Washington Law and Dustin Kensrue to Mars Hill Church: Release the Bylaws

Former Mars Hill Church Director of Worship Dustin Kensrue resigned on Monday. His letter of resignation was posted yesterday. In it, Kensrue offered several suggestions to current members. I want to focus on his suggestion about church bylaws: Kensrue wrote:

What Else Can You Do?
• Ask questions and share your concerns with your pastors, especially your lead pastor.
 Ask to see the bylaws and study them yourself. If any church will not share it’s bylaws, it’s probably not safe to trust that church. MH has gone so far as to deny the current bylaws to elder candidates (myself included) on the explicit order of Sutton Turner, and when I wanted to see them as an elder, I had to look online where they had been “leaked.” (emphasis added)

This blog is one such place where one can review the Mars Hill bylaws (click the link).
Consistent with Kensrue’s report, I have been told by current and former members that requests to see the bylaws have been denied by Mars Hill pastors. However, keeping people (see below, Mars Hill elders) away from the bylaws may violate Washington law. According to the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act, members must have access to organization bylaws:

Required documents in the form of a record — Inspection — Copying.
Each corporation shall keep at its registered office, its principal office in this state, or at its secretary’s office if in this state, the following documents in the form of a record:
(1) Current articles and bylaws;
(2) A list of members, including names, addresses, and classes of membership, if any;
(3) Correct and adequate statements of accounts and finances;
(4) A list of officers’ and directors’ names and addresses;
(5) Minutes of the proceedings of the members, if any, the board, and any minutes which may be maintained by committees of the board.
The corporate records shall be open at any reasonable time to inspection by any member of more than three months standing or a representative of more than five percent of the membership.
Cost of inspecting or copying shall be borne by such member except for costs for copies of articles or bylaws. Any such member must have a purpose for inspection reasonably related to membership interests. Use or sale of members’ lists by such member if obtained by inspection is prohibited.
The superior court of the corporation’s or such member’s residence may order inspection and may appoint independent inspectors. Such member shall pay inspection costs unless the court orders otherwise.
[2004 c 265 § 14; 1986 c 240 § 24; 1967 c 235 § 28.] (emphasis added)

Most churches have their bylaws readily available for review. Mars Hill Church leaders keep them under cover. This should be a huge red flag.
About a week ago, I asked Dan Busby, the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, if member organizations were allowed to keep bylaws from members but he did not reply. Guidance for churches on the ECFA website appears to require disclosure of bylaws:

Standard 5 – Transparency – Every member shall provide a copy of its current financial statements upon written request and shall provide other disclosures as the law may require. The financial statements required to comply with Standard 3 must be disclosed under this Standard. (emphasis added)

Washington law requires bylaws be available for review. Unless there are special exemptions for churches, it appears that Mars Hill Church is at odds with state law and out of compliance with ECFA guidelines. I should also point out that the seven member self-perpetuating Board of Advisors and Accountability can change the bylaws without approval of the Full Council of Elders or the congregation.
Additional Information: In re-reading the post, there is a component of the story that I should have included the first time around. While it does not change the general thrust of the post, I need to add some information to this call to release the bylaws.
It seems apparent that the authors of the Mars Hill Church bylaws were familiar with WA state law. In Article 4, the bylaws distinguish between “spiritual” members and members for the purpose of state law.
Mars Hill Church calls people who take the membership covenant “members” but not “members for state law purposes.” Even though the people who agree to the membership covenant are supposed to tithe, give money beyond their tithes, volunteer, support the pastors, etc., they are not “members for state laws purposes.” In other words, they are not entitled to get bylaws and other information that the actual members are supposed to get. In this case, the bylaws labels elder as being “members for state law purposes.” I wonder how many “members” not “for state law purposes” know that they aren’t really legal members of the church? Give time, talents and tithes, support the pastors but members can’t vote or even have access to the rules which govern the body to which they pledge a covenant.
As noted in Kensrue’s resignation letter, the leadership of Mars Hill Church has kept the bylaws even from the legal members which appears to be a violation of state law and ECFA guidance. It seems to me that congregation members could challenge the viability of their membership covenant since they really aren’t joining an organization where they have any participation in governance.
Kensrue also discussed how the bylaws inform the examination of charges against Mark Driscoll. In a related post, later today, I will look at what Kensrue has to say about that in comparison with the bylaws.