This weekend, Tullian Tchividjian’s past two churches confirmed rumors that the Florida pastor had another affair prior to the one that prompted his resignation last summer.
But the pastor who gave Billy Graham’s grandson a second chance says he doesn’t regret it.
Last Wednesday, CT reported how Tchividjian was fired following fresh “disclosures.”
“Repentance is progressive and often painful,” both Willow Creek Presbyterian Church and Tchividjian separately told CT. “It involves disclosing and dealing with the darkest places of our hearts and lives.”
“I remain committed to that painful and progressive process,” Tchividjian told CT.
On Monday afternoon, he publicly apologized for the pain he has caused his family.
“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,” stated Tchividjian. “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.” [His full statement is below.]
When Tchividjian stepped down in June 2015 as lead pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, he explained that he “developed an inappropriate relationship” with a “friend” after learning that his wife was having her own affair. His wife disputed his account, writing that his statement “reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own,” but did not offer details.
On March 13, Tchividjian confessed to a prior extramarital affair from 2014, Coral Ridge confirmed to CT. Later in 2014, one of Tchividjian’s friends informed two of Coral Ridge’s then elders of the affair (one elder left the church prior to this month’s revelations).
Coral Ridge stated:
While Coral Ridge leadership has not had contact with Tchividjian since his resignation last summer, when we learned of his confession, our leadership immediately sought to verify the facts. The active elder did confirm his knowledge of the affair in 2014 and admitted he acted on outside counsel and failed to report the events to Tchividjian’s family, church leadership, and the other elders.
Coral Ridge immediately called a meeting for the elder to share this new information with the entire session, after which the layperson submitted his full resignation.
“When taking vows as elders at Coral Ridge, each individual commits before God to strive for the purity, peace, and unity of the church,” Coral Ridge stated to CT. “We are saddened that these two elders failed in their vows by withholding this information regarding our former senior pastor, which has since caused many families and churches much harm.”
The church announced the news to its congregation on Sunday. “We grieve for the individuals involved in this situation,” it stated, “and pray for peace and healing for all.”
Last week, the board of Liberate Network—a ministry Tchividjian founded in 2013 that focused on God’s grace—opted to dissolve the organization and cancel its 2017 conference. Last month, Liberate had announced its relaunch and praised Tchividjian’s restoration process for “going remarkably well.”
“We’d like to thank those that have stood alongside Liberate in championing the message of ‘God’s inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world,’” stated the board in explaining its decision to reverse course. “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.”
At Willow Creek Presbyterian—the Winter Springs, Florida, church which fired Tchividjian last week—senior pastor Kevin Labby acknowledged to his congregation that it had been “a very difficult week for our church and staff.”
“We had great expectations, and God did something different than we had hoped,” Labby told CT he preached Sunday. “But we’re hoping something good comes out of it.”
One of Labby’s conclusions about the experience: the broader evangelical church has done a poor job rehabbing pastors, a topic he blogged over the weekend.
“In my own experience, I’ve seen men deposed from ministry, and then a month later I’ve inquired about them and other church leaders have no idea where they are,” Labby told CT.
It’s often the victims—in this case, their family members—who pay the price when this happens, he said.
“The kids and wife often bear the brunt of the church’s discipline, even when they haven’t done something themselves,” said Labby. “Our reason for reaching out to Tullian wasn’t just about him. It was making sure that his kids had health insurance. It was making sure that his wife and daughter would have financial means to care for themselves.”
“No one at Willow Creek has a messianic complex about this sort of thing,” he told CT. “We just felt we were uniquely positioned to pursue it because Tullian used to attend Willow Creek, one of his lifelong mentors attends there, and he has friends there.”
Labby does not regret his decision to bring Tchividjian on board, but acknowledged that the new disclosures reveal that his church’s efforts to help the fallen pastor were “misdirected.”
“So much of what we were trying to do were based on an understanding that was completely inaccurate,” he said. “For months, we were using an approach that could have brought real healing, and even eventual restoration. But because we were deprived of key information, we weren’t dealing with the real problem.”
Tchividjian filed for divorce in August.
“I’ll still help him now, it just matters what form that will take,” said Labby. “We felt that the position we offered him was a good way to meet an immediate need. But that all hinges on trust. We don’t require our people to be perfect in any way, but we do want them to be honest and forthright about who they are and what they’re struggling with. And we felt like this really compromised trust.”
One person accused in some media accounts of covering up Tchividjian’s first affair was Steve Brown, leader of Key Life Ministries. In a statement released on Monday, Brown identified himself as a “father figure” to Tchividjian “as well as his confessor.”
“I gave Tullian a lot of advice that he didn’t take (but then it’s not uncommon for people to ignore my advice),” he wrote. “… I have seen godly leaders dealing with a sinful, difficult, and complicated situation. I watched them try to follow the teaching of Matthew 18 and do what they thought was right at the time.”
As someone whom many people confide in, Brown wrote that he has a “very high view of confession.”
“If you ever need to tell someone safe about your sins, I’m the guy…. The church really isn’t a very safe place. I wish it was, but it isn’t,” he wrote. “So most of us hide the reality of who we are, what we’ve done, and the shame we feel. I wanted people (including pastors) to have at least one place where they could feel safe and could deal with their sin and shame. I was that for Tullian.”
Brown admitted that he wished he had interacted with Tchividjian differently when the fallen pastor first confided in him.
“I should have pushed Tullian harder than I did. If I could do it over again, I would not have made assumptions about who knew, among those who should have known, the whole story,” he wrote. “I probably should have checked to make sure that my assumptions were accurate. Usually I’m more cynical than I was, and this time I wasn’t. It won’t happen again.”
CT’s prior post noted how Tchividjian was removed by his new church days after his former church picked his replacement. It also noted how the fresh allegations will likely reinforce concerns over whether Tchividjian—who spent only about two months away from public ministry—was restored to ministry too quickly. (CT previously looked at Mark Driscoll as an example.)
CT previously reported that the vast majority of National Association of Evangelical (NAE) board members say pastors can be restored to church roles after marital infidelity. The highest-profile case study: Ted Haggard, former NAE president and New Life Church pastor. A more recent example: Jim Bolin of Trinity Chapel Church of God in Georgia.
Full statement from Tullian Tchividjian:
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 exwife 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.