Matt Chandler’s Apology: A Lot of Money Rides on This

Matt Chandler’s Apology: A Lot of Money Rides on This May 31, 2015

[Note: since this article was written, Matt Chandler has met with Karen Hinkley face-to-face. His apology was offered and received by her. She offered forgiveness in return and now considers the matter closed. However, this still does not deal with the underlying theology that gives women no voice and no place at the table and thus opens the door to further abuse.]


Photo courtesy of the staff page of The Village Church
Photo courtesy of the staff page of The Village Church

I attended the media-battered Northway Campus of The Village Church this morning (Sunday, May 31, 2015).

After the usual music preliminaries, the pre-recorded video of the larger-than-life Chandler filled the screen with a message from James 5:19-20: My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

He spent thirty minutes on the nature of church discipline. Several times he noted that the elders of The Village Church, and he in particular, are not yet perfect. They occasionally themselves need correction. Even so, they are the shepherds of this flock and will answer to God in heaven for their care of the flock.

Chandler also explained the nature of church discipline as practiced specifically by The Village Church. I did appreciate this. I was wondering in my darker moments if the male elders all just got in a circle and routinely passed around the latest erring one while they administered hearty slaps on the backside.

Very much not so.  It’s actually worse. What they do is refuse to affirm the faith of the erring one. In other words, they tell such a one, “You are doomed to eternal suffering and separation from God unless you repent and come back under our church authority.”

Near the end of the message, Chandler more directly addressed the current controversy. The attention came about when the elders placed under church discipline Karen (Root) Hinkley. Hinkley, a missionary sent from The Village Church, petitioned to the State of Texas for an annulment of her marriage to her husband, Jordan Root who had confessed to a long-standing habit of viewing child pornography that well-predated her marriage to him. However, she did not first get permission from the church elders to end her fraudulent marriage.

Hinkley also withdrew her church membership. She noted correctly the church had embraced and was caring for Jordan Root. She felt it was better to be elsewhere for her own spiritual care.

The letter resigning her church membership was sent before the elders placed her under church discipline. Nonetheless, the same elders told her she could not remove her membership from the church while under discipline.

So, yes, their plan was to tell Karen she was destined for hell. Jordan Root, however, was not placed under discipline nor are there any expressed plans to do so.  Apparently, the elders, none of whom have training in dealing with serial sexual abusers, feel his repentance is sincere. Root has been declared totally forgiven although not to be trusted around children.

Now The Village Church has issued an apology and agreed to release Hinckley from membership. The full text of the email sent to their members can be found here. As several have noted, it looks like it was written by a PR firm trying to do damage control. It actually admits to no wrongdoing against Ms. Hinckley, only to having not communicated more clearly to her their own standards and expectations.

However, in the video message, Chandler did take the apology quite a bit further. Multiple times, he reminded the congregation of the fact that that the elders of the church are fallible. He also acknowledged that on numerous occasions they clearly overstepped their authority and treated people quite badly. Time after time, Chandler said, “Please forgive me.”

He also stated that many policies and procedures that bind those who sign the membership covenant are being given a fresh look. However, and this is key, none of their underlying doctrinal stances will be questioned or changed. They are to be seen as infallible and absolute.

And herein is the problem. Their theology camps on two highly disputed items of Christian thinking, stemming primarily from John Calvin, who imposed iron rule on the people Geneva when he rose to prominence in the 16th century.

One is the question of predestination. Has God indeed chosen ahead of time those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven (i.e., eternal salvation) and thus condemned the rest of creation to eternal conscious torment? According to Calvin, The Village Church, any church connected with the Acts 29 church planting network (note: Chandler is President of Acts 29) as well as any church connected with The Gospel Coalition, the answer is “Yes.”

Two is the question of absolute male authority in the church and in the home. According to this branch of Christian thinking, no females may ever serve in an authoritative role in the church. Also, the husband is the undisputed “servant-leader” of the home. Wives are to live in full submission to them.

Now, there’s lots of talk about “complementarianism” here, and God-ordained male and female “roles” and “spheres” and “gentle and loving leadership.” Nonetheless, the man is in charge. Period. His decisions are final and binding.

The all-male elders of the church also get to make final and binding decisions upon all members of such church. Keep this in mind: there are NO female voices or perspectives permitted at the decision-making level of any of these churches.

With those two points of doctrine guiding them, the church is a set up for abuse of the vulnerable however much they may not want this to happen. With only male voices having authority, all prejudice and preference, known or hidden, goes to the male.

Second, if you don’t agree with these men theologically, then you are NOT one of the chosen, and thus destined to hell. They may easily dismiss you with condemnation.

© Iqoncept | Dreamstime.com
© Iqoncept | Dreamstime.com

Now, I want to go back to Matt Chandler, his apology and the empire he has built. There is no question but that this man is the Bill Clinton or the John F. Kennedy of the church planting world. His charisma is palpable.

He’s smart, well-spoken, articulate, good looking, well-muscled, and makes the listener feel as though he is speaking only to him or her. He referred briefly to his Christian super-star status in his apology, noting the world travel, the books, the Acts 29 presidency.

He’s got it all.

Furthermore, he knows that if the church falls apart, he’s going to lose it all. That’s a real and legitimate fear.

My companion this morning owns a PR firm. His comment afterward, “Businesses could learn from Chandler how to do an apology. Extremely well-written and compelling. And definitely informed by a professional in the PR business.”

Over and over again, Chandler said, “if” they have wounded someone, please come forward. He did indicate that people could come accompanied by anyone they wished and meet at the place of their choice.

Those two options were not given to Ms. Hinkley. She was told when to appear. She would face the all-male elder board without counsel or protection. So the church has taken a step forward.

Chandler also acknowledged that they have met the suffering of victims with a distinct lack of compassion. He nearly wept at the end as he begged people to come forward and lay before him and the other elders the ways they have transgressed their trust.

It was a compelling apology.

And yet . . . I have to ask: without the media firestorm, without the exposure of the dark underbelly of their good-old boys club heavy handed actions against those who rebelled against their intrusive authoritative stances, would they have ever said or seen anything?

More, with the essentials of their theological stances seen as utterly sacred and not to be questioned, there is no reason for such abuses not to happen again. Their very theology gives them permission to condemn others, and particularly permission to condemn a wife who dares to question her husband as spiritual and human equal in the kingdom of heaven.

There is a lot of money riding on this apology.

The Village Church is a giant operation with many sites and a large payroll. If it disintegrates (as did fellow Acts 29 Mars Hill Church in Seattle, led Mark Driscoll), this would be disastrous for Chandler. He knows it. He told them in the video message that the church matters most to him.

Chandler and The Village Church offer a good message to comfortable, white,  young and attractive heterosexuals. I also think such a message is problematic because it’s very nature denies the need to be compassionate to the less fortunate.  Even so, it plays a role in keeping the gospel alive today and in seeking faithfulness to the Bible.

I do not wish Chandler ill nor do I want the giant industrial-church complex he has built to fall apart. There’s much good to be found in it. No institution is without its challenges.

But the shepherds of this institution claim to speak for God. Their words and actions say that a large portion of God’s creation has no voice. Yes, they will indeed have to answer to God. And they may not like what they hear.


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  • MJB

    Reblogged this on View From the P.E.W..

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  • Jack

    I was there this morning also and I could not disagree with you more. You have not written this with any degree of objectivity. You went in this morning with an agenda and sounds to me came out with the same agenda. I encourage everyone to go listen online to what Chandler actually said. And by the way, nobody’s asking you to believe what the Village believes. If you don’t agree with what they believe then don’t go there, don’t watch Chandlers messages online. Does someone have a gun to your head? I’m not a Catholic. Why am I not a Catholic? Because I don’t believe what they believe. But that’s okay. I’m not loosing sleep over it and you shouldn’t either.

    Money? Really? This had nothing to do with money. This was about living out in real life what you believe in.

    • Gary W

      Another thing about abusers is that they are accomplished gatherers of allies, allies who are all too willing to support the abuser, and to accuse and marginalize the victim and those who would come to the aid of the victim.

      • Alena Belleque

        Absolutely, Gary. I haven’t heard the message yet, so will refrain from commenting directly on that, but in all of this, what I see over and over, is people with vested interests in these men being right all too happy and eager (if not downright militant) to support them, and silence any dissenting voices.

    • Indeed.

      I wasn’t there, but I can guarantee much of it was made up out of whole cloth. To the person who’s spent any time listening to Matt, it’s clear that the comments in “quotes” were not Chandler’s words. They were the author’s negative and uninformed opinions on complementarianism, Calvinism, and church discipline projected upon Chandler.

      Sad.

      • Joel Martin

        Really? You’re sure that the author, a pastor and elder, has “negative and uninformed opinions on complementarianism, Calvinism, and church discipline”? Have you talked to her at length about these issues? You weren’t there but you can make guarantees about what was said in your absence. That’s amazing! If only you could use this incredible ability for more than ragging on someone who was present but with whom you disagree.

        • //Very much not so. It’s actually worse. What they do is refuse to affirm the faith of the erring one. In other words, they tell such a one, “You are doomed to eternal suffering and separation from God unless you repent and come back under our church authority.”//

          Yeah, I can guarantee Chandler did not say this or anything close to it. And yet, it’s presented as a paraphrased comment.

          She’s poisoning Matt’s well.

          Perhaps, uninformed was a bad word choice. What I might have said better would have been to say that her obvious contempt for complementarianism, Calvinism, and church discipline (as it is practiced at the Village) so colored her analysis of Chandler’s apology that she proved to my satisfaction that she was not an objective reporter.

          My special powers? Hmmmm. Maybe you should talk to the pastrix about her ability to read Matt’s heart, that the apology was insincere, motivated by money and holding on to his empire.

    • Joel Martin

      And it sounds like you might have attended with your agenda. How’s that for making assumptions?!? If you want to ask the author about her intentions, do so. If you want to decide the thoughts in her head, that’s ignorant and wrong.

      It might not be about money. But it could be. When you risk losing everything (or even a lot), it’s a legitimate question to ask or assertion to make. As well, the author clearly identifies how she is concerned about what TVC believes, which you noted, and how that has resulted in this messy situation.

    • wow, so many people here think it is fine to abuse a woman who wants to leave a pedophile the church is protecting…

      Chandler must be like God to his followers…

      • Wrong. It seems that you’ve foolishly believed the clearly biased reporting of this article. Why don’t you watch the podcast when it is posted, then form your opinion.

        • reading a transcript is more than enough

          he did not apologise to the victim

          and he still believes what he has done is biblical…

          so he apologised for the way he handled it, but still thinks spouse of pedophiles should be disciplined…

          sad, can’t Imagine Jesus would have abused women like this…

      • “On the darker side are those congregations that are simply fiefdoms for bullies or insecure leaders that take people captive to their will by manipulating them with fear and guilt. I’ve been in the wake of such groups to help deeply scarred souls find healing. These groups often use the language of radical Christianity and attract passionate people, but that passion is soon twisted into legalism as everyone is told to follow the leader’s vision exclusively, to view other groups with disdain, and to abuse others by overtly or covertly marking and shaming people who do not conform. Sadly, some people enjoy abusive congregations, either because it makes them feel superior to “less-committed” believers or because they think their personal spiritual failures merit a weekly berating from the pulpit.”

        Jacobsen, Wayne (2014-10-13). Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More (Kindle Locations 2509-2515). TrailView Media. Kindle Edition.

    • There is ‘gun’ being held to people’s heads….It’s called THREATENING THEM WITH ETERNAL DAMNATION IN HELL….any further questions??/

  • Gary W

    Be very, very cautious. Do not be naive. The record before us is one of abusive behavior toward Karen Hinkley. While he may not have confessed to actual abuse, Chandler’s own testimony is to the effect that others have been treated in the same manner Ms. Hinkley.

    Those who are familiar with with domestic abuse report that abusers are masters of the strategic apology–apologies often delivered with tears, demonstrations of great contrition, and assurances to reform. Trouble is, the apologies are driven by a desire to retain power and control over the wife (sometimes husband) they feel they are entitled to treat like their own personal property. These apologies tend to be followed by a period of peace (the honeymoon period), then by a buildup of renewed tension, then finally by additional incidents of abuse.

    Clearly Chandler and his lieutenants deem themselves to be ENTITLED to exercise power and control over their congregants. Their arrogation of authority and power is built into the very fabric of their theology–to the point, as you report, of having authority to pronounce damnation on those who do not submit to their wills. Plus there is the theological bit about the subordination of women to men.

    Why should we think that the apologies of the ecclesiastical abusers are any more sincere and meaningful than the faux apologies of men who abuse their wives and children?

  • ehmcgowin

    Shouldn’t the subtitle say, “A Lot of Money *Rides* on This”? Or did I miss an intentional play on words?

  • Woodson

    “Jordan, however, was not placed under discipline nor are there any plans to do so. So it looks like it is OK for a man to enjoy looking photos of small children being violated sexually but not OK for his wife to acknowledge that no valid marriage ever existed to such a one.”

    Clarification. According to TVC, Jordan’s not under discipline because he submitted to their will; Karen didn’t. Since he was called back from his mission, he’s been living with a member of TVC who’s an attorney, allegedly rent-free. Although the attorney’s field is not family law, he represented Jordan in the annulment proceeding, allegedly at no cost.

  • Woodson

    “So, yes, their plan was to tell Karen she was destined for hell.”

    Am I to understand that the men in this brand of Christianity believe they know whom God has predestined for heaven and for conscious torment? And God lets them know someone’s bound for hell when the person disobeys them?

    Surely not.

  • Can anyone find a clear explanation of what exactly TVC’s “church discipline” entails? Is there a pdf? FAQ? It seems to be vaguely paraphrased in most articles I’m reading (this one included). When I researched it, I found a transcript of one of Chandler’s sermons on the topic, and the only things that are clear is that the church members are to “disassociate” with those “under discipline” and are not even permitted to eat with them. That’s bad enough, I’m just wondering if there is a clear, public statement regarding the salvation status of these individuals. Actual quotes from their “church discipline” protocol would give articles like this a lot more credibility.

  • TLC

    I was there this morning as well, in the 11:15 service, and your statements about what he said are actually the exact opposite of what he said. I can’t assume intent, so I don’t know if you had an agenda here or just misunderstood. I’ll aim to believe the best of you, which is why I’d like to offer the following suggestion:

    If you or any of your readers would like to listen or relisten, you can watch the video or listen to the podcast on Tuesday when they are posted on the church website: thevillagechurch.net. That should help clarify any errors.

  • Muff Potter

    I’ve often wondered what it is that causes otherwise intelligent and reasonable adults to get drawn in to this kind of authoritarian nonsense. In my opinion, one word is a good descriptor:
    Shamanism
    It’s as old as the wells of the world and the stuff that goes on at The Village Church is just one of its newer faces.
    I can’t talk too loud though, when I was a young Army vet back during the wind-down of the Vietnam Era, I got reeled into the Calvary Chapel cult which had its origins in the Southern Calif. beach-youth culture and was captive for the better part of 15 years before I freed myself.

  • I found your blog through David Hayward’s cartoon today.

    Your journalism on this event was excellent — and it will have a large effect especially as you are an insider (a believer and former pastor).

    I was sad to see that you close comments on past posts — because I went back to read a few posts but was unable to comment. So I look forward to future posts.

    I am a former believer — now religion-free and don’t think Jesus lives in Heaven etc. But I respect the good churches can do (though very aware of their harm — as this post illustrates) and am happy for those changing it from the inside.

    • Thank you. I do appreciate your comment here. I did close the comments on the older ones to cut doe on spam but may change that since you have written this.

  • Adrian Smith

    This church obviously tries to follow the new testament model so far as discipline of church members and women in leadership. So far as church discipline in my opinion I think that they are too hard hearted and they appear to lack compassion in that the leadership looks at the cold hard facts and applies scripture in a callous and authoritarian way. I can see what they are trying to achieve but it’s likely to leave more casualties along the road than whole people. I have had a read through their statement of faith and apart from the leadership being exclusively male I can go along with most of it. I do think that women can be in a leadership role and Paul’s teaching to the various churches on this matter was situational. I do think that a mixed gender leadership gives great balance to a leadership team. I also think that there are a number of people who are waiting in the wings, so to speak, for churches such as this to make ‘errors and mistakes’ and are laying in wait ready to pounce.

  • Tim

    Beyond predestination (which has at least some Biblical support, as does the opposing doctrine) and exclusive male leadership (which has no Biblical support beyond carefully isolated proof texts), there is a third doctrinal issue which goes to the heart of how they mishandled this situation: their unfounded insistence on “covenant membership”. These types of covenant put all the power in the hands of the leadership and all the submission onto the member. They’re ungodly as intended and as applied. Bad doctrine hurts God’s people.

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  • Don Stahl

    Assuming to know God’s will concerning ones salvation status is like the inquisition by the Roman Catholic Church in the 14th through 16th centuries. “Believe the way I want you to, or go to hell.” The classic earmark of a cult is the unquestioned leadership, whether it be one person or several. In my not-so-humble opinion, the TVC smacks of cultism. To also say that one is a “Calvinist” is to align oneself with those in Geneva Switzerland who chose to assassinate people who weren’t going to heaven anyway.

    I was in a cult in the 60s, finally left because I thought I was too weak. As a 24 year old I couldn’t “extinguish” my sex drive, though I tried. I found out years later that the leader, who no one dare question, was sexually abusing his children at that time. I realized later that though I felt like I was too weak, I thanked God for the strength to walk away from them.

    I hesitate anymore to say to anyone that I am a Christian, because of the extremism that has overtaken American Christianity. I just say I try to follow Jesus’ example on how to live (and not very well at times!)

    To damn Christi Thomas for reviewing her perception of what she saw and heard at TVC is unfair to her. I thought she tried to give “props” to TVC as well as trying to analyze as a critical thinker. Well done, Ms. Thomas!

  • Peter Thomas

    This is not meant to judge Jordan or Karen just establish facts that were omitted. Matt Chandler believes and teaches Complementarianism (men and women are equal but have different roles) in the church (A fact: single women that want to be Christian missionaries find it hard to find sponsors).

    Jordan Root and Karen Hinckley married with the expressed purpose of becoming missionaries. They sought out the Village Church and an organization the Village Church sponsors, why? Because of their missionary quest and missionaries need sponsors to go overseas. The mistake (one of many) the Village Church made was to sponsor two individuals, newly married and had been with the church for a very short time. They signed a covenant document as part of the membership process.

    All missionaries should go through a fairly extensive screening process. Not that they would find anything unusual about either individual. You can’t spot a pedophile out of a crowd. Though, there were warnings signs about Jordan’s behavior. Enough where I would have been comfortable turning him down. When Karen returned from her shortened mission trip (because of this crisis), her focus was on terminating her marriage (normal) and maintaining the funding streams for her missions work (normal).

    It is documented online how several members of the Village Church started funding Karen directly and not through the church’s missionary outreach. In the end, Karen got her apology and a commitment from the Village Church and the missionary organization to continue funding her as a missionary. These types of scandals never end well for the offending pastors/church. There are a lot of pastors that are jerks. I don’t think Matt Chandler is a jerk. But, one of his associates was being a real jerk and should have been disciplined for his interactions with Ms. Hinckley. Clearly, the marriage never existed in the eyes of God (annulment) because of Jordan’s deceit and inability perform his sexual role in the marriage. I do see as of 2018, the Village Church is giving up on their multi-campus set up and splitting into individual (sister) churches.