March 21, 2016

Tullian Tchividjian on his firing: ‘Sin is deep’

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Tullian Tchividjian is the author of "Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free," that released last month. He is also the former senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and the grandson of Billy Graham. Religion News Service file photo

Tullian Tchividjian is the author of "Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free," that released last month. He is also the former senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and the grandson of Billy Graham. Religion News Service file photo

(RNS) Tullian Tchividjian said he hopes his life can be a warning to others.

The grandson of evangelist Billy Graham was fired from his latest post at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church in Winter Springs, Fla., after confessing last Monday (March 14)  to what church senior pastor Kevin Labby described as an “inappropriate relationship.” A year earlier, Tchividjian had resigned as the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after admitting to an affair.

“I deeply regret my actions and putting myself in the compromising position that led me to sin the way I did,” Tchividjian said. “My heart grieves for all of those that have been hurt by my selfishness and foolishness. I am extremely sorry for the pain I’ve caused my ex­-wife and my kids.”


RELATED: Tullian Tchividjian fired from Florida church over ‘previously undisclosed failures’


Willow Creek’s board of elders fired him after he disclosed the relationship.

“I am so thankful for the elders of Willow Creek Church who have been nothing but gracious and firm with me since I have arrived and they continue to do so today. Even though this previous sin happened before I came to Willow Creek, it pains me deeply to know that something from my past could in any way hurt these gracious people today,” he said.

More than half the board of Tchividjian’s LIBERATE Network also resigned last week after they were made aware of the relationship. As of Monday (March 21), its board of directors had announced on its website it was canceling its planned 2017 Liberate Conference and dissolving the organization.

And an elder at Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resigned from that church after admitting he had known about Tchividjian’s relationship in 2014 and failed to report it, according to a statement from the church. A second elder also was aware of the affair, but he since has moved and no longer is part of the church, it said.

“We are saddened that these two elders failed in their vows by withholding this information regarding our former senior pastor, which has since caused many families and churches much harm,” the statement said.

Coral Ridge has not had contact with its former senior pastor since he resigned last summer, according to the statement.

Hunter Frederick of Frederick & Associates, a spokesman for Tchividjian, clarified that the relationship that led to last week’s firing took place before the affair that led him to resign from Coral Ridge. The elder board at Coral Ridge had not advised him to keep it from his wife, Frederick said, but to be cautious in how he told her as “there were children involved.”

Tchividjian was hired by Willow Creek in September in a nonministerial role Labby described as a sabbatical, intended to allow Tchividjian to get counseling. But that was “predicated on trust,” Labby said — something elders felt was compromised after last week’s disclosure.

On a podcast broadcast a few months after that sabbatical began, Tchividjian said he knew an affair could be a “career killer — at least in my experience with pastors and church leaders.”

“I hope and pray that the events in my own life over the past couple years serve as a warning to all who, like I did, believe they are standing firm,” Tchividjian said.

“Sin is deep. It is real. It destroys. It deceives. May this be an opportunity for all of us to examine our own hearts and beg God for the mercy and forgiveness we all need.”

(Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS)

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  • Richard

    There is no sin so deep that I cannot turn it into another glib religiomotivational marketing catchphrase while churches line up to hire me oblivious to what will happen the next time I fall.
    Say that in one breath.

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  • Delaine

    Does it matter? Sexual sin is sexual sin. You just want more to heckle and gossip about. Ask God for the answer!

  • It is okay to sin with Jesus. He will forgive everything. It is a good thing there is so much proof of his existence.

    “We are in the forgiveness business”
    – Cardinal Bernie Law, Kingpin of the Boston Priest Pedophile Network

  • Diogenes

    Christianity is not to be condemned for the failures of some of its putative adherents. Tchividjian is clearly ineligible to be trusted in any pastoral position, now or in the future; perhaps there are other roles he may fulfill in time, after a period of deep repentance, and only under the closest scrutiny of a competent superior who has time for the project. But the individual failures of specified individuals do not negate the eternal truths of the Christian faith, but merely point to the requirement of discipline in holiness and obedience to the commands of the faith. Each of us believer and unbeliever can honestly and objectively declare; “There but for the Grace of God go I.” Atheists not excluded.

  • Zachary

    John 8:1-11 comes to mind.

  • I think the firing was unnecessary. It shows the punitive side of Conservative Christianity. How is it that some would call for the punishment of sins repented of? This firing is a Conservative Protestant attempt to create an earthly purgatory.

  • shawnie5

    There’s no punishment going on here. He’s perfectly forgiven but simply unqualified to lead. The NT says that a pastor must be above reproach in his personal conduct and family life.

  • Shawnee,
    There is punishment, the punishment is here. He has not repeated adultery since his firing from Coral Ridge. So why is he unqualified to lead? Do past affairs forever disqualify him?

  • Zachary

    It is easy to get distracted by religious words such as sin and forgiveness, especially at the backdrop of Christianity. That being said, the two words are just that words. When I see the word sin, I think “doing what is wrong”. What is wrong will be determined by social and cultural experience. As to forgiveness, there is a psychological component to it. There are some excellent journal articles on it, but if you are just looking for some light reading, I highly suggest Psychology Today’s article “The Psychology of Forgiveness.”

  • shawnie5

    Yes, pretty much. It simply isn’t the same for pastors. There is a higher bar because there is a special need for them to have a clean record.

    “Now the pastor is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable…” 1 Tim. 3:3

  • Rich
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  • Shawnee,
    Why? Who is setting that higher bar, the Scriptures or people who are fixated on sex? After all, a person who repents of such sins can become faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, and respectable. There is nothing in that list that justifies a lifetime ban to the ministry for adultery.

  • shawnie5

    The Scriptures set the bar. A pastor is uniquely positioned to lead and to counsel the families of which his flock is composed and it is essential that he be trustworthy and possess the requisite moral authority to inspire those he leads to listen to and respect his words. Not to mention that he is much more visible than the rest of the church body and the enemies of the Lord are always ready for an “occasion to blaspheme,” as the prophet Nathan observed to King David.

    Tullian would have done well to observe his grandfather’s wise policy of never being alone with a woman behind a closed door.

  • Diogenes

    Max, in what way is Christianity an “unrealistic way to see humanity”?
    Christianity expressly declares the human venality which no thinking person would deny. It offers a legitimate alternative to natural living by a supernatural process which requires faith, discipline, and obedience. The results are rarely perfect in the temporal sense, but largely improve the individual and societal condition of humanity. Perfection awaits us on the other side of life. I would adjure you to return to the faith you once held dear.

  • Dee

    Second adultery shows he has a problem.He can be forgiven, but is no longer trustworthy to lead. How can he tell me how to avoid adultery, if he does not know how? Not pastor material.

  • @Diogenes:

    “Perfection awaits us on the other side…”

    1. That is a con.

    2. The Golden Rule suffices. It pre-dates religions and requires no gods. “Do not do to others that which you would not want done to yourself” – if one wants to have an affair then one must grant the same option to one’s spouse ahead of time. If not, then don’t do it yourself. I see nothing wrong with consenting adults working things out.

    3. I reject your claim that humans are naturally ‘venal’ – it is a slander.
    Life can be difficult but rigid, primitive dogmas about zombies (Matthew 27:52) or commands of obedience and surrender are manifestations of the very WORST ideas invented by mankind.

    Humanity’s weakness is not its venality but its desire to surrender to lazy dogmas and superstitions.

  • james reed

    Perfectly spoken, in my book. I have found no better, nor happier way to live one’s life than through life in Christ, with the Holy Spirit residing in one’s heart. Get away from self, try to think about, and care for others. Regretful that many have never experienced exposure to such a life, and see the usefulness and joy it brings. Thank God for my Mother. Unfortunately, it took longer for me to realize this than it should have.
    An 80 year old.

  • Jesse Bruce

    I wonder how many of the elders who voted for his firing look at porn on the internet?

  • Ben in oakland

    The moral of the story is…

    The beauty of a soul is only sin deep.

  • Sufferingod

    Very well said. My thoughts exactly!

  • And this “Man of God” has to hire a secular public relations firm, the same one that represented Lindsay Lohan to spin his excuse. Pathetic. And the church wonders why young people are leaving the church by the millions.

  • Gatlin

    So a believer can’t do business with a “secular” entity? Maybe consider that your concept of “religion” has a bit more to do with why “young people are leaving the church by the millions.” Just a suggestion.

  • Gatlin

    @shawnie5
    I could be wrong on this, but I don’t think Tullian was a leader or pastor at the new position (at willow creek) from which he was just recently fire. He was like in a non-leadership office position, I think.

  • Gatlin

    @Jesse Bruce
    Hopefully zero. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here and just assume better things. Stay focused. Tullian wasn’t forthright to those elders. Don’t spin it.

    BTW, everyone trying to blow up his past sin of adultery in 2014 (just disclosed) and last year’s 2nd episode (thought to be the 1st)…. I think the bigger PRESENT issue is the continued secrecy/undisclosure/dishonesty.