You Might Be In a Cult If…

With the escalation of control over members at The Trinity Church, the c-word is being thrown around by people who have left the church. When I think of mind control groups, I think of Steve Hassan who has made a career of studying them. Hassan’s BITE model is widely used and provides a helpful framework for evaluating the level of control an organization or leader has over an individual’s life. In this video, the model is described with lots of questions for the viewer to consider.

The BITE model invites people to consider the level of behavior, information, thought and emotional control which they experience in a group. Churches can have fine doctrine but exercise unbiblical levels of control over members. I can understand the concerns of former Trinity Church members when they describe efforts on the part of Driscoll and the pastors there to control their actions, the information they receive, their opinions and thoughts, and their feelings and loyalties toward others.

Using the term cult is of course a pejorative but might also wake someone up to harmful levels of control exercised by another person or group. True believers are often defensive about this. I invite readers and those who are venturing in from the Phoenix to listen to this video with an open mind.

Oh, and what is your Spectrum of Trust number?

Mark Driscoll’s Cult-Like Actions: Julie Roys Enters the Chat

Today, Julie Roys dropped an article about the ongoing controversies at Mark Driscoll’s The Trinity Church and it is a hammer. She brings together many threads of reporting into a devastating report about the church and what she calls Mark Driscoll’s “cult-like actions.”

Roys takes a very deep dive into the situation with the family first described at David Bonner’s blog involving Driscoll’s daughter. Roys has the aftermath of that situation and tells us that the Scottsdale police are involved. The church filed a complaint against the father and the family has filed a complaint against Brandon Anderson at the church for detaining Driscoll’s daughter’s boyfriend for questioning.

Roys explores the “elderless church” as I have been calling The Trinity Church. She points out the lack of accountability at the church. There are no budgets available and church finances are closed to members. In fact, there are no members. People attend but they have no meaningful way to participate. Driscoll has insulated himself from being accountable to those who attend and those who are his subordinates. If he wants someone out of the church or to be monitored, it is done.

I reported on Saturday that Driscoll authorized surveillance of his daughter’s former boyfriend’s family. Roys has a transcript of conversations involving church staff following members of this family. Not only did Driscoll ban the family from the church, he paid to have them secretly monitored. I wonder if Phoenix Seminary teaches classes in surveillance.

Spectrum of Trust

As extensive as Roys’ report is, there are more stories to tell. She mentions shunning, but there are more stories of families being shunned because they are not sufficiently loyal to Mark Driscoll. Roys introduces us to the very culty phrase “spectrum of trust.” The higher you are on the spectrum of trust, the more the Driscolls trust you and the more access to them you have. Sadly, if you not high on that spectrum, you may drag your family members down a notch or two. Ranking people in terms of their loyalty to the dear leader is a characteristic of a mind control group. An extension of that is shunning family members over loyalty to the dear leader.

One aspect of fallout from Mars Hill was the creation of blogs by people affected by the church (e.g., Joyful Exiles, Wenatchee the Hatchet*). As far as I know, here is the first such blog:

Spectrumoftrust.me

It appears to be in the development stage but go check it out.

 

*Probably my favorite blog name ever.

 

The Trinity Church May Be Watching You

On April 28, David Bonner at the Wondering Eagle blog published a story about a family chased out of The Trinity Church because of a kiss shared by an adolescent boy and girl. The girl is one of Mark Driscoll’s daughter and the boy and his family attended The Trinity Church until Driscoll wanted the family evicted from the church.

I have been able to confirm the basic elements of this story with several sources. One source, Chad Freese, was until recently the  Director of Security at The Trinity Church. He told me that Driscoll confirmed to him the basic elements of the matter and was “pissed off” about the kiss.

In addition, Freese told me that Driscoll authorized the boy’s family members to be surveilled in the community and monitored on social media. Church funds were expended to hire security personnel to follow them and report back concerning their activities.

Freese recently left the church over this and other concerns.  His resignation comes amid the departure of several families and other staff members, some of whom are unable to speak due to non-disclosure agreements.

For more on Mark Driscoll’s elderless church, click this link.

 

Mars Hill Church and The Trinity Church: Is Past Prologue?

In August 2014, 21 former elders from Mars Hill Church brought formal charges under the bylaws of the church against Mark Driscoll. Recently, I have been listening to people talk about their experiences at The Trinity Church in Phoenix. To quote Yogi Berra, it feels like deja vu all over again.

For those who complain that I am unnecessarily bringing up the past, I will reply with Shakespeare that, at times, past may be prologue. The charges are linked below; those who are currently involved or recently left Trinity Church may want to compare notes with past Mars Hill elders who wrote in 2014. Anything seem familiar?

Read the 2014 Formal Charges 

These charges were investigated by a group of elders. According to Dave Bruskas (who was involved in the discussions), this group recommended that Driscoll be considered disqualified subject to involvement in a plan of restoration. However, another group of overseers who did not hear the evidence but also had oversight did not want to disqualify Driscoll and keep out of the pulpit indefinitely. These two groups could not agree and during  their time of disagreement, Driscoll resigned. Eventually, he started The Trinity Church in Phoenix.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Four – Who Are the Elders?

Dee  Holmes conducted a one-woman protest yesterday and today at The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, AZ. She took up a presence on the sidewalk in front of the church and loudly raised the issues of no elders, no accountability in finances and the fact that police were called to keep a family off church premises after a teen boy in the family and Driscoll’s teen daughter shared a consensual kiss.

This tweet from Dee makes me wonder how much in the dark The Trinity Church members are. This man comes out in response to Dee and says the church has elders. That, of course, is either a brand new development or was carefully hidden from former staff who never heard of them and don’t know who they are.

As noted in this post, the nonprofit board of directors are not elders at least in the sense that Driscoll teaches in his book on Doctrine. In this flow chart provided to staff, there is no place for or mention of elders:

It seems entirely likely that members don’t know how the church is organized or funded. They haven’t seen financial statements or bylaws and have no idea what kind of organization they attend. That all may work out unless and until they have an issue or concern — like the family who objected to how their teen was treated after the infamous kiss.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Three – Where’s the Board?

A former staff member from The Trinity Church provided the following document to me:

Notice the heading: “The ministry of The Trinity Church is ruled by God, influenced by Wise Counsel, governed by a board, led by the Senior Pastor, run by staff, and carried out by Team Trinity.”

However, looking at the flow chart, there is no board. Rather, note who is large and in charge – “Pastor Mark & Grace.”

Notice also that Driscoll’s daughter Ashley Chase is higher on the chart than the pastors. It also appears that Driscoll’s Real Faith nonprofit is a subsidiary of The Trinity Church. Now that is confusing. Driscoll’s nonprofit board and staff serve as a part of the staff of The Trinity Church. Maybe this is indeed a family business.

Actually, on a sheet of instructions given to staff, that exact phrase “family business” is used. See #8 under Professional below:

There are some catchy but meaningless phrases in this document. For instance: “We are Governed Throne Down, not Pew Up.” Who is on what throne? In practice, this is just a way of the single leader telling everybody else what to do and claiming God’s permission to do it.

Notice the conflation of The Trinity Church and Driscoll’s personal ministry: The Trinity Church and Real Faith.

Staff and volunteers also have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I will take that up in a separate post.

There are awful, harrowing stories coming out of this church. People are being kept from seeing family members because of how they feel about Mark Driscoll. Having chronicled stories from Mars Hill, I can say it feels like deja vu all over again listening to the hurting people contacting me now.

For any The Trinity Church attenders who are brave enough to read this far: Ask yourself why there are no financial statements. Do you know how your offerings are being spent? Why are there no elders or deliberative meetings over church direction? Why do people simply disappear from attendance without comment? Why are some people shunned?  Why aren’t  forgiveness and reconciliation stories what Mark Driscoll’s churches are known for?

If you are really brave, invest some time listening to these former Mars Hill Church co-workers of the man who now occupies your Trinity throne.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Two

On Monday, I wrote that former church members and staff told me that Mark Driscoll’s Scottsdale organization The Trinity Church doesn’t have elders. However, the organization does have a small corporate board made up of Driscoll as president and Jimmy Evans and Randall Taylor as Directors.

Nonprofits must have boards so here we have a board theoretically charged with the oversight of this organization. However, these are not elders as Driscoll describes them in his book Doctrine. Evans doesn’t attend the church. Taylor is not a pastor which, according to Driscoll, one must be to be an elder.

According to Driscoll, elders are chosen due to exemplary church membership to assume the role.

“Those who function as exemplary church members are then qualified to occupy the church leadership positions of deacon and elder, respectively.” (p. 322)

The organizational board of non-attending non-members aren’t elders. Unless Driscoll produces evidence in contrast to the testimony of former members and staff, I conclude that he in sole operational control of The Trinity Church.

Real Faith, Concealed Finances

A consequence of Driscoll’s control of the church is the blurring of lines between the church and his personal nonprofit ministry – Real Faith (formerly called Mark Driscoll Ministries). When you go to the Real Faith website, you find all the same sermon content that is also hosted at The Trinity Church. Driscoll uses the material he preaches at the church to raise money for his personal ministry. Last year, according to his 2020 990 IRS submission, Real Faith took in $555,182 in contributions.

Because Real Faith is a nonprofit organization, Driscoll has to file a 990 form which allows public disclosure of some aspects of his tax exempt activities. However, since The Trinity Church is considered a church (is it really, without elders?), no such disclosure forms are required. Thus, there is no public accounting of the church finances. According to former staff and members I spoke with, no financial statements are available to church members.

This is a gigantic red flag. The history of Mars Hill Church is littered with various financial shenanigans. Let me mention just one: Result Source and the church payment to manipulate the New York Times bestseller list to benefit Driscoll’s book Real Marriage.

Driscoll and the New York Times Bestseller List

Although famous in the history of Mars Hill Church, current The Trinity Church members may not have heard this story. Warren Smith at World first disclosed that

Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.

Soon after this story broke, the contract between the consulting group Result Source and the church was leaked to me and can be viewed here. Mars Hill used church funds to purchase 11,000 copies of Real Marriage at retail cost and also paid the $25,000 consulting fee. Result Source used over a thousand different payment mechanisms to evade detection by the various bestseller lists.

Even though Driscoll knew the scheme was in place and had guaranteed his placement, he tweeted this when Result Source had finished their work:

Clearly, Mars Hill members did not give their tithes and offerings to help Mark Driscoll get his book on bestseller lists. This incident demonstrated then and still does today the need for financial transparency in church work. It is concerning that The Trinity Church doesn’t provide audited financial statements to members. Why don’t members know where their money goes?

 

Karen Swallow Prior Calls Out “Egregious Plagiarism” in Tim Clinton’s New Book

Recently, psychology professor Aaron New wrote yet again about what he called plagiarism in a new book by American Association of Christian Counselors owner Tim Clinton and writer Max Davis. He showed that Clinton and Davis lifted sizable verbatim portions of books by George Foreman without placing them in quotes or indenting them to show that they came directly from the other books. In fact, they wove the exact quotes in with their own prose to make it appear they wrote all of the material. In the sections in question, there were quotes from the original books by Foreman that did have citations but they were included in such a way as to make it appear that the only material cited was a quote from the original. In fact, copious material was directly lifted from the original works.

Dr. New published his findings in a series of tweets which I reproduce here:

I showed this along with the new book’s endnotes to Karen Swallow Prior, Research Professor of English and Christianity & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and asked if she thought this was plagiarism. Her response is in full below:

In 2018 when the rampant and repeated instances of plagiarism by Tim Clinton were covered by Inside Higher Ed, I emailed Tim about it through his website. Because Tim was a fellow faculty member at Liberty University and is a brother in Christ, I thought it was important to reach out to him directly. I never heard back. When Tim later spoke at my church, I communicated my concerns to one of my pastors.

I am disappointed and grieved to see yet another instance of blatant plagiarism in this new book [Take It Back: Reclaiming Biblical Manhood for the Sake of Marriage, Family, and Culture]. The examples of plagiarism I’ve seen in it are so egregious that if they were committed by a student, I would give that student a failing grade for the class. Christians must do and demand better, especially Christian leaders.

The Inside Higher Ed article was published in 2018 and involved similar issues uncovered by Aaron New.

I contacted the publicist and Max Davis but have not received any answer.

Today, Religion News Service published an article about plagiarism among pastors. I wait to see if anyone takes that seriously. I continue to wait to see if anyone in Christian publishing takes any of this seriously. I know academics like Prior, New and me do, but professional Christians apparently do not. Instead, if any questions are asked beyond this blog post, the Christian celebrity culture response will be to trot out a public relations humanoid with excuses and wait for the forgetting to set in.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church

Remember Mark Driscoll?

Driscoll is the former Seattle-based Mars Hill Church pastor who was charged by 21 of his former elders back in 2014 with an abusive style of leadership. There were two groups of leaders at Mars Hill Church who were involved in deciding what to do with Driscoll. The group of elders who investigated the charges found that he should be disqualified from ministry. Another group of overseers loyal to Driscoll did not want to communicate to the church that he was disqualified but wanted to keep him from the pulpit for a break. That group had not been a part of the investigation process and had not heard the evidence. In the middle of the several days these two groups were in disagreement, Driscoll resigned from the church without entering any process of restoration.

In short, a jury of his elder peers found him to be disqualified to be a pastor-elder. Instead of being restored by those elders, he left the scene and eventually started a new church — The Trinity Church — in Scottsdale, AZ.

It should come as little surprise that Mark Driscoll’s new church apparently has solved the elder problem which led to his demise at Mars Hill. Just don’t have any.

During the past couple of weeks, several former members of The Trinity Church in Scottsdale have contacted me to talk about about aspects of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. They contacted me due to my coverage of Mars Hill from late 2013 until 2015. They tell stories remarkably similar to those I heard from former Mars Hill members during that span of time. There is one major difference. In the current church, there are no elders who are putting on any brakes. There are no elders to whom appeals can be made. Several former members and staffers have told me that The Trinity Church does not have elders.

Some things do sound the same. Non-disclosure agreements are again being used. Money is again conditioned on silence. People are describing abrupt decisions about membership without due process. Friends and family who are considered disloyal to the church are being shunned. At some point, these stories may be told. For now, according to former members and staff,  the pastors who are there in addition to Driscoll are not elders in the decision making sense of the office. If elders hold you accountable in one place, eliminate them in the next place.

Doctrine: Who Needs It?

Over the years, Driscoll has taught often about elders. On The Trinity Church website, Driscoll has his book with Gerry Breshears — Doctrine: What Christians Should Believeavailable for download. In that book, he discusses the biblical role of elders in a local church:

“The church is organized under qualified and competent leadership. The senior human leaders are men called elders (pastors).” (p. 309)

“The Bible describes the office of elder-pastor or overseer as the highest office in a local church, a position charged with the responsibility of overseeing the doctrinal soundness and spiritual health of the church. There is no end of confusion over the title pastor. It is often used for leaders of the church who get paid for their ministry, or specifically for the preacher. Negatively, this false understanding separates pastors from elders, the biblical term for senior leaders.” (p. 319)

“The duties of elders revolve around two major areas of responsibility: pastoral care (including equipping Christians for ministry and oversight of the church) and guiding and guarding the teaching of the church (including the preaching of God’s Word when the church assembles). The elders are the senior leadership team in a church and as such they bear primary responsibility for the well-being of the church’s people, resources, and doctrine.” (p. 319)

“It is important to note that the Bible always speaks of elders in the plural. This follows the New Testament pattern that ministry is to be done by teams so that everyone is under authority, including those in authority. While there will almost always be one man on the team of elders who is the leader of the elders, a “first among equals” elder, he does not hold a categorically different office from the other elders.” (p. 320)

There is more, but it should be clear that a local church as envisioned once upon a time by Driscoll and Breshears should have more than one elder. The Trinity Church does have pastors – in fact, the church lists five pastors: Brandon Anderson, Eden Fine, Darien Bennett, Carl Steele, and Landon Chase. However, as noted, nowhere are they referred to as elders. I wrote The Trinity Church asking about this without answer and the church bylaws are not available online. The former members and staff I spoke to said the bylaws are not available to members. Naturally, if the church has an alternative perspective, I will add it to the post.

So what is The Trinity Church? One former member I spoke to said it appears to be more like a family business. And indeed it may be. As I documented in prior years, the religion business can be quite lucrative for some. And if that is what a person wants in their Sunday morning activities, it is a free country. However, others would like to know if what went around before is coming around again.

 

 

 

 

 

Gospel for Asia Invades Africa

On April 13, Gospel for Asia — now called GFA World — published a news release with this title:

Gospel for Asia — Now GFA World — Launches its First-Ever Mission in Africa

Yohannan and company have launched a business in Rwanda and plan more in other African nations:

Our work in Africa begins with GFA World Child Sponsorship in the slums of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, one of the most densely populated African nations. This will be the first of many projects, each with the same vision we started with, to meet tangible needs of precious people and show God’s love to those who need it most.

With over 40 years of experience, GFA is equipped to meet the expanding needs of Africa. We’ll soon start training national missionaries, clean water projects, medical ministry, education for the underprivileged, women’s empowerment, and community development projects. Our aim is to help empower the poor to break the cycle of poverty and show God’s love.

And Rwanda is just the beginning of an exciting new missions frontier. We plan to expand ministry to six other nations in Africa during the next few years.

And why not? In 2015, GFA lost their membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Yohannan’s organization settled a U.S. class action fraud lawsuit for $37-million in 2019. In 2020, GFA became the defendant in a fraud lawsuit brought in Canada. Also in 2020, this time in India, GFA affiliated organizations (including Yohannan’s homes)  were raided as a part of a government investigation into how the organization used their foreign contributions. This investigation is ongoing and Yohannan is being sought for questioning by the Indian government. No wonder Yohannan and GFA World want to get out of North America and Asia and on to a new continent.

In 2017, the Indian government removed GFA’s charity status and ability to receive foreign contributions. However, GFA never told donors about the government action and continued to send funds to shadow organizations in India. With the recent government raids and investigation, GFA’s status in India may be in doubt.

With problems in North America and Asia, it appears that Africa is Yohannan’s next act.