A staff member at a Southern Baptist megachurch accused in a recent New York Times story of trying to shirk responsibility for child sex abuse has been removed as a speaker at an upcoming design conference because of the church’s stance on women and homosexuality.
Organizers of the Circles Conference, a three-day design and development conference scheduled Sept. 18-20 in Richardson, Texas, uninvited David Roark, communications director for The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, after a local group threatened to pull out if he remained on the roster.
The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of AIGA, a trade group originally called the American Institute of Graphic Arts, said Village Church “does not meet our standards of inclusion because of openly discriminatory policies and practices towards women and the LGBTQ+ community.”
“We feel it would be hypocritical of us to be involved in the conference and tacitly endorse the policies of any non-inclusive organization,” the chapter’s board of directors said in a statement July 2. “This would be a misallocation of our membership resources and a disservice to all members of our community against whom the organization discriminates.”
Circles Conference founder Ismael Burciaga agreed to the speaker change, according to a statement, in order “to create a safe space for everyone who attends Circles Conference, regardless of their individual world views or beliefs.”
Village Church, a multi-campus congregation with more than 10,000 members, views traditional marriage as “the only God-ordained pattern of sexual relations for men and women.”
An article on “Complementarianism” in the church’s faith statement says: “Men and women are absolutely equal in essence, dignity and value but are distinct by divine design. As part of God’s good created order, men and women are to have different yet complementary roles and responsibilities in the home and church. As it relates to the church, men and women are both expected to lead; however, the office of elder is reserved for qualified men (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).”
In June the New York Times ran a story quoting a former Village Church member who claimed her 11-year-old daughter was sexually abused at a church camp for children in 2012. Christi Bragg told the newspaper that church leaders refused to accept responsibility or apologize and seemed more interested in protecting the institution than caring for her daughter or seeking the truth.
Bragg said some friends advised her to hire a lawyer, but others said doing so would violate the membership covenant she signed when she joined the church.
In 2015 Village Church disciplined a member who annulled her marriage after learning her husband was addicted to child pornography for not following marriage protocols in her membership covenant. Elders later apologized for mishandling the discipline case.
New York Times journalist Elizabeth Dias said Village Church senior pastor Matt Chandler declined more than once to be interviewed for her story published June 10. After it ran under a headline “Her Evangelical Megachurch Was Her World. Then Her Daughter Said She Was Molested by a Minister,” Chandler came off a sabbatical to tell his side at a lunch meeting of pastors attending the June 11-12 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We are an imperfect church with imperfect people,” Chandler said in a video archived by Baptist21, a pastor-led network “that seeks to be a positive voice for the future, promoting the centrality of the gospel, the primacy of the local church, a focus on all nations, and Southern Baptist distinctives.”
“I am painfully aware of my limitations, the weaknesses of the Village Church, of our failures, they are numerous,” Chandler said. “I don’t think I’m naïve to that. But when it comes to reporting as soon as we heard, taking our cues from the detective and the family, I’m not sure what we could have done differently.”
Roark said on Twitter he understands his removal from the design conference “was a complex situation, and the last thing that I would want to do is cause a problem or be a distraction.”
“I believe that to end division and pursue unity in our world, we must be willing to listen well, enter into dialogue and understand that we can show love, honor and dignity to one another while still disagreeing,” Roark said. “I don’t think that happened here, but I have hope that it can happen. I want the creative community to be a place where individuals of all backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles can learn from one another, regardless of differences, not a place where we shut each other out.”