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 5, Accountability Systems Breakdown

Documentation about Tullian Tchividjian shows that over 150 individuals in at least 10 organizations/institutions had direct connections with him as his superiors, peers, or subordinates during 2012-2016. The first half of Part 5 provides the unfolding narrative of what that looked like when accountability opportunities and institution-provided recovery care plans for him were all set up, but each one then knocked over. The second half documents specific dealings by various ministry supporters with Mr. Tchividjian, and by leaders in institutions he was responsible to – but whose authority he ultimately rejected.

This post represents my best efforts to organize the background source materials for historical research, and synthesize that foreground storyline from the point of view of people in ministries associated with Tullian Tchividjian. How were they involved in the unfolding drama? How did it affect them to realize they’d been supporting a ministry colleague/friend who, it turns out, had done many things in the dark and also left most of his colleagues in the dark?

I believe we need to think beyond the facts here, to the feelings of the men and women who might otherwise remain invisible victims of his behaviors that broke down accountability systems. What courage and humility must it have taken to publicly post a call for Tullian Tchividjian to repent? To apologize for having amplified his impact? To resign from the board of his newly resurrected non-profit? To remove from their ministry website various resources he’d produced? To cancel contracts that would extend his influence? What did it cost those who were close to him in terms of ministry – especially those who held authority to oversee his recovery plans, and those who’d been his platform peers? These are the kinds of questions we could consider as we read this final piece in the case study of Tullian Tchividjian, abuse of systems, and ministerial accountability …


As a reminder, I completed this series in 2017 but it remained unpublished until this providential moment, when Mr. Tchividjian has started a new church. His current actions call for some historical context and perspective. This return to a role of leadership and influence raises serious questions about the nature of his claimed repentance. Key indicators of doubt include that his apologies have been generic and public, not specific and personally to those he has been known to harm. Also, his efforts to repair damages done have been absent, both to the women survivors and to these collateral victims of his skirting institutional accountability systems.

Finally, since it has been two years since I completed this series, I checked the links. Many of the linked articles are now only present on the internet archive Wayback Machine, so I replaced the broken links with archive links. Thus, this page could be an important resource to document details for historical studies. Where I supplied a link from the internet archive, I gave preference to one as close as possible to the original date  for when the missing item was posted. If no link is available on the Wayback Machine, I will note that in square brackets. I also note any new information or clarifications in square brackets. Other than that, and adding this introduction, I have only edited this segment lightly for the sake of clarity.

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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Where Accountability Systems for Tullian Tchividjian

Broke Down or Broke Through

(c) Brad Sargent


  • 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

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5-1. Introduction

In the final section of Part 3, I wrote that there were over 150 individuals in at least 10 institutions who had direct connections with Tullian Tchividjian as his superiors, peers, or subordinates – and suggested that none of them could keep him in line.

In Part 4, I concluded more specifically that the major block to accountability in this situation has been Tullian Tchividjian himself. His palette of apparent options to avoid accountability partnerships or plans included: flat out not cooperating, fake cooperation, and subverting the system (through such tactics as violating boundaries, rejecting public revelation of “private” problems as a way to flip the script, and using vague language that sounds like actions have been taken when they haven’t).

So, taking responsibility and being accountable for actions did not seem to work, period, regardless of the generous, gracious nature of what was offered, or by whom. Here in Part 5, I will describe and analyze some of those specific opportunities and plans – or where there could have and should have been accountability, but there apparently was none.

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5-2. Summary of Opportunities for Accountability

The following narrative summarizes what it looks like when these various points of opportunity and care plans are all lined up. This is drawn from the research I and others have done, and the details and source links are in the Reference Sections later in this article, along with the Resource Bibliography and Partial Timeline posts.

In June 2015, Tullian Tchividjian’s adultery is discovered by someone in the I.T. department at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He resigns as Senior Pastor. In August, he is deposed (ministry credentials removed) by his peers at Southern Florida Presbytery, who must now act as judges over him. They put in place a personal rehabilitation/recovery care plan that assigns him membership and being under authority at a congregation in that same Presbytery. Meanwhile, he files for divorce, and his counselor-friend Paul Tripp issues a public statement that he believes Tullian’s marriage is “irreparably broken.”

As it turns out, he does not attend the local church arranged for him or even, apparently, communicate with leaders there. But instead, he is hired in August 2015 by Willow Creek Church, which is part of the Central Florida Presbytery, where Kevin Labby is Senior Pastor. Tullian Tchividjian is under oversight of authorities there and they put in place a care plan for his personal rehabilitation/recovery “involving routine worship, prayer, fellowship, study, professional counseling, and more.”

At the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016, plans for a relaunch of Liberate Network as its own non-profit are in place, along with a board of nine members. Although Tullian Tchividjian is not part of the board, they are hopeful that he will be an influential resource person for Liberate Network in due time, and note in one statement that his restoration process “is going remarkably well.” Announcement of the relaunch is made in February 2016. Rachel (the woman from 2015 that Tullian Tchividjian reportedly seduced into adultery) posts a scathing comment on the Liberate Network’s Facebook page, questioning their support for this deceptive man.

As it turns out, the Session at Willow Creek Church finds out Tullian Tchividjian fulfills the care plan in appearance only, but not in underlying attitude or action. They find out about another woman from May-June-July 2014 that he was involved in adultery with (which happened to be during the very period when he was in controversy with The Gospel Coalition, over their support for C.J. Mahaney and over his emphasis on grace). Not only that, but this has been kept secret 22 months – although, as it turns out, his mentor-confessor-family friend Steve Brown and two elders at Coral Ridge knew of this situation of clergy sexual misconduct but also kept silent about it.

In March 2016, this is all revealed – the secret 2014 adultery, and the fact that two of Tullian’s peers and one of his superiors/mentors knew about it. Both the Willow Creek Church Session and the Liberate Network board reinterpret past events in light of new information. Five of the nine board members of Liberate Network resign, and within days, the other four announce canceling of the 2017 conference and shuttering of the organization. After significant attention in Christian news media and survivor blogs, Tullian issues “a final statement” on the matter through his P.R./crisis management agent, Hunter Frederick. In this apparent mea culpa, he apologizes for the pain he has caused and hopes people take this as a lesson of the damage sin can do.

He goes into relative radio silence on social media for barely five months, until his marriage to Stacie Phillips in August 2016 and having online articles posted starting in September. In the meantime, if he’s involved in a church, that isn’t known – except that it isn’t Willow Creek Church. If he is doing personal work with a therapist/mentor who isn’t in a dual relationship with him as a counselor/friend, that isn’t known either.

In September 2016, several articles about Tullian are posted on ExPastors.com and the personal blog of Greg Atkinson, Executive Director for ExPastors. There is also one by Tullian himself. It includes his account of considering suicide and seems to be another mea culpa for himself and an apologetic for the awesomeness of grace. This appears to be a reworking of an article he had done many months early – before anything about suicide was added – but had to be sidelined due to revelations in March. It may have been a teaser for his next book. His contacting ExPastors is interpreted by some as preparation for a relaunch of his public platform and the eventual publishing of a book from David C Cook. Again, there is significant attention from Christian news media and survivor blogs.

As it turns out, at the same time Tullian’s final statement is issued by Hunter Frederick in March 2016 and the ExPastors.com articles are posted in September 2016, Tullian Tchividjian has yet another unacknowledged, unconfessed instance of adulterous involvement. Leading up to that revelation on December 15, 2016, there also turns out to be reported relational-emotional-sexual grooming of at least two women (“Lisa” and “Kara”) with whom he did not engage in adultery. Their accounts go public in a series of blog posts on Sparking Conversation (Nate Sparks), November 21 and 23.

Then, the extensive details and documentation from Rachel are published between November 29 and December 2, 2016. When asked for a response by Christian Post reporter Leonardo Blair about the adultery with Rachel, Tullian “did not deny” that Rachel is the woman from 2015 or that the I.T. department blew the whistle on the relationship because of his phone usage to her was shown on the church’s server. However, Tullian denies as “absolutely false” a series of other details/accusations from Rachel’s account of what happened during their months together and thereafter.

And then, key details from a woman he was involved with from 2013 are published on December 15, 2016. This situation goes back to relational roots in October 2013 – the same month as his bestselling book, One Way Love, is published – and she says he continued in intermittent contact with her until around the time of his marriage to Stacie Phillips in August 2016.

This concentrated series of new revelations over a three-week period put the spotlight back on Tullian’s celebrityship and career – and raise questions about his patterns of seduction and deception. Again, there is significant attention from Christian news media and survivor blogs. But this time, things are different.

This time, new information challenges another wave of Tullian’s friends and fans to reinterpret his past actions in a new light. Some realize they’ve been deceived, and say so on social media.

This time, Christian news media and survivor blogs are joined in critiques by Tullian’s friends who have theology blogs and other kinds of social media accounts. Many offer apologies for being deceived and the resulting harm they caused by supporting him. Some offer analysis of the situation from their theological perspective.

This time, the control over the narrative has flipped. Substantial and credible information sheds significant doubt on his past presentation of “facts.” He increasingly becomes the object of headlines, not the subject of them.

This time, there is less overt support and covert silence. Individuals and institutions he has been involved with, or who otherwise have reason to speak up, are calling him out and/or cutting him off from his supply of social media hits. Various friends and fans post notices that they are removing his quotes, books, interviews, podcasts, and other links from their sites.

Over a one-week period in December 2016, a series of three public statements decry Tullian Tchividjian’s actions and urge action. The Willow Creek Church Session calls Tullian Tchividjian to step away from “any form of public or vocational ministry,” in a statement issued December 1. A group of pastors and friends issue A Call to Repentance on December 5. Their group includes members of Christ Hold Fast, Pirate Christian, and former board members of Liberate Network. The Board of Directors of GRACE issues a statement on December 8.

As it turns out, the accumulation in public of detailed reports, documentation, and additional credible accusations means that Tullian Tchividjian had been in an ongoing private situation of adultery or of hiding them, continuously from October 2013 through mid-December 2016. That assumes there are no more instances to come to light – which only time will tell, as the public has little reason to trust what he says as being the full truth. This is because his repeated pattern is to only “confess” (actually, to merely acknowledge after the fact) once the situation has been uncovered, not of his own accord before it is discovered by others.

So – I could be wrong, but all of this is why I stated that there were over 150 individuals in at least 10 organizations/institutions who had direct connections with Tullian Tchividjian as his superiors, peers, or subordinates, and none of them could keep him accountable – or help him recover – because he either refused them, faked cooperation and then dropped out, or otherwise subverted the system to flip in in his favor.

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5-3. An Appeal for a Genuine Repentance Process

I debated over whether to include this section, and if so, whether to address it directly to Tullian Tchividjian or to put it into third person as suggestions that should be thought about. I was torn because I don’t know Mr. Tchividjian personally, and so it seemed too familiar to address it to him, but it also seemed disrespectful to present a list of suggestions “for” him as if he weren’t even in the room.

Then I realized that this is actually part of the core problem with public figures who involve themselves in public scandals. Part of becoming a public/celebrity figure is to get people to feel like they know you, that they are part of your extended family, as if you’ve removed the third wall and speak directly to them. But then, when the publicity is not so positive, you want to retreat as if you’ve been a private figure all along and don’t want to be addressed personally over these intensely personal matters.

In a range of imperfect options, I am choosing to address Mr. Tchividjian both directly and respectfully as possible. To do otherwise in this situation would be to give in to the game – and that is a major part of what has allowed this charade to continue.

My final appeal to you, Mr. Tchividjian, is this:

I hope you will engage in a genuine, supervised process of repentance and transparency, and perhaps some kind of ministry may be possible in your future. For what it’s worth, these are things I believe should be part of that process.

Step away from any kind of social media and publications and speaking engagements and ministry work for at least three full years – which we now know is the probable minimum span of time you chose to keep your sexual infidelity/misconduct behaviors hidden in darkness.

Don’t attempt to fool the Church by suggesting that you’ll just share or speak up about the gospel or about how your life is being transformed, like any other Christian does. If this shows up on social media, or in a group or congregational setting, that’s public ministry.

Get regular professional counseling help to work on your personal issues for at least that same period of time.

Make amends directly with those you harmed – if they are willing to reconnect with you by their own choice, not by your demand.

While our failures do not separate us from the love of God, they can disqualify us from having or pursuing a platform whereby we act as Christ’s public representatives. So, if you try to relaunch a public presence as a credible representative of grace, repentance, theology, etc., any time within at least the next three years, you should expect public consequences, and they may be even more stark than what you have faced in recent months.

And there may be major push-back not only against your relaunch activities, but also against those individuals and organizations that support giving you such a premature platform.

Also, do not expect automatic reentry into public ministry after three years, either. It may be that the depth of what you have done disqualifies you from such a platform permanently.

You may not believe me, but I do wish you well and also wish you no harm. This is the same hope that I hold for all people, which is in great part why I have invested time putting together this case study and other materials about your situation, to help prevent others from being harmed by you and thus, protect them.

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5-4. An Appeal for Generosity

Here are some general things I am keeping in mind in order to be conciliatory in my analysis and critiques:

Remediation/rehabilitation resources and “care plans” provided for Tullian Tchividjian were within a Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. Those of us from other theological systems may not like aspects of the proposed solutions for those reasons – such as putting oneself under the authority of elders in a local church. But I hope we can be generous by perceiving that these men and women who took actions were doing so with conviction, and within their theological framework, not ours, and that it was costly for them to do so.

When people with no background of spiritual abuse connect with abuse survivors, or at least hear their personal accounts of what happened and the negative impact of it, it makes a difference. The experience becomes a seed for empathy, because now there is a human face to go with a factual report. I believe this has been behind much of the change for people who formerly promoted and protected Tullian Tchividjian, which has resulted in apologies and conciliatory gestures toward survivors. So, I hope that my analysis of this situation  emphasizes what has happened for real people, because that will make a real difference.

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5-5. Case Study on Accountability ~ Reference Sections

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About the Reference Sections …

The evidence that supports and sources my narrative summary in section 5-2 above can be found in the following Accountability Case Study Reference Sections below. I have tried to keep the detail and narrative here to what seems the most essential to provide a basic framework for analysis in each aspect of the industrial complex. And then I link to primary and secondary sources for those who want to verify what I have said and/or critique what I have concluded. It’s not meant to be light reading, but research-reference, for those who want to process the details. I’m also using this to show that I have attempted to do my due diligence, to make this case study as accurate as possible and as comprehensive as befits the information.

I would also strongly suggest that if you want to verify or deny any points, you also read the materials in the Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation and the Tullian Tchividjian – Partial Timeline of Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse and Spiritual Abuse. While investigating this situation is like putting together a thousand-piece puzzle, those resources are relatively robust and will help you locate pieces for yourself, and perhaps find pieces I have missed.

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

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5-5a. Academia, Seminaries, Training Programs

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

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

For background on Tullian Tchividjian’s connection with both of these institutions, see the RTS Reformed Quarterly article, “Continuing the Legacy,” Winter 2006,  pages 16-19.

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I worked in multiple departments at a seminary for a total of 11 years, and was involved with church planting teams from the mid-1990s through mid-2000s. This included being a church planting strategy designer for one plant, and a candidate assessor for several years. With this background, I’m aware of problems and options for screening participants. Many training and planting institutions include only self-discovery tools for temperament or personality, such as the Enneagram or Myers-Brigg Temperament Indicator. However, some require a far more rigorous psychological evaluation by a certified professional.

The academic elements in the industrial complex surrounding Tullian Tchividjian go far back historically. Although they are not so much related to the current narrative, still, there could be issues that arise with theology, leadership, and church planting institutions. If there were clues to his character issues and behavior patterns back then, then his seminary and church planting assessment and training might be places where warning signs could be identified and his career path be intervened into in order to put in place course correctives. If so, they might have been somewhat blinded to them by partiality, given that Mr. Tchividjian is one of Billy Graham’s grandsons.

Here are questions I think policy makers at academic/training institutions should be asking:

Do you screen for pathology in applicants? If so, how? If not, how might you have gleaned clues to potential problem patterns in applicants, graduates, trainees, and/or professors?

Do your systems include professional psychological evaluations done by qualified/certified personnel? Or mere personality or temperament tools? If only MBTI or Enneagram, how do you evaluate for latent or evident pathology? This is crucial, given that ministry careers consistently appear on top 10 lists of fields that narcissists and/or sociopaths pursue – presumably because Christians are expected to see the best in others and so can prove to be naïve and more easily deceived.

Does your church planter assessment system have an inherent bias toward charismatic/visionary people who can get things done by mobilizing others to take on tasks? (That is part of the typical profile for “probable success” in the assessment system developed by Charles Ridley, which is in very wide use with church planter assessment clinics.) How do you distinguish being visionary as different from self-promoting, motivating buy-in versus deceiving, and leading versus manipulating?

How do patterns of past or current problems affect the possibilities for being an adjunct professor? What criteria do you use to evaluate if/when someone with such character issues and behavior patterns might be qualified to act as a teacher and role model for students?

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For Those Interested in More

13 Characteristics of an Effective Church Planter, by Dr. Charles Ridley: Part 1. Part 2.

Dr Ridley’s 13 Knockout Factors for Church Planters

“Gospel Ecosystems” and Organizational Systems

Multi-Level, Multi-Generation Approaches to Coping with Cultural Transition (2004)

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5-5b. Associations and Networks

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is an informal network for theological and ministry concerns of those with a more Reformed, Calvinist, and Neo-Calvinist theology.

Acts 29 Network is an association of church planting churches, mostly with a Neo-Calvinist theology. Tullian Tchividjian was involved with their Advance the Church and Acts 29 Boot Camp events in April 2010.

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Some ministry networks say they are just informal associations of people with common interests in theology, ministry, or whatever. And yet, they typically have their own set of celebrities who dominate the network’s teaching, publishing, and social media. So, the network may claim it has no real authority over its ranks, but it does have “authorities” who lead the ranks. Maybe for those reasons, many ministry networks have a difficult time exercising “discipline” if/when someone gets out of line. They are not a church, the argument goes, so they aren’t responsible for the actions of members or for “disciplining” them. Yet, disruptions within the network can happen when members either diverge with the official doctrine or the majority opinion, or get into trouble with immoral or unethical behaviors. So, what do they do about that?

In May 2014, The Gospel Coalition asked Tullian Tchividjian to leave the Coalition earlier than he had already been planning to – but this was not over his own destructive personal patterns of character or behavior. Two issues came up as points of division. First, there were prior theological differences between with them over sanctification/hyper-grace. Second, Mr. Tchividjian expressed his opposition over TGC’s ongoing support of C.J. Mahaney, leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) church denomination – despite SGM scandals over failures to report known/suspected child sexual abuse to civil officers, and related reported cover-up.

The rancor over this division spilled over into more public forums, with statements from both sides. Ironically, this incident seemed to put Mr. Tchividjian on more peoples’ ministry radar, and brought in new fans for his stance against SGM and for grace. Survivor bloggers wrote about their agreement with him. So, when the points and patterns of Mr. Tchividjian’s own problems of abuse through seductions and deceptions were revealed a year later in June 2015, survivor bloggers now had some background on him. Eventually it was reported (and he acknowledged) in March 2016 that he had already had an adulterous relationship around the time The Gospel Coalition took their actions to expel him in 2014. It was reported in December 2016 that he’d been involved with another woman as early as October 2013 – seven months before TGC expelled him.

This doesn’t mean TGC was necessarily in the right. In fact, they seem to have a dismal track record on “discipline,” as shown in their dealings with Reformed theology icons C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, James McDonald, and Doug Wilson – some of whom have been Council members. In July 2015, they added a new church directory page on the TGC website with information on how to “Report a church that doesn’t align with TGC’s Foundation Documents.” However, the controversy is important to note because it does spotlight yet another situation in which Mr. Tchividjian was talking about grace and sanctification, while living in a way that turned liberty into licentiousness.

For more details on this controversy, see the Chronology: 2014 section of the Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation. This gives a series of links to articles in May and June of 2014, dealing with the controversies between Tullian Tchividjian and The Gospel Coalition.

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5-5c. Businesses, Brands, Events;

Media and Marketing Platforms

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Book Publishers and Literary Agent

Book publishers: Crossway, David C Cook, and Multnomah.

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In addition to publishing books by Tullian Tchividjian, two of these three also published books in which he wrote the foreword: Crossway (Elyse Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace; and Justin Buzzard, Date Your Wife) and David C Cook (David Frost, Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man). Elyse Fitzpatrick was a signer on the December 5, 2016, statement, A Call to Repentance, which encouraged Tullian Tchividjian to step aside from all public ministry and seek appropriate recovery and accountability. As of December 2, 2016, David C Cook has remained publicly committed to Mr. Tchividjian’s next book, although there is apparently no specified topic or timetable for it. This news has not been sitting well with some in the survivor communities; David C Cook may well expect ramifications of their continued connection with Mr. Tchividjian.

For extensive details on publishing, see 3. Research Findings on Publishers of Books by Tullian Tchividjian. This post provides reference information compiled by Brad Sargent about Tullian Tchividjian’s publishers and his publications, both out-of-print and presently available, from three publishers: Crossway, David C Cook, and Multnomah. It also highlights the “Christian Living” category bestseller status in 2014-2015 for his most recent book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (David C Cook, released October  2013), and related character contradictions in light of his self-admitted moral failures, plus newly emerging reports of emotional grooming and clergy sexual misconduct. This information on publications is all drawn from publicly posted documents and websites.

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Sealy Yates was Mr. Tchividjian’s literary agent for at least one book, as noted in the acknowledgements section of One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (2013, David C Cook). Sealy Yates was Mark and Grace Driscolls’ agent for Real Marriage, and even referred them to ResultSource, which managed their plan for getting this book on the NYTimes Bestseller List. He also served on Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board.

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Leadership Journal

At one time, Tullian Tchividjian was a contributing editor for the now defunct Leadership Journal. This was an important enough role that it appeared in many of his biographical profiles for books, conferences, etc. As of January 2016, Leadership Journal – a publication of Christianity Today (CT) – was divided into “The Local Church” section of CT and a new website, CTPastors.com.

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Social Media: Twitter and Facebook

Tullian 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 [that was end of 2017; 99,000 followers, August 2019]) and Facebook (currently over 15,500 page “likes” and page followers [that was end of 2017; 22,000 page “likes” and followers, August 2019]). 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.

Social media has been a very important tool for Mr. Tchividjian to develop his public platform, disseminate quotes and thoughts on grace and other topics, give updates. And – reportedly – his social media accounts have been used to draw particular women followers into his inner circles, where he then used texting and other direct communication methods to connect: ask questions, share songs and resources, invite to upcoming events as his special guest, ask them to defend him against critics, etc. (For details, see the accounts of “Lisa” and “Kara” from Nate Sparks, and Rachel’s narrative in Part 1 and Part 2.) In more recent months, he has posted apologies or other notices on his Facebook account – or his wife Stacie has occasionally.

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Media and Event Networks: Pirate Christian and Christ Hold Fast

Tullian Tchividjian had been active with media, events, and resource entities like Pirate Christian (radio, podcasts, blog, conferences, etc.) with Chris Rosebrough at the helm. He was also involved with the Christ Hold Fast resource site, and network conference.

In December 2016, a group of eight individuals posted A Call to Repentance. Half of these are listed as contributors in the Christ Hold Fast network: Elyse Fitzpatrick, RJ Grunewald, Matt Popovits, and Donovan Riley. The last three on that list had also been board members of the Liberate Network relaunch in February/March 2016. So, they had been highly connected with Mr. Tchividjian.

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Another Christ Hold Fast contributor, Dominick Santore, posted public notices November 30, 2016, (a day after Rachel’s series started) that he was removing resources by Tullian Tchividjian from his website. I found it illuminating to read the comment threads on these tweet threads for insights into how various “sides” are defined and described, including the potential weaknesses in the angles take by different people in their approaches to the situation. Tweet #1. Tweet #2. Tweet #3.


On his A Defeated Victor blog, Mr. Santore also posted two articles that I think are crucial to read and reflect on, related to maintaining the dynamic tensions in grace and generosity.

December 3, 2016: The Defeated Victor. The Leaning Church of Grace.

December 6, 2016: How Do We Move Forward?

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Before the Call to Repentance statement was issued, one of the signers, Chris Rosebrough, posted the following comment on Spiritual Sounding Board’s of his dealings with Tullian Tchividjian. This was in response to several readers’ comments there about Chris’ advocacy for Mr. Tchividjian. [To locate the original posting of his comment, click on the “OLDER COMMENTS” link at the bottom of the page for that post.]

Chris Rosebrough (@piratechristian)

December 1, 2016 @ 12:34 PM

Yes, I will be covering the latest revelations about Tullian in an upcoming blog post and radio segment.

By Rachel and the other women who were manipulated and abused by Tullian coming forward and telling the accounts of what happened to them and how it happened, it has made it possible for me to connect dots and see the ways in which I was blatantly and calculatingly lied to by Tullian. I am not the only person who reached out to Tullian as scripture admonishes us to in Galatians 6:1–2 which says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. Sadly, it appears that Tullian lied to everyone of the men and women who sought to help him. Rather than truly come clean about the depth of his sin and repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance, Tullian instead chose to continue to spin a very complex web of lies that could not be sorted out without the information that Rachael, Lisa and Kara were courageous enough to share with the public.

The anger and sense of betrayal that I have at this moment because of being lied to in this manner is currently very intense. I am sickened by what the truth is and truly concerned for those whom Tullian has used, manipulated and abused as well as Tullian himself, whose soul, I fear, is in grave danger.

I found his comment important for helping see how someone who has held a positive opinion of a person can find themselves reevaluating their position, based on emerging evidence. This is a major part of why I prefer the kind of case study research writing that I generally do – it gives people crucial information to discern and decide for themselves. Case studies attempt to gather all evidence, analyze and  categorize it, evaluate what seems relevant, and build toward the big picture of how the pieces fit together. But the ultimate purpose is so we can better interpret the situation and systems, and extract lessons in order to make a difference in resolving the past and bringing about healing, living better in the present, and grounding ourselves in a stronger hope as we move forward into the future.

On December 5, 2016, A Call to Repentance was posted. Mr. Rosebrough posted it on his Captain’s Log blog.

On December 6, 2016, he also posted a “withdrawal of resources” notice on his Fighting for the Faith podcast page. This is the whole post. Again, Mr. Rosebrough offers important insight into the importance of evidences, and the processes by which a former staunch supporter comes to different conclusion.

December 06, 2016

Tullian Resources Removed

In light of the recent revelations regarding Tullian Tchividjian and my joining together with other pastors and friends in calling Tullian to repentance, Fighting for the Faith and Pirate Christian Radio have removed all resources that contain teaching or conversations with Mr. Tchividjian.

In journalism there is a hierarchy of evidence and Primary Source Evidence is at the top of that list. However, when it is demonstrated that a primary source has intentionally provided false information in order to obscure the truth and create a false and misleading narrative, that primary source is no longer credible. Recent revelations have demonstrated that Mr. Tchividjian has done exactly that. Therefore, all posts that could be perceived as ongoing support for Mr. Tchividjian have been removed from this site.

I can no longer support Tullian Tchividjian. Instead, I consider him to be a very dangerous and self-serving false teacher who has turned the gospel into a license for sin.


“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” – Jude 4

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Some Thoughts:

These are all men and women who had what seemed to be significant standing with Tullian Tchividjian. He had written the foreword to a book for one of them, participated in their organizations’ events, been interviewed and/or taught on their podcasts, been linked to in their resource sections. They attempted to call him out publicly as friends and pastors who knew him – or thought they did.

To my knowledge, as of a month after A Call to Repentance was posted [i.e., as of early January 2017], there is still no public indication of any movement on Mr. Tchividjian’s part toward taking responsibility and being accountable for his actions. I can imagine the mixed emotions those in Christ Hold Fast and Pirate Christian had in deciding to act publicly, to the apparent lack of response, to the feelings of grief and loss and anger and concern and more. I have gone through several instances of spiritual abuse where I lost friends (and people I thought were friends) – some temporarily, some permanently. So, I can empathize. I think they did the right thing, and appreciate that it cost them in many ways to do so. I hope at some point there is repentance by Mr. Tchividjian and some degree of restoration with these estranged friends.

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The following section is a copy-and-paste of the first half of the post, ExPastors.com Apparently has Deleted Posts and References to Tullian Tchividjian. A few additional links have been added, but no text. Check out that post for a color-coded analysis on the two articles that remain there. That section shows what has been deleted, and what has been edited, from the original version compared with the current version.

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ExPastors.com writers Greg Atkinson and Bo Lane published several significant articles about Tullian Tchividjian, and one article by him, in September and October 2016. These unleashed waves of both criticism and of support, as it appeared Mr. Tchividjian had contacted them first and that he was positioning himself for a comeback into the public eye. His article was interpreted by Warren Throckmorton and others as preparing the way for his still-forthcoming book from David C Cook.

I have been writing an extensive case study on the situation of Tullian Tchividjian, and lessons in it about systems of accountability. In fact-checking and link-checking for that report, I discovered today (January 3, 2017) that two of the four relevant articles at ExPastors.com had been removed from their site – one by Bo Lane and the other by Tullian Tchividjian. Two other articles by Greg Atkinson had been edited without any notice or update that I could find, that he had made edits to the pieces. Also, a search on the ExPastors.com site for “Tullian Tchividjian” yielded no results.

Because there is no notice about removing/editing posts, we don’t know exactly when it happened, or why. Unfortunately, that leaves it up to readers to fill in gaps – and some may impute motives or hopes that are completely unreasonable and inaccurate. If ExPastors.com wants readers to trust them, it would help to know the reasoning behind these site alterations.

The situation is not at all what it was when ExPastors.com posted their articles in September and October. Now there is a very substantial amount of detail and documentation available, since four women have been reporting their experiences in posts from November and December of 2016. Friendship and loyalty to an individual should not blind us to the damage being done to the Body. Many former very public supporters have taken equally public steps with notices on social media to apologize for their previous defense of him, to state they have removed his podcasts or other resources from their site, etc.

So, personally, I hope the leaders at ExPastors.com have changed their position about support for Mr. Tchividjian, or at least for having provided him a platform. This isn’t about piling on Tullian Tchividjian when he’s down – it’s about drying up the sources of false support so he hopefully cannot continue his deceptive charades and seductive escapades that inflict immense harm on the Body of Christ.

Julie Anne Smith is in the process of contacting the ExPastors.com webmaster for comment. If there is an update from them, we will post it here.

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As of January 6, 2017, there has not yet been any response from ExPastors.com to Julie Anne Smith in her request for comment or clarification.

Here are the links to the four relevant articles, plus some analysis. The first three appeared on ExPastors.com, and the fourth one on Greg Atkinson’s personal blog. From “last capture” dates on the Wayback Machine for these posts, we can conclude that the deletions and edits likely took place sometime between November 13 and January 3.

September 23, 2016. God is Not Done with You Yet. And Neither Are We, by Bo Lane. This article is no longer on the ExPastors.com site. The last Wayback Machine internet archive capture of it was November 13, 2016.

September 27, 2016. The Freedom in Losing it All, by Tullian Tchividjian. This article is no longer on the ExPastors.com site. The last Wayback Machine internet archive capture of it was October 22, 2016.

October 3, 2016. It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. This is a Safe Place. By Greg Atkinson. This article has been significantly edited to remove references to Tullian Tchividjian and other celebrity pastors who have had additional evidence come to light in the past few months. The earliest Wayback Machine internet archive capture of the original version is from October 7, 2016.

October 3, 2016. What Grace Means to Me. By Greg Atkinson (the Executive Director of ExPastors.com). This post indicates that Tullian Tchividjian made the first contact with ExPastors.com, and not the reverse. The distinction is important, if Mr. Tchividjian was attempting to set things in motion for a relaunch of his public platform – which the articles about him and by him in ExPastors.com contributed toward.

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Crisis Management

Hunter Frederick is the crisis management specialist and PR agent who worked for Tullian Tchividjian from around the time of his being fired from Willow Creek Church in March 2016 through at least April 2016. [At that time, the firm was Frederick & Associates.]

It is unclear how long overall he was employed by Mr. Tchividjian to handle his PR, but he did play a significant, intensive role at a difficult time for his client. Mr. Frederick gave several comments on behalf of Mr. Tchividjian to Christian media and bloggers during those months, in the midst of tangled details and conflicting versions of events. What follows are taken from entries in the Resource Bibliography that have to do with Mr. Frederick.

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March 21, 2016. The Gospel Herald, Tullian Tchividjian Was Advised by Coral Ridge Elders to be ‘Mindful’ in Revealing Undisclosed Affair to Wife Because of Children, by Leah Marieann Klett. This news report provides background that brings things up to date, and includes a comment from Hunter Frederick that adds another detail or version to the situation of the two Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church elders who knew about Mr. Tchividjian’s earlier sexual indiscretions but did not disclose it to their Session.

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March 21, 2016. Warren Throckmorton posted Hunter Frederick Issues Final Statement on Behalf of Tullian Tchividjian. This article includes the statement issued for Mr. Tchividjian by Hunter Frederick.


Statement by Hunter Frederick, President of Frederick & Associates

regarding Pastor Tullian Tchividjian

Monday, March 21, 2016– I recently confessed to my pastor and elders a previous failure from a few years ago, I deeply regret my actions and putting myself in the compromising position that lead me to sin the way I did. My heart grieves for all of those that have been hurt by my selfishness and foolishness. I am extremely sorry for the pain I’ve caused my ex-wife and my kids. I will forever regret how much my sin has hurt them. The process of repentance is progressive and painful. It involves ongoing confession, not just of what’s going on in my life now but, what happened in my life in the past.

I am so thankful for the elders of Willow Creek Church who have been nothing but gracious and firm with me since I have arrived and they continue to do so today. Even though this previous sin happened before I came to Willow Creek, it pains me deeply to know that something from my past could in any way hurt these gracious people today.

I hope and pray that the events in my own life over the past couple years serve as a warning to all who, like I did, believe they are standing firm. Sin is deep. It is real. It destroys. It deceives. May this be an opportunity for all of us to examine our own hearts and beg God for the mercy and forgiveness we all need.

Notes: It is ironic that in this public statement – which basically says Mr. Tchividjian is disqualified from public ministry (which his former Southern Florida Presbytery had already found, and so removed his ministry credentials) – he attempts to cast himself as a public example, even if a negative one.

Reports of details in November and December 2016 shed new light on this older statement, which was issued March 21, 2016. It addresses the woman Mr. Tchividjian admittedly engaged in adultery with in 2014. However, even as the woman another source indicates he was involved with from May through June of 2014 was just revealed, he was still keeping secret yet another woman that he reportedly was involved with from October 2013 through August 2016. That 2013-2016 relationship would be revealed nine months later, on December 15, 2016. Assuming the details provided by this additional woman from 2013-2016 are accurate, this essentially means that Tullian Tchividjian had the opportunity with this March 2016 statement to come clean with any/all other episodes, but failed to do so. That would show his apparent usual patterns of seduction and silence, and keeping this secret would cause another eruption of grief forced upon family, friends, and colleagues when it was eventually revealed.

As a sidenote on theological issues, I can’t recall seeing anything from Tullian Tchividjian in any of his statements or quotes about the Holy Spirit as a means of grace in empowering us to resist temptation as prevention and interception. He seems only to emphasize grace and mercy and forgiveness after the fact of sin. In his own case, this often means after disclosures are drawn out by others rather than confessed by himself, which means that any attempted interventions failed.

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March 22, 2016. Christian Post posted Coral Ridge Removed Elder and Apologized on Sunday for Handling of Tullian Tchividjian Affair, Sources Say, by Leonardo Blair. This includes a comment by Hunter Frederick with Mr. Tchividjian’s version of what the elder board at Coral Ridge had said:

In a statement released through crisis management and public relations firm Frederick and Associates on Monday, Tchividjian said the elder board at Coral Ridge did not advise him to keep his 2014 affair a secret from his wife.

“They advised him to be cautious in how he told his wife considering there were children involved,” said Hunter Frederick.

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March 24, 2016. Stuff Christian Culture Likes posted Facebook and Storify links. The publicist for Tullian Tchividjian (the pastor whose elder board covered his affairs) is tweeting some spurious, slippery stuff right now. [Link not accessible.] This Storify link compiles a series of tweets of interactions among Hunter Frederick and abuse survivor bloggers Dee Parsons (The Wartburg Watch), Julie Anne Smith (Spiritual Sounding Board), and Nate Sparks (Sparking Conversation). The bloggers question the apparent spin being put on Mr. Tchividjian’s statements, along with what they see as blameshifting and deflection of responsibility.

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March 25, 2016. Amy Spreeman posted Crisis managed? on her Pirate Christian blog, Berean Examiner. QUOTE:

(This post is not so much a news report as it is some thoughts I have about Christians in crisis.  – A. S.)

Hunter Frederick of Frederick Associates tells me that when takes on new clients, he has one requirement:

“I need to know they are repentant before I will work with them,” Frederick says of entertainment and faith-based crisis management and PR firm.

I called Frederick yesterday to ask him about his newest client, Tullian Tchividjian. After losing his ministry job last week, the former pastor contacted the agency, and on Monday, Frederick took him under counsel.

Of course high-profile people in ministry need the same time and space to make that journey of sorrowful repentance and healing as anyone else.  Tchividjian’s journey seems to have been anything but slow and easy. He has been both loved and loathed in the public’s ever watchful eye. And the voices. The tens of thousands of friends, fans, followers, brutal critics, and those who have raised genuine concerns are all threads of a rough fabric that now must be dealt with.

Notes: In hindsight with substantive details and documentation coming forward eight-plus months after this post, there are credible questions about the definition and practice of “repentance” by Tullian Tchividjian, given that he was apparently hiding another reported adulterous relationship (revealed December 15, 2016) at the very moment that Hunter Frederick was issuing the statement of repentance and apology for the one just revealed in March 2016.

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April 9, 2016. Warren Throckmorton posted Is There a Comeback In the Works for Tullian Tchividjian?Tullian Tchividjian spoke/“shared” at Spring Hills Community Church in California, three weeks after the dramatic public disclosure of his sexual misconduct in 2014, although an initial comment from Hunter Frederick said that Mr. Tchividjian wouldn’t be speaking.

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Analysis of News and Social Media Reportage

I began watching news and social media intensively when I started on the Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation post in March 2016. I took some time later on in December to see what patterns might appear that relate with reporting, responsibility, and accountability. There were several intriguing things about how Christian news media and citizen journalist bloggers tracked, reported, and analyzed details. Here are broad-stroke takeaways I’ve had from my recent times of reflection.

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News sites and social media blogs that have been closely tied to Tullian Tchividjian didn’t do well in scrutinizing his reportedly disqualifying character issues or behaviors.

Granted, they were working from a limited set of evidences until late November 2016, because the detailed accounts of various victims had not yet been made public. So, they basically had only the seemingly sincere explanations of Tullian Tchividjian, plus the questionable comments and tweets and articles of spiritual and sexual abuse survivors who kept taking him to task.

If these media reported on the situation at all, they tended to allow his use of vague language, and let his generic apologies go unchallenged. Or, they continued promoting him as one who had repented and whose message of grace was still sorely needed. And they may have labeled “survivor bloggers” as problems instead of potential collaborators in getting at more complete and accurate picture of what had truly happened – not knowing that, all the while, he had more secrets waiting to be uncovered and put in the spotlight. But when those incidents emerged, the environment changed, and so did the interpretations of many who ended up dropping their support of him.

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However, other media did investigate and challenge Tullian Tchividjian to account for his destructive impact his actions had on the women he reportedly (or admittedly) victimized, on his followers/fans, and on the Church as a whole. These details, documents, and timelines eventually led to a paradigm shift in the narrative, such that it was beyond being under his control.

The research and reporting of other media – primarily survivor blogs – is what led, over time, to the flipping of the narrative to being outside Mr. Tchividjian’s control. The key seemed to be the detailed accounts of two women who came forward to report their experiences of emotional/sexual grooming (that did not include sexual involvement) and two women who gave details about relationships that did involve seduction into adultery by him.

So, Mr. Tchividjian’s ability to massage the regular media’s message started to crumble with the reports of “Lisa” and “Kara” from Nate Sparks’ blog. It may have irreversibly turned with the highly credible account of Rachel – one of the two women he has admitted to committing adultery with – who  painted a clear portrait of his seductive process. In a Christian Post article of November 30, 2016, Mr. Tchividjian denied as “absolutely false” a number of other claims about him in her account. (However, he failed to offer any alternative explanation for the many documents and details Rachel provided.) He only acknowledged that she is indeed the woman and that his connection with her was discovered by a member of the I.T. department at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

As I wrote about this crucial change in control over the narrative in Issues of Language: Removing Neutrality Toward Abusers and Negativity Toward Survivors:

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

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

It had taken months of articles to get to that tipping point. And I’m not totally sure, but as best I can recollect, that is the first time this sort of turn of the tide has happened in the last eight years of my watching situations of spiritual abuse and writing about them. This trend was amplified by the number of individuals and institutions that began calling for Mr. Tchividjian to step aside fully from public ministry, and also apologizing publicly for their former support of him as noted elsewhere in this case study.

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Three online sources have tracked this story the most consistently, each with a different angle, according to their overall purpose in posting.

The Christian Post’s Church & Ministries section has had the most consistent news reporting on the situation, with over 40 articles going back to late 2013 and the release of Tullian Tchividjian’s eventual bestseller, One Way Love. (Note: AT this time, just 26 of the 40+ articles are entered in the Resource Bibliography.) The Christian Post has often been the primary agency to break news of events, and to interview key figures. Because this is a larger news agency, they have more resources and better possibilities than bloggers generally do to ask principal parties involved for responses. The Christian Post reports then have a ripple effect as the details they break are picked up elsewhere.

However, because CP’s purpose is to report facts on events and people, their official concern is less for the recovery of victims or whether they are emotionally ready to talk, than on reporting about the victimization. This may explain why news agencies are rarely the ones to break personal stories of spiritual and sexual abuse survivors these days. In short, when the abuse is news, the survivors aren’t ready to talk; when they’re ready to talk, the abuse is no longer news.

Still, the factual framework that The Christian Post has built over time has been invaluable for interpreting the situation, and the survivor communities owe our thanks to Leonardo Blair (16 of the 26 CP articles in the Resource Bibliography), Stoyan Zaimov (3 of the 26 articles), and seven other authors – Michael Grybowski, Anugrah Kumar, Morgan Lee, Nicola Menzie, Czarina Ong, Katherine T. Phan, and Eric Young – (1 article each) for their diligence.

Warren Throckmorton has posted about 15 articles on the situation, between February 2015 and the end of 2016. [Patheos removed Warren Throckmorton’s blog approximately April 2019, and he now blogs at THIS SITE.] His blog might be considered more a “discernment” (critical research and warning) blog than a survivor blog. So, instead of presenting personal accounts of abuse survivors, his articles tend to draw out some of the larger system issues and institutional credibility concerns – such as publishing, denominational and non-profit procedures, boards of directors, financial transparency details, certification criteria, etc.

So, when outside individuals or groups want an official statement distributed, they tend to go to Mr. Throckmorton with it. For instance, he has often had breaking news articles, like the ones about P.R. agent Hunter Fredrick who issued a statement on behalf of Tullian Tchividjian, and Pastor Kevin Labby who issued a statement on behalf of the Session of Willow Creek Church about firing Tullian Tchividjian.

Spiritual Sounding Board (SSB) has posted about 30 articles on the situation, from May 2014 through December 2016. Survivors who blog generally don’t want to happen to others what happened to them. Because SSB is a survivor blog, its team has a dual focus of presenting personal accounts of abuse survivors, plus critical research into reportedly abusive individuals and organizational systems, for the purpose of warning the public.

Also, the working dynamics of SSB as a survivor blog are different from news agencies or discernment blogs; it exists primarily to help victims in their recovery process by offering personal support, written resources, and networking with those of similar experiences. So, if/when a survivor chooses to voice what happened to them, SSB may provide a platform for doing that in order to educate and encourage other survivors. But, this is not expected or required. And Julie Anne Smith who does the most connecting with abuse survivors discourages them from sharing their experiences if they don’t yet realize or seem ready to navigate potential consequences of sharing.

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Other reporters and bloggers did not post as frequently as the three above, but offered personal accounts or analysis that contributed to better understanding of the situation by the broader Christian community. Here are some who posted important pieces to this particular puzzle.

Tony Arsenal, The Reformed Arsenal. Because Mr. Arsenal writes as an insider to Reformed traditions, his analysis has been especially helpful on matters of Presbyterian polity and processes, such as church discipline and deposition (removal of ministry credentials), recovery/restoration oversight plans, tracking of church membership, etc.

Dee Parsons and Deb Martin, The Wartburg Watch (TWW). TWW is likely one of the most widely read survivor blogs that addresses a broad range of situations and topics. Part of the value of the research writing of Dee and Deb is found in the crowd-sourced comments and questions it draws out from survivor communities. TWW also reposts articles that might not otherwise get as wide a reading, and thus brings important accounts and analysis to the attention of other survivors. It was particular helpful in following the controversy between The Gospel Coalition and Tullian Tchividjian in 2014, and TWW posted three articles: May 12, May 21, and May 27.

Janet Mefferd, Janet Mefferd Today. During her media career, Ms. Mefferd has addressed many situations of spiritual abuse and clergy misconduct. So, she brings a big-picture perspective to her round-up report on pastoral failures: Unqualified: ‘The great reproach to Christianity’ (March 15, 2016). There she addresses the significant question that has been emerging about what to do regarding unqualified/disqualified church leaders. She uses three recent examples of Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll, and Tullian Tchividjian to illustrate her conclusion: “But of all the sins that beset us, I have become convinced that one of the most grievous and most harmful to the Body is our dangerously unbiblical view of and cavalier attitude toward the sacred pastoral ministry.”

Michael Newnham, Phoenix Preacher. Mr. Newnham has written occasionally about Tullian Tchividjian. He facilitated an especially important discussion in connection with trying to understand the actions of Steve Brown of Key Life Network – a man Mr. Newnham looked up to – in withholding information that could have spared many people much grief. See On Steve Brown (March 21, 2016).

Nate Sparks, Sparking Conversation. Mr. Sparks has posted 10 articles, some recapping material posted by others, two presenting the highly significant reports of survivors “Lisa” and “Kara,” and several other posts with his analysis of the situation involving Mr. Tchividjian.

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5-5d. Ministry Platforms

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Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)

and New City Presbyterian Church

Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) is the denomination behind the 2003 church plant Tullian Tchividjian led – New City Presbyterian Church.  In 2009, New City Church merged with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church – which is part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

To research New City Presbyterian Church in Coconut Creek, Florida, see their site on the internet archive. Press the [[ : ENTER NEWCITYPRES.COM : ]] link below the image on the main page and it will take you to where you can search the old site.

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Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the denomination that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Willow Creek Church are in communion with. [NOTE: This Willow Creek Church is not associated with Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.]

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is where Tullian Tchividjian was Senior Pastor from April 2007 to June 2015. CRPC teaching and ruling elders are members of the South Florida Presbytery, which “deposed” him (removed his ministry credentials) at their meeting of August 11, 2015.

Willow Creek Church in Winter Springs, Florida, is where Mr. Tchividjian was on staff from August 2015 to March 2016. The Willow Creek Church Session, where Kevin Labby is Senior Pastor, was involved in his firing, March 2016.

Here are two important resources for researching into organizational details and specific processes and procedures that have come into play in Mr. Tchividjian’s situation:

The PCA database with search function to locate presbyteries. There you can get a directory listing of member churches in the local presbytery, and access contact information on each church.

The Book of Church Order gives details on PCA polity and procedures.

I found both of these helpful for understanding the technical issues involved here, such as what a presbytery is, what a session is, how many individuals were involved in deposing Mr. Tchividjian, who they were, what processes they used, what restorative plans and resources they offered, what happened when that plan was not followed through, etc.

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Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC)

Tullian Tchividjian was Senior Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church from April 2009 (when the church plant he led merged with CRPC) until he resigned in June 2015. According to internet archive pages of CRPC officers from April 7, 2015 – the closest Wayback Machine captures to when Tullian Tchividjian resigned – there were seven teaching elders/pastors in addition to him, plus 15 ruling elders and 39 deacons. The CRPC staff page shows 34 staff members, some of whom are also teaching elders/pastors. So, Mr. Tchividjian had been lead pastor over a relatively large ministry system.

At least two significant questions remains about CRPC:

  1. Why was Tullian Tchividjian given the opportunity to resign, instead of being fired outright, since there appeared to be sufficient cause?
  2. Related to that, did either or both of the two elders who already knew of another incident of adultery from 2014 (but were keeping it quiet) influence that removal process?

Had Mr. Tchividjian been fired instead of resigning, perhaps that could have made a substantial difference in preventing additional emotional/sexual grooming of women, and general deception about his character and behaviors.

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South Florida Presbytery

The South Florida Presbytery currently has 25 churches in it, including Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. As best I can understand the polity system as an outsider reading the Book of Church Order (BOCO), a church’s Session consists of the pastor, any associate pastor(s), and the ruling elders (BOCO, Chapter 12-1).

The teaching elders/pastors and ruling elders are elected by their church’s Session, and these elders are members of the regional Presbytery – not of the local church they shepherd. The Presbytery has a minimum of two ruling elders from each church (BOCO, Chapter 13-1).

So, this means that there would have been at least 50 men who would be considered Tullian Tchividjian’s peers in ministry, who then had to act as judges over him in his discipline case (BOCO, Chapters 27 through 37 – this gives the procedures for discipline, process, deposing, and removal of censure).

The Presbytery removed his ministry credentials at their meeting of August 11, 2015. Deposition carries a stark admonition. According to the BOCO formula for deposing someone and stating their findings, their statement for removal of his credentials would have gone approximately like this:

The censure of deposition shall be administered by the moderator in the words following: Whereas, [[Tullian Tchividjian]], a teaching elder of this Presbytery, has been proved, by sufficient evidence to be guilty of the sin of [[              ]], we, the South Florida Presbytery, do adjudge him disqualified for the office of the Christian ministry, and therefore we do hereby, in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, depose from the office of a teaching elder the said [[Tullian Tchividjian]], and do prohibit him from exercising any of the functions thereof. (Book of Church Order, Rules of Discipline, Chapter 36 – The Infliction of Church Censures, Section 36-7, the censure of deposition.)

According to The PCA’s South Florida Presbytery Deposes Tullian Tchividjian from Ministry (The Aquila Report; August 17, 2015), The South Florida Presbytery issued this statement:

The South Florida Presbytery met for its regular stated meeting on August 11, 2015 and acted on a case concerning [Teaching Elder] Tullian Tchvidjian. While Pastor Tullian Tchividjian was deposed of his pastoral credentials, the South Florida Presbytery is committed to continuing to offer him pastoral care. Our goal in doing this is to both protect the integrity of the Church from which his credentials were given while, at the same time, wrapping Tullian in the grace offered by Jesus Christ to all those who confess sin, pursue repentance and desire restoration.

The article goes on to note that:

The PCA’s Book of Church Order has a section on restoration from various church censures, including deposition. The steps for restoration are clearly outlined including this statement, “In the restoration of a minister who has been deposed, it is the duty of the Presbytery to proceed with great caution.”

Here is the section on restoration that the article refers to:

37-8. In the restoration of a minister who is under indefinite suspension from the Sacraments, and/or his office, or has been deposed, it is the duty of the Presbytery to proceed with great caution. It should first admit him to the Sacraments, if he has been debarred from them. Afterwards it should grant him the privilege of preaching on probation for a time, so as to test the sincerity of his repentance and prospect of his usefulness. When satisfied in these respects, the Presbytery shall take steps to restore him to his office. But the case shall always be under judicial consideration until the declaration of restoration has been pronounced. (BOCO, Chapter 37 – The Removal of Censure, Section 37-8)

Also, a response from Pastor Kevin Labby of Willow Creek Church to a question from Warren Throckmorton indicates that the extent of censure was deposing Mr. Tchividjian and removing his credentials as a teaching elder. He was not excommunicated. According to PCA polity, this allows him to be hired at another church.

Piecing together new articles and research, South Florida Presbytery set up a restorative program for Mr. Tchividjian. This included at least pastoral care, plus membership at another church in that Presbytery. But, according to research conducted by Tony Arsenal, Mr. Tchividjian reportedly failed to follow through and attend there, or even communicate directly with the church he was assigned to. See Tullian’s Current Membership Status (December 8, 2016) for a summary of the thread of contacts by Mr. Arsenal, plus some preliminary comments. QUOTE:

The following is a summary of the information that the Stated Clerk provided to me (Posted with permission):

Tullian was deposed by South Florida Presbytery and therefore no longer an ordained Teaching Elder of the PCA. According to the policies outlined in the Book of Church Order, his membership was assigned to a church in South Florida Presbytery. The Session was […] asked to transfer Tullian’s membership to Willow Creek, located in Winter Spring Florida, under the jurisdiction of the Central Florida Presbytery. However before the transfer was completed, Tullian left Willow Creek. The church where Tullian’s membership remained, in the South Florida Presbytery, attempted to contact him unsuccessfully and eventually followed Chapter 38, Paragraph 4 of the PCA Book of Church Order and removed Tullian from their membership rolls.

Mr. Arsenal’s follow-up post, Reflections on Erasures (December 12, 2016), shares his more in-depth analysis and elaborates on three reasons why Tullian Tchividjian’s being officially removed from membership is highly significant within Presbyterian theology and polity. This is a very serious matter.

Putting this all together, it seems South Florida Presbytery acted in good faith, but Mr. Tchividjian did not really comply. The Presbytery did its work well within the systems they had in place and that Mr. Tchividjian had agreed to in becoming a teaching elder in the PCA. But it seems he did not want to be wrapped, as the Presbytery statement said, “in the grace offered by Jesus Christ to all those who confess sin, pursue repentance and desire restoration.”

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Paul Tripp

Paul Tripp is a counselor (D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary) and a friend of Tullian Tchividjian’s. According to Rachel’s account of her dealings with Tullian Tchividjian, he reportedly substituted seeing Mr. Tripp for the recovery oversight plan and counselors that was established for him.

When Tullian’s moral failure was made public, a team was assigned to help him. His older brother, Stephan, headed this initiative. Tullian told me his brother was jealous of his success and he couldn’t trust him at all. He orchestrated his situation cleverly to replace those counselors with his friend, Paul Tripp. [It turned out that Paul Tripp played what apparently was a strategic role in Tullian’s eventual filing for divorce from Kim in August. More on that shortly.] (Survivor of Tullian Tchividjian’s Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse Goes Public with Her Story – Part 2, section #3. The Light Will Uncover What’s Been Done In Darkness: June and July 2015)

Mr. Tripp is the one who posted a public statement on August 26, 2015, that Tullian’s marriage was “irreparably broken.” Note that, according to a report about Florida law where the divorce papers were filed, “one party must establish that the marriage is ‘irretrievably broken’ in order for the union to be dissolved.” So, Mr. Tripp’s statement raises questions of whether he violated professional counseling ethics, such as by:

(1) Involving himself in an apparent dual relationship with having a friend as a counselee.

(2) Divulging what would normally be confidential information about a counselee.

(3) Doing this when it appears to benefit his friend.

That public statement is now available only in the internet archives on the Wayback Machine (see link above to August 26, 2015, statement). Although that article has been withdrawn (with no apparent notice), and although – commendably – Mr. Tripp is one of the signers on A Call to Repentance, this question of a dual relationship being co-opted by Mr. Tchividjian has gone unanswered as yet.

For more details on Mr. Tripp’s connections with and actions for Mr. Tchividjian, see Survivor of Tullian Tchividjian’s Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse Goes Public with Her Story – Part 2, section #4. Tullian Starts Divorce Proceedings: August 2015; and section #5. Spiritual Business Starts Getting Taken Care Of: August 2015-March 2016.

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Willow Creek Church (WCC); Pastor Kevin Labby

I’ve spent at least 150-200 hours in research writing on this case study. After all that, if I had to identify two people I believe showed exemplary courage in all of this, first I’d say it’s Rachel. She shared her experiences transparently, in a comprehensive and coherent way which showed she had gone through a significant degree of reflection and also repentance, identifying her own vulnerabilities in the matter.

Second, I’d say it’s Pastor Kevin Labby. He didn’t always get things right, but he consistently has worked to make things right. He has posted apologies publicly when he made mistakes in public, and carried on despite embarrassment and regrets that could have stopped him from continued caring. He listened to the plight of victims and heard them at a time when basically no other person in leadership who could hold Tullian Tchividjian accountable did. Pastor Labby hearing and heeding those voices was key to removing Mr. Tchividjian’s masks and revealing his manipulations. Pastor Labby has functioned as a public challenger to Mr. Tchividjian, and an advocate for his victims, many times since the Willow Creek Church Session fired Mr. Tchividjian.

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About Willow Creek Church

Willow Creek Church (WCC) is a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church in Winter Springs, Florida. It is in communion with the Central Florida Presbytery. (Note: It is not connected to Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.) Willow Creek Church turns out to be significant to this entire situation with Tullian Tchividjian, so it’s important to know a bit more about the people and structures there around the time Mr. Tchividjian was on staff, from August 2015 into March 2016. Note: All of these links in the following paragraph about WCC go to the Wayback Machine internet archives captures from that same time period.

As of January 6, 2016, WCC staff pages listed Senior Pastor Kevin Labby and three members of the pastoral staff. A listing of other staff members from October 6, 2015, shows 11 other staff members beside Mr. Tchividjian. Note that he does not even have a job title listed – the narrative behind that decision is in the next section on “Events in 2015.” This staff page was no longer on the website by Wayback Machine captures in January 2016.

SOURCE: Archive, Willow Creek Church, “Our Staff” page. October 6, 2015.

Now, an overview of how events unfolded.

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Events in 2015

According to Part 2 of Rachel’s account, the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church I.T. department found out about Tullian Tchividjian’s connection with her the second week of June 2015, because his phone was run through the church’s server. Soon after, he resigned as Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge, acknowledging he had been involved in an “inappropriate relationship.” At their August 11, 2015, meeting, the Southern Florida Presbytery that Mr. Tchividjian was a member of voted to remove his ministry credentials, so that he was no longer qualified to be a pastor/teaching elder at a PCA church. Though he was deposed, which is a form of censure, he was not excommunicated; if he had been, he could not have been hired by another PCA church. And WCC did hire him.

The Senior Pastor at WCC is Kevin Labby. He was instrumental in offering Mr. Tchividjian a position on staff in August 2015. He said he did this because of compassion for his situation and noted later that the Tchividjian family had attended there when Tullian went to seminary at Reformed Theological Seminary. He gave Mr. Tchividjian the role of “Director of Ministry Development.” This unfortunate choice of title raised the ire of survivor advocates and others, because it implied a position of responsibility and authority, less than three weeks after the South Florida Presbytery had removed his ministry credentials because of his adultery. According to a post of September 2, 2015, on Warren Throckmorton’s blog Pastor Labby received positive feedback from WCC about bringing Mr. Tchividjian on board, but received some significant push-back from elsewhere on this decision. On that same blog, in an article posted September 11, 2015, Pastor Labby apologized about confusion concerning the job title, noted the title would be changed soon, and reiterated how Mr. Tchividjian’s position related to the South Florida Presbytery decision to remove his ministry credentials. EXCERPT:

Second, I want to reiterate that we recognize the propriety of the South Florida Presbytery’s decision to depose Tullian Tchividjian from ordained ministry as a teaching elder. Also, and as stated previously, Tullian’s position does not involve responsibilities unique to the office of teaching elder. His work with us is as a non-ordained support staff member.

Finally, I appreciate your continued prayers as we endeavor to care for Tullian and, by extension, his family during this difficult time.

While Mr. Tchividjian worked under the auspices of Willow Creek Church, he appeared to be carrying out the care plan WCC had set forth for him. As it turned out later, the WCC Session found this was not the case.

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Events in Early 2016

In the meantime, plans were going forward by early 2016 to establish Liberate Network as its own 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, and relaunch in February as a resource and conference provider. Pastor Labby was one of the nine board members for this new organization. And, though Mr. Tchividjian was not on that board, the members hoped he would eventually be involved with influencing the content and course of Liberate Network. Here is the background on the care plan and Liberate Network, from an article posted by Christianity Today after Mr. Tchividjian was fired in March 2016. QUOTE:

In February, Liberate’s board of directors relaunched the ministry with the “prayerful hope and expectation” that Tchividjian would rejoin it in the future.

“Today, Tullian continues an encouraging season of rest and healing,” the board wrote. “The elders of Willow Creek Church are presently overseeing a care plan for him, one involving routine worship, prayer, fellowship, study, professional counseling, and more.”

The board judged the process to be “going remarkably well, and we are very encouraged by his honesty, humility, repentance, and commitment to healing.”

Liberate Network’s 2017 conference is planned to be held at Willow Creek in Florida next February.

At the beginning of February, Tchividjian wrote on Facebook that he was in a better place “spiritually, emotionally, and mentally than I have in probably years.”

“God has increasingly been settling my heart and mind by meeting me in the deep places…exposing my idols and replacing them with a fresh assurance of his love and grace,” he wrote. “I could tell you a thousand stories of the ways God has sweetly met me very specifically in my darkest and most despairing moments, of which there have been many. Through many of you, God has met my guilt with his grace, my mess with his mercy, my sin with his salvation.”

Rachel saw this statement about the Liberate Network relaunch, and that contributed to a chain of events that led to the Willow Creek Church Session firing Tullian Tchividjian on March 16, 2016. To track the details, see the following subsections of Part 2 of her narrative, in the major section #5. Spiritual Business Starts Getting Taken Care Of: August 2015 – March 2016.

FEBRUARY-MARCH 2016. Rachel connected with the woman Tullian Tchividjian had been involved with in adultery in 2014.

COMMENTING ON LIBERATE NETWORK’S FACEBOOK PAGE. Rachel left a “rant comment” that mentioned the money Mr. Tchividjian owed her and her husband, and she took him to task for what she saw as his pseudo-repentance. Her comment remained there for a few days before their administrator removed it.

WILLOW CREEK CHURCH AND PASTOR KEVIN LABBY. In March, Rachel emailed Pastor Labby again. She had emailed him much earlier, but he seemed to be enamored of Mr. Tchividjian at that time and there was no productive exchanges. However, this time her pleas were heard. His empathic response to one of her emails is in this subsection.

MAJOR CHANGES, MARCH 16-18. “When Willow Creek Presbyterian Church found out about Tullian’s previous adultery and cover-up, they fired him immediately. That was March 16.

“It came out that at least three other men knew about his 2014 adultery but had covered it up for 20 months. This included Tullian’s mentor and family friend, Steve Brown, and two elders from CRPC.

“It affected Tullian’s Liberate Network, too. After some of their board resigned, on March 18, the rest cancelled their upcoming event and posted that they were ending the organization.”

On behalf of WCC, Pastor Labby released this Statement from Session of Willow Creek Church, and he was also one of the first five Liberate Network board members who resigned.

On March 19, Pastor Labby posted two articles on his blog, Live the Resistance. The first was, Should we have hired Tullian? A memorable point he makes in it is this: “It’s time to run to our wounded, not away from them.”

The second article was, Why shut down LIBERATE? Here is the text of that article, with his own personal reasoning. QUOTE:

Several people have rightly asked, “If LIBERATE was about the message of the gospel and not any particular messenger, why again shut it down in the wake of recent news regarding Tullian Tchividjian?” It’s a great question, one deserving an answer.

I don’t presume to speak for anyone but myself. I don’t know the mind and hearts of those others who joined in the work of relaunching LIBERATE. But let me say – they are the real deal, great people fiercely devoted to the message of the gospel. I think they made the right decision.

From my vantage point, the decision to shut it down was in tear-soaked concern for those wronged and hurting. Wounds that were healing have been tragically ripped wide open again. To see LIBERATE carrying on via social media, planning a conference, and blah, blah, blah would – in my opinion – be so insensitive – like salt in an open cut.

Maybe things would be different had the renewed LIBERATE been alive long enough to stand on its own. Who knows? I don’t. And frankly right now I don’t care. I care about the many who are hurting. I care about Tullian. I care about institutions rocked by all of this.

In short, the gospel doesn’t need LIBERATE. Jesus has been rocking his message for thousands of years, and he’s going to keep rocking it until he comes back. If he doesn’t need it, neither should we.

There is a time to speak, and there is a time to just shut up and weep with those who mourn. It’s the latter right now, and – for LIBERATE – I hope that it’s going to be the latter for a long, long time.


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Other Events in 2016

Pastor Labby’s role was not done yet. More happened when the accounts of “Lisa,” “Kara,” and Rachel were published in November and December of 2016. These together demonstrated strong patterns of emotional and sexual grooming, deception, and seduction. To track the details, see the following subsections in 2. An Infographic on Tullian Tchividjian’s Pursuit of Women and a Public/Publication Platform.

Sorting Out What Happened … Pastor Labby informed a representative of David C Cook about Tullian Tchividjian’s deceptions:

A representative from David C Cook contacted me right after Tullian Tchividjian left us. I told the gentleman that our Session had considerable concerns about Mr. Tchividjian’s honesty with us. We didn’t know as much then, but – even so – we were sufficiently concerned. The representative ended the call with me, saying that they were going to go ahead [with publishing his next book]. I was very surprised, to say the least.

Specifically, the representative asked if Mr. Tchividjian completed his care plan with us. I responded that he did so, at least outwardly, but that we later concluded he deceived us during his time with us and misrepresented key facts that put us at a considerable disadvantage. At the time the representative called, we only knew about Mr. Tchividjian’s disclosure of the 2014 affair. We didn’t know the fuller extent of the situation. I was cordial but clear with him.

… Publicly Calling for Tullian Tchividjian To Step Away from All Forms of Ministry … Pastor Labby had posted what turned out to be the first of three statements that various groups issued in December 2016 for Mr. Tchividjian to step away from ministry completely. On behalf of the Session of Willow Creek Church, he issued this Statement: Former Church Says Tullian Tchividjian Should Not Be in Ministry. This came December 1, just days after the series had begun on Spiritual Sounding Board with Rachel’s account.

On December 5, he was one of the signers to A Call to Repentance, which summarized Mr. Tchividjian’s disqualifications from ministry and appealed to him “to repent of his wickedness and demonstrate his repentance by submitting himself to the leadership of his church of membership, pursuing forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation with those whom he has sinned against.”

This may not be the last act Pastor Labby is called upon to participate in, as Mr. Tchividjian has as yet (January 7, 2017) issued no substantive response to these two statements – or to a third one posted by the board of directors of the GRACE organization, which includes one of his brothers, Boz, and one of his uncles.

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Steve Brown

Steve Brown of Key Life Network is a pastor, conference speaker, and author, with two radio programs. He is known for emphasizing grace. In fact, the Key Life website slogan states, “God is not mad at you.”

Comments Posted in 2015

On July 15, 2015, Mr. Brown posted an article, The Warrior is a Child, in which he commented on his friendship with Tullian Tchividjian and the news of his resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  [This article is no longer on the Key Life website, so the link is to a capture on the Wayback Machine internet archive. It appears four times in 2015, but only once later, in an internet archive capture of March 29, 2016. So, it seems fair to conclude it disappeared from the active site after that date – which would mean it was pulled as early as a few weeks after Mr. Tchividjian was fired from Willow Creek Church on March 16, 2016.]

Mr. Brown talks about having known Tullian since he was six years old, prayed for him daily, been one of his professors in seminary, been long-time friends with both sides of his family. In this article, he responds to some of the distressing theological, practical, and personal questions that have arisen from the very public scandal that Mr. Tchividjian found himself in. However, he does not reveal or deal with details of the scandal itself directly.

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Issues Raised in 2016

In a March 18, 2016, article from the Christian Post (Coral Ridge Elders Knew of Tullian Tchividjian’s Affair With Married Woman, Advised Him to Keep Secret, Source Alleges, by Leonardo Blair), Mr. Brown was specifically named as reportedly knowing of Mr. Tchividjian’s extramarital involvement from 2014 that was only revealed in March 2016 when he was fired from Willow Creek Church. Two unnamed CRPC elders (one of whom was apparently fired soon after this cover-up became public) also reportedly knew of the 2014 adultery and did not disclose it, even when a 2015 situation of adultery brought about the resignation of Mr. Tchividjian in June 2015.

In his March 21, 2016, article, My Response to Recent Reports on Tullian, Mr. Brown describes himself as a father figure and confessor to Tullian Tchividjian. [This article is no longer on the Key Life website, but appears five times in 2016 in the Wayback Machine, between March 24 and July 9, 2016.] He states he has no official authority in Mr. Tchividjian’s life, as he is not a Liberate board member or an elder at either of the relevant churches.

However, in my understanding, this dual relationship as a friend/friend of the family, and father-figure/confessor puts him in a probable bind ethically – reportedly knowing confidential information but choosing to keep it secret. He was in a bind due to his familial loyalty to Mr. Tchividjian, and his view on confidentiality – not to break it except in cases where there is risk of life or imminent danger, which he did not believe to be at issue here.

Assuming the reports are accurate, his reluctance to disclose or to have “pushed Tullian harder” meant others in the Body of Christ endured harm. It meant that for up to approximately two years, Mr. Tchividjian’s platform was relatively unquestioned, his quotes and podcasts circulated, his books (including the bestselling One Way Love) presented as untainted. So, wouldn’t that make Mr. Brown an accomplice in Mr. Tchividjian’s ongoing string of ministry misconducts? And yet, Mr. Brown does not deal with that, nor not address the Christian Post article directly, only says he plans no further comment. QUOTE:

Some of the reports about this incident are inaccurate or skewed. My default position is to defend, correct, and admonish. However, going into details about what is true and what isn’t is a place of self-defense I don’t want to go. Discussing Tullian’s situation more than I have is very uncomfortable for me too. I can’t go there without violating the essence of who I am and where I’ve been called. And so I will not make any further comment to the press or social media than what I’ve written here.

The concerns over complicity do not escape other bloggers. Michael Newnham has written occasionally about Tullian Tchividjian on his Phoenix Preacher blog. He facilitated an especially important discussion in connection with trying to understand the actions of Mr. Brown – a man Mr. Newnham had looked up to – in reportedly withholding information that could have spared many people much grief. See On Steve Brown (March 21, 2016).

Mr. Newnham posted again on March 28, 2016: Affirmation or Outrage?: Updated. The main topic of the post is about the extreme either/or responses of affirmation or outrage to the role acknowledged by Steve Brown in the unfolding scandal of Tullian Tchividjian, and the search for a more nuanced response. However, three additionally important things happen in this article.

First, in comment #8 (March 28), Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board offers a counterargument to Mr. Newnham’s initial call for a more nuanced response. Her comment emphasizes the importance of looking at the larger systems involved, and responding in that framework, instead of responding just to one person in it. Be sure to read Mr. Newnham’s response in comment #10.

I’m going to respectfully disagree with you, Michael, because of this: “There is ongoing wrong taking place there that could be prevented.”

Perhaps if you heard directly from the victims, heard their pain, the damage caused to their marriages, the families split because of this, you would be outraged. To me, the protection of one man’s secret vs. many more lives and families destroyed is wrong. From Brown’s statement, I can’t see how he would do anything differently because he holds confession so sacred. Steve Brown obviously was not going to spill the beans to anyone, and frankly, with TT’s ongoing behavior, TT most likely would have blown off anything that Steve Brown said in counseling. TT was already standing behind the pulpit at the beginning of March in California. It’s very likely that Steve knew because of his close ties with TT and going to Labby’s church, Liberate, Key Life, etc.

Is it still appropriate to hold secrets when lives are at stake? Is it ever appropriate to protect someone’s chronic sin, knowing the chronic behavior has destroyed his own family, and other families?

I can’t help but see how easy it is to give a respected individual grace – but the destruction and carnage left behind is appalling.

Second, reader Nonnie raises the issue of an adulterer’s wife being told the truth of the illicit sexual activity due to the possibility of his transmitting STDs, and what about pastoral care for the adulterer’s children, and what about pastoral care for the congregation the adulterer is working for? (See comment #11 and comment #23, both from March 29.) Other readers grapple with those questions about the gaps left by failure or refusal to tell the truth to the adulterer’s spouse, and to consider the larger systems affected – family and congregation.

Third, Mr. Newnham adds this update (not dated) at the bottom of the post:

Since I posted this article I’ve received new information from unimpeachable sources that indicate that Browns involvement in covering up this scandal are more grievous than I had known.

While this saddens me deeply, it must also be posted.

My prayer is that Steve will reconsider his actions and make things as right as he can.

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Issues Remaining in 2017

As of December 2016, there are reports with documentation that at least three other women (“Lisa,” “Kara,” and Rachel) were groomed emotionally/relationally and/or sexually by Tullian Tchividjian between 2014 and summer 2016. (Also, the woman Tullian Tchividjian was reportedly involved with starting in 2013 has begun to report details of her account of their relationship.) Had Mr. Brown and these two elders from Coral Ridge forced the issue into the open in 2014, some of these additional women might not have been victimized. Also, think of how many people continued to be deceived because truth was withheld. The Willow Creek Church leaders and congregation. The Liberate Board members. Many tends of thousands of social media followers, fans, and readers.

Mr. Brown may not be under the same code of professional ethics as a counselor like Paul Tripp would be. However, despite holding “a very high view of confession,” surely pastoral ethics would motivate Mr. Brown to prevent harm from coming to others – even if it meant the uncomfortable role for him of disclosing leadership-disqualifying behaviors by his personal friend and protégé, Tullian Tchividjian. Perhaps he does not hold a very high view of protection for the spiritual lives of the flock? If Mr. Brown cares about restoring confidence in his character and trust in his ministry, eventually he will need to respond to the questions about his actions and inactions. Silence about his secret-keeping resolves nothing, and leaves the public with uncomfortable conclusions about his own qualifications for further ministry.

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5-5e. Philanthropic Enterprises

LIBERATE (often seen typed in all caps) was, according to the Wikipedia article on Tullian Tchividjian, “a resource ministry that held an annual conference, and published music, books, a website, and a daily radio program on Moody Radio, also called LIBERATE. Liberate was closed indefinitely after Tchividjian’s resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.”

The website – liberate.org – was part of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC) from 2012-2015. According to the archived LIBERATE site from CRPC, “LIBERATE exists to connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world.” The archived site has information about their various annual conferences, resources, etc.

The following screenshot is of the closure notice that CRPC previously posted. The “indefinite” closure was eventually made permanent, and the liberate.org website functions closed down. The active site of CRPC does not show any results when using their search function for “Liberate” (as of January 7, 2017).

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Liberate Network, Tullian Tchividjian, Spiritual Sounding Board, Clergy Sex Abuse

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Liberate Network, Inc., was a non-profit relaunch in February 2016 of the defunct LIBERATE organization that was run through CRPC from 2012-2015. Its nine board members were:

  1. Dr. Chris Crawford
  2. Mrs. Barbara Juliani
  3. Rev. Matt Popovits
  4. Rev. Kevin Labby
  5. Mr. Peter Ouda
  6. Ms. Lana Trombly
  7. Mr. Dwayne Williams
  8. Ms. Catherine Wyatt
  9. Rev. Dr. Paul F.M. Zahl

(Many of these individuals are associated with networks and institutions that appear elsewhere in this article.) The slogan for the site reads, “LIBERATE Network – connecting God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world,” which is a riff on the subtitle of Tullian Tchividjian’s bestselling book from David C Cook, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World.

The Liberate Network website was active at least as early as the last week of January 2016, and the first internet archive captures of the website show the home page plus a link for the 2017 Liberate Conference, and a link to join their mailing list. Here is their initial website home page announcement about the relaunch:

From the Board of Directors

Dear Friends:

It is with much excitement that we announce the relaunch of LIBERATE.

As many of you know, LIBERATE was founded in 2011 by Tullian Tchividjian as a resource ministry whose mission was to connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world through books, conferences, television, radio, social media, and a variety of other mediums. Over the next several years, LIBERATE grew to become a unique and vibrant ministry.

In light of what has transpired with both Tullian and LIBERATE over the past year, you may be asking, “What will Tullian’s involvement be as LIBERATE moves forward?” Today, Tullian continues an encouraging season of rest and healing as a part of the Willow Creek Church family in Winter Springs, FL. The elders of Willow Creek Church are presently overseeing a care plan for him, one involving routine worship, prayer, fellowship, study, professional counseling, and more. The process is going remarkably well, and we are very encouraged by his honesty, humility, repentance, and commitment to healing.

Our prayerful hope and expectation is that Tullian will join us fully in this great work one day. In the meantime (and in keeping with his care plan) he is presently on sabbatical from the board of the Liberate Network.

Thankfully, the Liberate Network is ultimately about the message of the gospel, not any particular messenger, and so we’re moving forward together. To God’s glory, we look forward to the Liberate Network sharing the good news of God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world for many years to come.

Please be sure to connect with us on Facebook (facebook.com/LiberateNetwork) and Twitter (@LiberateNetwork) for exciting news and ministry content.

They planned to reinstitute an annual Liberate conference, and the first one was scheduled to be held a year later, February 2017, at Willow Creek Church. Here is the initial announcement of that 2017 conference.

2017 Liberate Conference

“No Strings Attached”
The 2017 Liberate Conference

Martin Luther once said that “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.” It’s the hardest thing because we are strings attached people living in a strings attached world with other strings attached people. Everything is conditional. We’ve all grown up hearing and believing that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. “You get what you deserve”, “You will get out only what you put in”, “You want respect? Earn it”, “You want love? Make yourself loveable” are just a few of the things we’ve been told over and over and over again. “This for that” comes as naturally to us as breathing. And it’s precisely these attached strings that make life heavy and hard.

What’s even worse, though, is when we think that because this is the way the world works this must also be the way God works. But what if we told you that it isn’t that way at all with God? What if we told you that God’s love and acceptance of you were already completely secure? What if we told you that the only give and take in our relationship with God is that He takes our failures and gives us His victory? What if we told you that when Paul wrote “Nothing can separate us from God’s love” he meant it? What if we told you that God meets our failures with His forgiveness, our guilt with His grace, our messes with His mercy, and our shame with His salvation? What if we told you that God only loves bad and broken people who blow it because bad and broken people who blow it are all that there are? A no-strings-attached God is not what people who think they’re good and strong want, but it’s precisely what people who know they’re bad and weak need.

The gospel is not “you get out what you put in”—that would be bad news, not good news. Rather, it’s that the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth, and the slave becomes a son. Jesus met all of God’s holy conditions so that our relationship with God could forever be wholly unconditional, based entirely on what Jesus has done for us, not what we do or fail to do.

Join us at Liberate 2017 where we will be announcing over and over again that, with God, there are no strings attached to his love for us.

Five of these nine board members resigned March 16, 2016, after additional disclosures of inappropriate relationships and other issues related to Tullian Tchividjian. The five were: Mrs. Juliani, Rev. Labby, Ms. Trombly, Mr. Williams, and Ms. Wyatt. (Also, Mr. Tchividjian was fired from his position at Willow Creek Church as of March 16.)

According to reports on March 18, the remaining four board members (Dr. Crawford, Rev. Popovits, Mr. Ouda, and Rev. Dr. Zahl) reported they were canceling the forthcoming 2017 Liberate conference and would be shutting down the organization. Here is the final notice they posted on the Liberate Network home page:

From the Board of Directors

Dear Friends:

The remaining board members of the recently launched Liberate Network have decided to cancel the 2017 Liberate Conference and dissolve the organization. Those that had registered for the conference will be issued full refunds as soon as possible.

We’d like to thank those that have stood alongside Liberate in championing the message of ‘God’s inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world.’ However it is in the best interest of that very message—which is bigger than any network and any man—for Liberate to come to an end.

Board of Directors
Liberate Network, Inc.

All other links on the Liberate Network site were removed, and only the home page notice From the Board of Directors remained for the Wayback Machine internet archive site captures starting March 24, 2016, and until the site licensing apparently expired. [The final Wayback Machine capture for Liberate Network is April 29, 2019.]

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