UPDATE: After much public discussion and feedback from both TVC members and outsiders, Matt Chandler’s church has issued an apology to Karen Root and their membership at large for many aspects of the situation. Read the story here.
The Church has always struggled with how to deal with sin. On the one hand, we serve a forgiving God. On the other hand, we serve a God who values justice and holiness. The Bible gives instructions on how to settle sinful disputes between Church members peacefully. But biblical writers also warn us to fear and respect the civil authorities – and obey the laws of the land as unto the Lord. So when someone’s sin is both a spiritual evil and a violation of civil laws…that’s when things get sticky. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, this is so often where the Church does too little or too much.
News of such a situation is gaining traction this week on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog post, Dear God, what is Matt Chandler Thinking? In the article, Turner, a prominent Christian author, calls out Matt Chandler (pastor of The Village mega-church and President of Acts29 network) for the way his church is handling the divorce of two members, Karen Hinkley and Jordan Root.
Jordan recently confessed to pedophilia and consuming child pornography (though no abuse victims have come forward at this time). Karen, his wife, filed for a legal annulment of their marriage one month after the couple returned abruptly from their overseas mission-work to deal with the discovery alongside The Village Church and the civil authorities.
Jordan is currently a member of The Village Church, in good standing, though heavily restricted and barred from leadership.
Karen, however, is under church discipline. Why?
Karen sent The Village Church a letter in early February, explaining her choice to annul what she considers a fraudulent marriage, her dedication to following and serving the Lord, and her choice to pursue healing in a different church environment. In it, she explains,
I recognize both Jordan’s and my need for a church family who can love and care for us as we pursue our individual paths of healing and recovery. For my own health and the health of all parties involved, I have decided it is not best for me to be in the care of the same church family as Jordan. As Jordan remains a member of The Village Church, as the leadership of The Village Church has expressed the intention to continue to care for Jordan, I am hereby withdrawing my membership of The Village Church. After a reasonable period of consideration I will commit myself to another church family.
The response from The Village leadership team? Pastor Matt Younger sent her an email saying that her decisions were “a violation of [her] membership covenant,” which require her to seek marital reconciliation until such time as the church deems appropriate. Due to her filing for annulment, the (all male) team of elders “cannot presently accept [her] resignation of membership,” and she would be put under formal church discipline if she did not “immediately revoke the petition for annulment.”
Perhaps the best summary of Karen’s situation can be seen in one of Younger’s final lines to her:
[Y]ou simply must slow down and let the church care for you. The elders need time to consider the details of your situation. As we do so, we will seek the Lord in what we believe are the best next steps for you and Jordan.
Turner, in his post detailing the turn of events, sides firmly with Karen’s freedom to leave The Village Church and heal from this trauma in the way she deems safest and wisest. He quotes a statement from where she writes,
Jordan’s admitted pedophilia and use of child pornography over many years is no small thing. The child pornography industry relies on the exploitation and abuse of children and their bodies, and the use of child pornography harms children by driving the demand for more. What is even more disturbing than his use of child pornography is that throughout the duration of these years, Jordan sought and gained access to a large number of children, many of whom represent some of the most vulnerable populations of children in our society. His ability to successfully manipulate others is evidenced by the complete trust that was placed in him by many parents, companies, churches, and organizations over the course of these years. It is my sincere hope that Jordan has not sexually abused any children, but I believe the circumstances warrant his exposure so that any victims who might be out there can be identified and given an opportunity for justice and healing.
In a situation such as this, what’s the most Christ-honoring course of action? According to Turner,
Once again, a powerful and seemingly arrogant church is further abusing a victim, failing to see past their rigid bylaws and theology and choosing law over humanity.
Have some mercy, Matt Chandler.
In This is the Reason God Actually Hates Divorce, Laura Petherbridge insists that though it takes two to get married, it only takes one to break the vow. She begs pastors to remember grace when dealing with couples who are choosing divorce.
Most pastors don’t understand divorce or remarriage. That’s a good thing. However, if we are going to be salt and light in today’s world, pastors need to surround themselves with people like me who do understand. I grew up with divorced parents and two stepmoms. I’ve been divorced, and a stepmom for twenty-nine years. I get it!! Seek out people like me teach you how to reach this hurting audience.
There will be some reading this article who will label me as “soft on divorce.” Nothing could be further from the truth. They will piously cite Bible verses and attempt to label me as unbiblical. Legalism is easy. True love is much harder.
Blogger and author Elisabeth Klein asks, Pastors: Send a Different Message to Struggling Wives. She has seen time and time again when comments such as “God hates divorce” and “you don’t have grounds” have only served to wound, shame, and rob hurting women of agency and their need to protect themselves.
Please, please. I am literally begging you to do this better. There are too many women languishing in their Christian marriages. We must take this seriously. We must listen. We must believe. We must stand up against abuse and addiction and sin. And we must protect women and children in the name of Jesus.
Karen Hinkley’s story is unsurprising to me. A beautiful woman of my acquaintance dealt with a very similar situation, where she was put under “church discipline” because of conflict in her family, even though she had resigned membership and become a regular attendee at a different church entirely. Whatever good intentions a pastor or leadership board may have in such actions, sadly the appearance is that of a power grab, and the result tends to be hurt and pain.
What do you think of the situation at The Village Church? Do churches go too far trying to exert this kind of control over their members? Or is such attention justified by biblical commands to leaders and elders? Tell us in the comment section!
Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at Crosswalk.com
Publication date: May 27, 2015