Charges of Adultery – Will Pastor Tavner Smith Do What’s Right?

I want to discuss something that’s been in the news a bit lately; something that has really disturbed me, and I just felt that I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it. Hopefully, someone out there will find these thoughts edifying, even though the subject matter of what I want to talk about today is far from edifying.       

Back in December of 2021, some news articles surfaced of trouble at a Chattanooga, Tennessee megachurch called “The Venue.”  According to news reports, some volunteers of the church arrived to the home of Pastor Tavner Smith and caught him partially undressed with a married female church employee, who was not his wife. Both parties denied having an affair, yet a video soon surfaced that was shot in secret which showed him kissing a woman in public. Again, not his wife.

Now, from what I can gather from news sources Pastor Tavner Smith, who is not a stranger to controversy, was soon to be challenged by his staff at the church about the video, the alleged affair, and well, some other charges of misconduct. What happened, again according to news sources, is that after the confrontation, eight staff members of this megachurch quit their jobs and walked off.

Now, of course, I was not at that staff meeting, but I can almost guarantee you what had happened. And, if I’m wrong I will gladly come back on here and say so. But, from what we know, it would appear that when the pastor was confronted the confrontation didn’t go so well.    

If I’m a pastor of a church and the staff came to me saying that there were allegations – serious ones – being made about me and my conduct, I know for a fact that I would want to clear the air. If those allegations were lies, I would know that my ministry is almost as good as over because those kinds of things are hard to rebound from.  If the charges were false, I would immediately ask for an independent investigation to be conducted by a third party so that the matter could be cleared up and that trust could be reestablished. I would take whatever time off to step away and allow the investigators to do their job and clear my name. I would do whatever it took.  

If, however, those allegations were true, and I had acted improperly, I know that I would do several things. I would fall to my knees and beg in shame for forgiveness. I would make a public statement about my guilt, and, most importantly, I would step down from the pulpit – never to return to it. Now, in the case of Tavner Smith, none of those things has yet happened. Instead, what has happened is that the staff members quit. They quit, and this my conjecture, because Smith refused to do the right thing.  He apparently refused to order an investigation to clear his name, and he apparently refused to go public with his sin. The staff members apparently decided that they couldn’t work with a pastor who was refusing to do the right thing, and so they quit. They should be commended.     

According to Smith’s Instagram account, he has stepped away to take some time to “fill up, spend some time with God, and get some counseling” so he can come back rested, refreshed and ready. He plans on returning in February.      

Note that he didn’t say anything about the allegations. He didn’t defend himself, and he certainly didn’t admit guilt. His post would seem to suggest that he’s just tired and needs a break. Certainly not what anyone would expect from someone who is dealing with these kinds of allegations.   

Some of you may remember back in the 80s when television preacher Jimmy Swaggart accused another televangelist, Jim Bakker of sexual misconduct, and called for him to step down from his ministry. Then, in an amazing turn of events, Swaggart himself was discovered to have been visiting a prostitute. Few of you will likely forget his tearful testimony, when he confessed his sin before the world.  The Assemblies of God, who had stripped Bakker of his credentials, met with Swaggart and recommended that he step down for a period of two years for rehabilitation.

Swaggart apparently felt that saying he was sorry was enough. It would seem that he felt that his talents as an evangelist were far too important to God to lose, and so rather than submit to the denomination, he decided to break away and go out on his own.  Tavner Smith would seem to fit into the same category. He’s far too valuable to the Kingdom of God to set aside, and so a few weeks to rest before returning to the pulpit is a fitting response to committing willful adultery.   I think not.    

As many of my readers know, I do jail ministry, and so I regularly meet with men and women who have committed crimes. So, I’m not a stranger to encountering people who have moral failures, and I am very committed to seeing people being restored. However, in my way of thinking, a person who doesn’t know God and who commits shameful acts is a far cry from someone who claims to know and love Jesus and who decides to live in disobedience to God.  And, Tavner Smith is not just a person who claims to know Jesus, he’s a pastor, a leader of a church. I believe this should change our perspective of him.  

James writes, “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement” (3:1).   I understand that to mean that those who desire to become leaders in the church should know that they will be held to a higher standard; a stricter judgement.  It’s not that they can’t be forgiven; they can. If, of course, they first confess their sins and repent from them. But, the fallout for their disobedience is simply far more reaching than in the case of a non-leader Christian.

Do you remember the story of Moses? In Numbers 20, he was instructed by God to speak to a rock so that it might pour out water for the Hebrews. Instead, likely because of his anger, Moses struck the rock. As a result of his disobedience, Moses was told that he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Now, this may seem like a pretty harsh punishment to us. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, put up with them in the wilderness, and brought them to the very door of the land of milk and honey. Yet, he wasn’t permitted to enter. Probably on the day that Moses had lost his temper, a thousand Israelites had lost their tempers with their neighbors. Yet, Moses is singled out. Why?  Well, I believe it’s because he was God’s chosen leader. He should have known better. God was expecting more from Moses than the others in his community, and so he faced a stricter judgment.  

I believe this should be taught in our seminaries. Students seeking to become church leaders should be shown what James has to say and be warned that their moral failures will have far deeper consequences than those in their congregations. When you separate yourself as a leader of God’s people, you should know that you may have to give up that position should you fall from grace. Again, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be forgiven, it just means that you may not be able to be a leader any longer.

Tavner Smith should recognize that God is quite capable to raise up other leaders to replace him. He’s not an essential cog in the Kingdom’s wheel. If he’s a man of God, then we should expect him to either allow a full, independent investigation into all of the charges, so that no false accusation can be raised against the body of Christ, or, confess to the sin and step down.  Those are the only two right choices. The Church has no room for leaders whose egos demand that they be permitted to act above God’s law.     

Right now there seems to be a shortage of workers in every industry, and so Tavner Smith should have no problem finding gainful employment elsewhere. For example, many restaurants are looking for cooks, waiters, and busboys. Rather than taking time off to rest, Tavner should consider getting a job busing tables. If he wants our respect, then this would be a perfect way to earn it. So, the question we have is: will Tavner Smith do what’s right? Will he become transparent and allow his name to be cleared? Or, if the charges are true, will he in humility step down?   I suppose time will tell.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.



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