Regarding Matt Chandler
Matt Chandler is a prominent evangelical pastor in Texas. He is temporarily leaving his pulpit due to what some see as a scandal. Based on press reports and conversations I’ve had since the news broke, it seems Christianity Today accurately captured the situation.
Reports note Chandler had an inappropriate relationship with a female via Instagram direct messages. But the relationship was not sexual or romantic. It was just too friendly and familiar with a woman not his wife or related to him.
Chandler’s wife knew of the relationship as did the other woman’s husband. The relationship could best be described as an online friendship with a woman he did not have a similar friendship with in reality. And therein lies the problem.
The familiarity of the relationship and joking in the relationship, though not sexual or romantic, is something Chandler himself had cautioned against with others.
Frankly, on Sunday night, I was having a conversation with a friend about how a lot of people do develop these friendships through Instagram with people because the nature of the platform draws people in. You feel like you do know people by how they live their lives. In full disclosure, I have developed some very good friendships with people over Instagram. In fact, some of the people I am closest to now are people I connected with through that platform. But those relationships became real-world friendships — we golf together, hang out in person, grab meals together, and actually really know each other.
The problem with so much of social media is not actually really knowing the person in person or their families.
What is notable about Matt Chandler’s situation is how he and his church handled the situation.
The woman who confronted Chandler about Chandler’s relationship with the woman’s friend was not vilified. The church thanked her.
Chandler, for his part, embraced the church’s discipline. He’s not being ousted but is stepping aside for work on repentance. When the woman confronted Chandler, he thought he did nothing wrong, but he self-reported it to his church’s leadership. Instead of having his back, which the church could have done because of Chandler’s standing, they decided to act.
This is good.
If what is reported and being said in private is true, Chandler had an online friendship with a woman with the knowledge of his wife and her husband, and it was a friendship, not a relationship or sexual. But it violated what Chandler himself has advised of others and of his church’s own stated policies.1
Chandler gets a lot of heat from some people who’ve woven their politics into their churches. He’s largely kept his church out of politics and been critical of Trump. He also gets a ton of heat from theological progressives for his insistence on Biblical orthodoxy and fidelity to traditional Christianity. He has also gotten a ton of criticism for supposedly going “woke” for trying to talk about racial reconciliation from a Biblical perspective. He’s actually just a faithful, scriptural pastor who has sought to get his congregation through a fallen world by grounding them in scripture.
I expect he will come out of this fine — and wind up far better long term than his critics on the left and right.
Other churches and, particularly, pastors and church elders should take note of how both Chandler and his church have handled this situation, and they could all stand to use it as a model. Chandler is a significant, notable personality in evangelicalism and did not shy away from his church being autonomous enough from him that the church could discipline him. This is a good thing.
I have an anecdotal encounter about how regulatory Chandler is with his time and the church is Chandler’s interactions with others. A kid at my children’s school has brain cancer, which Chandler had. The young man has taken a lot of comfort in Chandler’s sermons, etc. I reached out through a mutual friend to see if Matt Chandler would send a bit of encouragement to the guy with cancer. The church secretary replied back that the church itself has rules against Chandler ministering to others who are not in his congregation and who he has no direct relationship with. It sounded very much like a clever way for Chandler to get out of a lot of requests, but in subsequent conversations with people deeply familiar with his church, I was informed the church is very protective of Matt Chandler’s time and interactions with others, lest he lost focus on his own congregation’s needs as his career has grown. The church secretary sent one of Matt’s books, which the young man was delighted to get.