T.J. Addington Doesn’t Believe Pastors Should be Held Accountable. A Look Back on How the Former EFCA Senior Vice President Was Caught Up in the Ashley Madison Scandal

The other day on Twitter T.J. Addington formerly of the EFCA had an exchange with Julie Roys in which Addington does not believe pastors or religious leaders should he held accountable. This post recalls and looks at the resignation of the former Senior VP of the EFCA who was caught up in the Ashley Madison scandal. Addington is back to blogging and in evangelical ministry in Rockford, Illinois. 

“In London, love and scandal are considered the best sweeteners of tea.”

John Osborne

“There’s no religion but sex and music.”

Sting 

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV

T.J. Addington 

This post came about because of an exchange that happened on Twitter on October 24, 2020 between Julie Roys and T.J. Addington. In the exchange below its clear that Addington doesn’t believe that pastors or religious leaders should be held to account. Addington thought Roy’s was being judge, jury and executioner. Meanwhile Julie explained that she was just doing journalism, which is her job and what this blog respects her for. 

But the exchange also reminded me of another scandal inside the EFCA that was not covered by the Christian media. The first time I heard of it was a couple of years back. An EFCA pastor in one of the Plain States was doing sermon prep and he was Googling a topic and came across my blog. He spent a significant amount of time reading and he then reached out to me. We had a phone call that lasted for several hours. We discussed EFCA culture, his district, flaws in congregationalism, problems with Neo-Calvinists and their theology, child safety issues, and several other topics. Then he asked me what I knew about the scandal with T.J. Addington. At the time I didn’t know much. And this EFCA pastor explained how some pastors felt that the EFCA was not as transparent about their EFCA Vice President and how he left the organization. And he encouraged me to look into the situation. 

 

Who is T.J. Addington? Recalling the Former Senior Vice President of the EFCA

T.J. Addington appears to have grown up in Hong Kong when it was a British territory. He also attended high school in St. Paul, Minnesota. He attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities where he also did Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. He earned a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity International University in 1983. Addington became a part of the EFCA and was a member of Rockpoint Church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota in the course of time. 

Addington rose in the EFCA and became the Senior Vice President of the EFCA. Addington also led ReachGlobal as its executive director. Under his guidance he managed a budget of $33,000,000 and 7576 ReachGlobal Missionaries. Addington published a number of books including, “Leading from the Sandbox: How to Develop, Empower, and Release High-Impact Ministry Teams Paperback“, “High Impact Church Boards: How to Develop Healthy, Intentional, and Empowered Church Leaders” , “Leading From the Sandbox: Develop, Empower and Release High Impact Ministry Teams” , “Live Like You Mean It: The 10 Crucial Questions That Will Help You Clarify Your Purpose” , “Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership” and “High Impact Church Boards: Join the Revolution! – Finally…You Can Develop Healthy, Intentional and Empowered Leaders for Your Church” Addington and also published the following book with his wife at the time, “When Life Comes Undone: Walking in Faith When Life Is Hard and Hope Is Scarce.” He is well known for his blog called, “Leading From the Sandbox.” 

The Ashley Madison Scandal as Well as Craigslist and T.J. Addington 

In 2015 a group of hackers known as The High Impact Team had hacked into and stolen sensitive information from Avid Life Media. Avid Life Media owned and ran Ashley Madison, a website that allowed people to have affairs. Stolen was 40 MB of information and The High Impact Team threatened to dump publically the lists of 37 million users of Ashley Madison unless the website shuts down. That first data dump took place on August 18, 2015 and information still continued to spill out well beyond that date. If you would like to read more the following news stories explain the hacking. 

  1. The State of Security, “The Ashley Madison Hack – A Timeline.” 
  2. The Independent, “ASHLEY MADISON HACKING: WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MARRIED MAN WAS EXPOSED.” 
  3. NBC News, “Exposed in Ashley Madison Hack? Here’s What to Do Now.
  4. HuffPost, “Pastor Outed In Ashley Madison Hack Commits Suicide.” 

Over at Christianity Today Ed Stetzer wrote about 400 church leaders were caught up in the Ashley Madison scandal. This is what Stetzer wrote. “Based on my conversations with leaders from several denominations in the U.S. and Canada, I estimate that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday. This is a significant moment of embarrassment for the church—and it should be. To be honest, the number of pastors and church leaders on Ashley Madison is much lower than the number of those looking to have an affair. Yet, there is still much that we must consider in the midst of the embarrassment. Also, to be clear, in situations like these, we must confirm all things. Not everyone on the list signed themselves up. Among those who did, the sin and circumstances will be different. Many likely signed themselves up and didn’t actually go through with adultery. Regardless, though, trust has been shattered and hearts have been broken. But before we assume a name on a list means adultery has taken place, we must confirm all things and seek the full truth.” 

But one of those individuals who was allegedly caught up in the Ashley Madison hack and dump was the Senior Vice President of the EFCA at the time T.J. Addington. Addington allegedly confessed to his wife and it became an issue that led to their divorce in his marriage. However, there was other information that came forward. Allegedly what this blog has heard is that when the Senior VP of the EFCA traveled on business trips he used Craigslist to obtain sexual hook ups with other males. It was similar in many ways to the Ted Haggard situation in Colorado Springs, Colorado except no prostitutes were involved allegedly. 

EFCA President Kevin Kompelien 

Addington’s Resignation and Kevin Kompelien’s Email About the Situation 

Addington would lose his marriage from the Ashley Madison scandal and alleged Craigslist sexual encounters. Addington resigned from the EFCA. On August 21, 2015 at 3:08 p.m. EFCA President Kevin Kompelien sent the following announcement to the EFCA about Addington’s leave for moral failure. 

The situation was vague which also led to confusion inside the EFCA. This is a point that over the years has continued to pop up when I have spoken to individual EFCA pastors around the United States who voluntarily raise this issue with me. After Addington left the EFCA he later moved from Minnesota down to Tennessee. Addington re-married and after five years is blogging again and back in evangelical leadership this time as an elder at Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois. Hartford is a non-denominational church and does not appear to be affiliated with any denomination. It has used materials from Willow Creek in the past. 

The Need For Transparency Inside the EFCA 

From what this blog has heard the mistake made in Addington’s resignation is that the EFCA did not link or talk about it in the greater Ashley Madison scandal. It was handled more privately and even in the email above Kompelien did not go into the details and listed it as a moral failure. In many other professions there would be more forthcoming communications. It goes back to the question this former evangelical often asks, why does evangelicalism often have lower standards than the world? Another issue is that in evangelicalism a pastor resigns in disgrace and then pops up across town or in another state a year or three years later. This happens more often than people want to believe. There are still a lot of gaps in this story and if there are any former corporate EFCA employees or those from ReachGlobal who can help me fill in the details this blog would welcome that information. 

4 thoughts on “T.J. Addington Doesn’t Believe Pastors Should be Held Accountable. A Look Back on How the Former EFCA Senior Vice President Was Caught Up in the Ashley Madison Scandal

  1. When my church was between pastors TJA came and preached a few times. He was very personable in the beginning, but the last time he was there he seemed very uneasy. Shortly after that, all the stuff hit the fan (although I know ALL the stuff now). That any church would take him (or a wife) boggles my mind, but his arrogance even more so. He doesn’t even begin to meet the biblical qualifications for pastor/elder, and the comments you shared made me very uneasy (actually creeped me out) that he may try something again. The EFCA tends to deal with staff sin quietly. Congregants are told what they need to know (“moral failure”-which are big words in the group); you can always get more information from the home office if you’re vetting a candidate. At least, that’s how I understand if after 20 years with the denomination.

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  2. I’m trying to understand the different perspectives around transparency. My default view is to say that I want maximum transparency, but actually, after thinking about it more, that’s not really true. You can think of transparency as a continuum, where on the far side of non-transparency you can say, pastor so-and-so left for personal reasons, and on the opposite extreme of maximum transparency, you can detail each and every sexual act that took place (basically publishing pornography.) Too much detail is definitely to be avoided.

    In a case like this, summarizing the departure of a leader as “due to moral failure” is harmful in multiple ways. Everyone has moral failure, so does that mean nobody should be a leader? Of course not. (Well, maybe — that’s a different conversation.) Even understanding “moral failure” to be a euphemism for sexual sin, there are different kinds of sexual sin that require different responses. There are a lot of people in the body of Christ, both leaders and non-leaders alike, who have sexual sin, and what message do they get when the only time the subject comes up is when someone is kicked out? They learn that if they speak up and seek help, they’ll be kicked out too. Secret sin leads to shame and fear of discovery, which leads to isolation not healing.

    I’m a fan of the “hospital church” model. Jesus said it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Sweeping sexual sin under the rug doesn’t help anybody. One thing that has surprised me is how similar the practices and methods of recovery groups resemble those of the early church, and how any Christian who participates in those kinds of activities will grow in their faith and their relationship with God, even if they do not have a big scary addiction. The same things that addicts do to find healing and restoration will work just fine on non-addicts. Carrying each others’ burdens does actually work.

    In terms of the revolving door of ministry… trust is very difficult to regain. I don’t know TJA’s story, but I pray that his therapy was successful. What does success look like? It looks like openness and honesty. An experience that still resonates with me today is when I joined a new men’s small group and we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and the man sitting next to me said, I’m so-and-so, and my struggle is with pornography, but God has given me freedom from bondage. That man was an elder at that church, and rightly so. His humility still impacts me today.

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