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Billy Graham’s grandson on his near suicide and whether he’s planning a co …

Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian

Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, revealed this week that he was severely depressed and almost killed himself after extramarital affairs cost him his ministry and marriage. In 2015, after a spate of bestselling books and being tapped to lead Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, it was revealed that Tchividjian had an extramarital affair. He resigned from his church and filed for divorce soon after. In March of 2016, he admitted to a second affair and a second church where Tchividjian was serving at the time fired him. He has been largely silent since then.

But in an article posted at Expastors.com this week, the former pastor said he almost committed suicide during this period of despair. It seemed to me that there was more to this story that might illuminate the situation and perhaps help others who have experienced similar difficulties. So I decided to speak with Tullian about the details of that tumultuous period.

RNS: In the midst of your despair, you said you researched the best way to kill yourself. Can you talk about that and what you concluded?

TT: The hurt I had caused felt too much to bear. The level of shame and guilt and regret was so deep, I literally did not want to live any longer. I had betrayed and disappointed and caused suffering to those who depended on me to provide the opposite. The thought of killing myself was relieving to me. I actually found momentary peace in the idea that I would soon be dead.

Not owning a gun, I didn’t know how I would do it so I began looking up the best ways to kill myself. After a two hour search, I immediately began to write a suicide note. I was eerily calm as I wrote it. After I finished writing it I read it over three times. On the third time, I burst into tears and fell on the ground. It was about 3 am. I cried out to God like I never have before. I don’t even remember what I said but I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of peace consume me. I saw the faces of my three kids and my daughter in law and my grandson. I fell asleep on the floor for about four hours.

When I woke up, I felt very different. I knew God was with me and that he had not abandoned me and that, once again, he had saved my life. It was enough to get me through the next day. Which turned into the next week. Which turned into the next month. I almost deleted that note a couple months ago but decided to keep it as a reminder of that dark and desperate moment and the way God met me at rock bottom.

READ: “Billy Graham’s grandson takes Christians to task”

RNS: Did you receive any ugly responses from people in the church or from church leaders?

TT: If I dwell on that, it’s unhealthy for me. I’ve done enough rationalizing and justifying over the last two years to last a lifetime, and it’s only taken me to deeper places of darkness. As you can imagine, I’ve heard it all: accusations, attacks, assumptions.

The hardest thing has been those who I’ve never met and who don’t me at all or those who I haven’t had any interaction with over the last seven months to a year questioning whether or not I’m repentant. God and God alone knows the heart and whether I am truly repentant. So I have to listen to him and to those closest to me to hear the truth.

That being said, I’ve also had to admit that my sin hurt a lot of people. I lied to people, betrayed people, deceived people. My actions were devastatingly hurtful, and hurt people say and do hurtful things. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for those who spent all their time highlighting the sins of others while never confessing their own. I spent too much time identifying the sins of others than I did my own sin, and it lead to slavery. My critics are no better than me and I am no better than them. The ground is level at the foot of the cross: we are all a lot worse than we think we are but God’s grace is much greater than anything we could ever ask for or imagine.

Can you imagine how differently we would treat each other if all our deepest secrets and sins were made public? Our thoughts and motivations and browser histories and text messages and phone records and conversations? Knowing how much you need grace makes you more gracious. That’s what I’m trying to focus on these days. If I allow myself to be bothered more by other people’s sin than I am my own sin, it proves my unbelief.

READ: “Billy Graham’s grandson warns against New Years resolutions”

RNS: These kinds of events always impact families, something critics often forget. You have three older kids and a grandchild. How are they?

TT: I’m amazed at all of my kids. This has all been very hard on them. Not only have they had to live through the destruction of their family, but they have to constantly endure the public nature of it. In spite of that, however, they are doing better than I ever imagined. Their love for their mom and dad is unwavering and unconditional. They are forgiving and supportive. My relationship with all of them is tight and deeper than it’s ever been. They know how much I love  them, and I know how much they love me.

Thankfully, they’ve never been the type to bottle things up. They get it all out. And we have all had some really deep and real conversations about everything over the last 18 months. God has shown me the unconditional nature of his love through my three kids.

RNS: And what about the rest of your family? Lots of people know about your uncle Franklin and, of course, your grandfather. Were they supportive in your time of crisis? 

TT: I just got back from visiting my granddad at his home in North Carolina. Our time was very sweet. He is very old–he’ll be 98-years-old in November–but is still aware. He is the most gracious man I’ve ever known, and I have only experienced great love from him. My aunts and uncles have been kind and supportive and have reminded me that they are praying for me, that they are there for me, and that they love me. I’m amazingly grateful for all of them.

RNS: Some have said that the article at Expastors.com is your first calculated step to making a “comeback.” Are you making a comeback?

TT: I’m not calculating anything. The only comeback I’m focused on is coming back to intimacy with God and learning what it means to repent and forgive and love those whom God has placed in my life. What God does with me going forward is his business, not mine. I’m not looking for anything nor am I planning anything.

When ex-pastors contacted me, I did my research and discussed it with those who are closest to me. I wrote that article reluctantly and through many tears. But it was very clear to me and those around me that God wanted me to say those things at this time. And as he leads, I will follow. That’s all I know.

RNS: Ok, but what does your future look like? Do you have any aspirations of doing ministry again?

TT: I’ve lived my entire adult life with a plan. Time and time again over the last two years God has wrecked my plans. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I don’t have a plan. I’m open and willing to do whatever God summons me to do and to go wherever he calls me to go.

In the meantime, I’m learning what it means to be still and wait on God. That’s been a painful process for me. I’m not a “be still” kind of person by nature. It’s taken me awhile to realize this, but this season of quiet reflection and being surrounded by a few trustworthy and seasoned saints who are walking with me through every detail of my life, internally and externally, is a true gift. I live my life day to day and, perhaps for the first time, I’m truly trusting God to lead me. I have to remind myself all the time that God will provide what I need TODAY and to not worry about tomorrow.

I’m no longer an ordained minister and therefore hold no formal office or position in the church. In other words, I’m not a pastor. But I am a Christian. Therefore, telling other people about the devastation of sin and our delivering savior is something that I will continue to do as God leads me.

I don’t believe that God allows people to fail and fall so that they will be forever silent. I believe he allows these things and brings about repentance so that we will speak more loudly and clearly and humbly of our sin and his grace then ever before. That is not just the calling of pastors. That is the calling of all Christians to do according to whatever gifts God has given them. Regardless of what I end up doing professionally, I will spend the rest of my life telling people about the amazing grace of God that saves wretches like me.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

29 Comments

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  • “I almost deleted that note a couple months ago but decided to keep it as a reminder.”

    I’ve got one that I saved from about 10 years ago. Tullian has a perspective I can really respect and that’s one of deep despair and renewal. It’s not one that is easy to find in churches.

  • Taking Tullian’s story of plotting his suicide at face value: Is he in therapy right now? If not, why not? And if he is, did his therapist advise him about discussing his depression publicly like this? I can’t imagine that this kind of large-scale interaction is very healthy for Tullian, or for the people he’s taken advantage of.

    And when I say therapy, I mean real therapy, not the “nouthetic” or “biblical” kind. Suicide ideation is an extremely dangerous sign, and I can’t see how Jay Adams’ unlicensed quackery is capable of helping anyone to deal with it effectively.

  • “And when I say therapy, I mean real therapy, not the “nouthetic” or “biblical” kind.”

    I agree. Biblical based counseling is a non starter. It’s not like Jesus said: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Or anything.

  • Former PastorTullian commited professional misconduct by having a sexual relationship with two (that we know of) women in his congregation. He is a predator, not an adulterer.
    He never offered any repentance until he was caught in lies, and then after he had said that he had come clean. He is a con man and he need to get off the stage and get a real job that does not include telling everyone how HE has been mistreated.

  • I guess if he says he was in despair, he must have been huh. He sure looks healthy and happy. Doesn’t seem to have missed any meals or workouts.

  • Billy Graham came from humble beginnings, and I’m sure, had a very sincere faith and an eagerness to please God. But now the Graham dynasty seems to have lost the plot – for them, serving God now seems to be about fame and making money. For example, Tullian’s Uncle Franklin makes over one million dollars a year from his two so-called “non-profits”. Divorce is also a big problem in this family. If this situation has caused Tullian to humble himself before God, and to re-evaluate his relationship with God, then that’s a good thing.

  • Please don’t give Tullian a platform to jump right back into the ministry, as he is clearly angling to do.

  • Jonathan
    I happen to know that at least one of his kids is not doing well and so do many other people since it played out publicly on Twitter. Please contact me for info. In the meantime, TT needs to get his life in order and make his family a priority. That is a bit hard when you are on Cloud 9 from your honeymoon.

  • I didn’t realize Jonathan just got married. That might have clouded things for him. Congratulations, Jonathan. If you’d like more of the real story, I will be covering it at http://www.spiritualsoundingboard.com I’ve been stockpiling info for over a year waiting until victims were ready to share. I will be releasing some of that information.

  • Yeah, it looks like you misunderstood her, JA. I think Dee was referring to the fact that Tullian just got (re)married. Honest mistake.

  • Billy Graham is one of the greatest Evangelist in the world. Unlike ” Brother” Jimmy Swaggart , who condemns everyone who doesn’t accept his brand of Christianity, at least Graham is a true gentleman. Unfortunately, many evangelists are multimillionaires, and live the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

    Swaggart was caught cruising the red light district for female prostitutes. Right on Jimmy! Once he got “caught in the act” his tear filled public “repentance” of “I have sinned,” was solely based on the potential loss of millions of dollars for himself and the family business.

    Unfortunately, it has become a family business for most evangelists, and a multi million dollar Business at that! It doesn’t surprise me when the operatives of the business commit adultery, fornication, and other serious sins. After all, it’s just a business!

    I feel sorry for the uneducated and stupid people who follow these false prophets and hand over thousands of dollars to these wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  • Billy Graham has done well to avoid major scandals, and does seem to be a true gentleman. However, he is also one of the most wealthy evangelists, worth 25 million dollars. Maybe because of that, it has become a multi-million dollar business for his son Franklin (who earns over one million a year, from the donations of people who mostly earn far less than he does). It’s probably safe to say that Tullian had a generous salary as the pastor of a mega-church. While Billy Graham also had a successful marriage, many of his offspring have not done so well, and divorce seems to be a problem in the Graham dynasty. Maybe for them, it’s just become a money-making business, rather than a life-transforming relationship with God.

  • Tullian’s problems go way beyond his sexual affairs. Ask Coral Ridge members about how he bullies, lies, throws temper tantrums, gets into old lady’s faces like a drill Sargent when they are crying and how he threw out Dr. Kennedy’s daughter from her father’s church. He has caused untold heartache for members of Coral Ridge, and those members that left, due to his behaviors. Tullian consistently caused dissension among believers as a Pastor and seems to be still at it. Even before his sexual escapades many Christians doubted his walk due to his un-Christ-like behaviors at Coral Ridge Presbyterian church. Ask the folks at New Presbyterian Church about the hell they went through when he was a Pastor at Coral and they dared to stand up against him. Try talking to the residents of his neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale that tell stories of him with various women around town that weren’t his wife, jogging around his neighborhood with no top and tiny shorts so he got noticed by the horny females in Ft. Lauderdale. Yes, stop listening to Tullian and go talk to church members and his neighbors to find out the real story. He is a clever guy and survivor. He has more resources at his fingertips than his victims. He crushes anyone that isn’t “obedient” to him and doesn’t have blind loyalty. I really question the wisdom of Christian leaders that give him a platform without investigating this story from all angles!! ASK MORE QUESTIONS PLEASE! Do your research before getting on a bandwagon. Thanks for letting me share this.

  • Yes, I see your point. I’m sure you are correct. I was trying to say, that out of them all, Graham seemed most sincere, and his non-combative approach was more Christian than many of the evangelists. I mean, “Brother” Swaggart would repeat over and over again, “I love my Catholics friends,” and would proceed to condemn them to hell unless they turn to Jimmy and “get saved,” and bring their checkbook and credit cards with them! After all, someone had to pay for “Brother” Swaggart’s nightly excursions to the red light district of town!

  • It is true that we do not see into each others’ hearts. Only God can. However, we are called to assess actions and words in selecting leaders and whether we give them a platform as even this interview is (see I Timothy 3). And it is true that we are all sinners. But not everyone has committed serial infidelity nor abused a pastoral position of power to do so. To point to the truth of all being sinners is to obscure that fact, and distract from the necessary work of rebuilding trust that has been broken by said sins. More thoughts here: http://www.divorceminister.com/dm-processing-recent-rns-tullian-tchividjian-interview/

  • The amount of courage it takes to discuss all of this publicly….please give this man some credit and read the article all the way through. He has repented and now he is sharing his testimony to help others. Shocked at the unkindness out there.

  • Obviously not many Christians here,as you cast judgments and hatred..so we pray for you..and as for this man of sin among sinners,God has forgiven and we pray your path back to the light is truthful and serves well..

  • I think it’s time all you legalistic sin-chasers to back off and begin learning how to practice some of the compassion and forgiveness that the Christian faith teaches. I’ve had lots of experience in this field over the past 45 years; suicide is a serious illnesses for any faimly to confront and survive. This young man needs lots of his own space and some non-judgmental Christian friends to pull him through.

    Those of you with white fists from gripping the stones you have in your hands, should heed the words of Christ: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And they all disappeared . . .

  • We are commanded by God to forgive everyone. However, we are not commanded to trust everyone. Once trust has been broken, it can take a long time to be earned again. Tullian needs to accept that there are consequences to his behaviour.

  • He’s just a sinner; not a predator. Thing is he didn’t force the women involved; there’s a name for them too. Stop with the hateful remarks and pray for the man. :/

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