Monday, May 25, 2015

It Takes a Village Covenant to Raise a Bitter Root

Village Church Pastor, Matt Chandler
Every pastor's worst nightmare is to have to deal with a staff member or church supported missionary who abuses trust through immoral sexual activity. Village Church in Dallas, Texas has been going through such a time as this.

Jordan Root and his wife Karen Root have been missionaries from Village Church, working with SIM (Serving in Mission) in East Asia. Jordan Root confessed to extensive viewing of child pornography, a crime in the United States and most nations of the world. Jordan was terminated by SIM and sent back to the United States. Jordan Root denies he ever sexually molested any young girls, but his extensive ministry and personal involvement with pre-puberty teens caused his wife concern that he had not fully confessed the depths of his involvement in either child sexual abuse or child pornography. In reading through the source documents and a statement from Karen Root herself, it seems Village Church pastors and staff attempted--in the beginning--to perform their diligence in giving pastoral care to both Jordan and Karen. However, unless you've been the partner in a marriage where your spouse has been involved in child pornography for years, it's difficult to understand the pain, fear, and distrust present in the heart and mind of Karen Root.

After returning to the United States, Karen Root filed for an annulment of her marriage to Jordan Root. In the State of Texas, if it is proven that a spouse deceived a partner prior to marriage, an annulment can be granted. An annulment is a state's declaration that a covenant of marriage never took place (void) due to deception. The State of Texas approved the annulment and Karen Root changed her name back to Karen Hinckley. Karen then resigned her membership from Village Church, preferring to attend church at a place other than where Jordan attended. I'm glad the state of Texas granted the annulment, but in my opinion, even if they had not, Karen had grounds for divorce.

Here's where it gets weird.

Village Church elders sent a letter to Karen Hinckley. In that letter, they informed Karen of three things:

(1). The church officers are perplexed as to why Karen "filed for an annulment."
(2). Karen is "now under discipline" for violating the "church covenant."
(3). The church officers "cannot, therefore, accept Karen's resignation."


I normally do not write about issues involving other churches, however, I've broken my normal pattern to throw a lifeline to Village Church. Karen Hinckley seems to be reasonable, smart, and I would even say 'classy' in her Christian faith. You can sense it in her letters to her pastors and elders.

Village Church pastors/elders have made a huge mistake. The 1989 Guinn v. Church of Christ Collinsville is an infamous legal case where a woman 'resigned her membership' from her home church. It has similarities and a few dissimilarities with Village Church versus Hinckley, which is not yet--and hopefully won't be--a legal case. The Church of Christ in Collinsville (Oklahoma) told an adulterous woman in their church that they  "could not accept her resignation because she was under church discipline." The adulterous woman then sued her church. In the end, the woman was awarded a settlement in the hundreds of thousands of dollars because the church refused to accept her resignation. Though the verdict was overturned in the appellate court, the appellate judges based their decision to overturn on the fact the adulterous woman was already under church discipline.

Village Church, this is where you may be in trouble. You've gone after the victim, not the offender. Karen Hinckley was not "in sin." Your only argument that she could have been in sin and in need of "discipline" is that she filed for "an annulment" for her marriage, an act in opposition to your counsel. Her refusal to abide by pastoral counsel in terms of restoring her relationship with Jordan, a confessed child pornographer, is a big issue to you elders. However, it has led you to make an even bigger mistake. A big, BIG, mistake. The State of Texas has already agreed with Karen.

I'd like to offer you some unsolicited advice, that if taken, might protect you from litigation that every attorney with a shingle on his window would love to take against you. It seems to me  that Karen doesn't want to harm Village Church or anyone else. She just wants people to take child sexual abuse seriously. Here's my advice.
(1). Write an immediate letter of apology--and I mean immediate-- to Karen Hinckley, retracting the earlier letter, and informing Karen that you are indeed accepting Karen's resignation from your church.
(2). Never speak on behalf of Karen Hinckley again--to anyone--including the members of your congregation.  
(3). Realize that your 501c-3 called Village Church is not equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Yes, you play a huge and vital role in His Kingdom, but your non-profit and His Kingdom are not synonymous. Therefore, next time anyone decides they wish to leave your non-profit, let them go.
As a side note, I do wish to encourage you in your continued ministry to Jordan Root. Unlike some, I believe you have an interest in the victims of his abuse. My friends have a hard time believing that you are as concerned for the victims because you've taken one of his victims -- his wife -- to the proverbial gates of hell because she dared disagree with the manner in which you were progressing in your ministry toward her and her former husband.

Prove everyone wrong and apologize to Karen Hinckley. Accept her resignation of membership. And then stop viewing your office as pastor/elder of Village Church as the ultimate authority in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is Karen Hinckley's ultimate authority, and He has led her to resign her membership.

Don't argue with Jesus. :)


Debbie Kaufman said...

I agree Wade. Well said. I believe they are trying to get to the truth but are doing it totally wrong as you have mentioned.

I always disagree with being captive to a church. Wartburg has equated it to "Hotel California" and I agree. They are not helping Karen Root, they are making her life and decisions a nightmare.

Wade Burleson said...


I agree with you. I really think Village has good motives. It's the tool they're using ("follow our counsel or be under discipline; you can't 'leave us...'") which is wrong on all fronts.

Christiane said...

Thank you, WADE, as a minister and a voice for the Church, for speaking up on behalf of Karen. And for offering counsel to the Village Church who also appear to deserve your concern over how they have treated Karen.

I don't understand fully this rather strange 'discipline' that the Village people want to enforce, but it looks more to me like they are assuming a role that is too controlling and a role, as you said, that dismisses Karen's Christian duty and right to listen to her own conscience.

'Controlling' other people never was what the Church was supposed to be about.
Instead, the Church has a responsibility to help people in whatever moment they are living and in whatever they are doing, to ask 'what is the demand of Love in this moment?'
This responsibility of the Church is about as far from 'controlling' another person as the East is from the West, and this way DOES honor the sacred role of a person's own conscience.

I don't know what happened to the Village Church, but maybe it will someday find its way back to the place where it took a wrong path and reconsider its present ways.
I hope you can help them.

Beth said...

My son is in prison for child pornography. I so agree with you, Wade. Child pornography is not just a sin. I am hoping this time in prison and some good counseling will help my son. Jordan needs shocks to his system; he did not need his wife to stay with him and enable him. And his wife did not need to stay with him, and did not need to stay and the same church that is ministering to him. This is not the kind of thing that can be ministered to as a couple. Jordan has to find his way out of the muck on his own, and Karen has to do what she knows is right.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

Beautifully put. Thank you for being a pastor.

Unknown said...

Julie Anne said...

Their big gripe is that she signed the membership covenant and did not abide by the rules that say if there are marital difficulties, she should seek help from elders (my wording). They are sticking to the letter of the law without regard for Karen, yet they use the term "care" ad nauseum through their correspondence (e-mail/Twitter). Care does look like what they have done. It's unbelievable how much control they think they possess. Well, no it's not (I've seen too much of this now). But it makes me angry and sad because now not only did she have to incur the shock of her life with her husband, but her church family failed her in probably her greatest time of need.

Unknown said...


Thanks for focusing on this abuse of power at The Village Church.

Looks like it takes a village to correct the actions of some pastors who are terribly misguided.

Anonymous said...

There's where your biggest problem is covenants for membership. I follow Gods covenants not the man made church ones!

L. Lee said...

I'm not sure they are getting it! See:

Cheryl Schatz said...

That was a very good and wise qrticle. Bravo, Wade!

Tango Whiskey said...

I appreciate your wisdom Wade. I hope the Village Church takes your suggestions to heart. Their conduct on this issue has been shameful, not at all how I would perceive the love of Christ to be demonstrated. The root cause seems to be a dogged determination to uphold a man-made membership covenant. IMO these membership covenants are wreaking havoc in the lives of good people. The church as a whole needs to turn away from them and the organizations responsible for foisting them upon the church.

Unknown said...

Well stated, Wade. Jesus was pretty direct in Matthew 23 when the religious system became more important than the people it was designed to serve. Thanks for standing tall.

js said...

Best article I have read on this situation. What do you think is going on with the surge in signed Church Covenants? Is it a reaction to the seeming moral slide of the culture? Is it just an effort to control? An effort to protect the church from legal trouble? All of the above? Just confused about the impetus for this movement toward signed covenants. Do signed covenants have any historical precedent?

brad/futuristguy said...

The entire history here of how The Village Church has treated Ms Hinkley is highly disturbing. But, I find equally horrific what is underneath the story itself, in how these membership covenants have morphed congregational life from something biblical into something bizarre.

Even if the eyes of the law or the IRS never see things this way, I believe such legal membership covenants change the essential nature of a church from a the equivalent of a non-profit service organization into a for-profit business "owned" by the authoritarian leaders, where the "product" is supposed pastoral care/oversight and discipleship training, and "customers" can't leave the system unless they've behaved well enough to fulfill their contracts.

In essence, these contractual membership covenants have created a legalized form of the Shepherding Movement. And we know from recent church history the kinds of aberrations such authoritarianism leads to, in terms of spiritual abuse of religious power, failure to fulfill civic responsibilities (such as mandatory reporting of child abuse), attempts to deal with scandals "in-house" to supposedly protect the image of Christianity, and warped perspectives on Christianity for second generation adults of these high-demand systems.

I think we should fully expect to see lawsuits filed against churches (perhaps even specific leaders) where this counterfeit system of oversight is not corrected, and pastoral power over indentured parishioners is abused. These should now be considered religious businesses with faulty products and perhaps even false advertising. By requiring a legal contract as the only way into membership, it seems that filing lawsuits may be the only way out for those disabused.

ScottShaver said...

Are perpetually binding membership covenants a byproduct of theological triage?

JA said...

This makes me sad Wade. I have high regard for you and usually agree with your position on most issues. In this case you logic gets fuzzy. Is Karen in sin or not?

You wrote:

Your only argument that she could have been in sin and in need of "discipline" is that she filed for "an annulment" for her marriage, an act in opposition to your counsel.

Is that argument valid or not? If not why not?

Her refusal to abide by pastoral counsel in terms of restoring her relationship with Jordan, a confessed child pornographer, is a big issue to you elders.

Does "Big Issue" mean sin? Again, is Karen in sin or not?

L. Lee said...

I think it might be a good idea to pray not only for Karen Hinckley (and I have) but also for Jordan Root and for The Village Church & the specific ministers involved. There is some reason for hope for this - a minister of similar leanings came to his senses relative to another matter of controversy ("discipline") - See:

However, it was arguable that he did not go deep enough. See:

So keep praying and when warranted - WRITING.

Wade Burleson said...


Could not have said it better.

Wade Burleson said...


Is Karen in sin? No. No. No. No.

The sin is a group of men grasping excessive authority over a woman whose husband broke the law and contributed to child abuse through child pornography, demanding that she (the faithful wife) reconcile with him (the unfaithful husband) and placing the wife "under discipline" when she refused.

That's the sin.

JA said...

Wade, I'm sure most of your readers agree this was "excessive" authority. The way I see it, Karen agreed to it by signing the covenant. Help me understand your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Here's my perspective: "My husband facilitated felony child sex abuse" is not a marital problem. It is a deep-seated issue solely within the spouse and entirely unrelated to the dynamics of the marriage. Karen staying in the marriage would not resolve that issue. Therefore, her decision to annul does not fall under the guidelines of the covenant, IMO.

Also, is a covenant the same as a contract? To me, a covenant is a good-faith statement by those wishing to fellowship within a specific community. It is to be enforced by conscience, not rule of law.

Besides, I don't see how in cases of clear violation of one's marriage could these pastors set themselves up as permission-grantors of divorce. Jesus said unfaithfulness was grounds for biblical divorce. What other authority does she need?

Wade Burleson said...


What akelsey83 said.

That's my perspective.

For what it's worth, any church that asks me to sign a covenant is a church that I could never join. Jesus said "Let your yes be yes" and I refuse to sign anything.

I'm of the opinion that if you must keep people bound to your wishes be enforcing a covenant, then something is either wrong with your wishes or your trust.

Wendi C. said...

JA, so if Karen had signed a convenant to be a member of the church of scientology, is she bound to that, even though her convictions and understanding of the contents of the covenant and the nature of leadership changed?

The contract is extrabiblical. If there's a sin here, I'd put it at the time of signing the contract. Rejecting it is correcting that error.

Bob Meredith said...

Good words, Brother. I side with you to the fullest extent possible.

jehu said...

focusing on just one piece here:

I think Karen rushed her decision to end her marriage. Once the church stepped in, I believe the church acted in faith that Karen would work through their process. If Karen had just hung back and let the church work, they would have probably agreed to end her marriage for her; and according to church doctrine, would let her remarry at TVC (or any church).
But since she jumped the gun, ended the marriage herself, she's under church discipline. She's in violation because she went out on her own, not because of what she did (divorce). And now can't get remarried at any church.

Wade Burleson said...


Love your name.

This is where you and I part company. Your view: "If Karen had just hung back and let the church work, they would have probably agreed to end her marriage for her..."

Wade's view: "If the church had just been supportive of Karen in ending her marriage and hung back from making any pronouncement of sin on Karen's part, everyone would have affirmed Village Church for being loving, gracious and supportive of one of the victims of Jordan Root's sin."

I don't believe "the church" has authority over Karen's marriage. I believe Jesus Christ has authority over Karen's marriage.

Karen asked Jesus about ending it, and He said "yes" (according to Karen). The church responds unfavorably. I side with Karen, not the institutional church because I believe "THE CHURCH" is KAREN! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what all the indignation is about. Karen should (and has) walked out of the doors of The Village church so what else can they actually do to her. She should just thank God she saw the light in time and got out of that cult. This isn't the first church in Dallas to do something like this. People should read what they are signing; but better yet, don't go near a church that makes you sign something like that.

Hopefully she shook the dust from her feet when she left--never to return.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Also think about this: Justin did not come forward to the church on his own, he confessed it to his wife, but it was Karen that informed the church and mission board. She was blind sided by this revelation of Justin's and after much thought and prayer ended the marriage. She had not been unfaithful to Justin in any way.

She is under discipline, Justin is not. What's wrong with this picture? A lot. It's upside down and distorted.

Debbie Kaufman said...

There are churches who would accept her membership despite the fact that Village won't let go.

Julie Anne said...

But since she jumped the gun, ended the marriage herself, she's under church discipline. She's in violation because she went out on her own, not because of what she did (divorce). And now can't get remarried at any church.

Sure she can. She didn't get a divorce. She got an annulment from the State of Texas which means the marriage was based on fraud. The State looks at it as if the marriage never existed. For some reason, TVC is refusing to acknowledge that. Did they remove Romans 13 1-5 from their Bibles?

Interestingly, Jordan Root also signed the annulment papers. Did he get permission from the elders to sign the annulment papers? If not, then why isn't he in church discipline?

Wade Burleson said...

"Did he get permission from the elders to sign the annulment papers? If not, then why isn't he in church discipline?"

Julie Anne,

Great question.

I'll have a post that goes up in the morning entitled "Five Reasons Why I'll Never Sign a Church Covenant."

I think some may come to understand that the entire current problem at Village began with the demand that prospective members sign a church covenant in the first place.

Christiane said...

good grief, what IS a 'Church covenant' . . . is it some kind of binding legal contract that is honored in our court system?

what does a signature on a 'church covenant' bind a person to?

sounds like heavy, manipulative, controlling, scary mechanism to intimidate a 'member' into giving up more of their autonomy as an individual person who is to be treated with dignity, specifically the dignity to follow their own conscience . . .

what kind of 'church' tells a member that they need not listen to their own conscience?

some thoughts . . . mostly questions

Tango Whiskey said...


I thank God for you. I know you are not the sole pastoral voice of sanity in this "membership contract" insanity, but you seem to be in a dwindling minority. I am, however, confident that Christ will build his church and part of that building may be the tearing down of the "membership contract" wing!

If I ever end up living in Enid I know what local assembly I shall attend.

Todd Wilhelm, Dubai, UAE

SLee said...

I don't understand how Karen is under scrutiny right now. I don't understand how fingers are being pointed away from her husband who has confessed to committing at least one felony and broken their covenant of marriage by remaining faithful to her, and pointed at her for seeking an annulment.

There isn't a person on this planet who is perfect, so it's not to say Karen is sinless...but asking her to repent for seeking annulment after finding out that her husband engages in sexual activity that has exploited children? I'm pretty sure Jesus says it's better to tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself into the sea than to cause a child to stumble (obviously paraphrased). The message they are conveying is that Karen and Jordan's marriage is not equal; that his transgressions are not as bad as hers because he asked for the church's forgiveness. For years he has acted in defiance of their church's covenant that states "all Christians, whether members of The Village Church or elsewhere, are required to submit to Scriptures, pursue holiness, steward resources, etc..." (taken from Watching child porn and engaging in illicit activity with children is not in keeping with that covenant.

As the Church I think we are called to grieve what grieves the Lord, and to work towards establishing the Kingdom on earth. We are called to love and to forgive knowing that Jesus reconciles all to God. We are not called to reconcile with every person who transgresses against us, to do so would be foolish. That kind of behavior would send children back to abusive parents, spouses back into abusive marriages... This is a slippery slope to try to stand ground on. Prayers for Karen, the Church, Jordan, and all those impacted by these decisions.

Bob Meredith said...

@Matt Chandler, there is no doubt that either you or one of your people will be reading this. Do the right thing. If you don’t, you will not recover. This will not be swept under the rug. You will not silence the voices being raised here. There are too many Christian blogs and forums who have picked this up, and too many readers with too much influence. It will pick up steam, and your horrible, horrible mistake and your unwillingness to admit it and make it right with Karen will ruin you in the end. I am not a prophet or a son of a prophet, but God will expose the wrong. I can promise you this, without one bit of hesitation. I believe that Mark Driscoll and Sovereign Grace Ministries mistakes were that they underestimated the power of voices on the internet, and thought that controlling the local church voices would cover their mistakes.

Bob Meredith said...

No. Wrong. She resigned her membership before they put her on discipline. She could sue them for defamation if character, and win millions.

Wade Burleson said...


I think you put your finger on something that most are missing. Some wish to point out Karen filed for 'an annulment, not a divorce' as if that makes a difference. Some point out that the elders are 'doing their duty' in implementing the covenant Karen signed.

I've only seen you (and me) point out that the church placed Karen under discipline (and sent a letter to their members about her) AFTER she sought to withdraw her membership from Village. The only reason a woman named Mrs. Guinn lost her enormous verdict against her church in Collinsville, Oklahoma (on appeal) is that the church placed Mrs. Guinn under discipline BEFORE she sought removal from membership (see Guinn vs. Collinsville Church of Christ).

I agree with you. The way out for the elders/pastors of Village Church is to issue an immediate apology, retract their decision to "not accept" Karen's resignation, and cease speaking about her to anyone.

I bumfuzzled why they haven't done this yet. Maybe they are waiting for an elders meeting. But they better call one, because after this story explodes nationally there's no putting the genie back into the bottle. And, God forbid (I mean this, it's not a phrase), a victim of child abuse perpetrated by Mr. Root ever comes forward. I'm hoping that never happens because I don't want to any more victims than those already victimized when forced to make the pornography. But I also don't want that for Village Church. The earthquake resulting from such information would be comparable for Village Church to California falling into the ocean and disappearing.

A Christian Attorney said...

I disagree with you in only the language that you use. For example, Jordan is not Karen's "former" husband. As the Texas court has ruled, there was never a marriage, due to fraud by Jordan, therefore, he was never her husband.

And anyone who believes that Jordan's sexual involvement with children only involved viewing child pornography (and masturbating while viewing it) does not really understand pedophilia and its effect on behavior of young men.

A Christian Attorney said...

As remediation for this, the church also needs to retract their statements about Karen to everyone that they made those comments, all 6000+ of them. They must admit that they were WRONG, that what they published was UNTRUE, and retract. They can say that they were mistaken, but they must clearly contradict what they earlier said about Karen. Otherwise, they are guilty of defamation of a child of God. Penance is a lot cheaper that paying attorneys and damages.

Christiane said...

I was thinking what Karen, with all of her support, has had to endure at the hands of a Church that binds people to it through a 'covenant' . . . how much worse is it for women who have no support and are trying to escape out of that nightmare? I say 'women' only because women are not in a good place within such Churches as far as respect for their human dignity goes, but I do realize there must be also men who suffer from this kind of manipulating abuse.

Please tell me that such 'covenants' are not legally binding in our American court systems. If they were, then something political needs to be done to disarm the abusers of their power to harass and pursue their victims. Surely, our country does not permit its citizens to be legally abused in this way ???

Chris Sanchez said...

Spot on Wade. Yours is the voice of reason in this situation. Chandler et al. are not doing the TVC or, more importantly, the Kingdom any favors with the way they have handled this sitution.

Anonymous said...

Every pastor whether mega church or a few fannies in the pews would like to see marriages that had been torn apart to be reconciled. Marriage where one partner viewed child pornography is no exception. And, this is not unusual in the US, approximately 30% of Christian males have viewed pornography this week. I know Pastor Matt Chandler would like to follow scripture as he does. When you have a church there has to be rules.

TVC is a covenant church. To be a member, you have to agree to certain standards and those standards are clearly written out in plain English. This is not a cult. And clearly as seminary students, Jordan and Karen had the intellectual ability to read and understand what they were signing. Maybe they were so overwhelmed by the experience that they signed without reading. Or, they saw dollar signs in their eyes. They were there for three years, so either they are incredibly stupid or they knew what they were doing.

I am not going deep into Texas martial laws but let's just say her stance and everything she did adds up to preserving her professional status in ministry. That's right, the annulment allows her in the eyes of the church to be employed as a professional minister in most denominations, while a divorce chances are she'd be flipping burgers at BK. Texas by and large does not grant many annulments because all annulments are based on something called “essentials of the marriage” and guess what character is not one of them. Nor could she use “fraud” because character flaws at least legally are not fraud. Also, many judges use “fraud” as a catch-all to grant annulments. Though, in this case, while Karen's petition did not in my opinion meet the legal threshold, some nice judge granted in anyway.

So what is all this about? It is not about Jordan because SIM fired him, TVC has him basically under arrest by the palace guard, the Dallas Police interviewed him, the FBI did forensics of his laptop and cellphone. Chances are with some therapy he'll be fine.

Personally, I do not like to see spouses throw their partner “under the bus.” Breaking confidence in marriage is not a good thing in any case. My personal feeling is that Karen put her professional ministry before her marriage and her God. She might be a nice person, she might be traumatized, she might have nightmares but she is an adult and should be treated like one. I have sympathy for her and my point is not to judge her. In the end, she brow-beat her husband into a confession, did everything she could to get an annulment, refused to submit the church leaders while going around to TVC members looking for financial support.

This has less to do with child porn and by the way, shame on you Jordan for screwing up your life and possibility hurting others in the process, grow up. This has more to do with money. Show me the money. Further sponsorship from SIM and TVC. Sponsorship from TVC members behind the leadership's back and a lot of sympathy from internet bloggers and the sexual abuse victims on the web. Karen is no “rock star” and she was faced with some choices, choices that are hard to make. I, honestly, would not want her on my staff.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

An AWESOME UPDATE from Dee at The Wartburg Watch on Karen Hinkley.


Out West

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous on June 3, 2015:

Your post is out of line. You obviously don't know the facts. Jordan Root LIED to get his wife to marry him. He didn't just look at child pornography (a felony crime), he also confessed that he had gotten away with molesting children (felony crimes), and that he was sexually interested in children.

OK, he had an obligation: a) not to date her or anybody else; b) not to deceive another person into a romantic relationship and marriage.

Your small-minded legalism and authoritarianism isn't Biblical. It's not what Jesus was talking about.

Matt Chandler has since apologized, well kinda sorta. But his theology is still wrong and his authoritarian control over peoples' lives.

Every person who sinned against this dear woman needs to go and apologize to her: every elder, her pastor, every church member, you too.