I was saddened to read the internet headlines yesterday that Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian has resigned from his pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, a high-profile church in South Florida, after admitting he had an affair. I heard Tullian speak a couple of years ago and he is a gifted communicator. I have followed him since occasionally by reading a blog or watching a YouTube video sermon. While the possibility of moral failure for a high profile spiritual leader is not surprising the family pedigree of this young man makes this news especially poignant.
What disturbed me more than his failure however was the language of his confession. I obviously do not know the whole story. It is certainly highly likely that the news reports are taken out of context or grossly sensationalized; but the words that he used are a least a very important lesson in the need for and the nature of real repentance.
In the story that I read yesterday and the several I have seen since Tullian was quoted saying something like this, “I discovered my wife was having an affair. The pain and brokenness of that caused me to seek the comfort and advice of a friend that turned into an inappropriate relationship.” Now again, that can be the media outlets looking for a juicy scandal and so focusing on one small part of a much larger picture but the fact is that as a counselor who works all too often with marriages in crisis because of infidelity I hear this kind of confession all of the time. As a counselor I try to nod knowingly and objectively. As a former failure myself I can’t help but cringe inside and say to myself, “He or she just doesn’t get it yet.” This is not the statement of a truly broken, deeply repentant person.
I hear some familiar themes in this disclosure. We find them in most of the public, famous (or infamous) “come clean” interviews that are an almost weekly staple of the news. From Brian Williams admitting he lied about the helicopter ride to Rachel Dolezal coming out as white instead of black, these things are present in the “not quite ready for prime time” apology.
First, it wasn’t my fault. Tullian says, “My wife did it first.” Adam says, “The woman you gave me ate the apple.” (He has the audacity to blame Eve and God.) It was because of the way I was raised. The pressure of the job got too me, My spouse has never understood me. All of these may be valid contributing factors but they have no place in the declaration of genuine repentance. Real repentance accepts full responsibility. This is my fault. It’s my deal. To use King David’s words, “I have sinned against You, Oh God.” When I finally reach the place of brokenness and sorrow for my sin, my own offense is so heinous to me that I can’t even think of assessing blame. Nothing else is even a shadow on my horizon at this moment, “My sin is ever before me,” and I am sickened by it,
Which leads to the second familiar theme. It was not as bad as somebody else’s. Tullian said, “She had an affair. I had an inappropriate relationship.” I encourage the men I work with to strike the phrase “inappropriate relationship” from their vocabulary. We want to minimize. It’s not an addiction. I made a mistake. It was a moment of weakness.” Satan said to the woman, “You won’t really die.” Let’s be honest, when we measure us against us most of us look pretty good. Somebody has always done worse. Real repentance doesn’t compare my sin to somebody else. Real repentance looks at my offense against the backdrop of God’s holiness. And it is awful.
There are some shortcomings with the traditional 12 Step programs I know, but there is great power in reciting the 1st step every time we meet together. “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and our lives had become unmanageable.” So I stand and say, “My name is Mike and I am an addict.” This is nobody else’s fault and it is nobody else’s problem. I did this and it has cost me everything.
Don’t get me wrong. I want only the best and most complete restoration and healing for Billy Graham’s grandson. I believe that God can do that. I am living testimony to His amazing grace. But I want us all to recognize one of the last frantic attempts of the devil, after our sin has been found out, is to keep us in state of partial denial and quasi-repentance. Real repentance is about brokenness. Real repentance is about brutal honesty. Real repentance is about personal responsibility. And real repentance is about being desperate to change. Real repentance is absolutely necessary for real restoration. And real repentance leads to real freedom. May that be so for the Tchividjians. May it be so for me. Mike
PS If you are in town on Sunday and you can fit this in to your own church schedule, I am looking forward to this timely topic from my pastor.