Stories of The Village Church and other Abusive Church Survivors
I have received emails and comments from people reaching out to me to tell their story of spiritual abuse by The Village Church after hearing about the bravery of Karen Hinkley in telling her story. I will dedicate this post to sharing some of these stories I have received. I will add to this post as I receive any additional stories. If you would like to remain anonymous, please let me know.
In this first story, the writer's name has been changed to "John." His wife's name has been changed to "Jane."
I just read your blog entry about Karen Root and her situation regarding The Village Church and I must say that while this is an extremely sad and troubling situation, I am personally glad that you and a few others have made the decision to bring this kind of hierarchical treatment of a congregation to the forefront.
My wife "Jane" was a "Covenant Member" at the Dallas Northway campus when we started dating in the fall of 2011. I had just gone through a divorce from my first wife, with whom I served in a full-time ministry position at a smaller church in rural east Texas for 5 years prior, because she was unfaithful to our marriage. Long story short, I began attending TVC with "Jane" on a weekly basis and attempted to get involved in a men's home group over then next 6-8 months (to no avail). I was hurting SO badly, but I had prayed about it quite a bit and I was more than ready to get back into serving in some way. I began talking to the music minister, Isaac Wimberly, and told him of my former role as a music minister and said I was wide open and more than willing to help. He had me go through the membership seminar/class with Steve Hardin himself. When I was filling out the literal paper application to be considered for church membership, I checked that I was divorced. That's when it all began.
The assistant campus pastor, Mason King, began calling and emailing me asking me to meet with him and some of the "elders" to discuss my potential involvement in the music ministry. I agreed, not knowing any better, and what followed marked the end of my time at TVC.
I met with Mr. King, Isaac, and another young man over lunch one Sunday. It was then that they began asking me about my divorce and basically told me that I couldn't be considered for membership or serve in the band until I went through months of recovery classes, etc. They also told me I needed to break up with "Jane" because she was a covenant member and our relationship was not what was best for her. They recommended I reconcile with my ex-wife because even though I claimed, and she admitted, she was unfaithful, I had no proof of her wrongdoing and to remain divorced from her would be un-biblical. I, a grown man, have not cried harder to this very day than I did as I drove home from that lunch meeting.
"Jane" and I, who had based our relationship on Christ since it started, began praying that day about her removing herself from "fellowship" because we felt like I had been kicked while I was trying to crawl back out of my life's lowest point.
She met with multiple elders (at their request) who encouraged her time and time again to break up with me because of my past and my need to heal under proper guidance. She refused each time and finally stopped attending services there.
We got engaged on 01/01/2013 and within a week after the pictures were posted on Facebook, "Jane" received a physical letter from Steve Hardin removing her from fellowship with TVC for not submitting to the elders' and the church's discipline and guidance. "We know that you are now engaged to "John," against the church's wishes and best biblical guidance for you..." When I read the communication between Mrs. Root and Steve Hardin, it eerily took me straight back to the countless emails and the final letter from that church.
"Jane" and I have been happily married since June 2013, we just had our first child in March 2015, and we are active "partners" at a younger, growing, and extremely forgiving church here in Dallas where I serve in the music ministry and "Jane" on the welcome team.
Whenever we share with people our experiences at The Village Church, they all have an extremely hard time believing it. Thank you, again, for putting this information out there. I am glad to know there are still people who truly aspire to be like Christ in all ways possible.
Steve Hardin in particular is very cruel when it comes to "caring" for his flock. While members of TVC, and attenders of the Dallas campus, my husband and I were subjected to "discipline", after Steve Hardin heard me say , "Oh hush" to my husband. After several months of ridiculousness, we changed locations and finally severed ties after our move to [redacted]. Matt Chandler does not get involved unless it involves friends of his or friends of friends of his. Leaving this "church" was the best thing we ever did. It is a Mars Hill Train wreck waiting to happen. Jesus told us to be vigilant for a reason. Our three month time out was crazy. At our first meeting Steve asked us if we knew why we were there and both of us said uh, no. Down hill from there.
Even if Karen had continued to meet with them, I highly doubt The Village would have "sided with her.” Once The Village takes a stand on something, they very rarely concede. I have been in numerous meetings with the pastors mentioned in Karen's story and I have been met with the same "let us care for you" jargon. I was told repeatedly that because of my sin I was unable to make wise decisions and I needed to rely on the church to “guide and care for me." I was placed under church discipline for a period because I “continue[d] to be a threat to [my] own safety and are unable to keep with the fruits of the spirit."
The Village continuously uses the phrase "care for you" when they really want to control the narrative and act as a savior. Because I was not healing on their timeline or in the way they saw fit I was placed under discipline so that my "recovery" could be closely monitored and measured. When medical help was suggested I was told that someone from the church would need to come with me so they "could ask the doctor questions and figure out what the best plan is for moving forward." It is not hard to make someone believe what you want them to. I was not better, but I sure made the pastors think I was because I was sick of the meetings and check ins and follow ups.
I am grateful to be on a path toward healing now, but don't for one minute think that Jordan Root is being honest when he claims has not abused a child physically. That would be both naive and dangerous. It seems that the phrase "its ok to not be okay" that is thrown around like confetti in Village circles is used frequently to prey upon vulnerable and broken people. The pastors and staff at the church are not the only ones with a savior mentality, it is pervasive throughout Village culture. I was their project, and I wasn't "fixed" fast enough, so CHURCH DISCIPLINE. I wasn't to be trusted with making wise decisions (or controlling the narrative of my own story) so enter stage left The Village staff to make those decisions for me.
I am completely wrecked by coming across the Karen Hinkley story today. I have a similar story from 5 years ago. I haven't gone back to that place of utter abandonment by my former church body in years, but seeing this story completely leveled me again. Please feel free to add any of my story to your collection of abuse stories from The Village. I haven't talked about it because I really hoped it was something they wouldn't repeat. I hate that it has happened to her.
Five years ago I sought council via a branch of the village church (Denton) for what to do about my ex husband who was both having an affair and was also blatantly abusive. I wanted to file for divorce - mainly for financial security as my ex husband had twice drained my bank account during out separation of a few months. We had a 6 month old at that time, and I had been left twice with no childcare money, etc. I was told that we could stay separated- but only because my physical safety was in danger (showing they knew my husband was physically a threat) but if I filed for divorce (there is no temporary official separation in Texas) that I would basically be under church discipline. They said that they would not bless any of my future endeavors if I didn't walk according to their plan. (and yes they did use the same terms of wanting to love us both well...) I was to wait on a process for them to determine whether or not my ex husband was truly a Christian. If he was NOT a Christian they would approve my divorce. If however they felt he was actually a Christian they would Not Ever Under Any circumstances approve my divorce. Despite the fact that he was abusive. Despite the fact that he was living with someone. Meaning if they felt he was a Christian I would have to spend the rest of my life married to him. Even though he was a risk to my life! Anyone who knows anything about abuser psychology should know that abusers are very charming and have a way of convincing people they are repentant when they aren't! That is psych 101!
My mom had to help walk me through that time because I felt like I was the guilty one! Abusers like my ex consistently make the abused feel guilty for 'causing' the abuse. The language and stance The Village took created the same guilty feelings my ex husband did. Looking back on the emotionally broken place I was with having been abused, had my mom not stepped in to help me stand up to the church, I would probably have been guilted back in to an abusive and extremely dangerous relationship. They literally told me I was listening to satanic advice by filing for divorce- and listening to my mom.
The ironic thing- when I did finally file for divorce officially and my ex husband was served the papers, The Village helped him land a pro bono attorney- who also happened to be a Village member!
The other sickening thing about it is I appealed multiple times to Matt Chandler and each time I was either ignored or told to discuss it with my specific church leadership.
Thank you for sharing her story- and please tell her she isn't alone, and I am so so sorry. I know what it's like to feel completely abandoned.
My wife and I began attending in August 2012 and at first thought it was the best church ever compared to our very traditional church backgrounds. When pursuing membership, however, the stones began to be overturned to reveal some deep problems. I'll try to keep this brief but there were 3 things that eventually drove us away.
1) Their strict adherence to Calvinism. In our home group one time, the leader said, "God creates some people to go to hell in order to show his glory." That really raised some red flags so we talked to him about it and he encouraged us to talk to other church leaders to learn more. We went through the covenant member information class and one pastor when through the TULIP and literally pointed at people in the audience and said, "You, you, you and you will go to heaven and you, you, you, and you won't and it's not up to you, it's up to God." We had major problems with this and followed up with multiple ministers on staff and learned that if we don't affirm Calvinism we can still be members of the church but certain ministries and positions of leadership would not be available to us - being home group leaders, helping in children's ministry, etc. When asked what we could do they said you can be door greeters and/or parking lot attendants. One particular elder even went so far as to say that he wouldn't be comfortable with us sharing our faith with others as representatives of TVC if we weren't affirming of Calvinism. So not only was the belief in Calvinism itself extremely disheartening to us, but their restrictions on serving, sharing, communicating with others was just out of control.
2) Their strict views on complementarianism gender roles. In the same covenant member information class they gave their views on this - I don't have to expand much if you're familiar with the view but it was your basic "women can't teach or lead mixed gender adult groups. They can only lead other women and children. And husbands are the spiritual head of the household, etc." Once again, they made it clear that this was an important view of the church and although we didn't push on it because we had enough to deal with the Calvinism, I imagine they would have had similar restrictions if you don't affirm this view.
3) And this one might be the saddest. There was a member of our home group that only came to 2 meetings in the 6-7 months we were involved, so I don't know him well and don't even know his last name. One night our home group leader said that he was living in unrepentant homosexuality and the church pastors/elders had had multiple meetings with him and in our home group leaders' words, "He is refusing to repent, so he cannot come to TVC anymore, and if you see him or contact him you have to treat him like he's an unbeliever." He went on to say that he was not even allowed on any of the campuses until he repents. Now, what I don't know is whether they meant he decides to be celibate and have a life of singleness or becomes heterosexual, but either way I felt this was disgusting behavior from this church. This was about the last straw for us and if we weren't going to leave because of Calvinism or complementarianism, we would leave because of this. We pushed back and talked to people of our home group about it and they just kept saying that it's a different kind of sin than most others and that's why they had to take this measure. Incredibly heartbreaking and I feel awful at times for having not been able to reach out to him.
Fortunately for us, we never signed the covenant membership so we told our home group leader that we would no longer be attending TVC and therefore would not be part of their group anymore. He and his wife met with us, we explained everything, we all met with one more minister who tried to push Calvinism again, and that was that. We've never been back since Feb. 2013.
In the end, this really shaped how we view God today. We're still on a journey, but have found a much better church, and are healing from these wounds.
My husband and I started visiting the Village 6 years ago and we became Covenant Members a year later. We had friends there and so it seemed like a logical step. Our friends however were on their way out as stories started to seep through the cracks about church discipline. My friend sat down with us and said that a young woman who was a member of TVC had been raped by a fellow member of TVC. The church was placing this woman under church discipline for failing to offer forgiveness to her abusers. He had confessed to the crime and had also stated his remorse and need to reform from his ways. Because he was willing to toe the line and fall under authority he would not be placed under church discipline. However the woman, who for obvious reasons, could not offer forgiveness and therefore was breaking her covenant agreement would be placed under church discipline. She had also requested that her abuser be removed from the church, which this request was denied. Even though I trusted my friends at their word I could not believe this story to be true. I thought that there had to be more to this story, that somehow there were large chunks of it missing. I could not fathom a church siding with an abuser over the victim and essentially making the victim a victim for a second time. I now know that they are absolutely capable of this.
As time went on people in our home group would mention things about church discipline that they received. Most of this I dismissed as them just being angry at the time and that we weren't getting the full story. The stories were not along the lines as the above story but more of members being threatened with church discipline and having their memberships removed; one of my friends actually did lose his.
It was around this time that I really began to feel lost at TVC. There wasn't a place for me, being a woman, that I could learn and grow; women's bible studies were non-existent. Most everything was geared towards men and building men up. I started to vocalize this with no one really paying attention. I had at that point joined a women's bible training program at another church (my only option for being taught) which is two years in length, a program that I thought would be so beneficial for the starving women at TVC. Each time I would voice something I was told to not worry about it and to just go to Recovery. I had been through Recovery twice at the Village and that wasn't the place for me. Just because I wanted to learn more about the bible and have fellowship didn't mean I needed to go to Recovery. If you are not familiar with this program it goes something like this: A sermon followed by small groups. We would sit in a circle and confess or vent our frustrations but no one is allowed to comment or offer any feedback, not even a tissue. Follow up could be done by your group leader off campus. I wanted to learn... that didn't mean I was broken but at TVC it's really kind of your only option.
I was told that if I wanted to belong I could work in the nursery or answer phones maybe help teach women (teaching other women seemed pretty big to me so no issue there). However, no position that made decisions would be filled by a woman as it just isn't biblical. I understood and accepted this but also felt that women should still be a large part of the decision making process. Which, to be fair, some woman are...their last names just happen to match one of the other elders.
In mid year of 2014 I was very very late on my monthly cycle, this was very scary to me as I had already suffered a tubal pregnancy that had taken one of my tubes, nearly shut down my organs and came close to killing me. I really needed to talk with someone about what I should do if it turned out my worst fears had been realized (I had an IUD removed because it was abortive in nature). There was only one woman on staff who could speak to me and she only worked part time. I would have spoken to her had I known that she existed in the capacity. Instead I had to meet with Lan. I know you don't know Lan but he's about 6'4", broad and has a motorcycle mustache. He's a good person, no doubt, but was incredibly hard to talk about my situation with. I really could have used a woman, I really needed to talk to a woman. It was hard to cry in front of him and explain that I was scared as he towered over me. It was after this that I knew I had to find a church home where women were more valued and recognized. It was then that we decided to leave.
I turned in my request for removal of membership and then was asked to come in to do an exit interview as some of the things in my letter made TVC wonder if I was leaving in good standard. It was here that I met with Beth and as I opened up concerning my reasons for wanting to leave she shared with me that the survey that we had recently took had some surprising things on it. The survey pertained more to new service times etc but women had written in the margins that they felt like 2nd class citizens and had no voice. She told me that I was saying some of the things that women had voiced. She then asked if we would stay for a while and then asked if I would write a letter to the Elders, which I did. My letter made it up the chain to the Elder's where it fell on deaf ears. I wasn't even granted permission to speak with anyone else about it. I was told to just be patient that they would handle it. I followed up a few more times but I was always brushed off. Beth told me that she had been fighting this same battle for 11 years and that it just wasn't going to change so we left.
We started to look at and try other churches which TVC found out about. We were emailed and asked if we were leaving and if they needed to go ahead and take us off of the member list. I explained that we were looking but we hadn't found a spot and shared that we might go back to the FloMo campus. A week later I received another email informing me that we had been brought up at a Covenant Member meeting (our names placed on the big screen) as being in transition and they were praying for us to find a new place. I'm sure they meant it well but it felt like we were being pushed out. We were told we had 6 months to decide what we were going to do...2 weeks later after another email I told them to just drop our names which they immediately did. So now we are rogue sheep without a pasture!
I went through the same experience with TVC leaders/elders (the HVillage campus) As I read this article and the communication btwn Karen and TVC, my heart rate very quickly increased and it threw me into a severe anxiety attack. Every bit of stress and anxiety caused that consumed me during that time came back. PRAISE be to GOD that how many women are handled at TVC is out!! There will be many who do not believe even after reading the facts, just as many did not believe me as I tried to tell them I was married to a verbally and emotionally abusive narcissistic -socio-path....but many are blind to the wolves. I feel this will bring many out from the woodwork ready to share their very eerily similar experience. I hope to meet Karen one day...we share the same twinkle of strength in our eyes. When I was asked, " Who gave you permission to file for divorce??" I answered, "Jesus." Matthew 19:9
I forgot to mention that he had been in an adulterous relationship since 2005. I found out in 2007. When the church realized he had fooled them with his tears of false repentance , only his Sponsor apologized to me.