Preacher Tullian Tchividjian told his congregation on a recent Sunday that he sees himself in a story from the Gospel of John.
In the passage, Nathanael questions whether anything good can come out of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ that may have had an immoral reputation in biblical times. Likening it to asking if light can come out of darkness, Tchividjian said he knows from personal experience that the answer is yes.
“I am standing here today because in my darkest moments, God never stopped holding onto me,” Tchividjian said. A few cries of “Amen” answered him from the congregation of roughly 60-80 people at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is serving as a spot for worship before they can find a permanent home in the area.
Tchividjian, the 47-year-old grandson of famed pastor Billy Graham and a Christian celebrity in his own right, is leading a church for the first time since his June 2015 resignation as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in northern Fort Lauderdale.
Tchividjian was forced to resign because he violated a morality contract by having an extramarital affair, according to a filing in his divorce case. But the woman who said she was involved in the affair and an advocacy organization led by his brother call it pastoral abuse and sexual misconduct.
Tchividjian, who said there was no element of sex abuse or emotional manipulation, was also defrocked by the South Florida Presbytery. Now the new Jupiter resident is among those starting The Sanctuary, an unaffiliated church that’s meeting each Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Beach Gardens ahead of a planned formal launch next month.
It’s the culmination of a path, Tchividjian said, that largely began in 2015 when his marriage cratered and he resigned as senior pastor at Coral Ridge, a position he described as a dream job, over his infidelity.
He says now that he took part in two affairs, one of which was with a congregant of the influential church. That happened while Tchividjian was on a leave of absence from Coral Ridge and after he separated from his wife, he said.
Rachel Steele, then a member of Coral Ridge, said her affair with Tchividjian, the one that prompted his resignation, lasted between roughly May and June 2015. They had sex a few times, she said.
Steele said she wanted to have sex with him, but added that there was an element of surrendering “to what he wanted.” She doesn’t consider it consensual, because she said Tchividjian groomed her and abused his position of power over her.
Months earlier, Tchividjian baptized her children, Steele said. And that spring, Tchividjian was offering her and her then-husband marriage advice.
She considered it counseling, while Tchividjian said he had no such role in her life.
“He was my spiritual leader. You know, he was my go-to. He was my teacher. … He definitely had a place of authority in my life,” Steele said. “You trust a man like that a lot more.”
Coral Ridge’s executive director Andrew Nichols declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Tchividjian’s resignation. Matthew Dubocq, of the South Florida Presbytery, also declined to comment.
In December 2016, the board of directors at GRACE, which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, issued a statement saying they were “deeply disturbed about the revelations of sexual misconduct by Tullian Tchividjian.”
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SOURCE: Palm Beach Post, Sam Howard