Conservative and evangelical leaders are speaking out after Pastor Matt Chandler took a leave of absence following some questionable behavior online.
The Village Church (TVC) leader agreed to step down for a period of time after voluntarily disclosing that he had inappropriate communication with a woman on Instagram who was not his wife.
"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," The Village Church elders wrote in an August statement.
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"In this case, while the messages were not romantic or sexual in nature, the frequency and familiarity of the messages crossed a line," it added. "They revealed that Matt did not use language appropriate for a pastor, and he did not model a behavior that we expect from him."
In an August 28 sermon, Chandler told his megachurch that's based in Flower Mound, TX that a women approached him concerned about messages he was having with her friend via Instagram.
"At the time when she brought it up, I saw no issue with it," he explained. "My wife knew about it. This woman's husband knew about it. And so I kind of pushed against that not being okay. She said some things in that conversation, though, that were really disorienting for me."
Chandler said following that conversation he spoke with TVC elders and his wife.
The accusations brought up some concerns that although my DMing with this woman was not romantic, nor was it ever sexual, it was unguarded and it was unwise," Chandler said. "And the way that played itself out was in a kind of frequency and familiarity that is not wise for someone in my position."
Elder chairman Jasien Swords and fellow pastor and elder Josh Patterson, along with other leaders made the decision to hire an independent law firm, identified by The New York Times as, Castañeda and Heidelman, to conduct a review of Chandler's messaging history on Instagram, other social media platforms, cell phone, and email.
Leaders concluded Matt violated their "internal social media use policies," but it did not "rise to the level of disqualification." They added that it indicated some unhealthy behavior patterns in his life.
"The elders have decided, and I think they're right—that my inability to see this for what it was revealed something not right, something unhealthy, in me," Chandler said. "And I don't know if that's tied to the pace I run or the difficulty of the last six, seven years, but I agree with them."
Although leaders made the decision to have Chandler take a leave of absence, he assured the congregation that he would be their pastor "for another 20 years."
His wife Lauren is publicly supporting him during this season, posting a photo of her looking up at him adoringly. She writes on Instagram, "This sits on Matt's green room desk. It's been there for years. That look in my eyes? Still there after 23 years married (and 25 together). Still there today."
"He is the man you hope he is," she continues. "Thank you to everyone who has sent kind and encouraging messages. Your prayers are treasured and felt. If I could give each of you a big hug, I would."
Meanwhile, the global church planting network, Acts 29, where Chandler served as president and chairman, also asked him to step down from speaking engagements.
"Acts 29 prioritizes personal integrity and holds our leaders to a high standard of conduct. 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," it said.
Chandler's decision to step down is both being applauded and criticized.
Evangelical radio host and blogger, Erick-Woods Erickson, said Chandler and his church modeled what should be done.
"What is notable about Matt Chandler's situation is how he and his church handled the situation," he wrote. "The woman who confronted Chandler about Chandler's relationship with the woman's friend was not vilified. The church thanked her."
"Chandler, for his part, embraced the church's discipline. He's not being ousted but is stepping aside for work on repentance. When the woman confronted Chandler, he thought he did nothing wrong, but he self-reported it to his church's leadership. Instead of having his back, which the church could have done because of Chandler's standing, they decided to act. This is good," he added.
Meanwhile, Dave Miller, Senior Pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa wrote in Christianity Today pastors confessing their sin should not be applauded.
"When a church leader stands to confess sin, it's a time for lament and a time for tears. Repentance requires honesty, humility, and sorrow, not managing appearances, controlling the narrative, or hiding the facts," he wrote.
"The fault often lies more with leadership than with congregants," Miller added. "These 'confessions' are often staged to put the fallen pastor in the best possible light. Facts are hidden. The full story isn't told. The blame gets shifted to someone else. Excuses are made. All told, the pastor or church leaders control the story to cast the confession in a heroic light."
Other leaders are demanding The Village Church release the full investigative report.
"It is always best practice to release the result of the independent assessment," Rachael Denhollander, an advocate for sexual abuse victims told the New York Times. "It is the best protection for everybody."
Evangelical blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire agreed that the TVC should release the report. She's somewhat skeptical, contending that Chandler has been allowed to "control the narrative."
"Why was he allowed to control the narrative? I would have rather heard from the woman's friend who confronted Chandler. And if he's being transparent, then let's see the texts," she wrote on Twitter.
Attorney Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of the late evangelist Billy Graham, responded to her tweet:
"Absolutely. I was actually thinking just that when I watched it," he tweeted. Why is he up there announcing it…and intentionally being allowed to put forth his own narrative? I have yet to see a victim allowed to do that in a church."
"After listening to his statement to the congregation, my educated guess is that there is much more to this story... not in a good way," he added. "Time has a way of bringing forth the whole truth."