In news that should surprise absolutely no one, Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Texas, announced on Sunday that he’d be stepping away from the pulpit indefinitely after admitting to an inappropriate online relationship with a woman on Instagram.
It’s not surprising because Chandler has spent years responding in the worst possible ways to sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior. It was only a matter of time before it all caught up to him.
For people outside the evangelical world, a refresher may be helpful.
In 2012, an 11-year-old girl was allegedly abused at the Village Church’s summer camp. Even though her parents told church leaders about the incident several years later (when they learned about it), Chandler lied to his congregation about the details. He simply said there was an allegation of abuse by a church member but that the unnamed culprit did not have “access to children at the Village Church.” (That was only technically true because the culprit, who was an associate children’s minister, no longer worked there.)
Chandler separately emailed the congregation to say that one of their pastors (THE SAME GUY) was leaving the church due to an “alcohol abuse problem”… without acknowledging the connection between the two stories.
Wait. It gets worse.
In 2015, Chandler and his colleagues punished a woman who annulled her marriage after finding out her husband was a pedophile… because she didn’t run it by church elders first so they could attempt a reconciliation.
I repeat: They punished her for wanting to get the hell out of that marriage. They did not punish him because he repented. (The husband and wife had been missionaries.)
The church later apologized for failing Basic Human Decency 101.
Wait. It gets worse.
Chandler is also president of Acts 29, a major evangelical “church planting” network that gives giant wheelbarrows full of cash to men who show promise in starting and leading churches that adhere to a strict conservative interpretation of Christianity.
Acts 29 was founded by Mark Driscoll, the spiritually abusive, misogynistic, plagiarizing internet troll who was booted from the ministry in 2014, only to be replaced by another preacher, Steve Timmis, who was subsequently booted from the ministry for… spiritual abuse.
Earlier this year, Christianity Today‘s Daniel Silliman interviewed Chandler about the state of the ministry and specifically asked if the current organization would have weeded out guys like Driscoll and Timmis. In other words, had Acts 29 modified its training to make sure abusive guys like that weren’t given a platform?
I would hope they would get caught by it. I think there’s something about the dynamics of narcissism that makes it hard to catch, so I want to be careful, but we’re trying to organize as best as we can so that we can vet men before they get our sticker on them. And then after they’ve been vetted, get them in the kind of community that they might be encouraged or challenged if you start getting red flags.
We’ve done a lot of work around this and we hate abuse in all its forms.
As I wrote at the time, saying you hate all abuse is an easy way to ignore the very specific kinds of abuse that often crop up in evangelical churches. Chandler was so desperate not to say anything bad about two objectively horrible guys that he acted like a swing-state Republican who has to defend Donald Trump in an interview. Instead of telling the truth, he spoke in useless generalities. (Also, narcissism isn’t the problem. It’s a lack of accountability.)
Multiple times, Chandler has had the opportunity to condemn abuse. Instead, he defended the abusers or at least shielded them from well-deserved criticism.
Now Chandler himself is being accused of wrongdoing… but the exact nature of his actions are completely vague and far from transparent.
On Sunday morning, Matt Chandler told his congregation that a woman recently approached him because she had “concerns” about Instagram DMs he was sending her friend. Those DMs, he told the congregation, were not “romantic or sexual,” but they were “unguarded and unwise” to the point that they were “revealing some unhealth in me.”
You might be asking: WHAT THE %*$& DOES ANY OF THAT MEAN?
Your guess is as good as mine. But the messages were apparently scandalous enough that Chandler won’t be back in the pulpit anytime soon.
Chandler grew emotional as he addressed the church and paused to fight back tears. At one point someone in the congregation shouted, “We love you.”
“If I’m honest I’m just really embarrassed,” Chandler said. “Feel stupid. Feel dumb. Feel like I’m embarrassing my wife and kids. Putting a ton of pressure on our staff.”
The Infantilization of a grown-ass man here is what’s embarrassing.
If this was innocent banter that crossed a line, then it’s a matter that could’ve been handled privately. It sure as hell shouldn’t lead to this kind of public shaming or temporary banishment.
If it’s something more serious—and it clearly seems to be—then the church should tell the congregation what the hell he did. Why are these people so damn secretive about everything? When has that approach ever worked for them?!
They’ve learned absolutely nothing from the past several years.
Keep in mind we haven’t heard the other woman’s side of the story. Or anything from the woman who first approached him about this. Or Chandler’s wife. The fact that so many details are being kept from the public suggests it’s not some innocent mistake. I’m gonna guess the church member yelling out “We love you” and Chandler’s own admission that he plans on “being the lead pastor of this church for the next 20 years” won’t age well.
But it’s hard to assess whether the church went too far or didn’t go far enough without knowing the true nature of the Instagram conversations between Matt Chandler and the woman. Given his track record, though, the public would be wise to assume the worst. He hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt.