What do you do when you’re wrongly fired by a megachurch—and denied any severance unless you sign an NDA? Then, years later, you realize what you experienced at that church was spiritual abuse?
That’s what Lori Harding says happened to her at the the famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And in this edition of The Roys Report, Harding tells her complete story.
Coral Ridge is the church formerly pastored by Dr. D. James Kennedy. But after Kennedy died in 2007, Tullian Tchvidjian—Billy Graham’s grandson—became the pastor at Coral Ridge. And it was as a part of Tchvidjian’s inner circle that Harding said she was pressured to accept the unacceptable—and to overlook financial irregularities.
When Harding didn’t, she was fired. And because she refused to sign an NDA, she got no severance.
But about a year later, news broke that Tchvidjian had been involved in sexual misconduct with several congregants. The church fired Tchvidjian. And the new pastor, Rob Pacienza, who had been involved in Harding’s firing, came to her privately and apologized.
Harding then went to another church, where she says she endured spiritual abuse again. But this time, she complained to the denomination. And she went back to Coral Ridge and Pastor Rob Pacienza, and asked for them to right the wrongs done against her.
In this first of a two-part podcast, you’ll hear Lori’s eye-opening account of what happened to her at both Coral Ridge and Grace Community Church in Boca Raton, Florida. And you’ll be challenged to consider issues of spiritual abuse, NDAs, and celebrity leadership.
Lori Harding is an MDiv graduate of Knox Theological Seminary, an ordained pastor, and former Associate Pastor and Executive Director at Grace Community Church in Boca Raton, FL. Working in ministry for the past fourteen years has given Lori ample opportunity to see firsthand the devastating effects of patriarchy, narcissism, and abuse within the church. She currently advocates for abuse victims and works to expose the realities of church abuse. Lori resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her husband and enjoys spending time with her family.
JULIE ROYS, ROB PACIENZA, LORI HARDING
JULIE ROYS 00:03
What do you do when you’re wrongly fired by a mega church and then denied any severance unless you sign an NDA? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And my guest today, Lori Harding. says this happened to her not once but twice. And the first time she alleges it happened was in 2014, when she was on staff at the famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. This is a church formerly pastored by Dr. D. James Kennedy. But after Kennedy died in 2007, Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson, became the pastor at Coral Ridge, and Harding worked under Tchividjian as an executive assistant and then as the director of women’s ministries, and she says it in 2014, she began noticing financial irregularities and began asking questions. This led to tension with Tchividjian and then suddenly, Harding was fired and to get any severance Coral Ridge required that Harding sign an NDA or non disclosure agreement. Harding refused and she got nothing from Coral Ridge.** But in 2015 news broke that Tchividjian had been involved in sexual misconduct with several congregants, the church fired Tchividjian and the new pastor fired Tchividjian and the new pastor Rob Pacienza, who had been involved in Harding’s firing, came to her privately and apologize. And this is where it gets interesting. Rob Pacienza is still the senior pastor of Coral Ridge and the CEO of D. James Kennedy Ministries. And he now says that that apology in 2015 was not an admittance that he or the church did anything wrong. And this is relevant because in 2021, Harding came back to Coral Ridge seeking a public apology and compensation for what had happened to her. But what she got was an offer for the same severance as she had gotten from Tchividjian in 2014, which again, was tied to an NDA, and Harding again refused.** In this podcast, you’ll hear Harding’s entire story, and it’s a doozy. It involves alleged spiritual abuse, not just to Coral Ridge, but at another Presbyterian Church where Harding later served on staff. And it involves the Presbyterian denomination in which Harding was ordained, which she says, did nothing when she complained about the alleged abuse. Plus it highlights important issues like churches forcing employees to sign NDAs. And we’ll get into issues of wage disparity between men and women in the church. We’ll unpack all of this in a moment.** But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marqaurdt of Barrington. Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus the school offers more than 60 majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to JUDSONU.EDU. Also if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners there, Dan and Kurt Marquardt, are our men of character. To check them out, just go to BUYACAR123.COM.** Well again, joining me is Lori Harding, the former women’s ministry director at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She has also formerly served as the associate pastor and Executive Director at Grace Community Church in Boca Raton, Florida. She was an ordained minister with the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and she holds a Master of Divinity from Knox Theological Seminary. So Lori, welcome, and I’m just so glad you could join me.
LORI HARDING 03:50
Thank you, Julie. Really glad to be with you.
JULIE ROYS 03:52
So just to give some context, you became a believer as an adult around 40, my understanding, right? So how is it that you ended up becoming a believer at 40 and then your connection with Tullian Tchividjian’s church and how you ended up there?
LORI HARDING 04:12
So it kind of a funny story. My son wanted to get his religion badge for Boy Scouts. He was a Boy Scout at the time. A religion badge. I guess at the time, it was a thing. Yeah, crazy. Yeah, so we, you know, hopped on over to the local church, it was a Methodist Church. And it was there that within about six months I had a, I’ll just say I use the word faith experience. It’s not very Christiany. But I like using that term because a lot of people can understand that even outside of the Christian faith. So had that experience. My son also had a similar experience there. So anyway, we spent about five years there, and the only reason we left there was well, the teaching wasn’t, I don’t know what you might say, deep. But really, it was because my son had met some friends, a group of young men from Tullian’s church, went on a missions trip with them and really got connected. And as a parent, you know, you want to support your kids in their faith journey. So we left the Methodist Church and went over to the church plant that Tullian was preaching at, teaching at.
JULIE ROYS 04:18
A religion badge? And you first came on staff at Tullian’s previous church before Coral Ridge, New City Church around 2008. You initially were on staff as like an executive assistant. Is that right?
LORI HARDING 05:32
Yeah, I had volunteered there for a while. We were really happy. You know, with the church. We were meeting a lot of other families with kids around the same age as our son. And so you know, wanted to just help out, so volunteered and then we dropped him off to college. And when I came back, started a permanent full time position at the church and just administrative role.
JULIE ROYS 05:50
So then, when Dr. D. James Kennedy passes away, huge ministry, huge church, Coral Ridge Presbyterian, Tullian, who’s Billy Graham’s grandson again, he takes over the pastorate there and the two churches, which is interesting, you know, the thought of these two churches merging very different in their DNA, didn’t go particularly well, from what I understand. But you transferred then and went on staff at Coral Ridge Presbyterian. And initially, you were executive assistant for a man named Scott Spell. What happened there?
LORI HARDING 06:28
For me, that’s still a mystery, quite honestly. And the way it all went down. I went on vacation. And that first night I was away with my family got a call from Scott Spell, that afternoon, probably 5:30. And he told me that he had just been fired. I had no idea. I was completely shocked. Devastated, really. Cried all night. We were close. We had a very good working relationship. I really appreciated him. And he didn’t say much. And I’m wondering, I don’t know if he had an NDA. I’m wondering if he did, maybe? I don’t know. But yeah, it was a real shock to the system, I guess. I had seen several people fired in a similar fashion. But you know, we were close. And I had worked for him for a couple of years.
JULIE ROYS 07:13
And I asked that, because it’s kind of foreshadowing, because from what you’re telling me, as you saw a number of people go, kind of mysteriously, what was sort of the buzz when some of these folks left?
LORI HARDING 07:27
Yeah, I mean, I refer to it as the Christian mafia. That’s the best term I can, because it’s just kind of under the cover of night, you know? One day they’re there. And the next day, they’re just gone. And, you know, kind of excommunicated. I use that term loosely, but just separated from community. You know, often we were given a narrative that was, of course, in favor of the church, and of Tullian. And that it was that person that left, that they were the problem somehow. There was something that had happened with them, or that was wrong with them, or it was initially a pretty shocking experience. I guess you just get used to that. And I think that’s what happened for me. I just kind of got used to it at first as a fairly new Christian. It was shocking to me, really, that this has happened, this kind of behavior was happening in the church.
JULIE ROYS 08:16
And so then you moved from Scott is no longer your boss, Rob Pacienza, who’s now the senior pastor at Coral Ridge, but at that time, he was executive director there, you became his executive assistant. Was that working relationship, was that a good experience? Or what was that like?
LORI HARDING 08:34
Yeah, it was a really good experience. You know, I liked Rob. He was very different from Scott, but I liked him. I appreciated him. He had moved from the Director of Outreach, I believe that was his position. So it was a promotion for him. So yeah, we had a good, real good working relationship I felt.
JULIE ROYS 08:52
And then you become Tullian’s assistant. Again, now we know a lot about Tullian that we didn’t know then. But at the time, he was a rising star, very charismatic leader, engaging speaker. I’m really curious what that was like being the executive assistant for Tullian, what your relationship was like, but also what Tullian was like at that time?
LORI HARDING 09:16
Again, we had a good I felt a good working relationship. And he was, I’ll say, you know, pretty instrumental, in my husband coming to faith and having that experience and getting plugged into the church, which had not been the case. So we were in a community group with him. He and his wife did not lead it, but they were part of it. And so that was special, you know, there was definitely that I think being close to the charismatic one, you know, there’s that and so.
JULIE ROYS 09:45
And you were in the inner circle then.
LORI HARDING 09:47
Right I mean, the executive office was Rob and Tullian and myself and one other executive assistant, who was originally she was the original assistant for Tullian. So it was the four of us, you know, doors closed and expansive executive suite. I mean, so in the early days, you know, it was very volatile, the merge was very volatile, a lot of just unhappy people. And it created havoc on staff, the staff was slashed. The music department was pretty much done away with. When I say the music department, I’m talking about, like the traditional choir. Tullian was very much moving away from anything that was traditional. And if Coral Ridge was anything, Coral Ridge was traditional. And so very much moving away from all of that. So it did create, while maybe many of us felt like that was the right direction, it was still very volatile. And so you never knew what was going to happen in that office. There was always stuff happening. I mean, I was kind of backed into a corner by a deacon. My associate Lana, the other assistant was also backed up into a wall by an elder. Just people very angry and upset. So you just never kind of knew what was gonna, was gonna happen. I mean, honestly, we kind of felt safe being in that part of the church.
JULIE ROYS 11:04
So you’re in this, this inner circle, you’re seeing things too. Probably a side of Tullian that other people aren’t seeing. And I remember talking to you about this, that you felt like Tullian was changing over time. Describe that change and what you began to see and the kind of culture and environment that that began to nurture.
LORI HARDING 11:29
One of his personality characteristics is he uses humor. And you could probably see that in his preaching. And he has a unique sense of humor, and one that kind of mocks people and you know, cuts people down. He used to say, we tear people down so we can build them up.
JULIE ROYS 11:44
Do you know who else said that?
LORI HARDING 11:47
JULIE ROYS 11:48
LORI HARDING 11:50
JULIE ROYS 11:51
He used to say, “Sarcasm is my love language.”
LORI HARDING 11:53
JULIE ROYS 11:54
And the mocking. Yeah, it’s similar.
LORI HARDING 11:57
You know, and that’s just not something I was used to. So, you know, again, it’s that frog in the water, right? I mean, at first, I was shocked by it. I was like, you know, oh, my gosh, like, this is a pastor, but, you can just kind of get used to it. And then when he would say, you know, if you don’t have a sense of humor, then you don’t get the gospel. So essentially saying, you know, like, the problem is you. If you can’t laugh at this. And so, you know, being in that office, I would laugh. It was a very awkward situation at first for me, because I just felt in my gut in my spirit, that that’s not okay. But that was just kind of the general way that Tullian operated. But it you know, it was probably in a couple years after that, when we got to Coral Ridge, he started publishing more books. He started speaking, you know, nationally, and sometimes internationally. He started a, well, not he but the church started a conference ministry called Liberate, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that, but Liberate conference. And so that was an annual conference and all of the buddies, you know, I call them the Reform Theo Bros, would, you know, head down to South Florida and have a great time hanging out with Tullian. And so, you know, it was kind of in the midst of all of that, where I think people would say, and I observed, you know, some changes. He was not in the office a lot. He was, well, I say, just kind of getting out of control. You know, you just never knew, like, when the phone rang, what might what it might be, you know, he had a history of speeding and you know, tickets and just mayhem really. It just always seemed to be something surrounding him. So that was you know, a lot of that was just us managing that from the inside.
JULIE ROYS 13:40
And nobody’s saying to Tullian at this point, this is not okay? You know, as a brother in Christ this is not okay. This culture is not okay. None of that’s going on? People looking the other way? Or just don’t see it? And it was Driscoll time too. Mark Driscoll was and that was his whole shtick to that he was the you know, edgy. The cussin pastor. And that was, that was like, Cool. Like, if you could accept that then that was cool. And if you couldn’t accept it, you’re just too uptight.
LORI HARDING 13:53
You know, I don’t know if any of the elders were speaking with him or if Rob was speaking with him about these things. You know, he was just the cool guy. You know, he was the bad boy in Christianity. And reformed Christianity at that. Right? So but he was the bad guy, you know, kind of the bad boy that could get away with stuff because he was Billy Graham’s grandson. Right? You’re too uptight. You don’t get the gospel.
JULIE ROYS 14:33
You don’t get the gospel.
LORI HARDING 14:34
So yeah, so he had the holy jeans, you know, he didn’t wear a robe. He you know, hewas working out so you know, his muscles and you know, tattoos and just all the cool things, you know? So,
JULIE ROYS 14:46
LORI HARDING 14:47
and the cool kid on the block for sure.
JULIE ROYS 14:49
So then your job morphs to, well I shouldn’t say morphs. He wanted you to take this job as women’s ministry director. There had been a lot of people come and go, and for sake of time, we can’t go into a lot of it, but it sounds like there were some things that happened that started to create some tension in your relationship with Tullian. But kind of the last straw from my understanding is that you were looking at the finances, and you were supposed to have a scholarship for a women’s conference coming up. You discovered what, that money was, was just not there or something?
LORI HARDING 15:28
JULIE ROYS 15:28
Tell me about that. And what you did when you saw this financial irregularity, we’ll call it.
LORI HARDING 15:33
Right. Yeah. So as director of women’s ministry, I created, you know, had the budget. The budget was a fiscal year, a calendar year. So we had done the budget last June. And so now it’s spring, fast forward, and I’m planning for the retreat. And the monies that I had set aside were to offset expenses for women that, you know, couldn’t otherwise afford to go on our annual retreat. So I’m doing the planning. And I think my question initially was just of the finance director, you know, how do I go about accessing and distributing these funds? So it was just more of like procedurally, how does this work and, and that was when I was told that the money wasn’t there. And I was told, I don’t know if this is true or not. But I was told that there was no cash flow. That the cash flow didn’t allow for that. I was devastated because I had specific women on my list that I was intending to help get to this retreat. At the same time, I was noticing, because I had been down in the executive office. And I noticed that in Tullian’s office, there was a new suite of leather furniture. And it was right before the Liberate conference. And so the Liberate conference, I don’t know if people can understand this. But being a large church and having this conference ministry, it was very much about the, you know, kind of how we look right? And so, you know, there was a green room. So Tullian’s office was, quote, unquote, the green room, so everybody would gather there, and there was, you know, food and, you know, frivolity and conversation, you know, as everybody was flying in. It was a very exciting kind of time, because the people that were coming into town, were not no-names. These were all the top names at the time, in evangelical Christianity, boys, men. So I asked that question, I requested a meeting with the finance manager and just asked the question, you know, how is it that we don’t have the cash flow for this retreat for the women, but we have this new suite of furniture in Tullian’s office? I never got an answer. And whether that was a right question to ask. I just asked because I needed to understand where the cash went. Because I’m not an accountant. But if you have a budget, and you have, you know, $10 to spend and five are set aside for a specific thing, and then you’re told well, no, not really. To me, that’s a problem. So I think it was a fair question.
JULIE ROYS 18:03
And then you had a discussion with Tullian about it as well.
LORI HARDING 18:08
No, I never got that far. It never got that far. I mean, what I think happened is that the finance director went back to Tullian and told him.
JULIE ROYS 18:21
But you don’t know?
LORI HARDING 18:22
And I don’t know.
JULIE ROYS 18:24
Okay. You did share with someone who was a friend, that you were having some of these issues and kind of confided in a friend and she was from out of town. We know now, because she’s told you. Describe what happened there. And from your understanding, how maybe that contributed to what suddenly happened to you, which is your firing.
LORI HARDING 18:45
Right. I was actually resistant to taking that position. Because I’ve been around the church, I’d seen directors of women’s ministries come and go, and it was not pretty. And I actually had told Tullian, in the beginning, I didn’t want that position. I ended up taking it. But one of the things I asked Duane Mellor for was their unwavering support.
JULIE ROYS 19:05
Duane Mellor, who’s the director of inreach and outreach at the time.
LORI HARDING 19:08
Right. He was my direct manager. And so I requested support. I want to have backup, because, you know, in a large church, in a church like Coral Ridge, money, money talks, and people can, you know, get their way. And I didn’t want that to happen. I just I could almost see the writing on the wall.** So there was an incident that did happen, and I did not get their support. And it was, it was a minor thing. It was indicative. And because I had asked from the onset for that support, and the decision that I made was actually a decision that was backed by Duane, and so for them to not support me, after that, it was very frustrating and it created a lot of tension, awkward conversations, a lot of self isolating. I mean Duane wouldn’t talk to me, Rob stopped talking to me. I mean, it was very difficult. It was a very difficult time. So as the conference approached in February, Kim and I, and a couple of the other women, we were having these conversations via email, because we were going to get together to plan some ministry.
JULIE ROYS 20:14
Kim’s your friends from out of town, right?
LORI HARDING 20:16
JULIE ROYS 20:16
LORI HARDING 20:17
Yep. And so we had a separate ministry, these four women, and we were going to meet several times, throughout Liberate, to talk about the ministry. Anyway, I had shared very vulnerably with them in email. And I don’t know if it was over the phone, or if it was in person at Liberate. But at some point, she shared, Kim shared that information with Tullian.
JULIE ROYS 20:43
And you get summoned to Tullian’s office. And because of some of the tension that’s been building, you had an inkling, this is what was going to happen, right? You’re gonna get fired.
LORI HARDING 20:56
I was asked literally the day before to come to a meeting at four o’clock the following day. And that day before, I didn’t really put it together, but it was the next day throughout the day. I don’t know, I just started getting, I just started thinking about how this went down with other people, and started maybe connecting some dots. And then that was when I thought it was really that afternoon. And I was actually sitting in a seminary class across the street, and I was pulled out of the seminary class to go to this meeting. It was probably around lunchtime, and I started to think, am I getting fired? And I actually texted Tullian and asked him.
JULIE ROYS 21:29
Did he respond?
LORI HARDING 21:30
JULIE ROYS 21:31
So you come into a room. It’s Tullian, Rob Pacienza was there. Duane Mellor was there. The head of HR was there as well. Was there anybody else in the room? no,
LORI HARDING 21:31
JULIE ROYS 21:44
How did this meeting go down?
LORI HARDING 21:46
One of the things I did as I was driving back across the street to the church, I called my counterpart because she was the executive assistant in the office as well. Because I wanted her to come into the meeting with me. And she didn’t answer. She didn’t call when I got to the parking lot. Her car was gone. So they vacated the premises, but basically, so that nobody was, you know.
JULIE ROYS 22:08
I can imagine. I’m just sort of picturing pulling in, everybody’s gone.
LORI HARDING 22:13
JULIE ROYS 22:13
You’re summoned to this meeting, you know, the heart must have been pounding.
LORI HARDING 22:17
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. So we parked at one end of the building where those offices were. So when you pulled in, and there, you know, there’s no cars. I mean Tullian’s car was there. Yeah, so you know, I’m walking in now I’m completely, you know, my heart’s pounding. I don’t know what to expect. And, you know, you’re basically ambushed. I mean, that’s the best way I can describe it, because you have no idea what’s coming. I came in, I sat down. You know, the four of them are, you know, in that like a semi circle, and I’m sitting on the sofa. And, you know, in the beginning Tullian seemed calm, and was just starting to explain that I was getting fired. I don’t know, I don’t even know how there wasn’t a lot of chitchat beforehand. He was very, you could tell he was uncomfortable telling me this. Like I said, we had a good relationship. So, you know. I don’t want to say this was hard for him, because I don’t I just don’t want to go that far. But I guess maybe at the time, it would have been. I don’t know. But he told me why I was getting fired. And it was because–he listed three things. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but three things. And his tone and demeanor changed when I pressed him for more why. Those aren’t reasons to say that, you know, one of the things was my theology was wrong. Well, you don’t fire somebody because they don’t maybe have complete, you know, lockstep with your theology. So I just kept pressing him, you know, why? Why? I was looking at Duane.
JULIE ROYS 23:55
But you were in lockstep with his theology at that point, weren’t you?
LORI HARDING 23:58
That is the funny thing. When I would tell, you know, when I would tell people what happened, why I was fired, I said, I can only tell you what I was told. And that was one of them. But at the time, I mean, I’m active on Twitter, I was retweeting his stuff. I mean, I was pretty much mimicking straight up Tullian theology.
JULIE ROYS 24:17
And you’re in seminary, it’s Knox Theological Seminary, where you are going which is across the street, like you said, it’s reformed. It’s in the same vein theologically, and I know a lot of people have talked about Tullian. Really, his preaching was almost getting antinomian which is a word that probably most people don’t know and I only know because some people have written articles about it and I’ve read them. But basically this idea that once you become a believer, you don’t necessarily have to strive not to sin. Like sin is no big deal and you know, it’s you don’t necessarily become more like Jesus, and makes total sense. It’s kind of like this grace covers everything. So just keep sinning like crazy, which Tullian was doing at the time. I mean, nobody knew it. But now we know that he was having, I don’t even want to call them relationships because some of these relationships, sexual relationships, were with congregants. So that’s abuse. That’s clergy sexual abuse is what that was. And this is going on at the time. Again, nobody knows at this point. But you’re being brought on the carpet by a guy who’s committing adultery and clergy sexual abuse. I don’t even call it adultery because it’s not. It’s much more serious. It’s preying on your sheep. And that’s what was happening. So what were, there were two other things, right?
LORI HARDING 25:40
Yeah, so my theology was wrong. I had made an idol of transparency. And
JULIE ROYS 25:47
So that’s because you’re asking about the money, like you want transparency? Is that it?
LORI HARDING 25:51
Um, no, I don’t think that. I think that he was referring to my, just who I am. I’m just very honest and open and real, and out there. I mean, my husband and I split up during my time working in that executive office. And I told the staff, you know, I took some time off. And I told them, I wrote a letter to the staff. And I said, this is why. I’m not afraid, I’ve never been really, to just be who I am. I mean, if we can’t be real as Christians, I think that’s what people don’t like about Christians is the hypocrisy. Right? So I was in that way authentic. And I think that’s what he was referring to.
JULIE ROYS 26:30
And there was one more thing?
LORI HARDING 26:32
That I was not well.
JULIE ROYS 26:34
LORI HARDING 26:35
JULIE ROYS 26:35
Why were you not well?
LORI HARDING 26:36
He never said. I mean, I pressed him. As the meeting went on, I was pressing for more answers, and he was getting more agitated. Red faced, neck muscles bulging, like, you know, like he was he was definitely getting frustrated with me, because I wanted more answers. Those were not satisfactory answers to me because they weren’t true. And if I was really not well, and this was something that I was asking, if I’m not well then help. Tell me what are you talking about and help me! How can you know as my pastor, you’re not just my boss, your my pastor, my family’s pastor. And if you’re saying, I’m not well, wow! There are a lot more conversations we should be having. Even if you still intend to fire me. There’s a big elephant in the room. How can you say something like that?** So, you know, if anybody’s experienced something like that, it’s devastating. I mean, I think that that was the one comment over and above all three, that was most traumatic, because you have somebody speaking for God, as if they are God sitting in a chair telling you that you’re not well. That has very deep and lasting implications.
JULIE ROYS 27:52
And they offered you a severance. And my understanding what was it two months severance? And it was tied to a non-disparagement agreement, an NDA?
LORI HARDING 28:06
JULIE ROYS 28:07
You go home. And you basically told them what, I’m going to think about it. You go home, to think about it over the weekend. Didn’t the head of HR, reach out and give you some instructions about what you should and shouldn’t say on social media, which is this is just classic.
LORI HARDING 28:24
I mean, the whole thing was, it was such a new experience. And just so out there for me. It was just every step of it was shocking. But yeah, the next morning, I started getting text messages and then find the emails from the HR director telling me to get off social media, which I hadn’t said anything anyway. So I’m not really sure what she was talking about. But yeah, get off social media. When I didn’t respond to that, she called my husband while he was at work Friday morning, tell your wife
JULIE ROYS 28:51
And you weren’t you weren’t posting at this point? So it’s not just a job. We’re talking about your entire community. You’re talking about your your faith community, your friend community. I mean, it’s the church community becomes everything so often at these churches.
LORI HARDING 28:53
I mean, I was posting but I wasn’t saying anything about that. I was free falling. I was devastated. I had a friend that found out on Thursday night. I got in my car. I drove home. I called my husband first thing. One of the deacons, his wife was a very good friend of mine, she found out from him because they immediately sent a letter out to the elders and the deacons. And she just showed up on my doorstep, and I just fell into her arms. And she stayed with me until my husband got home. And so, you know, my world has just been rocked. And by the way, the HR director, Deanna, we were very good friends. My husband and her husband and she and I got together regularly for holidays. And they were in our community group. I mean, so itwas very difficult. All my friends, my vocation, you know, my heart, I mean, it was just it was all of that, everything. Since then I’ve come to understand that this is why I do talk about this is when churches start talking about, “Welcome home, we are your forever family!” No, I’m sorry.I don’t I don’t like that language because of that. Because I’ve just seen it over and over. I mean, it’s not just me, you know, we hear about these stories all the time. Where’s your family when this happens?
JULIE ROYS 30:23
So tough. And it should be I mean, I will honestly say, I’ve left two churches, where one they actually had me come up and, and they blessed me. And they prayed for us, because they realized that we just theologically didn’t agree, and we love them. But we couldn’t stay. Another church, we left and it’s been harder, but I’ve stayed, you know, good friends with good friends. So it doesn’t have to be that way to be, you know, and these are some of the signs of unhealth in churches, when something like this happens, as I mentioned, in the open, then it came out. You know, what was going on there with Tullian and there is also I’m going to be playing a recorded interview that I did with Rob Pacienza, who has a very different narrative of what happened. But we’ll table that for now. You’re fired in 2014, 2015. This becomes national news. So I remember this when you know, the headlines that Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson, is involved in sexual misconduct. And then as time went on, it became more and more. What was that like for you? Hearing that Tullian and this man you had had on a pedestal, and then had done this to you that he was actually involved in this kind of grave sin?
LORI HARDING 31:45
So many emotions, I felt validated, you know, I, but I was angry. How could this happen? Who knew? If people saw him spinning out of control, you know, just all those just all those questions, of course, I was concerned for his family, three kids, his wife, you know, the church was going to be decimated. Just so many people were hurt within multiple acts of abuse, adultery, whatever, you know, however, you want to frame that? I think clergy abuse is the right assessment. So yeah, just the fallout was huge. It was huge. So you know, I was just trying to hold on probably like everybody else, watching the news, waiting to find out more. I had several conversations with Kim with his wife at the time, she was, of course devastated and going through literally hell on earth. So yeah, it was a really, really traumatic time for a lot of people. And, you know, look, I was not the only one fired in that manner. You know, I was one in a pretty long list. And so I’m sure other people that have, you know, been through a similar situation, were probably feeling the same thing. So some people reached out to me, I reached out to some other people. And this was this actually happened before his I think, before he was exposed, but I ended up making lists of people that I wanted to contact and tell you tell them how sorry I was for . . . and I know that it’s, it’s not something that’s intended, but when you’re on the inside, and you’re hearing that narrative, and it’s from the pastor and your leaders, and you’re hearing the reasons why they are right, and this person is wrong, you believe that you just believe that and I did. And so, so many people after that happened to me, you know, my eyes were instantly opened. And I just just had a list of people that I, you know, ended up getting back in contact with.
JULIE ROYS 33:37
Who had been fired.
LORI HARDING 33:38
Yeah. Yep. Who had been fired and so many were gracious. Some were not so gracious, which is fine. I get it. And every week more information was coming out, I mean, just for a while just didn’t seem to stop that whole summer was just an onslaught of more news.
JULIE ROYS 33:56
So a very significant conversation happened when Rob Pacienza reached out to you. You guys ended up meeting. Describe that meeting.
LORI HARDING 34:06
So he texted me out of the blue and I was shocked and of course, my radar went up. I had not talked with him since that day, I was fired and he was sitting in the office. And he, I asked him, what he wanted. He said he wanted to meet with me and with my husband. I asked him for what purpose. And he said I want to ask you to forgive me, but I’d like to do it in person. So I agreed and my husband I met him at a local restaurant one evening. I was shaking the whole time. I mean, talk about The body–your listeners might know this book–The Body Keeps the Score.
JULIE ROYS 34:39
LORI HARDING 34:39
I had no knowledge of that of any of this kind of, you know, kind of that connection between trauma and I was just trying to survive you know, quite honestly, find a new job and survive. But that entire meeting, my body was physically shaking. When we got to the car, I was sitting next to my husband and my legs, our legs were touching and we got in the car. My husband said your leg was shaking the whole time. I was, I had to fight back the tears. It was very emotional and very, I would say, even though it was good in terms of him asking for forgiveness, it was still traumatizing for me to have to relive that.
JULIE ROYS 35:17
What did he ask for forgiveness for?
LORI HARDING 35:19
This was after Tullian was exposed.
JULIE ROYS 35:22
LORI HARDING 35:22
He’s telling how much of Tullian’s behavior he knew about. I don’t know, I have no idea what he knew and what he didn’t know, as the executive director there. But I imagine it was traumatic for him and for his wife. And now, you know, he’s executive director of this church and trying to steer it and all those things. So he specifically asked me to forgive him for not standing up for not saying anything.
JULIE ROYS 35:46
When you were fired?
LORI HARDING 35:48
Yeah, yep. And so we both said we forgave him. But I think one of the most important things for me that he said was, “You were fine. There was nothing wrong with you. You were well.” And, you know, I think I pretty much lost it when he said that, because for a year I was constantly questioning myself, “Is something wrong with me?” It’s a very, you know, pastors listen, you know, when you say things to people in your care, you have to understand how powerful that is, because you are literally speaking for God. And so to have to hear that, and, you know, to spend that year just questioning that, and even after that, it just rings in my ears. It still does, even though I know I was fine. I know my gut was right. My radar was on point. You know, I was fine. I was not the crazy one. But when yoru’re told that specifically, you just believe it. You internalize that. So it’s taken a long time to kind of get over that.
JULIE ROYS 37:08
It’s huge. I mean, pastors are father figures. The father is our representative, right? That’s the closest we get to understanding God. And I think for women, you know, I’ll speak for myself. And I don’t even think I’m as prone to it as some. But I’ve had that experience, you know, and the pastor, wanting his affirmation. I remember, because I’m a strong personality, and I’ve been on staff at a church, and I’m a woman. It is, it’s tough. And you want so much that affirmation of the pastor, I remember the first time a pastor actually blessed me it was–I’d become Anglican at this point–and he blessed me and put oil on my forehead before I lead worship. I used to lead worship a lot. And I like it was huge, just to receive that blessing from from a pastor’s voice. I don’t put as much stock in men as I used to. I mean, that is a blanket statement against men, but just like mankind, I think we need to look to Christ. And there can be a real idolatry and we need to be careful. But I think you’re right, that is absolutely huge. And given what happened to you. You were kind of like, I’m never going to serve in the church again. Right. Like, I’m done. I’m done
LORI HARDING 38:36
I’ll never ~work~ in a church again. Yeah, all right. Never work in a church again. And yet you ended up on staff at another church, a Grace Community Church in Boca Raton, Florida. You started off as what the communications director there? You know, I mean, that’s maybe a little bit easier. Like it’s not a pastoral job. Yeah, and that’s how I justified it. No, I justified it by saying it’s an administrative type position meaning like backroom office. I can be at my desk. I can do my work. I don’t have to, I’m not involved in ministry. I’m not here on Sundays. I can just do my job. And so that’s kind of how I justified it in my mind. And I love that job. For the first four years. I’m a creative person, I got to explore design. I love professional development and training and learning. So I took advantage to hone my skills and learn more about that and I just, I just loved it. I loved every bit about it.
JULIE ROYS 39:37
So you become Director of Outreach Engagement. Then you get your MDiv with your spare time. I guess you’re from Knoxville like but that’s something you had started when you were at Ceoral Ridge. You’re ordained by
LORI HARDING 39:51
Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
JULIE ROYS 39:53
Known as ECO it’s a Presbyterian denomination. It does affirm women in pastoral roles.
LORI HARDING 40:00
JULIE ROYS 40:01
So you’re ordained by them. And then you’re promoted to associate pastor slash Executive Director. And it’s my understanding that a consultant had come in and said that the Pastor, Jason Whitener, senior pastor there, good at preaching, not necessarily so good at leading the staff. So you are given this role. And now you’re you’re kind of directing the entire staff except for the the senior pastor. Is that correct?
LORI HARDING 40:28
Correct. Yeah. So as I was functioning as executive director and also Next Steps Pastor,
JULIE ROYS 40:36
Okay. So, from my understanding, you get a modest raise for, well, you know, I mean, you were in the mid 60s, and you went to like $76,000. And this is kind of in the early days of you assuming this position, you receive a financial balance sheet. You forwarded this financial balance sheet to me, and there were some eye opening things on there. So, again, you’re making $76,000. You find out that Senior Pastor Jason Whitener is making $145,000, so almost twice what you’re making. You find out that the youth pastor who is under you, who I’m guessing is a man, is making $75,000. So he’s practically making what you’re making as an executive level pastor. Had he been there, like, forever?
LORI HARDING 41:31
He had been there, I want to say five and a half years. Now, when I became executive director, he had already been let go. And so did the next person you’re probably going to mention.
JULIE ROYS 41:42
LORI HARDING 41:42
They were not on staff anymore.
JULIE ROYS 41:44
But they were making, youth pastors making 75 grand. Director of Music was making 90 grand.
LORI HARDING 41:51
JULIE ROYS 41:52
How’d you respond to this information?
LORI HARDING 41:55
So it was a hefty role. And that was my justification for beginning that conversation about salary. And so when I became associate pastor and then took on this executive director function, there was not going to be any increase whatsoever. Jason never even mentioned it, honestly, I had to bring it up. And that really began a series of difficult conversations. And it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t just, you know, finances and money. Although that’s what they have said that it was about. Well, you know, one of the things he had told me, and he said this several times throughout their conversations about money was that I wasn’t trusting God, because he had moved down to Florida to accept this position as senior pastor without knowing how much he was going to be making. And it was a very subtle, but clear to me message that, you know, you just, you need to trust God, you need to just trust God that we’re going to take care of you. I don’t know, I come from a staffing and recruiting background in the world and the corporate world. And, you know, I would never advise a candidate to accept a position without knowing how much they’re going to be making and what they’re meant. You know, I mean, that’s,
JULIE ROYS 43:06
He’s making 145 grand.
LORI HARDING 43:08
Right! Easy for you to say. So, but, I mean, that’s honestly, that’s spiritual abuse. Again, you’re using God, to manipulate a situation to shame somebody you had, this is a person in your care again, it wasn’t just my boss, he was my pastor. And now you are saying, it’s as if God is saying to you, you’re not trusting me simply because you want to know what you’re going to be making in your new position. It just . . .
JULIE ROYS 43:40
Well, it makes conversations that in the working world are expected. It’s a struggle when you’re in ministry, and at least my experience, is nobody minds sacrificing when we’re all doing it together.
LORI HARDING 43:55
JULIE ROYS 43:56
But when it becomes difficult is when some are sacrificing, and some are not. And so you made a very difficult decision in the midst of this. You wrote a letter resigning from a portion of your job, right? Not the whole thing.
LORI HARDING 44:11
Yeah. I don’t know, right or wrong, it was the best decision I could make that I would give up that executive director portion of my job, if it meant that we could get back on track. And in my mind, I thought, you know, it doesn’t have to be forever, either. Maybe this is just a temporary pause. So we can just figure it out. This was a brand new role for Grace. Jason had never had an executive director in his years of ministry. And maybe we just needed to figure out some things, you know, and so for me, and also, I knew I would have to give up that $7,000 attached to that, but I was okay with that that meant giving, you know, kind of like I said, getting back on track. That was what was important to me. So I sat down, I wrote that letter. It wasn’t a rash decision. It was a very intentional. I put a lot of thought and prayer into that.
JULIE ROYS 45:00
So then the session meets. Session is the equivalent of an elder board at a lot of other churches, but in Presbyterian Church, they’re called sessions. It meets and you’re told, we’ve just accepted your resignation for everything. You’re, you’re done here, right?
LORI HARDING 45:17
JULIE ROYS 45:18
So how did you find out that you were fired?
LORI HARDING 45:20
So they had to have a session meeting first to, by majority vote, to basically uninstall me. And so that happened that Monday.
JULIE ROYS 45:28
What was communicated as to why you were leaving the church?
LORI HARDING 45:33
You know, you can imagine this didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I had just been ordained in November and installed in December. And this is now the end of February. March 2 was the day I had the meeting where I actually was fired and presented with an NDA. But, so you know, it doesn’t add up, I’m sure in the congregation’s eyes, people that don’t know what’s going on. My gosh, you know, we just had this big celebration, you know, I mean, this was a happy thing, right? For Grace Community Church, to have an additional pastor on staff, and to have a woman pastor on staff. So you know, I received so many emails and phone calls from women. Like, “that’s awesome, Way to go, we’re so happy to have you, a woman in this role.” So it was a very celebratory time. And so now to have this happen, it was I can imagine confusing. So somebody pressed the issue on the Zoom call. And one of the elders said it was due to finances, salary, you know, my concerns about my salary.
JULIE ROYS 46:43
Which is partially true.
LORI HARDING 46:45
JULIE ROYS 46:46
But here’s the thing. You had signed an NDA. Correct?
LORI HARDING 46:52
JULIE ROYS 46:52
So why did you sign an NDA this time? And did you consider that as a violation of that NDA?
LORI HARDING 47:01
I regret signing it. I’ll say that. I did not sign the NDA at Coral Ridge. My husband and I decided we wouldn’t, because honestly, it wasn’t a lot of money. The stakes were a little higher this time. And we were in a different place. And honestly, it was just a financial, it was an economic decision. Think about it, too. I’m an ordained pastor in a denomination that’s pretty small. Where am I going to go? Honestly. So my job prospects, my vocational prospects seemed grim to me, seemed slim. Anyway, all that considered, we decided to sign it. Immediately, I regretted it.
JULIE ROYS 47:42
I’ve read the NDA, it says basically, you can’t say anything about why the person left, what happened, any of the circumstances leading up to it. I have yet to meet somebody who felt good that they signed their NDA. So I’ll just put that out there. People are doing this, it’s become so common, but why churches are asking for NDAs it’s concerning to me concerning to a lot of people. There’s a whole NDA free movement, trying to get these to not happen. And that’s part of the reason we’re talking is because I think your story is representative of what’s happening to a lot of folks. After you left, you decided to go public on Twitter. And at this point, it’s clear that you felt that that NDA had been breached. And so you could speak freely about what had happened. And you tweeted, and I quote, “I haven’t spoken about this publicly. And I’ll be saying more in the coming weeks. The cliffnotes version is this. I was fired from my position back in February, at a called congregational meeting, the members of Grace Community Church voted to quote, ‘support my request’ unquote, to resign. Funny thing is, I never resigned. I was fired. A session meeting was called under the cover of night and without my knowledge. The next morning, I was called into an office, fired and presented with an NDA. It’s been hell. The spiritual abuse wrought by Christian leadership in this situation is deep and wide.” After you tweeted that Pastor Jason Whitener, obviously saw the tweet and saw a conversation going on between a pastor and you on Twitter and felt that he needed to address it privately. And so he sent an email to another Presbyterian pastor, apparently, to counter your tweet. And I’ve obtained that email from Pastor Whitener. And this is what he writes. He said, “I don’t want to get in an online war with Lori. So I haven’t put out a public response but simply want to reach out to you to say that just about everything she put in that post is simply not true. She was very unhappy with her compensation that totaled about $105,000 as a first year pastor and that displeasure carried over into her attitude in the day to day. She submitted a letter of resignation from the executive portion of of her position. The elders accepted that as a full resignation. And she confirmed that in signing the agreement, which clearly stated this was a resignation. We gave her $30,000 severance, which we felt was very generous. There was never any pressure or coercion for her to sign that document and each step of the way, we made it clear we could bring in the presbytery to oversee the process if she’d prefer.” This pastor forwarded this to you. Why did he do that? And what was your response when you received that?
LORI HARDING 50:30
He had told me that he was contacted by Jason and I was honestly shocked.
JULIE ROYS 50:35
A couple of things in there, though, your compensation totaling $105,000. Your effective salary was $76,000, I believe. But then there were some car expenses, some social security, all these things put together. And I guess there is a way to come up with $105,000. Your severance was not $30,000, was it? The actual severance amount of that was about $12,000, right?
LORI HARDING 50:38
JULIE ROYS 50:38
I mean, the other things were
LORI HARDING 50:57
M-mm [No.]. healthcare premiums, some study time.
JULIE ROYS 51:07
Yeah. So I mean, definitely, the numbers aren’t exactly what they were. I did reach out to Pastor Jason Whitener. And at first one I reached out to him was was just for an interview. And he wrote, “I considered Lori a genuine colleague, confidant and friend during our five years of serving together, and I personally am very gladly advocated in every way for her to be called and approved in the position of associate pastor.” But then he said, “Lori submitted her resignation from the executive responsibilities of her role, which were the majority of the position and the primary reason we called her as an associate pastor.” And I don’t want to get into these these weeds again, I mean, we’ve kind of done that. But then he offers to respond in written form. So I reached out to him again and said, “Hey, I would love to record an interview with you if you’d be willing. But if you’d like, I can email questions.” And then he responded, that what he really liked to do is be in a live part of this interview together and be a part of the podcast together. So I did reach out to you and said, “Lori, how do you feel about that? Because Jason has offered this.” You didn’t want to do that? Why?
LORI HARDING 52:17
I am okay, very okay with saying no to things that are not going to be good for me. You only have to be through one of these situations to know how traumatizing that can be when you are having to confront the same person that is lying that, you know, I’m just going to say spiritual abuse, I mean, to be in any kind of phone calls zoom call, face to face would just be traumatic, and not something I’m willing to put myself through.
JULIE ROYS 52:53
Well, I communicated that back to him, I sent detailed questions to him and said that you weren’t willing to be on with him live in a recording. He wrote back, “I would have been glad to sit with you and Lori on a balanced podcast where you moderated discussion, and I’m able to immediately provide the alternative side of the story instead of hearing from the side Lori shares. It would be helpful for your listeners to know that I would have been willing. I’m surprised to see that you have predetermined to continue to go forward with a story without knowing me and having the full picture when I offered to be part of a dialogue with both of you. This is telling to me, given the fact that you’re proceeding with a podcast with Lori, with or without the other side of the story, as well as the nature of the questions that you sent make a number of pointed accusations against Grace and me personally. I’m not going to provide further comment on this, other than to say that Grace, and I humbly and respectfully deny any allegations of any wrongdoing whatsoever with respect to Lori Harding.” Let me just say, from my perspective, I didn’t predetermine anything. And actually, Grace’s response wasn’t the number one determinant on whether or not, or even this part of the story on whether or not we went forward with his podcast. But you did send me a number of documentation that convinced me your story was worth telling. And things checked out. I would never ask someone who said that they’ve been through trauma to face that person again, that allegedly did that to them. I’m not making a judgment statement on that. I’m just saying that’s not something that I would do. That’s my response to Jason. Although I did tell him, I’m still open to recording. We’d love to hear your side of the story. I do ask pointed questions, because I do not want anyone to say, “There were allegations made about me. I didn’t know or have an opportunity to respond to.” So I do ask very specific questions. But let me ask you, how do you respond?
LORI HARDING 54:51
I mean, one of the first things that kind of jumps out to me is that, you know, I think he’s accusing you of imbalanced journalism. Uh, you know, I think that’s unfair to say that, but he says, I think it’s telling Well, you know, I think it’s telling by the response. I mean, why not? Why not answer the questions? If you have nothing to hide, or if your interest is a balanced presentation, it doesn’t surprise me, I don’t think because this is a pattern of we have to continue with the narrative, we have to circle the wagons, I wish that he would have answered the questions because you were trying to give him an opportunity, right to kind of set the record straight, so to speak. So you know, it’s too bad that he didn’t take you up on that. But I think that’s telling.
JULIE ROYS 55:37
So in the aftermath of what happened at Grace, you discovered the survivor community on Twitter. And I know a lot of that community as you listened to this podcast, and it’s become an incredible community. I just think of the conference we have annually, where we actually get to see each other face to face. And it’s, it’s so amazing, because there are just deep, profound relationships in that community. And you started reading some books, like “A Church Called Tov.” And I think, Wade Mullen’s book, “Something’s Not Right.” Fantastic books. But as a result, you began to think of this in different terms, in what, you know, your whole experience in the church. How did that begin to crystallize for you?
LORI HARDING 56:33
It was, you know, again, I use the word crushing, but it really was. And so spent the summer really this that March, April, May, June, trying to find help, you know, trying to find information, trying to listen to people maybe that had had similar experiences, I say, now I’ve completely re curated, you know, my Twitter, who I follow, and my followers because it has so much become the survivor community. And it’s been hugely helpful for me as I’ve pursued healing. That’s how I discovered these resources, A Church Called Tov and Something’s Not Right. And along with some other really helpful podcasts, and you know, books. And so I, just over a period of time I miss a couple of those couple of months, I began to connect the dots between what just happened to me here, and what happened to me at Coral Ridge. And prior to this, I didn’t understand I didn’t know really about spiritual abuse. I just knew what I had experienced it and how experienced and how devastating it was for me. As I started to read and listen, I began to be able to have language to explain how I felt why I felt why my body was shaking for an hour straight in that chair at that restaurant with Rob Pacienza. It all began to make sense. I mean, everyday light bulbs were going off. Oh my gosh, that’s why this that’s why this that explains this. You know, so, you know, it’s not we know, it’s not just Jason and it’s not just Tullian. So yeah, all those dots just getting connected for me. Where I could name it. Right? What happened to me at Coral Ridge was spiritual abuse. There is no question in my mind about that. What happened to me at Grace is definitely spiritual abuse. The most senior executive at the denomination I was ordained in became familiar with what was going on and although he really didn’t want to say too much about what happened leading up to me being fired, but he said, “most definitely what happened after that was wrong. What happened to you was wrong.”
JULIE ROYS 58:39
Well, that ends part one of my podcast with Lori Harding. But in part two, you’ll hear the communication Lori just alluded to. I’ll read a very telling email from Dana Allen, the senate executive with the Presbyterian denomination to which Lori belonged. You’ll also hear what happened to Lori when she went back to Coral Ridge, asking for closure and for the church to write some of the wrongs against her. And you’ll hear Pastor Rob Pacienza, the senior pastor of Coral Ridge, explain why he believes Lori’s firing was justified and why he apologized to Lori in 2015.
ROB PACIENZA 59:13
I forget exactly what I said to her, but I just apologized for how things ended. I know Lori’s using that as some admission of guilt. I think I have apologized to every single employee that I’ve had to let go. Was it right to let the employee go? Yes. Is it justified? Yes. But does my heart still break that things ended the way they did?
JULIE ROYS 59:34
You’ll hear the rest of that explanation by Rob Pacienza in part two. You’ll also hear an eye opening account of what happened from the perspective of a former women’s ministry leader at Coral Ridge. And you’ll hear the impact all of this has had on Lori. And why despite the fact that it sometimes seems futile, she continues to speak out. As always, you can find a transcript of this podcast at my website, JulieRoys.com. I’ll also post all of the documents referenced in this podcast at my website as well. And if you’d like to support the work that we do, please go to our donate page, JulieRoys.com/donate. Also just a quick reminder to subscribe to the Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today and for caring about truth and justice.
Grace Church – Staff Salary Information for 2020 – Document Date: Jan. 14, 2021
Email from Jason Whitener to Pastor Keith – Dec. 7, 2021
Email from Jason Whitener to Julie Roys – Aug. 2, 2022
Grace Church – Salary Terms of Call – As of 2020
Email from Jason Whitener to Julie Roys – Sept. 16, 2022
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church – Non-Disclosure Agreement – October 1, 2021
Grace Community Church – Non-Disclosure Agreement – March 2, 2021
12 thoughts on “Survivor Claims Spiritual Abuse at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, Part 1”
My wife, daughter and I have experienced what we called “church hurt” so I appreciated the report on spiritual abuse. It’s an awful experience that we still talk about several years later. Tom Sweigard
As we all know, there are three sides to every story (yours, mine and the truth).
Are you going to host Jason Whitener as he requested or just Lori Harding?
I think it would be most informative and impactful if both could be heard, even if separately.
I offered to do just that. He chose not to record an interview with me separately.
So, spiritual abuse is basically a dispute over monetary compensation of a pastor’s salary? Plus, throughout the entire interview Ms. Harding consistently interjected her narcissistic “me, me, me” rhetoric instead serving the divine being who supposedly placed her in the position. Churches should stay away from her with a ten foot barge pole!
Excellent interview in Part 1. The process by which she was fired at the second church is telling. As I understand it, the Session of the church met, heard from the Pastor his version of what had happened with Rev. Harding, and immediately decided to support the firing, with no opportunity given to Rev. Harding to speak to them and to answer questions from the Session.
Thanks so much for this great podcast. I look forward to part 2. Thank you Lori for your courage in sharing your experience. I know there is always a cost. This podcast particularly peaked my interest because I lived in South Florida for several years in the mid 90s and was required to attend Coral Ridge Presbyterian due to my former husbands employment at the K-12 school associated with the church.
Unfortunately nothing you shared about your experience at Coral Ridge is shocking or surprising. As I listened I just found myself nodding my head and saying “yep” that sounds about right….that sounds like Coral Ridge. Though there were many lovely people there that I enjoyed being in relationship with, there was definitely a dark undercurrent of control, fear, power dynamics,etc (and this was pre-Tchvidjian days). Jaw dropping stuff would happen and I’d look around to the people I respected and question “really? You’re going to drink the Koolaid?” It was very confusing. People would be chewed up and spit out regularly. Christian mafia….an appropriate term.
Lori, I am incredibly sorry for the specific situation of being spiritually abused there. It litterally makes me sick to my stomach knowing in the name of God they said something was wrong with you. But I am thrilled that you now have the framework to see what it truly was, ABUSE. As you share your story, I pray that thru it others who have been deeply harmed by Coral Ridge and other churches will have the language and framework to understand their own experience (and that they are not crazy), so they too can find healing on their journey.
Amazing what people will do under the guise of religion.
Amazing what people will tolerate under the guise of religion.
This was a really interesting conversation involving a lot of different issues. I’m looking forward to the rest of it. I agree with Ms. Roys’s openness to a separate interview with Mr. Whitener, but not one where he is in conversation with Ms. Harding.
I was surprised by the number of times Ms. Harding said said that a pastor/employer was “speaking for God” in his relation with employees. Or at all. As a Catholic, I find that just weird. Our priest doesn’t speak for God in a sermon (“homily”) at Mass. He tells us some things about what we heard in the four Scripture readings we have in each Mass.
My pastor tends to start with, “I was just reading this book,” *waves book* “and …” but regardless, your priest doesn’t speak for God. Even the role of the Pope as “Vicar of Christ” is very limited in terms of teaching *authority* as opposed to teaching persuasiveness.
And a priest certainly doesn’t speak for God in his relationship with parish employees, which are usually very few. We have two secretarial employees, a financial manager, a music director, an education director, a part-time AV/Tech guy, and a youth ministry director, in a church of over 1,000 households. And a “facilities manager,” who is 80, and his helper. 7 full-time and 2 part-time employees, if I figure it right.
Cynthia. That’s the gotcha moment all American evangelicals use to basically say”don’t challenge me god is speaking thru me”. When I hear this I just laugh. But for many, with no confidence that god can and also speak to them, they just roll over and fear the man instead of trusting in God. But I have to admit these charlatans get the job done. The job of fleecing the folk. Many favorite televangelist threats but one of my favorites is good ole Jim baker. Said we will answer to god for not believing gods prophets. Oh I’m rolling over in laughter. Who decided these clowns are actual prophets. What have they prophesied that hadn’t actually just been a vague wild guess. Oh yeah trump would win. Well the bookies of Las Vegas made the same guess. But when he didn’t win the second term. Oh the non stop excuses. These critters have no shame. But they do have your fear and money.
Gary Weigel, I think it illustrates how easily people can get caught up in a system and accept the system’s parameters as reality. When Tullian T. told Ms. Harding, “You’ve made an idol of transparency,” anyone outside would have heard, “We don’t tell the truth here: it’s embarrassing.” Ms. Harding, inside the system, seems to have heard, “You are sinning. Your salvation is in jeopardy.”
I think there’s a lesson for everyone, in that we should all have contacts and interactions outside the systems we choose, so that there’s someone to say to us, “You know, that’s just nuts!”
So this is basically a dispute among many people who decided to make money off of Jesus!! 🤦♂️🤦♂️🤦♂️🤦🏻♂️🤦🏿♂️🤦♂️
I want to thank you for sharing, and being willing to share, this experience with readers and listeners. I read the transcript of Parts 1 and 2, so thank you for having it available. I am under conviction to not offer further comment, again though, thanks to both of you and the staff for putting this article together.
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