Changing the subject: Matt Chandler’s alleged ‘scandal’
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Why am I writing here about Pastor Matt Chandler’s issues? I believe, based solely on what has been publicly revealed, that what happened to him, his family and his church (The Village Church in the Dallas area) has significant implications for all pastors and all churches.
First, if you’re unfamiliar with the story, go to Youtube and watch Matt’s public “confession” to his congregation. There are also various YouTubers and podcasters commenting on the situation and events that led to his forced resignation as pastor of the church and as director of the Acts29 movement.
Second, Chandler is a public figure, especially among evangelical Christians in the United States. I assume he is also known to many evangelicals outside of the United States. He is a Calvinist but not a “bad Calvinist” to my knowledge. He became one of the most popular and influential pastors in the United States. Its appeal seems to be mostly aimed at young adults.
Third, what happened to him raises questions for all pastors, church leaders, religious professionals and others to consider. It troubles me, even though I don’t know enough to pass judgment on it.
Fourth, what was said publicly by Chandler and his associates (other pastors and elders) is cryptic at best. What has been said publicly can only stir up curiosity, guesswork, accusations (“Where there is smoke, there must be fire”), and much consternation, even fear.
So why does it bother me?
First, the sole accuser of inappropriate behavior appears to be a female member of The Village Church. She approached Chandler one-on-one accusing him of inappropriate conduct with another female church member. The woman he is accused of acting inappropriately with “cooperated” with the investigation but apparently did not accuse Chandler of acting inappropriately towards her. This seems to introduce a new “wrinkle” into the “MeToo” movement, particularly in churches and religious organizations.
Second, Chandler and at least one pastor or elder who spoke after his public confession at church agree that the “inappropriate behavior” was not sexual or romantic in nature. It was, they say, online communication between Chandler and the woman that was “too frequent and too familiar.” However, according to them, Chandler’s wife and the woman’s husband are not upset by the communications and have read them.
Third, a question I cannot avoid asking is what if the alleged victim were a man rather than a woman? In other words, what if the same type of so-called “inappropriate” communication occurred between Chandler and an adult male member of the congregation? Would it then be considered “inappropriate”? If not, what does this say about male and female friendships (assuming there was nothing sexual or romantic about the communications)?
Fourth, I am quite familiar with large, complicated religious organizations. One thing I do know is that they all have insurance coverage for potential lawsuits. I am almost certain that as soon as the accusation became known to church leaders, they contacted the church’s insurance company. They would almost certainly be required by the insurance company.
Fifth, a question I have is what did the church insurance company tell them to do? This is usually not made public, but it can certainly be a factor in an organization’s response to an accusation.
Sixth, this event (or series of events) appears to support the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” that male ministers never spend time alone with a woman. People interpret the rule differently, but, after studying the life and ministry of Billy Graham, I believe it was intended to protect his wife, family and reputation from potential accusations by others who misinterpret the encounter face to face. Of course, Chandler’s case is different in that the “meetings” in which the alleged inappropriate communications took place took place online.
Seventh, I conclude that unless and until more specific information is revealed, we cannot judge the legitimacy of the accusation and Chandler’s resulting forced “removal.” Yes, we can choose to trust the elders, or we can choose to fear that Chandler is the real victim here. Everything would be different if the woman involved, with whom Chandler allegedly behaved inappropriately, came forward to accuse him of harassing her or if the communications came to light and contained sexual content.
In the meantime, we wonder about the boundaries and who sets them and how and why a minister or other religious leader can be punished simply because someone accuses him of “inappropriate conduct” with a third party who does not accuse him of nothing. (especially when the spouse of the accused does not accuse him of anything either).
Eighth and finally, inadvertently, this case will likely only increase men’s reluctance to form friendships with women, especially in religious contexts. It’s sad.