26 Comments

Five Lessons from The Village Church and Karen Hinkley

Several readers have asked me to comment on the recent situation involving The Village Church in Dallas and how it has placed Karen Hinkley under church discipline.

the_village_church

The Village Church

Karen’s husband, Jordan Root, admitted to viewing child pornography over ten years, most recently as a missionary with SIM. Karen took steps to annul her marriage to Jordan and also publicized Jordan’s sin out of concern for possible child victims after their sending church, The Village Church, refrained from explaining the allegations to members. Karen terminated her membership and the church elders placed her under church discipline for failing to follow the church bylaws.

Normally I wouldn’t write about a specific church or situation, but this incident has gained so much attention—and I’ve seen so much chatter on Facebook threads with dissenting opinions—that it seemed like a public matter at this point with lessons applicable for all of us.

Full disclosure: as a Dallas Seminary student, I was classmates with Jordan Root and friends with Richard and Erin Brindley. I write as a Christian first, in hope that this situation will turn out for some good.

1.) Manmade rules – Large churches operate with layers of manmade laws called bylaws. This may seem necessary for churches which are larger than, say, a village, but it can make dealing with difficult situations like this clunky, complex, and sometimes unbiblical. I read through The Village Church (hereafter TVC) bylaws—all 22 pages—and they seemed similar to those of other organizations I’ve worked for, whether schools, businesses, or Christian nonprofits. Bylaws help organizations run effectively. The trouble comes when the leaders of a church confuse bylaws with scripture. By taking manmade rules—no matter how practical or seemingly wise—and elevating them to the place of scripture, churches are in danger of committing spiritual abuse. TVC, to its credit, in ARTICLE IX 9.1, says that, “Though the various theological statements of the Church reflect succinct summaries of biblical boundaries, it is the Bible itself to which we are in ultimate submission.” In this case I believe TVC has acted unbiblically. See point 2.

2.) Misuse of Church Discipline – The Bible says that church discipline should only be enacted against an unrepentant sinner who is in egregious sin (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5.) The goal is always restoration. In this case, TVC has placed Karen Hinkley under what they describe as “church discipline” because they say she has failed to follow the church bylaws. This is an abuse of church discipline, since Karen has not sinned. For what it’s worth, the TVC bylaws themselves (ARTICLE XIII) say that church discipline can only be enacted against someone who has sinned. I sincerely hope that the elders at TVC will follow scripture first and not just their bylaws in this situation.

3.) Covenant Membership – TVC requires members to sign a covenant in which they agree to submit to the elders in the interpretation of the Bible and in a number of other areas. There are two types of covenants: unilateral and bilateral. Unilateral covenants are one-way. Only one person’s behavior impacts the covenant stipulations. God made a unilateral covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, where it was God’s faithfulness alone that guaranteed the covenant stipulations. In bilateral covenants, the covenant is conditioned on the behavior of both parties. It sounds like TVC is treating Karen’s signing of the Covenant Membership document as a unilateral covenant which Karen must abide by no matter what. I disagree. I would consider it a bilateral covenant in which the church elders must act truthfully and in a trustworthy manner as the Bible requires. If the elders act in a manner apart from God’s truth, or in a way that seems untrustworthy to a member, that member has the right and obligation to consider the covenant voided. TVC states that its elders are held at least to the standard of New Testament elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, which require biblical truth and trustworthiness. Karen Hinkley decided that the men she interacted with were not acting in a trustworthy manner in regard to her well-being and the well-being of potential child victims of Jordan. Her termination of “covenant” membership thus seems perfectly legitimate.

4.) Human Depravity and God’s Grace – I am concerned with how TVC views Jordan Root and also by what that says about the elders’ understanding of human depravity and God’s grace. TVC has taken certain measures to monitor Jordan in light of his addiction to child pornography. Jordan confessed to viewing child porn and to being stimulated by the thought of pre-pubescent girls for the last ten years. Karen says that he has admitted only to things in which he has been caught. She says that Jordan put himself in many situations where he could be alone with children over the last ten years. To warn potential victims, she wanted to publicize Jordan’s sin just as SIM did to the Root supporters. TVC took a different approach and tried to protect Jordan’s reputation while quietly taking measures to limit his contact with children. They have said that Jordan is walking in repentance and is getting counseling. That is good, but anyone who has dealt with pedophiles understands the potential depth, deceit, and damage a pedophile can cause over ten years. It seems simplistic to claim that Jordan has repented of his sin and is on the fast track to recovery. TVC should recognize that Jordan may have committed crimes or sins to which he has not admitted, and should exercise an abundance of caution to protect and notify children and parents. God’s grace covers repented sin, but it does not blind our eyes to human depravity and to the cunning of sinners who have lived a lifestyle of deceit. Anything less is cheap grace.

5.) Where are the Women Leaders? In the documentation about this situation, all of the leaders interacting with Karen from TVC were men. I understand that many churches believe that church elders must be males, but in a church the size of a village there must be some women leaders—call them pastors, directors, whatever—who can interact with a missionary wife whose husband has been caught in child pornography. TVC—and every church—would be wise to empower women leaders and ensure that women who are victimized can interact with other women and not just men.

Conclusion

I believe that Karen Hinkley is a courageous woman who has stood up to protect herself and potential child victims. I believe that The Village Church has unfortunately mishandled this situation and—despite the sincerity of its leaders—in some respects has acted unbiblically by abusing church discipline and revictimizing a victim while taking a simplistic approach to a pedophile. It is my sincere hope that TVC will recognize its error of exalting its bylaws to the place of scripture and will publicly apologize while taking steps to ensure that this never happens again.

Update, 6/11/15: Yesterday, The Wartburg Watch posted an apology from Matt Chandler and the Village Church elders to Karen Hinkley, and a statement of forgiveness from Karen Hinkley. I am so thankful to see how God has worked to bring healing and reconciliation in this matter, and how the TVC elders have humbled themselves and admitted their mistakes, sin, and mistreatment of Karen. Such an apology–and such forgiveness–is so rare in these days of image control, celebrity pastors, and mega churches. It is a beautiful thing to see reconciliation in the body of Christ. This is news that makes me smile.

26 comments on “Five Lessons from The Village Church and Karen Hinkley

  1. “You sir, truly are Mr. Incredible!”
    Thank you, sir, for calling out this insanity.

  2. Their bad doctrine on a couple broad areas contributed to this, Stephen, and you listed them in items 3 and 5. They need women leaders and they need to dump this idea of a covenant membership. But as you said in another point, they are wedded to rules and that means they are going to find it hard – if not impossible – to make the necessary changes. It’s sad, because bad doctrine is hurting people at TVC.

    P.S. I tweeted a link back to your post here.

  3. Steve, this is a concern for me as I agree with the misapplied scripture. Karen did not sin. it seems her worst issue is being seen as guilty by association and acting on her concerns. If she has “cancelled” her membership, then the church is no longer obligated legally (according to their by-laws) to provide any kind of disciplinary action…if TVC is looking at this legalistically, then they have no ground to discipline someone who isn’t a part of their family. This point is moot by their actions over-reaching scriptural context and intent. Well done, Steve.

  4. You wrote “TVC took a different approach and tried to protect Jordan’s reputation while quietly taking measures to limit his contact with children.”

    this is simply not a true statement.

    TVC knew about Jordans sin in December, were contacted by Karen and SIM regarding his sin. SIM sent them a letter that included the importance of notifying families that might have come in contact with Jordan and possibly molested. TVC instead sent out a directive to members to not shun Jordan but welcome instead, and to invite him to their homes. TVC didnt actually disclose the true nature of Jordans sin until March, and then only because Karen wouldnt shut up like they intimidated her to. Documentation from their own (TVC) emails: http://watchkeep.blogspot.com/2015/05/she-speaks-village-church-protects.html?m=1
    Documentation from SIM included.

  5. This is one of the best commentaries on the Christian blogosphere on this sad saga. I especially like your comment as to why there were no women available to minister to Karen. They certainly could do that without violating any biblical principles. The only problem I can see is that any such woman would have resigned from the church too!

  6. “Though the various theological statements of the Church reflect succinct summaries of biblical boundaries, it is the Bible itself to which we are in ultimate submission.”

    Submitted to the bible? Surely our ultimate submission is to God alone!?

    Maybe that is part of the problem – especially when you hold up your own interpretation as being the only correct one and insist everyone must submit to it.

  7. I don’t understand why church discipline has such a negative connotation. The church loves her and is pursuing her. I’m so grateful for churches who take their members seriously and pursue them well!

    • I think the problem isn’t with church discipline in and of itself. The problem is that TVC was putting Karen under church discipline when she had not committed a sin. All the while, her husband was not under church discipline. I don’t think TVC was taking Karen seriously when they ignored her request that they stop harassing her, nor do I think TVC loved her well.

  8. I have been told that these Covenant memberships are ways that churches protect themselves from litigation stemming from church discipline. Is this true?

  9. This really is a biblical story about people who loved God and when confronted with an unbelievable situation could not over come this trial without the help of God. It shows our own weaknesses as human beings and how only God can intervene to change lives.

    I am perplexed about Pastor Matt’s apology. Kinda wussy. Maybe the church leaders could have done a better job. Probably, a lot of the pastors that need to move on and do something else. The church is a place for spiritual counseling not this type of counseling. The church is no place for wanna be social workers, goody too shoes and therapists, though it is full of them.

    I think church leaders reached out to both individuals. Jordan was the more receptive and Karen once she stepped off that plane had no intention of accepting any church discipline. She already knew that she was going to file for an annulment (to protect her future as a minister and missionary,) she was going to get the money that the church promised her through August 2015 and if she did not have her way, she was going to scream bloody h*ll.

    So, a lot of people were fools and were played as fools in this story. Don’t let Karen dictate the agenda. Gee, it really makes you want to deal with a lot of whack, insane people every Sunday.

    • The profundity of the obtuseness of this comment tests one’s ability to remain irenic!

      It is one thing to reach out to the sinner caught in delicto flagrante. It is another to retain that person as a church member. In order to become a member, one has to have demonstrated a trust in the Christ and His counsels over time. A cheap declaration of belief should not suffice for church leaders, who being human, have no direct insight into the self-identified convert’s heart. This is to protect the church from allowing wolves to overtake the church.

      If a person as a member has consistently acted in ways contrary to those explicit and precise conditions laid out in Galatians 5:9-10 or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, then the church had originally made a mistake in designating that person a member. There is great likelihood that the perpetrator was never truly a believer on Christ and His counsel. The church must revoke membership upon sufficient evidence of such infractions, and require that the perpetrator demonstrate that he is truly in the faith over time in much the same way as if he/she were a new member applicant.

      Having essentially violated the terms of marriage, Karen had the right to divorce (Matthew 5:32 – porneias). An occasional foray into porn ought not to constitute sexual adultery that justifies divorce. But the chronic and hidden aspect and the type of porn must certainly qualify. I cannot image that you could stomach further relations with a spouse who had been doing it with a horse. So give the wife a break. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the husband was a Christian during that period on the basis of Galatians/Corinthians. To compel a reconciliation, when Karen would first need to consider protecting her own psychic integrity is psychologically and spiritually obtuse, and on the part of church elders abusive.

      Furthermore, I cannot see how covenant membership, which does not allow members to become non-members could reconcile with 1 John 2:19. Furthermore, it is documented that ‘discipline’ on the victim was enacted after the victim had declared her repudiation of membership. This is cultish. Whether intentioned; the lyric “you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave” comes to mind.

      If your attitudes are reflective of the New Calvinists, then I would need to totally disassociate with all New Calvinists as foreigners to Christianity.

      • do you know karen? do you know jordan? do you know the elders at tvc? do you know what heart-level sins lurk behind this tragedy? did you witness the apologies or responses? did you hear the tones in their voices? from what vantage point can you or the majority of these commentors speak so confidently.. as if you or they have answers to all those questions? how about you spend a little more time praying for your brothers and sisters in christ who are writhing in pain through this process instead of dropping the hammer. or would you prefer we make public all of your sins and encourage strangers to take sides? maybe we should all be a little more hesitant to cast blame and insults, and a little more willing to pray for His conviction, repentance and restoration in theirs.. and maybe even in our own lives. gal 6:1-3, john 8:10-11

  10. Yes, where are the women leaders? Call them whatever you like, but this is not only bad doctrine, it is unwise!

  11. Thank you for your comments and those by others about the evident lack of women involved.

    Unlike Peter, I praise Karen for her courage to stand up to a powerful group of men who were improperly “helping.” It took making this public for her to get a fair hearing and make the elders and pastors rethink their stance and actions toward her. That is what brought the apology, which I think was still incomplete. If she had not shared the injustices, she would still be suffering under their improperly placed authority.

    Several questions still loom in my mind:
    First, In a church that size, are we to think that none of the pastors and elders knew better than to act the way they did? It took exposure in the social media to cause them to rethink what they were doing.
    Secondly, why did they not take the situation with Jordan more seriously? They had beautiful grace comments for why everyone should forgive him, and they took steps to protect their own, but what about the children probably already damaged in his string of jobs that gave him access to them. They had a confessed child porn watcher who admitted he preferred prepubescent girls ages four and older. They thought they should keep him under wraps to not hurt his reputation? Why did they not start him in counseling with counselors specifically prepared and experienced to handle him with his issues properly?
    Thirdly, what about an apology to SIM for how they wielded their financial power over them to get in the position of control? SIM was probably in a better position to handle the situation with Jordan properly due to their global exposure to crimes against children; how long they have existed as an organization spreading the Gospel and ministering to the needy, marginalized, and lost; and the fact that they had a specific policy and procedure to assess the situation and act appropriately.

    Thank you for the opportunity to make a few comments.

  12. “Karen says that he has admitted only to things in which he has been caught.” The tragic thing about this to my mind, is that having experienced a 22 year marriage to a spouse who always seemed repentant to outsiders, the effect on everyone is so damaging. If my ex was caught, or if he believed he would be caught, he would admit to what he had done, to me and to the church. Now, his sins were not so egregious as Karen’s husband, he was merely a constant liar and emotionally abusive to his family, but the experience tends to be the same with leadership: There are always two sides to the story, he really seems to be repentant and wants help, he’s grieved deeply by his sin… and wives are left in the dirt saying: No he’s not. I’m watching this at home, and I don’t believe any of it. Furthermore, to believe in such a quick turnaround and forward progression without the time needed to be certain that change is real is foolishness. I’ve learned that the hard way. But now I look like I’m in sin for this “unforgiveness” and I’m now angry– because as it turns out, I’m being sinned against. Again. And I am in a good church that worked hard to deal with this righteously, with leaders who fought to understand. And eventually they did.

    But to me, it came down to this: The only person who knows what a human being is most truly like is his or her spouse. We do great harm when we don’t believe them.

  13. i just read your post https://libertyforcaptives.com/2012/06/24/mind-field-eight-ways-to-identify-religious-brainwashing-part-1-of-8/ and i think it would be harmless and healthy for members of Acts 29 networks to just read it and see what they think. it might make the use of ‘covenants’ less necessary, in my opinion

  14. All this just to please an invisible man in the sky.

  15. Read about this earlier in the year. While we are from Australia we have seen similar situations unfold in churches we have attended. I have never understood church covenants either in relation to leadership or tithing. It seems a singularly faithless document to sign, like a prenuptial agreement. It is good to see some sanity prevailing at last.

    Thanks for this reasoned post.

  16. I divorced a husband of 40 years because of child porn and the molestation of my dead sister’s daughter when she was 8 and again when she was 9. It was the ONLY accountability he was subjected to. His pastor has never said a word to him, he has received NO counseling (and refuses to get any), is considered the poster-child of God’s redemptive power in his church, and the only advice I received from my Christian counselor was to SLEEP WITH HIM FOR PLEASURE…at which point I threw a book (Boundaries) past the counselor’s head. I had no idea I could do such a thing, was suicidal for months. I was deemed a rebellious woman, led to believe that I had a demon possessing me, received NO help from anyone in that church , or any church for the past 7 and a half years. My children refuse to talk about it, one son has told me I may NOT come around…no grandchildren, no children, no help, no friendships or support from ANYONE in the churches I have attended. NO TALK RULE..over and over again. I am 67, came to Jesus very late in life, alone, losing my sight…and wonder WHY this is happening in HIS church. What kind of people are you? I keep running into women who were molested as children (1 in 4), let them tell their stories, hold them, pray with them…if this were Ebola, there would be rioting in the streets, with demands that the government DO something…but this is a SILENT epidemic…after all, it’s only children….I will keep talking, I will not go away, nobody is Ever going to shut me up…as Benjamin Noloft says, “Rebuke the oppressor”. In this case, it’s the church…and the children and wives get blamed, silenced, shunned – while the perpetrator is hailed as a victorious “overcomer”. GOD IS WATCHING.

    • I am so sorry all of that happened to you, Penny. You might find some trustworthy listening ears and wise words at Hope for the Heart in Plano, Texas. Their trained Christian counselors do free phone counseling 24-7. You can reach them at http://www.hopefortheheart.org, or 1-800-488-HOPE (4673). I think you’ll be glad you did.

    • Penny,
      I am so sorry. Please go over to:

      * Julie Anne’s Spiritual Sounding Board. There are women who have been in your shoes and they would love to help you. Besides blog articles for you to post,
      Julie Anne can put you in touch with women to support you. (There is a private forum for people to get help.)
      https://spiritualsoundingboard.com/

      *Go to A Cry for Justice blog by pastor/former law enforcement officer Jeff Crippen in Oregon and co-blogger Barbara Roberts (in Australia). They are dedicated to these issues and it’s a supportive group.

      https://cryingoutforjustice.com/

      *The Wartburg Watch blog has great articles and blogging. Please read over there too.
      http://www.wartburgwatch.com/

      *Also see Clara Hinton’s blog (her ex-husband was a pastor and a predator who is serving prison time). Blog is Finding a Healing Place.
      http://www.findingahealingplace.com/

      *Brenda’s blog A Solitary Journey [she also posts over on Spiritual Sounding Board]
      about being married to a pedophile.
      http://brendafindingelysium.blogspot.com/

      You are absolutely right about the ‘no talk rules’ in most churches. I was ordered to be excommunicated and shunned from my church by the pastors/elders for opposing them bringing in their friend a Megan’s List sex offender/child pornographer, giving him church membership, a leadership position [sex crimes experts around the world criticized them for this and said it’s NEVER supposed to be done], gave him access to all children, including at a summer sports camp that runs for 5-days for children!

      Also, Spiritual Sounding Board has an online gathering on Sundays. The Wartburg Watch as E-Church on Sundays.

      Love and hugs,

      Keeping you in prayer.

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