Like many Christians, I’ve been thinking a lot this week of a pastor I respect, Matt Chandler. And how to react to his latest news.
And I’ll say upfront that this topic has been covered on our website before. Maybe a few times, but in particular Phill has written pointedly about it here.
So I won’t claim to cover any novel ground here. Yet the nature of human depravity demands we deal with this topic regularly. We are prone to judge harshly, to gossip, to speculate and to be quick to let others know exactly what we think. I think it makes us feel smart or righteous (or maybe both) when we get to sit at a computer screen or coffee table and wax eloquent about the latest scandal or discuss other people’s sins. Especially when the church is involved.
So when the news broke earlier this week that Matt Chandler will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from his church due to a online relationship with a woman that revealed something “unhealthy” in him, the response on social media was swift and predictable.
Just one example will suffice, from Twitter (though you can go to just about any social media platform and search for Chandler’s name to see countless examples of what I’m talking about): One man tweeted from the perspective of a professional in the field of counseling pastors after they are caught in sin. And he said that in every case whatever they confess to is the bare minimum of what the truth is about their sin. Implying, to me at least, that we need to brace ourselves for worse news about Matt Chandler. That he’s likely in deeper sin and this is just the first domino to fall.
This, my friends, is not how Christianity is supposed to work.
By now, many have been made aware of an email Preston Sprinkle, the president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, sent about the situation. In it he explains why they still will have Chandler speak at their Exiles Conference, even though Chandler will not be preaching or teaching at his own church for the time being.
Because in his view, Chandler’s offense doesn’t merit that harsh a judgment. He claims he did a deep investigation into this and that Chandler’s DM conversations with a woman were known by both spouses, and involved coarse joking about alcohol. That this was far more a violation of a type of social media Billy Graham rule (not meeting with women alone and avoiding all appearance of impropriety), and could be perceived as unwise, than any actual disqualifying sin.
I do not know Sprinkle any more than I know Matt Chandler. But his email at least should serve as a reminder that there is always more to any story than the average person knows. And that headlines with words like “inappropriate online relationship” could be very misleading.
There may be still more to the story may come out later. There surely are details outside of what the Village Church has shared and what people like Preston Sprinkle have shared. And that’s really my point. We do not know enough to be so quick to opine on this. I really wish Christians would give any story a few days before we start firing away with judgments. Sharing breaking news can be appropriate. But the responses should be filled with grace, nuance and humility. Because we are such ignorant and sinful people ourselves.
So I plead with Christians to not put Chandler’s name in a list with Ravi Zacharias and Mark Driscoll. To not bemoan celebrity Christianity because of Matt Chandler. To not use his name to wage war on things about the church you do not like. Maybe one day the truth will be out enough to do these things. But right now I find this unwise and, in some cases, sinful. Some Christians are doing just as much harm, and perhaps more, than Chandler has done with their social media anger and self-righteousness. And I’m sure many haven’t done nearly as much for the Kingdom of God as he has.
Let us take some time to get the beams out of our own eyes, and remember our own weakness, desperation and ignorance in view of God’s glory and the person and work of Jesus Christ. I would never advocate for Christians not judging other people and situations. Just to be slower to. And to constantly have self-awareness while doing so.