Reactions to the New Book by George Barna and David Barton, Part One

In the future, I might write a formal review of U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots by George Barna and David Barton, but for now I am going to offer some preliminary reactions to it.
My first reaction was disappointment that George Barna would team up with document collector Barton. It is hard to imagine a more unified reaction from scholars, Christian and not, against Barton’s approach to history than occurred in 2012-2013. In August 2012, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson due to lost confidence in the books facts. The book was voted least credible history book in print by readers of the History News Network. Academic reviewers were uniform in their criticism of the book. In 2013, the Family Research Council removed from view a video of Barton’s Capitol tour, and Focus on the Family had to admit that they edited radio presentations to remove errors. The actions taken by FRC and Focus on the Family followed complaints to the organizations by over three dozen Christian historians.
With a year like that, one would think it would take a public apology and a commitment to change in order to be published again, if ever, as a writer of history. Not so; Barton did none of that. And yet Charisma’s Frontline imprint paired Barton with George Barna to create a past useful for their apocalyptic warning.
The book begins with a series of assumptions:

Values largely reflect our emotional and experiential perspectives. Our beliefs typically stem more from our spirituality. Like values, beliefs play a powerful role in shaping our behavior. Our ideas about the existence, nature, and engagement of God; about the existence of absolute guidelines for right and wrong; about our ability to influence God’s responses to humanity through prayer; and about our sense of eternal destiny—all of these perspectives play a discernible role in how we view ourselves and our world and in the decisions and actions that come to define our lives.
As you will see, we are in the midst of a major era of change on the beliefs front, occurring in tandem with the changes related to our shifting values. As you consider the transitions in our beliefs, notice the inescapable interplay between values and beliefs. Their mutual influence means that a change in one necessitates a related change in the other in order for us to minimize our personal cognitive dissonance. Here is an overview of some of the central religious beliefs that characterize the American public today.
Barna, George; Barton, David (2014-10-21). U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots (Kindle Locations 643-647). Charisma House. Kindle Edition.

The book begins by proposing to describe the “American public.” The authors refer to “we” as if there is a “we” to refer to. I immediately distrust authors who claim to speak for me. In this case, such overgeneralization leads quickly to nonsense:

As you consider the transitions in our beliefs, notice the inescapable interplay between values and beliefs. Their mutual influence means that a change in one necessitates a related change in the other in order for us to minimize our personal cognitive dissonance.

The authors talk about “our beliefs” but then refer to “our personal cognitive dissonance.” Personal dissonance is personal, not collective. The authors strive mightily to create an “American public” straw man to castigate and rail against throughout the rest of the book. Ultimately, the authors want to move “us” back to a set of values that “we” once held. Survey data and history suffer due to this impulse.
Frequently throughout the first chapter, Barna and Barton cite statistics which convince them that Americans are less moral and less Christian than during past times and that the reason “we” are less moral is because “we” are less Christian. The authors then compare “us” now to “Early Americans” then. For instance, they write:

Early Americans believed that God’s Word applied to every aspect of daily life—a fact documented by any perusal of early sermons. If something important was in the news, then it was also covered from the pulpit with a biblical perspective. Consequently, it is easy to find countless early sermons on numerous topics never covered today, such as earthquakes, fires, droughts, and hurricanes;76 the execution of murderers;77 solar eclipses, the sighting of a comet, or the discovery of a new planet;78 national defense and foreign affairs;79 the duties of civil rulers and of citizens toward government;80 the issues associated with aging;81 immigration;82 education;83 medicine and medical issues;84 economics and taxation;85 and other practical topics.
Barna, George; Barton, David (2014-10-21). U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots (Kindle Locations 964-974). Charisma House. Kindle Edition.

Has David Barton never listened to the 700 Club? Or his good friend Kenneth Copeland? Those preachers talk about natural disasters, money, politics, etc. all the time. Kenneth Copeland and Barton believe PTSD can be cured with Bible verses. If his historical method was applied now, he would have to conclude that “we” are every bit as devout as the early Americans since examples of sermons about many current events can be located today.
Barton does in this book what he does in others. He finds quotes he likes and makes them representative of the view point he wants to support. For his analysis to have doomsday importance, he and Barna need to make the past look like a Christian society and the present look like a departure. In both cases, the reality of the situation is skewed.
To be continued…

Mars Hill Shoreline Pastor Asks Forgiveness, Calls Out Leadership

Steve Tompkins has penned a remarkable open letter in which he calls out past Mars Hill leadership and asks for forgiveness for being complicit with that leadership. You should read the entire letter, but I want to pull out a few segments.

Dear Former Members and Attenders of Mars Hill Church, especially those of you for whom I have had shepherding responsibility at Mars Hill Shoreline.
I am deeply sorry that so many people have experienced profound hurt over the years at Mars Hill. It breaks my heart that many continue to live with deep emotional and spiritual wounds, even long after leaving the church. I also realize that in my role as an elder, including as Lead Pastor at Shoreline, I share responsibility and complicity in some of the ways you have been hurt, disappointed, and sinned against at Mars Hill. For me this has been an ongoing process in which the depth of conviction and realization of my own sin seems to grow almost daily as does my sorrow over how people have been hurt. This has especially been so as I have had opportunity to sit down and hear people’s stories directly. My purpose in this letter is to share some of the ways my perspective has changed, to confess my sin, to spell out my ongoing process of repentance, and perhaps—should God allow—play some role in his work of healing. Let me tell you a bit about the journey bringing me to write this letter.

Tompkins has some clear words for those who blame outside forces for the problems at Mars Hill.

First of all it means that what has been happening at Mars Hill is the work of Jesus in our midst. It means that the root of the problem is not satanic opposition or attack, nor is it social media or vocal online critics, nor is it the members or attenders of the church (past or present). Nor is it elders, deacons, staff and leaders who have called for change from within. In fact the root of the problem has been the leadership of the church who have been blindly committed to maintaining the status quo as if we simply need to push through what has so frequently been referred to as a “difficult season.” All such attempts at crisis management and damage control are futile, foolish, and in fact create more harm since they are the polar opposite of repentance.

I am aware that some Mars Hill apologists have blamed outsiders but Tompkins, as an insider, has another view.

For example, if the leadership and ministry culture at Mars Hill has been marked by arrogance (and it has), then I am coming to see how I have been marked by that same arrogance, and how I was blind to it, both in others and in myself. I now see how my own sin of arrogance within our arrogant culture therefore went unrecognized and unchallenged. In saying this, I am in no way blaming my sin on others or on the culture. On the contrary, my sin is my own sin which I freely confess. That is what I am now seeing with painful clarity. The same is true with the sin of domineering leadership. In fact, if you mix ministry arrogance together with top-down domineering leadership along with idolatry of church growth and numbers, then inevitably you create a ministry culture where many end up hurt, burned out, feeling used. I see this now, and I see how I helped to build such a culture.

This must have been hard to write.

In fact, I would say I consider this to be the darkest, most destructive and most hurtful aspect of Mars Hill’s ministry culture by far. I call it the “ad hominem” narrative. Ad hominem is the Latin term for a tactic used when facing off with an opponent over an issue, whereby one seeks to win by attacking and discrediting their opponent rather that honestly debating the issue at hand. In one form or another ad hominem narrative (which can sound very reasonable, especially because it can contain elements of truth), has been consistently used for years to discredit voices of dissent and to silence accusation of wrongdoing and sin. What I have seen on multiple occasions is that when a leader raises an issue with Mars Hill or Mars Hill leadership, they themselves soon become the issue rather than the issue they raised. What they said, for example, is invalidated by how they said it, or because they did not follow proper procedure or protocol. Then, almost inevitably it is not long before they are gone from their position, their job, or the church itself. Often, their integrity was then slandered and their character maligned. Resorting to ad hominem narrative as a response to conflict is horrible and devastating in the extreme. Ad hominem narrative is essentially to defensive one’s own righteousness rather than to trust the righteousness of Another. It never confesses or takes responsibility for sin. It is inconsistent with humility. It resists repentance at any cost. It is therefore antithetical to the gospel.

Tompkins has reached out to the elders who were railroaded out of the church in 2007.

This includes, for example, the events in 2007 ensuing from the (what I now believe to be the unjust and unfair) firing of pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. I was involved in the subsequent events which included the official investigation process, the trial conducted by the elders, and the official shunning of the Petry family which followed. These events were profoundly devastating and damaging to both the Petry and Meyer families. I deeply regret my actions. I sinned against them through my participation as an elder, and desire to publicly redress these wrongs. I have recently reached out and apologized, repenting to them and seeking the beginning of reconciliation. From them I have received only grace and forgiveness. I am so grateful and humbled.

Go read the entire statement here.

Mars Hill's Compensation Process and ECFA Guidelines

Recently, Wenatchee the Hatchet posted a memo from Sutton Turner regarding Mark Driscoll’s salary recommendations. In the August 2012 memo, Turner wrote:

I would like to put forth a recommendation to raise Pastor Mark Driscoll’s salary to$650,000 for financial year 2013 based on the following:

Turner then made a case to the compensation committee for Driscoll to receive a substantial raise for FY 2013. He also indicated in the memo that he was the only person outside of the compensation committee who knew Driscoll’s salary.
I submit that Turner’s activity violated at least the spirit of the guidelines of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Regarding the setting of compensation, the ECFA guidelines state:

1. The board or an authorized committee of the board shall make the decision regarding total compensation, and those participating in the decision-making process may not have any conflict of interest in the decision, whether direct or indirect. That is, no person in the decision-making process may:
a. be related to the person whose compensation is being addressed,
b. be subordinate to the person whose compensation is being set,
c. be a person whose compensation is determined in a manner that involves input or decision-making by the person whose compensation is being set, or
d. otherwise have a conflict of interest.

Determining the extent of the violation hinges on a definition of “decision making process.” It could be argued that Turner had no part in the decision and therefore did not violate the guidance. I would argue however that recommendation and advocacy to the compensation committee was a conflict of interest for Turner who served at Driscoll’s pleasure. Information gathering is part of the decision making process and should be done by the compensation committee. Turner had intimate knowledge of the process, participated in it, and was the only staff person who knew the facts. If the ECFA guidance permits this kind of participation, then the value of the guidance is again called into question.
One could also argue that this memo was written before Mars Hill was accredited. However, did the process continue over the remainder of Driscoll’s time at Mars Hill? If so, it seems to me that the ECFA should at least investigate the role of subordinates in the setting of compensation for FY 2014 and the current year which most likely forms the basis for Driscoll’s severance package.

Mars Hill Church Denies Bankruptcy Rumors

A commenter going by “former mars hill elder” posted a claim that Mars Hill Church would soon declare bankruptcy.

I heard yesterday that Mars Hill will for sure be filing bankruptcy. Every church will either close their doors or become independent.
Dave is planning on resigning once the transition is complete. Mark will not be receiving his full severance package.

The Dave referenced above is Dave Bruskas, lone remaining executive elder at Mars Hill. There is support from the church for the comment that the Mars Hill locations will move toward localized governance. Also, Bruskas has told the church he won’t function in a similar role as Driscoll. The bankruptcy claim caught the attention of commenters on the blog and on Facebook so I felt I should ask Mars Hill about it.
Earlier today, church spokesman Justin Dean wrote to say:

We have not and are not planning to file for bankruptcy protection.

Mr. Dean is also the same person who said the Global Fund was not a fund, so I am not sure this statement completely clears up the questions. However, I did want the church to have the chance to comment.
If others have evidence or want to speak on the record, please let me know.

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.