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 4, Accountability

It’s not the job of any supervisor, peer, or subordinate to prevent Tullian Tchividjian from sinning, whether he does so mildly or spectacularly. It wasn’t the role of his non-profit board, church sessions, publishing house legal departments, counselors, friends, etc. It’s not even possible. He himself is responsible for his own choices and their impact. However, these other people can hold him to account for them, and – hopefully – help him to repair what he has shredded apart and make amends where possible, because bestowing grace does not automatically erase the destruction caused by sin and evil.

But Mr. Tchividjian has to want to do that, and then choose to follow through. To date, as I believe his track record shows, taking responsibility and making amends does not seem to be of interest to him. In my opinion, here’s the core of why …

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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Types of Accountability and Patterns

for How They Were Avoided

(c) Brad Sargent


  • 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

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4-1. A Four-Fold Framework for Accountability

Since 2008, I’ve published 11 case studies or resource bibliographies on situations of spiritual abuse. At least three of the case studies took over 300 hours each to write — the BGBC lawsuit case, Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill, and Diagnosing Emergent — and together those three total over 150,000 words. I’ve also written maybe a dozen other shorter case studies that are unpublished, and tracked some more from abuse survivor communities. This almost 10-year process of research writing has definitely expanded my understanding of systems, and particular of different ways that people use to manipulate and dominate others.

It used to be that Bible passages about leaders provided the only category I used to evaluate whether a leader or organization was trustworthy or not. But as time went on, it became clear that not everything fit into those passages. Other kinds of issues were at the core of reported abuse of power by individuals, ministries, churches, and Christian non-profits. I needed an expanded concept framework with enough category cubbyholes to accommodate what was actually happening.

A catalyst to finalize my framework came in early May 2016, when Dr. David Fitch posted this on Facebook:

Moving from Christendom to mission requires that denominations allow conflicts to work out locally versus handing out edicts from above.

I responded that his statement sounded good overall, at least in terms of dealing with issues that were in the local context. However, it didn’t sit right when it came to overarching issues beyond suitable character and behaviors of the organizational leaders. So I mentioned the biblical requirements plus three other categories: civil, regulatory, and professional. Here’s what I wrote, with additional examples.

1. Evaluating leaders by the biblical standards for Christlike character and behavior – such as we see laid out in 1 Timothy 3, 2 Timothy 3, Titus 1 – the must-haves and can’t haves for those who hold roles of influence.

2. Fulfilling civil/legal responsibilities – like obeying the laws for clergy mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse, and not destroying evidence of possible wrongdoing.

3. Adhering to regulatory requirements for non-profits – such as financial accountability and transparency; governance that avoids conflict of interests; and not providing excessive benefits to board members, staff, or their family or friends.

4. Meeting professional standards of fiduciary duty – such as not getting into inappropriate relationships between pastor and parishioner, or counselor and client, or teacher and student. Also, fulfilling your contracts, avoiding negligence of duty to others you do business with, and maintaining appropriate confidentiality except when silence endangers others.

We can’t opt out of that first criterion, if we’re seeking to be Christians who follow Scripture. The second category, we can’t opt out of if we live in the U.S. The other two, we willingly choose to add on moral, ethical, and legal responsibilities when we opt in to non-profits and professional vocations.

But do you realize how many Christian leaders and their organizations try to evade any or all of the requirements found in these four categories? Their immoral, unethical, and/or illegal actions ultimately harm others, and that is why survivor communities exist – to help those victims recover, find their voice, and move forward in life.

From what I’ve observed, not addressing issues in this range of potential problems affects the trustworthiness of the individuals or congregation involved. Living out the criteria wisely and well is part of avoiding conflicts and legal problems. It also helps sustain a good reputation and ministry stance with those outside the Church.

And yet, training for church leaders often does not go deeply into specific of these four categories of requirements. No wonder churches end up having so many issues of abuse and negligence – in addition to the big three areas of trouble: money, sex, and power. We need to raise the bar and do all four right and righteously – or perhaps dismantle organizations where their members fail to do so.

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4-2. Tullian Tchividjian’s Responses

to Systems of Accountability

In Part 3 of this series, I noted that:

[E]xcluding 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 adulterous relationships 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?

Actually, it’s a trick question. It’s not the job of any supervisor, peer, or subordinate to prevent Tullian Tchividjian from sinning, whether he does so mildly or spectacularly. It wasn’t the role of his non-profit board, church sessions, publishing house legal departments, counselors, friends, etc. It’s not even possible. He himself is responsible for his own choices and their impact. However, these other people can hold him to account for them, and – hopefully – help him to repair what he has shredded apart and make amends where possible, because bestowing grace does not automatically erase the destruction caused by sin and evil.

But Mr. Tchividjian has to want to do that, and then choose to follow through. To date, as I believe his track record shows, taking responsibility and making amends does not seem to be of interest to him. In my opinion, here’s the core of why. Attempts to hold people accountable fail when you have someone who demonstrates being self-willed and therefore apparently:

Won’t cooperate with the system–as with South Florida Presbytery recovery-restoration care plan for Mr. Tchividjian’s recovery, after they removed his ministry credentials and he didn’t follow through with their plan.

Fakes cooperation with the system – as at Willow Creek Church, when they attempted to provide a job so he could provide for his family after his forced resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and reported follow-through turned out not to be true.

“Works the system” to subvert it to benefit and protect personal interests – as with his use of deflection, vague language, plausible deniability, and more – all of which remove primary responsibility/accountability from himself and put it on to other people.

So, if intervention by people in accountability systems won’t work for issues in the past and present, these individuals and institutions can make a difference for the future by putting in place better systems for prevention. That way, unqualified and disqualified people don’t get into roles of influence in the first place – like 1 Timothy 5:22 talks about:

Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin (1 Timothy 5:22, New American Standard Bible, via Biblegateway).

Preventive measures include ongoing evaluation and interception processes so that people at risk are identified, sidelined from roles of power and influence, and offered help before they inflict even more substantial damage.

With that in mind, let’s look at ways in which systems of accountability broke down (either from the side of Tullian Tchividjian, the entity involved, or both), and where they broke through – or at least tried to – for the best of all concerned.

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4-3. Subverting the System

In absorbing the details of the Tullian Tchividjian situation over the past 10 months [late 2016 through late 2017], there are credible accusations that some very peculiar things occurred amongst people who are apparently in his inner circles. These involve some who should have exercised oversight in his life (mentors, counselors, etc.), others who were peers (friends, fellow pastors), and others who were his subordinates (staff members, social media fans). (If you want to check details for yourself, you’ll find descriptions and links for most of these in Part 5 and/or in the Resource Bibliography.

  • Steve Brown and two elders from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church withheld information that should not be confidential and the covering up of which potentially put other women at risk.
  • Paul Tripp, a counselor, disclosed information and opinions that should have been kept confidential about the Tchividjians’ marriage.
  • According to Rachel, Mr. Tchividjian reportedly asked a subordinate staff member in the I.T. department to erase evidence on the church server that revealed his relationship with her. This could be considered destruction of evidence.

Also, in piecing together the timelines of his acknowledgments of two situations of extramarital sexual involvements after they were discovered, the evidence indicates he failed to tell the full truth about all of his former adulterous relationships to his presbytery while employed at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and to his session while employed at Willow Creek Church. This apparently also applies to telling the full truth to other entities with a stake in his ongoing celebrityship, and to individuals who had defended him (like Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian). It seems they’ve only found out via online narratives of his reported victims.

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I think the above examples illustrate some of the key ways that systems of accountability and relationships in them failed to work in this situation. Here is my take on what is underneath those issues. And I would note up front that I see these as typical tactics of people who misuse their positions of influence and authority, so I will try to draw out the particular angle that deals with accountability. Basically, they’re attempts to silence the critics, transfer guilt/responsibility to the victims, and picture a pretense that things have already been made right.

Blur Boundaries

Boundary-blurring is at the core of creating dual relationships, where someone holds two potentially conflicting roles in your life. For instance, when those who are supposed to be superiors (overseers, mentors, counselors) or subordinates are treated like peers, the friendship clouds the relationship.

We consistently see people doing things for Tullian Tchvidjian that he could have done for himself, and that offer him plausible deniability. In other words, he can’t as easily be pinned with the responsibility for questionable actions, because he didn’t do them himself. (For instance, ask other people to defend him on social media.) And often, those who actually do the doing seem to be in some kind of dual relationship with him. However, the “favor” that they do, or are asked to do, crosses lines of civil responsibility or professional ethics, as shown by the list of examples earlier in this section. Thus, loyalty to an individual can take precedence over responsibility to the institution. Fanship or friendship can blind one to the larger issues of causing harm.

Flip Domains

Another way to remove legitimate scrutiny is to flip things to portray the opposite of what they should be. For instance, I believe this has happened when Mr. Tchividjian asserts that what has happened are “private issues” that shouldn’t be talked about in public. As an example of this tactic, see Mr. Tchividjian’s apology of November 23, 2016, on his public Facebook page, which begins thus:

Dear Friends,

Unfortunately public figures have to make public statements about matters that are very private. It’s never comfortable to deal with private issues publicly, but from time to time it is wise and necessary to do so.

Statements like this seem to implicitly argue that public allegations or information automatically constitute “gossip” or “slander/libel,” or otherwise are inappropriate for the public domain. He assumes they are “private matters,” yet he neglects to see how they direct affect his public credibility and, therefore, his trustworthiness. However, it seems clear enough through both imperatives and examples in the New Testament that those who sin in public should be called out in public. So-called private sins by public leaders have destructive impacts in both private and public realms.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20, New American Standard Bible via Biblegateway)

We have multiple biblical examples of this principle. For instance, see Galatians 2:11-21 for how Paul called out Peter “in the presence of all” (verse 14). And see 3 John 9-10 for how John – often termed the “Apostle of Love” – calls out Diotrephes. He does this first in a letter which was read in public. He also notes in it that, if he goes there himself, he will personally call attention to Diotrephes’ love of being preeminent, false accusations against others, inhospitality, etc. Love may legitimately cover a multitude of sins, but love also may legitimately chastise malignant leaders and false shepherds in order to protect the sheep.

Use Generalities

Generic apologies can become a way to avoid genuine accountability. By using vague language, one can make it sound like amends have been made, for instance, when in truth, no actions have been taken. Look again at Mr. Tchividjian’s apology of November 23, 2016, on Facebook, this time, the middle section of it:

As I have previously said both publicly and privately, I am guilty of, and I continue to grieve, some decisions I’ve made, some things I’ve said, and people I’ve hurt throughout my entire life, but specifically in 2014 and 2015. I wish I could go back in time and do those things differently. I can’t. Where I have been able to make amends for hurt that I have caused, I have attempted to do so. In most cases, amends have been made and in some cases they haven’t. All I can do (and have been doing) is to learn from the past and live in the present. I am very grateful for the small group of wise and godly people who are (and have been) walking through this meticulously with me. I am fully accountable to them and there is nothing that they do not know. I am now, and have been, focused on my relationship with God, my new wife Stacie, my three kids and one daughter in law, and my grandson.

As far as things that have been said and written about me (especially recently) some of them are true and some of them are absolutely false. There is nothing I can do about any of it. I cannot correct every falsehood and I cannot go back and right every wrong thing I’ve done or said.

From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry for the pain I’ve caused and the hurt I’ve induced and I humbly ask you to please forgive me.

This all sounds good, as if things have been or are being taken care of. That some people are overseeing his efforts. That he’s getting on with things, and is focusing on his family like he should. That he’s done his best at dealing with what’s appeared out there in the media about him, but it’s just kind of impossible to do it all. That he’s contrite and wants forgiveness. He presents a portfolio of repentancy-looking statements.

The problem is, if there are specific people supervising his efforts to make things right, no one seems to know who they are. And people who had supported and defended him apparently were not those he was accountable to “and there is nothing that they do not know” because within a few weeks, details and documentation came forth that none of them seemed to know. (More on that in Part 5.) And (at least to my knowledge) none of his self-acknowledged or other reported victims who have come forward seem to have heard anything from him or representatives about his making amends. Concrete actions seem to be missing. So, do nice words alone on social media count as remedies and accountability?

He posted his apology within two days after the account of “Lisa” was posted and the same day that account of “Kara” was posted. But that was still six days before the account of Rachel began being posted, and the timing on that was not finalized until the day her series began. And then, about two weeks after that, a third woman who was reportedly seduced by Tullian Tchividjian came forward with initial information about her relationship with him, which started in 2013. That is the year before the instances of his harming people that Mr. Tchividjian expresses regret over.

These narratives, filled with details and documentation, gave many specifics to deal with that cast doubt on Mr. Tchividjian’s general statements of apology, accountability, and repentance. Also, to my knowledge, none of these women has been contacted by Tullian Tchividjian to make amends. So, what come across in his statement as practices of making things right, seem to turn out to be mere platitudes. He may have evaded taking responsibility under a veil of having done so, but he cannot ultimately escape responsibility.

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4-4. For Those Interested in More

The most extensive materials I have published so far on issues of responsibility, repentance, and damage repair are in my series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse. Here are summaries of the parts in it, and the individual links are at the end.

Part 1. Questions of Culpability, Complicity, and Recovery for Spiritually Abusive Individuals and Toxic Organizations. Real-world problems in discerning what constitutes a toxic organization, who is a spiritually abusive leader, and what to do about them and others who keep a harmful system going.

Part 2A and Part 2B. The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems. When it comes to spiritual abuse, who has higher or lower responsibility/accountability and for what – whether they are leaders preaching from the pulpit, or people sitting in the pews, or outside individuals and organizations that keep a sick system propped up? This framework is based on my own experiences of malignant ministers and ministries. I suggest a pyramid of people playing 10 different roles in creating and perpetuating a toxic system that ultimately harms people, despite any good that its leaders or members may do. The 10 roles are sorted into layers of what I believe run from greater to lesser levels of responsibility – from higher culpability on the upper layers of the continuum, to higher complicity (“accomplices”) at the lower layers.

Part 3A. Taking Responsibility, Being Conciliatory, Exploring Just and Appropriate Remedy. People ARE responsible for abuse they inflict – but TAKING responsibility for the damage done is a different matter. This section moves from questions and initial ideas of how to organize observations, to figuring out relevant biblical concepts about levels of responsibility when things turn malignant in a ministry. It reviews the “Pyramid of Responsibility” and organizational roles involving culpability and/or complicity, and overviews cultural and organizational modes of blame-shifting. It concludes with an exploration of three main attitudes it takes to make “remediation” (remedy) plans work, and how that can tie perpetrators and survivors together in a redemptive process.

Part 3B through Part 3H. Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan.” The rest of the series presents a five-step framework for building a comprehensive “remediation plan” in the setting of what’s become a toxic organization. It lays out four Layers to consider: personal growth and recovery, peace-making in personal relationships, qualified leadership in the organization, and how to discern whether a toxic organization should even survive.

Steps 1, 2, and 3 develop a set of questions and concept frameworks to address recovery issues both for organizations that have become toxic and for the people who control them. It begins with a few key ideas for analyzing problem situations for patterns. Then it looks at a general continuum for thinking through how healthy or sick a person is, using analogies like injury triage, hospitalization, and recuperation. It extends that health/toxicity continuum analogy to parallel situations in organizational systems.

Steps 4 and 5 set up the frameworks to apply to four specific layers in a system that needs healing – whether the healing needed by leaders and organization is relatively slight, or all the way to very substantial.


  • Layer 1 – How to determine the levels of personal growth and recovery needed by leaders who harm others, regardless of how gifted they are or how much they help others.
  • Layer 2 – How to identify what levels of peace-making are needed in personal relationships where a leader has caused damage.


  • Layer 3 – How to ensure individuals qualified for roles to lead the organization stay, when those disqualified should be removed, and when/if they should ever be restored to a former position.
  • Layer 4 – How to discern whether an organization that is toxic can be repaired, or should not even survive.

Step 5 also includes a series of seven real-world case studies in ministries with toxicity problems. They are presented in order of increasing severity of relational and organizational issues to address, and with ever more likelihood of a need to be shut down completely (or probability of implosion, regardless of whether the group affected wants to dismantle it or not).

Here are links to the entire series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse.

Part 1 – Questions of Culpability, Complicity, and Recovery.

Part 2A – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems.

Part 2B – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems.

Part 3A – Taking Responsibility, Being Conciliatory, Exploring Just and Appropriate Remedy.

Part 3B – Steps 1-2-3 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan.”

Part 3C – Step 4 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan.”

Part 3D – Step 5, Overview. Dealing with Toxic Leaders Who Need Healing and Sick Organizational Systems That Need Repairing.

Part 3E – Step 5, Layer 1. Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Personal Issues.

Part 3F – Step 5, Layer 2. Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Interpersonal Issues.

Part 3G – Step 5, Layer 3. Affected Groups Need to Deal with Toxic Leaders.

Part 3H – Step 5, Layer 4. Affected Groups Need to Deal with Sick Organizational Systems.

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6 thoughts on “UN-accountable: Case Study in Systems Analysis and Ministerial Accountability ~ Part 4, Accountability”

  1. “And yet, training for church leaders often does not go deeply into specific of these four categories of requirements.”

    Our entire system is upside down. As “Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” points out, those who we seek to lead us should be people whom God has brought through Spiritually-led experiences. These are people who have run the race, who have demonstrated long-term faithfulness. We cannot train Spiritually-led experiences in a high school, college, or even a seminary. This can only be done in a life context. Most professional programs recognize this. To become a doctor, it takes four years of medical school, including an internship, and then 3-7 additional years, depending on the level/complexity of training being a resident under close supervision to being able to be licensed to practice. A seminary training is generally an academic-style degree – study material, write a thesis, get a degree. Some require internships, but I don’t believe that is widespread.

    So, the very idea that we can send a kid to four years of college, three years of seminary and expect him to be qualified to be a spiritual leader is ridiculous. “and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.” (1 Tim 3:6)

    The difference here is between “intellect” and “wisdom”. A sharp kid can find insight and novel ways to explain the Bible. He can be skilled in rhetoric. The problem is that he hasn’t seen where his intellect leads. The wise person can say, “yes, but the last time we did this it was a failure because we didn’t consider this or that.”

    Tullian is not the only one. It’s quite common that young, brilliant people want autonomy and reject advice from the old and dull (consider Rehoboam!). So, this isn’t a freak occurrence. It’s a system we’ve created. We are attracting young, brilliant authoritarians who refuse to be accountable to pulpits everywhere. I don’t have the fingers to count how many times I’ve seen this repeated.

    Liked by 2 people

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