Mars Hill's Non-Disparagement Clause, the Attorney General, and Blowing Whistles in ECFA Organizations

For a long time, Mars Hill Church used non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses to keep departing staff and pastors quiet about problems at the church. As it turns out, the church might have been violating Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability guidance in yet another way by the used of what former pastor Dave Kraft called a “gag order.” The ECFA provides a template for a church whistleblower policy. If the guidance in this policy (and elsewhere) is observed, whistleblowing should not lead to adverse consequences. However, former employees have described intimidation and threats and so it is clear that the ECFA guidance has not been followed.
Even though, the ECFA has been a paper tiger throughout the many revelations about Mars Hill, the guidance is worth examining. The ECFA provides a sample policy that churches such as Mars Hill can use. I am open to correction but I have not heard from any former pastor or employee that such information was ever communicated. The policy begins:


Policy on Suspected Misconduct, Dishonesty, Fraud, and Whistle-blower Protection
XYZ Church is committed to the highest possible standards of ethical, moral, and legal conduct. Consistent with this commitment, this policy aims to provide avenues for employees to raise concerns about suspected misconduct, dishonesty, and fraud and to provide reassurance that they will be protected from reprisals or victimization for whistle-blowing in good faith.

A reporting procedure is suggested:

Employees and any other person who has a concern relating to suspected misconduct, dishonesty or fraud may make a report. The XYZ Church wants to hear of possible problems in these areas.
Concerns or suspected misconduct, dishonesty or fraud may be reported by telephone, email or regular mail, at the employee’s or reporter’s preference:
An employee may telephone: (—) — —-. We have retained an independent company to receive calls and descriptions of possible issues. Reports they receive will be forwarded to the Chairman of the Audit Committee.
An employee can email directly the Chairman of the Audit Committee at: _________.
An employee may write a letter to the Chairman of the Audit Committee at the following address:

The organization must provide a safe environment for blowing the whistle:


No Retaliation
No pastor, officer, or employee or other person who in good faith reports a violation shall suffer harassment, retaliation or adverse employment consequence. An employee who retaliates against someone who has reported a violation in good faith is subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment. This policy is intended to encourage and enable employees and others to raise concerns within the organization prior to seeking resolution outside the organization.
Additionally, no employee shall be adversely affected because they refuse to carry out a directive which, in fact, constitutes corporate fraud, or is a violation of state or federal law.
Violations or suspected violations may be submitted on a confidential basis by the complainant or may be submitted anonymously. Reports of violations or suspected violations will be kept confidential to the extent possible, consistent with the need to conduct an adequate investigation. Every effort will be made to protect the complainant’s identity.

This policy relates to people on the job. However, all former Mars Hill employees I have spoken with tell me that they never felt safe to press their questions or concerns very far. When Dalton Roraback asked questions about salaries and other financial matters, he was relieved of his position. Where was the ECFA when this happened?
According to the sample policy, there are clear issues at Mars Hill which could have been reported internally:

For purposes of this policy, the definition of misconduct, dishonesty, and fraud includes but is not limited to:

  • Acts which are inconsistent with ministry policy

  • Theft or other misappropriation of ministry assets

  • Misstatements or other irregularities in ministry records

  • Incorrect financial reporting

  • Misuse of ministry resources

  • Illegal activities

  • Immoral or unbiblical activities

  • Forgery or alteration of documents

  • Any other form of fraud

The Global Fund bait and switch, Result Source, year end offerings which were actually “hail Mary” offerings to bail out the general fund, using ministry funds to further Mark Driscoll’s book marketing, etc., are all issues that aroused concerns among staff and pastors.
As noted, the guidance above is aimed at existing employees. What about former employees? Recently, the ECFA removed two pages with guidance for the public (which would include former employees) from the organizational website. However, for now, a short section of guidance is on the FAQs page:

How does ECFA handle complaints?

Every day, ECFA receives inquiries from the public regarding ECFA member organizations. Occasionally, ECFA receives communication asserting inappropriate conduct on the part of a charity. We believe you should contact the ministry directly in an attempt to get a satisfactory answer from the ministry. Misunderstandings may easily be clarified with a telephone call, email or letter.
As a membership organization, ECFA will only accept complaints against member organizations. (Complaints against nonmember organizations should be directed to the state attorney general’s office.) The complaint should be in writing and signed. A request for anonymity will be honored. ECFA will be happy to discuss complaint issues over the phone, but will be unable to initiate any action based on a verbal complaint alone.
Complainants should identify the member organization and the standard violated. ECFA addresses and works through all complaints received. However, since membership is based on adhering to our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, ECFA can only take action against a member organization if it is shown that the ministry violated an ECFA standard.
Credible complaints relating to an ECFA Standard against member organizations will be investigated thoroughly. Complainants, however, must be aware that ECFA, through its Standards Committee and Board of Directors, interprets ECFA Standards, makes judgments relating to compliance with those standards, and determines a course of action if noncompliance is revealed. ECFA will not take punitive action in cases when it is not warranted.

What is the procedure for making a complaint or raising a concern about an ECFA member?

We believe you should contact the organization directly in an attempt to resolve the matter. Misunderstandings may easily be cleared up with a telephone call, email or letter.
If the matter cannot be handled by directly contacting the ministry, ECFA will accept a complaint against a member organization if the complaint is in writing and signed. If requested, your identity will be protected.
ECFA asks that the complainant identify a possible standard the ministry violated. ECFA addresses and works through all complaints received. However, since membership is based on adhering to our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, ECFA can only take action against a member organization if it is shown that the ministry violated an ECFA Standard. (emphasis added)

If an organization is not an ECFA member, the ECFA directs the public to the Attorney General’s office. This appears to be a subtle warning to non-member organizations. If you are not a part of the ECFA, complaints should go to the AG’s office.
As we have learned complaints to the ECFA don’t go very far. Partly as a consequence of the ECFA inaction and silence, some may now go to the AG in Washington. Joel Connelly, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist, has called on the Washington AG’s office to investigate Mars Hill’s fundraising. At least one person who contacted the AG’s office was told that the office would investigate complaints against the church. I am aware of former members who have filed complaints.
In the end, the church may face the same consequences as if it had not been an ECFA member organization. One could make a case that this is fitting since they ECFA has not been transparent about the enforcement of its own standards with Mars Hill.