Bellevue Church Elders Choose Jeff Vanderstelt To Be Teaching Pastor

The elders of Mars Hill Bellevue, soon to be doing business as Bellevue Church (or will the church be called Soma Bellevue?), have decided on Jeff Vanderstelt as their teaching pastor.
They are meeting now with the congregation to discuss the call to Vanderstelt. The elders believe he is the guy but they are asking the church to pray about it before a decision is made. Is this a hint that the congregation will have a vote? Stay tuned. The note to the church is below and the letter describing the call to Vanderstelt is linked here.

From Pastor Jason Skelton:Eastside Family,
As you know, your elders have been praying about an important decision related to our search for a lead teaching pastor to plant a new church on the Eastside. The attached letter is a request for your continued prayers, and any feedback you might have, as we believe God has brought us that leader.
We invite you to join us at 12:30 p.m. today (Sunday, November 23) in Bellevue for an open conversation about the governance of our new church and to meet the man we believe God has called to serve alongside your elders as the lead teaching pastor.
We also invite you to join us for a special 4:00 p.m. service today in Bellevue to hear from him directly, and we will share additional opportunities to meet and provide feedback as we pray over this decision together as a church family for the next few weeks.
On Behalf of the Elders,
Pastor Jason
[file attachment online]

Vanderstelt is coming from Soma Tacoma (fun to say) with the blessing of the elders of that church.
As an outsider, I am surprised anyone would take the job with so much unfinished business. If the current leadership doesn’t provide answers to nagging questions soon, then Vanderstelt becomes part of the problem.
Vanderstelt’s selection is ironic. According to a former lead pastor, when Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll planted Mars Hill Tacoma, Driscoll bragged to a meeting of pastors that “We’ll hand Vanderstelt his ass once I’m [Driscoll] there.” It appears that Vanderstelt held onto his backside.

John Wilsey On What The Public Should Know About Thanksgiving

Last week, I asked a bunch of historian colleagues to opine about what the public should know about Thanksgiving. I am pleased and thankful for the responses sent in so far. The series will run through at least Thanksgiving Day. Today, John Wilsey begins with he wants us to know about Thanksgiving.
John D. Wilsey is Assistant Professor of History and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America and a forthcoming history of American exceptionalism from IVP Academic.
One of the fascinating things about the Thanksgiving celebration is its endurance in the national memory. From the “first Thanksgiving” in the autumn of 1621 to our own day, Thanksgiving as a civil religious high and holy day offers us a cultural and religious artifact in considering the process of change that occurs in a national community. Just think of Thanksgiving in terms of three benchmarks in history—1621, 1863, and the present day.
Here’s a little perspective: when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, he was more distant in time from the 1621 celebration than we are in 2014 to Lincoln. How much had changed in North America from the first Thanksgiving to the Civil War? And how much has changed from the Civil War to the present? As many historians like to point out, the past is a foreign country—but perhaps it is more accurate to say that the past is made up of many foreign countries.
It is good to remember that our present day context is different than that of the past. As a Christian, I remember that many things in the human experience do not change, namely, human nature itself. But I also remember that trying to draw a straight line from the Pilgrims to the present in an effort to make some point about “restoring America” can be dangerous, and in some ways, contrary to my own Christian tradition. That does not mean that we ignore the past. We can glean wisdom from the past without using it to advance an agenda. Considering Thanksgiving as a cultural and religious artifact helps us to do just that, while we celebrate and enjoy it in our own homes on November 27.
For all articles in this series, please click Thanksgiving 2014.

Legal Maneuvers In the Case of Asia Bibi

Asif Aqeel, writing for World Watch Monitor, explains some of the recent legal maneuvers in the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian mother of five who has been charged with blasphemy. She was sentenced to death and has one more appeal to the Pakistani Supreme Court.
There is a very helpful history of the case and a summary of the efforts of the courts to make it harder to achieve blasphemy convictions. Her hopes appear to be a change in evidence requirements or a pardon from the President.

The appeals judges now explain they had no choice, given the way Pakistan’s laws are written, and have turned to lawmakers to craft legislation that would empower trial courts to apply a test that would make future blasphemy convictions much more difficult to achieve.  That test was not in place when Noreen, popularly known as Asia Bibi, was tried.

Bibi has been offered refuge in Paris, France.
Please sign and spread the word about the petition directly to the President of Pakistan to free Asia Noreen Bibi.

One Year Ago Today Janet Mefferd Interviewed Mark Driscoll

In conversations about Mars Hill Church, many people peg the beginning of the Year of Mars Hill’s Discontent as being Janet Mefferd’s radio interview with Mark Driscoll. In that interview, Mefferd accused Driscoll of plagiarism and he accused her of having “sort of a grumpy day.”

In hindsight, perhaps one could view the Strange Fire conference deception as the beginning of the end and indeed Mefferd began her interview by asking Driscoll about the conference. In fact, he never really answered her question about whether or not the books were confiscated. He said they were going to confiscate them but didn’t say they did. Please see Darren Wiebe’s eye witness account for more on the Strange Fire confiscation controversy.

In any case, the Fall of 2013 was the start of a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year for Rev. Driscoll and his fellow executives at Mars Hill. Mefferd later apologized for her approach but did not retract her claims of plagiarism.

Mefferd’s interview seemed to break open the flood gates and eventually brought me and others into the situation. I wasn’t sure at first that Mefferd was correct in her claims, but I quickly came to believe she was right. Eventually I discovered problems in more of his books and created a chart to map it all. From there, problems with church finances, leadership, scamming the New York Times best-seller list, bullying personnel, and more snowballed. Time will tell what the enduring significance will be.

If you want to listen again, here it is:

Thanksgiving Week: What Historians Think is Important About Thanksgiving

Starting on Sunday, I plan to post contributions from historians about they think is important for us to know about Thanksgiving. I have asked numerous historians to send something in and I am very happy with what I have received so far.
Watch for this daily series to begin on Sunday afternoon.
To read all posts in the series, click Thanksgiving 2014

Was Michael Brown Right About Sexual Orientation and Secular Counseling?

David Barton on history. Ken Ham on science. Joseph Nicolosi on psychology and sexual orientation. Now Michael Brown on sexual orientation counseling.
In a Christian Post op-ed Michael Brown takes Al Mohler to task for his assessment of sexual orientation. Mohler now acknowledges that sexual orientation is a useful descriptive category, even as he appears to consider same-sex orientation to be inherently sinful. The former opinion seems to be self-evident, the latter position confusing. How can a set of givens be any more sinful than another set of givens? Isn’t what one does in response to our impulses the key?
Because of his shift in views, Mohler rejects reparative therapy, or any secular approach to curing sexual orientation. Minister and commentator Michael Brown enters the fray at this point. He says:

People find themselves attracted to the same sex for many different reasons, some of which can be unpacked through counseling, including secular counseling. In fact, as countless gays and lesbians have shared with counselors, their attractions can often be traced back to sexual abuse or serious family crises.
Cannot a secular counselor deal with these issues too? Must we put homosexuality into a special category of its own?

Surely there are many other areas of our lives that are deeply affected by our sinful nature, yet we do not say that counseling cannot help us make progress in those areas, do we?

It is amazing to me that evangelicals who reject so-called secular science on one hand, embrace Sigmund Freud and theories of sexual orientation derived from Freud’s fictions. Brown promote the discredited view that same-sex attraction arises because of sexual abuse and/or “serious family crises.” This was cutting edge a century ago, and even then Freud despaired that cure could come through analysis and didn’t think the effort was necessary. Freud, who believed that childhood trauma could lead to homosexual desires, wasn’t a strong advocate of therapy to change it. In 1935, a mother wrote Freud about help for her son. Freud interpreted the letter as a request to help the young man overcome homosexuality. Freud wrote back and said:

Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.
What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed.

Incredibly, Brown refers people to JONAH, a group being sued right now by former patients because their techniques did not produce change in orientation but rather shame and depression. In his article, I wish Brown would have explained what a client of JONAH might do to rid himself of his gayness. For instance, in court documents, former clients describe getting naked:

According to Plaintiffs, JONAH’s conversion therapy required them to engage in various individual and group activities. For instance, during a private session, defendant Alan Downing (“Downing”), a JONAH-affiliated counselor, instructed plaintiff Chaim Levin (“Levin”) “to say one negative thing about himself, remove an article of clothing, then repeat the process.” Levin submitted to Downing’s instructions until he was naked, when Downing directed Levin “to touch his penis and then his buttocks.” Plaintiff Benjamin Unger (“Unger”) and plaintiff Michael Ferguson (“Ferguson”) engaged in similar disrobing activities with Downing. Downing instructed Unger to remove his shirt in front of a mirror and requested that he “continue,” but Unger refused. Ibid. In addition, Unger participated in a group exercise in which Downing instructed him and other young men to remove their clothing and stand in a circle naked, with Downing also nude.  As with Unger, Downing instructed Ferguson to undress in front of a mirror and “repeatedly urged [him] to remove additional clothing,” but Ferguson refused.

JONAH clients are instructed to fight their way through group therapy clients to grab two oranges and take their “balls back.” Many of the techniques are taken from the decidedly pagan Mankind Project’s New Warriors Training Adventure. Those processes are based on a loose reading of and curious amalgamation of Gestalt therapy and psychoanalytic assumptions.
I hope Brown means well, but he isn’t doing well. Recommending JONAH to evangelicals is irresponsible.
Oh, and the “Alliance” Brown invokes? That is Freudian inspired National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) warmed over.  It sounds like a respectable scientific group. However, they are supporters of JONAH, and leaders within the group also recommend that techniques used by JONAH and the New Warriors Training Adventure.
We don’t know for sure what causes same-sex attractions, but we know that abuse and traumatic relationships aren’t general causes for homosexuality any more than they cause heterosexuality. Both gays and straights experience difficulties in childhood and both gays and straights experience loving, healthy childhoods. Thus, curing wounds, or finding non-existent woulds to cure, won’t dramatically alter sexual attractions for the vast majority of people. While a few people do show some change, for many of them the change was spontaneous and related to factors other than therapy or intentional efforts to change.
So to answer the question in the title: No, Michael Brown is about as wrong on sexual orientation and secular counseling as one can be.

Free Asia Bibi

In some really important news…
Asia Bibi is a Christian mother who has been held in prison in Pakistan since 2010 on charges of blasphemy. On Tuesday, Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times gave his column to Asia Bibi’s husband to plead her case. Her best hope appears to be an international appeal to the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain for a pardon.
I blogged about her case in 2010 and started a petition at which I have reactivated. I hope you will sign it; it isn’t much but we can raise our voice.
Sign the petition (click the link).

John Catanzaro Does Victory Dance

Clearly John Catanzaro hopes people don’t read the actual settlement reached with the Department of Health.
Catanzaro makes it seem like he did the Department of Health a favor and he did nothing wrong. However, he stipulated to deceiving the Department and he has to pay former patients $180,750 to cover the costs of vaccines he charged for but did not administer.
Catazaro admitted to the same charges made back in January. Here is just one in which he agrees with the Department of Health that his treatment was not safe and he engaged in unprofessional conduct.
Catanzaro is pretty brazen; he still has to apply for reinstatement and yet he is counting his vaccines before they are hatched.

Mars Hill Church 2011 and 2012 Executive Compensation Studies

Yesterday in a blog post on the church website, Mars Hill Church described again how they set executive salaries.

Mars Hill Church utilizes external salary surveys for large churches from two sources for determining it’s staff salaries, and an independent compensation study for our executives. Executive salaries also undergo a separate, additional independent third party review of appropriate salary setting procedures, accuracy and internal payroll controls.

None of the Executive Elders set their own salaries, and compensations were both informed and reviewed by outside entities. This effort was used to set compensation levels comparable to similar sized churches for congregational attendees and annual revenue of the church.

This post broke no new ground. Also, it did not provide information on how much the church provided executives in compensation. In some ways, this information is water under the bridge since there is only one executive pastor left and the church is about to close. However, on the other hand, this information may help to form a better understanding of the trajectory of the church from a rapidly growing church to one shutting down at the end of the year. Current and prospective members of the legacy churches may also find this information useful.

According to yesterday’s blog post, the independent members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability set the salaries based on compensation studies prepared by independent consultants. While the executives didn’t set their salaries, they had input into those salaries (see Sutton Turner’s recommendations for Mark Driscoll’s FY 2013 salary). And, as I have learned, Mars Hill staff provided the information which the outside consultant used to create the report (see this memo).

The 2011 compensation study and the staff memo used to create the 2012 report are linked below.

Linked here is the 2011 compensation study conducted by Capin Crouse.

Linked here is the Mars Hill Church memo from 2012 that was used by Capin Crouse to create the 2012 study (I have the memo, but not the final study). The 2012 memo contains the salary levels for the executive pastors as well as their benefits. While these are likely to be lower than current levels, they provide members with information that their church leaders have not provided.

These documents are thorough and appear to be consistent with appropriate IRS and ECFA guidance. While this approach may be helpful for non-profits, I think in the church world, it has led to escalating salaries and less transparency.

First, a large church survey of compensation from 2011 finds little correlation between church size and compensation:
capinCrousesurveyAs an aside, I am pretty sure that church number four is Gateway Church, where Mark Driscoll appeared shortly after he resigned from Mars Hill. This salary figure does not include Robert Morris’ salary as chair of the board of The King’s University or other fees he receives for outside speaking.
Recall that this study was reported in August 2011. I don’t have the 2012 letter from Capin Crouse which Turner referred to in his memo below recommending $650k for Mark Driscoll’s salary in 2013. I do have the memo created by Mars Hill staff to help create the 2012 report (linked above).
Other churches use similar data to set the compensation of their pastors. Driscoll’s salary of $500k and then $650k (if this recommendation was carried out), then became part of the data used by other churches to set salaries. It seems to me that an inevitable result of applying these methods is an escalation of salary levels year after year. Some might defend this practice but it seems to me that church members should know at least a range of compensation so they can decide if they want to attend a church which puts so much money into executive compensation.

The data relevant to the other two executive pastors is also provided in the 2011 Capin Crouse study and the 2012 memo. From the 2011 letter:
capincrouseeesThe network director corresponds to Dave Bruskas, and the executive pastor is Sutton Turner.

Of note in these compensation studies is the fact that volunteer hours are used to estimate the value of labor at the church and thus justify a higher salary for the ministers. For some reason, Acts 29 was also tossed in as relevant to Driscoll’s salary.
capincrousesurveyhoursThere is a wealth of information in the 2012 memo regarding the priorities of the BoAA and the executive elders. There is some interesting information about the rarefied world of megapastors and megaconferences. For instance, according to the memo, Driscoll averaged $17k for conference speeches. That is about a year’s worth of writing for me. Driscoll also received substantial advances for his books (approximately $400k/book with Thomas Nelson). Recall that his books were assisted by Docent Research and on staff writers, costs borne by the church.

This information may help Mars Hill members to understand the values and priorities of those who have led the church for years. Some will object to the way the money has been spent and others will not. Some believe that a pastor is like a CEO and should be paid in line with the numerical success. Others, like John Piper, see pitfalls in such thinking. In any case, church members should be informed about the priorities of the church so they can make choices about how they want to steward their resources.

Washington Attorney General's Office Responds to Complaints About Mars Hill Church

An unknown number of people have filed complaints with the Washington Attorney General’s office regarding various aspects of Mars Hill Church’s financial dealings. Two of them forwarded the responses received from the office. The first one describes an informal and voluntary process to bring together the consumer and the church. The second response gives no hint about the existence of an investigation.

The first response describes a time frame for Mars Hill to reply to the AG’s office.

Bob Ferguson


Consumer Protection Division

800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000 Seattle, WA 98104 (206) 464-6686

November 18, 2014

RE:   Mars Hill Church

File #:


Thank you for contacting the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. Consumer complaints provide valuable information that our office uses to identify patterns of unfair or deceptive practices that may warrant enforcement of the Consumer Protection Act.

The complaint you submitted to our office regarding Mars Hill Church was reviewed and determined to be appropriate for the informal complaint resolution services offered by our Consumer Resource Center and has been assigned to me for processing. This is an informal, voluntary process. Our office acts as a neutral party to facilitate communication between consumers and businesses to assist in resolving the complaint. We are prohibited by Washington State law from providing legal advice or representing either party.

Following is information about our informal complaint resolution process.

Informal Complaint Resolution Process

The process takes approximately 4-6 weeks to complete. A copy of your complaint is sent to the business(es) with a request to provide our office with a response within 21 calendar days. If a response is received, you will be notified and a copy of the response will be provided to you. If our office has not received a response from the business(es) within 14 calendar days, a courtesy reminder will be sent to the business(es) reminding them that their response is due within the next 7 calendar days. If the business(es) do not respond to our request, our office cannot compel the business(es) to respond.

If the business does not respond or does not resolve your complaint to your satisfaction

If the business(es) do not respond, or your complaint is not resolved through our informal complaint resolution service, your complaint will be closed. However, you will be notified of additional options and resources that may be available to assist you in the event you wish to pursue the matter further.

If you contact our office regarding your complaint, please reference the assigned complaint number referenced above.

Again, thank you for contacting our office.


CP Public Outreach Specialist
Consumer Protection Division
(206) 442-4497
Fax: (206) 587-5636


Another individual received this response:

I am in receipt of your email to AG Ferguson (dated November 5, 2014).  Thank you for providing us the additional information regarding Mars Hill Church; it is clear that you care deeply about this issue.  Please be aware that we can neither confirm nor deny whether our office is investigating or the status of any investigation.
Sarah S. Shifley | Assistant Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division | 800 Fifth Ave, Ste. 2000 | Seattle, WA 98104
If other readers receive responses, please feel free to forward them to me.