In short, in a sermon last Sunday Mark Driscoll claimed that some of the elders who accused him of abusive behavior at Mars Hill Church planned to accuse of adultery if he didn’t step out of the pulpit.
From Roys article:
Driscoll alleged that prior to resigning from Mars Hill, God told him “that a trap was set.” Then, during an 18-month hiatus following his resignation, Driscoll said he met multiple times at Panera with some “critics and enemies” who used to be friends, “some who were pastors, some who are still pastors.”
Driscoll said when he asked these former friends about a possible trap, they responded that “the nuclear option was that we were going to accuse you of adultery.”
Driscoll said the plan was to get him “out of the pulpit.” And those plotting against him believed that if “we accused you of adultery, and enough of us signed the open letter, that ultimately there would be such a media firestorm that you would have to exit the ministry . . . for probably a year while a full investigation was done,’” Driscoll recounted.
Sutton Turner, former number two man at Mars Hill, denied anything like that to Roys and then today put out a tweet linking to notes taken from the meeting where Driscoll was informed of the elders findings. Significantly, Driscoll was found to be disqualified from ministry but for no reasons involving infidelity.
From my perspective, this is a fantastical story. If the elders wanted to make such an allegation, they could have made it when he resigned suddenly rather than enter a plan of restoration. Likewise, these same elders could have done this last year when they approached Christianity Today with a statement calling on Driscoll to resign from The Trinity Church in Phoenix.
In 2021, over 40 former elders, including most of the ones who investigated him in 2014, signed a statement calling on Driscoll to resign from his current church. Why didn't they make this allegation then? https://t.co/76cSnZEooF
Although it has taken him awhile, all I can surmise is that he is now fighting back against the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. Elsewhere in the sermon, he encouraged his congregation to ignore what they read on the Internet. Never mind what hundreds of people say, just listen to Mark Driscoll is the message. What could go wrong?
UPDATE: Miles Rohde, one of the elders on the Board of Elders who investigated the charges against Driscoll, commented on Twitter about Driscoll’s response to the BOE’s findings.
He also told the BOE that we had no authority, regardless of our investigation.
On August 12, Andy Wood, incoming pastor of Saddleback Church, addressed in a tweet a growing chorus of voices calling on him to explain why he featured Mark Driscoll as a speaker at his leadership conference in May, 2021.
In the past I interviewed Mark Driscoll to help pastors learn from his mistakes. Since then additional controversy and pain has come out. My choice hurt and confused many people. I regret the pain, confusion & distraction this caused. I humbly apologize for my mistake and error
The reaction was quick and negative. Investigative reporter Julie Roys pointed out that she had posted devastating evidence of history repeating itself at Mark Driscoll’s new church before Driscoll spoke at Wood’s conference. Author Sheila Gregoire pointed out that Driscoll didn’t consider his behavior to be mistakes.
I also weighed in with my opinion and asked some questions.
Acts 29 said it in 2014 and more than 40 of them recently said it again to Christianity Today. Perhaps you could discuss why it was a mistake to platform Mark Driscoll. In other words, what did those elders find, why is that harmful in a leader and how can pastors avoid it?
I decided to follow up on the tweets by contacting A. Larry Ross Communications who I assumed was representing Wood and Saddleback. I asked Wood if he knew that Acts 29 had evicted Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membershipm in 2014. I wondered if Wood knew Driscoll’s elders had investigated him, found him to be disqualified to be an elder and offered him a plan of restoration, all in 2014. Finally, if Wood knew those things, then why did he still believe platforming him was a good idea in 2021?
From A. Larry Ross, I received this answer to my questions yesterday.
We appreciate your questions and commitment to thorough journalism and the truth.
Andy stands by his original statement that he regrets his decision to platform Mark Driscoll at the Echo Leadership Conference. Currently, Andy is choosing not to respond to questions to prioritize and focus on his new role as Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church.
Apparently pastoring Saddleback will require so much focus that Rev. Wood will not be able to think about anything else. He won’t be able to think about his regrets, or why he regrets what he regrets, just that he regrets them. In fairness, he did say he is choosing not to respond, so perhaps he is able, just not willing.
In any case, it is important to note that any advantage Driscoll might have gained by being platformed by Wood in 2021 is essentially nullified by last week’s tweet and this statement released today.
Sutton Turner today placed on his blog about 30 pages of material from the 2014 investigation into the formal charges against Mark Driscoll. Here is how he introduces the post:
On October 14, 2015 Mark Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill while under investigation from elders of Mars Hill Church based on formal charges and the governance by-laws that Driscoll helped to create. The resignation was a surprise (as you will see below) to the leadership of Mars Hill. Secretly, Mark Driscoll had coordinated with Mark Demoss and Religious New Service (Driscoll’s statement) to drive the narrative that would put Driscoll in a positive light so he could plant a church in Phoenix and sell books in the future. The night before Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill he discussed his decision and received advice from both Robert Morris and Larry Osbourne.
At the time Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill in 2014, he threatened legal action towards anyone that shared details of the investigation including me and many of the elders who had investigated the formal charges against him. To this day, many of us are still fearful of Driscoll. Even so, it is time to share these details.
Indeed there are many details. I cannot do justice to them today. At this point, I simply encourage you to pour yourself a beverage, maybe get a snack and find comfortable reading position.
I haven’t written much about the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church because I wanted to hear the whole thing before I did. Now that I have, I will say more about it over time. On the whole, I recommend it. Several years ago when Mars Hill Church was unraveling, I assumed someone would do a deep dive into the rise and fall of the church; I just didn’t think it would be Christianity Today.
On the level of individual work, Mike Cosper did an superb job of weaving characters and various story lines in and out of the narrative. Having written and produced a documentary in the past, I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into that beast.
What brings me to the blog backroom at this time is something I just learned over the weekend: Mike Cosper’s casual mention of my book with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, has led to a modest Mars Hill bump in interest in Getting Jefferson Right since The Tempest episode came out on November 12. I’ll call it a Mars Hill Rise.
Here is what Cosper said about the Jefferson book starting at 1 hour and 11 minutes into The Tempest episode.
There’s a sense in which he (Throckmorton) was an ideal candidate to respond to this particular moment in the story (the plagiarism aspect). For several years, much of Throckmorton’s blogging had been focused on debunking the work of David Barton, a Christian nationalist, known for writing books and curriculum about the origins of the U.S. that are popular in some very conservative homeschool circles.
That led to the publication of a book called Getting Jefferson Right which Throckmorton co-wrote with Michael Coulter. The book carefully deconstructs many of Barton’s Christian nationalist myths and it led to one of Barton’s books being pulled from publication. His foray into looking at Driscoll didn’t come from any specific interest in his work. I think in a way that’s also reflected in his interest in Barton. Warren has a mind for detail; a mind attuned for the kind of research and cataloging necessary to track instances of plagiarism.
I love it when threads of my life come together and this was a significant couple of minutes for me. The modest sales boost or the Facebook page interest aren’t the remarkable points here. For me, it was Cosper’s matter-of-fact dismissal of Christian nationalism. The reference to David Barton’s “Christian nationalist myths” was extremely gratifying. As I listened, I became aware that numerous people who had never thought about Christian nationalism in a negative way (or at all) were listening to the podcast since Rise and Fall has remained near the top of the podcast charts since it came out.
Indeed, in Getting Jefferson Right, we deal with some of the foundational stories that Christian nationalists like to tell. Did Congress publish the first English Bible in the U.S. for the use of schools? Did Jefferson create an abridgment of the New Testament to evangelize native Americans? Was Jefferson forbidden to free his slaves by Virginia law? Did Jefferson sign his presidential documents in the Year of our Lord Christ? Christian nationalist history is unlike any history most of us have heard or studied. In our book, we focus on claims involving Thomas Jefferson and give the facts.
At the end of 2013, Mark Driscoll’s church asked Mars Hill Church attenders for $2-million because God was going to do great things with the money in 2014. One of those things included a big party the church leaders called a “Jesus Festival.” Driscoll described it this way:
From Pastor Mark Driscoll: Heaven is going to be a party and we need to practice for that party. Over the next few months, you’ll be hearing a lot more about our first-ever Jesus Festival, August 22 at Marymoor Park near Seattle. Everyone at Mars Hill churches far and near is invited for this unique opportunity to grow together and evangelize within the surrounding community. We’ve never done anything quite like this event, but picture a huge outdoor celebration with live bands, food trucks, fun stuff for the kids, open-air gospel preaching, baptisms, and a summer night filled with the worship of thousands of brothers and sisters praising Jesus together. Pastor Dustin Kensrue will be leading us in worship, and as the date gets closer we’ll announce some special guests who will be joining us as well. Thanks to your generosity as a church, the whole thing will be free, which will make it very easy to invite non-Christian family and friends.
The church gave closer to $3-million, but the big heaven-party-practice never happened. No doubt the rapid financial decline of the church had something to do with that, but it may be that the concept of a Jesus Festival served a purpose to rally financial support. When asked about why the church didn’t have the party, Mars Hill Church spokesperson Justin Dean told Huffington Post:
Contrary to what has been reported, we did not raise money specifically for the Jesus festival. Gifts given during the end of the year campaign, as well as any gifts given to Mars Hill Church, go towards ministry operations, evangelism, and church planting all over the world.
Donors often don’t understand that unless the charity makes a specific promise to use their donations in a certain way, the charity decision makers can do what they want with it. They can bait with big plans, then switch to the current expense fund if they want.
Deja Vu All Over Again?
On Tuesday, I reported that Mark Driscoll Real Faith has a Real Need. To finish 2021 strong, he wants people to give him $200,000. He doesn’t say how he plans to use it, just that he needs it. I thought possibly he could need it to do church work, but now I don’t think that is it. I found out he is going to his church for an even stronger finish. Check this out.
The Trinity Church has its own giving campaign. He needs $650,000* for that side of the business.
So just as with Mars Hill Church, Driscoll wants his church to give substantially over and above their regular giving for expenses that apparently don’t fit in the budget.
This ask further confuses the earlier Real Faith ask for $200,000. Driscoll says he needs $200k for Real Faith, but then he says some of this $650k will also benefit Real Faith. Consider this component in the appeal:
2. Add more lighting and cameras so that we can improve the worship experience in the main room and also capture the worship and baptisms (over 400 in 2021!) in audio and video format to share online to minister to the more than 100 million people who are receiving Bible teaching through Real Faith from Trinity Church.
Now it is even less clear what Driscoll wants to do with $200,000 for his personal ministry/business.
Maybe I just don’t understand how this ministry thing works. I’m sure that’s it. The man of god needs are different than the little people in the pew needs. The MOG needs his sermon dial in spot (see below):
In any case, I will note again that I bet your local food pantry needs your money more than Rev. Driscoll or most megachurch pastors do. Don’t get me wrong, I know some churches are feeding lots of hungry people and doing lots of good. I bet lots of people will hear about Jesus in 2022 even if you don’t give a cent to Rev Driscoll, so consider helping those who hear about Jesus by knowing his kindness and care via a warm meal or a warm coat, or a cleft palate surgery.
*Mars Hill watchers will no doubt do a double take at the $650,000 amount since that was the amount of Driscoll’s severance in 2014 when he left the church.
“As we approach the end of the year, RealFaith must meet a $200,000 need to finish strong and step into 2022 ready to tell more people all about Jesus.”
You can sing a nice tune with $200k in a month. My church budget for the whole year is less than that (admittedly, it is a small church).
Brother Driscoll doesn’t tell us what the need is for, just that he believes next year is going to be bigger than this year. Huge, I tell ya, it’s going to be huge.
Mars Hill All Over Again?
This appeal reminded me of the Mars Hill Church year end giving campaigns. Former Mars Hill Church executive pastor Sutton Turner wrote about the Mars Hill pattern of running up deficits during the year and then throwing a “Hail Mary” year end giving appeal to make up for the deficit spending. Here is the relevant part of that 2012 memo to fellow executive elders Mark Driscoll and Dave Bruskas.
From what I can tell by this past year’s budget, we have had a strategy of completing a Hail Mary every December with a big giving campaign. This has allowed the negative monthly financial performance to continue while we count on a Hail Mary giving push in December to make up for the annual deficit. Givers are giving to grow the body and plant more churches, but given our spending habits, their gifts just help us catch up. With the growth ofthe church, the 2011 version only allows for enough cash to run through June 2012 and is not a sustainable plan for December 2012.
Here is one difference. Driscoll is writing potential donors in 2021 from his personal ministry – Real Faith — and not from The Trinity Church. He is personally asking people give him $200,000 so he can do something with it. It is hard to tell what is his church work and what is him doing stuff apart from the church. Seems like most pastors would be funded by their church to do the things he is talking about doing through Real Faith with all that “outpouring of support.” Makes me wonder what is the main thing and what is the side hustle.
Who Needs $200,000?
In any case, I am going to go out on a limb and say that this guy right here doesn’t need your $200,000 as much as your local food pantry.
Nothing but need as far as the eye can see.
Brothers and sisters, if you can spare some dimes, I humbly suggest two or three alternatives.
Smile Train – This charity provides cleft lip and palate surgeries for needy children where it is difficult to obtain such care. The charity has a perfect accountability rating from Charity Navigator.
Closer to home: I am sure Mark Driscoll would understand if you made a year end donation to your local church or food pantry with him in mind. If you don’t have one to donate to and want a suggestion, here is the link to Mercer County, PA’s food network. I just made a year end donation and I hope you will consider it as well.
In 2013, Mars Hill Church published a study guide on the New Testament book of James. Mark Driscoll wrote the Introduction to the book but did not claim authorship. In fact, much of the book was written by women in the women’s ministry. Here is an email describing a document provided by Driscoll to guide them thematically (most names redacted).
From: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
Subject: James research
Date: August 23, 2013 at 1:34:36 PM CDT
To: Marci Turner <m***@*******.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <*****@i.com>
Hello James team:
Below is some great information that Pastor Mark has prepared regarding the approach he will take to the James series.
So, put on your theological thinking caps – this is good stuff. As always, and as indicated below, please do not share this. I’m praying for you and hope this is helpful to you, as it was to me, as we learn to discern well and trust God for his truth to be revealed to us as we write for his glory.
Director of Women’s Ministry
Mars Hill Church
While I don’t have all of the work done by all of the women, I do have the work done by Marci Turner. First, I will post the Introduction where Driscoll wrote in 2013 about who is responsible for writing the study guide. Then I will post the same page from the 2021 book, titled Faith Works.
The attribution accurately credits Mars Hill staff, Docent Research, and faithful volunteers. Those faithful volunteers were women, some of whom were not considered trustworthy by Mark Driscoll at various stages of Mars Hill’s existence. However, Driscoll and the boys thought it okay to use them to anonymously write copy.
…then the description of authorship.
The book now is a “group effort” if by that Driscoll means he added to material written by others and then he put his name on it. To me, a group effort is a group of people working on something, and they all get credit. In this case, the actual source of the material is even more vague than in the first edition.
In light of my reporting over the years, as well as the recent Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, I am not surprised Driscoll didn’t acknowledge the women. However, he should have and he still should. For one, Marci Turner isn’t happy that her work has Driscoll’s name slapped on it. However, there isn’t much that can be done about it since Driscoll was allowed to buy the Resurgence material when he left.
Nonetheless, there are substantial amounts of material that female members of Mars Hill wrote that Driscoll has put his name on. Here is just one example from Marci Turner.
The material in the red rectangle is in the new Faith Works edition. See below (see also the side by side comparison link below):
And here’s another instance:
There are other examples, but I think this makes it clear that the materials supplied by the “faithful volunteers” have now been retooled by Mark Driscoll. And it can now be known that those faithful volunteers were women of the church who couldn’t be trusted with much, but could give the man of god some copy for his content management system.
I don’t know what else to say about this “book.” Driscoll has taken lots of well deserved criticism on Twitter about it and I want to point out another great source: Wenatchie the Hatchet. Go check out WtH.
Beyond this, the book is just bad and nearly incoherent. I am going out on a limb to say Driscoll isn’t using ghostwriters anymore. At least he didn’t on this one. Here is WtH’s comment after 40 pages of it:
40 pages in and this is perhaps the most breath-takingly dubious and egregiously bad faith ranting I’ve ever seen Driscoll do, even compared to his William Wallace II rants from 21 years ago. I’ll eventually have to write about this dumpster fire of pamphleteering incompetence but I’ll want to go back and revisit how much Driscoll’s stated views seem indebted to systems of patronage.
He is being kind. It is that bad.
I intially thought I would critique it but I don’t know if it is worth it. Here is just one section:
Those Jews and their theories; brought the Holocaust on themselves.
There may be serious critiques of CRT; this has never been and will never be one.
Benjamin is the son of Paul and Jonna Petry, former members of Mars Hill Church. Back in 2007, former elders Paul and Bent Meyer resisted the changes Mark Driscoll wanted to make to the governance at Mars Hill. You can hear their story on episode seven of Christianity Today‘s podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. A more complete description of their story is chronicled at the Joyful Exiles blog (start with the Timeline).
Fourteen years ago to this day, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer submitted feedback on the proposed by-laws changes at Mars Hill Church. For raising questions, the orthodoxy of Paul and Bent was questioned and they were fired. There is more to the story but suffice to say that Paul and Bent became symbolic of principled dissent at Mars Hill. They were perhaps the first two elders thrown under the proverbial Mars Hill Church bus Mark Driscoll spoke about here.
It wasn’t just the two men who were tossed under there. Their wives and children went too. They were shunned and their church was taken away from them for no good reason.
Fourteen years later, enter Benjamin Petry.
As he explains in this Facebook post, Benjamin decided to respond to the invitation he received to attend the 5th anniversary of the opening of The Trinity Church. He wanted to call Bible teacher Mark Driscoll to recognize the character of Christ. This is his account of how that turned out.
As noted, Benjamin first posted this on his Facebook page. He gave me permission to post it here as a part of the Postcards from Phoenix series.
I went to The Trinity Church. The purpose of this post is to give many people an answer as to how my trip went because I keep getting questions. This writing may also serve as an insight in however you as the reader may find it insightful. Trinity’s website made it pretty clear I was invited to their 5-year birthday so being the social butterfly that I am I happily accepted. The first and foremost goal was to face Mark and leave Mark. In a sense, this was a sort of cognitive healing. It felt good (though it was hard) to confront something that damaged my parents and family in such an extreme and violent way.
The second goal (and looking back much of this aspiration could be classified as wishful thinking) was enabling reconciliation between my dad and Mark. I did and still do believe that if Mark wants to make right, it is within his ability through Christ to do so.
So with these goals in mind, it comes down to my execution of how I go about attempting to achieve them. I believe in radical love and assuming the best in people, even when I have every reason in the book to think otherwise. I find that oftentimes even people who act terribly towards you are trying the best they can, and there’s only so much on the surface we can see. And even when they’re not trying their best, well, that’s not up to me to decide – and I’ve realized I’m happier when I don’t. Jesus said to love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. And I don’t try to follow this belief religiously just because Jesus said it, but because it gives results – even when the results may not be the ones we think we want or need initially. By putting the best foot forward, you take away the other person’s ability to claim in good faith that you’re overstepping them. Like all of us, Mark is created in the same image and likeness of God that I am, so I can’t really help but empathize with everyone a little, including him.
After figuring out my goals and intentions in addressing those goals, I bought my ticket. I’d be flying in from Sacramento (after a friend’s wedding) to Phoenix for the 11am service. My plane was set to land at 8:15am and was on time. When I got outside the airport I got an Uber and off to Trinity we went. My original plan was to grab breakfast around the area but after pulling up at the church curb I was greeted by a church helper and they let me know the 9AM service just started. So with that information I walked out a bit, grabbed a selfie of me at the church, and then walked back.
(I’ll mention here that there were a lot of people who wanted me to have cameras and/or recorders and make more of a scene out of the whole ordeal. If I were to act in this manner it would eliminate the notion of me coming in good faith and with a message of love and peace, so I didn’t do that. No YouTube video; no views.) Turns out I opted to fill my appetite with Mark’s preaching rather than McDonald’s that morning. This also meant I’d be in for one more extra service than the one I was attending at 11.
The guy who greeted me outside the church this time was extremely nice throughout all of my visit there. I told him my name is Benjamin. We’ll just call the guy Ted because 1.) I don’t remember his name and 2.) I don’t want him or anyone else at Trinity harassed or treated in an unGodly way, “unGodly” being defined as that which is lacking agape love. However, on that note, I do think there is certainly a lot to be said about those proclaiming Love to those around them and then carrying out actions of unLove against them. In other words, those who proclaim God and then do the unGodly in his name. As my heart goes out to the adrift perpetrators of this abuse, it also goes out to those who innocently get cut down by it. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres, even when we don’t perceive it to do so.
Getting seated was next. The church was packed so they had extra rows of chairs they were putting out (I guess their 5th anniversary advertising worked out great – I mean, I was there and I was from Seattle). Since I was 10 minutes late I missed the early worship and it felt like I was thrown into a fiery Christian stand-up gag. Mark was preaching on the book of James, but you couldn’t tell unless you were there for the start of his performance. The sermon devolved into entertaining anecdotes and emotional epiphanies – with fully voiced characters. Mark is a gifted public speaker. I won’t go into all the details of how I felt sitting there for what felt like a decade, but my mind was flying, especially when he started ranting about “trials.” What I perceived as scriptural hypocrisies, lies, and manipulation kept my heart racing up and down. At times I was laughing with the crowd, at times I wanted to weep, at times I wanted to get up and confront him directly on topic with something like “Real men apologize Mark!” (I’ve interrupted speakers before, let alone pastors, so this wouldn’t be new to me.)
Again though, to act in this way would not be inline with my goals of love, or what I think would honor my father and mother for lack of a better phrase. I chose to go with philia sophia over philia nikia. If this were something that happened directly to me though, who knows how I would have responded. I already empathized greatly with my parents, but I was more in their shoes now when it comes to the Mars Hill situation than I had ever been before, and it shocked me. This great practice in restraint was actually a pretty fun and good experience for me from a psychological perspective all things considered. I was quite literally confronting the past, and being present with it.
After the sudden flow of emotional ups and downs, it mellowed out into a feeling of sympathy, empathy, and sadness for Mark. There was a sadness for how the past was repeating itself at Trinity. Mark had learned all the wrong lessons from Seattle and was tying in his dogmatic hyper-calvinistic overly sexist ideology with conservative Christianity, and doing it all from a business perspective where he had complete domination and literally owned everything. And what better place and time to do that than with all the ex-Californians moving to Phoenix to avoid the crazy Earth-loving heathens. I mean, religion aside, his marketing is great. I wouldn’t mind if Mark retreated down to AZ to start a Christian comedy career. The problem is that it is not comedy, and I know there are people in the chairs around me who are going to be spiritually crushed and/or have really messed up beliefs enforced by Mark’s laissez faire self-destructive doctrine in the name of Yeshua.
As in the past, there was a big focus on the specific numbered growth of the church, even numbering it down to the baptisms. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a big show out of Church growth, I could tell that it was going to be used here more than anything else to hammer down dissent. (i.e., “How could you accuse me of destroying marriages – look at all these numbers!”) Everything felt so hollow, and Yeshua is not hollow, and His church is not hollow. It is full of life. The acceptance and manifestation of agape Love is not a hollow process, and the guy who is shepherding you as a believer should not be the guy also running people over he claims to love. While that might work for some people, that, to me at least, seems rather empty. It could be that as a culture we’ve become so enveloped in authoritarian hierarchies structured by the love of profits that when they appear in what we call our religion, their corruption is invisible to us. Jesus never justified existentially destroying people who are acting in good faith, and he certainly never justified it with utilitarianism. However, Mark is not alone in this. Just look at all the megachurch pastors and “leaders” of the modern evangelical movement in the US. If Jesus was walking around churches He’d be flipping over the head pastor’s book sales tables in all of them, or not, I don’t know for sure – only God knows the heart.
From sadness for my brothers and sisters who may become a part of great distress brought on by Trinity and Mark, my mind shifted to a broader picture. Some of the very reasons why Protestantism came to be was because of the rigorous authoritarian structure and outdone aesthetic of the Catholic church. The experience of the Catholic church as a whole was more about keeping others in-line and abusing the aesthetic of Christ, rather than recognizing the raw, radical character of Christ Himself. Idealistically, people wanted Christ, not comfortability backed up by mere man-made aesthetic symbols of Christ in an attempt to get people to subscribe to the Catholic machine at the time. The character of the evangelical movement in the US has grown to become more and more conglomerate, rigid, and away from God. I mean, just look at all the big names – most of them actively abuse Love, abuse scripture, and thus abuse God. But hey they own three private jets and multiple homes so who cares they must be adding value to society because they’re creating wealth right? Live and let give.
Prosperity theology is antithetical to the character of Christ.
The problem with aesthetics is that they can project an illusion of bondage in Christ, when in reality, most people at a church don’t actually have any empathy for you at all. Then again, I’d argue most church goers are in it for the whole comfortability and aesthetics thing. In that regard, Christianity in America is still sorta thriving – if we’re to use shallow utilitarian polling standards. Around 65% of the US identifies as Christian now, opposed to 70% in 2015. I’ve been in a lot of churches and this is the only one where no one who wasn’t volunteering bothered to say “Hi” or shake my hand. But hey, maybe that’s your jam, man.
One thing that terrifies me about very religious people is that they are particularly notorious for saying in one breath to your face that they love you, but in their next course of action actively cut you off, write you off, brush you off, avoid you, lie about you, and shun you. This is not how Jesus acted. These are actions of someone attempting to protect their perceived comfortability – and the scary thing is that it totally works on a bigger scale most of the time. Turns out tribalism is pretty effective, and especially effective when combined with religion. People are more fearful of what physical things they can lose in life than they are, if at all, of God.
The culmination of these thoughts left me with a sense of lostness. We are so far away as a society from embracing the character of Christ. And in fact, we have intertwined it with the love of money. It’s all political. It’s all sad.
Yes, the church in Acts was not forced into selling some of their properties and giving to whoever was in need in their community, and that’s the point. Because they believed in Agape, the rational action they took to follow in their empathetic recognition that we are all made in God’s image and saved through Him, was altruism. They did these things willingly and altruistically to spread the Love and Word of Christ. The manifestation of God’s Love should end up being something along the lines of the best in me serving the best in you. So the million dollar question (or however many millions Joel Olsteen has) is, how do you skip out on the whole interpersonal love thing and still be a Christian, not to mention a spiritual leader?
If you’re asking me? Well, I don’t think that’s really possible. But Mark and a lot of other, let’s just say, questionable pastors seem to have found a key for themselves. If you take Calvinism and believe that you know the hearts of individual people as their Creator does, it makes a pretty nice narcissistic cocktail. Why attempt to make right with someone when you can just know that their heart is full of great sin towards you and excommunicate them from your life and gossip about them? I mean, who wouldn’t do that? (They’ll end up in Hell anyways am I right? Wouldn’t want them to get any more chances at leading ME there!)
The evangelical Calvinist movement in the US is antithetical to the character of Christ.
The problem is that only our Lord knows our hearts and he has instructed us to be vocal carriers of our feelings and transgressions towards one another, and to do so intentionally and in private if we can help it. Amen to judge not, that you be not judged. Most evangelical leaders in the US (if they’re acting in good faith, which I’ll do them the service of assuming so) judge others by their own individual standards. How can you possibly understand someone when you judge them by your own standards? How can you understand someone when you lean only on your own understanding?
It’s important to note that understanding is not necessarily agreeing. It’s the mental work of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you cut people off after judging them by your own imperfect standards, you cut off the opportunity to understand them. You cut off empathy to that person, and thus cut off altruism. You eliminate the opportunity for God to do his work through you. You eliminate the opportunity for apology and forgiveness. You eliminate, in that moment, the Love that could have taken place. You’re doing yourself a disservice that will only proliferate its problem within you. You cannot be content if you’re lying to yourself, and you cannot love if you won’t accept Love to thrive. Love does not grow where Love is not shown. We love because Christ first loved us.
One of the elephants in the room is that there’s so much religious freedom here. One would think in a country that is apparently largely Christian and has so much financial freedom, the elimination of many social ills would take place. I’m somewhat convinced the legal monetary framework for religious institutions in America was invented by narcissists. And if not, it’d sure make a lot of sense. Being a “pastor” or CEO in general are some of the only positions where having undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder can actually help increase revenue. From a business viewpoint, religion in America is bound to attract the absolute worst people on Earth and reward them for taking advantage of others through the love of money. It’s sorta like how politics works. It’s always interesting for me to see how many Americans have their dogmatic religion tied completely to their dogmatic political beliefs. And politicians take advantage of those people in similar ways, although that doesn’t bother me as much because politics aren’t nearly as personal to me as God is.
What Mark is doing in Phoenix is indicative of a bigger problem. And a lot of these things I’ve written about and thought about, but it felt so real at Trinity. In fact, the more surreal it felt, the more real I realized it was. What goes on here goes on all over the country. In many regards, it’s all an act. As much of an optimist that I am, I can’t help but feel it’s an upward battle. I mean, people think they agree with what Mark is saying. And people don’t mind sacrificing their time for this guy’s agenda, a lot of whom are unpaid. Mars Hill destroyed marriages and this guy is teaching classes on marriage and how to be “real men”.
Mark’s also a gifted manipulator. I’ve had friends in religious organizations like ICC (International Christian Church) and I’ve attended many brainwashy services and youth groups. When Mark says things along the lines of “Don’t look at outside things, look at God,” over and over again, what he’s really saying is “Don’t look at my past or listen to anything people say about me, just showup for Church and be happy”. And the repeating of messages like this is how the behavior gets reinforced in a group, notably because it is tied to the group’s spiritual beliefs.
I did have several brief conversations with other church goers that I initiated – I couldn’t help myself. One guy told me he did a little bit of research on Mark and that it was “Just some drama – Mark’s a great guy!” I had some good conversations with Ted. One got weird when we started talking about love and he was like “Well but like when do you decide to just not interact with someone anymore?” And I don’t know about you but to me agape Love is unconditional Love and as soon as you start adding conditions you mess the whole thing up, plus cutting someone off is usually just a scapegoat for not pursuing reconciliation. I mean having boundaries for people is good, but I could tell he was talking about that whole hyper-Calvinist-saved-unsaved-I-know-the-heart-cut people-off stuff. Just weird and surreal conversations all around. The music was good and loud but of course the audience was basically all rich white people so the dancing (or lack thereof) was C- at best. Everything just felt a little forced.
The devotional was written by Mark and a lot of people were carrying that around. Both sermons were practically exactly the same – although in the second one I sat right in front of Mark and there were significantly less people there. I didn’t see Mark after the first sermon which was weird. Like, it’s the 5th anniversary you’re not gonna come say hi to your first service people? Forget Sunday school it’s just a straight up daycare with toys and slides. They had amusement park rides out front. There was this cool Ford truck outside. They had cupcakes inside all over for people to eat. They played videos after the sermons each time of Mark and the history at Trinity. It was alright, but again, felt very forced and targeted. Like just talk to me man and tell me about the church don’t play a stupid video. A lot of show and aesthetic.
A leader with a drive for painting the church in the colors of the mystics, artists, and philosophers is a very attractive thing to their followers. Experiences of the mystical, the artistic, and of the philia sophia are some of the most powerful ways we can express and experience agape Love. That’s why it’s so shallow and crushing when you realize it’s not an attempt to bring more glory to God, but to get people to conform, submit, and get lost in the illusion of love that has intentionally been structured to keep you from holding your leader(s) accountable.
After the second sermon I waited around for a while. I had good conversations with whom I found out later were security guys, but they were nice enough at first, especially Ted. I asked about the church and told them I wanted to meet Mark. I definitely appeared to be really intrigued – I mean I was. I stayed for both sermons. It was just weird though with how they talked about him. Like “Oh I’ve talked with Mark a couple times!” or just stuff like that. I’m not a fan of megachurch pastors but it’s one thing if you’ve got thousands upon thousands of people attending your church. However, if you just got a regular sized church and you got all this uber security and bigshot status ego complex thing going on – it’s sort of awkward. Just my two cents.
Then finally he came out. Ted saw him and told me he’s right there behind me in the doorway. He was in a conversation with someone who was touring the building, but the security guys put a good word in for me about this “Benjamin” character and Mark turned around saying “Oh yeah Benjamin” as his arm reached out for me to shake it. And I shook that hand. As we were shaking he recognized who I was and made the connection between my familiarity and my name and I’ve never seen his eyes wider. He then said something to the effect of “Ohh thaat Benjamin”.
I told him he was a gifted speaker, that everything looks really cool, and that I came down to see him. I told him that there were things that happened to my dad that were not entirely his fault but that he largely contributed to, and that I’d really appreciate it if he could just give my dad a call and just say that he’s sorry and that that’d mean a lot to my dad. By this point Grace was there and noticed me. She said something like “Oh hey long time – Benjamin – wow,” and made eye contact very quickly and then made sure to not make it again. I was still looking down at Mark in the eye and told him that I’ve got no cams or monkey business and that I come in love. I gave him a hug.
I tied in a little of my request for a phone call with his sermon on tackling your avoidance and dealing with things in the past. He said something to the effect of “Well your dad’s a great guy but yaknow he’s got some things,” then I said “But do you think you could just give him a call – I’ll give you his number it hasn’t changed?” He brushed me off after this and started back in the same conversation. Facing him like that, man, I never knew how short the guy was, and the funny thing is that all his security guys are taller too. That’s the first thing I noticed when they stepped in. (They stepped in automatically once Mark brushed me off.)
At first I was a bit puzzled but then I realized they were just acting as a barrier. Can’t have heretics harassing the sacred leader am I right? And I’ll just reemphasize, I conducted myself in an extremely calm and loving way. I know there were no cameras or anything, but I know how I carried myself and I kept my composure. I came in good faith and I acted in good faith and I left in good faith. At first with the security guys I just talked with them. I enjoy having conversations with those selflessly propping up and guarding authoritarian figures. For the most part, I could tell they didn’t really know what they were doing – they were just following orders. There was one guy who had been with Mark for 15 years so he probably knew what had happened to my family. I asked him how he could stand by this guy knowing all the things he did and the guy just kinda had a blank stare on his face – like trying to explain long-division to a Kindergartner. Ironically enough, I think he probably kept doing security for Mark because of the security it brought him – pretty sure he was paid (I mean, I’d hope so if he’s been with this guy for 15 years).
At this point I could tell the other men were a bit confused. They could tell I was being genuine and that I was calm. They didn’t like it when I asked them “Is guarding Mark Driscoll really what you believe God has called you to do with your life?” I sat down for a bit just to process the disbelief I was going through, and the humor of the entire thing. I couldn’t believe it. The perceived hypocrisy of Mark I had just blatantly witnessed. And guys all over the country are doing exactly what he’s doing – it’s all business (albeit many are more successful or unsuccessful than him depending on your definitions). I told the security guys about the Christianity Today podcast and a couple were interested – two said they’d give it a listen so I don’t know if that happened. One guy said that Mark says to look at God only and not other things online or some rubbish like that. I mean, I guess the guy who’s not gonna question the leader is a good security guy? I got up and decided to leave on my own volition. After all, that was one of the goals: Face Mark, Leave Mark.
The guy walking me out was the same guy walking me in. I asked him if his family was involved at this church. He said yes. I told him he might want to think twice about that.
Thanks to Benjamin for permission to post this account.
August 2014 was a critical month in the demise of Mars Hill Church. Seven years ago this month, the church experienced multiple blows from which it never recovered. For those reliving that year via the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, this post provides some context for what may have been the most consequential month of the year. The links take you to my blog posts in 2014.
August 1 – A former colleague and co-founder of one of the first Acts 29 churches, Ron Wheeler, accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarizing material from his work.
August 2 – The church announced that James MacDonald stepped down from the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BOAA was basically a group of Driscoll’s friends who by bylaw had oversight of the church, but they did not attend Mars Hill. MacDonald has been a long time supporter of Driscoll and this was seen as a move that made Driscoll vulnerable.
August 2 – Christianity Today published an apology from Driscoll about comments he made on a Mars Hill Church message board calling the U.S. “a pussified nation.” This brought the mysoginistic William Wallace comments into public scrutiny again.
August 3 – A group of former members held a demonstration in front of the church with picket signs and media converage. Previously, Driscoll had told the church he couldn’t respond to many of the charges against him because they were made by anonymous people. This set off a wave of angry public responses from former members on Facebook culminating in this August 3 protest and a Facebook group that exists to this day.
August 7 – Planter of the first Acts 29 church, Ron Wheeler, penned an open letter to his former colleague Mark Driscoll and asked him to resign.
August 8 – Acts 29 Network evicted Mars Hill Church and former network co-founder and president Mark Driscoll from membership. I broke this story with the correspondence from Acts 29. Just prior to announcing their decision to remove the church and pastor from the network, the Acts 29 board said this: “Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help.”
August 9 – Lifeway Christian Bookstores confirmed to me that Mark Driscoll’s books would no longer be available via their bookstores.
August 12 – Popular biblical counselor Paul David Tripp broke his silence about why he resigned from Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability. He claimed having outside advisors doesn’t work. Local elders are needed for accountability.
August 12 – Mark Driscoll was canceled from an Act Like Men conference.
August 14 – Mars Hill canceled their annual Resurgence Conference.
August 15 – Mark Driscoll was withdrawn as the closing speaker at the Gateway Church Conference.
August 18 – Public questions were raised about the cancellation of a promised Jesus Festival at the church since the church had raised millions of dollars via year end giving appeals. One major reason given for the appeal was to fund the festival.
August 21 – I published the charges brought against Mark Driscoll by 21 formal elders. These charges formed the basis for a later investigation by a group of current elders. They found him guilty and declared him to be disqualified as an elder. They offered him a plan of restoration. While Mars Hill’s two board haggled over the matter, Driscoll resigned without accepting the verdict of the investigating board.
August 22 – The New York Times covered the formal charges story.
August 24 – Mark Driscoll announced that he will take at least six weeks off while the charges against him are investigated.
August 28 – Nine current Mars Hill elders wrote a lengthy letter to the rest of the elders, executive elders, and Board of Advisors and Accountability with recommendations that Driscoll enter a plan of restoration (instead of just take time off), the communication from the BOAA become more honest, and the church to change their governance avay from non-local governance. The document laying out these demands was leaked to me and published on this date.
August 29 – A petition started by former member Dave Lester called on the Mars Hill leadership to follow the recommendations of the nine current elders regarding a Driscoll restoration plan, governance change, and more clear communication from leadership of the church.
August 30 – The Mars Hill Executive Elders released a statement saying that donations were down due to an “increase in negative media attention.”
As a bonus, I will add the advice I gave Mars Hill then to decrease negative media attention. They didn’t follow it and The Trinity Church isn’t following it now. But I think it is still pretty good advice. What do you think?
To decrease negative media attention, follow these tips:
1. Don’t use church funds to manipulate literary best seller lists to make your pastor appear to be a best selling author. In a related tip, don’t cover it up and threaten staff not to disclose this fact. Furthermore, when it is revealed, reduce the number of explanations from three to one that is accurate.
2. Advise the lead pastor to avoid offending people with vulgarities, name-calling and bullying.
3. Don’t spend dedicated funds meant for ministers in third world nations on nice facilities to expand the Mars Hill brand.
4. If you say you are raising money for a Jesus Festival, you should have a pretty big party.
5. Don’t ignore requests for information from media and members. When members want to see the bylaws or know where their money was spent, comply. When media ask for an accounting of how you spend money, disclose that information. Remember, it wasn’t your money and the information is in the public interest. Refusing to disclose looks like you are hiding something. It is not too late to follow this tip.
6. Don’t make technically correct, but misleading statements to the public and press. The press and the public are smart enough to see through that. Eventually even people who want to give you the benefit of the doubt will see through it.
7. Going forward, revamp the whole Board of Elders/BOAA thing. Most of the people who have been appointed to these positions are known vocal and financial supporters of Mark Driscoll. This will all come out soon. The verdict, if favorable to Driscoll, will invite another “increase in negative media attention.” For the sake of balance and fairness, you should appoint some of the nine elders who wrote you a letter to the group who will examine the charges against Rev. Driscoll. Another possibility is that everyone who has presided over the church during the season of increased negative media attention should step aside. The BOAA should change the bylaws to allow the current elders to elect new executives and get a fresh start. I suspect that would lead to a decrease in negative media attention.
I may think of some additional tips. I imagine that people who comment on this post will add some as well.
In short, be more transparent about what you are doing in the name of God. Mars Hill Church has become known for the mysteries it hides more so than for the mysteries of the Gospel it proclaims. This, brothers and sisters, should not be so.