This is the story of Matt Chandler’s The Village Church who threatened to practice church discipline on a celibate Christian who is same-sex attracted. This story happened before the Karen Hinkley situation in 2015. This is the story of Robert and his faith in God, and his struggle with the church in Dallas. Robert was involved in The Village Church and his journey took him out of ground zero for the Acts 29 network and in the process he found hope.
“It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. The wounds remain. Time – the mind, protecting its sanity – covers them with some scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.”
“Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed, but truth moves to the heart as slowly as a glacier.“
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:27-30 ESV
I have had the pleasure of interacting with Robert. He was a former member of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. Robert is a man of faith and he also is same-sex attracted. He is celibate and takes his faith seriously. I met him on Twitter and he shared his story with me and also wanted to share it here at The Wondering Eagle. This is a case of attempted church discipline that happened before Karen Hinkley’s situation in 2015. As you recall Karen Hinkley annulled her marriage to Jordan Root, who is an alleged child pornography addict. When she left The Village Church the organization attempted to place Karen under church discipline. Robert heard about the story having endured a difficult situation at The Village Church. If you want to read more about the story of Karen Hinkley and The Village Church you can do so in the posts below.
- “Has Matt Chandler’s The Village Church Recovered from the Karen Hinkley/Jordan Root Scandal?“
- ““The Explicit Gospel” at Matt Chandler’s “The Village” Includes Child Pornography, Church Discipline and Membership Covenants“
- “An Open Letter to “The Iron Lady” Karen Hinkley (formerly Karen Root of The Village Church)“
- “An Open Letter to Matt Younger of The Village Church (Dallas Northway Campus)“
- “The Village Church’s Letter of Apology to Karen Hinkley (Part 1) A Primer on What is Repentance? What is Forgiveness?“
- “The Village Church’s Letter of Apology to Karen Hinkley (Part 2) An Analysis of the Apology and how it Falls Short“
- “An Open Letter to Matt Chandler and Why Eagle is Deeply Impressed with The Village Church’s Repentance to Karen Hinkley“
Robert, I want you to remember that you are loved and cared for. If I lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area I would grab a coffee with you from time to time. I do that in the Washington, D.C. area frequently. Never let an organization define you or tell you who you are. Remember your father smiles down on you and is well pleased with you. He’ll wipe away every tear and he knows your heart. Where you are at now the people there are blessed and fortunate to have you. Rest, and be at peace and remember you are precious and loved.
Robert sighed as his eyes fell on the group of his mates at the local eatery. He had finally done it: he had found a church home that he hoped would be both his last move and mates who would really walk with him as he did with Christ. Maybe now, he could breathe easier, especially after he had been raised up in a small non-denominational church, then went away to uni, then got sucked into spending the next 15 years of his life in an international works-based religious cult which had held him in bondage both mentally and emotionally. Robert’s first year away from the cult had been the most difficult time in his life, filled with nightmares and mental triggers in which none of his mates could empathise. Then, there had been the previous twelve years within The Village Church. Maybe now he could settle down and relax. Robert reminisced over this life as he approached the table . . .
Growing up in a small town, Robert had struggled with being attracted to men, unbeknownst to his brothers and sisters. He knew it was sin in God’s eyes and thankfully, he had never considered starting a physical relationship with another. He quietly prayed for God to either take it away or help him deal with it. For the longest time, it seemed as though his prayers fell on deaf ears. All through preparatory and uni, he silently struggled and hoped nobody would notice his casual glances. As time passed, Robert graduated and began working, living on his own. He loved his job, making good money, having his own flat, with little care in the world. He visited a few small churches in the area but couldn’t seem to settle down. He had made a few mates but nothing more solid than surface level. Robert wanted someone with whom he could bare his soul, to share his hurt and loneliness but without it becoming “more than”.
One day, Robert’s mobile rang. It was one of the mates he had made while visiting churches. His mate, Scott, told him of a group who had started a Bible study and invited him to join them one night. At first, Robert was hesitant, fearing that his secret struggle might surface be discovered. After a few days of coaxing, Scott convinced him to visit a few times. The weeks turned into months and soon, the group had embraced Robert and encouraged him to open up about his life and struggles. Finally, he entrusted the leader of the study and was led to be re-baptised, starting a new life with prompted accountability in the areas of sin and temptation. As the months evolved into years, Robert’s spiritual walk never seemed to flourish, despite the encouragement of his new mates. Soon it became apparent to many of the leaders that Robert’s struggle was not abating, despite his resistance to a physical relationship. Eventually, a false accusation was made and Robert was threatened with shunning unless he started dating women and pursuing a Godly heterosexual relationship. Robert realised that despite the legalism and now forced dating, his dream of a real relationship with God was just a fantasy. Within days, he moved away, leaving the only mates he had made over the years.
After several weeks, Robert slowly worked up the courage to begin attending a small church in a neighboring town. He kept to himself mostly, leaving the service early before anyone could interact with him. As the weeks progressed, he was befriended by Neil, who was also looking for a church to call his own. Neil told him of a larger church down the way which had great teaching, small family groups and seemed to be growing rapidly. It was several weeks later that Neil convinced Robert to visit “The Village” with him. Robert was initially put off by the preaching and was hesitant to the invitation from the stage to “become committed” through covenant church membership. Robert’s mind raced back to the level of commitment the cult had expected and demanded. How was he to know he wasn’t about to be duped again? He thought back to over the many friends he had made who had also left the cult. Many of them had bailed on God altogether, either reintegrating back into the sinful past they had left, joining another church, or delving into witchcraft or other pagan religions. For Robert, he still believe that God was the sole answer to his walk of faith and continued to search for a good, healthy church home.
After a year of soul-searching, Robert decided to commit himself to covenanting with The Village Church, despite his continued struggle with homosexuality. There were several campuses in the immediate area from which to choose to settle down. Robert decided on one of the larger campuses, thinking that it would have the most resources of home groups where he could grow and thrive in his new church family. In no time, Robert was surrounded by other believers, people who weren’t coerced to be there, forced to interact with him. These people actually seemed to have a sincere love and concern for him! There were many messages about Christian community and how it could be best fostered through becoming actively involved in a home group so Robert excitedly joined one. He apparently wasn’t the only one, as it took almost a year to sign up and join a homegroup, they were so much in demand! Robert could not help but wonder if God had finally heard and answered his prayers in his longing to master his struggle.
After several months in a homegroup, Robert worked up the courage to reach out to several of the men in the group to meet for coffee outside of the weekly Bible study night. At first, a few responded positively but due to many of them having wives and starting families, their time was understandably limited. He soon began to feel somewhat neglected. He wasn’t necessarily lonely, as he was accustomed to long periods of solitude since his move away from home. It seemed that the community that had been so widely advertised from the pulpit might not be as real as he had initially been led to believe. Maybe, Robert thought, I’ll give it more time.
After a year and numerous conversations with the homegroup leader, Robert thought that the leadership over homegroups might have some suggestions to his dilemma. After several meetings, no solution was found. Eventually, Robert decided that perhaps depending on the homegroup solely for community was unrealistic. So, in addition to meeting with his homegroup, Robert began fellowshipping with some of his fellow believers he had met at uni and who attended other Village campuses. He was able to open up about his struggles with them and they walked with him, while ensuring that he maintained some healthy boundaries he had read about in a book on Christians struggling with homosexuality: not meeting alone at his flat or late-night talks in a vehicle. He didn’t do this so much because he was fearful of a physical event but to protect both parties’ reputation and witness to unbelievers. However, Robert began to change homegroups as they split due to increasing in size or disbanded. With each homegroup, Robert initiated conversations with the leader, as he believed that it was vital they understood his struggle to better lead and walk with him.
Shortly after a few of the latter homegroups, Robert had been repeatedly confronted by church leaders with whom he had confided about his struggle about the age of the young men with whom he had been fellowshipping, many times being accused of lusting after “younger, handsome men”. While these accusations were unfounded, they began to take a toll on Robert and his confidence in both the leadership and the covenant membership with the church began to waver and wain. In the last year of Robert’s membership at The Village Church, he realised that he had been a part of six different homegroups, all of which he had experienced various forms of neglect. He was so thankful that he hadn’t depended on them for community. It was during a men only accountability one night that suddenly, everything in Robert’s spiritual walk came crashing down around him. As he shared how his faith walk had been that previous week, he confessed he had stumbled into temptation but had been encouraged by another mate he had been meeting with regularly. The homegroup leader asked, “So, is this mate someone who also struggles with homsexuality?” Robert was taken aback at such a suggestion and truthfully answered “no”. As the meeting concluded and Robert drove home, he became perplexed as to the origin of that shocking question. When he arrived home, he called his homegroup leader and asked what had prompted the question, especially after a long and detailed accountability about his struggle and commitment to maintaining boundaries. His leader’s reply was that it was his responsibility as a homegroup leader and covenant member to pose such questions. Robert retorted that maybe the leader had overstepped and might need to consult some leadership before he continued such a line of questioning. When the leader accepted the challenge, then Robert suddenly and sorrowfully felt that not only was his friendship with the leader was about to end but his covenant was bending dangerously close to severance.
A meeting was scheduled. First, the attendees were Robert, the homegroup leader and the area homegroup pastor. Then, other pastors were included in the meeting, two of whom Robert knew little about. As the meeting drew near, Robert felt he was about to be ganged upon, as it was him versus a room of six others. His homegroup leader lied about many conversations he and Robert had had and again, the accusation of spending time with “young, handsome men” was revisited. Robert was frustrated, angry and disgusted, wondering why and how he could have been duped into such a cornered situation as this. A week later, Robert emailed both his homegroup leader and the homegroup pastor, stating that he no longer would attend homegroup or the church services, desiring that he was severing his covenant membership, as he believed that church had defaulted on its end by failing “to care for the church and seek her growth in grace, truth and love (Matthew 28:16-20; Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 1:28; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4).” An email reply stated that severance was not possible, as Robert was now under “church discipline”. Robert then realized that in a few months, he would be required to renew his covenant membership online. Since he wasn’t being forced to attend services, he could simply let the renewal lapse and move on. Sadly, Robert did just that, saying good-bye in his heart to the new friends he had spent more than a decade making.
Over the next few months, Robert began to slowly piece his spiritual life back together. He knew that he needed to continue worshipping God with a body of believers, so he decided that first and foremost, he wanted to find a church home that was both small and intimate, where he could easily make friends without a long wait and tedious enrollment process. Secondly, he wanted to place membership with a body of believers without feeling like he was signing his life away. After gaining advice from several close Christians, he found a small community church and began attending there. One of his closest mates was a youth leader there and he confided his struggle with him. His mate welcomed him with open arms and loved him unconditionally.
About a year after he began attending in his new smaller church home, he read online that The Village Church had had a row with another member concerning their covenant membership, similarly threatening to disallow severance due to “church discipline”. When the story made social media headlines, the church leaders quickly backpedalled and decided that they had overstepped and extended not only an apology to the member but invited others who they had hurt as well. A few of Robert’s mates suggested that he initiate a meeting with two of the leaders to do just that, offering to accompany him to the meeting. Robert agreed and a meeting was convened. His two mates testified in Robert’s defense, stating that their long friendship with him demonstrated more than enough their belief that he struggled well and should not have been subjected to the abuse he had received. Apologies were made, received and accepted. Unfortunately, the emotional damage had been done and could not be easily forgotten.
Today, you might think that Robert would be left bitter and jaded about Christianity or even organised religion itself. Or, you might think that he would have finally realized that all churches are made up of “fallen” man and none are perfect, thus he might find solace in an online “streaming” congregation. Instead, despite the many disappointments that Robert has experienced during his walk with Christ, he STILL believes in Jesus and His gospel. He has finally found a church home among fellow believers in that little community church. He is still faithful to his Lord, as he knows that his Lord is faithful to him. You might find Robert reading fiction in one of the few neighborhood coffeeshops close to his flat. He has distanced himself from several coffeeshops where members of The Village Church frequent, as it just stirs up sadness in his heart and bad memories. Many of Robert’s closest friends are still faithful covenant members and attend services at The Village Church, despite of the way they mishandled his particular situation. But he is happy that they were able to find good homegroups who are walking with his friends and helping them meet their spiritual needs.
Unlike the many former believers from other denominations he has read about on social media who struggled with homsexuality and have abandoned their faith in God and His bride, the Church, Robert believes that God still loves him, in spite of his temptations and struggles. He occasionally comes across books like Pastor Sam Allberry’s book, “Is God Anti-gay?“, Kevin DeYoung’s “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?“ and Wesley Hill’s “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian“ and “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.” Simultaneously, he is saddened by the most recent online establishments like Church Clarity and additional “statements like Nashville and Denver, which Robert cannot help but wonder if they will instead drive yet another wedge between the church and those lost within the LGBT community. But despite the bleakness, Robert knows he is loved by his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And that makes all the difference.