Clearly one of the hot religion pieces everyone has been reading lately is the Palm Beach Post’s report on the new career launched by the Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, grandson to Billy Graham.
The Tchividjian story had some stiff news competition yesterday, mind you, from President Donald Trump who on Tuesday scolded American Jews who vote Democratic just before he cancelled his upcoming trip to Denmark because the Danes would not sell him Greenland. Words just fail me sometimes.
Back to Tchividjian, last we heard about him was former GetReligionista Jim Davis’ 2015 post about Tchividjian’s resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale after it became obvious that he’d had an affair. Turns out, there was more than one affair.
Some time after that Tchividjian started up a new church near West Palm Beach, the local newspaper caught up with him. We pick up a few paragraphs into the story.
Tchividjian, the 47-year-old grandson of famed pastor Billy Graham and a Christian celebrity in his own right, is leading a church for the first time since his June 2015 resignation as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in northern Fort Lauderdale.
Tchividjian was forced to resign because he violated a morality contract by having an extramarital affair, according to a filing in his divorce case. But the woman who said she was involved in the affair and an advocacy organization led by his brother call it pastoral abuse and sexual misconduct.
Tchividjian, who said there was no element of sex abuse or emotional manipulation, was also defrocked by the South Florida Presbytery. Now the new Jupiter resident is among those starting The Sanctuary, an unaffiliated church that’s meeting each Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Beach Gardens ahead of a planned formal launch next month.
The reporter did his homework, interviewing one of the women who had an affair with the minister and at least trying to score interviews with church officials, a professor of ethics at Princeton University and with Tchividjian’s brother, Boz Tchividjian, who heads up an organization — GRACE — that investigates church sex abuse cases. He had the best luck hearing from Tullian Tchividjian himself.
Through a spokesperson, Tchividjian said his “infidelity in 2015 was completely wrong, morally and ethically.” But, he said, there was no element of abuse in that or the other affair.
“I don’t care what role a person has, a consensual relationship between two adults is not abuse. And some of these people will try to make the case that, ‘Well, because you’re in a position of authority, it is abuse,’” Tchividjian said. “And I’ll go, ‘OK I can see how that has been and can be used by people in those positions.’ ... (But) that just was not true for me. I was not abusing my authoritative role to try and find women.”
One thing that’s unclear in this piece: Did all the statements by Tchividjian in the piece come through a spokesman or were they given during a July 30 interview with the reporter? And then there’s an insertion of another church from the middle of nowhere.
After leaving Coral Ridge, a sabbatical funded by donors to Willow Creek Church in Central Florida ended abruptly in spring 2016 around the time that details of one of Tchividjian’s extramarital relationships were made public, Tchividjian said.
Willow Creek’s leadership later condemned him in a December 2016 statement…
So it was donors from Coral Ridge that spirited Tchividjian to central Florida to work at another church? That part of the story could have been explained better — as my understanding is that Tchividjian was on staff, not on sabbatical at Willow Creek.
Other than that, the reporter’s chronology of Tchividjian’s post-Coral Springs life was helpful in that I had no idea where the pastor was floating about in recent years. Turns out, he remarried, then hid out somewhere north of Houston for a year, then began traveling the country.
The couple moved to Fort Myers in late August 2017. It was at about that time when, Tchividjian said, he began writing again and posting those thoughts online. A year and a half of speaking engagements throughout the U.S. followed, when he was often asked to share reflections on his own life.
Reactions to his writings and speeches made it clear to Tchividjian that there was a spiritual appetite for a different kind of church, one that is a “safe place for broken people to break down and for fallen people to fall down.” He said he heard from many others about “crash and burn stories” of their own.
It’s not hard to dig up the names of churches Tchividjian spoke at during that period and I’m wondering: What were people in those churches they thinking? Had Tchividjian re-packaged himself so convincingly that he actually had a platform at these places? Guess so.
This man is not the I’m-going-to-repent-and-get-work-in-another-occupation kind of guy. Tchividjian even has a link to a form for speaking requests in his Twitter bio, so he knows there’s money to be made in spreading his story. As the article says near the conclusion:
Tchividjian acknowledges some may be uneasy about his return to preaching. But he said he and The Sanctuary are offering an experience that others will seek out and appreciate.
“Some people think that I should just shut up and crawl in a cave and never come out because I’m not qualified to be leading spiritually in any way because of everything that I went through and everything that I did,” he said. “Other people champion it because they go, ‘It’s about time that churches are led by people who know what it feels like to, you know, fall on their face and be in the gutter.’”
By the way, well-known folks on the Christian speakers circuit usually start at $5,000 per engagement (I learned this while culling through one prominent speaker’s bureau listings), so Tchividjian is probably making out well.
I do wish the Palm Beach Post had captured more of the rage out there on Twitter and in the blogs about how Tchividjian has basically gotten off scot-free in this whole episode.
Julie Ann Smith’s Spiritual Sounding Board blog talks about Tchividjian’s pursuit of multiple women from 2013-2016, how this guy should never be in ministry again and asking why a major Christian publisher like David C. Cook still publishes his books, including the paperback version of his devotional this past February.
But hey, the guy has almost 90 million Twitter followers. Can’t argue with that, right?
You got to hand it to Samuel Howard, who’s only four years out of college and who's only been with Post since April, with getting a story no other Florida reporter bothered to drive to West Palm Beach to get. Let’s hope he continues to follow Tchividjian’s exploits because a lot of folks out there will be wanting to know what the less-than-repentant pastor pulls off next.