Thursday, June 25, 2015

Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian: a sad tale of resignation, moral failure and church schism

Yesterday, while engaged in some unrelated online research (the doctrine of the Trinity), I happened upon a Christianity Today article (LINK - posted on June 21st, 2015), that came as quite a shock to me: the resignation of Tullian Tchividjian (a grandson of Billy Graham), as senior pastor of the famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida due to an affair with "a friend".

As most probably know, the former senior pastor (and founder) of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was D. James Kennedy, a postion he held from 1960 until his retirement on August 26, 2007 (he passed away a mere ten days later). I started listening to D. James Kennedy's radio ministry, Truths That Transform, way back in the mid-80s, and did so faithfully (five days per week) for over ten years. I also took in his weekly Coral Ridge Hour, and ended up spending a fair amount of money on various products offered through his Coral Ridge Ministries.

My zeal for D. James Kennedy's ministries waned after I left the Reformed tradition in the late 90s, but I retained some interest until his death in 2007. After that date, my knowledge of events concerning the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church were non-existent until yesterday. I did not know that in March 2009 the membership of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church voted in Tullian Tchividjian as their senior pastor. I was also unaware that this event subsequently spawned a substantial schism—note the following:

Internal divisions at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church burst into the open this past weekend as six members were ordered to stay off the premises.

The six have called for the ouster of the Rev. W. Tullian Tchividjian, saying he is deserting the heritage of his revered predecessor, the Rev D. James Kennedy. In reply, the Fort Lauderdale church has accused them of spreading rumors and disrupting church unity. Among the six is Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy.

Stresses are common whenever a longtime pastor is replaced, observers say. But with a huge, successful church with long-entrenched traditions - and a new pastor nearly two generations younger - the effects are heightened.

"I'd be surprised if it didn't happen," said Lesley Northup, a specialist in religion and culture at Florida International University. "Change is inevitable with a new pastor. And change produces discomfort. And it's magnified in a highly publicized place, where both the predecessor and the current guy are well-known."

Tchividjian, 37, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, was elected March 15 as pastor at Coral Ridge, which had lacked a leader since Kennedy died in September 2007. But if he thought he had a mandate for change, the small but vocal coterie of critics has hotly disagreed.

They have mass-mailed accusations to congregants, accusing Tchividjian of heavy-handed tactics such as downplaying the church's traditional service in favor of contemporary worship. They've criticized Tchividjian for replacing some Coral Ridge staff with his own people, and planning to sell land at the church's west campus "to make up for budget shortfalls."

Their recommended solution: a petition to put an end to Tchividjian's 4-month-old pastorate. More than 1,600 copies of the petition were mailed to church members on July 24.

The church sent the six a letter on Aug. 4, saying that if they step onto church property, they will be considered trespassers. A second letter on Thursday, signed by Tchividjian, gave the rationale: "No church government can tolerate such an insurrection from those who will not listen to admonition, refuse all counsel, and will stop at nothing until they have overthrown legitimate authority and replaced it with their own." (LINK)

Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, and a number of other dissidents, went on to form the New Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach, Florida. See THIS LINK for information on the schismatic church.

Certainly some very sad events within the tradition I once embraced. My prayers go out to those souls who have been adversely affected...

Grace and peace,