The Village Church Debacle and The Evangelical Trifecta: Moralism, Patriarchy, Inerrancy

The Village Church Debacle and The Evangelical Trifecta: Moralism, Patriarchy, Inerrancy June 1, 2015

Last week, the Daily Beast published a thorough summary of the Village Church debacle/scandal/tragedy (written by Matthew Paul Turner). I have nothing to add to that summary–nor am I familiar with the details of the situation beyond that summary. I’m going to assume that you are familiar with the story–or that you’ve taken a minute to read the article. Upon reading it, I realized that the Village Church debacle represents the worst of what can result when the conservative Evangelical trifecta of moralism, patriarchalism, and inerrancy works against the welfare of humanity. What can result from this trifecta is a tragic demoralizing of human beings, an obscuring of justice, and a deadening of spiritual life. Furthermore, the witness of the viability of the church and the gospel takes a big hit. This is sadly ironic when you glance at the front page of the Village Church’s website, with its proclamation, in big bold letters, of being a “Gospel-Centered Church.”

This is a tragic example of what N.T. Wright warns against in his essay How Can the Bible be Authoritative? Christian pastors too often use “biblical authority” as a weapon to suppress and control others, and the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy becomes a box to confine, constrain, and deaden people (coffins are 3406427356_9c4ca926baboxes, Wright reminds us). The membership covenant is rather lengthy, and is meant to double also as “teaching” document, guiding its people down the right and proper path. Now, none of this is surprising nor outside the standard expectations of evangelical morality and Christian faithfulness. But it certainly does give a sense that if you are committing to Village Church, you are really committing to something! (No doubt many people are attracted to that kind of specificity over their lives–strong moral codes provide a sense of stability and meaning in a world that often lacks it.) And when one commits to Village Church, one surely feels they are committing to more than a social club. This isn’t a Costco or gym membership, after all. But the danger with such strict moral and spiritual guidance is that its strong authoritarian structure actually (in my opinion) hinders growth and also keeps members submissive not just to the Bible, but to the elders who have the “responsibility” and “authority” to carry out the “discipline” required when the mandated dictates are not followed.

But when you take moralism, combine it with the strongest view of biblical authority (note all the proof-texts “legitimating” or undergirding the moral code of the covenant), and then combine it with a patriarchal leadership (note their complementarian leadership policy and all-male elder board) you have the recipe for what just happened at Village Church–the “disciplining” of a woman who called her husband to account for illegal and immoral behavior and who understandably sought to annul the marriage. How might things have turned out differently if there were women voices speaking into the process? What if the elder communicating with Karen Hinkey (and Jordan Root) were women rather than men–or at the very least a combination of gender perspectives? And, what if the theological position of the church was not automatically tilted to favor and protect men–and their authority? And what if their elders had been able to see the problems with their authoritarian, moralistic approach to marriage? What if their default concern had been (as Karen’s was) to side with the most vulnerable in this situation–that is, potential victims (children)? 

Matt Chandler announced last week that Village Church would be apologizing this past Sunday. I haven’t heard yet if this happened–I assume it did. But I wonder if, in cases like this, apologies can never be enough. What might be required is repentance for patriarchy and a dismantling of the trifecta of moralism, patriarchy, and inerrancy. But this implies a call for a demand of the reformation of so much of conservative evangelicalism–and that’s a daunting prospect.




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