rob. (N. Y.) 150.

    The thing that struck me most about this definition was “insinuating arts.” We mostly use insinuate to mean “imply, suggest, infer,” often with the nuance that it is done in a way that is sly, underhanded, seems innocent but is not. Less often, we use insinuate to talk about someone putting themselves into a relationship where they normally would never gain access.

    This is what grifters and con men do: insinuate themselves into situations where they can take advantage of others. They act as if the target people are important to them, their opinion matters, their time is precious. They act humble, vulnerable, pseudo-transparent — or perhaps brash, confident, charismatic: Whatever is needed to become an insider who “earns” loyalty, that’s what they do.

    In this particular case, I keep thinking things like, “Why is Tullian Tchividjian asking a bunch of single and married women what to do about reconciling with his estranged wife?” And, “Why is he asking these women to do things for him that he could do himself?” That’s what insinuating ones self into a relationship is about, bonding others to you when you really don’t deserve it. Apparently this kind of grooming is part of the hunt, to find out who is next to be slain.


  24. I am thinking some more about the vulnerability of the victims. It seems to me, that “the weak women burdened with sins” may well be the state of those already suffering from past abuses that they carry falsely as their own crushing load of sin. This in addition to an inadequate understanding of their own sin could cause them to seize the bait of a seducer more readily. What cruelty to dangle grace as a trap for the desperately heartbroken and confused sinner.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Exactly, brad/futuristguy. You posed an excellent question: “Why is [TT] asking a bunch of single and married women. . . . to do things for him that he could do himself?” Like when he emailed his parishioner, Rachel, with his cell number asking her “to help him with training advice.” What a ruse!


  26. That’s right, Stephanie. It is a lure to trap women. When someone reaches out to you to ask for personal help, the message it gives you is that you are a trusted individual whose opinion is valued. It makes you feel special and privileged to be able to help. This is part of what we refer to “love-bombing” when talking about tactics abusers use to gain control. After Tullian wins their trust, he then is able to get them to share their own difficult issues. Now they are at a more deep and intimate level of relationship.


  27. Brad, you also write above, “That’s what insinuating ones self into a relationship is about, bonding others to you when you really don’t deserve it.” This was exactly TT’s tactic with Rachel: “He invited himself to stay at our home, paraded around without his shirt when my husband was at work . . . pushed hard into my life and I felt sorry for him.” [From Part # 1 of Rachel’s Story]

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Right on, Julie Anne! In Part # 1 of her story, Rachel says: “I’m a pleaser by nature.” TT took advantage of her desire “to be able to help.”

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I think the word “grooming” is very appropriate for many abusive situations, because it carries the meaning that the perpetrator intentionally worked to gain the victim’s trust and gain access to their life, for the purpose of abusing. It is important to note that in cases of child abuse from someone outside the immediate family, the perpetrator often grooms the child’s caregivers, not just the child.

    I think the word “seduction” may be appropriate in many abusive situations, but it really angers me to hear the term “seduction” used when discussing cases of child sexual abuse, particularly those involving young children. I could be wrong, but to me the word “seduction” implies at least some level of romantic attraction on the part of the victim, even though the victim was manipulated and deceived into feeling that way.

    The term “sexual misconduct” seems appropriate for a wide variety of situations. So are the terms “take advantage of” and “deception” and “intentional.”

    It is also important to note that in some situations, neither seduction nor grooming are necessary for abuse to take place. For me, I was a preschooler, and my abuser was my parent. I trusted him. Period.

    Looking back on the situation as an adult, and now a parent myself, I see how intentional my father’s abuse was. It must have taken careful planning for him to hide it from my mother all those years, and to psychologically manipulate and shame me so that I wouldn’t talk about it. It wasn’t just that he “fell into temptation” or something. He knew exactly what he was doing and it was very intentional. Due to a number of unfortunate circumstances, my father will probably never spend a day in jail. But like the souls of the martyrs who cry out to God for justice from under the altar (Revelation 6:10), I cry out to God for justice and believe that justice will be served.

    “Justice” is also a really good term when discussing these situations. “Justice” gives me hope.

    Sorry for all the rambling.


  30. The Wary Witness,
    Thank you for sharing your tragic story and also your insight. I am so sorry for the abuse you incurred and very saddened that you will not see justice in your lifetime. But God’s justice is perfect.

    I agree with your conclusions on the word “seduction” regarding children. It does seem that the victim has an attraction, so that just doesn’t line up.


  31. Thanks, JA. I would also like to add that I think the word “power” is very appropriate when discussing abusive situations. Isn’t that exactly what abuse is — someone powerful taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable?


  32. Brad, you may be aware of this already, but Allan Wade and his colleagues at Response Based Practice — — have done some excellent work on language and discourse in the arena of abuse and oppression.
    This post is a good introduction to Allan Wade and Linda Coates’ ‘Four Discursive Operations of Language’ —
    And this post has a video of Allan Wade giving a presentation about Violence, Resistance and Power in Language —


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