The senior pastor of Tullian Tchividjian's new church has defended his appointment in the wake of controversy over his extramarital affair.
In an interview with Warren Throckmorton, pastor of Willow Creek Presbyterian Church in Florida, Kevin Labby, said that though Tchividjian has been deposed from the position of teaching elder by the South Florida arm of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he is not banned from serving a church.
"Since his deposition did not include excommunication, Tullian is not precluded by our church polity from serving on a PCA church staff per se. His deposition simply means that he cannot do so as a teaching elder," Labby said.
According to Willow Creek's website, Tchividjian – the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham – has taken up the role of director of ministry development. The church has said it is "delighted" with the appointment, and Labby told Throckmorton that he will be working as a support staff member, without the responsibilities of a pastor.
"Tullian is not new to our church family. He and his family attended Willow Creek years ago, during his seminary studies. He has friends here, and so his re-entry into our community during this difficult time seems quite appropriate and natural. We simply want to care and help provide for him and, by extension, his family," Labby added.
"I understand that some might disagree with the timing. We sense genuine confession and contrition from Tullian, and are eager to welcome him to Willow Creek. We want to see the process of repentance continue in the context of a loving church family. We believe that it is important for the church to demonstrate faith in the reconciling power of the gospel by running toward those pastors caught in public scandal, not away from them."
Tchividjian resigned from his position as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in South Florida in June, which he has led since 2009, after releasing a statement detailing an affair. He said he was "heartbroken and devastated" when he discovered that his wife Kim had been in an adulterous relationship, and then "sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself.". He later sought counselling.
Labby said Tchividjian will be involved in working with "mercy ministries in the local community", including outreach to homeless people. The response of Willow Creek has been "overwhelmingly positive, even excited," he added.
"The reaction on social media and the like is predictably mixed. As people approach me with questions, I've tried to do my best to answer them as quickly as possible. Most of those dialogues have been very helpful, a good evidence that the body of Christ can work through even difficult things like this with Spirit-born graciousness and respect toward greater unity."