Changing Subjects: The Alleged Matt Chandler “Scandal”
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Why am I writing here about Pastor Matt Chandler’s problems? I think, based solely on what has been revealed publicly, that what has happened to him, his family, and his church (The Village Church in the Dallas area) has significant consequences for all pastors and all churches.
First, if you are not familiar with the story, go to Youtube and watch Matt’s public “confession” to his congregation. There are also various YouTubers and podcasters who are commenting on the situation and the events leading up to his forced stepping down as pastor of the church and as director of the Acts29 movement.
Second, Chandler is a public figure, especially among evangelical Christians in the U.S. I assume he is known by many evangelicals outside the U.S. as well. He is a Calvinist but not a “mean Calvinist” so far as I have ever known. He has emerged as one of the most well-liked and influential pastors in the U.S. His appeal seems mostly to young adults.
Third, what has happened to him raises questions to be considered by all pastors, church leaders, religious professionals and others. It troubles me, even though I do not know enough to make any judgment about it.
Fourth, what has been said publicly by Chandler and his associates (other pastors and elders) is enigmatic at best. What has been said publicly is bound to stir curiosity, wild guessing, accusations (“Where there’s smoke there must be fire”), and much consternation, even fear.
So why does it trouble me?
First, the only accuser of inappropriate behavior seems to be a woman member of The Village Church. She approached Chandler one-on-one accusing him of inappropriate conduct with another woman member of the church. The woman with whom he is accused of acting inappropriately has “cooperated” with the investigation but not, apparently, accused Chandler of acting inappropriately towards her. This seems to introduce a new “wrinkle” into the “MeToo” movement especially in churches and religious organizations.
Second, Chandler and at least one pastor or elder who spoke after his public confession to the church agree that the “inappropriate behavior” was not sexual or romantic in nature. It consisted, they say, of online communication between Chandler and the woman that was “too frequent and too familiar.” However, according to them, both Chandler’s wife and the woman’s husband are not upset about the communications and have read them.
Third, one question that I cannot avoid asking is what if the alleged victim were a man rather than a woman? That is, what if the very same kind of communication that is called “inappropriate” happened between Chandler and an adult male member of the congregation? Would it then be considered “inappropriate?” If not, what does this say about male and female friendships (assuming there was nothing sexual or romantic in the communications)?
Fourth, I know quite a bit about large, complicated religious organizations. One thing I know is that they all have insurance coverage for potential law suits. I am all but certain that, as soon as the accusation was made known to the church’s leaders they contacted the church’s insurance company. They almost certainly would be required to by the insurance company.
Fifth, a question I have is what the church’s insurance company told them to do? That is usually not made public, but it definitely can be a factor in an organization’s response to an accusation.
Sixth, this event (or series of events) seems to lend support to the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” which is that male ministers never spend time alone with a woman. People interpret the rule differently, but, having studied Billy Graham’s life and ministry, I believe it was meant to protect his wife, family and reputation from accusations potentially made by others who misinterpret the one-on-one meeting. Of course, the case of Chandler is different in that the “meetings” during which alleged inappropriate communication took place were online.
Seventh, I conclude that unless and until more specific information comes to light we cannot judge the legitimacy of the accusation and resulting forced “stepping aside” of Chandler. Yes, we can choose to trust the elders, or we can choose to worry that Chandler is the real victim here. All would be different if the woman involved, with whom Chandler allegedly conducted himself inappropriately, comes forward to accuse him of harassing her or if the communications are revealed and contain sexual content.
In the meantime we are left wondering about boundaries and who sets them and how and why a minister or other religious leader can be punished merely because one person accuses him or her of “inappropriate conduct” with a third party who is not accusing him of anything (especially when the spouse of the accused person is also not accusing him of anything).
Eighth and finally, inadvertently, this case will probably only increase men’s hesitancy to form friendships with women especially in religious contexts. That is sad.