Mega-church pastor apologizes for 'mishandling' spouse of child porn addict, raises questions for faith community

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez |

(T4G/Sarah Danaher)

DALLAS, Texas (Christian Examiner) -- Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, apologized last week for mishandling of a situation involving a member whose missionary spouse confessed a 10-year-pattern of viewing child pornography.

Stirred by the controversy, some in the faith community are questioning whether today's churches are equipped to handle abuse, provide appropriate correction to members, and to adequately counsel victims.

Chandler is the president of Acts 29, a network of church-planting churches which hold to The Lausanne Covenant Statement of Faith.

Thorough Upheaval

Until this year, the 10,000-member mega-church sponsored the Jordan and Karen Root (who has now returned to her former name, Karen Hinkley) as missionaries through Serving in Mission (SIM) in East Asia.

After Hinkley learned Root spent nearly 10 years viewing child pornography she alerted SIM. An investigation followed by his admission of guilt led to Root's termination with the missionary organization.

Root's termination required the pair to leave the mission field. Upon their return to the United States, Hinkley filed for an annulment for her marriage which she was later granted by a Texas court.

During the time after their return, Root said she submitted to TVC leadership who offered assistance within the limits of their procedures.

However, Hinkley's pursuit of an annulment led her to face church discipline for failure to consult with the elders who wished to see the couple attempt to reconcile in accordance with its Covenant Membership policies, they said.

When Hinkley submitted a letter to formally withdraw her membership from TVC, the elders refused to accept her resignation.

On May 20, Hinkley made a public statement on Watch Keep, a blogsite dedicated to helping abuse victims, that revealed Root's confessed used of child pornography.

"The discovery of Jordan's pedophilia and use of child pornography was an indescribable shock and triggered a thorough upheaval of every aspect of my life," Hinkley wrote.

Noting that she understood the personal risk she took by going public, Hinkley said the revelation was an attempt to alert potential victims and bring justice to any past victims and to expose the church's handling of the issue in a way that she said was inconsistent with what she expected and what SIM had done.

"What has become even more troubling than the issues that have come to light in Jordan's life has been the consistent refusal of the pastors and elders of The Village Church to respond in a way that takes into account the seriousness of the situation at hand," Hinkley wrote. "Jordan's admitted pedophilia and use of child pornography over many years is no small thing."

Apology

In the days that followed, the church responded to Hinkley's allegations with email addressing their motives and intentions which were published on blogger Matthew Paul Turner's site Thursday, May 28.

That same day Christianity Today published a feature in which Chandler stated the church acted wrongly and exuded "domineering" behavior.

"We have sinned against some people—and we are owning that before God and specifically before the people we have hurt," he told the publication. "Our desire is always to be loving and caring. It is clear that we have not communicated—in multiple cases now—the gentleness, compassion, and patience that our elders are called to walk in."

A public uproar questioned the church's handling of the issue which led to a further apology directly to Hinkley and an address by Chandler from the pulpit over the May 30-31 weekend.

In the apology, elders confessed they had mishandled the situation in regards to Hinkley and expressed remorse for their failure to provide compassionate care to her upon her return home in February.

"We are deeply sorry for failing you in this way and are taking steps to follow up with the individuals we believe we have hurt so that we can apologize specifically and directly to them," a portion of the statement read.

The statement indicated that their policies were being restructured to better care for individuals who find themselves in difficult situations that blur lines drawn by their bylaws.

"Regardless of all that we're trying to do to improve in this area, though, the most important point is that we recognize that we must never allow our processes and procedures to take precedence over people.

In addition to issuing an apology, Hinkley was later released from membership, a request she formally made in February.

In closing, the apology stated, "In every way that we've mishandled this situation, along with others in the past, we repent and ask for forgiveness."

Discipline

According to Baptist Press, TVC is the second church this year to issue a public apology for a lack of compassion in dealing with members who required a church discipline.

The Chicago based Harvest Bible Chapel apologized and "lifted all discipline" regarding former elders who were initially accused of causing division throughout the congregation.

The former elders had reportedly accused church leadership of "intimidation" tactics and a lack of transparency.

Similar by laws at both Harvest Bible Chapel and The Village Church omit the process of allowing their congregations to vote on church discipline issues.

A former Southern Baptist Convention vice president, Bart Barber who now serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, told BP involving the congregation can serve as a check and balance system.

Noting the example of Biblical church discipline in Matthew 18, Barber explained that measures of church discipline are typically reserved for individuals who refuse to repent from sin and end in the church withdrawing fellowship from the individual.

It is possible that such an understanding of discipline caused confusion and led to the outcry of inappropriateness from so many regarding the church's "harsh" treatment of Hinkley who considered her actions to be just in advocacy for the "vulnerable and voiceless."

Adequate Counsel

Yet even where correction was offered to Root, Hinkley's circumstances raises the questions of adequate counsel offered to a confessed sexual addict.

According to the former missionary, SIM suggested that Root's condition required "intensive therapy" from a counselor with familiarity with issues of sexual addiction. Such treatment level is not uncommon for addictions that are sexual in nature and is recommended by organizations like Focus on the Family.

Regardless of whether or not the type of counsel Root received addressed pedophilia Hinkley struggled to consider TVC's sponsored treatment for Root's addiction of 10 years "intensive" since to her knowledge it only occurred once a week and then only twice a month in the five months following Root and Hinkley's return from the mission field.

Some have also questions the adequacy of treatment for members of the faith community in relations to the sexual impropriety confessed by Josh Duggar, 27, who admitted to fondling minors at age 15. Josh is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting.

In 2002 and 2003, incidents of sexual misconduct involving Josh and several minor girls led Jim Bob to seek counsel from the elders in his church, according to Christianity Today. The Duggars are Independent Baptists.

The suggested treatment was reportedly a "residential program" that would allow a more intensive style counseling. However, Josh reportedly never participated in the program and was instead sent to spend several months remodeling homes with a friend of the family.

In both situations, some have suggested inappropriate sexual behavior can too-quickly offer forgiveness to abusers like Duggar and Root.

Hastily restoring persons to society as individuals who have dealt with their sexual issues minimizes the pain of victims like Karen Hinkley and the young girls who were demeaned by sexual misconduct, Catherine Pearlman, a social worker and assistant professor of social work at Brandman University suggested in an opinion piece for CNN regarding the Duggar scandal.

"The message to the victims, and to girls everywhere, is clear: You are not protected," Pearlman said.