Renowned South Florida pastor steps down amid marital affair

Tullian Tchividjian, 42, says he 'sought comfort' in friend after wife's affair

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Christian evangelist Billy Graham's grandson Tullian Tchividjian resigned from his pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, a high-profile church in Fort Lauderdale, after admitting he had an affair.

Tschividjian said that when he returned from a trip and discovered that his wife was having an affair he was heartbroken and devastated. He said he told the church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on his marriage. As her affair continued, he said the couple separated.

Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) was a rising star in evangelicalism, especially in Reformed circles. And he is the fourth Florida mega-church pastor to resign after having affairs, including the son of mega-church pastor Joel Hunter.

"Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself," said Tschividjian, better known as "Pastor Tullian" among parishioners and "Tutu" among friends.




Last week, Tschividjian said church leaders confronted him about the affair and he admitted to it. Church leaders decided the best course of action would be for him to resign, he said. 

"Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm," Tschividjian said. 

Tchividjian, 42, has been married to Kim Tchividjian since 1994 and they have three children.

"The statement reflected my husband's opinions but not my own. Please respect the privacy of my family at this time, thank you," Kim Tchividjian said in a statement.
"I do thank everyone for the outpouring of love for my family as well during this difficult time and we appreciate all the prayers and support we are receiving."

Rob Pacienza, executive pastor of Coral Ridge, said Tchividjian "admitted to moral failure" and acknowledged his actions disqualify him to serve as a senior pastor or preach from the pulpit.

"We are saddened by this news, but are working with and assisting Pastor Tullian and his family to help them through this difficult time, and asking people to join us in praying that God will bring restoration through this process and healing to all involved," Pacienza said.

In 2009, Tchividjian succeeded the late James Kennedy as senior pastor of Coral Ridge. Kennedy was one of the architects of the Religious Right, a movement of evangelicals who became intertwined in more conservative politics. However, Tchividjian decided to preach less about politics, unlike his uncle Franklin Graham, founder of Samaritan's Purse.

As he stepped into Coral Ridge's pulpit, Tchividjian made a point of moving past the old Religious Right and not being a cultural warrior. Billy Graham, 96, was one of the most influential religious leaders of the 20th century and an adviser to many U.S. presidents. Tchividjian's mother is Billy Graham's oldest child.

Here's what Tchividjian posted on Twitter after his Sunday announcement.

Before he became senior pastor of the Fort Lauderdale congregation, Tchividjian's church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge. Seven months in, a group of church members, headed by Kennedy's daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. Church members voted 69 percent to 31 percent to keep him, but a group of congregants formed a new church in response.

Tchividjian was described by the Miami Herald as a pastor who would focus on specific Bible passages rather than on the news, preferred more contemporary music over the organ, and chose podcasting over broadcasting.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Institute's database of megachurches lists Coral Ridge as having 1,900 attendees. The church began in 1978 under Kennedy, and its weekly services were televised as the Coral Ridge Hour, reportedly reaching up to 3 million people. Kennedy was a founding board member of Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Moral Majority and developed the popular curriculum "Evangelism Explosion."

Last year, Tchividjian broke up with The Gospel Coalition, a network of Reformed leaders, over a theological dispute. His popular blog was hosted at TGC and he wrote several books with evangelical publishers Crossway and David C. Cook.

"Kicked out of his family's home as a teenager, Tchividjian indulged in almost everything Miami's sensual nightlife offered," a 2009 profile in Christianity Today said. "But now he believes that Christians must forsake any hope of winning cultural acceptance if they want to affect the culture for the Lord's sake."

Another high-profile Reformed pastor resigned from his pulpit last year, creating questions over the status of pastors with large national brands, often larger than their own churches. Mark Driscoll stepped down from his Seattle mega-church in October 2014 after being accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego.

Driscoll has more recently been trying to return to some kind of speaking tour at Christian conferences, but earlier this month, Hillsong, one of the most influential international mega-churches, cut him from the speaker list at its upcoming conferences in the United Kingdom and in Australia.

Driscoll's resignation did not reach the same high-profile level of Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s. Bakker was accused of fraud related to time shares, and Swaggart was accused of adultery. Other high-profile pastors have stepped down and attempted to come back with varied success.

During his years as an evangelist, Billy Graham had a rule that he would never meet, eat or travel with a woman alone. The "Billy Graham rule" is still discussed today among evangelicals as some wonder whether it has hurt women from climbing in evangelical leadership.

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