tchividjianTullian Tchividjian was in the news again in March, and not for good reasons. The disgraced grandson of famed mega-evangelist Billy Graham made headlines last June when he resigned from his megachurch post with the following announcement:

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.

At the time, while I winced at how Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, I had little sympathy for her. Infidelity is a form of abuse and unrepentant cheaters might be among the few who are actually deserving of public humiliation and shame (granted, their families are not). And while I think the “revenge affair” is still wrong and a terrible idea, I gave Tchividjian props for doing the right thing and recusing himself from ordained ministry. After all, 1 Tim. 3:2 says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” a phrase that I believe was a euphemism for “faithful to his wife” (as so translated by the NIV and NLT). The directive is repeated for deacons in 1 Tim. 3:12, and a similar qualifying phrase appears for the order of ministering widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 (“wife of one husband”). [1] Besides that, 1 Tim. 3:2 also says that an elder must be “above reproach,” and adultery is, oh I don’t know, reproachable?

In short: Christian adulterers have no business serving in ordained (or even just ordered leadership) ministry, whether as pastors, elders, or deacons. They may find other callings for their pastoral gifts, but ordained ministry should not be one of them. I personally believe this prohibition should be indefinite, but if such persons ever are restored to ministry, it should only be after years of repentance and therapy. Infidelity is not easy to repent of. It is associated with a wide variety of personality disorders and very serious character flaws, none of which are the sorts of things we want leading us from the pulpit.

Luckily for Tchividjian, the elders of Willow Creek Church [2] in Winter Springs (FL) didn’t have my grasp of the New Testament. They offered him a job just two months after his confession of adultery went public. His pastoral résumé hardly saw so much as a hiccup. Note that Willow Creek Church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, a hierarchist (“complementarian”) denomination that doesn’t ordain women even to the office of deacon (which is very clearly a biblical practice; Rom. 16:1) precisely because of their interpretation of passages like 1 Tim. 3:1-12. They wouldn’t have offered Tchividjian’s new job to a woman no matter how much adultery she hadn’t committed; the sin of being born female would have been enough to disqualify her. Yet it took them all of a few months to hand the keys to the office to Tchividjian, 1 Tim. 3:2 be damned. Now that’s all blown up for them as it turns out Tchividjian had an even earlier, undisclosed affair. (So, when Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, he was being a jerk and a hypocrite. For all we know, she was the one who had the “revenge affair.”) [NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that Tchividjian’s position at Willow Creek was “Director of Ministry Development,” a non-ordained staff support position. Unless this position was/is open to women, I think my criticism holds, and I think weeks/months after confession of adultery is still way too early to be “director” of anything ministry-related.]

I mentioned in another post that I dated someone last year who did this:
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What I did not mention was that the guy was ardently against the ordination of women. Slept with every girlfriend he’d had before me? Check. Off-and-on porn habit? Check. Asking Begging his current girlfriend to send naked pics? Check. But when I suggested that, if things worked out, maybe we could find some kind of compromise on women in ministry so that we could attend church together (I mentioned the example of an Anglican church I knew of that ordained women as deacons and “pastors,” but not elders or priests), his response was, “I will NOT compromise on God’s standards!” (“Hmm, that’s funny,” I thought to myself, “because it looks like you compromise on God’s standards a lot.”)

You may dismiss my ex-boyfriend as a lone moonbat whose behavior shouldn’t reflect on complementarians (and other patriarchal/hierarchist Christians) in general. In doing so, you would miss that the Tchividjian incident is just my ex-boyfriend’s hypocrisy on a much larger scale. Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yes, we all make honest mistakes and have temporary lapses in judgment (like I did when I dated that guy). But a man who is so passionate about “God’s standards” that he won’t even fathom going to a church with a female deacon should have no problem not getting on OKC to look for hook-ups. Likewise, people who are so intent on protecting the pulpit that they’re willing to bar half of the human race from consideration should care a little bit more about all of God’s standards for ministry. You know, the ones that actually matter, like not letting adulterers into the pulpit.

Think that Tchividjian was an isolated incident? Okay, so how about not letting people complicit in child molestation scandals into the pulpit? (And how many big-name complementarians have circled the wagon around Mahaney?!) I could go on and on.

Those who wish to be taken seriously when they “suffer not a woman” need to stop “suffering” just about everything else. Otherwise, it stops looking like sincere passion for God’s standards and starts looking like boring ol’ male privilege.

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[1] As a church historian and dedicated student of the Bible, I am certain that “the women” of 1 Tim. 3:11 refers to female deacons. I believe it was possibly meant for both female deacons and female elders, but this view finds far less support among scholars and no support among early church fathers like “female deacons” does.

[2] Note: not affiliated with the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington that I sometimes go to.

13 Comments on I Suffer Not a Woman–But I’ll suffer just about anything else

  1. I agree with you in part. There is, or seems to be, a practice of overlooking the disqualifying behavior of big name Pastors or accepting a brief period of repentance as sufficient for the return to ministry. I would add that there is also a disheartening tendency to blame the victims of spiritual and physical abuse of celebrity Pastors.

    The only thing I would add is that Tchividjian was hired as Director of Ministry Development at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church, a non-ordained, support position. Tchividjian was a former member of Willow Creek and according to Kevin Labby the Pastor of Willow Creek the position was offered as a means of support for for his family.

    • Gundek, thanks! I think I will add that to the post.

      It’s good that the position was non-ordained, but do you know, would a woman be eligible for the “Director of Ministry Development” position?

    • This piece of info (they offered him the job as a means of support to his family) actually makes me mad. If the church wanted to help him support his family, help him find a job outside the church. He can work outside of the church like the majority of lay people and also like tons of bi-vocational ministry people have to. I’ve seen this. This is not compassion, it is the good ole’ boy network and paternalism at work. How about this, helping families financially. If they really meant it, they could reach into the church coffers and help his family without employing him in ministry.

    • Jack,

      As I understand it the position was created specifically for Tchividjian, but there should be no reason a woman could not fill any unordained position.

    • Nancy,

      I understand your objections and without having more information about the particulars of Tchividjian’s situation I agree with you.

      Tchividjian was not without controversy in the PCA before his first affair. His failures became a whipping boy for his perceived theological over emphasis on grace, so I really didn’t follow the aftermath.

  2. I’m glad you added the note it isn’t affiliated with our Willow Creek (from the name I originally assumed it was).

  3. “Christian adulterers have no business serving in ordained (or even just ordered leadership) ministry, whether as pastors, elders, or deacons. They may find other callings for their pastoral gifts, but ordained ministry should not be one of them. I personally believe this prohibition should be indefinite, but if such persons ever are restored to ministry, it should only be after years of repentance and therapy. Infidelity is not easy to repent of. It is associated with a wide variety of personality disorders and very serious character flaws, none of which are the sorts of things we want leading us from the pulpit.”

    I think you are being far too harsh with your criticism. Marital infidelity is something that is complex, and usually a symptom of a very difficult situation. For all of the accusations of wanton lust, and those certainly exist, many more that I am personally aware of, occur because of deep emotional wounds that lead others to these mistakes. I am not downplaying the seriousness of the mistake, but it is usually the indicative of a much greater problem, which needs healing. Recovery from that whole situation is possible, and sincere effort is required, but blanket condemnation is not very helpful. Also, the empathy that can be learned from such an experience can have great benefits in terms of helping those who suffer in similar situations. Some of the best marriages I have seen have been the result of healing from those rifts, mine own included.

    • I think you are being far too harsh with your criticism.

      I don’t. There is a wealth of research proving out what I said about infidelity being associated with a wide range of poor behaviors, personality disorders, and character flaws, and it is undeniably a form of abuse. It should be taken very seriously. We know God takes infidelity very seriously because it’s one of the only cases where Scripture allows for divorce—so why shouldn’t we? There is nothing wrong with insisting that cheaters undergo time and therapy before returning to ministry.

      I am not downplaying the seriousness of the mistake, but it is usually the indicative of a much greater problem, which needs healing.

      It is indicative of poor character and a bloated sense of entitlement. No one is denying that recovery from infidelity is possible, but it takes frank acknowledgment of what it is, therapy, commitment to action on the part of the cheater, and time.

      A cheater should not be patted on the head and sent sailing back into ministry leadership in just a few weeks or months.

      Some of the best marriages I have seen have been the result of healing from those rifts, mine own included.

      This is like pointing out that some really awesome people have been born into the world through rape. That may be true, but it doesn’t mitigate the horror that is rape.

      For my own part, I exercised my biblical mandate to divorce a cheating spouse and my life has been nothing but better for it. There has been a recent study showing that women who left their cheating partners fared better than the Other Women who “won” the cheater. I’d love to see how women who leave cheaters compare to women who stay with them and reconcile. Given what we know about cheaters and personality disorders, I can’t imagine that the results for those who reconcile would be good.

      • “I don’t. There is a wealth of research proving out what I said about infidelity being associated with a wide range of poor behaviors, personality disorders, and character flaws, and it is undeniably a form of abuse.”

        I am not sure this is entirely true. The causes of infidelity are very varied. Some people are undoubtedly as you have described, but to lump all cases into this does not seem useful. The AAMFT states….

        “The causes of infidelity are complex and varied. Affairs can occur in happy marriages as well as in troubled ones. Although the involved spouse may not be getting enough from the marriage, sometimes the involved spouse is not giving enough. Reasons for EMI include low self-esteem, relationship deficits (e.g., lack of affection), or a social context in which infidelity is condoned.”

        None of this seems to indicate horribly warped individuals. Additionally, by putting the onus on the cheater, the real causes can be ignored in favor of blame, which is hardly useful. I am not saying that infidelity is not wrong, but dealing with the actual issues is the only way to heal the situation. Even had my wife and I separated, we would have needed to work on these issues in a future relationship, so it was better to work on them together, since they would not go away simply because we separated.

        If you say to the individual, “You have a poor character and a bloated sense of entitlement”, while ignoring deep marital issues, I am not sure what other option there is other than divorce. I also cannot reconcile “poor character and a bloated sense of entitlement” with the AAMFT’s statement that “Reasons for EMI include low self-esteem, relationship deficits…or a social context in which infidelity is condoned.”

        I do not associate bloated sense of entitlements with loneliness and poor self esteem. I know some people who are serial offenders who certainly fit your profile, truly horrible individuals, but my experience has been that these individuals are the exception to the rule. I know that if accusations of a “bloated sense of entitlement” were leveled in my marriage, it never would have survived. We both recognized the causes of the marital breakdown and worked to fix them. Placing all of the blame on the individual, while certainly nice in some situations, ignores root causes.

        And moving on to ministerial work, it is again complicated. Many of these people only have this career training, it is difficult to simply drop their only source of employment to wear a scarlet letter for the appropriate amount of time. Additionally, as I said, the understanding and empathy that can be gained by going through this sort of experience, can be very make someone far more loving and effective in their calling. Dealing with people like this in my current ecclesiastical role, I find that reaching both parties is easier.

        Some of the best drug and alcohol counselors are former addicts. In fact, it is only through such work that some actually find redemption themselves.

      • Jonathan ~ I will get you the links to how cheating is associated with personality disorders and negative characteristics when I have more time this weekend. That does not mean that 100% of cheaters fall into those categories, but my original statement was about how we should be cautious of allowing cheaters in ministry because of the high associations between cheating and these undesirable traits.

        Infidelity is abuse. The act of sleeping with a person not-your-spouse is every bit as much an act of abuse as punching your spouse in the face is, and the only person who is responsible for that is the cheater. There may have been other genuine issues in the marriage that needed to be addressed, but just like nothing justifies hitting your wife, nothing justifies sleeping with another person. That much of the blame needs to be accepted and laid on the cheater alone.

        I say cheaters are entitled because they always somehow conclude that their pain, their unhappiness, their issues, justify their abuse of another person, when the rest of us manage to work out our pain and unhappiness without abusing others. They demand that we accept that we played some part in their decision to abuse us, which is the opposite of repentance. They make unilateral decisions about our physical health without consulting us. And for all of the times that I’ve said cheating is about entitlement and poor character, I’ve never once had a cheater acknowledge this. They’re all special snowflakes who had Very Special reasons for cheating and how dare I “oversimplify” this “complex” issue.

        Re: adulterers not being allowed to serve in ministry, that is what is taught by Scripture. However, I work for Finance & Professional Regulation. I see professionals lose access to their livelihood through their own malfeasance all the time. Whether or not they’ve ever trained in anything else is not considered a factor in the decision to suspend their license, all that matters is whether they did something worthy of suspension. They knew the risks when they signed on to a licensed profession and should have known better than to risk their livelihood.

        Likewise, cheaters in ministry know that the Bible says they can’t serve in ministry if they cheat. If that isn’t enough to stop them from sleeping with Jill the Choir Girl, they deserve to be booted from ministry.

        I don’t know you or your wife and I can’t say whether or not your reconciliation was a good thing or whether one of you wouldn’t have benefited from understanding cheating and entitlement. I reconciled with my cheater 10 years ago (granted, I did not know at the time that he was trying to divorce me because he was cheating on me) and that proved to be disastrous for me. I spent 10 years believing that I was a terrible person who had “driven” him away from me, walking on eggshells, letting him get away with everything out of fear that if I pressed for change, I would “make” him leave me again. I wish someone had told me that his actions were not my fault and leaving him / letting him leave was the right thing to do.

      • I think you lack compassion for the situation. Marriages are difficult and complex relationships, possibly the most difficult in which humans engage. When these relationships go wrong, individuals react differently. Some people simply withdraw emotionally. Some seek partnership elsewhere. Some drink. Some throw themselves into work. Some react with physical violence. If you start to equate everything as abuse, and all abuse as equal, you lose the ability to differentiate. Is throwing yourself into work the same as punching a spouse in the face? Is withdrawing emotionally the same as punching a spouse in the face?

        The individual you begin speaking about went through some very significant traumas. His marriage was likely bad. His wife strayed. He was distraught. He became close to someone else, maybe he sought out someone else. He had an inappropriate relationship. He might have started drinking. He might have turned to exercise. He might have become violent. He might have cheated. He did the latter. It is unlikely he would have done so without the trauma of having his marriage come crashing down around him, so his inability to deal with that situation in the manner you would have him choose is very judgmental, particularly from a Christian sense. He sought forgiveness for his actions, and should be extended at least a modicum of understanding. Your condescension in calling him a “snowflake” is simply wrong.

        When my wife cheated it was she who committed the act. I was gone, a lot. I was working all of the time. She was alone, she was vulnerable. She had some significant traumas in her personal life not relating to the family, and, unbeknownst to me, she had been raped in college and the personal trauma was similar in situation to her rape. The pain and anguish involved in effectively re-living her rape, coupled with a husband who was never there and was unavailable, in part because I did not know what she was going through (she is not the best communicator) and was working ALL THE TIME, made her vulnerable. When she met someone who paid her some attention, and who was himself something of a predator, she strayed. She did not, and does not, have a bloated sense of entitlement or poor character. Likewise, she was not a “snowflake”. She was someone who made a mistake.

        It was an emotional blow, but we worked through it. I met with my Stake President at the time, and he confided that his wife had made a similar mistake early in their marriage, for somewhat similar reasons. It happens. People are not perfect. Some people are just plain jerks, but if you continue to state that “much of the blame needs to be accepted and laid on the cheater alone” you are going to miss the massive mistakes made by almost everyone involved. I asked the same questions you likely did, “No matter what I did how could you do THAT?” “This is your fault, not mine” and so on, but it really is not that easy.

        As in the case of Tullian Tchividjian…I take the same position my SP did. This happens, and the party who strayed is certainly guilty of some significant mistakes, and those have to be dealt with, but if you want to fix the problem, trying to place as much blame as possible on the individual who committed the infidelity, oftentimes ignores the serious flaws inherent in the marriage.

        A very bad infection in a limb can be “cured” by removing the limb, but it also removes the limb. Treating the infection can solve the bigger problem. If you are not getting counseling, I would highly encourage it.

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