The ABC’s of The Village Church Controversy: What it Means for Women in the Church

June 16, 2015

Ah, the church. It can be a beautiful and supportive community, a terrible mess, and everything in between. If you have been following the news in Dallas (or if you read a lot of Christian blogs), you probably have heard about the recent controversy at the Village Church. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read the full story here.)

To summarize briefly, a married couple (Jordan Root & Karen Hinkley) from the Village Church were serving as missionaries overseas. While on the mission field, Jordan admitted to almost ten years of child pornography use. After being sent home, a conflict began between Karen and the leadership of the Village Church. She wanted to have her marriage annulled. They wanted her to go through a process of reconciliation, and placed her under church discipline for pursuing the annulment in spite of their direction otherwise. She wanted to separate her finances from her husband. They said no, because it seemed too much like a step toward divorce. She withdrew her membership from the church. They said no, and told her that members who were under church discipline were prohibited from resigning their membership.

Recently the head pastor of the Village, Matt Chandler, met with Karen Hinkley to apologize for how they treated her. I’m glad he did that, and I think it’s a good first step. However, I think it is important to consider whether there might be structural issues in the Village Church that led to what happened. If structural issues are present, an interpersonal solution (e.g., apology) is probably not sufficient. If we want churches to be a safe place for women, it’s important to take a look at how churches are organized and whether the leadership structures are working.

Here are three intersecting structural issues I noticed in the Village Church controversy (The ABC’s):

  1. Authority. Some churches place a big priority on having authority over their members. This might include having members sign a contract, agreeing to a specific set of beliefs, values, and behaviors. In some churches, there are consequences or a discipline process for violation of the contract. The focus on authority was present throughout the Village Church controversy. The elders of the church believed they had the authority to direct Karen in regard to her marriage and finances, even telling her she could not leave the church. In these situations, the decisions of the church leadership are meant to be binding. It’s not technically a legal contract, but it can feel close to it.
  2. Biblicism. In addition to a focus on authority, some churches ascribe to an understanding of the Bible known as Biblicism. In his book ‘The Bible Made Impossible,’ sociologist Christian Smith defines Biblicism as a “theory about the Bible that emphasizes its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” Biblicism combines with authority to create a sort of ‘super-authority’ among church leadership. Not only is the authority of church leadership important in its own right, but they are considered the experts at interpreting the Bible. Because the Bible is viewed as the ultimate authority for how individuals should live their lives, there is little room for discussion or negotiation once decisions are made.
  3. Complementarianism. Complementarianism is a theological view that prescribes separate roles for men and women. In general, this view assigns primary leadership roles to men and support roles to women. Thus, men are the primary decision makers in church life as well as in marriage. Complementarianism intersects with authority and Biblicism in interesting ways. First, advocates of the complementarian perspective use the Bible to support their views. For some, complementarianism is taught in the Bible as the way God designed male-female relationships to be, so there is little room for discussion or negotiation on this issue. Also, the authority structure in many churches consists primarily of men. For example, all the elders of the Village Church are male.

I think these structural issues can create a tough situation for women in the church. In many churches, Biblicism provides a foundation for a rigid authority structure and promotes complementarian gender roles between men and women. There isn’t much room for discussion or negotiation. Women are asked to submit to male authority both in the church and at home. But what if the male authority is wrong? What if the male authority is abusive? Psychological research has shown that more traditional attitudes about gender roles are related to higher levels of rape myth acceptance and domestic violence myth acceptance, so this isn’t a minor issue. Perhaps structural changes to the ABC’s are needed for the church to be a safe place for women.

Discussion: What is your reaction to the controversy at the Village Church? What do you think of ABC’s, especially how they relate to women in the church?

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  1. Sally Ellis February 17, 2018 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    I’m horrified. Not with the fall of a man and the fallout that resulted. We are fallible. And though the sin revolts me, i acknowledge that God is a God of salvation and redemption.
    I’m horrified that a church with such a seemingly uplifting message has its roots in rotten ground. So a woman is suddenly only good for some stuff. They are not individually unique? There’s a surprise. So that means men are not unique either? What makes a good elder then? The fact that they’re a man or the facts of their lifestyle?
    Enough. I’ve been restored to God and I cling to him.
    But I won’t be watching any more of this flawed group of people and I pray their foolishness will be reprimanded by someone to whom they’ll listen. Soon.

  2. Scott Tovey September 29, 2018 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Sally Ellis is offended but by the wrong things.
    That is telling about her relationship with God.

    What gets me is that the Village Church elders had the audacity to tell Karen Hinkley, whose husband lied to her and was unfaithful to her for 10 years watching child pornography, that she could not get a divorce. Watching pornography by the way, in and of itself, being unfaithful to ones spouse. Then, persecuted her for choosing to not stay with him.

    Karen Hinkley was no doubt thinking in terms of children.

    If she has children with him, why would she remain with him and risk the children being sexually abused by him?

    If she does not have children and wants to have children, why would she want to have children with this man that has confessed to being a predator and abuser of children?

    Yes, watching child pornography is abusing children. It is ensuring that there is a market for the abuse and therefore contributing to the abuse prior to the fact.

    Let us look at what scriptures that the Village Church violated in their zeal to have Karen Hinkley submit to their authority, and to show mercy to this abuser of children and refused to show mercy to his wife whom he dishonored and was unfaithful to and broke trust with.

    Jesus specifically commanded the elders to not exercise dominion over the church the same way that the Gentile leaders do the people.

    Matthew 20:25: But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
    26: But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
    27: And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
    28: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

    Mark 10:42: But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
    43: But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
    44: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

    Luke 22:25: And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
    26: But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
    27: For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.

    Peter tells us plainly to not lord it over the flock.

    1Peter 5:2: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
    3: Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

    Peter also tells us to submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake:

    1Peter 2:13: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
    14: Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
    15: For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
    16: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

    In demanding that Karen Hinkley go through the process of reconciliation, and disciplining her for refusing to do so, and refusing to let her resign from the church while under church discipline, the Village Church elders lorded it over her.

    By discipling Karen Hinkley for not going through the reconciliation process, the Village Church broke trust with her as they were not looking out for her best interest.

    By refusing to allow Karen Hinkley to resign from the church after they broke trust with her; the Village Church elders reduced her position to being nothing more than a chattel property, a slave.

    By reducing Karen Hinkley to nothing more than a slave, the Village Church violated the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States wherein slavery has been made illegal with the ratification of the 13 Amendment.

    Jesus gave additional commandments:

    John 13:34: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
    35: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

    John 15:12: This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
    13: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
    14: Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

    John 15:17: These things I command you, that ye love one another.

    How is forcing Karen Hinkley to remain married to a husband that has been unfaithful to her and broke trust with her; loving one another as Christ loved us?

    How is seeking to make nullify, the consequences that Jordan Root would naturally experience in the world, loving one another as Christ loved us?

    While Jesus dieing for us nullifies the eternal penalty for sin, it does not nullify the consequences that we each face when we violate the laws of the land and our vows to one another.

    Seeking to force Karen Hinkley to not exercise her right to divorce under these circumstances, is seeking to nullify the just consequences that Jordan Root should face for his 10 years of unfaithfulness to his wife.

  3. Leah December 10, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

    It’s adultery. Sick, adultery. With children. In fact, it doesn’t get much more dangerous or disgusting. That church was wrong. She was Biblically free to divorce him.

  4. […] too much control over their followers. This happens in all sorts of domains—government, school, church, etc. Obviously, some limitations to our freedom are necessary for us to function in a cooperative […]

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