Circle of Hell

05.31.15 10:45 AM ET

Megachurch: Stay With Your Kiddie Porn-Watching Husband—or Face ‘Discipline’

When missionary Karen Hinkey found out her husband was attracted to children, she tried to separate from him. Her church elders told her to knock it off and “submit” to their will.

After attending seminary, Karen Hinkley, along with her onetime husband, Jordan Root, dreamed of becoming missionaries. The couple married in the spring of 2012 and eagerly began seeking opportunities to serve God overseas.

At the time, she had no way of knowing that alleged abuse of the most awful kind would sink their marriage. Or that the church would discipline her for wanting to end her marriage to a confessed child porn addict. Or that her pastor would try to block her from leaving the congregation.

Shortly after marrying, Karen and Jordan began attending The Village Church (TVC), a mega-sized Dallas-area Southern Baptist congregation with five campuses and 11,000 weekly attendees.

In time, TVC not only became the newlywed’s home church but also the community that would support—financially and spiritually—their desire to become missionaries. That’s not surprising; according to its website, TVC supports a number of missionaries in a dozen or more countries.

Christianity Today calls TVC one of America’s most influential megachurches. But among massive houses of worship, TVC would likely stand out as leaning more Puritanical than most. Many believe the church’s secret to success is its head pastor, Matt Chandler, a 39-year-old, Paul Ryan-looking rising evangelical star. In addition to pastor, he’s also a bestselling author, a cancer survivor, and among young theology nerds, a rock star. Chandler also heads up the Acts 29 Network, a nexus of hundreds of conservative, Calvinism-hinged congregations, a religious collective that—considering the Book of Acts only has 28 chapters—views itself as the church’s “next chapter.”

In many ways, TVC’s appeal doesn’t make much sense. The church experience that Chandler has popularized tends to be a more rigid-leaning, Bible-thumping, male-dominating, faith-intensive environment—a far cry from most of today’s more popular seeker-friendly hipster-filled churches.

But Karen and Jordan knew what they were getting into. In addition to taking the church’s mandatory membership classes, upon joining TVC the couple also signed their names to a five-page “covenant member” contractual agreement. Described on its website as a “teaching document,” the membership covenant offers an extensive list of theological essentials that one must agree to before becoming a member of TVC. It lists specific beliefs regarding God, Jesus, and the Bible, and offers scripture references for each tenet. It also defines the relationship agreement between the church’s elders and the church’s laypersons, detailing what a member can anticipate from their elders as well as what the elders expect from a member.

Church membership contracts are not as uncommon as one might think. And among Acts 29 churches, they’re practically a given. The contracts are not legally binding, of course; but according to Kent Rabalais, TVC’s executive director of communications, the membership covenant is a crucial tool at their church. The agreement outlines the obligations and expectations of leadership and laypersons; its wording also puts parameters around what is considered acceptable teaching and doctrine.

In 2012, Karen had no qualms about signing the TVC’s contract, though she does remember one sentence sticking out: I will seek to preserve the gift of marriage and agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse.

* * *

By the time she and Jordan were preparing to leave for the mission field in August 2014, Karen says she had no reason to believe that those weighty words she’d signed her name to would come back to haunt her.

That’s because she trusted her church. Not only that, TVC, along with SIM, a large Christian missions organization, were teaming up to send her and Jordan off to do “God’s work” in a small community in East Asia.

However, as it turns out, their mission would be short lived. Only weeks after starting their new lives abroad, Karen says she began suspecting that something about Jordan wasn’t right. She couldn’t put her finger on it at first, but no matter how many times he told her that everything was fine, she couldn’t shake the thought that her husband was hiding something. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving night that Karen, after catching Jordan in a lie about an unrelated issue, would begin to press her husband for the truth.

“That was the beginning of his ‘pseudoconfession,’” Karen writes The Daily Beast in an email. “After catching him in that first lie, I sensed immediately that there was more he was hiding.”

When she pushed him, Karen adds, “[Jordan] confessed [that] he had masturbated and accessed nude pictures online a handful of times since we had arrived overseas.”

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Jerking off in front of a computer to porn might not sound like a big deal. But considering both TVC and SIM have lofty (and pure) expectations of its missionaries and strict rules against such activity, it wasn’t something that could be ignored. Moreover, it went against Jordan’s Christian persona, described by people who knew him as the sort of guy who could often be heard boasting wildly about the ills of pornography and also about his own lack of masturbatory activity.

Over the course of the next week, Karen says Jordan made that same confession to leadership at both SIM and The Village Church.

“He spoke of how relieved he was that the truth was now out,” Karen says. “He even reported rededicating his life to Jesus at a retreat that weekend.”

Karen wanted to believe that Jordan was telling the truth, that masturbating to a few naked pictures was all there was; but somehow she knew there was more.

“I felt a strong conviction that I should keep asking questions, and I did.”

Every day for three weeks, Karen pressed Jordan with a variety of questions. Then, on December 16, as Karen was drilling him with inquiries, one of her questions hit a nerve. The expression on Jordan’s face changed in a way that caused her to know she was on to something. She kept digging. Eventually, she told him, “You need to tell me the whole story.”

What Karen says happened next is still hard for her to comprehend.

“That night [my husband] admitted to almost ten years of child pornography use,” she says, “[a habit] that began while he was in college and continued throughout his seminary studies and into our dating and engagement.”

But that was just the beginning. According to Karen, “[Jordan] confessed that he preferred prepubescent girls beginning at age four but that he had viewed child pornography involving [kids that were] infants and teenagers as well.”

SIM, which received a “child safety report” about Jordan, launched an investigation into his behavior. In a “statement of outcome” dated on February 6, SIM confirmed Karen’s story. It states, “Mr. Root admitted that he has been sexually attracted to prepubescent female children for many years and that during his time with SIM he has been viewing nude photographs of children via the Internet in order to gratify his sexual desire.”

Karen says that Jordan described images and videos that he’d watched in gratuitous detail.

Though his obsession for child porn had subsided for a couple of years, Jordan allegedly said that, upon moving overseas, the temptation started again, which led him to view pornographic images of children on his laptop and phone using a VPN.

On a couple of occasions, Jordan allegedly told Karen that he’d masturbated to the thoughts of children who were once under his care.

After hearing these confessions, Karen phoned SIM to inform them about all that Jordan had confessed. According to Karen, SIM immediately began making arrangements for Jordan to return to the United States. Five days later, Jordan was on a plane headed home.

Upon his return, Jordan confessed his child porn habit in a recorded interview with SIM and, according to an email the church sent to its membership, to the leadership at The Village Church. In an email to Karen, dated February 20, TVC Pastor Matt Younger laments the details of Jordan’s confession, writing, “We cannot fathom how awful the past two months have been for you. We are appalled by the egregious nature of Jordan’s confession and are still grieving the implications of his sin, both for him and you.”

The Daily Beast attempted three times to reach Jordan for comment. He has not responded.

* * *

The last time Karen and Jordan were in the same room was on the morning of December 17. Karen returned to the United States four weeks later and almost immediately began making plans to have her marriage annulled.

On December 26, TVC sent out an email update regarding Karen and Jordan to its members. In it, the church writes, “first, we want you to know that the Lord has used Jordan and Karen to begin a good work among the Cheuasai people.”

Then, in the next paragraph, the letter added, “Unfortunately, in the midst of pressures, difficulty, and spiritual warfare… it has become evident that there are some sin issues that Jordan is dealing with that require him to return home.”

Karen was outraged that the church didn’t name the issue that she believed had wrecked her marriage. Almost from the beginning, it seemed to her they were attempting to keep aspects of Jordan’s problem a secret.

And that’s not exactly farfetched. Richard Brindley, the pastor of missions at TVC, wrote an email response to Karen on December 20 about whether or not she needed to inform the families of the children that Jordan had worked with—children that might have provoked in Jordan awful temptations.

The pastor wrote, “Should further sin come to light, absolutely… But for now, I think it might be best to hold off on communicating the possibility of sexual molestation to families, since it is just, currently, a possibility. I say that primarily because even the mention of a potential offense like this could send parents into panic…”

Her fears were further solidified when, in an update email that several TVC members confirm was sent to the church’s membership about Karen and Jordan on December 26, the church avoided any mention of Jordan’s issue at all, just that it was “sin issues that require him to return home.”

In fact, according to Karen, it wasn’t until she and SIM pushed them on the matter that they began telling their membership that Jordan’s “sin” involved child pornography.

The church declined to comment to The Daily Beast about the allegations, citing, “We do not release confidential information about members of our church to the general public or news media.” On Twitter last week, when pushed for answers by concerned individuals, Matt Chandler tweeted, “I wish I could unpack this whole terrible ordeal to all of you but I am not legally allowed…”

But at times, TVC appeared to be less interested in the accusations against Jordan than in persuading Karen to bow to their authority. That’s what seemed most concerning to Matt Younger, TVC’s Groups Pastor at its Northway Campus. In an email to Karen, the pastor wrote, “your [church] elders are pleading with you to patiently submit to our leadership.”

Karen says that TVC was extremely unhappy when they learned through the grapevine that Karen was seeking to have her marriage annulled without their permission. (The state of Texas has since granted her request.)

That was the news that sparked Younger to start engaging Karen in a doozy of an email exchange. In addition to reminding her of the membership covenant she’d signed two-and-a-half years earlier—the same contract that included that one line about marriage that stuck out to Karen as odd—the pastor writes, “we have been perplexed by your decision to file for an annulment of your marriage without first abiding by your covenant obligations to submit to the care and direction of your elders...this decision violates your covenant with us—and places you under discipline.”

Younger instructed Karen to “slow down” her course of action toward annulment. And added, “We desire to care for you and lead you in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.”

But being “led in a way that was worthy of the gospel” had already caused Karen to become suspicious of TVC’s leadership and the control that they assumed they wielded over her marriage to Jordan. Karen’s first concern happened shortly after returning to Dallas, when a pastor who she did not name reached out to her.

“He wanted to tell me that the elders were instructing me not to separate our finances,” she says, “[that according to him] it ‘felt too much like a step toward divorce’ and they were ‘not ready to approve any steps that would bring further separation to our marriage.’”

When Karen inquired as to why her finances were any of the elders’s concern, the pastor responded, “in a marriage separation, every aspect of your marriage is under the authority of the elders of the church.”

Shortly thereafter Karen resigned from membership of TVC.

This prompted another email exchange with Pastor Younger, who denied Karen’s resignation, citing the church’s bylaws which prohibited members who were under church discipline from resigning their membership.

Karen ceased all communication with TVC after that.

In an eight-page email dated May 23, TVC updated its members about Karen and Jordan’s progress. The church leadership praised Jordan’s recovery process, calling him fully repentant, suggesting he was submitting perfectly to the church’s course of action. The update also proclaimed that, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

However, the church did pronounce condemnation for Karen.

In that same email update, TVC chided Karen’s refusal to submit to its authority. They passive-aggressively professed their love and concern for her but woefully mourned her decision to annul her marriage. They also informed their membership that Karen was officially under “church discipline.” Which was just a nicer way of informing congregants that Karen was to be shunned, Puritan style.

According to the church’s update, “Karen’s decision to pursue immediate annulment, to decline any attempt of reconciliation, to disregard her Membership Covenant and pastoral counsel, and to break fellowship with the body has led her into formal church discipline.”

In a blog post, Karen writes, “The discovery of Jordan’s pedophilia and use of child pornography triggered a thorough upheaval of every aspect of my life… What is even more disturbing than his use of child pornography is that throughout the duration of these years, Jordan sought and gained access to a large number of children, many of whom represent some of the most vulnerable populations of children in our society… [TVC’s] treatment of Jordan as the victim and me as the perpetrator is an appalling reversal that evidences its priorities are not in line…”

Though she hopes that she’s wrong, Karen says she does fear that Jordan hasn’t confessed the “full story.” That said, the FBI did do an investigation of Jordan and found no evidence of child pornography on Jordan’s computer. Still, when she considers how many times she remembers Jordan interacting with children, sometimes in situations in which he was alone with children, Karen becomes sick to her stomach.

***

In an email to The Daily Beast, though they declined to comment about Jordan or answer any of our questions, TVC did offer a canned response, which included, “we deal with traumatic and tragic situations regularly as a church but our hope is set on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

However, that holy confidence for handling difficult matters faded this week when Matt Chandler, in an interview with Christianity Today, admitted that his church had made a mistake in how it handled cases like Karen’s.

Matt Chandler knows a thing or two about church controversy. Last year, as the leader of Acts 29 Network, his organization took a huge step when they formally booted Mark Driscoll, the disgraced pastor of Seattle’s now dissolved Mars Hill Church and the co-founder of Acts 29, out of the network. Driscoll had been accused of plagiarism, financial irregularities, and mistreatment of his staff.

In addition to Chandler’s interview with Christianity Today, the church also sent out another update to its membership. In this announcement, which was given to The Daily Beast by a member of TVC who wished to remain anonymous, the church wrote in reference to the situation involving Karen and Jordan, “we have soberly and prayerfully reflected on all the details of this situation… We have also received feedback from people both inside and outside The Village.”

The email also offered a vague apology to Karen. It didn’t lament TVC’s stance on her annulment and its decision to put her on church discipline, but rather for not serving her better with “a clearer understanding… as to what we do and do not consider biblical grounds for divorce or what we understand the Scriptures to define as divorce.”

The email added, “We did not lead Karen and the church to a place conducive to peace, repentance and healing.”

Amy Smith, a blogger and co-leader of Dallas’s SNAPNetwork, a survivors network for those abused by priests, has, for months, been following Karen’s story and writing about it at her WatchKeep blog. Regarding the church’s response yesterday, she says it was their mention of repentance in regards to Karen that stood out to her. “What does that mean for Karen in this specific situation?” she wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “What do they think Karen needs to repent for? Seeking an annulment? Failure to submit to the authority of the elders’ counsel on the annulment?”

According to the church’s update, Matt Chandler plans to speak about this situation in his sermon on Sunday. Smith says she, along with other members of the SNAPnetwork, will be at the Northway Campus of The Village Church, handing out information about child protection.

As for Karen, though she declined to talk about TVC’s latest update, she did say, “I need some space and time to step back from the craziness and process everything that has unfolded this week. It’s taken a huge toll on me.”

TVC also announced that they will move forward in releasing Karen from her church membership.