The Fall of Tullian Tchividjian

June 23, 2015 at 1:13 pm


maxresdefaultLike racism and police brutality, the public failure of megachurch pastors is an unfortunately common theme in the media these days. The most recent tale surfaced after the resignation of Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida following his confession of an extramarital affair. Like all failure, both public and private, the reasons for the fall of a leader of often far more complicated than a single diagnosis will ever allow, and attempts to reduce immorality to any single rationale does little to curb future temptations. Like all fellow humans, pastors are not immune to justifications for their actions; everyone knows the particular lie we long to hear. Pastors get tired, stressed, and overburdened with the sins of others. They often suffer a lack of appreciation, heightened criticism, or the opposite, they are placed on a pedestal they know they don’t deserve. Most of all pastors often feel, whether they like to admit it or not, above the law and brimming with a sense of entitlement.

In addition to these however, I do believe there is another reason that pastors appear to be particularly susceptible to sexual temptation and it is because our calling centers on working with the human soul, a task that is inherently intimate. To this point I have found great wisdom from the pen of David Hansen in his book The Art of Pastoring. His words shed important light on the potential darkness lurking in the corner of every congregation and we would be wise to hear them again at such a time as this. He writes,  

Like all people, pastors are subject to sexual temptation. Sex is a powerful force in most adult lives. For any Christian committed to biblical sexual standards, it takes prayer, effort of will and intelligent choices to maintain those standards throughout one’s life. But pastors have an extra strike against them in this battle. From time to time they must deal with a strange transference reaction: the creation of forceful erotic feelings in the parishioner toward the pastor.

It happens more than anyone is willing to admit. Amazingly, most often it is lived through silently, with grace and dignity by both parties. The erotic dynamic begins with transference’s radical desire to please, but the consummation is grounded in transference’s desire to destroy. The lust of transference and countertransference in the ministry is not based on any kind of love whatsoever, certainly not eros. The basis is self-destruction. It’s a kind of spiritual suicide.

I believe many ministers who have affairs do so in order to get out of the ministry. That they later decide to stay in the ministry and cover the incident up, or repent and reenter the ministry, points to how seriously they miscalculated their deed. There are intelligent steps the pastor can take to avoid the snare. Don’t try to be a therapist. When pastors try to be therapists, the danger intensifies. One-on-one counseling with members of the opposite sex is a hazardous undertaking for any pastor. The counseling situation heightens the pastor’s already precarious role as a kind, loving authority figure, by adding to it the role of loving confidant.

Knowing people’s secrets creates a bond that can become a bomb. Every pastor hears secrets and keeps secrets, but it is simply not true that pastors should hear everyone’s secrets.

I am very careful about the secrets I listen to. Sometimes I decline to hear them when they are offered. It is of no little consequence that the biblical word for intercourse is also the word “to know.” There is a desire to hear and to know people’s secrets which is exciting, even lustful. This is a kind of voyeurism, a sort of intellectual intercourse. Perhaps the best solution to the erotic feelings created by transference and countertransference is to take steps to avoid transference reactions in the first place. (Hansen, David. The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers (pp. 142-143). InterVarsity Press.) 

But perhaps most important of all is the reminder that Pastor  Tchividjian delivered to his colleagues everywhere via twitter the day his confession broke into the airways- God never promises to protect us from the temporal consequences of our sins…“Surrender early.”

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