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 2, Repair

What does real-world remediation/repentance look like? How can we see what it takes in both attitudes and actions to accomplish damage repair? This post gives three examples of remediation (repair work) — one dealing with a product, one with a denominational organization, one with a social system. Each is notable for seeking to engage in a constructive way parties who were directly involved, and in some cases those who were indirectly affected.

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

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Breaking chain

“Broken Chains” masthead designed by Ryan Ashton.

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Three Real-World Examples of

Systems Remediation/Repentance

(c) Brad Sargent


  • 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

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In Part 1, we looked at systems as a set of seven interconnected elements, and how those get corroded when there is systemic abuse. These are the definitions I presented:

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).

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.

I ended the last post with these questions about applying a systems framework to actual organizations or networks.

  • 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?

This post gives three examples — one dealing with a product, one with a denominational organization, one with a social system. Each is notable for seeking to engage in a constructive way parties who were directly involved, and in some cases those who were indirectly affected.

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2-1. Example #1 ~

Eerdmans Publishing:

A Project/Product with Individual and Institutional Impact

“Thought leaders” and other public figures frequently spread their ideas by teaching workshops, giving interviews, posting on social media, and writing books. With the whole concept of “platform” that has developed in the digital technology era, these people become celebrities and they become a product that is consumed by the public. That is the current way of things.

But there is a kernel of a problem therein: What happens when a celebrity’s character and behavior disqualify him/her from having a role of influence – at least, according to moral and ethical standards related to “do good plus do no harm”? For instance, if you were head of a publishing company and one of your authors acknowledged incidents of adultery with multiple women, what would you do? Or if one of your authors was accused of plagiarism, and evidence proved it to be true, what would you do?

During a Facebook conversation about these kinds of issues, my friend, Jonathan McCormick, who works as a seminary lead librarian, chimed in. He suggested that publishers have three options for dealing with books of authors who end up in disrepute due to character issues and/or misconduct:

  1. Openly defend their author as if nothing is wrong.
  2. Quietly take the author’s book(s) out of print, perhaps selling out the last of the stock.
  3. Openly recall the book(s) and destroy the copies.

Jonathan mentioned that the third option rarely happens, and typically happens when there are ethical violations (such as plagiarism). He gave as an example of “the nuclear option” what happened in August 2016 with Eerdmans Publishing Co. They had to deal with three Bible commentaries by Peter T. O’Brien that allegedly misused secondary source material. Read their full statement and analyze it for specifics of how they addressed the seven parts of their publishing systems: people, principles, practices, partnerships, processes, products, and impacts. Their full statement is online here: Eerdmans Statement on Three New Testament Commentaries. (My analysis notes follow the screenshot.)

Eerdmans Statement on Three New Testament Commentaries ~ August 15, 2016
Eerdmans Statement on Three New Testament Commentaries ~ August 15, 2016

Here’s what I see in how they chose to remediate the situation and restore confidence, in terms of the seven elements in systems — people, principles, practices, products, processes, partnerships, and impacts. Eerdmans undertook a multi-step systems approach within six weeks of receiving the allegations of misuse of sources/plagiarism. They:

  • Investigated and made a determination on the three books according to academic and ethical standards (products, principles).
  • Gave the author an opportunity to respond (people).
  • Issued an public apology from the head of the company for the negative impact of these products (impacts).
  • Stopped sales on those books (products).
  • Removed and destroyed their copies (practices, products).
  • Offered credit to individuals and businesses who’d purchased them (processes, people, partnerships).
  • Reiterated their ethical/quality control standards to the range of individuals involved in their publishing processes (practices, partnerships, processes).
  • Stated their openness to media and others who had questions (people, principles, processes, impacts).

I may have missed something, or interpreted the statement slightly different from how others might, in terms of systems solutions. But, overall, I don’t see how they could have done things any better. Their intentionality and comprehensive set of solutions show significant integrity and transparency in dealing with these proven situations of plagiarism. And they addressed concerns of all seven elements in their publishing system.

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2-2. Example #2 ~

The Holistic, Systems Example of the Mennonites:

Dealing with Sexual Harassment and Abuse

by Top Denominational Theologian, John Howard Yoder

On the issue of authors and “moral turpitude,” one of the most impressive situations of repentance and repair work — from a systems point of view — happened in the Mennonite denomination a few years ago. The denomination and their publishing arm decided to deal rather thoroughly with the destructive personal and institutional legacy of sexual harassment and sexual assault of women by one of their premiere theologians, John Howard Yoder. His book, The Politics of Jesus (first edition circa 1972), became profoundly influential and it is still used as foundational to Anabaptist pacifist theology on social involvement.

I read it as part of a campus Christian group in the very early 1980s. Already even then, I occasionally heard there was this other, darker side to Mr. Yoder, with whisperings of his sexual harassment of women. That he was a professor and taught at multiple educational institutions made the situation more complex, in terms of potential problems with cover-up. As it turns out, he reportedly victimized over 100 women from the 1970s through early 1990s. Some of his victims spoke up, but no one believed them – at least, not at the time. However, they persisted and eventually were heard.

Most of the time, it seems like individuals who enable behaviors like Mr. Yoder’s sexual harassment don’t respond or take responsibility. So, perpetrators can hide behind an organization, positions, or prestige. In other words, they misuse the power of authority in the institutions they work for, and keep things hidden in the darkness that should and could be brought into the light.

There were some attempts in the 1990s by institutions Mr. Yoder was associated with to address system issues. But, these reportedly were not rigorous enough and didn’t seem to turn out particularly righteous or reparative. And so, the damage persisted.

It took more decades to act, but at least the Mennonite denomination eventually lived up to their theology of peace-making and reconciliation. They took many public steps over a three-year period toward making things right, from 2013 through 2015. These included the following actions:

  • Brought together a discernment group to listen and truly hear what was going on about sexual abuse and the church in general.
  • Investigated the scope of Mr. Yoder’s abuse and their denomination’s responses in specific.
  • Planned and implemented training seminars on sexual abuse.
  • Planned and held a unique worship “service of lament” surrounding the topic of sexual abuse.
  • Explored ways to support recovery and restoration among victims of abuse by church leaders — and not just those harmed by Mr. Yoder.
  • Drafted and issued denominational statements on sexual abuse.
  • Drafted and posted a statement about decisions they made regarding books by Mr. Yoder that their publishing division had published, about their findings on his sins of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, and how they intended to deal with putting their statements into any future publications of his works.

Check out at least the main page on “A Way Forward” from the Yoder situation and the very instructive FAQ page. There is also a lengthy list of news and links, and resources on dealing with sexual abuse. Analyze them for specifics of how they addressed the seven parts of their denominational systems: people, principles, practices, partnerships, processes, products, and impacts.

You may also want to check out the Mennonite Quarterly Review issue of January 2015. This was dedicated to dealing with sexual abuse. This link is to the table of contents, and it can be purchased here.

I believe this extensive process of “institutional repentance/remediation” shows that the Mennonites addressed both individual and institutional levels of responsibility and accountability, with remarkable candor and transparency. This was done after decades of far more than merely not listening — but, as survivors report, actively minimizing/silencing victims, covering up for John Howard Yoder, and failing to rehabilitate their organizational systems.

The denomination overall had been taken in by his power and prestige. It would’ve been easy for them to do nothing, to just stay embarrassed at being taken in and called out. But hiding the truth doesn’t make an individual or institution trustworthy; transparency is needed to restore trust when it’s been shattered.

The official Mennonite restoration actions provide an important example in considering systems for reconciliation. However, theirs was far from a perfect process. In studying their official records, I became aware of other angles on what they had done. They were critiqued along the way, and substantive questions remain about the processes used, whether some relevant people and perspectives were purposely ignored or even excluded, whether some outcomes should have been different or stronger.

While digging into this subject, I also became aware of multiple other institutions dealing with higher education, Christian ethics, theology, etc., that were wrestling with issues ranging from active cover-up to more passive complicity, with the ethics of using or not using resources he wrote, and how to address the damages done to individuals and to institutions. There are such complexities here that it does call for a much larger “spiritual MRI” and case study evaluation. I am considering whether I might be called to do that at some future time.

But for now, all of these potential insights and oversights are important to note. They demonstrate how the legacy of destruction caused by an abuser and the systems he/she co-opted continues to send forth ripples – and the waters will simply not still all by themselves.

And that has implications for the case of Tullian Tchividjian. Not only were there specific women whom he victimized, but scores of supposed friends whom he used. Then, there are literally tens of thousands of fans who drew help and hope from his sermons and writings. How much were they unknowingly tainted by his theology? They may find themselves wrestling with their formation and theology as they realize there is a broken legacy from his view of grace that he used for personal license to commit sins and do evil.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE EXAMPLE OF THE MENNONITES. There are usually far more than just the cliché “two sides to every story.” For the best interpretation of a situation, we need the broadest pool of information to analyze. So, I try to find other angles, other sources, in order to expand that pool of details from which we draw for analysis, interpretation, and practical implications. In this particular case, I found it applicable to other situations of abuse survival that:

  • We not forget the path by which we got to where we are, as if our current stance is where we’ve always been.
  • We need people who have the big picture in mind, who can challenge us along the way so we don’t get mired in details.
  • We need people who have the micro-picture in mind, who can challenge us along the way so we don’t get lost in symbols or gestures that leave key people out.
  • Rehabilitation does not act as if toxic actions of the past did not happen — a blissful sort of forgive-forget-ness — but instead moves us forward, mindful of the fact that they did indeed happen, that real people were harmed in the process, and that we are ethically bound to do what we can so the past is not reenacted in the present or the future.

These are points we need to contemplate in our own survivor communities, and also apply to the situation of Tullian Tchividjian in moving forward.

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2-3. Example #3 ~

A Social-Cultural-Political System Example:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

in Post-Apartheid South Africa

The past few years, I’ve explored the topic of apartheid in South Africa and the role that peace-making played in the 1990s. I’ve looked at how Nelson Mandela in particular sought to reduce enmity between the races there, and to forge a sense of one nation out of what had been a horrific race-based split. I’ve watched Invictus, including all the related special feature interviews, about how the 1995 Rugby World Cup became a symbolic center for uniting the nation. I’ve watched a related documentary, Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle.

In them I see deep lessons on both humility and having a conciliatory spirit, and how these two complementary attitudes can fuel peace-making efforts that embody “compassion, restraint, and generosity.” Those three qualities were absent under apartheid, according to a speech Mandela gives to his fellow black and coloured* South Africans in Invictus. And now, as their newly elected president, he hopes these qualities will be exhibited by the black and coloured majority toward the white minority. [*In South Africa, coloured is a term used of people from not-white, not-black backgrounds, e.g., Asian, South Asian, Pacific Island, mixed-race. See the link for their self-descriptions. When Gandhi worked as a lawyer in South Africa, he was considered coloured; there were many restrictions on them as well as on South African blacks.]

One social-political approach South Africa used to redress the realities of harm under 30-plus years of apartheid was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), an approach that has also been used in other countries where animosity and atrocities between people groups had occurred. According to the South African TRC website, their motto was: “Truth, the Road to Reconciliation.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created by the Government of National Unity to investigate and report on gross human rights violations committed between 1960 and 1993. It will also consider applications for amnesty by people who committed political crimes. The Commission will be in operation until December 1997.

The hope was that airing the truth of the mistreatment that happened under white domination would help ensure it did not happen again. The TRC hearings have been critiqued by some, lauded by others. But, they at least testify to holistic efforts made to bring peace to a troubled nation by involving people from all cultural sectors – religion, media, politics, police, etc. It also finally gave a chance for sharing the truth and for being heard – whether as a victim or as one who victimized.

Three thoughts emerged out of my studies into the abuses of apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s facilitation of a culture of forgiveness, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission practices that all ties together the issues of survivors, perpetrators, and the larger community.

First, it was clear to me that black South Africans sharing their stories was crucial for their healing as individuals, and reclamation of their dignity as a people group. They spoke of atrocities of violence committed on themselves, of family members tortured and murdered. They received catharsis that had been withheld from them by requiring they hold on to their narratives in silence, as if they and their loved ones were of no value. They reclaimed truth about what had been lost and dignity in who they were. Some were able to openly forgive their oppressors, including the specific individuals who had harmed them.

Second, the opportunity for amnesty gave others the chance to search their actions and clear their consciences of misdeeds that had brought great damage to others. I was startled as I watched excerpts from the TRC hearings and other interviews when white South African policemen and security agents described specific tactics of terror and torture that they’d used on black South Africans. Several whites also spoke of how their separation from blacks under apartheid was all they’d ever known, and that they’d believed it was right. And so they had been willing to commit themselves to its protection – including doing whatever it took to preserve their privileged way of life. Some were in visibly shaken by the realization of their life-long beliefs having inflicted such toxic impacts.

Third, now the nation knew both sides of their history and could not officially hide. Not everyone was keen on digging through the past; some thought it would just reopen wounds. However, a much fuller knowledge of the horrific truth had been laid out in public hearings and in printed materials and could not be retracted, even if someone then willfully chose to ignore it. But those investigations and hearings for justice were also part of a larger relational movement toward health and unity as a nation, and hope for a united future after decades of official apartheid that had followed over three centuries of subjugation of blacks and other races by white European settlers.

I think the TRC proceedings hold some stark and astonishing potential parallels to what we see in spiritual abuse survivor communities. As I have observed repeatedly in cases of spiritual abuse, when victims share their accounts of what happened, and are listened to respectfully and reflectively, there’s very often a significant transformation that takes place. Something fundamental changes.

For instance, when some who finally receive (or give themselves) permission to share their story, is that a moment when their identity shifts from an orbit around “victim” to a trajectory as “survivor”? Giving voice to truth fuels movement forward.

Sharing one’s experiences also becomes a forum in which the evidence shows that others were accomplices, whether they actively participated or passively benefited as bystanders, and they may begin to see the drastic impact of their actions. There is a difference between being responsible for something that happened, versus taking responsibility for our part in it. Hopefully, being confronted with other people’s very human stories of damage caused by the inhumane actions of perpetrators and those who protect/promote them sparks their conscience and fuels their trajectory toward taking responsibility.

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Parts 1 and 2 prepared the way for exploring system dynamics in the situation of Tullian Tchividjian. Part 3 explores the set of elements in the “industrial complex” that has surrounded his ministry, and Part 4 looks for patterns of how accountability is avoided. The series concludes in Part 5 with an examination of where accountability systems of overseers, peers, and subordinates broken down or broke through in attempting to hold him to account for his character and behaviors. Part 6 brings these materials and analyses from 2017 up-to-date with key developments from 2018 and 2019.

6 thoughts on “UN-accountable: Case Study in Systems Analysis and Ministerial Accountability ~ Part 2, Repair”

  1. I think this clarifies the fact that the PCA dealt with his situation as narrowly as possible. That is, a specific case of adultery, rather than dealing with the bigger picture of abusive leadership. For example, from the article, it appears that he created a ministry board to isolate himself from the session, and then used that to identify elders who saw the need to hold him accountable vs. those who would enable him. That quickly led to elders being forced to resign and removed from church property.

    This is clearly outside the bounds of how the Presbyterian bodies operate, and it puts the PCA church in the uncomfortable position of a broad investigation of the systems that allowed Tullian almost despotic power over the congregation, or a narrow investigation aimed at ‘getting rid of the problem’.

    I’m not sure what the PCA can do now anyway. Presumably, he walked out of the PCA as a member in good standing without ministerial credentials, found some church willing to accept him and re-establish those credentials, based on his ‘repentance’, and now he’s fully licensed to start a new church. It is close enough to Coral Ridge to draw his enablers who appear upset he was deposed in the first place.

    I think Presbyterian churches can have this accountable/unaccountable model. For example, I know of situations where church board decisions were overruled by the presbytery, and then came back to their churches and acted as if nothing had happened, or worse yet, acted as if the presbytery had agreed with them. Members are told how wonderful the system is that holds leaders accountable, but when members complain about abuse, they are driven into a system where the church leaders control the narrative. For example, members in the PCA have 60 days to complain against an action, but they have no right to be informed of that action. If they do decide to complain against the action, they must first file it with the local church board, which gives them time to manipulate the member, etc., before the case even goes to the higher court. In some similar situations, the complainant doesn’t even have the right to appear to the higher court in person. The defendant pastor and church leaders are given the ability to defend themselves and respond to charges, but for the complainant, only the official complaint can be heard. Often, I’ve heard, the pastor gets carte blanche to demean the character of the complainer with no possibility of cross-examination.


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