Like a Float for the Tournament of Roses

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One of the men in that Founders trailer said something like this. “If we can take a clear passage that says ‘I do not permit a woman to teach” and turn it into something like ‘I do permit a woman to teach in certain cases,’ we have gotten to the point where anything goes. There is no stopping this thing.

Which is simply another way of saying that the brakes, which were not that great to begin with, have gone completely out at the very top of the Switchback Widowmaker Mountain Grade.

And your average Southern Baptist will be quite surprised at how fast things can develop from here.

Like What?

What do I mean? Oh, I don’t know. Let’s take an extreme example—like Christians suing other Christians when the Bible says not to (1 Cor. 6:5-8). That might be a tell right there. But let’s not leave it at the mundane level of one Christian parishioner suing another Christian parishioner over an investment deal gone bad—say after that Corinthian Bagel shop, once so promising, went belly up. That was embarrassing enough that an apostle had to intervene—people who were going to judge angels were calling upon unbelieving judges to handle their bagel dispute.

No, let’s make our thought experiment even a bit more extreme. Let’s have the head of a national evangelical Christian ministry sue a nationally known evangelical church. Think that could ever happen?

So here is a link to a New York Times article on a lawsuit that has been brought against Village Church, pastored by Matt Chandler. And here is a snippet from that article:

“The Village has ‘not yet to date demonstrated a good faith desire to resolve this,’ said Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer representing the young woman, who is now 18. ‘We have provided ample opportunity and ample time for that. We have hit a brick wall, and at that point in time we had to make the difficult but necessary decision to press forward to filing the lawsuit.’”

New York Times

Boz Tchividjian. Does that name ring any bells? Isn’t he the guy that oversees a business that competes with another similar business that had been engaged by Village Church? By this I mean that he is the founder and executive director of GRACE, not to be confused with MinistrySafe, the outfit that was providing their services to Village Church. Both organizations advise and help churches build firewalls against abuse, and no complaints. But isn’t this a little bit like the founder and president of Avis joining the legal team in a case against Hertz?

Isn’t this a tacky way to drum up business? Suing somebody who went with the other guy? In a time that is so consumed with optics, it is ironic to me that the optics are so routinely bad.

But if we have left biblical authority behind, then the propriety of such an action will be judged by another standard. But what is that standard? Who makes the rules? Again, by what standard?

So What’s It About?

I have included a video clip here that shows some of the points of disagreement, side by side. Rachael Denhollander is here maintaining that Village Church mishandled this sexual abuse case by a staff member that recently came to light, and Matt Chandler is maintaining that they did everything that they knew to do—and it is evident they did quite a bit. But my point here is not to sort out all the details of that dispute from my vantage point that is admittedly far, far away. The question is, to use the title of an upcoming documentary, By What Standard?

The issue is not the points of the dispute, but rather the issue is what standard we appeal to in order to settle the dispute.

But I can note, just in passing, that Matt Chandler is getting far more of an opportunity to speak in his own defense than C.J. Mahaney ever got. This is because, for Southern Baptists, Prov. 18:17 applies sometimes and not at other times. Why it works this way is something of a mystery, and probably has something to do with their ecclesiology. That, and lunar cycles.

Back to the point. My point can be made by asking a simple question. Is the nature of this dispute such that it is plainly obvious that we need to resort to the courts of the unbelievers in order to resolve it? Or, to flip it around, using the Pauline logic, is it not a shame to have prosecutorial Christians filing suit this way in public? “I speak to your shame” (1 Cor. 6:5). At least the hypocrites who molest girls and boys have the residual decency to know that what they are doing is disobedient and evil. This, to be distinguished from those sins perpetrated by evangelical leaders, out in public, as though they were actually virtues, with those sins being paraded around on tops of floats that could qualify for the Tournament of Roses.

“The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24, ESV).

Incidentally, if you ever have a case like Village Church did, and you turn it over to the authorities, which I would encourage you to do, there is one thing I can assure you of. You don’t turn it over to the authorities and then continue to control the investigation after that point. You can do one, or you can do the other, but you can’t relinquish control and retain it. I was honestly astonished that Denhollander commended them for turning it over to the authorities, and then admonished them for the key mistake of doing what the authorities said to do. I am afraid it doesn’t work that way.

Away from Personalities

My main issue here is not with Boz, and not with Rachael Denhollander, but rather with who the judge and jury are. By what standard? What are we appealing to? And this is why something specific needs to be said about what she is teaching. This is ultimately about the content of the doctrine, and not about personalities.

As regular readers here know, I have had occasion to comment about Rachael Denhollander before, and I have had both praise and criticism. She made some valuable contributions in the beginning, but things have drifted a bit. The most critical I have been is in saying that she has gotten out of her lane, and that she ought not to be trusting Boz to the extent that she has been. I mean, he goes around suing people who didn’t buy his product. That said, I am not ramping up the criticism here—I would still say basically the same thing about her. But there is one additional factor, and it naturally ties in with the title of the documentary, By What Standard?

Because of the experts she is encouraging us to trust, she has a particular standard that she is appealing to. And in that appeal there is a significant deviation from the scriptural standard. In a book that she contributed to, Becoming a Church that Cares Well, we find this statement:

“Regardless of whether the victim wants to take steps to pursue safety, there are two powerful things you can do as a ministry leader. First you can believe the victim. ‘Innocence until proven guilty’ is the appropriate legal standard, but you are a ministry leader, not a judge or investigator”

(Caring Well, p. 87).

But this is a secular standard for ministry, not a scriptural standard for ministry. And when you appeal to two different justice systems, the crying need for a documentary that asks By What Standard? becomes the need of the hour. This is why we have to work through this. We have these disputes, and what does biblical authority mean in the midst of them? More about biblical authority in a moment.

And why is innocent until proven guilty an appropriate legal standard? Why does the legal system not have to believe the victim? The victim is either a genuine victim or not. If the victim is a genuine victim, and we know this, then why can we not know it in a court of law? If the victim might not be a genuine victim, then why do we get to wreck the life of the accused simply because we are a ministry in the private sector?

Saying that we must believe the victim is actually saying that we must believe any person who claims to be the victim. But if the accusation is false, the actual victim is the one who was accused of a crime he did not commit. Now what?

If a woman says that one of her pastors molested her five years before, and the pastor concerned hotly denies it, then what is the biblical standard for what you believe and don’t believe? You don’t believe the woman, and you don’t believe the pastor. You believe the evidence. Men sin and lie about it, and women sin and lie about it. You believe the evidence. And in the meantime, while you are gathering the evidence, the presumption of innocence lies with the accused.

“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19, ESV).

What is unclear about that? Why does it not apply here? If a woman makes such an allegation, do you treat her with courtesy and respect? Absolutely. Do you take her allegation with the utmost seriousness that it deserves? Absolutely. Do you investigate the situation thoroughly, honestly trying to find out if there are any other witnesses who could corroborate the allegation? Absolutely. Do you believe the allegations before all doing all this? Absolutely not.

One conclusion of mine in all this, and it is a most reasonable conclusion, is that it is high time for more people to get and read A Justice Primer. I am providing the link below as a public service.

So for myself, I believe that Rachael Denhollander is a well-intentioned Christian woman, but one who has been misled into trusting an unbiblical standard. This does not make her evil or wicked. It actually makes her very much like the Southern Baptist Convention at large. But because of her gracious testimony in the Nassar trial, and because of the fact that she is educated, well-spoken and telegenic, she is being used to lead others to trust that same unbiblical standard.

But that unbiblical standard is going to have—when we get to the end of this particular road—some really destructive consequences. When Christian first got off the path, in that episode of Doubting Castle, the initial alternative pathway had much to commend it. So the upcoming documentary is about the appetites of Giant Despair, and not about whether the path running parallel to the true path is grassy and smooth.

A filmmaker can acknowledge the latter and still warn the saints about the former. The filmmakers are not the ones troubling Israel.