The downfall of Mars Hill Church and its macho pastor
September 18th, 2014
Seattle’s Mars Hill Church is a mega-church with real machismo, where the men are men and the women are subservient. Mark Driscoll, the charismatic leader at Mars Hill has long been known by readers here at Box Turtle Bulletin to have contempt for “effeminate men” and the church has shown itself to be ignorant, at best, about the gay community, referring to it as “those who are infected with AIDS on the hill” and advocating for ex-gay efforts.
But perhaps less known, until recently, was Driscoll’s misogyny, abuse, and dictatorial approach to ministry. But eventually enough of those within his circle had experienced his abusive and controlling nature and his empire has now begun to crumble. And the catalyst was someone who is as extreme as Driscoll in her anti-gay positioning, radio host Janet Mefferd. (Seattle Times)
Driscoll’s heated November 2013 exchange with radio host Janet Mefferd would prove a crucial turning point in his explosive rise and recent fall, igniting a chain of events that would begin unraveling the Seattle megachurch he founded.
Mefferd had discovered that Driscoll had based about 14 pages of his latest book on another author’s ideas, without giving attribution. And when she pointed this out, Driscoll went on attack mode, accusing Mefferd of being rude and “not very Christ-like”.
That may have been his error – his posturing inviting inspection when his house wasn’t in order. A few people within conservative Christianity began looking into Driscoll’s book practice. And discovered that his theft of intellectual property wasn’t a isolated event.
Perhaps the greatest damage to Driscoll came when this caught the attention of Dr. Warren Throckmorton, who in some ways serves as the conscience of the evangelical community. While the original improprieties were discovered by others, Throckmorton brought them to the attention of the greater church community through blogging and authoring articles. And one particular revelation was shocking.
Real Marriage, part relationship advice, part sex manual, had enough shock value that it shouldn’t surprise that it sold well. And it did, surging to the Number One spot on the New York Times’ list of hardcover advice books. And in January 2012, Driscoll became a NYT Best Selling Author.
But it turns out that Driscoll and Mars Hill didn’t get there honestly. Instead, they hired a firm to make bogus purchases of the book so as to drive up the sales numbers. And, to fool the Times, the scheme involved large numbers of purchases from around the country using differing payment methods.
As disclosures about Driscoll’s practices came to light, more congregants and former congregants began to tell their stories about abuse and manipulation. On August 21, Dave Kraft, who had been on staff as Dricoll’s life coach, went public as to why he had left. He was joined by 21 other former pastors who presented a listing of complaints.
Then on Aug. 22, those pastors delivered a letter to their remaining fellow pastors asking Driscoll step down and enter a process of repentance and restoration. Instead of complying with the direction of his pastors, Driscoll announced to the church on Aug. 24 after his Sunday sermon that he would take “an extended focus break” in order to heal and allow the church to examine the allegations against him.
His Executive Elders, a tiny committee, then announced that they would investigate the accusations. Early indications suggest that they have every intention of vindicating Driscoll and maligning his accusers. And as for the nine pastors who called for Driscoll’s replacement – they’ve been fired.
Mars Hill’s attendance is down by about a third and there are consolidating congregations. One of the congregations which has been closed is the one which which claimed to be “serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill”.
This story is likely far from over.
The champions of the bullies
July 14th, 2011
In recent years bullying of gay children and those perceived to be gay has caught the attention of the nation. While this is not a new phenomenon, the rise of “new media” has allowed for stories that individually may have received little notice – or may have been intentionally misconstrued – to be seen as a pattern and an ongoing problem. And as the list of names of children tormented to the point of suicide grew, so too did a collective awareness that our culture has a serious problem with bullying.
Secular concern has been consistent and compassionate. Individuals, celebrities, corporations, and the President of the United States have all sought to give kids a message of hope that they should hold on because it gets better.
But the response to this problem from people of faith has been mixed. Some, mostly in Jewish and mainline Christian denominations, have condemned the bullying and expressed acceptance, love, and support for the gay and presumed gay victims. Others have agreed that bullying is not a good thing, but have dismissed its seriousness and resisted anti-bullying programs as being homosexual propaganda.
But generally there has been agreement that slurs are not appropriate behavior for Christian youth.
Yet there are those among conservative evangelical Christianity who don’t just downplay slurs and expressions of contempt but engage in such behaviors themselves. One such person is Daniel Beckworth, youth pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama and regional representative of Youth for Christ.
David Rattigan, at Ex-Gay Watch, chronicles an email exchange between himself and Beckworth which was initiated by a slur that Beckworth left on the site. When David reached out to Beckworth to remind him of the consequences of bullying kids who are “different”, he was met with a particularly telling rebuttal:
Maybe you should speak to the young boys who wish they had someone to help them be manly. You dont need to reply. You have no chance of convincing me that we need to pamper young boys.
David does not see Beckworth as an isolated instance. Rather he traces his views to rhetoric and example from Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s mega-church Mars Hill Church. Driscoll too, it appears, practices a religion that values contempt over compassion and arrogance over kindness.
But while Driscoll engages in a pattern of insult followed by pseudo-apology, his example gives cover to those like Beckworth who find virtue in abusing the weak. Go read the entire story at Ex-Gay Watch and keep it in mind for the next time that some conservative Christian tells you, “It isn’t us, it isn’t kids from our churches that are doing the bullying!”
In coming commentaries I’ll be discussing some things I’ve observed about a growing tension in a conservative denomination as well as how some recent correspondence illustrates the peculiar logic and self-deception required to justify cruelty.