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Monday, September 21, 2009

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Votes to Keep Billy Graham’s Grandson as its Pastor

By Jeremy Reynalds
Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL (ANS) -- Members of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church on Sunday, September 20, 2009, turned back an attempt to fire Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, voting in his favor by a two-thirds margin.

Tullian Tchividjian (Photo from CBN)

According to a story by James D. Davis for the online version of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, after a contentious, two-hour congregational meeting closed to non-members, Tchividjian won 940 of 1,362 ballots cast at the Fort Lauderdale church.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that the vote climaxed a months-long conflict in the church, long known for its conservative evangelical stance and politics. With 2,678 members, the church has championed evangelism, Bible-based faith and education. It also has hosted rallies called Reclaiming America for Christ, spurring thousands for grass roots activism on issues like abortion, homosexuality, evolution and school prayers.

Tchividjian, 37, a grandson of the evangelist Billy Graham, is only the second pastor at Coral Ridge, following the Rev. D. James Kennedy, who died in Sept. 2007.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, Tchividjian did not attend the congregational meeting. Instead he he visited his father, psychologist Stephan Tchividjian, who is recovering from liver transplant surgery at Broward General Medical Center.

The minister released a statement thanking those who supported him. “Change is difficult for any institution, but it is especially difficult for a church which has known only one pastor in its 50-year history,” the Sun-Sentinel reported the statement said. “Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is not my church, and it wasn't Dr. Kennedy's church. It's God's church and I want to honor him and carry on the legacy of Jesus.”

The Sun-Sentinel reported that Tchividjian was chosen overwhelmingly as pastor in March, a deal that included a merger with his Margate-based New City Church. But his rapid changes -- shunning pastoral robes, introducing less-traditional music, replacing some staff with his own -- alienated some members, who began sending protest letters to fellow members.

Sunday's vote was called after dissidents turned in nearly 400 petitions demanding it. The meeting took the place of the church's regular 11 a.m. worship service. Many of those at an earlier service stayed for the vote, their cars jamming the church parking lots and overflowing onto the athletic field at the church's Westminster Academy.

The Sun-Sentinel said that emphasizing its seriousness, the meeting was run by two national officials of the Presbyterian Church in America, Roy Taylor and John White of Atlanta. They ran it strictly, cutting off several people who used pejorative terms or ran over their two-minute speaking time.

Those in favor of firing Tchividjian, the Sun-Sentinel reported, accused him of consolidating power through an “executive committee” of elders, and of neglecting mandates to spread the gospel and to oppose social evils.

“We've seen rapid changes that are detrimental to the church,” said Romeo DeMarco, one of the six main petitioners who were banned from campus.

Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, daughter of the late pastor, said the church's Pulpit Nominating Committee “didn't follow proper procedures” in choosing Tchividjian. “If the committee were called to vote today, they would not have voted for him,” the Sun-Sentinel reported she said.

Clark Cochran, who was on the committee, denied the allegation. “I believe that's not accurate,” he said after the Sunday vote.

The Sun-Sentinel said that speaking in Tchividjian's favor, Stephen Renae, a church member for 10 years, dismissed all the complaints as “non-essentials.” He said the protesters “believe the programs that worked in the past will work in the future. Change is the only constant, I've found.”

The conflict isn't even about Tchividjian, suggested David Russ, an elder since 1998.

The Sun-Sentinel reported he said, “There are two groups in the church: people who want to continue the programs we had when Kennedy was here; and people who want to build and adapt what Kennedy did. And those groups were here before Tullian came.”

Sunday's vote doesn't settle all the issues surrounding the attempted ouster, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The six members who were banned from campus are subject to a church judiciary commission, which is considering a range of disciplinary measures. They have complained that they were banished without due process.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "The Face of Homelessness." Additional details are available at Reynalds' latest book is "We All Need a Little Help." It was released on October 3 2008. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at Tel: (505) 400-7145.

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