The proud do not change to improve, but defend their position by rationalizing. Repentance means change, and it takes a humble person to change. -Ezra Taft Benson link
Disclaimer: TWW is expressing our views in this post and not the views of Karen Hinkley.
We have been covering the abusive church scene for over 6 years. Last week, we, along with many others, witnessed a first — an apology by a megachurch pastor to a wronged church member. The numbers of people reading our blog post on the apology and the offer of forgiveness set an all time record. This resonated with a wide swath of people throughout the world.
Today I want to go through some of my thoughts and perspectives both on what happened and how this relates to the future.
Motivations cannot fully be known; Actions are important
Many folks, with good reason, have said that this apology would not have occurred without the blogs writing the story of Karen Hinkley. Others have pointed out that the threat of a lawsuit could have provided the impetus to step forward. However, as my pastor often says:
Even on my best days my motives are mixed
There have been many lawsuits against churches and many blogs and national media following stories such as CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries as well as Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. Both of these churches faced media exposure and high profile lawsuits. An apology and restoration never came.
Matt Chandler did something these guys did not do, and that is to his credit. He went to Karen, apologized and admitted TVC's failure in caring about her, in the injustice of enforcing the church contract and the naivety in approaching the despicable behaviors of Jordan Root. He even made amends with SIM. Not bad, not bad at all.
Matt Chandler's apology meant the world to victims of church abuse
This past week I was in Baltimore meeting with readers of this blog. Each person expressed gratitude for Chandler's apology. All of them said they wished their former pastors had done the same. I know of one young man in Raleigh who is still waiting for an apology from a pastor who was told to do so by the elders. However, the pastor left town without doing so and is now involved in pastoring with a well known ministry in the Neo Calvinist circles.
[I redacted one statement due to a misunderstanding on my part. 6/16/15]
The threat of a lawsuit should not interfere with an apology; in fact, it could stop a lawsuit in its tracks
It is important to realize that there was cause for a lawsuit in Karen's situation. We were contacted by a number of lawyers, including well known Christian attorneys, who offered to take this case pro bono. I knew Karen's heart. She did not want to go down this road but would have done so to clear her name. The apology from Chandler took care of that concern. It should also be noted that Karen did not do this for "the money". She only wanted to reach a resolution. That is what most victims want — an admission that they were hurt and that it was wrong.
Throughout the entire Sovereign Grace Ministries debacle, TWW kept advocating that CJ Mahaney and others should apologize. Many of the victims said that they would have backed off only the ministry would apologize. It never happened and now it is too late to apologize.(ed.6/16) We received comment after comment from those who said that it would be stupid to apologize since it would give fodder for the lawsuit to continue. In fact, most lawyers would advise against the path that Chandler took.
It has been my experience in dealing with Christian victims that lawsuits only take place when the church remains silent behind a wall of attorneys. Most of the victims with whom we have had contact would have happily given up their litigation for a simple, sincere apology. The aftermath of Matt Chandler's apology exemplified this.
Also, since when is it biblical to not do the right thing because an attorney says a lawsuit is possible? Where is the trust in a sovereign God who ordained this situation to occur (at least according to the beliefs of the Neo-Calvinist movement)?
Victims should not have to seek out media and lawyers to be heard
There is little question that media exposure contributed to the events that led to the apology. TVC now needs to do some navel gazing. Why did Karen have to seek out two strangers to love and support her? She was not a story to us. She was a hurting young woman who underwent two emotional traumas in her life. The first was the revelation of her former husband's despicable activities. The second was at the hands of her church, which she ran to for comfort and support.
One thing Karen said to me before we published her story was that she was glad that two Christians were exposing her story. Amy Smith and I spent many hours listening and encouraging her. We told her that even if she didn't want to tell her story in public, we would support and care for her. For those who are not aware of this, TWW does not take advertisements nor do we participate in any partner kickbacks offered by groups like Amazon. We do what we do because we deeply care about those who contact us.
It is concerning to us that Karen had to contact virtual strangers in order for her story to be heard and believed. It is our hope that, in the future, it will not take media discussion and threats of lawsuits for a hurting person to be heard.
The Dallas Morning News saga
Prior to the release of Karen's story on TWW and Watchkeep, Karen had talked with a reporter from the Dallas Morning News (DMN). This reporter kept promising that her story would appear on the front page of a Sunday DMN. However, after meeting with The Village Church, it was decided not to run ths story due to the *advice of attorneys.*
Sometimes churches will have influential members call newspapers and threaten to pull advertisement, etc. I do not know if that happened in this case, but it should become apparent to churches that interfering with local media will not stop alternate media from reporting the incident. In fact, it is a move that could backfire in the future.
Both TWW and Watchkeep have a number of media outlets who follow our posts. Since TWW does not take advertisements, we are not influenced by such shenanigans. Also, phone calls to our pastors are absolutely useless. We are one step ahead of that game.
Pedophilia and frequent viewing of child sex abuse on the internet: biblical counseling is not enough!
A number of commenters attempted to make an argument that Jordan Root had never molested anyone. That all he was doing was "viewing". It is vital to understand that viewing child sex abuse is not like viewing adult pornography. It is a federal crime. Children cannot give consent. Many of them are drugged. Many of them cry as they are being hurt. Jordan viewed children between the ages of infancy through prepubesence. This is a man who gets sexual gratification in watching children being abused. We wrote more about this here.
Some experts believe that this sort of behavior may be indicative of a fixed sexual preference. Pedophilia recidivism is high. Root confessed that he had molested two children when he was a boy. It is prudent to suspect that this confession merely illuminated the tip of the iceberg.
To believe that God is going to heal such an individual immediately is naive at best. It is highly likely that Root will struggle and even give in to his struggle in the years to come. Such individuals are both attractive and convincing to many people. It takes a trained therapist to understand the depths of this perversion. To think that a few session, once a week, with a *biblical* counselor is both naive and dangerous. We applaud TVC for vowing to get Root some real help.
Do not be naïve about healing and mental disorders. They are as difficult to treat as any physiological illnesses. Some of them are actually due to medical dysfunction in the brain. Anyone who has a serious mental illness should seek excellent professional help.
We also recommend that any church dealing with this issue consult Boz Tchividjian and GRACE: (Godly response to abuse in the Christian environment). Their motto is Empowering And Training Christian Communities To Recognize, Prevent, And Respond To Child Abuse.
Let me say this one more time. Anyone who views child sex abuse online means that person is enjoying watching kids getting abused. They are potentially dangerous.
A failure for the plurality of elders concept
There are many churches which claim that their members are protected from shoddy leadership due to the plurality of elders. It has been the experience of TWW that, in fact, the plurality of elders really means "the men who are elected think and do things the same way we do." This is a problem.
At TVC, current elders appoint the new elders. Of course, the congregation can suggest names but, in the end, the current elder board gets the vote. It is human nature to appoint people who march lockstep with *the vision*.
I have had the opportunity to see the texts and emails that were sent to Karen. I am aware that the elders backed up and supported the pastors in this course of action. It is now agreed that what happened to Karen was wrong. I have heard that some elders even talked to members of the congregation about their support of disciplining Karen. Yet not one elder, to my knowledge, spoke out against that action? Did any of them contact Karen and offer her support?
Men, you have abused a dear woman. You each owe her an apology.
It is time to figure out how to get a group of elders who can bring differing perspectives to the church. Since none of the elders spoke out against these ridiculous actions, the church should consider a change in how people are chosen to fulfill this role. There is a need for different points of view.
Pastors, other than Matt Chandler, need to apologize to Karen
I have seen texts and emails from the pastors to Karen. It is startling to me that not one of them protested the abusive actions taken. What was it that prevented them from doing the right thing? It is time for some soul searching. Have they all just become yes men? If so, then it is time to bring in some new blood.
In the meantime, those pastors should also personally apologize to Karen. Boy, would I love to see a text that says “I’m sorry.” If I see it, I will post it here.
Many members of TVC need to apologize to Karen
I am addressing this directly to members of The Village Church. You do not get a pass on this matter. I saw some of your tweets and comments. Many of you marched lockstep with your pastors and elders in this abuse. Here are some things that were said.
- She signed the covenant so she should expect to be disciplined like this.
- God will heal Jordan Root since he has repented.
- Karen was violating her marriage covenant by annulling the marriage.
- The Book of Hosea shows how Karen should have responded.
- She is airing the dirty laundry of the church in public.
- The pastors and elders are right in their actions since they are godly leaders.
I believe in the priesthood of all believers. I also believe in the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all believers. I think that some of you knew that your church was treating Karen badly.
- Why didn’t you speak out and reach out?
- Was it easier to go along and not rock the boat?
- Why did you assume your elders and pastors were correct in their actions?
- Why did you follow them and repeat the talking points like it was Scripture?
- Now that you know the talking points were wrong, how does that affect you?
- Did any of you purposely shun Karen or refuse to talk with her?
- Did any of you chastise Karen with your words?
If you did, you should apologize to Karen.
(Digression: Could pastors please help their members to understand that Hosea is not a command to stay married to an abuser? Good night! I think I will scream if I hear this one more time.)
How to apologize if you think you should
I will not let you use the “I don’t know where she is” excuse to prevent you from apologizing. You can send an email to email@example.com and I will forward it for you. Or, you can put your apology in the comment section of this post and I will be sure that Karen reads it.
Matt Chandler provides a template for other pastors and churches to follow
I bet there are pastors from other churches reading this. Matt Chandler's apology showed a change in business as usual. From this point forward, you will be called on to do likewise. My guess is that his actions will bring heartburn to those authoritarian pastors who believe they never have to say they're sorry.
Membership contracts and church discipline are almost always poorly defined and often abusively applied. We do not recommend signing any contracts (covenants) at this time.
TWW has made our views on church discipline and membership covenants crystal clear. The rules of discipline, including what can be disciplined, should be defined a priori. If they are not, you get churches who apply church discipline in an abusive manner. Also, many people who sign these contracts have no idea what they are singing up for. Never, ever sign a contract at a church which emphasizes that they do church discipline without explaining the how, what, and when.
If you think your pastor would never apply discipline in an unjustified manner, look no further than TVC, 9Marks, and Acts 29. TWW has written on this matter extensively and will be producing a resource page as soon as things settle down. Please go to this post for a good synopsis on the issues involved.
There are a number of stories recorded at Watchkeep regarding allegations of other TVC abusive discipline. One woman was put into discipline by a pastor who overheard her say, "Oh, hush" to her husband! It is Story #2 at Watchkeep.
If you wish to rescind your church membership, we have some suggestions on how to do so in a manner which allows you to have legal recourse in case a pastor wants to get weird on you. Please go to this post and scroll down to the last link that begins "How to Minimize Damage…"
Reports of Acts 29 churches promoting harsh discipline
TWW has written several stories involving Acts 29 churches and harsh discipline. We believe that the legend of Mark Driscoll lives on. We hope that Matt Chandler will take time to review the problems inherent in this network. Here is one such story on Countryside Christian Church (they even have some documentation as well!) Do Acts 29 Churches Share the Same DNA as the Mothership – Matt Chandler’s The Village Church?
TVC's loss was our gain
I still remember the day Karen called me. She is an incredibly bright, thoughtful and woman kind as well as a deep Christian thinker. We have shared much in the last few months. I have been privileged to have been allowed to walk beside her through both tears and joy. She is a strong woman who has some wonderful plans for the years ahead. I predict the world will be hearing from her. Please pray for her as she begins the hard work of healing from the pain and trauma of these last few months. God has great plans for her!
Trust but verify
Matt Chandler has promised that there will be changes at TVC. We look forward to seeing the transformation. TWW will be watching and cheering on positive changes. In the meantime, we are still here to tell the stories of those who have been hurt in churches.