The Tullian and Kim Tchividjian Sex Scandal, A Reminder That Pastors Are Just Like The Rest Of Us

Image by Bruce Gerencser
Image by Bruce Gerencser

by Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Another big name Evangelical pastor has resigned over having a sexual affair. Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin), grandson of Billy Graham and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, resigned after his affair became public. Tchividjian released the following statement to The Washington Post:

 

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

After the release of her husband’s statement, Kim Tchividjian sent the following message to The Post:

“The statement reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own. Please respect the privacy of my family at this time, thank you. I do thank everyone for the outpouring of love for my family as well during this difficult time and we appreciate all the prayers and support we are receiving.”

In 2009, Tullian Tchividjian  assumed the pastorate of Coral Ridge, a church pastored for decades by culture warrior D. James Kennedy. At the time, Christianity Today published a feature story about the strange appointment of Tchividjian to replace Kennedy:

…For decades, another Presbyterian church in South Florida pressed to win the culture for Christ. Coral Ridge, once led by D. James Kennedy, is 12 miles away from New City in Fort Lauderdale. Once visited by as many as 7,000 on Sunday mornings, Coral Ridge shrunk to 1,400–1,500 regular attendees as Kennedy’s attention turned to national politics. Kennedy last preached on Christmas Eve 2006, and suffered cardiac arrest four days later. He died September 5, 2007, and the church’s leaders searched far and wide for a new senior pastor.

No culture warrior himself, Tchividjian seemed like an unnatural replacement for Kennedy. Yet in January 2009, Coral Ridge and New City proposed a dramatic plan: If the two churches could agree to merge, Tchividjian would become the senior pastor. If not, he would happily remain the pastor of New City. As the churches completed their merger March 15, Tchividjian inherited a high-profile opportunity to work out his vision for an unfashionable church.

Though Tchividjian had never preached at Coral Ridge before March, he was no stranger to its congregation. He hosts a monthly radio program on its radio station, has spoken on numerous occasions at the Kennedy-founded Knox Theological Seminary, and attended Coral Ridge’s private school, Westminster Academy, when his family moved to South Florida in the late 1970s. For a time they even worshiped at Coral Ridge. Once the fastest growing Presbyterian church in the country, Coral Ridge welcomed Billy Graham to dedicate its gorgeous campus in 1974…

…But unlike many others who emphasize this universal dimension, Tchividjian cares little for political life. Millions of dollars dumped into Florida during the past three presidential campaigns have numbed him to politics. Like other young evangelicals, he’s reacting against the overemphasis of the Religious Right, which has precious little to show for extraordinary efforts. Yet Tchividjian does expect that his weekly scriptural expositions will help Christians understand their cultural, social, and political obligations, including how they will vote. And he does not shy away from speaking directly about social issues clearly addressed by Scripture, such as abortion, which he called the “Holocaust of our generation.” Nevertheless, he believes politics reflects, and does not direct, cultural trends.

“For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, D.C. (politics),” he writes in Unfashionable. “It’s super important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture—the habits of heart and mind—that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas.”

Unlike the Religious Right’s founders, Tchividjian preaches little about winning the culture wars. Like his grandfather, he believes that focusing on the gospel will reap the reward of faithful church practice, an appealing apologetic in a skeptical age. Now as senior minister of Coral Ridge, he takes this message into one of America’s most prestigious pulpits.

According to Washington Post, a significant number of Coral Ridge members did not like Tchividjian’s approach to the Evangelical culture war and tried to unseat him:

Before he became senior pastor of the Fort Lauderdale congregation, Tchividjian’s church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge. Seven months in, a group of church members, headed by Kennedy’s daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. Church members voted 69 percent to 31 percent to keep him, but a group of congregants formed a new church in response.

I know, nothing new here.

You have a one time famous Evangelical church that is in serious numerical decline. They bring in a big name preacher to fix what ails them. When some members don’t like the cure they attempt to remove the pastor, and when this fails they abandon the church and start a new one. And all of this is done because God is leading and directing.

Behind closed doors, the famous grandson of Billy Graham is having marital problems. His wife seeks out the comfort and support of another man and he does the same. How many times have we seen this movie? Same plot, different actors. What remains to be seen is whether the Phoenix will rise again. My money is on Tchividjian surviving putting his penis in a non-approved receptacle. The same goes for Kim Tchividjian. The heart wants what the heart wants, and only in the alternate universe of Evangelicalism do people fail to understand this.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Men of God seeking out the comfort of a woman not their wife is common. Less common is a pastor’s wife doing the same. Usually, the pastor’s wife is left to endure the indignities heaped upon her by her skirt-chasing husband. It’s somewhat refreshing to see a pastor’s wife doing what has long been the provenance of God’s chosen ones. Progress? Equal opportunity philandering?

Evangelical pastors, Tullian Tchividjian included, have spent the last five decades riding a high horse on the range of moral superiority. Before the internet, clergy sex scandals rarely made the news. Sure there were whispers, but most vow-breaking Evangelical clergymen survived the scandal and continued to pretend they met the ministerial qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, this is no longer the case. It is not IF a pastor will be found out but WHEN. (and I know of NO pastor who meets the qualifications set forth by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and the book of Titus)

It’s time for Evangelical pastors to admit that there is no difference between them and any other man. Not that every man has an affair, but every man (and woman) can, in the right circumstance, break their marital vows. Why is it that Evangelical pastors refuse to admit this? Take Shane Idleman, pastor of WestSide Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California. Idleman thinks Tullian Tchividjian’s run from grace is due to:

 

Within weeks, two of my heroes have fallen from grace, and some of my friends in pastoral ministry have taken detours in their destiny as well. Moral failings among leaders are becoming an epidemic. No one is beyond the reach of Satan’s grasp. Although I’m disappointed, my faith is not shaken because only Christ should be placed on a pedestal.

Why do they fall? They fall for the same reason that all Christians fall. Each of us are drawn away by our own evil desires and enticed. When these desires are acted upon, they lead to sin (cf. James 1:14-15)…

Consider the following ways that sin gains entrance:

1. “It will never happen to me.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 reminds us that if we think that we are standing firm, we should be careful that we don’t fall. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Pride says, “I’ve never committed adultery. It will never happen to me.”…

2. I’m “too busy.” We are all susceptible to putting God second and ministry first. If we’re too busy to cultivate a prayer life that places God first—we’re too busy. Men would live better if they prayed better…

3. Holiness is compromised. The enemy attempts to draw us away from God’s holy standard… Of all the attributes of God described in the Bible, holiness is seen most often. Holiness is a vital weapon of defense against the enemies attack (cf. Ephesians 6:14). But holiness must come from brokenness and humility not legalism. A low view of holiness always damages morality…we rationalize instead of repent. I’m convinced that today’s media plays a significant role in the decline of holiness. Sadly, hollywood, not the Holy Spirit, influences many. We cannot fill our mind with darkness all week and expect the light of Christ to shine in our lives.

4. Many build unhealthy relationships with the opposite sex. We must be on high alert in this area and have tremendous steps of accountability in place. The devil doesn’t show those involved in counseling appointments, inner office meetings, and private “fellowship” the pain and anguish and the years of regret that moral failure brings; he deceives them with a false sense of freedom in ministry…that we are simply “helping” the other person. If you are married and attracted to another person, or if the potential is there, take steps now and remove yourself from the environment. Adultery begins with small compromises. We’re often too smart to take deliberate plunges, but we’re easily enticed to take one step at a time, one compromise at a time, one bad choice at a time until we’re at the bottom. Don’t fight sexual desires; don’t entertain them…flee (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18).

5. We fail to strengthen weak areas. The demands of life often tempt us to seek gratification in alcohol and other things. We must be on high alert. The enemy uses “opportune times” to draw us away from God. (cf. Luke 4:13.) The line is so thin that it is often hard to determine when we cross over. Weak areas such as drugs, alcohol, pain meds, sex, anger, marriage issues, and so on are “opportune times” for the enemy to strike. We must expose these areas through repentance, and install safeguards and accountability. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. (As a sidenote, depression and anxiety can work against us as well. Much can be done to safeguards these areas too…

6. Accountability is often breached or minimized. Accountability is a safeguard, but its not bullet-proof. Accountability, by itself, doesn’t work—it’s not realistic to ask others to hold you accountable. Your heart must be focused on honoring God’s Word. Accountability simply adds another level of security in the battle against sin…

I also have accountability software that sends all websites visited to my wife’s email every week. This is a major deterrent and it makes me very conscious of even seemingly innocent sites. To some, this may seem extreme, but we need to be armed for the enemy who steals, kills, and destroys. The greater our influence, the greater the need for accountability: spiritually, financially, and relationally.

7. Loneliness becomes an excuse. Ministry is hard and can easily take it’s toll. Feeling a sense of entitlement if often the beginning of justifying wrong choices. We can easily become jealous and judgmental of those who seem to have “all the fun.”…

In closing, if you are on the cliff or have already fallen, take time now and repent…

Seven points and poem from Idleman only confuse and obfuscate what the real issue is. Forty years ago, a crusty old preacher-professor told the preacher boys at Midwestern Baptist College, the college my wife and I attended in the 1970’s, that a “stiff prick has no conscience.” No need to slather Tullian Tchividjian’s affair with hyper-spiritual blather.  The sexual want, need, and stirring that arose in Tchividjian’s body gave him sufficient warning. Danger Tullian Danger, you want this woman. He chose to act on his desire, as did his wife. While there are certainly contributing factors that led to the affairs, the base reason is the need for sexual fulfillment

Idleman’s article is little more than an attempt to justify the moral failure of his hero.  It’s time for Evangelical pastors and churches to come clean about sexual infidelity in their ranks. ( please see my post Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?) It’s time to admit that there is no difference between the Evangelical Christian and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The moral high ground is a fiction used to prop up House Evangelical. As the light of day continues to shine on the dark secrets of Holy Spirit filled men of God, we should expect to hear of  more and more stories like this one.

Note

I focused on just one aspect of Shane Idleman’s article. There was just too much bullshit to shovel in one post.

Am I the only one who notices that most of these big name Evangelical preachers have hot wives?

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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser He writes from the unique perspective of having been a pastor for many years and having seen it all in churches. His journey out of being a true believer and pastor has been an interesting and informative one.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have six children, and ten grandchildren.

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