Karen Hinkley, who was disciplined by The Village Church (TVC) after she annulled her marriage to Jordan Root, who had admitted viewing images of child abuse, has been reconciled to the church's leadership after a meeting on June 3 with lead pastors Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson.
However, while statements released by Hinkley and TVC both speak of a moving encounter involving repentance and forgiveness, questions about the church's strict membership covenant are likely to remain.
Hinkley's treatment by the church caused a media storm and led to a period of soul-searching by the church's leaders. She and her then husband were members of TVC and missionaries with the SIM organisation in East Asia when Root was found to be viewing child abuse images.
Root entered a "process of walking in repentance" which saw him removed from ministry and reported to the authorities. However, Hinkley was told that her move to have the marriage annulled placed her in breach of the church's membership covenant. She was also told that her resignation of membership could not be accepted while she was in breach of the covenant.
Now, Hinkley and TVC have released statements describing a moving face-to-face meeting at which Chandler and Patterson asked forgiveness for TVC's actions.
TVC's statement says that they "specifically told Karen, after further review of her situation, that she did have biblical grounds for divorce or annulment, that she should have been released from Covenant Membership as she requested and that she should not have been put under church discipline".
It continues: "Matt and Josh reiterated that they were not there to defend the actions of The Village but simply to repent and hear from Karen directly. Karen's response was seasoned with faith, hope and love. She graciously accepted the apology and extended forgiveness. This beautiful exchange set the tone for the rest of the day, which was spent trying to unwind stories, clarify confusion and discuss next steps."
Hinkley wrote: "Matt and Josh looked me in the eyes, apologised, and asked for forgiveness. They told me that they felt awful about how I had been treated. They said I had biblical grounds for annulment or divorce, that I should have been granted my withdrawal from membership immediately, and that I never should have been put under discipline. They wanted to hear anything I was willing to say about what had happened, and they promised to do everything they could to make it right and make sure that what happened to me never happened to anyone again. I thanked them for their obvious sincerity and forgave them."
She added: "Matt and Josh promised many changes to come, and I have watched with joy over the past week as they have kept their word and begun to implement those changes."
In its emailed statement to members, TVC said it had engaged a licensed sex offender treatment provider to counsel Jordan Root and that it would reassess its abuse prevention procedures.
Significantly, it also said: "The elders have also already had several meetings, both small and large, to review our current practice and procedures. There will be definite changes to our system based on these meetings, including a much more patient process before a member enters formal church discipline."
The application of the church's discipline process, based on a membership covenant described as "A Weighty but Wonderful Commitment", has been at the heart of the controversy, which saw TVC branded as having treated Karen Hinkley less favourably than her then husband. One clause in its covenant commits members to "preserve the gift of marriage" and to "walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse", which Hinkley did not do. The clause has been criticised as too restrictive and intrusive; while TVC has promised a "much more patient process", it has not said it will review its covenant.
In a recognition that debate over the wider issues will continue, Hinkley concludes her statement by saying: "I know this is not the end of the story for many, but I believe it is the end of the story for me."
She adds: "I believe it is time for me to move on in peace, trusting God to finish the good work He has started at The Village Church. I believe God is using what happened to me to do something beautiful, in His time and in His way, and for that I am exceedingly thankful."