UPDATE FROM JOHN: As of this writing, Matt Chandler and The Village Church have issued a lengthy statement regarding these events, which can be read in full HERE. In it, they directly address many of the mistakes and missteps discussed in this piece and to the linked articles within it, accepting some responsibility. While they are only words, they are encouraging ones and necessary to bringing about much-needed healing, restoration, and change. While the situation itself and the systematic breakdowns that led to it cannot be remedied or excused by a simple statement, I welcome it and pray that it is the beginning of a true path toward a healthier, more compassionate, more loving Church for everyone. However, accountability for this situation and for these leaders begins, not ends here. Until and unless they show otherwise, I will choose to believe in the possibilities present here and to nurture them to fruition in whatever way I am able. This has always been about protecting, hearing, and caring for all people, and I have great hope that this can be a new beginning for we who comprise the Church; a beginning that as I state below, I will gladly be a part of.
In recent weeks, a great deal of information has surfaced regarding Dallas megachurch The Village Church led by Matt Chandler, head of the Acts 29 Network, in what can only be described as a terrible mishandling by their leadership of a moral failure by one of its leaders; most critically the treatment of the man’s now ex-wife, who despite leaving the church, has been the subject of all sorts of intimidation and shaming by those in authority, which is sadly common in these decidedly patriarchal communities. Matthew Paul Turner lays out a good simplified overview of the situation, and here is a wonderful piece of investigative reporting by Amy Smith to help provide all the detailed documentation currently available. Below is my raw, gut-level response to these events and the all-too familiar patterns on display here. It’s not very pretty, but we’re dealing with something quite ugly here—and something needs to be said.
The party’s over, dudes.
I’m afraid we’re going to have to shut down the Christian Boy’s Club forever. It’s been a long time coming.
This glorified, sanctified religious frat house management system you’ve been operating within has well exceeded its usefulness. At this point it’s doing a tremendous deal of real harm out here where honest, decent people are trying to figure out just why the heck Church leaders can’t seem to act like human beings, especially when it comes to the sexual misconduct of their own.
I’m trying to figure it out too. Maybe you can help me.
Maybe you can explain to me and to everyone else, just who in the hot-and-humid Hell you think you are, and what you think gives you the right to malign and harass and victimize a decent, honest, deeply hurting woman for refusing to “play ball” and abide by the disgusting behavior of her former husband (and your employee), and why you think Jesus is cool with all these back room, closed-door shenanigans.
You see, guys, as nasty and worrisome as this one incident is on its own, (and it is), we see in it a shameful repetition, a story that feels all-too familiar; one that seems like merely the latest involving you, your leaders, and your cozy network of white pastor men behaving badly.
We only recently endured Mark Driscoll and that whole debacle, and yet here we are again. It’s like continually recycled garbage that looks slightly different but still stinks just the same. The patterns begin to repeat themselves; a series of intimidating internal memos, a hastily shuffled organization structure, a temporarily reassigned pastor, a brief media blackout, and a few short months until its business as usual, or until another awful mess oozes up to the surface.
Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe it’s the system you’ve built and fortified that’s broken here? Maybe on a fundamental level it’s the way you do what you do that breeds this kind of dysfunction and sickness; which enables male ego to grow unchecked and unchallenged. That’s the slippery part of Complementarianism; it’s always in danger of either elevating and devaluing gender worth, rather than celebrating its diversity.
Here in this latest situation as in many cases, when there is dissension or unwanted bad press in your midst you often retreat into the cloistered safety and comfort of self-defined “church discipline”. I’m sorry, but in the most loving and gentle manner I can muster, I’m calling BS on all of it.
What has been on display here is a whole lot of things: bullying, coercion, harassment, guilt, and tough guy intimidation all wrapped up in a shoddy religious shell, but I’m confident saying that it isn’t anything Jesus would want his name on, and as a Christian I don’t want it associated with me either. No matter how you spin this, what it boils down to is a self-preserving cluster of male peers policing themselves and determining what constitutes fairness for them and for those they oversee, with little real accountability beyond what they have set in place.
Church elders are supposed to be wise, seasoned, impartial overseers who can deliver difficult truth to leadership; not golfing buddies and wingmen.
And here’s the really crazy part of all of this, the part that so frustrates: When Christian leaders like yourselves look around incredulously and ask why people are exiting and disowning the Church in massive numbers? It’s because of this. It’s moments like this. It’s leaders like you. It’s the testosterone-fueled hubris you unknowingly perpetuate that makes following Jesus a really tough sell for those who witness it. There’s a profound disconnect between the ministry he was building and what this is, and people can see it from a mile away.
I know this might be news to you, how sick and sinister this all has become. You’re too close to it to recognize it anymore. That’s why it’s a blind spot.
I know that you’ve been raised in this polluted, toxic church culture for decades and so you can’t see when it isn’t normal or healthy or holy. I know you’ve all studied at the same seminaries and hung out at the same conferences, that you’ve written the forewords to one another’s books and planted one another’s churches, and that you’ve made small fortunes on the kind of back-scratching, palm-greasing nepotism that our political system’s most experienced lobbyists would marvel at.
I know that since you began this journey because you believe and desire to serve, that you’ve convinced yourselves that you’re doing the Lord’s work and that it’s you who are being martyred and persecuted in times like this, but really you’re just being outed. Thanks to a free media culture, the stuff you’ve done so comfortably in the dark and been so adept at keeping hidden in the past, is all being dragged out into the light,—thank God.
You may dismiss this because my language is strong and my manner direct, but I hope that you won’t. Jesus didn’t turn over the temple tables because he was mean-spirited, violent, and reckless, he did it because he was passionately consumed with protecting and honoring the things of God.
Maybe I’m coming across as far less than understanding, but it’s because I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how you and your cozy brotherhood have so deluded yourselves that you believe this is anything resembling Christ; that it is at all Good News. I love the Church as you say you love it, and so I speak into those moments and places where it is being less than it should be.
This isn’t Christian Community and it isn’t Biblical leadership, it’s the kind of top-down, secretive, steaming horse manure that we’d shut down a fraternity house for, and it’s time here too.
I am a Christian and a man and a pastor, and I’m tired of you representing me. Yes we’re supposed to be brothers in Christ, but lately I just don’t feel like we share our Father’s heart on this matter.
I may sound simply bitter, but I am actually grieving deeply and tired.
I’m exhausted making excuses for you to those who rightly find your tactics unfathomable.
I am worn out trying to help people severely damaged by you and groups of men like you.
I am tired of the stories of those who have been shunned and silenced because they crossed or questioned you.
I am sick of seeing the terrible toll you have exacted on those who have served in your system and of the hidden poison that runs through your institutions.
Most of all I am ticked the heck off at the way you have used the Gospel of Jesus to somehow build a Kingdom of bros who bully, and who feel completely justified in doing it.
Thankfully, all of this is coming to an end.
Pretty soon, nothing will be able to be kept hidden and trust me, that will be the best thing for you, for those who have suffered in silence in your service, and for the Church that desperately needs to be in order to be a better reflection of the love and character of Christ to all people. My great hope is that you still aspire to this.
I want to believe that you truly care for Karen Hinkley. I want to believe that beneath all of this noise and mess that you are all sincere and forthright; that your faith and your motives are pure and that you really do want Jesus to be the star and not yourselves. I can’t know those things, so I can’t assess your intentions. I can only tell you what I see from here.
I so want to have peace that this is the last of this sad stuff. I don’t have that right now.
A funeral for part of what you’ve built is coming, yet it will not be a moment of sorrow, but jubilation. It is for the greatest good that you reexamine the whole thing, even if it has to be dismantled and recreated from the ground up with clear eyes and recommitted hearts and a relentless push toward Christ alone.
If you are willing to do that, I’ll gladly and joyfully do it alongside you.
But make no mistake, the Boys Club has to and will be shut down, so that the diverse, open, safe, redeeming Kingdom of God can be ushered in.
It will be well worth it.
(Note: Obviously the term “frat” is not intended as a direct statement on Greek life, but to identify the kind of cloistered male brotherhood that is on display in these unhealthy church leadership structures, the kind that indeed would not be tolerated in most fraternities. There are undoubtedly thousands of college fraternities which engage in nothing like the behavior mentioned above, and if that is not made clear in the writing, I apologize.)