Matt Chandler's Village Church in Church Discipline Controversy

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Jonathan Charles's picture

Maybe I'm missing something in Scripture, but it seems to me that when the Biblical situation is clear, folks that were disciplined were trying to live unrepentantly and still be part of the church fellowship.  But when someone goes ahead and separates from the fellowship, I don't see the point of publicly discipline them except for maybe letting congregation know they left, and why.   If the loss of the ministry of the church brings with it consequences, then they have unwittingly already brought the discipline upon themselves.  And this isn't the case with the woman in this story, but she left, the church has no leverage on her, just let her go.

Jim's picture

Not sure if this article is accurate but if so perhaps her grounds were "fraud". 

http://nofaultdiv.com/texas_annulment.html

Fraud is a little harder to pin down.  ... If someone so grossly misrepresents themselves that you could have never known who they actually were, that would be fraud.  Basically, it's getting seriously conned by the person you married.
 

http://www.divorcenet.com/resources/annulment/annulment-basics/texas.htm

Fraud – one spouse lied about or hid something essential to the marriage. ... A Texas court won’t grant annulment for fraud, duress or force if the spouses continued to live together after the fraud was discovered or the duress or force was no longer present. Only major fraud about something essential to the marriage will be enough for an annulment. For example, a Texas husband whose wife didn’t tell him about five of her eight previous marriages was granted an annulment. A spouse lying about being a virgin before the marriage, however, isn’t enough for an annulment in Texas.

Shaynus's picture

The following is quite apart from the specifics of this case. I've been helping a dear friend go through a divorce for two years now and his own local church has been negligent and aloof in helping him or his ex wife. I get it. Pastors seem to be generally unprepared when it comes to divorce.

Jonathan Charles wrote:

Maybe I'm missing something in Scripture, but it seems to me that when the Biblical situation is clear, folks that were disciplined were trying to live unrepentantly and still be part of the church fellowship.  But when someone goes ahead and separates from the fellowship, I don't see the point of publicly discipline them except for maybe letting congregation know they left, and why.   If the loss of the ministry of the church brings with it consequences, then they have unwittingly already brought the discipline upon themselves.  And this isn't the case with the woman in this story, but she left, the church has no leverage on her, just let her go.

 

It depends on why someone is resigning. At my own former church (where SI member Ron Bean pastors) we had the case of a member resigning who simply stated "I do not believe myself to be a Christian. I do not believe this as I once thought I did." In that case, we accepted the resignation of the member with sadness, but also knowing it was the responsible and honest thing for this person to do. Another case was "I am a Christian, but I think it's OK to cheat on my wife openly. I'd like to resign my membership and go somewhere else." In that case we did not accept the resignation and instead continued with church discipline.

In both cases, discipline was about aligning the church visible with the church invisible, and that isn't limited to the local church only. Each local church should be doing what it can with its own members to make sure true members of Christ are also local church members and that false members of Christ are not seen as members visibly with their church, and warn these false members of their own potential hypocracy.

Regardless of the blog entry's legal stance, it's always safest to follow teaching and implications of Scripture rather than worrying about lawsuits.  

Julie Anne's picture

When Karen sent the note to withdraw from church membership, she was NOT in church discipline. In that letter, she stated that she had filed for annulment, which was later granted by the State of TX. Annulment is different from divorce. It means that the State of Texas considers her marriage to be based on fraud and legally it did not exist.

It was after TVC found out about her filing for annulment that they decided to put her in church discipline retroactively, saying that she failed to uphold the membership covenant she signed that stipulated members are go to elders first before making important decisions on their marriage.  So she is in church discipline for failing to abide by their polity, NOT because of any kind of gross and ongoing sin (the usual reason for church discipline). I don't recall anything in the Bible about disciplining someone without an ongoing sin problem. 

What she was seeing was a failure on the elders' part to notify parents and church body of his predatory behavior (you can find a listing of his prior employment/volunteer work) which put him in close contact with minors.  Because they were ready to accept his repentance freely, without putting appropriate safeguards in place, she realized that these elders would not be able to appropriately handle her marriage, and would likely force her to remain married to a self-admitted child pedophile who was still showing her signs of hiding and not fully disclosing to church leaders.

The last three articles (maybe more) detail this story including the primary source documentation.  http://watchkeep.blogspot.com/

 

 

Mark_Smith's picture

While I appreciate membership is important, a person should be able to leave at any time, under any circumstance. Joining a local church is not enlisting in the Marine Corps. After all, what is the point in spending time debating and punishing a person in absentia? If they want to come back then they can face the music, but until then let them go.

Also, while I hold marriage in high regard and desire to teach members to hold it in high regard, I can see that when a marriage gets muddy one of the spouses might see you or the elder board as being biased against them or for the other spouse. I think that is what happened here in the TVC case. It is then difficult to adjudicate it in a fair fashion like TVC claimed they wanted to do.

On the other hand Karen Hinkley seems to be acting like all that matters is what the state of Texas thinks about their marriage. Was God surprised at her husband's child pornography issues? Does an annulment mean she was never married before the church and in the "eyes of God"?

I can see (and have seen a few) situations where the best thing is for the couple to split up. While reconciliation is a good thing, you must admit that your husband telling you he is attracted to pre-pubescent girls is a horrible thing. In my head I cannot imagine a person being willing to reconcile a marriage in that situation. It is incredibly tough and a very long road to win back trust... if that is at all possible. By the way, Josh Duggar reportedly told his girlfriend before they were engaged about his past issues. That is a very different thing.

Jim's picture

Having had some experience with marriage counseling over a number of years, I've concluded that some sins render marriages virtually irreconcilable. I've seen marriages that I didn't think would survive, flourish even after adultery. 

A close relative, a Christian woman, endeavored to save her marriage in the face of her husband's serial unfaithfulness. After a period that marriage failed and I supported her in her decision to divorce. She later remarried to a Christian. 

Karen followed a direction that many evangelical / fundamental pastors would support. I think she did the right thing in seeking an annulment for fraud. 

Jay's picture

The Village church is right to apologize to Karen for their treatment of her; she should want to try and mend the relationship with her husband, but this is a pretty massive series of problems and I have no issue with recommending at least a temporary separation so that they can work through their own issues. I'm tentatively more inclined to agree with Karen than I am the church, but what would that say about Christ and the Church (Eph. 5)?

Karen's claim of 'fraud' as a grounds for annullment is interesting, and I don't know how I would handle that case.  If an unbelieving spouse desires to depart, then we are to let them depart, as Paul says.  But if you were married to someone who was addicted to child porn for decades (!) and had no idea about it...I'd have a really hard time counseling them to stay and fix the marriage.  Does anyone know if there are children in the marriage? 

Christ can and does forgive any sin, but that's a pretty massive and ongoing misrepresentation of him and his pseudo-spirituality.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

In my view, very good. I could sign it

http://thevillagechurch.net/sermon/membership-covenant/

Her sticking point was:

I will seek to preserve the gift of marriage and agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse

Per her response to them:

  • Had she "walk[ed] through the steps of marriage reconciliation ", she could not have obtained a legal annulment. 
  • And in her view, and I agree, his long time involvement with child pornography was hidden from her AND
  • That constituted fraud

 

 

JC's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

Now in the secular media:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/31/megachurch-stay-with-yo...

 

Sadly, situations like Jordan and Karen happen in churches regularly.   No two marriage breakups are alike and no one is claiming this was handled perfectly.  However, the reason this is national news is because it is another chance to elicit 1000+ comments condemning Bible believing churches. 

Greg Long's picture

For those of you struggling with why a church would/could/should "discipline" someone who resigns membership, obviously you cannot prevent someone from leaving your church. That is not the point, neither is it some kind of refusal of individual soul liberty or some kind of insistence on doling out punishment. We have to be reminded of a custom that has fallen out of use, and that is a letter of transfer. If a person applies for membership to a church who has already professed faith and been baptized, the custom was to ask for a letter of recommendation from a previous church to ensure that they left that church as a member in good standing and not as the result of church discipline.

So the church has the right to continue the process of "church discipline," even when a member resigns, to determine whether they could legitimately give a letter of recommendation to another church that the member left as a member in good standing. So TVC did nothing wrong in that respect.

HSAT, from what I've read they made several missteps that make me think the apology was a good idea.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Jim's picture

JC wrote:
\situations like Jordan and Karen happen in churches regularly.   No two marriage breakups are alike and no one is claiming this was handled perfectly.  However, the reason this is national news is because it is another chance to elicit 1000+ comments condemning Bible believing churches. 

I've been in fundamental churches for 45 years ... I've seen a lot ... but never known of a case of a missionary who was into child pornography.

 

Julie Anne's picture

 However, the reason this is national news is because it is another chance to elicit 1000+ comments condemning Bible believing churches. 

I disagree. It's highlighting people in a position of authority who are using that position in appropriately and causing harm. They obviously aren't policing themselves and have put themselves as above reproach. Would we see this response if it didn't make as many waves in the media? Why did it take this media frenzy for them to take a step back? Is it hitting them in their pocketbook? 

Jim's picture

JC wrote:

 

Jonathan Charles wrote:

 

Now in the secular media:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/31/megachurch-stay-with-yo...

 

 

 

Sadly, situations like Jordan and Karen happen in churches regularly.   No two marriage breakups are alike and no one is claiming this was handled perfectly.  However, the reason this is national news is because it is another chance to elicit 1000+ comments condemning Bible believing churches. 

Well the Daily Beast / Newsweek (it's a merged company) has an obvious liberal stance (see Newsweek / Bible). 

My take is that the D/B got the basic facts of the case right (and linked to important documents). 

They show their bias here:

In many ways, TVC’s appeal doesn’t make much sense. The church experience that Chandler has popularized tends to be a more rigid-leaning, Bible-thumping, male-dominating, faith-intensive environment—a far cry from most of today’s more popular seeker-friendly hipster-filled churches.

Julie Anne's picture

 rigid-leaning, Bible-thumping, male-dominating, 

It's not liberal to say rigid leaning when their actions demonstrate it.  It is rigid to not allow a member to leave, especially under Karen's circumstances. Is it wrong to say "male dominating" when it is male dominating? Did Karen get a voice? Was she heard? Did they provide any female leader for support? Why not? The onus was put solely on Karen. She was forced to go through hoops, her pedophile spouse wasn't even put in church discipline.That sure sounds male-dominating to me, but it might be difficult to see if you are male. I hope you are considering my words from a female perspective.

Jim's picture

Julie Anne wrote:
\Why did it take this media frenzy for them to take a step back? Is it hitting them in their pocketbook? 

Had not bloggers and others been involved, Karen H. would have not experienced justice at all. Here's a woman who needs our prayers and moral support. 

Julie Anne's picture

So the church has the right to continue the process of "church discipline," even when a member resigns, to determine whether they could legitimately give a letter of recommendation to another church that the member left as a member in good standing. So TVC did nothing wrong in that respect.

That may be tradition, but consider the implications of this when church leaders are using their position of authority to abuse and no one is protecting the church member, nor holding the abusing staff accountable. Do you see how this tradition could be used as a weapon?

Julie Anne's picture

I've been in fundamental churches for 45 years ... I've seen a lot ... but never known of a case of a missionary who was into child pornography.

I personally know a man who was on the mission field for 13 years and sexually abused boys. He was caught and sent home. The mission leaders knew why, but they failed to report. The pedophile came back to US telling everyone they left because the Communists came in and they had to be evacuated by helicopter. That part is true, but the real reason was because of sexually abusing boys.  

A few years ago, we heard he was going to go back to the field temporarily for translation work sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators. We reported what we knew to Wycliffe. They immediately canceled the trip, put a team together to investigate, and interview references. They were able to establish what we said was true, banned him from being a part of Wycliffe or setting one foot on their campuses. They also reported to police.  This man has a clean record because the statute of limitations has expired. We know of at least 20 boys he sexually abused. We have no clue how many he abused on the mission field. 

I was very impressed with Wycliffe in how they handled our report. They were amazing, even providing counseling for family members and also set up a plan for the family.  

The mission field is a prime place for pedophiles to do their evil deeds because it is a place where there is little supervision.  The same can be said for some Christian MK boarding schools, sadly.

 

 

Julie Anne's picture

Had not bloggers and others been involved, Karen H. would have not experienced justice at all. Here's a woman who needs our prayers and moral support. 

 

Amen!  

And shame on those evil women bloggers.  ::::sarcasm::::  :)

Jim's picture

  • First of all Bixby's blog on "groupthink" is a good background read. 
  • If everyone (in leadership) is saying "yes" at the same time, one might question if there is what Bixby calls "parity". Sorting through complex issues should be messy & time consuming. Elders who have strong personalities and have strong institutional power are vulnerable to making big mistakes. (We have been reading Ezra. He had to deal with the difficult issue of intermarriage (an OT issue). Not everyone agreed with him. There appears to have been legitimate dissent (Ezra 10:15)
  • I think that discipline in general is not completely understood. Re Jordan. Has he really repented? I don't know. TVC thinks so and has him on a restorative path within the body of Christ (and this in my view is a good thing). He will never (nor should he) ever work with children again and likely will never be in a leadership position. But the church is for sinners. 
  • They failed to think through and protect Karen. She did not have an advocate among the leadership. She was their missionary too! They even inadvertently quit their financial support of her.
  • I think SIM handled themselves well enough
  • In my view Jordan's sin should have been spelled out: 1 Timothy 5:20, "Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear". They were too general as if the adults in the congregation could not handle the facts
  • They apparently were ignorant of Texas' annulment laws. They should have consulted an attorney
  • I think they tried to help Jordan and left Karen hanging. That's my view

What I see in general:

  • There is a natural (sinful) tendency to cover up sin. This goes back to Adam hiding from God! Not a new thing. Ministries did not want to risk their reputation ... and so on
  • There is a tendency to place some blame on the victims. Goes like this: "Surely a man of God could not have done such and such unless there was a seductress ..."
  • There is a tendency to be more concerned about the perpetrator than the victims. 
  • Some of these cases are so bizarre they seem to come out of left field.The Apostle Paul had no idea of the problems of the Internet and pornography. Could not have imagined a man using VPN to anonymously view porn. 
Greg Long's picture

Julie Anne wrote:

So the church has the right to continue the process of "church discipline," even when a member resigns, to determine whether they could legitimately give a letter of recommendation to another church that the member left as a member in good standing. So TVC did nothing wrong in that respect.

That may be tradition, but consider the implications of this when church leaders are using their position of authority to abuse and no one is protecting the church member, nor holding the abusing staff accountable. Do you see how this tradition could be used as a weapon?

Of course, but so could church discipline (as it often has). You're not advocating for churches no longer exercising church discipline simply because it has been abused, are you?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Bert Perry's picture

For what the Daily Best did, because they actually asked (and tried to answer) the questions I had.  We believers ought to be more open about this kind of thing, really.  For that matter, i think that TVC's apology should have spelled things out more clearly, too.  

I am also waiting for the other shoe to drop in this matter.  Given the offender's lengthy history working with children, did he physically victimize any of them?  I hope that I am absolutely wrong in this, but my guess is yes.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Greg Long wrote:

For those of you struggling with why a church would/could/should "discipline" someone who resigns membership, obviously you cannot prevent someone from leaving your church. That is not the point, neither is it some kind of refusal of individual soul liberty or some kind of insistence on doling out punishment. We have to be reminded of a custom that has fallen out of use, and that is a letter of transfer. If a person applies for membership to a church who has already professed faith and been baptized, the custom was to ask for a letter of recommendation from a previous church to ensure that they left that church as a member in good standing and not as the result of church discipline.

So the church has the right to continue the process of "church discipline," even when a member resigns, to determine whether they could legitimately give a letter of recommendation to another church that the member left as a member in good standing. So TVC did nothing wrong in that respect.

HSAT, from what I've read they made several missteps that make me think the apology was a good idea.

We also have to keep in mind the purpose of church discipline. One, and probably the primary one, is to try to draw the offender to repentance. But, it is also intended to be both a teaching tool and warning to the rest of the church, which is why church discipline, once initialized, should be seen through to the conclusion even if the offender bails.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Julie Anne wrote:

So the church has the right to continue the process of "church discipline," even when a member resigns, to determine whether they could legitimately give a letter of recommendation to another church that the member left as a member in good standing. So TVC did nothing wrong in that respect.

That may be tradition, but consider the implications of this when church leaders are using their position of authority to abuse and no one is protecting the church member, nor holding the abusing staff accountable. Do you see how this tradition could be used as a weapon?

Julie, any legitimate practice can be corrupted and abused. The possibility of abuse is not enough bt itself to abandon a legitimate practice.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

JC's picture

One of the reasons I urge a bit of caution is that we may not know all the facts.  

I've been in ministry long enough to have seen multiple situations similar to Jordan and Karen.   Specifically, in another situation a couple in our church leadership structure presented a case for formal divorce based on what seemed to be a sad yet justifiable reason.  Subsequently, it emerged that one party had an undeclared 'romantic interest' that was hastening the motive for ending the marriage.   If that had been more widely known, then some people who reluctantly supported the divorce would have had a different view.

Now, I am not saying that Karen is rushing to end this because of some secret lover, but I am saying that blogs and news articles may not provide the full picture.  From what I have read, TVC have not said they won't accept an end of the marriage, just that a member-covenant process should be followed.   So, we also should be slow and careful in expressing our judgment through online blogs, like Sharper Iron, particularly if we have no personal knowledge of the people or situation.