I hate what happened to Tullian’s family, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Willow Creek Church, and others who have been hurt. If I knew how to fix it, I would. I’ve read the reports in the media about the situation and some of the comments about me.
I’m quite uncomfortable in defending myself and even more uncomfortable talking with anybody about this situation. However, I do need to say something.
First, I’ve been a sort of father figure to Tullian as well as his confessor. I gave Tullian a lot of advice that he didn’t take (but then it’s not uncommon for people to ignore my advice).
I do not have (and never have had) an official position of direct authority in any of this. I was never on the board of Liberate, and I’m not an elder at either Coral Ridge or Willow Creek. I have seen godly leaders dealing with a sinful, difficult, and complicated situation. I watched them try to follow the teaching of Matthew 18 and do what they thought was right at the time.
Second, I have a very high view of confession. For almost fifty years, people have told me their secrets, confessed their sins, and named their failures and mistakes. So far as I know, I have never revealed any of that to anyone but God. (If someone’s life were at risk or I believed there were imminent danger, I would change…but that has not happened so far.)
I believe as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned….In confession there occurs a breakthrough to the cross.” That is and remains my heart’s desire in hearing confessions, to point brothers and sisters to the cross, Christ’s forgiveness, and radical grace. Radical grace is what changes everything.
If you ever need to tell someone safe about your sins, I’m the guy. I don’t talk in my sleep, never tell others, and will go to my grave with more secrets people have told me than you would believe. The church really isn’t a very safe place. I wish it was, but it isn’t. So most of us hide the reality of who we are, what we’ve done, and the shame we feel. I wanted people (including pastors) to have at least one place where they could feel safe and could deal with their sin and shame. I was that for Tullian.
Some of the reports about this incident are inaccurate or skewed. My default position is to defend, correct, and admonish. However, going into details about what is true and what isn’t is a place of self-defense I don’t want to go. Discussing Tullian’s situation more than I have is very uncomfortable for me too. I can’t go there without violating the essence of who I am and where I’ve been called. And so I will not make any further comment to the press or social media than what I’ve written here.
I hope you understand.
Should I have done some things differently? Probably. I should have pushed Tullian harder than I did. If I could do it over again, I would not have made assumptions about who knew, among those who should have known, the whole story. I probably should have checked to make sure that my assumptions were accurate. Usually I’m more cynical than I was, and this time I wasn’t. It won’t happen again.
Do pray for everyone involved. This is hard and painful for everyone, and that includes me.
This is the reason God hates sin.