If you thought the Matt Chandler situation couldn’t get more peculiar, guess again.
Chandler’s Aug. 28 announcement that he would take an indefinite leave of absence from preaching and teaching at The Village Church north of Dallas has generated endless commentary from other Christian leaders who think something doesn’t add up. Chandler confessed to exchanging “unwise” direct messages with a woman who was not his wife.
While Chandler made clear nothing sexual or illegal was involved, his confession seemed to imply some kind of transgression that required him to step down temporarily as a “disciplinary” matter.
Speculation has run mainly two ways about what this means: Either Chandler and elders at The Village Church have no capacity to allow a man to have normal conversation with a woman to whom he is neither married nor sexually involved with, or there’s a lot more to the story than is being told.
A Sept. 1 message from one of Chandler’s friends claims the situation is overblown.
That assessment came from Preston Sprinkle, an evangelical author and president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender. He’s also the organizer of an annual conference called Exiles in Babylon, where he said Chandler is still welcome to speak this year.
Sprinkle’s comments reportedly were sent to his financial supporters via Patreon, but BNG could not independently verify the source, since the messages are available only to donors. However, an image of the message was captured and reported as verified by a few online bloggers, including the far-right Reformed site Protestia, the website The Evangelical Dark Web and the Instagram account Wrecked Wretch.
“The church’s messaging framed it in some pretty negative terms that could be misconstrued.”
In the post shared by those groups, Sprinkle said he’s spoken to Chandler twice about what’s happened and has spoken with an 18-year employee of the church. “The church’s messaging framed it in some pretty negative terms that could be misconstrued,” he reported.
As for Chandler’s actual transgression, “he basically violated the Billy Graham rule,” Sprinkle wrote. That’s a reference to a longstanding and much-vaunted policy of the late evangelist Billy Graham, who never would be alone under any circumstance with a woman so as to avoid even a hint of impropriety.
Graham’s ministry, of course, played out before social media and direct messaging were available. But The Village Church and Chandler appear to have applied Graham’s rule to text conversations in the modern setting.
While Chandler said his frequent messaging with the friend who is a woman included some “coarse joking,” those comments were not about sex or even sexual inuendo, Sprinkle said. “The ‘coarse joking’ was jokes about alcohol … and the big issue was that his DM relationship seemed too ‘familiar’ for someone that he didn’t know terribly well in person.”
Sprinkle then answers a common question that has surfaced in reaction to the disciplinary action taken against Chandler by both his church and the Acts 29 Network, which he leads.
He wrote: “To be clear, the woman he was messaging wasn’t at all offended and told Matt ‘don’t you dare apologize; you did nothing wrong!’ It was the woman’s friend, who lives by a very strict Billy Graham type of rule, that was offended that Matt was DMing a married woman (even though Matt’s wife and the woman’s husband was fully aware of it).”
Sprinkle reports more information than either the church or Chandler have put forward, including that an independent organization “scoured his electronics and found no porn and no other inappropriate or romantic sort of messaging.”
The situation is so overblown, Sprinkle said, that “if we applied the same standard to all the speakers, I’m not sure I’d be able to have any speakers at the conference.”
And regarding the conference, Sprinkle said: “I have no problem still having Matt speak at the Exiles conference this year.” And, indeed, Chandler still appears on the website promoting next year’s Exiles conference.
Acts 29 Network says on its website that “considering the findings of the TVC investigation and consistent with the leave of absence from preaching and teaching that the Village Church has placed Matt on, the Acts 29 board has asked Matt to step aside from Acts 29 speaking engagements during this time. We hope that Matt can use this time away from speaking to focus on the process that TVC elders have laid out for him.”
What that “process” might be also is unknown.
A statement now posted on the church’s website says the elders “commissioned an independent law firm to conduct a review of Matt’s messaging history across social media platforms, cell phone and email. The investigators’ report led the elders to conclude that Matt violated our internal social media use policies, and more importantly that, while the overarching pattern of his life has been ‘above reproach,’ he failed to meet the 1 Timothy standard for elders of being ‘above reproach’ in this instance.”
“We are strong proponents of brothers and sisters in Christ being friends, but there are boundaries around what’s appropriate in these kinds of friendships.”
It continues: “We are strong proponents of brothers and sisters in Christ being friends, but there are boundaries around what’s appropriate in these kinds of friendships. A pastoral role requires a greater awareness of those boundaries. In this case, while the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line. They revealed that Matt did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him.”
And: “While the elders believe that this did not rise to the level of disqualification, we do hold elders to a higher standard of behavior. The elders concluded, and Matt agreed, that Matt’s behavior was a sign of unhealth in his life, and that the best course of action would be for him to take a leave of absence from teaching and preaching at The Village Church. Matt’s leave of absence is both disciplinary and developmental, which allows him to focus on growing greater awareness in this area. The timeline for his return will be dictated by the expectations the elders have laid out for his development.”
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