Why I'm Giving Grace to Tullian
I've been a fan of Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian for so long, I don't even need to double check if I spelled his name correctly (for those who may not know, it is pronounced cha-vi-jin). As a pastor and author, Tullian wrote several books, including 'Surprised By Grace' which had a profound impact on my life as I came to learn about God's relentless pursuit of rebels like me.
From what the news outlets are reporting, Tullian returned from a trip this summer to discover his wife of over 20 years having an affair. The two separated as her affair continued and Tullian sought comfort in a female friend, consequently developing an inappropriate relationship of his own.
With a repentant heart, he admitted these things to his large congregation and stepped down as Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founder of LIBERATE.org. He was then stripped of his ministerial credentials and his sermons were removed from their websites, though they state it is due to the media using them to slander Tullian and his family.
It was my husband who notified me when Tullian he filed for divorce. He e-mailed an article with the note "Your boy is in trouble with the religious people..." because that's exactly the case. From what I can tell, while he seems to have a large base of support, there is plenty of speculation an opinion over Tullian's qualifications to be in ministry or leadership, yet I believe through this process of refinement he's becoming all the more qualified for the post.
I see a contrite spirit in a broken man who knows he is broken. If this is the case, restoration to his ministry should be near. So what are "the rules" and who is making them? How are they gauging the timeline of healing? When will his sermons be available? When will Christian bookstores sell his books without fear? When will he be back in the pulpit (because I want to be there).
Naturally, there are critics who say it is "too soon" in an article full of doubtful "quotations" about his intentions. One blogger goes so far as to say Tullian should be suspended from participating in communion and excommunicated while the Sr. Pastor at Willow Creek Church should be investigated and examined for censure. This blogger writes a lot of "open" letters to people who aren't living up to his standards and he claims these are "God's thoughts" yet only God knows Tullian's heart, not this author.
Many are taking issue specifically with the divorce and believe him to be "unfit" for ministry. From what has been made public, the two were in counseling for several months before the divorce decision was reached. No one of us spectators can possibly know the whole story and claim that a divorce is biblical or unbiblical. While I am not condoning Tullian's poor decision with the other woman (made at one of the darkest moments of his life), in the Bible, we see that after God enters a marriage contract with Israel, she commits adultery, they are separated, then God issues a bill of divorce. The Bible says that they will eventually be remarried and have restored blessings. (Read more about this here).
No, Tullian is not God, but if he has repented and biblically pursued restoration in his marriage and his wife continues her affair, I can understand how divorce is an option on the table. Naysayers need to simply pray and need to trust the Tchividjian's godly council in this area.
While the religious folk may haughtily shake their finger at him and the non-believers watch as the "Christians" tear one another down or feel like laughing at yet another joke of a pastor, I'm over here saying...but he's just like me!...and so many others. In fact, when I read Tullian's book, I was in the wake of my own personal scandal.
But God Interfered
I had thrown up my hands in God's face when a plan I was sure he had orchestrated came crumbling down. I was so angry and confused; I remember sitting against the wall of my bedroom listening to my heart pound heavily in my head as I tried to pray. Trying to make sense of it all. Trying to find the good. I just couldn't.
Finally, I said out loud, "I don't know if I've ever heard your voice now. So if I have, maybe you'll stop me or make me feel bad about this."
In my despair and hopelessness, I, in turn, sought validation and comfort through my own inappropriate relationship with a long-time friend, a married man.
I was spiritually numb and it still scares me how far I had run from God so quickly. When you are in this state of mind waiting to "feel bad," it simply just doesn't happen without a huge wake-up call. And remember how I told God to make me feel bad or stop me? Since that 'bad' feeling never came, He stopped me. He stopped me in such a way that was seemed utterly impossible, it was undeniably miraculous.
What followed was an earthquake of pain to his family and heaps of shame and spiritual damage to me.
My first conversation with his wife was in the form of her confrontation and I told her the entire, ugly truth. My words were emotionless and she seesawed from angry to devastated, yet thanked me for my honesty.
I'm not sure when we would have stopped if we hadn't gotten caught, but I'm glad we did. While I don't know everything that happened with their family, (I haven't spoken to anyone since it came to light) the road to recovery on my part is still struggle.
I have confessed, I have repented and I haven't hidden. It's been 6 years and there isn't a week that goes by where I don't experience pain, shame, regret and a burden responsibility over my incredibly horrible decisions and lack of faith in God.
I know I don't worship a God that would cause my days and dreams to be haunted by this forever, but on the other hand, I'm thankful for it. If the haunting remains for the rest of my life and serves as a reminder of the pain I never want to cause or experience again, then I don't want it to go away.
Tullian said he never thought he was capable of infidelity. It is so dangerous to believe we aren't capable of any particular sin, regardless of how outrageous it seems. We are human and we are weak. We are desperately dependent upon Jesus and his continual grace. If we truly realize our depravity, while we are thankful for his grace, we know we don't deserve it.
Even though I relate to Tullian on a more specific sin, doesn't he represent us all? His book drew me closer to the message of the gospel which allowed me to see my sin as an act of ugly defiance and God's subsequent interference as a great act of love by a father:
"God is in the business of relentlessly pursuing rebels like us and that he comes after us not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery so we might be truly free."
Not only do I struggle with shame over this event, but I fear in writing about this, I could unintentionally glorify infidelity in the name of spiritual growth. Please know this is not my intent. It's a fine line to wish I wasn't the owner of this story yet communicate a message of love and grace to those who share similar stories, including Tullian.
While I went through that low time in my life, I got to keep my sin and repentance between me, God and those it affected, while Tullian is currently living out this dark time in front of millions of people, many of whom have a strong opinion on his every move.
And so I'd ask that you'd join me in praying healing for Tullian and his family. For the many others in similar situations. For sinners like me. For the unnamed mistress that I relate to all too well. That we would turn away from sin and turn toward Jesus. That we would draw near to him and use our success and failures to do nothing but bring glory to his name.
For any other Christians who disagree, I'd ask you to check your heart. Here's the thing about Christianity: It's all about grace. Legalism and Karma have nothing over grace, and if they did, there simply wouldn't be anyone in heaven.