Tchividjian Survives Right-Wing Removal Attempt

Last month we noted that Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, the daughter of D. James Kennedy, had been banned from Coral Ridge Church, which was founded by her father. Cassidy, along with several others, had been banned due to their opposition to Kennedy’s replacement, Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham.

Cassidy, who still works for Coral Ridge Ministries, the right-wing political arm of her father’s Religious Right empire, and the others were apparently angry that Tchividjian had begun moving the church away from her father’s right-wing political activism and sought to have him removed.

Over the weekend, church members voted on the question of whether to remove him and Tchividjian retained his position with overwhelming support:

Members of the influential Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church voted overwhelmingly Sunday to keep W. Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of the evangelist Billy Graham, as their spiritual leader.

Tchividjian was named senior pastor of the Fort Lauderdale mega-church six months ago. He has come under scrutiny ever since he vowed to the set the church on a different path from that charted by his predecessor, D. James Kennedy, who built Coral Ridge into a religious and political powerhouse on a bedrock of Christian conservatism.

Church members cast ballots at a closed 11 a.m. meeting, and backed Tchividjian by a vote of 940-422, a margin of about 69 percent to 31 percent.

Tchividjian, 37, doesn’t preach politics. He is more apt to focus on specific Biblical passages than on the news du jour, prefers drum sets to an organ, and has chosen podcasting over broadcasting.

His approach alarmed some members of the church, who preferred Kennedy’s traditional services and his willingness to tackle topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Six church members, including Kennedy’s daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, were banned from the premises in August after they distributed fliers criticizing the new pastor on church grounds.

By Sept. 9, more than 400 members had petitioned for Tchividjian’s removal. It was then that a group of church elders called for Sunday’s meeting.

They brought in a member of the national governing body of Presbyterian churches to moderate the members-only meeting. Coral Ridge has about 2,000 active members.

Ten spoke for Tchividjian’s removal, according to spokesman Mark DeMoss. They faulted him for not maintaining the legacy of Kennedy and for altering traditions, such as calling for visitors to come to Jesus at the end of every sermon.

Ten spoke in favor of keeping Tchividjian, noting that church membership is increasing and that the congregation should stay united.

Tchividjian’s predecessor launched Coral Ridge in 1959, and built it into a sprawling campus in the 5500 block of North Federal Highway that now holds a school, a seminary and an international outreach ministry known as Evangelism Explosion International.

He was also a co-founder of the Christian lobby known as the Moral Majority and declared he wanted to “reclaim America for Christ.”

The Coral Ridge Hour, a television and radio ministry, reached three million viewers in 200 countries at its peak.

Tchividjian pulled the plug on the TV show, which irked some longtime members. He also merged the church with his former congregation, a youthful troupe of 500 that formed the New City Church in Margate.