Here we are again, evangelicals, in the New York Times. Many have now seen that Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church and president of the Acts 29 church planting network, confessed to having an “inappropriate online relationship” with a woman and is taking an indefinite leave of absence.
You can watch his confession before the church here:
It is extremely vague and leaves concerned believers and unbelievers with many questions. The way that this is presented is that the problem is that Chandler’s DM’s with this “other” woman were too “frequent” and “familiar,” and there was some “coarse joking.” The concerns from the elders were not that the messages were “romantic or sexual.” Are any of you scratching your head thinking that the way this is framed is descriptive of platonic friendship? It could even be healthy friendship. His wife and her husband reportedly knew about this messaging.
Obviously, we do not have the whole story. And there has to be more to it. There’s warranted reasons to say this. First of all, the NYTimes reports:Read more: What Matt Chandler’s Confession Says About Women, Friendship, & the Gospel
In response to questions from The New York Times, the church said that the woman in the lobby had confronted Mr. Chandler in February, and that it had hired a boutique law firm, Castañeda and Heidelman, to conduct an investigation. The church declined to share a copy of the report, “because we want to honor the request of the woman Matt was messaging with not to be in the spotlight,” the church said in an email.
The church declined to say whether Mr. Chandler was being paid during his leave from teaching and preaching.
So, this has been brought to their attention six months ago, and then investigated behind the scenes by a hired boutique law firm beginning in May. As quoted in the article:
Rachael Denhollander, an advocate for sexual abuse victims who has pushed for increased transparency in the denomination, said that the church did itself “no favors” by not making the report public.
“It is always best practice to release the result of the independent assessment,” she said. “It is the best protection for everybody.”
They can release the report with the woman’s name and any identifying details redacted to protect her identity. The excuse doesn’t hold up.
Here’s the deal: A pastor of a megachurch does not get asked to take a leave of absence for mere “frequent” and “familiar” messaging and some coarse joking. I mean, I can see a warning if things look beyond the pale of friendship or if there was ungodliness in the joking. But going public and a leave of absence? Is he going to humiliate his wife and family over this? Is he going to risk his reputation and that of a supposed friend for this? Is The Village Church ready to make headlines again during such a time of sexual scandal in the church over this?
There is either more to it, or The Village Church is sending a dangerous message about women, friendship, and the gospel.
Think of all the money spent on this investigation already. Think of the church offering plate footing that bill. Think of the six months the church has been kept in the dark, while it was happening. Think of the way Chandler gets to control the narrative, over the victim, in telling it to the church. Think of how nothing is mentioned about the power dynamics at play in this relationship or the pain all this is causing her or her family. Think about the silencing of this woman. She isn’t even prayed for. Think of how the witness of Christ is not mentioned. What is going on here?
And think of how this framing of the relationship will affect women in the church. It yet again sends the message that men, especially pastors, cannot have healthy siblingship relationships with women. Be careful not to talk frequently with us! Be careful not to be too familiar with us! Be careful not to joke around us! You will not be above reproach. Look what happened to our beloved Chandler!!
The confession itself, in its vagueness, is spiritually and relationally harmful to women. It is not victim-centered. And worse, it is a horrible witness to the gospel.
I wrote a book about this called Why Can’t We Be Friends? The first half of the book unpacks all the stumbling blocks for men and women to have healthy friendships, and why we are in the shape that we are as a church. Not everyone can be friends. But we are called to growth. So the last half builds on what friends do, our honorable call as sacred siblings, and the privileges and responsibilities that come with it. I include some excerpts from it in my argument below.
The way that we relate to one another sends a message about who we are—to one another, and to the watching world.
Redemption isn’t merely about avoiding sin; it is about making something holy, set apart for the worship of God—nothing less. Our great news is that we have been made holy in Christ and we get to enjoy communion with our holy God and one another. Holy people are called to holy relationships. Our communion with the Triune God makes us outgoing in our love for others. So what does it tell the world when evangelicalisms’ most beloved pastors send the same underlying message about friendship between the sexes as Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally—and the church respects them for it?
If the church can’t even answer and model the friendship question between men and women, why would unbelievers want us to tell them about holy communion with God? Is the Lord really good, or is he cruel, saying that we “have purified [our]selves by [our] obedience to the truth, so that [we] show sincere brotherly love for each other, from a pure heart” and are to “love one another constantly,” because we have been born again with an imperishable seed, “that is, through the living and enduring word of God,” while at the same time contradicting this with the message that our sexual urges prevent us from even sharing table fellowship in the middle of the day, offering a ride to someone if it is convenient, becoming too familiar with one another, or messaging on social media? If we can’t be trusted to have integrity in common decency, then our souls are far from purified and we certainly cannot have a sincere or fervent love for one another.
But we, who “have tasted that the Lord is good “(1 Peter 2:3), have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We “once were not a people, but now [we] are the people of God” (1 Peter 9b-10a). This is what we want the world to see, right? This is the truth, right? In that case, we are urged as God’s people living in the fallen world “to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” and to keep our behavior excellent in front of the watching world so that they will look at us in wonder and not be able to help themselves from glorifying God in response (1 Peter 2:12).
This is the bottom line. We claim to have a different allegiance, a different agency and purpose, and a different love than the world offers. Outsiders should sense that they really are on the outside of holiness and godly love when they see this in action. They should see that we aren’t just talking talk and building a false image. The values of the world should be contrasted to the values of God’s people in our relationships. They are looking for this.
God is revealing something to his church right now with all these headlines and we better listen up.
Thriving communion produces thriving communities. The quality of our relationships in God’s household and the way we advance God’s mission together is a powerful testimony to the real fruit of the gospel.
The Village Church and Matt Chandler had a chance to show this to the world in being fully transparent about the nature of Chandler’s actions, sharing the findings of the report, and stating how far of a chasm that is from the quality of Christian love and friendship—especially between men and women, the severe spiritual damage it does when a pastor abuses this, and how they are caring for this woman (they can start by not referring to her as “other”). Maybe the reason we see so little true repentance from leaders in the church is because they have missed the beauty all along.
As artist Makoto Fujimura says, without an appreciation for beauty, culture loses its appetite for truth and goodness. He even proposes that repentance itself is provoked by an encounter with the beautiful. Of course it is! Once we encounter Beauty, we see how ugly sin is, we abhor it, and want to shed it off. We desire Beauty, especially in our marriages and in our friendships. What is that but Christ himself? And Christ in one another? This is our framework for relationships and for confession. This is what we want the world to see in his church.
53 thoughts on “What Matt Chandler’s Confession Says About Women, Friendship, & the Gospel”
Aimee, I really appreciate your consist, godly, sensible messaging on this topic.
I would hesitate to call her a victim based on just the messages and relationship themselves (whatever they were).
But I would definitely say she is a victim of this convoluted process brought on by the church and the way it was revealed.
Additionally, I completely agree that the way this was handled shows there is something sinister. If not, they would have revealed the findings.
For example, until recently I was a big city police officer. When someone is shot and it’s clearly a good shooting, the BWC is released right away. When it’s complicated, unclear, or looks bad, the city will fight tooth and nail to keep the footage private.
I believe Pastor Chandler and the Village Church staff acted appropriately and above reproach; and so did the woman who approached Pastor Chandler. Note: Matthew 18:15. Scripturally Matt (as he accepted his wrongdoing) could have stopped there. However, in today’s climate of increased sensationalism over sexual scandals (especially in churches), the Village Church responded with biblical (2 Timothy 4:2), social, and cultural hypervigilance. We, the church, all need an intensive course in Ecclesiology and its application in modern society (Galatians 6:1).
You aren’t owed an explanation? No one was harmed and if it wasn’t for the fact that he is semi popular there would be no call for a public report. The reality is that the board established there was created partially for pastoral accountability. They are handling the report as they feel they should. This call that the report must absolutely be released is silly to me. It is up to them how they choose to handle it. They hired a third party to investigate and based off their findings made their decision. You could say that it was a bogus investigation but at that point I just feel like we’re grasping at straws and beginning this whole thing with our own biased outcome in mind. If the report comes out later on down the road and it’s disqualifying hit me up and I will eat my socks, but I don’t he could have handled a situation like this better. They brought it before the church making allegations public. It’s not a behind closed door situation besides the privacy of the others involved. No one is owed anything besides his congregation and it should be for them to decide internally (that is what the board of elders does)
Former part-time staff member at an ACTS29 here who has decided to serve a different denomination….
I love what you are saying, but it’s an interesting dynamic that honestly frightens the hell out of me as a young man. Why? Well, I’ve never done anything sexually inappropriate with a woman under my care, BUT I have been in churches where the women were just as legalistic and naive about healthy male-female friendship as the men. In one instance a woman several years younger than me was gossiping about me to others, because I was platonically friends with her best friend (I met this young woman and her female friend through her older brother who was my age and a guy I hung out with watching sports, shooting, etc… it was a healthy friendship and his sister was often there when we got together, so she and I had a brother/sister kind of banter that was often playful, but definitely not romantic). Anyway, this young woman’s female friend didn’t like me for some reason even though I had been nothing but friendly. She was an extremely conservative single woman in her mid-twenties from a rural “Quiverfull” family and didn’t think that my jokes among friends were very Christian, so she complained to the pastors of my church which she didn’t attend. It was an ACTS29 church.
I was pulled aside by an elder one day and you would have thought I’d had an affair or been caught looking at pornography. He was extremely solemn about “the accusations he had heard” and did the usual talk about “living above reproach” and “being held to a higher standard.” I’d made this woman “uncomfortable” in group settings even though she was peripheral to everything going on. I was disoriented but apologized.
Another church leader then put a hand on my shoulder and told me (mind you I was a single man only a few years older than this woman) that it was probably best for me to not be friends with younger women anyway as it was easy for things to get twisted and get out of hand. It didn’t matter she was gossiping or that there was no merit to what she said, as an aspiring church leader, I couldn’t risk it. Stunned, I silently nodded and agreed because it felt like they were about to fire me for something I didn’t even know was wrong.
Anyway, I know this isn’t much of a story, but for me it represents the very real fear I feel as a young leader in interacting with women in my congregation. My small experience showed me that a young woman who gossips can ruin a young minister’s career, and that sometimes young women will complain just to cause harm to someone they don’t like. Granted, the MAJORITY of women in the church who are being discipled are not like this, but to someone who is immature and legalistic anything that deviates from the fundamentalist norm can seem like an offense. The corresponding overreaction by the leaders at this past church with their verbatim admonition that I not be friends with young women as a young single man (even though I hadn’t flirted or done anything sexual) feels eerily similar to this Matt Chandler situation.
You are right that there may be a lot more to this story than it seems. But, for healthy sibling friendships to ever exist in the Evangelical church, it seems that we have to admit Evangelical pastors are terrified of women. This includes being terrified of their accusations, such that it would seem professionally wise to avoid them as much as possible. (I don’t want it to be this way, and I like some of what you write. I just don’t know how it can be different).
Do you believe that you have paid appropriate attention (i.e., neither too much nor too little) to the fact that, ten years ago, Mr. Chandler was diagnosed with brain cancer? I believe that such a diagnosis ought always to be part of any subsequent comment on a person’s behavior. And such consideration/comment should be at least partly based on a conversation about the matter with a medical professional.
You realize Matt Chandler was given a clean bill of health, right?
“In 2009, Matt was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He battled back, continuing to preach through his chemotherapy. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers across the nation prayed for his healing. After 18 months of radiation and chemotherapy, Matt’s doctors gave him a clean bill of health, and he credits God for his miraculous healing.”
But let’s say what you are implying is true – Matt’s behavior is affected by the brain tumor he had in 2009. Affected to the point of him not being able to distinguish between right and wrong. Wouldn’t that be enough to keep him out of the ministry?
Maybe the woman was talking to him about just that, cancer. This should NEVER have gone outside the church as Paul directs in Corinthians. Rule yourselves. And if both spouses were knowing of it, again, where is need for outside counsel? This should have been dealt with by the elders of the church, period.
Would it be a different situation if Mr. Chandler had exchanged identical messages with a man?
Thank for your post Aimee
This is a extremely sad time for this lady, the church and for Chandler. We should pray for healing for everyone involved.
Can I ask some questions about what you wrote?
“A pastor of a megachurch does not get asked to take a leave of absence for mere “frequent” and “familiar” messaging and some coarse joking.”
You have come to the conclusion that this is a sexual abuse case. Why?
Should we assume the very worst until we get more information?
(BTW, I think a redacted report should be released and that Chandler should pay for the investigation.)
Why should the elders disclose information about this inappropriate relationship before the independent investigation was complete?
You have come to the conclusion that Chandler is not repenting. After he was confronted, what else should he have done?
The lesson here is that ministers have to live above reproach in every aspect of life and in every relationship. Chandler become careless and dropped his guard he has caused and is causing a great deal of pain.
I don’t think she’s necessarily suggesting it’s sexual at all. I can imagine “coarse joking” could be derogatory or degrading jokes about parishioners. That alone would be not only embarrassing, but disqualifying for a pastor. And he wouldn’t want anyone to know. It could have been disparaging jokes about one of their spouses. It could have been any number or actions that are disqualifying. In fact, I’m willing to bet that many evangelicals would rather allow people to infer that it’s consensually sexual in some vague way rather than admit that some pastors are just really awful shepherds.
This is a great piece. Thank you for writing it. The only clarifying question I had, why do you refer to Chandler’s female friend as a “victim”?
Thanks for the question. I say this because it was deemed an inappropriate relationship and there is a power differential here with Chandler’s position (and even more so with his celebrity). When that is the case, it is spiritual abuse, not a level playing field, and she would be the victim of that. Suffering through spiritual abuse is usually traumatic and can really mess with a person’s sense of self.
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So is the victim label solely based on TVC and Chandler’s explanation? Cause if you’re advocating for normal opposite sex friendships I can’t see how labeling the woman as a victim is helpful in that advocacy.
Perhaps it is carnal for women to be titillated by status?
Brother sister relationships in the body of Christ …
Do women, love their low status brothers?
I do agree that there is no carve out for any Christian to be hypocritical and regularly have hidden, unrepentant coarse conversation.
Balancing what is unreal or hyper spiritual vs being a growing more holy Christian shouldn’t be too hard to detect. This is where disciplining the elder/pastor and not the parishioner seems appropriate.
Perhaps we need healthier ways to call each other out.
How was Matthew 18 followed?
It seems, the woman, her husband, and the pastor’s wife may have had the opportunity to confront Matt. Why was it a friend?
Had all 4 of these other people failed?
If any of them did Matthew 18 prior to the friend, it’s a bigger deal and more of the spiritual abuse you suggest. Because he blew off rebuke and continued.
If they didn’t, why not?
There are obviously intimacies and private info between friends.
It seems this friendship was in a trajectory to diminish other commitments.
There is a certain sense in which a friend may meet needs no one in the family is meeting.
I think it likely would not have been handled the same if the friend was a man.
It also seems to me there is nothing wrong with the friend bearing some responsibility …
“I was a victim” in a repeated consensual set of interactions … So, “Why did you keep choosing that?”
Had the friend who confronted the pastor, first confronted her friend?
Had the woman ever confronted the pastor?
I’d say just publish the social media and give it the sunlight which it eventually should have.
It’s all caught up in none of us wanting to known by our failings, but there has to be “auditing”.
Are we stuck and repeating those failures?
Most of us are and do, and could use loving confrontation.
The biggest barrier is the confronter isn’t loving and is contributing to sin.
It’s the unattended nature of things and again points to further unattended things in all the actors in this drama.
The board trying to attend is directionally correct.
HOW can we be prepared for not just a visitation, but a HABITATION of our HOLY God.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been toddlers, and need to accelerate our growing up.
We also need to reject victim narratives.
The coarse joking were silly
comments about drinking. The scriptures are filled with instructions on how to walk in obedience with Christ. People let down their guard on social media and forget the world might be reading your every. Unfortunately, Matt used poor judgement and it is costing him. Bloggers and podcaster had been overly accusatory. The church or elders do not owe the outside world explanations or details. The woman can speak for herself if she chooses. Hopefully, she will not cave and will trust God completely in this difficult situation. One day the gossip will die down, hopefully Satan will not be the one who is victorious but the one defeated.
It is horrible messaging if taken at the face value they are serving. It comes across as discipline for friendship and only because Matt “is held to a higher standard”. I.e. wrong only because he is a pastor so not really wrong for anyone else. Oh, please. Far too much power and money are being protected here. Law firms, mandatory counseling, public announcements do not warrant this explanation for stepping back. The lack of true clarity (“ I don’t want any secrets between us” 😜) only serves to keep Matt shining and throws this woman and friendship with women in general as dangerous. The incongruity of the entire explanation in the service is the only clear take away. The added bonus of manipulation, “this is the day the Lord made” and “pastors too need a safe place” and controlling the narrative is over the top.
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I’m torn on this issue.
On one hand, this is a good opportunity to show both the church and the world what IS (or IS NOT) a healthy sibling-like relationship between people. Needless to say, a consensus would never arise – you’d have ultra-conservatives thinking it was sinful and atheists wondering what the big deal was.
Only God, Matt, their family, and maybe the elders truly know the nature of that relationship, and airing someone’s ’dirty laundry’ devoid of that vital context is not helpful, no matter the level of redaction.
While I appreciate the call for accountability while simultaneously leaving the door open for Christian freedom, there is always the very real issue that we fallen humans constantly have trouble balancing those issues, especially when it comes to relationships between the sexes and when freedom crosses into ‘inappropriate’.
Because of such nuance, releasing the report would cause more harm than good.
Assuming the best that this is just a friendship that crossed a line for the church and their view of the pastorate, it is still in the best interests of all that the report be made public. Other churches and pastors could learn appropriate boundaries for the pastor/congregant relationship, and churches could understand what policies and procedures need to be enacted for the safety of both sheep and shepherd.
Given the track record of celebrity pastors and Evangelical church oversight, it’s hard not to see this as a coverup of something more serious. But… even at face value, it would be helpful to understand if this is just overzealous enforcement of the “Billy Graham Rule”.
I also don’t like the implication of this being “airing someone’s ‘dirty laundry'”. Pastors have ethical and moral guidelines in their position of authority, given the power differential between the pastor and individual member. A licensed counselor or social worker having an inappropriate relationship with a client wouldn’t be ‘dirty laundry’, it would be grounds for discipline, license revocation and perhaps even criminal charges. For as much disdain as Evangelicalism has for mental health professionals, we still expect more from them than our own pastors!
Yeah “airing laundry” was probably a bad use of phrase — I mean in this context “one’s personal communications with another”.
I totally get where you’re coming from, but I just have to disagree — any pastor should know full-well the boundaries because (unfortunately) our recent history is full of examples of how *not* to be a pastor. Granted, nobody is perfect and there’s always another trap to be on the lookout for, but most should know full aware the dangers of social media by now.
Given that there are some many existing examples of What Not To Do, reading a transcript of (supposedly just) un-pastoral jokes or comments doesn’t seem to be helpful – it gives unbelievers just more ammo to attack all of Christianity (no matter the context of the comments), and it doesn’t really further the learning of the believers unless they’re quite naïve.
I am with you in one thing though – I don’t understand why the big deal if this was just ‘innocent but unbecoming of a pastor’ — making such discipline public does in fact suggest it’s more serious and implies a coverup.
On the one hand, I think they’re stepping out of line with the church discipline outlined in Matthew 18 — If Matt repented of his actions, then why the public announcement? Why not take it before 2 or 3 witnesses (elders) like he did?
It seems to church was afraid of a leaked chat log and decided to try to get ahead of it. I dunno, this is between God and the parties involved.
I think Matthew 18 is “A” process, not “THE” process. Jesus publicly denounced the Pharisees, with no record of him working through the church courts.
Based on the nature of the offense “frequent”, “familiar” and “coarse”, and the need for the elders to intervene, it suggests that this is a breach of the pastor/congregant relationship. That’s why I think it is quite appropriate for the church to make the findings public.
1) With many pastors caught in inappropriate behavior, there is a pattern of behavior. One person comes forward, and then others, seeing the nature of the offense realize that their discomfort with a situation was really something unethical and wrong. They come forward, too. The elders may be making this public so that other victims may understand the inappropriateness and come forward.
2) You are saying that Matthew 18 is a reason to cover it up. I will also submit 1 Tim 5:20 – “But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.” – that is a reason to publicly expose the misdeeds of pastors. Maybe in New Testament times, “everyone” could be limited to regional church leadership, but when a pastor has a worldwide following, perhaps the church leaders need to communicate worldwide.
“Think of the way Chandler gets to control the narrative, over the victim, in telling it to the church.”
Marginalizing women once again. It’s a demonic practice.
You, on the other hand, constantly encourage and strengthen women and men through you writing and speaking, Aimee. Thank you.
Seems like you’re trying to get a conversation going with Aimee there… ease up Tiger. I don’t necessarily disagree with you but how is marginalising women a demonic practice?
I truly appreciate this, especially the last paragraph, “beauty inspires an appetite for truth and goodness”. Wow. Yes.
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It seems worth remembering Prov 18:17 – The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
We don’t know what the pastor and his wife, the woman and her husband, the elders, or the investigating firm know. Clarity about the relevant evidence is not presently available to outsiders.
Why do women always have to be labeled as a victim? That takes away from when women are actually victims. Do we see Eve as a victim?
What about the fact this this woman’s actions (and her friends’s actions) victimized the pastor’s wife and children, her husband, and maybe their church, and maybe the institution of marriage and society in general?
The sermon is definitely manipulative, but a tenet of American law is “innocent until proven guilty” is very important.
This story has become salacious gossip that will likely have tremendous effect on his children. I think we should focus on our own shortcomings and our own family problems, rather than speculation over things we have no first hand knowledge about
Praying for Matt’s family.
Here’s what stood out to me-
1. She told her girlfriend.
Because she was uncomfortable?
Because she was gushing?
We don know.
2. Coarse joking.
This doesn’t sound platonic, it sounds like an emotional affair.
It’s good that he took a break.
First you said (with zero evidence) that this woman’s and her friend’s actions “victimized the pastor’s wife and children, her husband, and maybe the church, and maybe the institution of marriage and society in general” – and then you said we shouldn’t speculate about things we don’t have firsthand knowledge of.
The man has a wife and children and the woman has a husband. The man is a public figure. Those are FACTS we DO know. She, exercising her FREE WILL (logging in to instagram and messaging), engaged in some conversations with him, that led to a public scandal. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in psychology (further evidenced by the fact that the man publicly said he had to apologize to his wife and children) to deduce that this would negatively affect the man’s family, reputation, perception of his church, etc.
Nothing I’m saying should be construed as speculation of the content of the conversations between this particular man and this particular woman. I don’t know and I don’t care. I am saying however that painting her as a sole victim of this circumstance is inappropriate because there are much more vulnerable people, man’s children specifically, that have to now face the consequences of adults’ choices.
We have no idea why their conversations started. Maybe she was bored and looking to excitement and maybe she was reaching out to her pastor because she needed guidance for a circumstance that made her vulnerable. THOSE are the facts we know nothing about.
It’s wrong to assume that he did something wrong and she’s a victim. Just like it’s wrong to assume anything without knowing what really happened.
“Nothing I’m saying should be construed as speculation … maybe she was bored and looking to excitement.”
You ARE consistently and repeatedly speculating on the content of the conversations, the woman’s intent, etc. In both your “why the conversation started” examples, you assume the woman reached out first. If you really do not want to speculate, then do not speculate, and especially do not criticize others for speculating.
I’m going to use that last paragraph this Sunday when I am preaching on Ezra. So so good. It’s what Ezra did–confronted grievous sin with humility and mourning, then looked for God’s grace and mercy on the nation. And in light of his example, the nation admitted then repented from their sin. When we stick to God’s way, beauty can arise from the ashes. But that takes humility and holding a ministry loosely. I see no evidence of that in this situation. We don’t know the many details that have been withheld, but what they claim does leave one with a bad taste in their mouth (in light of what they spent on getting the true story!) For sure they are keeping information back that could damage their leader. But Satan loves a secret. He will use any deception and cause more damage than we can imagine. The only way is to come clean and throw ourselves on the mercy of God.
I appreciate your honest assessment of this situation. However, in my opinion the disciplinary step taken on Matt Chandler actually raises the bar for opposite sex friendships and doesn’t push it too high, as some may contend. While men and women should relate well with each other, there is no reason why this relating should assume the identity of a “friendship”. Friendships with the opposite sex are always a disaster waiting to happen for the primary reason that our bodies are not designed for safety in such familiar acquaintanceship even when they are purely platonic. A certain kind of carnal delight always lingers in the soul after a satisfying encounter with a member of the opposite sex, a delight that boosts our ego, feeds our vanity and fuels narcissistic complexes. The stronger the chemistry, the bolder we get to infringe upon the limits of conventional marital boundaries and to try and make the communication even more pleasant, even more informal. Outside the social media world this kind of familiarity draws immediate public attention as it requires frequent one on one meetings at restaurants, parks, street corners and diverse locations, but on social media everything is hidden and no one is privy to the surreptitious progress of such a relationship. If we look at this kind of bonhomie as only a few harmless exchanges on social media then it doesn’t warrant the kind of action that has been resorted to; however if we try to examine the motives behind such intimacy then questions must be raised over whether the lady concerned has benefitted substantially from it. At the end of the day the church and everyone affected by this incident will surely see opposite sex friendships in a different light.
“Friendships with the opposite sex are always a disaster waiting to happen for the primary reason that our bodies are not designed for safety in such familiar acquaintanceship even when they are purely platonic.”
This is essentially the gnostic argument. If our bodies are inherently evil, then how could God take on evil flesh? Jesus had friendships with women, and we are to imitate Jesus, so why would God ask us to take on relationships he blessed in human form if they are always a disaster.
You need to figure out how to unscrew your screwed-up theology!
The women who went around with Jesus were first and foremost his followers. Jesus didn’t have them around so he could exemplify what friendship with the opposite sex means. They served a purpose in ministry, they directed attention towards the glorious divinity of Christ, his ability to save anyone, his integrity under any circumstances. We are meant to be Christ-like, I agree, but not to the extent of testing the limits of our human nature. Sometimes in our disillusionment with heresies like gnosticsm we tend to take extreme viewpoints. Gnosticsm is an inherently wicked idea that rejects any moral or spiritual accountability for works done in the flesh; what I am advocating is having a prudent approach towards opposite sex relationships because the slightest indiscretion in this area always tends to stir up a hornets’ nest.
I thank God that in all the years that I’ve seen both of my parents grow in their walk with Christ and in ministry, not once have I ever heard them refer to a close acquaintance of the opposite sex as a “friend”. It has always been a co-worker, a counsellor, a partner in God’s work, but never “friend” and this certainly has been an important component in the spiritual disciplines that have kept their lives beyond public reproach.
Matt Chandler’s ministry has blessed me a lot personally and his admission has actually come as quite a relief to me since there is no hint there of any moral failure in the conventional sense of the term. In an unconventional sense however, his disclosure reveals a reckless breach of ministry principles that I am sure Matt himself had a big part in drafting. The whole situation could have been avoided if in ministering to women and young ladies, men kept the margins much wider and stayed as far away possible from the precipice as possible. At the end of the day, it is our life goal that Christ be glorified in our lives more than any point we may try to prove about our liberty in Christ.
Oswald says: “They served a purpose in ministry” – you’re digging deeper and deeper. So, Jesus didn’t want women to be his friends, he wanted to use them for his purposes. Isn’t that objectification? Is your gospel a gospel of objectification? Jesus said, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) Discipleship, which both women and men partake in, is friendship with Jesus. Both women and men were disciples, so therefore Jesus demonstrated friendship with women.
Interesting thing about your parents, but not pertinent. I wouldn’t be surprised to meet someone with screwed up theology of the opposite sex, then find out that their parents had similarly screwed up theology.
“there is no hint there of any moral failure… reveals a reckless breach of ministry principles” – this is cognitive dissonance. At the same time you want to say, nothing to see here, move along, but then you want to call it out as a moral failing.
And, interestingly, the so-called moral failing is exactly what Aimee was pointing out. A pastor ministers to both men and women. A pastor disciples both men and women, in the pattern Jesus showed, a pattern of teaching and friendship. You say it would be better if, “men kept the margins much wider and stayed as far away possible from the precipice as possible.” This is NOT following Jesus. Jesus did not avoid women. He discipled women, which was scandalous in the same way you want to make it scandalous today. You need to study Jesus, not “Christ”. Jesus was a real person and not the idealistic figurehead the Evangelical church has turned him into in order to ignore who he really was.
Paul exhorts pastors through Timothy: “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, and to the younger men as brothers, to the older women as mothers, and to the younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Tim 5:2) This is the expectation for all Christians, that they can have relationships with people of the same and opposite sex, just like brothers and sisters. By talking of margins and safeguards, you are rejecting the truth. Do brothers and sisters need to be separated? Maybe if you’re a Duggar, but maybe that should clue you into where the problem lies – the scripture twisting in Evangelical churches.
Great work! You raised questions we all should be asking.
Much of what we see and hear publicly is the tip of the iceberg. It’s the result of what lies deep within, surfacing inconveniently at the most inopportune times. All involved pay the toll for indiscretions made by each of us – especially public figures. Amplified and well lit – loud and bright for the audiences to observe, interpret, decide and then give their observed opinion-publicly.
The question I believe that needs to be raised is not what or how, we know that, but, what led us to the place of playing close to the destructive fires that scorch, singe, and eventually burn us, our lives and families and those we lead.
It’s deeper than the consequences of the event. It’s what lies in us. The secret places. What’s there that Holy Spirit needs to point out, we address and then begin the journey of healing to wholeness.
The Exchange Collaborative
Aimee, I join the many who agree with your assessment: Something doesn’t align with all of this. Either TVC is overreacting (at a high cost to the gospel’s reputation), or there is something more severe that they are unwilling to disclose. The board’s actions don’t match their words. I’ve sat through six of these kinds of meetings in varying churches and know what to listen to & look for when discerning truth. Consider the following:
• Josh Patterson said after Chandler spoke, “[Matt] did fail to meet the 1 Timothy standard” and later said, “But I want to be clear, the elders believe that this behavior was not disqualifying of an elder.” How does that work? How do you fail to meet the standard of qualification while maintaining one’s qualification? This is double-talk.
• Words like “sin” and “repentance” were never even mentioned by either Chandler or Patterson. Why is Matt being disciplined if he didn’t sin, AND how will the TVC elders know it’s time to bring Matt back on staff if he can’t be repentant since being repentant would have meant that he sinned (you don’t repent from a “bad habit” or “salty attitude”)?
• A law firm was hired, not an institution specializing in power dynamics and abuse.
• Law firms have client confidentiality to legally protect the report from being released.
• The report was not going to be made public to protect the woman’s identity, but her name could easily be redacted. Court documents do this ALL the time.
• TVC declines to comment on the New York Times question of whether Chandler will get paid during this LOA of undetermined time. There’s your answer 😉 Who pays for his salary while on leave? The church does… without knowing it.
For those who want to charge me with “assuming the worst,” respectfully, you haven’t lived through what I have. I can’t help you see it… I would’ve said the same thing to myself until it happened to me over and over and over again.
Lastly, I know this news might trigger some with church PTSD as it did to me when I initially heard it. My heart goes out to you. Hang in there; this, too, shall pass.
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Why did the investigation take 6 months? That seems like a very long time to “investigate” a relationship.
…but more than enough time to build a narrative to sell the church on.
I took some online classes from Matt Chandler during a time when my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was looking for God’s Word to encourage me. This makes me feel betrayed. He was a pastor that I looked to for spiritual truth. How do I know if he was engaged in this exchange of behavior during my study time? This is very disturbing. Thankfully my faith is stronger than any man’s teaching. The damage goes deeper than just revelation of this relationship. It goes deep into the man’s soul intentions.
Just because he was engaging in this does not mean the Lord could not use him to speak God’s spiritual truth into your life. If his words aligned with the Bible, chances are, he was speaking truth. If they did not, then you should take a second thought on whether to follow them or not.
It’s all about the heart isn’t it.
I am a born again Christian but I am not a Baptist and I had never heard of Matt Chandler before a week ago.
I used to work for a divorce lawyer. All of the broken marriages I witnessed started with frequent and overly familiar online messaging. Spouses were aware. Some were even uncomfortable but since they weren’t sexual no one stood up and said stop. But it became sexual and since a relationship had already formed it felt like love.
I’m sure the facts were presented in the best light but this is when a relationship should stop. Before it becomes sexual. If a lay person stopped a relationship at this point he certainly doesn’t need to loose his job. As a church leader he should be held to a higher standard.
I think the problem is the half measures taken by TVC elders. If you’re going to go public then go public. The vagueness of the admission causes people to fill in the blanks with speculation. If whatever he said is serious enough for him to have to make a public confession and take a leave of absence, then its serious enough to provide factual information. The last thing I heard was the coarse jesting was about alcohol…what in the world is coarse jesting about alcohol? Is it because they’re a Southern Baptist Church?
I just watched Todd Friel (Wretched Radio) and I agree with his take – this is a local issue, it’s being handled, and without knowing any more facts, all such conjecture is akin to gossip, which is sin.
Thank you for your thoughtful article, Aimee.
Reading the responses in the comments, it seems that some people are having a tough time understanding why the actions of TVC are troublesome and why your article is needed so badly.
I urge people to remember:
1. That by making the video of Matt Chandler stepping aside public, this is no longer a local issue.
2. By not making the nature of the wrongdoing public – whilst at the same time publicly informing people that a thorough investigation was performed, invites speculation.
3. The message we have been left with is that there was sin – but not really BAD sin, but bad ENOUGH sin that something needed to be done. Anyone else confused?
4. So why in light of the above has TVC not been willing to spell out what is considered sin, what is considered disqualifying sin, and what is considered reprimandable sin – with a “time out?”
5. Which brings me back to thanking Aimee for the article. If there was sin then there are victims, if there was not, then we are receiving a damaging message about cross gender relationships.
The only thing we know for sure is that the elders of TVC haven’t loved well in this situation. Not the people in it, or the ones scratching their heads in confusion on the sidelines.
Really good post and you make some great points. I’m not sure there is a solution to any of this mess we find ourselves in as the body of Christ. Unable/unwilling to function in relationships, unable to have difficult conversations, unwilling to look into our own interior brokenness and need for community, but also an unwillingness to not be in community, albeit in a gray zone or inappropriate zone. I’d love to craft a beautiful response on how that can be remedied. However, at this point, with the consistent, oblique and disproportionate church culture on the issue and not reconciled to the warring factions within of the biblical message of love and communal oneness in the body of Christ, the ingrained desire for community, the mental health crisis and epidemic of loneliness in America, the ease of connectivity through social media, the bad and the gray-area choices and the focus on storyline control with those in power who have made mistakes (and those who haven’t) and the utter lack of desire to confront any of these topics in a Godly fashion but to just keep rolling on the above-reproach train as the standard without ever looking at what’s really going on here, I am a dyed in the wool pessimist as to whether any of this will get sorted out in our lifetimes. I think there will need to be widespread overturning in church culture and biblical understanding before changes are made culturally in friendships, before people are comfortable with that in the church, reconciling that biblically and with our own inherent social needs. Not happening anytime soon unless Jesus returns imo. Until then, I think we will continue to see broken people, whether in the pulpit or not, fall prey to themselves and each other. It’s toxic and it’s a horrible witness but it’s reality.
I have been closely following the situation at The Village Church in Texas. I believe it is a tragic situation in so many ways . . . perhaps most significantly in terms of the damage that situation has done to the Gospel work of the evangelical Reformed Church of Jesus Christ in Texas and beyond.
I spent more than 30 years years of my professional life working in college and seminary-level evangelical Christian higher education and maintaining appropriately equal opportunities and support for both male and female professing Christian educators was one of the most difficult challenges I faced. So much of the support that Faculty members (male and female) want and need in order for them to do their best work comes from informal interactions, often in one-on-one extended conversations. ANY of these conversations can move in an inappropriate direction. . . . . and, tragically for the cause of the Kingdom of Christ, some have done so, either heterosexually or homosexually.
One is tempted to take what seems like the wise and easy way “out” – make all such educational environments single-gender. But my experience as a theological education accreditor (ATS, Middle States, Southern, New England, etc.) has convinced me that sexual sin is just as “present” at single-gender schools as it is at mixed-gender schools. It takes different forms in different places, but it certainly is “there” in all human environments.
I weep over the situation at The Village Church. But I fear that the wrong lessons may be taught from that situation.
What should we learn? In one sense, the answer is simple – “keep training the trainers.” Make “continuing education” for pastors and Sunday School teachers and all religious workers a high priority and make sure that personal ethics in educational contexts (and, dare I say it, in pastoral contexts as well) remain a very high priority in church life as a whole both online and in person.
Be sure that evaluations of pastors and elders – and ALL church workers – always include questions about the setting and the maintenance of appropriate boundaries between men and men, between women and women, and between men and women.
After all, it is the reputation of the Triune God of Scripture that is at stake.
I totally agree with you how the framing of Matt Chandler’s and the Village Church’s response to his DMs beg more questions than they do answers. If this communication was so innocuous as seems to be claimed, then why don’t they just release a redacted copy of the communications. I believe that we, as married Christians, need to have some guardrails and Matt may have crossed the line here. It is disturbing to me that these DMs were described as “frequent” and “familiar” along with some “course joking.” Sounds a bit flirtatious to me and although I truly doubt that Matt meant anything by this, what was the recipient thinking? I would definitely not be comfortable if my wife shared frequent and familiar texts with a man. It may be a sad commentary on me or maybe society, but I believe that it is difficult and possibly inappropriate for a married person to have a close friendship with a person of the opposite sex. Friendship can easily turn into a closeness that can easily turn into intimacy. There is no reason to jeopardize our marriages.
So you put this guy in front of the elders, all men, who really don’t think he did that much wrong anyway, and say, “I’m really sorry, can I come back? You guys know I’m a good guy right!”
And because their are no women here to check this, completely harmful and hurtful culture towards taking advantage of and abusing power particularly with women, he is the hero(his church gave him a standing ovation), and she is the one who can’t come back to church? She is alienated, he is uplifted. No report given so everyone can wonder about this woman’s virtue, not his. Now who does that protect? What message does this send?
She is simply erased, like many other women in history.
God will not let his bride be pilfered and raped and discarded. There is a shake down going on, and it’s in our pulpits , spreading disease to the congregants. That’s my only hope right now, that He is a God of justice and he will defend his bride.