The Dark Side of Matt Chandler's "Confession"
Recently, Texas Megachurch pastor Matt Chandler confessed to having an "inappropriate online relationship." Here's what is deeply disturbing about the entire affair.
While Chandler’s news rocked much of the Evangelical world, there is a great deal that is being missed, dismissed or overlooked. Spiritual and leadership abuse can be very hard to spot because the exact nature of it is so insidious. While many people chose to see a tearful and heartfelt apology from a “broken” man, the truth is, it was a very elaborate and carefully planned show that I believe was put on with one very disturbing aim: to keep the money train rolling.
In 2018, American churches took in more than $124 Billion, with more than 50% of that going to salaries (mostly to pastors) and another 25% going to buildings. The purpose of tithes and offerings is supposed to be to care for the poor and needy and support missions. Instead, in today’s churches, approximately 10% of the budget goes towards “programs” (which may or may not be for the poor and/or “needy”) and only around 11% goes towards missions. At it’s peak, Mars Hill was raking in over $30 Million a year more than a decade ago, so it’s fairly safe to assume The Village Church at least meets and most likely significantly exceeds that.
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Churches are very lucrative cash cows and Matt Chandler is critical to keeping the money train rolling
I want to break down all of the many disturbing things about Matt Chandler’s confession and what is says about how things are handled in churches. What is ironic about the age we live in, however, is that thanks to the egos of megachurch pastors like Chandler, the entire world can watch every moment of what went down in their church, which I’m sure they would much prefer to keep private. Here’s the video of the full service. I recommend you start watching at 18:00 when Josh Patterson takes the stage to very strategically set the stage for Chandler’s Big Act.
He starts off by saying:
Good morning church family how are we? Good. I feel like I may need to reintroduce myself. My name is Josh Patterson and I shaved. I’m not sure how it looks, keep your comments to yourself, my kids have made plenty.
This is what is known in the entertainment/ public speaking business as “rapport building,” or being “relatable.” In its most benign form, it’s simply the act of someone coming off their pedestal or out of their high tower to put themselves on equal footing with their audience. In its more sinister form, however, it is a covert abuse tactic. Namely that someone draws you into trusting them by acting vulnerable and emotionally open. I highly recommend you read this article on covert abuse tactics because there are several employed here. Patterson then goes on to say:
I go to the to the scriptures and find great comfort in this; this is the day that the Lord has made. This is the day that the lord has made and there are times when we as a church family gather as a church family to discuss family matters.
This is the day that the lord has made. And that particular scripture goes on to say: “and let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And we rejoice and we're glad in this day because no matter what this day has no matter what this day brings God has and is and always will superintend over all things and he is superintending over this very day. And so some of what we're going to discuss this morning in fact a lot of it is going to be challenging it's going to be a little bit disorienting and I want to prepare your heart for that but I do want to anchor your heart and the reality that this is the day that the Lord has made.
So, the next thing he does is “create alignment.” In this case, he is creating alignment between his message and God’s will, which is one of the most destructive and damaging aspects of spiritual abuse. It’s also a very common bullying tactic. Bullies give themselves authority or power by either aligning themselves with someone more powerful or surrounding themselves with a large group. In my opinion, the commandment against “taking the name of the Lord your God in vain” is not about using God’s name as a swear word, but rather invoking God’s name to give yourself authority you are not actually entitled to have. Which is exactly what I believe Patterson is doing here.
He also mentions twice that they are going to “discuss” matters, and yet a discussion would involve a back and forth dialogue between two or more parties. There is no discussion here, there is simply a narrative being woven and distributed by one party to another. In Christian speak, he uses the phrases “prepare your heart” and “anchor your heart,” which is really just a holy-sounding way of saying that he’s applying lubricant to make sure that the narrative Chandler is about to weave will slide right in and even more importantly: stick. He also uses the word “disorienting” which is the same word Chandler is later going to use. You know, almost like they very carefully scripted and prepared this all in advance.
He goes on to say:
You know I think about our vision statement I think about our mission statement our mission statement is this “we want to love God, we want to love people we want to make disciples” and by god's grace our vision and the first line of that vision is for us to be a welcoming home.
One of the things that I love about The Village Church and I'm going into my 19th year serving you as a congregation as one of your pastors is that this has been and will remain a place where it's okay to not be okay and the follow-up to that is we just don't want to stay there it is okay to not be okay. We just don't want to stay there and for us to be a welcoming home it has to be a safe place for you it has to be a safe place for our community it has to be a safe place for all of us including the leaders of this church it's got to be a safe place for me it's got to be a safe place for other pastors and leaders and staff members.
Patterson does several things here. He twists their mission and vision statement into knots to reinforce the idea that they are all family, which is a way of enforcing tribalism. We are here to protect each other. The message here is that there are outside forces at work to try and tear us apart and we must all band together for our very survival. Which is completely overlooking the fact that Chandler is their pastor and therefore an inside force.
Chandler has already spent years planting the message that “we all need community” and what happens when you defy the community? You get kicked out. If we feel our very survival is dependent on community, then we will do whatever we need to do to remain a part of the community, including banding together to protect it. Even if the threat is actually coming from within rather than from without. Although in this case, they very cleverly plant the idea that the real enemy is, of course, the woman, who will clearly slander them the first chance she gets.
He also places himself in a subservient position by saying “I have been serving you for 19 years now.” He says that at the Village Church it is “okay to not be okay” but also that we “don’t want to just stay there.” The truth is, The Village Church already has a very long and documented history of protecting men who are abusive. One of the many problematic aspects of complimentarianism is that it very subtly implies that men are more important, so when it comes down to a choice of whether to protect a woman or protect a man, they will protect that which has the most value - which is always going to be men.
In 2012, they protected a pedophile by burying abuse allegations and telling the congregation he was being let go because he had an alcohol abuse problem. In 2015, they placed a woman under church discipline for divorcing her husband who had admitted to viewing pornography featuring minors. In 2017, they sent a pastor they knew had a history of sexual misconduct to be a special advisor at Cedarville University. What I have yet to find any evidence of, is a single instance of them ever once protecting a woman (or a child) from either scandal or abuse.
Patterson also says “…for us to be a welcoming home it has to be a safe place for you it has to be a safe place for our community it has to be a safe place for all of us including the leaders of this church it's got to be a safe place for me it's got to be a safe place for other pastors and leaders and staff members. Do you notice how often he mentions creating a space where the flock is safe (once) versus how many times (seven) he mentions the importance of making it a safe space for themselves?
Patterson goes on to finish his speech with a prayer, in which he continues to use highly suggestive language to provide further instruction as to how to receive and respond to what they are about to hear. As Chandler walks on stage, you can hear Patterson say “Love you” to Chandler. This is particular ironic given the recent Twitter scandal over Beth Moore publicly asking Pastor Josh Buice if he loved her as a sister in Christ, to which he responded by doing a tap dancing number worthy of Fred Astaire himself.
Matt Chandler then proceeds to spend a few minutes doing some tap-dancing of his own, trying to find his groove. Which is not surprising since he is being required to take a stance he is most definitely not used to taking. He actually starts off by almost belligerently saying “I'm the lead pastor of this church, I plan on being the lead pastor of this church for the next 20 years. Um but I do need to….” before he seems to remember that that’s not actually the posture he needs to take here. If I could personally finish that sentence for him, it would be something along the lines of “… but I do need to offer a very painful mea culpa for that to happen.”
He goes on and says:
Several months ago um a woman approached me um outside here in the foyer um she had some concerns for how I was DM’ing on instagram with a friend of hers. Um, I I didn't think i had done anything wrong in that my wife knew that her husband knew that um and yet there were a couple of things that she said that were disorienting to me and and so I immediately um came into the room, I found the chairman of the elder boards Jason Swords, found Josh Patterson another lead pastor and said “this is what this person just told me” uh and then I went home. Lauren wasn't with me. That night I told Lauren this is what was said to me um tonight. Um from there the elders began to look into because that's what they're supposed to do.
First off, Chandler points out that he was approached “several months” prior. That is, in and of itself, problematic because it means they literally spent months trying to manage the problem before coming forward with it. Matt Chandler is also an incredibly skilled and gifted speaker, yet he is tripping all over himself here with “ums” and very garbled speech. Which is usually what happens when people are tap dancing around trying to twist the truth as much as possible while also trying to avoid crossing the line into flat-out lying.
The second thing he points out is that the woman approached him in the lobby of the church. Another way of putting this is that she ambushed him - which she probably had to do because Megachurch pastors are rock stars that go to great lengths to insulate themselves from church members.
I want you to really stop and think about that for a minute. Think about what the role of a pastor is supposed to be. A “pastor” is supposed to be someone who ministers to and cares for the needs of their flock. Megachurch pastors, on the other hand, usually have large entourages that keep them insulated from the very people they are supposed to be ministering to. So, I would guess (in part based on my own numerous experiences with megachurches) that this woman tried to actually set up an appointment with him or speak to him in private but was probably blocked repeatedly. So, she took the only option available to her, which was to accost him in public. She would not be the first woman to ever resort to this, an act which often gets women labeled as “crazy.”
The next important thing is that Chandler’s first stop (or call) was not to his wife. Genesis tells us that God created Eve as a “helpmeet” to Adam. Most churches (including Chandler’s) seem to interpret this as God making Eve to be some kind of combination secretary, baby maker, nanny, sex toy and cheerleader to men. I think God created Eve to be Adam’s counterpoint - more like a chess partner than full-time personal assistant. Evangelicals also love to point out that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, yet it was not to Eve that Adam ran but to Steve. Something pretty common in Evangelical circles.
Which also means that Chandler’s first thought was not “how will this affect my wife” but rather “how will this affect my church.” His very first thought was not to protect his wife but to protect his image. I also think it’s interesting he uses the word “disorienting” to describe his reaction, which is the exact same word Patterson has just used to describe how the audience might react to Chandler’s “story.”
He also justifies himself right off the bat by saying his wife “knew about” his DM’ing the woman in question, as did her husband. Knowing that your partner is DM’ing someone is a whole different issue from knowing the exact content of those DM’s. When people work together or even simply have mutual interests, it is common for them to DM each other but that doesn’t mean their spouses are aware of the specific content of those DM’s.
He goes on…
… and so they looked into the the conversation between me and this other woman and they had some concerns. Um and those concerns were not that our messaging was romantic or sexual, it was that our conversations were unguarded and unwise.
First off, I want to point out the fact that he literally calls her this “other” woman. He doesn’t just call her this woman - or even “my friend” (which one would assume they were if they had such frank DM conversations). He calls her the other woman. He goes on to emphatically state that their messaging was not “romantic or sexual” but rather that they were “unguarded and unwise.” If it was not romantic or sexual in nature, why did it even need to be stated that the other party was female?
He could have just as easily said “I was DM’in a friend in a way that was crass and completely unbefitting a man in my position.” Chances are good everyone would have assumed the other person was male, and what difference does it make? This would have still communicated this exact same truth without throwing one more woman under the bus. But churches have a very long history of blaming women for men’s sins, so the fact that he refers to the person he was DM’ing as “this other woman” says a lot - and what it says is not good.
Several years ago I had one of these same “text relationships” with a former pastor of three megachurches, which went on for about 2 years. He was neither married nor a current pastor at the time. What I can tell you about this, however, was that who he revealed himself to be in those text messages was a far, far cry from the careful image he built for himself as a pastor and I strongly suspect this is the same with Chandler.
One of the problematic issues with Evangelical teachings on sex and sexuality is that they often view sexuality as something that is purely physical. Even more troubling is that they view sexuality and intimacy as being one and the same. It is very common for men in patriarchal cultures to use sex as a substitute for intimacy or to try to achieve intimacy through sex but sex has nothing inherently to do with intimacy. You can have sex without intimacy and you can have intimacy without sex.
One of our deepest and most primary drives as humans is to be seen and known for who we really are. It is the very reason it is intensely painful for gays and lesbians to remain “in the closet.” I have heard intimacy described as “into me you see.” Intimacy is about vulnerability, it is about being able to be completely and totally honest with someone about exactly who and what we are. Theoretically, our most intimate relationship should be with our spouse, but this is again where religious doctrine can actually hinder this rather than facilitate it.
Women who grew up in conservative Christian culture know that it’s not enough to just be a virgin when you get married, you then have to also be a “good girl” sexually. This conundrum is so common it has a name: the Madonna/ whore complex. Men also feel this inner battle because they still have to treat their wives like dainty, delicate little flowers while also having a desire to do dirty, dirty things to them. Which they can’t do with their wives if they want to maintain their “purity.”
To make matters worse, Chandler is also a pastor, which means he also has to maintain a certain image around almost every person he meets. While he may be able to “loosen up” and “be himself” around other men in his church, men seem to have a particular need to be intimately known by a woman - which kind of makes sense. The problem is, men in patriarchal culture can rarely be intimately known by their wives because they have to maintain a certain image even with her in order to keep their status as patriarch. To be known means to reveal our weakness and vulnerability, which patriarchy doesn’t allow for.
The problem with both complementarianism and our current church system is that it platforms pastors to the point of being little demigods. We are not going to platform people who we believe to be our peers, we only platform people we believe to in some way be better than us. This is the image that Chandler has not only been forced to create but must also maintain. But maintaining that image also comes into direct conflict with our innate desire to be seen and known - completely and totally as we are, for who we are.
Chandler goes on:
…because I don't ever want there to be secrets between us, the concerns were really about frequency and familiarity. We believe in brother-sister relationships here um and yet there was a frequency that moved past that there was a familiarity that played itself out in coarse and foolish joking some befitting of someone in my position as a lead pastor.
He basically completely contradicts himself here in many way. First he says he doesn’t “ever want there to be secrets between us” while at the same time having a long history of covering things up. He then says they believing in having “brother-sister relationships” but then proceeds to say there was a “familiarity that played itself out in coarse and foolish joking.” I don’t know what most people’s experience of family is, but mine is that there is no one that you are raunchier or more real or honest with than your family. So that’s a complete contradiction. In fact, it is actually that realness and honesty that protects many relationships because the “bloom is off the rose” or the shine has worn off the cubic zirconia.
Integrity means to be “fully integrated.” It means that while we may show different facets of ourselves to different people in different situations, the core of who we are doesn’t change regardless of who we are around. When you constantly have to put on an act or put on a show, however, it completely destroys your ability to have integrity. It means your entire life is a lie. And that is what I believe actually happened here.
I 100% believe Chandler’s “DM relationship” was exactly what he said it was: not sexual in nature, but instead unguarded. Almost assuredly, Chandler revealed himself to her for who he really is and that is every bit as dangerous, if not far more so, than if he simply had sex with her. If he had sex with her, then they could paint her as being equally in the wrong. Instead, she is simply in possession his deepest, darkest, dirtiest secret, which is that he is not who he presents himself to be.
Realistically, we should all know this. We know no one is perfect and therefore we should actually be suspicious of anyone that seems too perfect. We are so in love with the idea of a perfect pastor, however, that we readily buy into the very thing we should be suspicious of. Chandler is not just a “pastor,” he is the CEO and public face of a multi-billion dollar organization. If Chandler goes down, the organization goes down and no one wants that. Not the elders, not the staff or employees of the church nor any of the people with their butts in the pews. They are comfortable. Chandler makes them feel holy and righteous without actually having to do anything too uncomfortable. They pay generously for this experience and no one wants to upset that apple cart.
So they buy the lie, no one looks too carefully and everyone applauds when Chandler gives them a tearful mea culpa they can point to as evidence of real repentance. Of course, no one stops to consider that at the very least what Chandler did was a violation of trust. No one stops to consider that he was in the position of “authority,” which actually makes him the perpetrator not the victim. He used a woman who was not his wife emotionally to satiate his own desires, but since his penis wasn’t involved, no one cares. Even if it was, history shows they still wouldn’t care too much. They might expect a light slap on the wrist, but chances are good he would be right back to preaching somewhere else.
Had this actually been any sort of real act of repentance, he would have allowed the woman to speak or at least had her present on stage with him. In addition, he also should have had her husband on stage as well as his own wife. After all, although they may have been headed down a dangerous path, according to Chandler it would seem as if all parties agree it was not yet a violation of trust. Although we don’t know that because literally the only person we heard from was Matt Chandler.
If they were just good friends that got a little carried away, then this should be evidence of community working the way it is supposed to by looking out for each other. If there was really any sort of community reconciliation or healing, then all parties involved should have also been involved in coming forward to the congregation. But they weren’t because it wasn’t about them. They are just more causalities of the American church machine, which needs to be protected at all costs. And just to be clear, the elders aren’t protecting Matt Chandler, his family or his wife. They are protecting the machine.
Of course, as per usual, the woman has now been painted as some kind of home-wrecking adulteress, which will only further disempower women in church settings. Now, in addition to the “Billy Graham rule” where men don’t allow themselves to be alone with any women other than their wives, church leaders now have reason to exclude women from important digital conversations as well.
Edit: In good faith, I twisted myself into knots trying to put together the many pieces of what Chandler said into some kind of coherent whole. Yet, one question gnawed at me. If the relationship between Chandler and this woman wasn’t romantic or sexual in nature, why even mention she was a woman at all? Why not simply say “I DM’d a friend in a way that was crass and unfit for a man in my position”?
Then I discovered that they had actually employed a law firm to review the DM’s and that made even less sense. I have since come to believe that Chandler specifically alluded to a woman as a red herring that would keep people thinking along the lines of an inappropriate male/female relationship, which - based on social media discussion - seems to be exactly what happened. I now believe there is actually something far more disturbing going on here, which I write about here.
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There is only one sentence of your otherwise totally accurate description of mega churches with celebrity pastors who protect their image at all costs, usually by blaming women for their moral lapses, that I disagree with. It’s this one: “Had this actually been any sort of real act of repentance, he would have allowed the woman to speak or at least had her present on stage with him.”
That would only add to her victimization and subject her to public humiliation. The congregation would blame her for embarrassing their pastor and tarnishing his image no matter what she said. I think keeping her identity confidential unless she decides to reveal it and share her perspective on their DM’s is essential for her well-being.
What needs to happen in my opinion is that the complete text of all of the DMs should be made public, with her name redacted. Secrecy is one of the most destructive forces at work in most churches today. That would also help the congregation see who their pastor really is instead of the idealized image he has carefully cultivated.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this. So proud of all the women raising their voices on this complex, hurtful and necessary topic. Proud of all the men too who are speaking out about this in support of women and against the poison of patriarchal church systems. Keep on keeping on, sister!