Church Discipline Gone Wrong: The Village Church Scandal

Divorce Minister
May 24, 2015

As promised in yesterday’s post on the Duggar situation, today I am covering another story that deals with pedophilia and the evangelical church. The focus of this post will not be on the pedophilia per se but on how The Village Church treated the (then) wife of the admitted pedophile when she decided to obtain a marriage annulment. It is illustrative of poor pastoral care and poor divorce theology at work in the evangelical world.

As the quote from Karen states above, the facts of this situation really are not in dispute as it comes to this former missionary couple (for further reading click here). Her former husband, Jordan Root, admitted the sexual appetite of a pedophile and gratifying that appetite by viewing child porn. In fact, their sending missionary organization, SIM, took this so seriously that they expelled Jordan Root from its membership.

How does The Village Church figure into the story?

Karen and Jordan Root’s home and supporting church was The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. The family came back from the mission field amid this story breaking about Jordan’s pedophilia. They were both members of this church.

For those who do not know, The Village Church is the flagship megachurch of the Acts 29 church planting network. It boasts 11,000 members with multiple campuses in Texas. Pastor Matt Chandler is a lead pastor at The Village Church and the pastoral personality that arguably helped this church explode in membership. He is a very gifted teacher, and I have appreciated learning from his teachings–i.e. online and in print–in the past.

Besides The Village Church, Chandler has some major platforms in evangelical Christianity worldwide including both on The Gospel Coalition –a major theological teaching platform–and as the President of the Acts 29 church planting network, which boasts having over 500 churches worldwide. That said, I did not see him playing much of a hands-on role in this debacle. However, his absence in stopping this pastoral care train-wreck at his church is troubling to me.

My point in explaining these connections is to highlight how poor theology and destructive pastoral care in this situation has major implications and ramifications for the worldwide community. This is not just about Karen Hinkley. It is about how evangelical leaders and the evangelical Christian community treat Christian spouses who are faced with such serious sexual sin in their partners. In other words,

This is a big deal!

I am now going to call out two major issues and then share a few final thoughts.

A) Theological Corrective Teaching:

Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 provide an exception for faithful spouses to obtain a divorce. The particular word for the exception is the broad Greek term “porneia.” Pedophilia would certainly qualify as sexual sin under this term. Applying this understanding to Karen’s situation, she had the option–without shame–to seek a divorce from Jordan (or a marriage annulment as in this case) based on Jesus’ own words. Permission (i.e. to end the marriage) is permission. Since she has this permission from God, she does not need human approval. That includes approval from pastors of a church she has already left (before being put under discipline, I would add).

Also, remember that Karen is dealing with years of this sexually sinful behavior. She was unaware until recently of his pedophilia sin, which also indicates years of lies and deception. Like a faithful spouse discovering their spouse led a double life as an adulterer/adulteress, the sin issues here are very deep and go beyond “just” one act. Her decision to seek marriage annulment does not strike this pastor as impulsive but wise when considered in light of such facts.

B) Pastoral Care Epic Fail:

Where things became especially hairy is when church leadership tried to control Karen in rejecting her membership resignation and decision to end her marriage through annulment (see quotes at top of post and the story here). Adding to the horror of this pastoral epic fail:

The Village Church pastors frame this incredibly controlling and spiritually abusive approach as “care” for Karen!

To be clear:

This is not care. This is control.

I recognize such a move from my own experience. My ex-father-in-law, a member of an Acts 29 church at the time, used this sort of approach to abuse me spiritually. Furthermore, officials in my former denomination stood behind a “care” plan for me that was anything except “care.” Like Karen, these officials dismissed my objections over the necessity of said “care” plan. Unlike Karen, I was still a member of that denomination at the time the “care” plan went down.

I am sure that I am not the only faithful spouse who has seen this religious veneer of “care” put into action as a cover for spiritually abusive manipulation.

This is a classic example of pastors not respecting the agency and dignity of another adult. Karen is an adult. This approach is completely inappropriate and is insensitive to put it mildly. Pastoral Care 101 ought to have taught these pastors not to shove “care” down the throat of someone who has told them they are neither their pastor nor do they want said “care.”  And as if this is not bad enough, these pastors have this situation so backwards that they put the wronged spouse–Karen–under formal church discipline while explicitly saying her pedophile husband is not! Their agenda of controlling her and the situation seems to trump actually caring for Karen by respecting their own pastoral care limitations in this setting and letting her go. Disgusting.

My Final Thoughts:

1) The Village Church pastors spiritually abused Karen. Karen did not sin by choosing an annulment in light of her former husband’s years of sexual immorality in the form of pedophilia (e.g. Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9). She respectfully informed the church of her decision and withdrawal of membership before she was in violation of the covenant (i.e. no longer a member in good standing).

To attempt to put her under church discipline is to say she is in serious sin and to abuse the position of elder/pastor in Christ’s Church. It is to attempt to exert authority over someone who has already left one’s care. This disturbs me as I am aware that such heavy-handed measures were not limited to this Acts 29 church alone. The evangelical community would do well to rebuke–as I am doing here–such behavior in order not to suggest by silence that such spiritual abuse is acceptable. It is not!

2) The fate of Karen and Jordan’s marriage was not for the elders or pastors of The Village Church to decide.  I become nervous whenever I hear or read of evangelical pastors insisting they are consulted about the marriage’s fate even when the faithful spouse has clear evidence of sexual immorality qualifying them for choosing a Biblical divorce. To be clear: It is good to seek sound and wise counsel. I encourage engaging one’s pastor and spiritual community for support and counsel at the critical juncture of deciding what to do with one’s marriage following sexual sin in one’s spouse. However, often evangelical pastors’ insistence on consultation crosses the line of care and counsel to control in my opinion. This smacks of distrust and an usurpation of the Holy Spirit role in the faithful spouse’s life. And it leaves me with this burning question:

Who do such pastors think they are that they know better than God who gave this faithful spouse (e.g. Karen) permission to end the marriage?!

3) This is not simply male patriarchy gone wild in evangelical-land. It is far more serious than that. This is a demonic, religious spirit of control at work in the Church. Case and point, I experienced it at work in the demise of my first marriage plus its aftermath, and I am a male minister. This problem is not just regulated to one gender over another. Satan seeks to destroy all God’s people–i.e. both male and female. It stems from a flawed theology of divorce that refuses to respect the permission granted to faithful spouses to end their marriage without shame. And it stems from a flawed understanding of pastoral care. I am horrified reading this story as a professional, board certified chaplain watching how these pastors attempted to force their “care” upon Karen even being willing to abuse her spiritually to do so. This ought to be completely unacceptable behavior in God’s Church and among God’s chosen Church leaders.

Finally, I am righteously ticked!

I am angry that my fellow evangelical ministers have chosen to abuse a dear sister in the Lord. I am angry that my Savior’s Name is being dragged through the muck by such sinful behavior. I am angry that pedophilia and Jordan’s access to vulnerable minors is not taken more seriously by church leaders (as indicated by Karen’s letter, see here).

And I am tired of seeing these common spiritual abuse patterns continue.

God tells us in Hebrews that He will shake this earth before He comes so that what is not of Him will fall away (Hebrews 12:26-29). And this judgment starts with His Church (I Peter 4:17).

May His shaking commence.

Come Lord Jesus!



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