Tullian Tchividjian has returned to ministry and has started a new church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. While some of the church’s attendees say his return to leadership is a sign of God’s grace, one of the women Tchividjian had an affair with in the past says there was abuse involved in their relationship and she does not believe he is truly repentant.
“He was my spiritual leader,” Rachel Steele told The Palm Beach Post. “You know, he was my go-to. He was my teacher. … He definitely had a place of authority in my life. You trust a man like that a lot more.”
Tchividjian is one of Billy Graham’s grandsons and as such, “was born into Christian royalty.” Controversy has surrounded him for the past few years, beginning in 2015 when he confessed having an affair, lost his pastoral credentials and resigned as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Steele’s Claims Against Tchividjian
Steele is the woman Tchividjian had an affair with in 2015 and is one of two women with whom he has admitted to having affairs. She has chronicled her history with him extensively in this series of posts. Steele claims Tchividjian befriended her and her husband, counselled them on their marriage, and enlisted their financial help with hiring a private investigator to document his then-wife’s infidelity. He also, according to Steele, groomed her for a sexual relationship.
In her post describing the affair, Steele said, “When our relationship got physical, I absolutely knew we were sinning. But Tchividjian, “said we were doing nothing wrong.” Steele told The Post that while she did want to sleep with him, abuse was an inherent factor of their relationship because he had a position of authority in the church where she was a member.
Tchividjian denies any abuse and does not believe that authority in and of itself introduces abuse into a sexual relationship. He said, “I don’t care what role a person has, a consensual relationship between two adults is not abuse.”
When he announced his resignation from Coral Ridge, Tchividjian said at the time that he had discovered his wife, Kim, was having an affair. As their marriage deteriorated, he had “sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship.” In his statement, he apologized for his actions and said that he and Kim were “heartbroken” over what they had done. Kim immediately issued a response, saying, “The statement reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own.”
Months after resigning from Coral Ridge, Tchividjian secured a position on staff with Willow Creek Church in Winter Springs, Florida. Around that time in the fall of 2015, the South Florida Presbytery stripped him of his credentials, and he also filed for divorce from Kim. Then, in the spring of 2016, Willow Creek fired Tchividjian after it came to light he’d had an affair with a different woman in 2014. This was something he had not disclosed and which called into question the way he had presented his 2015 affair.
According to The Christian Post, Willow’s Creek’s senior pastor, Kevin Labby, said, “The feeling of the elders was that Tullian had a long period of time to share [the 2014 affair] with the church and for one reason or another he elected not to.” He added, “the session was concerned that this was not shared with them and created a kind of faulty understanding.” The Palm Beach Post reports that in a statement that has since been taken offline, the leadership of Willow Creek said, “We would also like to state in the clearest possible terms that we do not believe that Mr. Tchividjian should be in any form of public or vocational ministry.” Labby told The Post that Willow Creek’s leadership stands by that statement, even though it has been removed.
In the fall of 2016, Tullian Tchividjian remarried, news that became public when his new wife, Stacie, tweeted about a sermon he had recently preached. In December of that same year, the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) issued a statement in response to Rachel Steele’s posts, which the organization linked to on its site and called “credible allegations that Tullian Tchividjian had engaged in clergy sexual misconduct against multiple women.” The founder and executive director of GRACE is Tullian Tchividjian’s brother, Boz.
Back in the Pastorate
According to The Palm Beach Post, after his most recent marriage, Tchividjian pursued writing and speaking engagements. The way people responded led him to believe there was a need for a church where “people come and feel freedom to tell the truth about themselves without fear of rejection.” So he and Stacie started The Sanctuary church, which is unaffiliated. The Post reports that a recent service was attended by approximately 60 to 80 people. Those attending seem to be untroubled by Tchividjian’s past. One said, “I trust that God has done amazing work in his life.” Another told the Post, “We’ve all been somewhere where we need forgiveness. God’s restored him.”
Steele believes there has not been evidence of true repentance in Tchividjian’s life, but he says his experiences give him a deeper understanding of grace and brokenness: “Some people think that I should just shut up and crawl in a cave and never come out because I’m not qualified to be leading spiritually in any way because of everything that I went through and everything that I did. Other people champion it because they go, ‘It’s about time that churches are led by people who know what it feels like to, you know, fall on their face and be in the gutter.’”