“I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody [to no one].” Mother Theresa link
A friend who attends The Village Church asked me a question this week. "Why did you decide to start a blog?" I have to admit that I was a bit startled. Deb and I started this blog:
- to discuss abusive behaviors in evangelical churches,
- to care about the victims and their families,
- to evaluate trends that might contribute to these behaviors,
- to assist readers in how to assess the potential for abuse in a church prior to walking in the front door,
- to discuss the problems of pedophilia and domestic violence in today's churches,
- to support people who have gone through abuse at the hands of pastors and church leaders. Often, we are the first place who actually believe their story. When we do, we jump in to advocate for them and to offer a hand of friendship.
The reason that I was confounded by my friend's question is because his church had just been though the Karen Hinkley/Jordan Root situation. The injustice of Karen's abuse by the church garnered outcries from across the globe.
Had it not been for our blog and Amy Smith's Watchkeep blog, this story would most likely not have been told. When we first mentioned this on Twitter, Matt Chandler said that we didn't know the whole story. But, we did. However, had Karen not kept her correspondence, it is highly likely this situation would not have resolved so easily.
Our blog exists because of stories of abuse like the one that happened at TVC. Hopefully this answers the question of my friend.
Karen sought out support after getting none from TVC.
It is key to understand that Karen reached out to both Amy and me. We did not go looking for her. That is how it most often happens on our blogs. This is indicative of the poor job many churches are doing in supporting their members.The wounded usually have to look outside the church for help and caring.
By the time Karen called me, she was deeply wounded and anxious, having been essentially shunned by a number of friends and pursued by a church hell bent on disciplining her. During this time, her pedophile, lying ex-husband was strolling around the church, being back-slapped because "he was walking in repentance". TVC utterly failed to support a hurting woman and heaped praises on the supposed repentance of a pedophile. This was viewed as a bizarre response in many circles. So, she turned to us. We did what the church refused to do, and that was to love and support her.
Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson repent.
The expressed repentance on the part of Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson led to Karen's willingness to forgive them with the hope that there would be some great changes at The Village Church. TWW is aware that TVC leaders (we do not know names of those who did the reaching out) have reached out to some other folks to say they are sorry for the way they handled their particular discipline situation.
I believe that there has been repentance on the part of Matt and Josh and that some strides are being made to do things better in the future. However, at this point, there are some issues that concern me. These are problems that other churches face as well. Because of these concerns, I cannot recommend that anyone sign a membership contract (covenants are contracts). I also believe that the whole topic of church discipline needs to be reevaluated. Something is deeply wrong with the process.
The following thoughts are only my thoughts and do not represent, in any way, the thinking of Karen Hinkley.
Forgiveness is not institutional; it is personal and humbling.
Many churches pride themselves on having celebrity pastors. Sometimes I think that church members feel like the celebrity pastor takes care of everything. If he apologizes, then Betty Lou in Karen Hinkley's former home group doesn't have to. Elders, under-pastors and deacons might also feel the same way. It is my opinion that everyone who ignored Karen or treated her poorly, starting with most of her home group and proceeding to pastors, elders, deacons, and many others, should be lining up to apologize to her.
Sorry, folks, Matt Chandler's apology does not cover your sinful behavior. From what I can ascertain, there were very few folks, including leaders, who reached out to say they were sorry. Some of those who left comments on this blog, stating that Karen was not behaving properly, have not returned to say they now realize they were wrong and are sorry they added to the pain that Karen endured. I will continue to wonder about the sincerity of many people in the congregation. Does this repentance go beyond Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson? Does anyone else really care about her? Is there a divide between the pastors and the general membership?
A home group failure
In my conversations with Karen, I came to understand that home groups at TVC are assigned missionaries to support while they are at home and away. It all sounds very nice when one signs up to be a part of that group. There is the typical "we love you" vibe that is given. It seems, however, that being committed to a missionary, who is also a friend to many, has it limits.
It appears that, with one exception, Karen's home group totally failed in their support of Karen during her painful ordeal. She wasn't even allowed (by one of the leaders) to go to say good-bye to her group when she resigned. If I had been a member of that group, I would have said "Bite me" (in a gospel way, of course) and immediately arranged a big dinner and reception for her. What is wrong with this group?
She had to turn to people she had never met for her support. How could her former support group ignore her in her time of need? Do they even care? Were they told to shun her? If so, by whom? And why didn't they do the right thing? Again, I have to question the depth of care by this particular home group. They certainly need some instruction on how to show love in all circumstances. Real love is seen in dealing with the difficulties in life, not in the easy stuff.
A dangerous view on pedophiles needs to be challenged and changed.
I believe that amongst few leaders at TVC, there is finally a greater concern about the potential of Jordan Root's pedophile issues. Once again, TWW received a number of negative comments from people at TVC claiming that Jordan had been forgiven and that he should be allowed to continue as if nothing happened. What is going on with those folks at TVC? Has there been any teaching about the very real concerns surrounding the long time difficulties in treating a pedophile? Do many people in this church believe that Jesus will just "take away" that desire? The church and its children were placed at risk by a gullible view of pedophiles.
At this link, Karen was asked not to discuss Jordan Root's sinful behavior because it could place a devastating stigma on Jordan's life. The naivety of this directive from a church leader is astonishing. Pedophiles should have a stigma on their lives. It is for the safety of children.
The Village Church has an undercurrent of authoritarianism.
It is really quite simple to see this. If autocratic tendencies were not part of the culture, Karen Hinkley would not have been treated the way she was. Let's take a look at some examples. These quotes are all from this link.
They wanted to control her finances.
Richard Brindley said that they had decided that she not separate her finances since it was a step towards divorce. She is told that when there is a marriage under the *care* of the church, every aspect of the marriage is now subject to the elders input, including finances.
They claimed that they were the only spiritual authority in her life.
Karen told Elder Matt Younger that she had counseled with trusted Christian friends and counselors and was thinking through her decisions with careful thought and prayer. He told her that she could not trust herself or any other counsel except that of TVC which was her spiritual authority. He said that they were the only voice at the table. He claimed that they were there to hold her hand and tell her what to do.
They prohibited her from leaving their abusive oversight.
We have been perplexed by your decision to file for an annulment of your marriage without first abiding by your covenant obligations to submit to the care and direction of your elders. As I mentioned in my first letter, this decision violates your covenant with us – and places you under discipline. Per section 10.5 of The Village Church bylaws, you are prohibited from voluntarily resigning membership while subject to the formal disciplinary process. We cannot, therefore, accept your resignation.
…We know this is a step of faith and that many questions have yet to be answered. We will seek to answer each question in time. Until then, your elders are pleading with you to patiently submit to our leadership. Should you choose not to return to The Village Church, we will move forward to the next step in the process of disciplining you as a member. Please hear our appeal. The last thing we want is to lose the privilege of caring for you in this difficult season.
There are many more examples where these came from. It is important to realize that authority driven churches will not change overnight. This sort of stuff floats around in the DNA of a church and will continue to rear its ugly head unless nipped in the bud each and every time it occurs. And it will occur again.
Matt Chandler is closely aligned with 9Marks and their view on church discipline.
There is no one group more known for their beliefs surrounding church discipline than 9Marks. Within this group, Jonathan Leeman is the chief guru on defining the practice of membership and discipline. TVC recommends 9Marks materials to its members. Matt Chandler both writes for 9Marks and speaks at 9Marks events..
If anyone should know how to discipline "9Marks style", it should be Chandler, and you saw how that went. The very public failure of the Hinkley/Root situation shows that even Chandler, one of the inner circle, can't get it right. It is important to be aware that 9Marks has had its own high profile failure at church discipline. If both 9Marks and Matt Chandler can abuse church discipline, how do you think the average, gung ho dude-bro from SBTS will handle these things at his Acts 29 church which is *committed* to church discipline?
We believe that all Christians should question their leadership about the application of church discipline. Things are not going well in this area.
My advice: Adopt a wait and see attitude and DO NOT sign membership covenants.
I think this is the best place to end this post. In my opinion, signing the church membership covenant is where the average pew sitter makes his/her mistake. Once they have your signature, you are ripe for church discipline. TWW has been receiving email after email giving personal examples of abusive church discipline. The reports have skyrocketed in the last year.
I am grateful that Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson apologized to Karen. Somehow though, it does not appear that the majority of people are feeling badly about the way they treated Karen. Until that changes, I would sit back and evaluate what gives and stay the heck away from any elder or pastor who wants to 'discipline' you.
Finally, it is the wish of TWW that churches, in the future, when confronted with their abuses, will listen well and respond in love. It is sad when a member has to go outside the church to expose injustice. We would love to be put out of the blogging business.
TWW is developing a resource that will help our readers assess churches for potentially abusive environments as well as render advice on how to leave an abusive church and/or deal with the discipline issue.