Abuse Systems and Transformation Tools, Christian Industrial Complex, Clergy Sex Abuse, Learn to Discern, Sexual Abuse/Assault and Churches, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Authority, Spiritual Bullies, Tullian Tchividjian

UN-accountable: Case Study in Systems Analysis and Ministerial Accountability ~ Part 1, Systems

An Introduction to “UN-ACCOUNTABLE”

by Brad Sargent (aka brad/futuristguy)

I produced the first five parts in this UN-accountable series in late 2017. It remained completed but unpublished until now – other than Parts 1 and 2, which appear on one of my Futuristguy’s Field Guides blog. I originally intended to use it on one of my blogs as an extended case study to illustrate key concepts about systems, systemic abuse, forms of organizations with self-protective social controls, accountability, and taking responsibility for damages done through repentance and repair.

I used the situation of Tullian Tchividjian because our team at Spiritual Sounding Board had posted a substantial amount of information that included background material, personal experience narratives by women who were survivors of Mr. Tchividjian’s wiles, a resource bibliography, and various news updates and opinion pieces as the story continued to unfold over several years. He made himself a negative example of celebrity leadership, showing how someone can use their connections with leaders in multiple ministries to create a protective shell of a platform that promoted self and avoided accountability.

It seemed back then that Mr. Tchividjian’s influence was waning, as Christian communities became more aware of the serious nature of his misuse of office as a minister and writer. His opportunities to speak were curtailed. Publishers removed his articles and books. It seemed for a time that he could and maybe would potentially settle into a life apart from a celebrity ministry presence.

But, as it turned out, there began to be blips on the radar of social media that he seemed to be aiming for a comeback. Much of this focused on what he said he was learning about grace, about Jesus plus nothing being everything, about the importance of sins having been redeemed.

However, those of us who’d helped document his actual and apparent sexual infidelities, grooming, and hypergrace theology knew that he remained disqualified from roles of Christian influence and public ministry. There had been no more than vague apologetic stances from him, and he had not taken responsibility by apologizing in specifics to the women he victimized (several situations of which he had admitted to, after they’d been revealed publicly). Also, he had not repaired relationships with as many as 150 men and women whose trust he had betrayed – some of them his superiors whose authority he refused to submit to, others his ministry peers or subordinates.

Then, an exclusive article by Sam Howard in The Palm Beach Post on August 17, 2019, revealed that Tullian Tchividjian was starting a church: The Sanctuary. Unsurprisingly, survivors of sexual abuse, clergy misconduct, and spiritual trauma were not pleased with this development – especially those reportedly victimized by him. The reaction on Twitter was especially active, and many people had questions about his backstory and whether he had been “spiritually restored” or not.

Julie Anne Smith and I discussed how to make important details and documentation accessible, and we decided to publish the whole of my UN-accountable series. Not only does it give the concepts need to better understand how “the system” got worked, but it organizes in a different way what otherwise would be volumes of information on this blog and elsewhere about Tullian Tchividjian’s toxic behavior patterns and their destructive impact on people.

Our plan is to post the series as the original five individual articles as soon as possible. I will be making only minor changes – such as adding a few subheads, and replacing now-broken or missing links with links from the internet archive, or with screenshots if available. As I mentioned, I completed this series with materials available through late 2017. So, our Spiritual Sounding Board team will work to add a sixth article to bring things as up-to-date as possible.

We hope the concepts about systems, accountability, and damage repair will help our survivor communities better understand the dynamics in this case and others they have faced. And we hope that those who support Tullian Tchividjian will weigh the extensive evidence about his lack of qualifications of character to be pastoring a church.

~brad/futuristguy, August 18, 2019

Note from Julie Anne: Many times when I am considering posting a new blog article, I have a sense that the timing of particular posts is not optimum. This was the case with Brad’s series. But providentially, I believe the time to publish is now with the advent of Sam Howard’s recent article.

Brad’s work in this series is exceptional. It’s important to note that Brad and I have completely different writing styles. Brad uses more academic style in writing, whereas I write in a way that is more informal and casual, kind of like I would communicate with you if we were sitting down for coffee. So, when you read Brad’s series, consider that he is a professor explaining the dynamics involved in systems of abuse.

It is helpful to have this knowledge to understand how all of the key players work together and create this system. So, read slowly and carefully. This is important information. See if you have experienced or know of other systemic abuse: in church groups, in political groups, in social groups. Systems of abuse can thrive in any social environment. 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


The “Broken Chains” masthead was designed by Ryan Ashton.

Graphics licensed from Fotolia/Adobe by Brad Sargent are listed at the end of the article.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


Our policy is that comments are monitored but rarely removed. However, keep the conversation civil or your comments may be removed and you may be put in the “SSB Dog House.”

Brad Sargent is currently in the midst of multiple deadline projects and does not expect to be available to follow up on comments. Many questions about details are answered in the Infographic, Partial Timeline, the Resource Bibliography, or other posts in the category on Tullian Tchividjian. Please avail yourself to those for your research.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Quick Links to the Series and Other Key Resource Pages:

An Infographic on Tullian Tchividjian’s Pursuit of Women and a Public/Publication Platform 

Tullian Tchividjian – Partial Timeline of Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse and Spiritual Abuse

Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation

Part 1 ~ Systems, Systemic Abuse, and Repentance as a Systems Transformation Process

  • Introduction to Case Studies
  • 1-1. Systems and Systemic Abuse
  • 1-2. Systems Transformation through Repentance and Conciliation
  • 1-3. What Does it Take on Both Sides for Remediation Actions to Work?

Part 2 ~ Three Real-World Examples of Systems Remediation / Repentance

  • 2-1. Example #1 ~ Eerdmans Publishing: A Project/Product with Individual and Institutional Impact
  • 2-2. Example #2 ~ The Holistic, Systems Example of the Mennonites: Dealing with Sexual Harassment and Abuse by Top Denominational Theologian, John Howard Yoder
  • 2-3. Example #3 ~ A Social-Cultural-Political System Example: Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Part 3 ~ Elements in the “Industrial Complex” System Surrounding Tullian Tchividjian

  • 3-1. Introduction
  • 3-2. Introducing the Concept of an “Industrial Complex”
  • 3-3. Going a Level Deeper – And Listing Connections to Tullian Tchividjian
  • 3-4. Summary: The Key Problem That the Research Details Demonstrate
  • 3-5. For Those Interested in More

Part 4 ~ Types of Accountability and Patterns for How They Were Avoided

  • 4-1. A Four-Fold Framework for Accountability
  • 4-2. Tullian Tchividjian’s Responses to Systems of Accountability
  • 4-3. Subverting the System
  • 4-4. For Those Interested in More

Part 5 ~ Where Accountability Systems for Tullian Tchividjian Broke Down or Broke Through

  • 5-1. Introduction
  • 5-2. Summary of Opportunities for Accountability
  • 5-3. An Appeal for a Genuine Repentance Process
  • 5-4. An Appeal for Generosity
  • 5-5. Case Study on Accountability ~ Reference Sections
    • About the Reference Sections …
    • 5-5a. Academia, Seminaries, Training Programs
    • 5-5b. Associations and Networks
    • 5-5c. Businesses, Brands, Events; Media and Marketing Platforms
    • 5-5d. Ministry Platforms
    • 5-5e. Philanthropic Enterprises

Part 6 ~ Updates: 2018 and 2019

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

“Broken Chains” masthead designed by Ryan Ashton.


Systems, Systemic Abuse, and

Repentance as a Systems Transformation Process

(c) Brad Sargent


  • Introduction to Case Studies
  • 1-1. Systems and Systemic Abuse
  • 1-2. Systems Transformation through Repentance and Conciliation
  • 1-3. What Does it Take on Both Sides for Remediation Actions to Work?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Introduction to Case Studies

There are different kinds of case studies, with various formats and a variety of uses. But they all tend to share several key features: an organized presentation of evidences, done for a particular purpose.

In general, the purpose of a case study is to offer evidence that persuades people to action by leading them through a systematic investigation of the details. The specific purposes of this case study are to:

  • Present evidence for exploring the dynamics in systems of accountability that were in place (or should have been) in the situation of Tullian Tchividjian.
  • Evaluate how individuals and institutions relatively succeeded or failed in their roles of responsibility and/or accountability.
  • Draw out practical lessons for individuals and institutions that are responsible for holding someone accountable.

Tullian Tchividjian has been a public figure for nearly 15 years. Thus, much of his journey can be tracked online. His former ministry platform involvements provide a very extensive network of individuals and institutions to potentially hold him accountable. Mr. Tchividjian has, sadly, demonstrated propensities to ultimately avoid accountability through a variety of means. His actions (and inactions) have often been paralleled by others’ attempts to either protect him from criticism or to challenge him, depending. So, his changing situation and other peoples’ reactions make for a robust illustration of the range of choices and consequences related to responsibility and accountability.

The way I see it, there is a difference between being responsible (causing something to happened), versus taking responsibility (owning our part in what happened and/or making things right where things went wrong, even if we were not responsible for the actions that resulted in the problems). There is also a difference between being accountable (having responsibility to give an accounting of actions), versus holding someone accountable (having the relationship or role that gives the authority of moral, legal, regulatory agency, or professional association to force someone who is responsible for actions to also be accountable by taking responsibility for them). This case study involves relative successes and failures in carrying out all four of those terms.

As to evidences, expert Robert K. Yin describes six categories in his textbook Case Study Research: Design and Methods (Sage Publishing, 5th edition, 2014, page 105-118).

  1. Documents. Letters, emails, text messages, calendars, meeting minutes, reports.
  2. Archival Records. Government “public use” data, service records, budgets and personnel records, maps.
  3. Interviews. Prolonged interviews (totaling two hours or longer, whether in one sitting or multiple), shorter interviews, and survey interviews/questionnaires.
  4. Direct Observations. Notes and quotes from the observations of the person(s) producing the case study.
  5. Participant-Observation. Notes and quotes from case study producers while they also play an active role in the enterprise or situation.
  6. Physical Artifacts. Physical or cultural items that are evidence, such as technological devices, tools, artworks.

The situation of Tullian Tchividjian provides four of those six types of evidence – all but the kinds of observations noted in #4 and #5. Because he has promoted himself as a public figure, almost all sources used have been accessible online to the public. I have been finding and piecing together the evidence since March 2016, starting with the Resource Bibliography and more recently with the Partial Timeline and other posts. Those two posts, plus this five-part case study on systems and accountability, represent my best efforts and due diligence in providing some comprehensive frameworks and analysis of this situation. I estimate I have spent a minimum of 150-200 hours in these and related posts.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

1-1. Systems and Systemic Abuse

A while back, my friend Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board asked if I had a definition of “systemic abuse and cover-up” that she could quote for a blog article she’s been working on. I told her I’d get back to her, as I’d need to talk about a couple different terms in order to get to what she was looking for. Here’s what I came up with, which is an extract from the chapter on “Paradigm Systems” in a curriculum I’ve been writing about dealing with spiritual abuse from a systems perspective.

If we’re going to talk about “systemic abuse,” first we have to grasp the core concept of systems. Here’s how I describe them:

Systems are a specific set of seven parts—people, principles (beliefs), practices (values and actions), partnerships, processes, products (tangible items or intangible goals), and impacts (personal, social, organizational)—that are all interconnected and function as a unit within some kind of boundaries (one organization, or an entire industry, as examples).

In that sense, we can see a family, work team, church congregation, or non-profit board as a system. Its members (people) hold in common a particular worldview of shared beliefs (principles) and show what they value through how they typically behave (practices). They work together with compatible other individuals and organizations (partnerships), and all parties involved invest their intention, time, attention, and resources (processes) in accomplishing agreed-upon goals (products) that build the level and quality desired in doing something that makes a difference (impacts).

Seven Elements in Organizational Systems ~ (c) Brad Sargent, Images licensed from Scott Maxwell/Fotolia.

While we can observe the individual units within the whole, and their actions, we can also analyze the larger system to interpret what elements influence those actions of individual people and other parts in it. Think of it as sliding our scale of view from the micro to the macro – examining the pieces and then the whole – like moving from a microscope to look at the smallest of things on earth, to a telescope to look at the largest things in the heavens.

Other researchers may come up with a different approach or different set of elements to explain how systems work. But for me, the key thing in systems is that all of these of these parts are tied to one another, so they’re interactive. That means if we tug on any one of these elements, the others will get stretched some, too.

Baby playing in a crib, #11960153 (c) Ruta Saulyte / Fotolia, and licensed to Brad Sargent.

Or, to demonstrate this idea with how a wire mobile works, the pieces are made to hang in ways that counterbalance each other. If we add a weight to just one piece hanging from the mobile system, that piece becomes heavier than it was designed to be. That then throws the rest of the mobile out of balance, dragging it in a different direction along the lines of where the additional weight is. Similar things happen if we remove one of the pieces — the mobile tilts due to imbalance. So, with all that in mind, my short description of systems and systemic abuse for Julie Anne was this:

Systems are about how the parts in a set interconnect and make the whole more than the sum of those parts. And systemic abuse happens when people with self-serving motives or otherwise malignant intentions (1) use their power, prestige, relationships, and/or money to manipulate parts to take over the whole and (2) manipulate connections among parts to keep the whole under control.

When I talk about the people who instigate and perpetuate systemic abuse, I use terms like perpetrators, protectors, promoters, and pawns. The perpetrators benefit the most from warping a system to meet their desires. They cultivate (“condition, groom”) and enlist others to keep things going, either by providing real or perceived benefits to those who carry out their strategies. Those perks could include economic value, political-cultural-social status, and/or psychological esteem. So, basically, those who hijack a system offer their accomplices various forms of prestige and power.

Systemic abuse always includes a degree of relational manipulation to get/keep people hooked in, as well as deception in order to hide the truth. So, the longer that people who abuse the system hold on to power, the more their underhanded processes and procedures get fused into the working strategies and structures of the system. If these people somehow leave or are removed from the system, those toxic ways of doing things don’t simply disappear, because they were created to cover people’s tracks in the infrastructure.

These hidden elements only get addressed by intentional actions that put the spotlight on what’s been done in the dark, and then dealing with them systemically. In other words, “repent” — change the course of our trajectory from destructive to constructive.

But we cannot make intentional corrections when we don’t know what we’re turning from or need to turn toward. So, transforming a corrupted system requires our investigating how abuse got infused into all seven parts (people, principles, practices, products, processes, partnerships, and impacts) and the interconnections among them, and then cleaning out the system. This involves identifying details of how elements in the system were co-opted in ways that misused the resources and caused harm to shareholders (those involved in providing services or products) and stakeholders (recipients of those services or products).

More specifically, in the big picture of things, a “repentance process” requires gathering of evidence, discernment, decision making, implementation of corrective actions, and ongoing evaluation to ensure future damage is prevented. What does that process look like? What follows is an overview of the ideas and details behind systems transformation. “UN-accountable” Part 2 gives three examples that show how these principles have been applied in real-world situations.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

1-2. Systems Transformation

through Repentance and Conciliation

I describe “organizational repentance” as a transformational process of repair that looks at past and present aspects of all seven systems elements and how they worked together to inflict damage. It  requires:

(1) removing self-induced obstacles that mar the possibilities for a positive, preferable future of people both inside and outside of the system, and

(2) repairing or replacing them with a system of corrective solutions.

Systems transformation involves both attitudes and actions on the part of people affected. It includes both remediation (i.e., remedies for harmful actions and their impact) and restoration to address the past, present, and future. It uses both private and public measures that are parallel to the arena(s) in which the damage occurred, in proportion to the degree of damage inflicted, and last an appropriate length of time. More specifically, this means:

PACE. Taking an appropriate amount of time to consider all seven elements in systems – both the individual and institutional/organizational sides of things – to understand who was involved, what destructive impacts their victims suffered, and the multiple ways that this damage came about and was sustained in/through the system.

IDENTIFICATION. Sorting through offenses to distinguish those that occurred in private, and those that occurred in public – or had an eventual public impact – and determining appropriate arenas for solutions to be implemented, where and how to communicate about them, and levels of action that fit with the abuse context.

INTERVENTION: PAST/PRESENT. Taking relevant, concrete steps of remediation to intervene in the infliction of any more harm in the here-and-now, and to repair the damage that has already been done in the past and up through the present.

RELATIONAL. Seeking to engage in a constructive change process with all the parties involved. Due to the nature of the damage inflicted, this may have to be done one-to-one and not in a group setting – and letting the victims decide whether those who perpetrated and/or perpetuated the abuse are present or not.

PREVENTION: FUTURE. Taking relevant, concrete steps of restoration to make things right for the future, and to shift the system in order to prevent further infliction of harm.

COMMUNICATIONS. Responding in a timely way to people inside and outside the system who have legitimate questions. This includes reported victims and members of their support network, accused perpetrators and their representatives, members of the public and the press, and other shareholders and stakeholders.

DOCUMENTATION. Noting and archiving the entire consideration process and timelines involved, the conclusions, the concrete steps taken, the subsequent evaluations of progress, the responses of individuals with concerns and how they were addressed, the course corrections taken, etc.

This careful, transparent approach lays the foundation for dealing with systemic abuse by investigating the elements involving both malignant people and toxic systems. It’s not meant to be a game of “Gotcha!” But neither is the investigation supposed to drag out forever. When do you know you have enough information to proceed? That’s a crucial question. My answer is this: When you’ve unraveled the elements and connections enough to uncover the systemic infrastructures of abuse, not just identify the perpetrators and accomplices of abuse.

“Spotlight”: An Example of Research for Repentance and Reparations

Here’s an example from the 2015 Academy Awards Best Picture winner, Spotlight:

In the movie Spotlight, then-editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, talked about disclosure based on the purpose of the team’s research. At one point, they had enough to go with a story about child sexual abuse cases within the Catholic churches at Boston — and reporter Mike Rezendes was anxious to publish it. But Marty Baron forced them to wait, and keep working on the report a few more months. He knew the information they had already could stop one pedophile priest. But, if they wanted to prevent future child abuse, not just intervene in past abuse, they needed more in order to publish a story about the system that was covering up these cases involving as many as 90 priests.

So, it took about seven months total before the Spotlight research team hit the systems disclosure threshold. They published their initial mega-story on January 6, 2002, and their phones were busy constantly — mostly with leads from other victims. The Boston Globe followed up with over 600 articles and individuals’ personal experiences over the course of that year, and several hundred more the year after that.

It may have been emotionally satisfying to have published sooner and outed the one priest, Father Geoghan. But, think of the far more positive and widespread impact worldwide of having deconstructed the whole system that shuffled around pedophile priests. For what happened to Cardinal Law and his diocese after the reports were published, see the book on which Spotlight was based, Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church, by the investigative staff of The Boston Globe. (Be sure to get the 2015 edition, which includes a Preface from the movie’s director Tom McCarthy and screenwriter Josh Singer; and an Afterward by The Boston Globe staff.)

However, it minimizes the damages done, marginalizes those victimized, and wrongly protects those responsible for incurring harm or accountable for its correction to:

  • Rush the process in order to give the appearance of “dealing with the problem.” Systemic abuse requires systemic solutions which are never quick fixes.
  • Not consider the past (i.e., fail to intervene; minimize the damages done), or the future (i.e., fail to prevent; minimize moving forward).
  • Fail to document the discernment process, decisions made, and actions implemented (or failures to do so), etc.
  • Fail to appropriately publicize the process, findings, and follow-through of solutions. For instance, attempt to keep the process private when the abuse occurred in public, or reveal inappropriate details publicly when the identity of victims should remain private.

System insiders may well have blind spots when it comes to observing, analyzing, and interpreting their situation. So, these processes may benefit from involving outsiders who have expertise to evaluate these aspects effectively, as well as discern how relevant the solutions are in relation to the damages done in and through the system. However, a warning: Do not rely on individuals or organizations to investigate when they have a bias toward the accused abusers, due to connections that involve family relationships, friendships, institutional ties, finances, or shared prestige (such as having recommended each others’ books, done conferences together, cross-listed each others’ ministries, etc.).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

1-3. What Does it Take on Both Sides

for Remediation Actions to Work?

I mentioned conciliation in the headline for section 1-2, but didn’t elaborate on it. I will here.

Like so many things in Christian living, the wisest dynamics involve a both/and paradox. Too often we split system solutions into either/or situations, and get into arguments about which ONE is right – when BOTH are actually required. Here are the two attitudes that I believe are essential to making remediation processes work.

  • Perpetrators and their defenders need to accept their personal responsibility with humility.
  • Victims and their advocates need to respond to offenders with a conciliatory spirit.

With these complementary attitudes joined together, the people who have been entwined in a system of abuse can work together in a transformation process that leads to a healthier system. This holistic process holds perpetrators, protectors, and promoters accountable for their deeds, but also offers hope that they will not face unending guilt, shame, and fear. (It does not guarantee, though, that they will be restored to a role of public influence.) And for survivors, their advocates, and activists, this process leads toward social justice, restored relationships, and removal of damaging power structures.

The latter — dealing with systems infrastructures — is especially important to survivors so that what happened to them will not continue happening to others. This is a common concern among spiritual abuse survivors. I believe it indicates that survivors “get it” about systems, at least at some level, whether they consciously know it or not because they see how people are interconnected and how evil infrastructures can corrode a system for the next generation.

System transformation doesn’t work when those who inflicted harm (or their defenders) shut down dialog and/or demand that they be treated with grace and mercy. That isn’t taking responsibility; it’s a denial of it. Such demands are a form of blame-shifting. They attempt to protect their privilege, position, and power – when those are what they used to perpetrate and perpetuate evil.

Likewise, it doesn’t work when victims (or their advocates) shut out what may be sincere attempts to make amends, and/or demand severe or specific punishments up front. That isn’t being conciliatory; it seems more vengeful and punitive, even if it may look like it’s protective and advocating for victims. But couldn’t it be seen as ultimately a perverse reversal of the Golden Rule, and suggesting that survivors should do to their abusers what was done unto them?

To draw out what is potentially the best from both parties in a dispute, it cannot be about power or punishment in either direction. Instead, it must be about humble compassion and restorative justice in both directions. No doubt about it, this is difficult to work through – but what does “blessed are the peacemakers” mean, if it isn’t about working together to bring Christlike redemption to situations of extreme brokenness?

However, conciliation does not mean being naïve. It does not mean there are no consequences to those who inflict harm and spiritually abuse others. Trust is earned, which means there will be ongoing evaluation of the state of change and status of progress. Those who are disqualified from public roles as thought leaders, ministry practitioners, etc., are not requalified by the forgiveness of those they harmed. Restoration to a role of influence is never guaranteed; disqualification from leadership may be permanent.

What a holistic systems transformation process does mean is that people who have been divided by evil can find appropriate reconciliation strategies if they come to the table with their conscience touched and with a sense of compassion toward the others engaged. It will not work without both humble acceptance of accountability, and a conciliatory spirit.

I believe these complementary attitudes represent what I’ve observed in people I would consider what the gospels call, “people of peace.” They welcome others and show hospitality, while also have a justice streak that is set on edge when someone misuses power or position to marginalize people or otherwise harm them.

But what does real-world remediation/repentance look like, especially when it’s led by such persons of peace? How can we see what it takes in both attitudes and actions to accomplish restoration? Part 2 gives three examples — one dealing with a product, one with a denominational organization, one with a social system.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Fotolia Image Licensing:

Figure #2-02: Summary Chart: Seven Elements in Organizational Systems. Images (c) Scott Maxwell / Fotolia, and licensed to Brad Sargent.

  • 2-1 #5908818 — Full Spectrum All For One One For All
  • 2-2 #5913433 — Full Spectrum Legal Meeting
  • 2-3 #5913763 — Full Spectrum Teamwork Help Up Golden Business Bar Graphs
  • 2-4 #5913662  — Full Spectrum Arrow Team
  • 2-5 #5908795 — Full Spectrum Teamwork Gears
  • 2-6 #5908842 — Full Spectrum Business Progress
  • 2-7 #5908754 — Full Spectrum Vote

Baby playing in a crib, #11960153 (c) Ruta Saulyte / Fotolia, and licensed to Brad Sargent.

17 thoughts on “UN-accountable: Case Study in Systems Analysis and Ministerial Accountability ~ Part 1, Systems”

  1. One of the key points in understanding systems is that each person makes decisions based on their limited understanding of the system. It is often the case that the actions at the individual level cause much of the destructive nature of the system. For example, given the two views of reconciliation, if individuals believe they see humility in the case of the perpetrator, then they may, based on limited information, try to force conciliation in the victim.

    With the PCA and other Westminster-based churches, their founding documents don’t consider abuse or domineering. They don’t really recognize bounds on authority, and as such, even if abuse of authority was recognized, it would be exceedingly hard to bring charges, because those sins must be articulated in their documents. That is why after years of spiritual abuse at Coral Ridge, even documented in newspapers, it was adultery and not abuse that took Tullian down. It takes gross sin or doctrinal error to be removed from authority in the PCA.

    I’ve also seen in these systems that leaders view accountability as a sinful lack of trust, so it is often the case that the first tier leaders refuse to hold the pastor or each other accountable and worse, they portray those who would as meddlers or insubordinate.


  2. If Tchividjian has confessed his behaviour as sinful, he will have been forgiven. Personally, I am profoundly sceptical (Prov. 28 : 13) that this has actually happened, but this is not the real issue.

    His behaviour has permanently disqualified him from any Christian leadership or teaching role. He is not the only one to avoid the implications of what he has done, hiding behind a cover of now ‘really knowing what grace and forgiveness are’. (cf Swaggart).

    There is enough credible information in the public domain on him that I think anyone who would join any church he may start is showing zilch discernment, and only have themselves to blame if history repeats itself and Tchividjian reverts to business as usual.

    Carl Trueman puts it better than I ever could:

    “We’ve had a couple of these [restored pastors] recently: high profile guys who have been caught in pretty serious sin, and then they have parlayed that into their Great Restoration Narrative, and they’re now available for public speaking. I’d want to say to those guys: sit down, shut up, and go away. Get yourself a proper job, pay taxes; we don’t want to hear from you again. Be a good member of your local church. Serve on the toilet cleaning roster or something. We don’t want you as a public speaker, and we don’t want you parlaying your drunkenness or your adultery or whatever into the greatest comeback since the resurrection. We don’t want that. We don’t need that. And you call into question by doing that the genuineness of your repentance, because it doesn’t seem that you understand quite how far you fell.

    I absolutely believe in grace. But I do not believe that restoration to fellowship is the same as restoration to office or authority. They’re two distinct things.”


  3. I find Trueman pretty dismissive. There are great places in the kingdom for hard working people like Tullian. He could even be given a subordinate leadership position like Sabbath School teacher, operations director or the like. I think he has lost his ability to counsel or preach or have an authoritative position. While I don’t think cleaning toilets should be a thankless, menial job, Trueman is certainly suggesting that.

    “…showing zilch discernment”

    Yes, in a sense, but remember that narcissists are skilled at dividing people. There are enablers, victims, sycophants, neutrals and naysayers. Within the first four months at Coral Ridge, Tullian had created a support network of enablers and sycophants, used them to remove the naysayers from power and even bar them from church property. The vast majority of people are going to be neutrals who have no real reason to see why he was deposed. The enablers and sycophants will probably follow him because they’re getting positive feedback from their relationship.

    Also, as I’ve been saying, the PCA puts a lot of emphasis on pastoral authority, so members are already somewhat groomed to see the pastor as a messenger from God, despite these “minor” infractions. When the church wrongly teaches special deference and grace for pastors, it’s hard for them to subsequently say, ‘but now, the time for that grace is over!’ It sounds arbitrary and spiteful.

    I believe most of the NAPARC churches hold that the pastor is NOT a member of the local church, but is primarily a member of the presbytery. As such, the local church leadership board cannot hold him directly accountable. They can only bring charges in the higher court – where it is generally the good old boys network. For him to be deposed, it probably means that there was no way for him to deny or evade the charges. If I recall correctly, some of his sycophant elders (who knew about his adultery and covered it up) also went down with him.

    “Dubocq also told CP that they are praying for Tchividjian’s restoration and said he could still be a minister if he went through an acceptable process of repentance.”


  4. “If Tchividjian has confessed his behaviour as sinful, he will have been forgiven.”

    I agree, but I find it interesting that Jesus says, ‘leave your gift at the altar’ and ‘be reconciled with your brother’. So, Evangelicals have this focus on seeking forgiveness from God, but I think God is saying that forgiveness is multi-faceted and includes recognizing the effect of that sin on the person wronged.

    A fuller picture is ‘repentance’. It is the repentant person who is forgiven, and that is the person who acknowledges the depth of their sin, the harm it has caused them, others and God, and truly desires to turn away from it. It is obvious from the article that Tullian still refuses to acknowledge the full extent of the harm he caused. He refuses to admit that he was abusive, and he used his position of trust to manipulate a woman, through counseling, to have sex with him.

    As I said, the PCA has turned a blind eye to pastoral abuse.


  5. Mark – I think in this instance Trueman was right to be dismissive. These celebrity failures in ministry do immense harm both to anyone they have abused, and to the cause of Christian evangelism. Extending grace and forgiveness is fine, but not sympathy, what they have done is terribly wrong.

    You may well have to judge individual cases and circumstances, but many serious failures are such that you can never go back to a position as though the offence had never been committed.

    When Trueman talks of the toilet cleaning roster, what you might call a new loo rôle (as it were), he is getting at the need for fallen pastors both to serve and get out of the public eye, where there is no chance of stoking up their former celebrity status, or risk another very public shipwreck when it all goes wrong again.


  6. “Extending grace and forgiveness is fine, but not sympathy, what they have done is terribly wrong.”

    I was on a path to becoming an elder in my abusive church. Now that I look back, I wanted to be an elder because (1) elders had value and worth in my church and family, and (2) I felt intellectually superior to others and I thought I could ‘purify’ church doctrine. I think I could have done “great damage to the church” in that situation. These desires were, in seed form, a narcissistic desire to use positional authority to receive honor and respect from people, and to potentially control them.

    It’s the theology of guys like Trueman that sets this stage. When Tullian was an ordained PCA minister, excommunicating his opponents and preaching about cheap grace, the Trueman’s of the world were talking him up, probably from the typical pastor = authority to be obeyed perspective. When he fell, the Trueman’s of the world say he’s essentially worth nothing to the church.

    Keep in mind that their dismissiveness is not unique to Tullian. You see, Tullian is just a person in a box. When that person is in the “pastor” box, then he is “Gawd’s Ordained Servant” and must be obeyed by his congregants. The only people qualified to question, challenge or confront him are his ordained peers in the “pastor” box. Whatever ‘damage’ Tullian caused at Coral Ridge by appointing his own boards, kicking people out of the church and the like, is to be expected, because he’s “God’s Ordained”.

    Now that Tullian is no longer a pastor, you might be tempted to think that the scorn and dismissiveness is deserved and whatever, but keep in mind that this is simply Tullian being reassigned from the “pastor” box to the “congregant” box. So, Trueman’s dismissiveness of Tullian is, in fact, his dismissiveness of all non-ordained church members.

    Now, hopefully, you understand why every little Reformed boy who grows up in an authoritarian congregation desires to be an elder. There is no middle ground. Either you’re “God’s Ordained Servant” – worthy of worship, unquestioned obedience and honor, or you’re someone who should be cleaning toilets for the kingdom. I bet Tullian grew up completely steeped in this learned narcissism, like I did, and he never had God step in and kick him off that path, like I did. While I see him completely disqualified to hold church office, and, at this point, an unrepentant sinner, I don’t think the solution (I’ve written about this elsewhere) is to become the Holy Spirit and try to make his life a living hell so that he does repent.


  7. @Mark

    It could be said that Tullian had the proverbial “Billy Graham complex.”

    That religious empire has earned “big bucks” using our LORD’S Name in vain for personal power/authority, money, fame and personal glory.

    Is this what the Gospel of Jesus Christ represents…….a religious empire?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. @Katy, I’m not really familiar with Billy Graham’s ministry. I gave boxes for Operation Christmas Child and get their magazine now, and it’s pretty clear that Franklin Graham has some pretty serious narcissism. Tullian seems pretty similar, but is that Billy Graham’s legacy, or the legacy of growing up in the cult surrounding him?

    I just prefer to look at this from the perspective of the system pushing behaviors and personality on the people, rather than evil people manipulating the system. In Tullian’s case, I think it was both – I believe the evidence shows that he removed himself from the systems put in place to provide accountability and created systems that hid his sin. Both his elder and his mentor knew about his adultery, but did not hold him accountable.


Thanks for participating in the SSB community. Please be sure to leave a name/pseudonym (not "Anonymous"). Thx :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s