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 3, Industrial Complex

In terms of the number of people Tullian Tchividjian was responsible/accountable to at some level during that five-year period [2012-2016] … there were over 150 individuals in at least 10 institutions who had direct connections with Tullian Tchividjian as his superiors, peers, or subordinates. And yet, it seems nobody could keep him from his two extramarital sexual involvements he has already admitted to (after they were discovered or disclosed), or from his reported predatory/seductive behavior patterns, or from his reported multiple failures to tell the full truth.

Why? What was happening (or not happening) here with accountability? What dynamics were going on with the individuals and institutions involved, such that someone with what turned out to be such distinctive (in my opinion) patterns of deception, manipulation, and seduction could get by for so many years before his sins were evident?1

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

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Breaking chain

“Broken Chains” masthead designed by Ryan Ashton.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


Elements in the “Industrial Complex” System

Surrounding Tullian Tchividjian

(c) Brad Sargent


  • 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

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

3-1. Introduction

Parts 1 and 2 dealt with some key frameworks to understand systems in general and situations where systems and the people in them cause harm. Part 3 looks at a more specific type of system that typically leads to manipulation and abuse — the “industrial complex.” This is an interconnected network of individuals and institutions that promote each other’s causes, and protect one another’s interests. So, while seeking to benefit their own network members, somewhere along the line, it’s at the expense of non-members. The cost to outsiders gets multiplied when there are malignant insiders who manipulate the industrial complex network.

The plan for Part 3 is to (1) overview general concepts related to an industrial complex, and then (2) list the most prominent elements in the industrial complex that has surrounded Tullian Tchividjian. (Let me note right up front that just because I mention some person, program, or organization, that doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong with them. Going back to the definition of systems, it’s the kind of connections and whether they’ve been corrupted that can be a problem.)

At least in theory, some of these member individuals and institutions have built-in processes and formal procedures for enforcing accountability (consequences) on Mr. Tchividjian for his actions. Others didn’t/don’t have formal authority over him, but could informally challenge him to take responsibility. But, all together, there are multiple connections with formal authority and/or informal influence in place to hold Mr. Tchividjian accountable. So, the most crucial question that will remain is this:

With overlapping layers of personal, professional, and contractual responsibility, how did Mr. Tchividjian continue his harmful behaviors without any apparent accountability except when his sins were made public?

Part 4 explores some of his apparent patterns that illuminate that question, and Part 5 concludes this series with my analysis of various elements in the industrial complex and how their accountability systems relatively worked or didn’t.

For those interested in more detail about the underlying dynamics at work here, there are links at the end of the article for further reading on how someone goes about creating this kind of system, how they shift it into a celebrity consumer culture that people can get trapped in, and how those outside the organization can still end up perpetuating its harmful influence and control.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

3-2. Introducing the Concept

of an “Industrial Complex”

Historical Roots of the Concept

A topic that’s been coming up more frequently on spiritual abuse survivor blogs the past few years has to do with the “Christian Industrial Complex,” or some variation thereon, such as the:

  • Evangelical Industrial Complex.
  • Emergent Industrial Complex.
  • Resurgence Industrial Complex.
  • Patriarchal Industrial Complex.

These are contemporary versions of the concept of a Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech in January 1961. I’d describe the Military-Industrial Complex as:

a gridlock of military, political, and business interests that form a self-benefiting association of preferential relationships that ultimately go against the public interest. This network also has an interlocking directory, where an insider from one entity will end up working in or for another institution in the complex — such as the retired military officer who becomes either a consultant for a weapons manufacturer or a Congressional lobbyist.

So, an “industrial complex” is a type of institution, only it’s a multi-member network instead of just a stand-alone organization. An industrial complex focuses on the larger system of an organizational “interlocking directory,” where the same set of people have extended personal influence and decision-making power within a wide range of social endeavors and business ventures.

Bringing the Concept Up-To-Date

Back 40 years ago, the basic list for identifying an industrial complex was for overlapping goals and roles in: business, media, non-profits, and politics. Given the decentralized and digital nature of connections in our current era, the media element has changed because of pervasive social media. But otherwise, the breakdown of those with undue power is relatively the same. Today’s secular industrial complex member matrix could include:

  • Academia and other educational organizations and programs
  • Associations and networks of connections around similar interests.
  • Businesses, brands, events, and marketing.
  • Media and marketing platforms – traditional/conventional and emerging/digital social media platforms.
  • Political influence, justice work, and social dissent aimed at cultural transformation.
  • Philanthropic endeavors – conventional non-profits and foundations, and emerging crowd-sourced and social-benefit organization and business equivalents.

In a Church-based situation, an industrial complex also includes thought leadership in theology and role modeling in ministry. Depending on the theology, church/ministry may replace the element of political influence, justice work, and social dissent.

It’s not difficult to apply the concept of military industrial complex to Christendom versions. Religious industrial complexes involve interdependency of power dynamics for the people they most benefit, through their partnerships in publishing, speaking events, formal training, informal teaching, mentoring, non-profits, ministry start-ups, celebrity-making, and marketing. So, all of the above elements in an industrial complex exist in the parallel (and often intertwined) worlds of Church and community versions.

Taking Things into the Future

I’ve stated several times that an industrial complex is a type of institution. Some social researchers and organizational developers have described an institution as a social organization or business enterprise that lasts beyond two generations. In terms of strategic foresight  (futurist) issues, my interest is more particularly how that institution goes forward:

Does it merely survive into the future by passing on the same legacy with expectations of conformity to the original purposes? (That is the essence of an organization becoming institutionalized – so inflexible that it binds future generations to what turns out to be an irrelevant mission in their times.)

Or does it become sustainable by training next generations to use the legacy with flexibility as they discern their own times and cultural necessities, and act within the spirit the founders intended?

In attempting to get to and through a second generation of leadership, an organization, industrial complex, or movement becomes an institution through a series of indispensable partnerships, contracts, and collaborative efforts.

But what happens when there are people with pathologies in the mix, or the organization is riddled with sick systems, or the collaborations create a toxic impact? What does that mean for the future?

How Things Have Changed for Christian Celebrities

In the past 20 years of the American Church’s history, many of the values, missions, and visions have remained relatively the same in terms of Kingdom culture. But, with the boom in technology, things have definitely expanded in terms of how ministry can be engaged in, who gets involved, where, when, and how long.

The older culture was a scale along a spectrum that had (1) “attractional” (bring them in) and (2) “incarnational” (we go out) ministry models as polar opposites. A more contemporary culture has a triangular pyramid that includes those two points, plus (3) “virtual” (minister via media and on social media) and (4) “entrepreneurial” (social/cultural transformation endeavors). Having four points means we can create a three-dimensional graph to map out the relative combination of these four elements for a denomination, church, or ministry — or a person.

I think if we did this for a who’s who of well-known Christians age 50 and under, we’d see that a lot of influential people have a larger following online than in person. Their presence is more virtual than it is actual, in brick-and-mortar entities in church or community, regardless of whether those are attractional, incarnational, or entrepreneurial. This becomes important for at least two reasons in the case of Tullian Tchividjian.

First, because he is known for his intensive use of social media. Print media and social media are where many laypeople end up feeling like they virtually know a public figure, when in fact they at best only know what is presented about him or her. They feel a connection to the actual person, but it’s really just a connection to his/her virtual persona. And yet, such emotional connections become part of the net that unscrupulous celebrities can use to draw in and ensnare followers to feed their own narcissistic needs.

Second, because so much of what has unfolded about his behaviors and character has eventually found its way onto social media. When you capitalize on your celebrityship, you are a public figure. These days, this almost guarantees that the good, the bad, and the ugly will emerge online. And what’s there can rarely be erased. So, although it was relatively easy early on for Mr. Tchividjian to “control the narrative” even in the midst of public revelations of scandal, the accumulation of evidence has made it less possible for him to do that any longer.

With that in mind, let’s look into the system of individuals and entities that make for an industrial complex, and list who or what has surrounded Tullian Tchividjian in each category.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

3-3. Going a Level Deeper –

And Listing Connections to Tullian Tchividjian

Let’s consider a deeper level of description for the various categories, and then I’ll give an initial bare-bones bullet-list to introduce key individuals, networks, and institutions linked with Tullian Tchividjian. Most listed are from 2012 through 2016, as his actions over the past five years have been under the most scrutiny. Also, appearance on a list does not mean the connection is still intact, or imply that those mentioned are necessarily tainted or toxic — simply that they turn out to be major figures in the unfolding of events. Part 5 includes details about each entry in these categories. Also, to track various entities or historic events, see the Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Academia, Seminaries, Training Programs

This category includes both formal and informal education, training, and mentoring. Educational institutions have long been a place where friendships and business connections are forged. Understandably, degrees from particular schools carry a certain prestige. But in a Christian industrial complex, academia offers a critical component for people with a particular theological perspective or ministry movement – a sort of authentication of message and certification of messenger through roles they play in teaching and mentoring. There are other formal and informal contexts for learning that also carry weight, such as church-planting trainings, community development mentorships, internships, etc.

Reformed Theological Seminary where Mr. Tchividjian was a graduate in May 2001, and later, a visiting professor of theology.

Church planting assessment system for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination and his New City Presbyterian Church plant, begun in 2003.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Associations and Networks

Where two generations ago there were national and fraternal organizations (like The Elks, Sons of Norway, The Moose Lodge) with local chapters, now there are now many kinds of formal and informal networks based on common interests, values, and goals. Some of these more recently emerging connections depend on technology tools and virtual profiles. However, decentralized and digital connections are not the same as local and personal interactions. Simply because people sign on with a network where they supposedly share the mission and vision, that says little about their personal qualifications to wield influence. These kinds of networks have been likened to “informal franchises.” They frequently do not have consistent processes or procedures for “discipline” of those who do not fit their organization’s profile or whose character and behavior come into question.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is an informal network for theological and ministry concerns of those with a more Reformed, Calvinist, and Neo-Calvinist theology. Mr. Tchividjian was part of TGC until 2014, when he departed earlier than was planned due to controversies.

Acts 29 Network is an association of church planting churches, mostly with a Neo-Calvinist theology, and Mr. Tchividjian has been involved with some of their events.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Businesses, Brands, Events; Media and Marketing Platforms

The world of mass marketing used to rely on “conventional media” – printed newspapers and magazines, a few TV broadcasting companies, radio, lecture tours. The digital era has flipped much of that to niche marketing that requires authors, speakers, and other “celebrities” to develop a platform – a following of people they have enough common ground with to keep their celebrityship following intact, if not growing. This tends to use more social media systems where virtual membership (like / follow / friend) is about consuming whatever platform and products some celebrity creates rather than indicating any kind of personal relationship. “Cool by association, not direct relation.”

So, for a public figure trying to continually expand his/her platform, this is ultimately about selling a brand through digital domains, with a virtually projected persona profile that appears in sound bites, text bites, or video bites (e.g., eBooks, blog articles, direct messages, podcasts, YouTube or Vimeo videos, Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc.). Connections with people who are likewise connected improves platform development — everyone who’s “in” commends one another to help keep their publicity boat afloat, too.

Book publishers: Crossway, David C Cook, and Multnomah. In addition to publishing books by Mr. Tchividjian, two of these also published books in which he wrote the foreword – Crossway (Elyse Fitzpatrick and Justin Buzzard) and David C Cook (David Frost). Sealy Yates was his literary agent for at least one of his books from David C Cook.

At one time, he was a contributing editor for the now defunct Leadership Journal.

Mr. Tchividjian has been very active (until recent years during his series of scandals) with verified public figure accounts on Twitter (and currently has 106,000 followers) and Facebook (currently over 15,500 page “likes” and page followers). Note: Social media platforms use verified accounts to confirm or certify that the account owner is the actual public figure, media celebrity or company, brand, etc., that it claims to represent.

He had been active with media, events, and resource entities like Pirate Christian (radio, podcasts, blog, conferences, etc.) with Chris Rosebrough at the helm, and Christ Hold Fast resource site, and network conference. Contributors there include: Elyse Fitzpatrick, RJ Grunewald, Matt Popovits, Donovan Riley, and Dominick Santore.

ExPastors.com writers Greg Atkinson and Bo Lane published several significant articles about Mr. Tchividjian, and one article by him, in September and October 2016.

Hunter Frederick is a crisis management specialist and PR agent who worked for Mr. Tchividjian following his being fired from Willow Creek Church in March 2016.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Ministry Platforms

Presbyterian churches and denominational structures (such as church Sessions and regional Presbyteries) have played particularly important roles in the unfolding situation of Tullian Tchividjian. They have been key sources of supervisors over him, and peers and subordinates to him. Several other ministers and ministry organizations have also played key roles.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). This is the denomination behind the 2003 church plant Mr. Tchividjian led – New City Presbyterian Church – that merged with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 2009.

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). This is the denomination that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (where he was Senior Pastor from April 2007-June 2015) and Willow Creek Church (where he was on staff August 2015-March 2016/not associated with Willow Creek Community Church) are in communion with. The PCA South Florida Presbytery removed his ministry credentials, August 11, 2015. The Willow Creek Church Session, where Kevin Labby is Senior Pastor, was involved in his firing, March 2016.

Paul Tripp is a counselor (D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary) and a friend of Mr. Tchividjian’s, whom he apparently substituted for the recovery oversight plan established by the South Florida Presbytery. Mr. Tripp posted a public statement on August 26, 2015, that Tullian’s marriage was “irreparably broken.”

Steve Brown of Key Life Network is a pastor, conference speaker, and author, with two radio programs. He emphasizes grace, and the Key Life website slogan states, “God is not mad at you.” As a sort of “father-figure and confessor” to Tullian Tchividjian, Mr. Brown reportedly knew confidential information about an earlier incident of adultery by Mr. Tchividjian, which he kept secret.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Philanthropic Enterprises/Non-Profit Organizations

Forms of non-profits and similar types of enterprises “for the public good” have been in the process of morphing over the past few decades. But two that Tullian Tchividjian was involved with functioned like conventional non-profits. Both had similar values, vision, and goals. Both focused on conferences, media, and resources. The first was run through Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and was an organic part of their organization. The second was launched as an independent non-profit.

LIBERATE (often typed in all caps) was part of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church from 2012-2015. It had an annual conference, and produced a radio broadcast and many kinds of resources.

Liberate Network, Inc., was a non-profit relaunch in February 2016 of the functions that had been done by the then-defunct Liberate arm of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. It started with nine board members: Dr. Chris Crawford, Mrs. Barbara Juliani, Rev. Matt Popovits, Rev. Kevin Labby, Mr. Peter Ouda, Ms. Lana Trombly, Mr. Dwayne Williams, Ms. Catherine Wyatt, and Rev. Dr. Paul F.M. Zahl. Five of its original nine board members resigned March 16, 2016, after disclosures of additional inappropriate relationships and other issues related to Mr. Tchividjian. On March 18, the remaining board members reported they canceled the forthcoming 2017 Liberate conference and would be shutting down the organization.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

3-4. Summary: The Key Problem

That the Research Details Demonstrate

You’ll find a substantial amount of detail in Part 5 on individuals and entities in the various domains of this industrial complex. But, if nothing else, it should have a strong impact to see how large an interconnected network that Tullian Tchividjian has had around him. I will address the key problems of responsibility and accountability in Part 5 of this series. But, I want to introduce them here, where you have the opportunity to get a snapshot of the extensive system of individuals and institutions surrounding Tullian Tchividjian.

As best as I can determine, for the number of people Tullian Tchividjian was responsible/accountable to at some level over the past five years [2012-2016], he had in place at least:

  • 4 ministry and media networks (peers),
  • 7 teaching elders and 15 ruling elders (peers), and 34 deacons and 34 staff members (subordinates) at CRPC,
  • 50+ fellow members of his local presbytery (peers, until this deposition trial turned them into his superiors),
  • 2 ruling or teaching elders and 2 other pastoral staff (supervisors), and 11 staff members (peers or subordinates) at WCC,
  • 2 counselors/mentors (supervisors),
  • 3 publishers and 1 literary agent (supervisors),
  • 9 non-profit board members (supervisors),
  • Over 120,000 social media followers and fans (subordinates),

So, excluding the social media fans/followers, there were over 150 individuals in at least 10 institutions who had direct connections with Tullian Tchividjian as his superiors, peers, or subordinates. And yet, it seems nobody could keep Tullian Tchividjian from his two extramarital sexual involvements he has already admitted to (after they were discovered or disclosed), or from his reported predatory/seductive behavior patterns, or from his reported multiple failures to tell the full truth.

Why? What was happening (or not happening) here with accountability? What dynamics were going on with the individuals and institutions involved, such that someone with what turned out to be such distinctive (in my opinion) patterns of deception, manipulation, and seduction could get by for so many years before his sins were evident?

The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. ~ 1 Timothy 5:24 (New American Standard Bible, via Biblegateway)

How did individuals and institutions in this industrial complex get hoodwinked by Tullian Tchividjian – or were they?

How did they protect, promote, and perpetuate his false persona – whether because they were deceived by him or not?

How have they responded to the accounts – many with substantive detail and documentation – of at least five women claiming he victimized them relationally and/or sexually?

What can be done to intervene in, or even move toward prevention, of situations like this in the future?

Those are questions for Part 4.: Types of Accountability and Patterns for How They Were Avoided.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

3-5. For Those Interested in More

Some of the classic research behind the concept of the Military Industrial Complex comes from The Power Elite, by C. Wright Mills (2000, New Edition; Oxford University Press. Originally published in 1956.). This was often used as a textbook or reference in college political science and political sociology courses in the 1970s. Though it’s dated, there is also value in reading historically influential works like this one, written when analysis of a concept was still emerging. It provided a foundation for whatever analysis came after it.

Institutional: Christian Industrial Complex (Diagnosing the Emergent Movement, 2015). This tutorial has two sections of particular relevance to the Tullian Tchividjian situation:

How a Creative Counterculture Can Eventually Become a Consumerist Culture. This section overviews the process of how a dynamic new subculture with a populist participation can devolve into a gridlocked institutional that benefits an elite group, and others end up as accomplices or pawns.

Strategies and Structures that Increasingly Lock People into Institutionalized Systems. This section looks at strategies and structures that increasingly move toward locking people into toxic systems. This process starts with “bounded choice” that conditions people to orbit around an individual or entity, and escalates through an “interlocking directory” of elites who control what was once a dynamic movement, and into a “total institution” that controls most aspects of everyday interactions.

Futuristguy blog series from 2014 on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse, especially Section 1: Culpability, Complicity, and a Pyramid of Responsibility and Section 2: What’s the Big Picture of the Pyramid of Responsibility? (On futuristguy blog see also FAQs – Who are “Commenders” and how do they enable spiritual abuse perpetrators?)

This series lays out the contours and dynamics with individuals and institutions that end up harming those they were supposed to help. If each unhealthy organization has it’s own internal “pyramid of power” with malignant leaders and toxic infrastructures, think of an industrial complex as a mega-system string of interlocking pyramids. Within this mega-system, the people who are outsiders to any given organization’s pyramid can still be “commenders” who promote and protect that particular pyramid – and therefore keep promoting the entire mega-system. This doesn’t mean every individual or institution that’s associated with the mega-system is malignant; it does mean it’s easy for them to end up used as accomplices to use their resources to perpetuate the power of those who should be disqualified from roles of influence/authority over others.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

7 thoughts on “UN-accountable: Case Study in Systems Analysis and Ministerial Accountability ~ Part 3, Industrial Complex”

  1. The network effect is very powerful when it comes to preserving the status quo and preventing exposure. So, for example, Tullian wrote a foreword in RC Sproul Jr’s book. As long as Sproul was successful, they mutually benefitted from that relationship. People who liked Sproul’s book might buy Tullian’s. When Sproul became damaged goods, there is a potential that Tullian’s endorsement now turns against him – that is that people say, why would I buy Tullian’s book because he’s obviously not a good judge of character.

    So, the players in this huge system are all scratching each other’s backs and promoting each other and everyone benefits from those outside the system (the poor fools buying books written by abusers and adulterers). When some sin becomes evident, there are two approaches – one is to out the sin, which is seen as very risky to the network, because each connection becomes suspect as to whether they showed proper discernment. The other is to hide the sin, which preserves the network and the network benefits. There could potentially be another, which is to initially hide so that the various players in the network can be warned that something is going to happen, so that they can prepare for the economic fallout (e.g. Enron, Equifax).


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