The Tullian and Kim Tchividjian Sex Scandal, A Reminder That Pastors are Just like the Rest of Us

tullian and kim tchividjian

Tullian and Kim Tchividjian

Another big name Evangelical pastor has resigned over having a sexual affair. Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin), grandson of Billy Graham and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, resigned after his affair became public. Tchividjian released the following statement to The Washington Post:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. 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. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

After the release of her husband’s statement, Kim Tchividjian sent the following message to The Post:

“The statement reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own. Please respect the privacy of my family at this time, thank you. I do thank everyone for the outpouring of love for my family as well during this difficult time and we appreciate all the prayers and support we are receiving.”

In 2009, Tullian Tchividjian  assumed the pastorate of Coral Ridge, a church pastored for decades by culture warrior D. James Kennedy. At the time, Christianity Today published a feature story about the strange appointment of Tchividjian to replace Kennedy:

…For decades, another Presbyterian church in South Florida pressed to win the culture for Christ. Coral Ridge, once led by D. James Kennedy, is 12 miles away from New City in Fort Lauderdale. Once visited by as many as 7,000 on Sunday mornings, Coral Ridge shrunk to 1,400–1,500 regular attendees as Kennedy’s attention turned to national politics. Kennedy last preached on Christmas Eve 2006, and suffered cardiac arrest four days later. He died September 5, 2007, and the church’s leaders searched far and wide for a new senior pastor.

No culture warrior himself, Tchividjian seemed like an unnatural replacement for Kennedy. Yet in January 2009, Coral Ridge and New City proposed a dramatic plan: If the two churches could agree to merge, Tchividjian would become the senior pastor. If not, he would happily remain the pastor of New City. As the churches completed their merger March 15, Tchividjian inherited a high-profile opportunity to work out his vision for an unfashionable church.

Though Tchividjian had never preached at Coral Ridge before March, he was no stranger to its congregation. He hosts a monthly radio program on its radio station, has spoken on numerous occasions at the Kennedy-founded Knox Theological Seminary, and attended Coral Ridge’s private school, Westminster Academy, when his family moved to South Florida in the late 1970s. For a time they even worshiped at Coral Ridge. Once the fastest growing Presbyterian church in the country, Coral Ridge welcomed Billy Graham to dedicate its gorgeous campus in 1974…

…But unlike many others who emphasize this universal dimension, Tchividjian cares little for political life. Millions of dollars dumped into Florida during the past three presidential campaigns have numbed him to politics. Like other young evangelicals, he’s reacting against the overemphasis of the Religious Right, which has precious little to show for extraordinary efforts. Yet Tchividjian does expect that his weekly scriptural expositions will help Christians understand their cultural, social, and political obligations, including how they will vote. And he does not shy away from speaking directly about social issues clearly addressed by Scripture, such as abortion, which he called the “Holocaust of our generation.” Nevertheless, he believes politics reflects, and does not direct, cultural trends.

“For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, D.C. (politics),” he writes in Unfashionable. “It’s super important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture—the habits of heart and mind—that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas.”

Unlike the Religious Right’s founders, Tchividjian preaches little about winning the culture wars. Like his grandfather, he believes that focusing on the gospel will reap the reward of faithful church practice, an appealing apologetic in a skeptical age. Now as senior minister of Coral Ridge, he takes this message into one of America’s most prestigious pulpits.

According to Washington Post, a significant number of Coral Ridge members did not like Tchividjian’s approach to the Evangelical culture war and tried to unseat him:

Before he became senior pastor of the Fort Lauderdale congregation, Tchividjian’s church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge. Seven months in, a group of church members, headed by Kennedy’s daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. Church members voted 69 percent to 31 percent to keep him, but a group of congregants formed a new church in response.

I know, nothing new here.

You have a one time famous Evangelical church that is in serious numerical decline. They bring in a big name preacher to fix what ails them. When some members don’t like the cure they attempt to remove the pastor, and when this fails they abandon the church and start a new one. And all of this is done because God is leading and directing.

Behind closed doors, the famous grandson of Billy Graham is having marital problems. His wife seeks out the comfort and support of another man and he does the same. How many times have we seen this movie? Same plot, different actors. What remains to be seen is whether the Phoenix will rise again. My money is on Tchividjian surviving putting his penis in a non-approved receptacle. The same goes for Kim Tchividjian. The heart wants what the heart wants, and only in the alternate universe of Evangelicalism do people fail to understand this.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Men of God seeking out the comfort of a woman not their wife is common. Less common is a pastor’s wife doing the same. Usually, the pastor’s wife is left to endure the indignities heaped upon her by her skirt-chasing husband. It’s somewhat refreshing to see a pastor’s wife doing what has long been the provenance of God’s chosen ones. Progress? Equal opportunity philandering?

Evangelical pastors, Tullian Tchividjian included, have spent the last five decades riding a high horse on the range of moral superiority. Before the internet, clergy sex scandals rarely made the news. Sure there were whispers, but most vow-breaking Evangelical clergymen survived the scandal and continued to pretend they met the ministerial qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, this is no longer the case. It is not IF a pastor will be found out but WHEN. (and I know of NO pastor who meets the qualifications set forth by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and the book of Titus)

shane and morgan idleman

Shane and Morgan Idleman

It’s time for Evangelical pastors to admit that there is no difference between them and any other man. Not that every man has an affair, but every man (and woman) can, in the right circumstance, break their marital vows. Why is it that Evangelical pastors refuse to admit this? Take Shane Idleman, pastor of WestSide Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California. Idleman thinks Tullian Tchividjian’s run from grace is due to:

Within weeks, two of my heroes have fallen from grace, and some of my friends in pastoral ministry have taken detours in their destiny as well. Moral failings among leaders are becoming an epidemic. No one is beyond the reach of Satan’s grasp. Although I’m disappointed, my faith is not shaken because only Christ should be placed on a pedestal.

Why do they fall? They fall for the same reason that all Christians fall. Each of us are drawn away by our own evil desires and enticed. When these desires are acted upon, they lead to sin (cf. James 1:14-15)…

Consider the following ways that sin gains entrance:

1. “It will never happen to me.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 reminds us that if we think that we are standing firm, we should be careful that we don’t fall. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Pride says, “I’ve never committed adultery. It will never happen to me.”…

2. I’m “too busy.” We are all susceptible to putting God second and ministry first. If we’re too busy to cultivate a prayer life that places God first—we’re too busy. Men would live better if they prayed better…

3. Holiness is compromised. The enemy attempts to draw us away from God’s holy standard… Of all the attributes of God described in the Bible, holiness is seen most often. Holiness is a vital weapon of defense against the enemies attack (cf. Ephesians 6:14). But holiness must come from brokenness and humility not legalism. A low view of holiness always damages morality…we rationalize instead of repent. I’m convinced that today’s media plays a significant role in the decline of holiness. Sadly, hollywood, not the Holy Spirit, influences many. We cannot fill our mind with darkness all week and expect the light of Christ to shine in our lives.

4. Many build unhealthy relationships with the opposite sex. We must be on high alert in this area and have tremendous steps of accountability in place. The devil doesn’t show those involved in counseling appointments, inner office meetings, and private “fellowship” the pain and anguish and the years of regret that moral failure brings; he deceives them with a false sense of freedom in ministry…that we are simply “helping” the other person. If you are married and attracted to another person, or if the potential is there, take steps now and remove yourself from the environment. Adultery begins with small compromises. We’re often too smart to take deliberate plunges, but we’re easily enticed to take one step at a time, one compromise at a time, one bad choice at a time until we’re at the bottom. Don’t fight sexual desires; don’t entertain them…flee (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18).

5. We fail to strengthen weak areas. The demands of life often tempt us to seek gratification in alcohol and other things. We must be on high alert. The enemy uses “opportune times” to draw us away from God. (cf. Luke 4:13.) The line is so thin that it is often hard to determine when we cross over. Weak areas such as drugs, alcohol, pain meds, sex, anger, marriage issues, and so on are “opportune times” for the enemy to strike. We must expose these areas through repentance, and install safeguards and accountability. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. (As a sidenote, depression and anxiety can work against us as well. Much can be done to safeguards these areas too…

6. Accountability is often breached or minimized. Accountability is a safeguard, but its not bullet-proof. Accountability, by itself, doesn’t work—it’s not realistic to ask others to hold you accountable. Your heart must be focused on honoring God’s Word. Accountability simply adds another level of security in the battle against sin…

I also have accountability software that sends all websites visited to my wife’s email every week. This is a major deterrent and it makes me very conscious of even seemingly innocent sites. To some, this may seem extreme, but we need to be armed for the enemy who steals, kills, and destroys. The greater our influence, the greater the need for accountability: spiritually, financially, and relationally.

7. Loneliness becomes an excuse. Ministry is hard and can easily take it’s toll. Feeling a sense of entitlement if often the beginning of justifying wrong choices. We can easily become jealous and judgmental of those who seem to have “all the fun.”…

In closing, if you are on the cliff or have already fallen, take time now and repent…

Seven points and poem from Idleman only confuse and obfuscate what the real issue is. Forty years ago, a crusty old preacher-professor told the preacher boys at Midwestern Baptist College, the college my wife and I attended in the 1970’s, that a “stiff prick has no conscience.” No need to slather Tullian Tchividjian’s affair with hyper-spiritual blather.  The sexual want, need, and stirring that arose in Tchividjian’s body gave him sufficient warning. Danger Tullian Danger, you want this woman. He chose to act on his desire, as did his wife. While there are certainly contributing factors that led to the affairs, the base reason is the need for sexual fulfillment

Idleman’s article is little more than an attempt to justify the moral failure of his hero.  It’s time for Evangelical pastors and churches to come clean about sexual infidelity in their ranks. ( please see my post Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?) It’s time to admit that there is no difference between the Evangelical Christian and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The moral high ground is a fiction used to prop up House Evangelical. As the light of day continues to shine on the dark secrets of Holy Spirit filled men of God, we should expect to hear of  more and more stories like this one.

Note

I focused on just one aspect of Shane Idleman’s article. There was just too much bullshit to shovel in one post.

Am I the only one who notices that most of these big name Evangelical preachers have hot wives?

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20 Comments

  1. Steve

    Yeah, I noticed that too, bro; (I guess we both have an eye for hot women, lol)

    Reply
  2. Brian

    There’s Hollywood and then there’s Holywood. So much heat!

    Reply
  3. Becky Wiren

    I was also hot when my husband was a minister. Of course that was nearly 30 years ago! (I still have inner hotness though.) 😉

    Reply
  4. Melody

    Only yesterday, I saw this youtube video of Dawkins visiting a anti-mastrubation conference. It was pretty interesting although quite short (4 min) and it basically said there is no difference between Christians and everyone else as far as sex drive was concerned. The only real difference was the level of guilt which was much, much higher in religious people.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYr48dvZ5As

    On Patheos I saw this clip: why does God hate sex? I don’t remember the exact blog, but it was on youtube as well. Where would we be without the internet? 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PBcb3VKHN4

    Both very enlighting, I thought. Not having (all kinds of) sex is so important in religions and it’s just such a shame: all that time agonizing over it could be used for actually doing some good.

    Reply
  5. Not Out Yet

    Pastor Jeff Owens resigned his pastorate at Shenandoah Bible Baptist Church in WV back in 2012; reading between the lines it seems his wife was the one that strayed. (Not sure if Shenandoah is IFB or not, but Owens appears to be connected with several people/churches who are IFB.) You’re right, it’s rare that it’s the pastor’s wife.

    http://www.bobgraysr.com/2012/09/flying-to-san-francisco.html

    http://drjeffowens.com/ministry-update.html (see the October 2012 entry at the bottom)

    Reply
  6. Ian

    Reading through the list Idleman made, I see one common thread. He describes hubris in the person. Most of these pastors become narcissistic and start believing their own legends. Unfortunately, their followers feed the narcissism and help build the legend.

    I have met very few preachers who are truly people people. Most start shoring up their kingdoms and do everything they can to hold powers.

    Reply
  7. Jambes Marks

    I once attended a megachurch, that, like all churches, was a two-tiered society, The pastor had his “chosen few”, generally people who had hot-looking wives, fancy cars, and a lot of money. Then there was the rest of us, the “great unwashed”. The pastor always greeted the “chosen few” effusively, and they had their section down front. The pastor looked at us “great unwashed” in an unseeing way, like a boss at a stockyard looks at the animals. Before I finally made my escape from that megachurch, I heard a number of sermons regarding adultery. My guess was adultery was/is a major problem within the church’s congregation, probably among the “chosen few”. I doubt the pastor would have cared enough about the “great unwashed” to say anything.

    Reply
  8. Monty

    The current trial of Geronimo Aguilar is showing just this. Even his wife cheated on him…with his brother…who was a pastor.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I read the wife’s testimony. WOW! You’ve got me addicted to the ROC soap opera. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Monty

        You should friend Kerri O’Brians page. She’s giving constant updates. Its a trip!!!!

        Reply
  9. Karen

    I’m fascinated by the emphasis. both in Evangelical and non-Evangelical culture, of the horribleness of sexual sin. Cheating on one’s spouse is not a good idea; I haven’t done it, my husband probably hasn’t done it, and that correlates with a strong marriage. But we elevate straying so far above the other terrible things people can do to their families. Beat your kids? Well, *I* was beaten as a kid and it didn’t hurt me… Beat your spouse? Well, I guess s/he has anger management issues, and that spouse was just too quick to call the cops… Write your kid out of your will because s/he married someone other than the one you would have chosen for her/him? Well, that’s your right… Cheat on your spouse? Oh, evil! Sin! Fallen! How COULD he? How COULD she?

    So, would I stay with my husband if he cheated on me? Don’t know, depends on the greater context. What would I advise someone else to do? I wouldn’t. Too personal. But I wouldn’t carry on behind his back on how terrible he was. And if someone I knew had a cheating spouse, I wouldn’t carry on behind their back about how terrible they were. That’s just not doing unto others as I would have done unto me.

    Reply
    1. Becky Wiren

      That pastor should NOT have outed his wife as having an affair. That was private, whereas the pastor cheating and being caught was a work thing. It seems the pastor is actually blaming his wife by putting it out there. I will be surprised if they stay together, and with a man that says, “I did wrong, but my wife did it first” shouldn’t expect loyalty. And also we don’t know WHY she cheated. For all I know, the pastor was ignoring her for long stretches that made her miserable. Not an excuse, but a reason (if it exists). No, the pastor showed he had clay feet. He could have stretched and kept his wife’s stuff to himself. But to me, seriously, he seems like a douche.

      Reply
  10. Karen

    One minor disagreement with your argument, Bruce: people cheat on spouses for emotional, as well as sexual. fulfillment. We humans are complicated beasties.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Totally agree with you. I don’t know of any person who had an affair where it didn’t start with an emotional connection. But, there’s also that moment when you feel sexual attraction and that’s the moment a lot of preachers seem to ignore or are unwilling to admit is the real reason they had an affair.

      My greater objection is to Idleman’s seven point “explanation ” of why these things happen. I’ve heard that bullshit uncounted times. It’d be nice to hear an Evangelical say, like King David, I had to have her and was willing to do anything , including murder, to get her.

      Reply
  11. Martin

    If Jesus came to save us from our sins, he hasn’t been much of a saviour to these guys.

    Reply
  12. tim johnson

    The biggest sin was his dragging his wife down, blaming her as an adulterous which he claims led to his own adultery….. How low, cheap,, what a cad? Even a gentleman who doesn’t claim to be a Christian wouldn’t be such a slob, a boor.
    Mmmm, how conveeeeenient….. who does it remind you of.; I wonder, whooooo could it be???…..
    ADAM, MAYBE???????
    Gads, it’s almost the Living Bible translation of the Genesis genesis, the original original sin….. “the woman made me do it.”

    Any church that hires him as a minister is deluded or corrupt or super dumb; or all three.
    He needs to feel scorn, for a good long time.

    He’s obviously this spoiled boy who knows he’s so sweet that if he did do anything wrong, it was somebody else’s fault.
    I’d like to think the Rev. Billy would slap him senseless, then send him out to cut wood for a couple years and keep his trap shut.

    Reply
  13. rps abq

    … yeah and just think if he had had an affair with a man!! A firey death in Hell for sure. Have an affair with a woman and you get hired at another church in 6 months! The modern day church is the perfect place to experiene a true mind fuck!

    Reply
  14. G White

    I’m not on the same page as most of the people here, but isn’t this profound?

    Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

    (James 1:13-15 ESV)

    Reply
  15. rpsabq

    This is God’s way of saying to churches and to pastors be real, stop judging people, be a servant, be humble, it’s not about you, you are there to serve not rule, we are all called, you are not special, you just happen to be the one in charge. Sorry, but i saw this coming a mile away. Too much about him, his looks, his personality, his ego. He gave off a vibe of better than, it’s all about me and what i have to say, etc.. etc… we see it all the time in the pulpit, unfortunately. The job and title of a modern day mega church pastor seems to attract that kind of personality. We as a congregation attract it as well. We want someone to tell us what to do, someone who is “closer” to God than we are, a super personality who can preach on TV, someone with good looks who we enjoying looking at, etc etc…… All hogwash.

    Reply

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