Women Accuse Billy Graham’s Grandson Tullian Tchividjian of Narcissistic Spiritual Abuse

(H/T some links via the Christian Post)

A website called Spiritual Sounding Board is in the process of publishing an account by a woman named Rachel of her affair with Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor grandson of Billy Graham. Three parts have so far appeared (here, here and here); her story also complements posts by Nate Sparks, a blogger (here and here), which relate accounts by other women who have interacted with Tchividjian.

It is well known that Tchividjian – who has just re-married after divorce – had had an affair with a member of his congregation while he was a pastor at Coral Ridge in Florida, although it wasn’t made clear at the time that the woman involved was also married. He stepped down from a subsequent position at Willow Creek earlier this year, after details of another earlier affair (which Coral Ridge had covered up) came to light.

However, the new material, written with some insight into issues around manipulative behaviour and narcissism, lifts the lid on what appears to be a case of a systematic spiritual abuser. Of course, not every detail can be corroborated, but the accounts offer a very plausible explanation for how the Tchividjian scandals arose, and there is some tangible evidence in the form of an invoice and cheque, as well as screenshots of text messages apparently sent by Tchividjian in which he asked another woman (Lisa) to attack critics on his behalf.

From these, we can see that Rachel paid $11,130 to South Florida Private Investigators Inc, and that Tchividjian paid her this amount some time later. According to Rachel, the firm was hired at Tchividjian’s behest to investigate his now ex-wife, in the hope of finding evidence of an affair. She also says that the cheque only arrived after she publicly accused him owing the debt.

Meanwhile, the screenshots (on Sparks’s blog) include one in which Tchividjian describes Julie Anne Smith, who runs the Spiritual Sounding Board website, as a “bitch” whom he asks Lisa to “get”. The texts also express extreme hostility towards his brother Boz Tchividjian, with Tullian describing him as a “snake” and a  “douche”, and asking Lisa to “pray that he dies” (this last followed by a smiley). It is perhaps relevant here that Boz Tchividjian is known for his efforts to combat and expose sex abuse within Protestant churches (Boz formed the basis for a longform article by Kathryn Joyce that appeared in the American Prospect in 2014).

Rachel also includes some broader observations:

This story is a very public example of pastoral sexual abuse – something unfortunately prevalent in the church. It is also a case study in how our ways of doing church often promote someone with a narcissistic personality and cocoon him in a position that only feeds his pathology.

Further (dots in original):

Tullian Tchividjian was a perfect storm to form a self-absorbed personality. He had the pressures of growing up in a “Christian Royal Family” (as he put it), his “middle child syndrome,” small stature, and years as quite an extreme prodigal … the ability to find easy promotion (beyond his qualification) in the Christian world due to his family name … genetic factors … family dysfunction. Many things contributed to Tullian evolving into who he is now. And who he is, is extremely dangerous to the body of Christ.

I do not believe Tullian can stop. He is addicted to his narcissistic supply. He pretends he is submitting to godly counselors, but he merely has “yes men” and “pocket pets”… people he can control. Once he burns bridges or gets caught in lies, he moves on to new horizons. He continually is scheming up a plan. He blocks all challenge and believes his own fantasy narrative. And he is incredibly, incredibly, charming, deceitful, and cunning. He fools even highly intelligent people and creates hierarchies of supporters, both male and female. He feeds off the attention others give him. He lies pathologically and appears totally immune to conscience.

For anyone whose path has ever crossed with that of a malignant narcissist, this is all rings very true.

As well as his church positions, Tchividjian also had his own vehicle, called the Liberate Network. This has now been dissolved, despite having relaunched in February. At that time, the rhetoric of “restoration” loomed large; as quoted by Christianity Today:

In February, Liberate’s board of directors relaunched the ministry with the “prayerful hope and expectation” that Tchividjian would rejoin it in the future.

“Today, Tullian continues an encouraging season of rest and healing,” the board wrote. “The elders of Willow Creek Church are presently overseeing a care plan for him, one involving routine worship, prayer, fellowship, study, professional counseling, and more.”

The missing word there, it seemed me, was “work”. Most people who lose their jobs due to misconduct are obliged to look for other kinds of  employment – both to pay the bills, and because it is clear that they are no longer suited to their previous work. It seemed to me to be grossly entitled that Tchividjian should instead get to enjoy a “season of rest”, perhaps at the expense of ordinary church members. This in itself was an indication of a manipulative individual, operating within a religious culture in need of reform.