Two Weeks: No Answer from Mars Hill Leaders to 20 Former Mars Hill Pastors Who Want Mediation

Two weeks ago, twenty former Mars Hill pastors, led by Dave Kraft and Kyle Firstenberg requested mediation with the Board of Advisors and Accountability of Mars Hill Church. As of this writing, no answer has come from the BOAA.
Ten days later, the BOAA issued a letter to Mars Hill leaders saying the board was “hungry for reconciliation” but did not mention the initiative by the 20 pastors. Two weeks later, the BOAA is apparently not hungry enough to address the people who are calling for a response.
There are nearly 170 members of a group calling for the exoneration of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. There are over 50 members of a similar group calling for repentance. No members have described contacts from the BOAA. Recently, a website was launched with four former pastors including co-founder Lief Moi, expressing sorrow over their actions while at Mars Hill. These gentlemen also seem hungry for reconciliation. Many of these individuals have sought reconciliation privately with no response to their efforts. See especially, Kyle Firstenberg’s information.
I have asked Mars Hill communications director Justin Dean for MHC’s side of this matter with no response.
 

Nice Review of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President

This was a pleasure to see:

Excellent Rebuttal of David Barton’s inappropriately named book, “The Jefferson Lies.”, March 12, 2014
This book saved me the trouble of rebutting David Barton’s book, “The Jefferson Lies.” The authors supply the reader with the missing words of Thomas Jefferson. They also supply information from Jefferson’s time to provide background. David Barton is so intent on making all Founders agree with his ideas of what belief in God, the Bible, and Christianity entails that he “cuts and pastes” their writings to suit his needs. It is not enough for Barton that there were Founders who believed as Barton does. He cannot accept that some Founders, like Jefferson and John Adams beliefs were unorthodox to Barton’s faith. Jefferson in an Oct. 19 letter to William short footnotes all that he disbelieves about Christianity and Jesus. These include the virgin birth, deification, miracles, resurrection, ascension, trinity, corporeal presence in the Eucharist, original sin, atonement, election (pre-destination).
Bruce Braden, Editor of “Ye Will Say I Am No Christian: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values.”

Still wondering when Barton’s second edition of The Jefferson Lies is coming out. We’re ready when it does. For now, one can pick up Getting Jefferson Right at a bargain price at Amazon.
Not sure if the stars will ever align properly, but if they do, I would like to do a similar book on John Adams.

Who Will Replace Fred Phelps?

Hopefully, he won’t be replaced but there are those who come close.
By now, most people know that the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, died earlier this month (March 19). Phelps was the personification of hatred toward gay people along with the church which was mostly his family members. I am sure others have speculated about who could replace Phelps so this might not break much new ground. However, I thought of this list while reading about Martin Ssempa’s march to celebrate the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda.
Most people, me included, do not want to see a replacement for Phelps. It is tragic to be known for one’s hatred and such a stance is surely a misrepresentation of Christianity. But there are those who seem to want the position. I’ll start with the reason this post even came to mind.
Martin Ssempa: Today, Ssempa is leading a march in Uganda to celebrate the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill late last year.  A person who would celebrate a law that makes life in prison a possibility for simple affection between two consenting adults has to be on the short list for a Phelps replacement. Once known primarily for his work in Uganda against HIV/AIDS, now he is known world wide as one of the most vocal and absurd anti-gay crusaders. His pornography shows in Kampala and hateful rhetoric rival Phelps for showmanship and degradation. Ssempa seems to revel in his status as an anti-gay icon in Uganda and in the United States. In fact, he is on the list while bill sponsor David Bahati is not, because Ssempa has cultivated his image in the U.S.
Paul Cameron: Paul Cameron has been discredited widely but still finds his way to the media, recently telling a talk show host that he would be open to the death penalty for sexually active gays. In the past, he has suggested that the Nazis methods of handling gays might also have merit. Cameron has for years called for criminalization of homosexuality and has produced mountains of junk studies to attempt to vindicate his views.
Scott Lively: Many might place Lively at the top of the list because he is widely believed to be the force behind the Uganda bill and the tightening of laws in the Soviet bloc nations. He favors laws which limit free speech on homosexuality but doesn’t favor the death penalty as did Ssempa before the law was amended. He says he favors rehabilitation and has often cited NARTH as a favored organization. Where he rivals Phelps is with his historical fiction book, The Pink Swastika, which essentially lays blame for the Holocaust on homosexuality.
James David Manning: Like many people who yell fire in a crowded room, this New York City preacher posted provocative rhetoric and then said he didn’t mean anything hateful. Manning posted “Jesus would stone homos” on his church sign and then said later he is not a hater. We’ll have to see if he escalates his rhetoric once the attention dies down.
Christian Reconstructionists: Many adherents of Christian reconstructionism (like this supporter of Ron Paul)  think gays along with disobedient children and adulterers should be stoned.  I am not sure any one of these fellows is going to rise up to the status of Phelps but their belief in their view of Mosaic law could be a foundation for such a move.
Some might object to my omission of Bryan Fischer. Fischer gets a dishonorable mention because he parrots some of Lively’s and Cameron’s views but doesn’t seem to want to kill gays. Criminalize same-sex relationships yes, but not kill them.
I hope it is clear that the focus here is not disagreement over biblical interpretation or moral objection to same-sex behavior, but rather the obsessive effort to demonize an entire group of people. Certainly, Ssempa, Cameron, Lively and Manning have demonstrated the latter. We don’t yet know the full consequences of their work.
Update on Ssempa’s march: At least three dudes showed up.

The Mars Hill Orange County Discrimination Narrative: The Rest of the Story?

In June 2012, Mark Driscoll told the media and his church that Mars Hill Orange County might be the victim of religious discrimination because the city of Santa Ana said the church was in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance. According to the OC Weekly via a Mars Hill video, the church was lawyering up:

Driscoll said the church has hired lawyers to look into the matter, and “if we do find that we’re just getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church, we’ll hold our ground. If we find out as well that it’s just somebody on a council somewhere with an axe to grind against Christianity, we’ll hold our ground.

The May update and June 2012 video of Driscoll telling the congregation about the matter has been removed from the Mars Hill website and is now private on You Tube (the update from Mars Hill Orange County lead pastor Nick Bogardus is on the Internet Archive).
Now the Executive Pastor of Mars Hill Orange County at the time Kyle Firstenberg claims that he had made Mars Hill leaders aware of the zoning problem months prior to the June article.

Several months after being sent down to Orange County to help launch the OC location of Mars Hill as the Executive Pastor, I identified a new location for the church to meet. It was at a night club called the Galaxy Theater. Shortly after we began meeting there, I discovered that the City of Santa Ana prohibits churches from meeting in that part of the city, regardless of the building. I notified Pastor Sutton and the Development Team of my findings and suggested we start planning for a move. I was told by Pastor Sutton that we were not going to move because we had no place to go, even though we could move back to the building we were using months before.
I began searching for another place to meet and discovered a comparable venue to the Galaxy Theater. I notified Pastor Sutton and the Development Team and was told that we didn’t want to lose momentum and growth by moving and that we were not going to move until the city kicked us out. Sutton said the city wouldn’t do that because they don’t want the bad PR of kicking out a church that is trying to make a difference. I made it very clear to Pastor Sutton and the Development Team that I was not OK with staying, as we were breaking the law. The decision was made and I was advised to not challenge it.
A short time later I discovered that we as a church needed to have a business license in the city of Santa Ana to operate legally as we had separate office space in the city. I completed the paperwork and advised Pastor Sutton and the Development Team that I would be submitting the application. I was told not to submit it because it would draw attention to us and they would discover that we had not moved as instructed by the certified letters that we had received from the city. The decision was made and I was advised to submit to my leaders. I challenged that decision along with the previous decisions that our very actions were disqualifying us from pastoring this church, not to mention the non-Christian landlord we were trying to be a witness to was encouraged to participate with us in our defiance of the law.
I continued to raise my concerns on a weekly basis for several months as the city continued to send certified letters to cease and desist and started fining us. As a previous law enforcement officer and a pastor of Jesus’ church, I had extreme ethical issues with these decisions and my name was on all official documents for the Orange County location. At that time, I requested that my name be removed from all official church documents with the city, as I did not want my name associated with this civil crime.
I also continued to provide alternative meeting locations that were turned down. Some months later, as the City of Santa Ana increased its fines, the decision was made to plan for a move. Sutton then removed me as the lead overseeing the property search and told me it was because I was not all in and not available 24/7. I believe this occurred because of my vocal push back to our breaking the law and continued pushing for us to make a move. I stepped aside and assisted where I could.

The Firstenbergs left Mars Hill OC in mid-2012 about the time the religious discrimination theory was being floated to the media. Eventually, the church moved as fines were being paid to the city for being out of compliance with the ordinance.
Firstenberg raises some extremely troubling questions for the leadership of Mars Hill. According to Firstenberg, the leadership of Mars Hill knew the venue was not zoned for a church long before Driscoll commented about it to the church and media. If Mark Driscoll really did not know what the problem was then who is responsible for that? If he did know, then why tell the media/church that he didn’t understand. One may disagree with an ordinance, but that is a different matter than not knowing the problem.  The picture painted by Firstenberg is that Mars Hill leaders knew the OC church was out of compliance, ordered subordinates to continue in non-compliance, willingly paid fines using church money, and then appeared to distract attention by raising the possibility of religious discrimination.
I would be happy to provide any alternative explanation or facts that Mars Hill might provide.
Update: Kyle Firstenberg provided me with an email which supports his claim that the Executive Elders of Mars Hill knew the situation with the Orange County property around the same time as Mark Driscoll was telling the media and MHC that the situation might be religious discrimination.

From:
Date: Friday, June 1, 2012 9:25 AM
To: “kyle@marshill.com” <kyle@marshill.com>
Subject: Woodbridge
Kyle
Sutton would rather us keep looking, and meet in a park if need be, than have only an afternoon time slot.  It sounds like this is the opinion of all 3 EE, no just Pastor Sutton.  I pulled the plug on the LOI.  We’ll keep focusing our efforts on other options.

The correspondent here was a person in charge of handling properties at Mars Hill. Firstenberg had provided numerous other possible sites and then in this one about a particular venue, the answer was still no. Firstenberg’s impression from this communication was that all three Executive Elders were agreed.

Former Mars Hill Pastors Repent at New Website

A new website devoted to repentance among former Mars Hill leaders has opened up at Repentantpastor.com. Repentant Pastor is about:

We built this site to provide a safe place in which we can confess our sin and share the stories and experiences we had while serving and attending Mars Hill Church. Our hope is to bring about repentance for ourselves and reconciliation with people whom we have hurt. If you are one of those people please connect with us personally through email. You can also comment on the posts. Each one of the people who has written in the confessions section has an email address at this url. The email addresses are firstname.lastname@repentantpastor.com Thank you for reading our confessions, letters, stories, and apologies.
Each of these posts are confessions from Mars Hill leaders and members who agree that the culture of Mars Hill has many problems, and that more could have been done by each of us to challenge those problematic attitudes and behaviors. In staying at Mars Hill, we were complicit in those structures, and problems whether we employed them or not. We recognize and confess that Mars Hill has hurt many people within the Mars Hill community, as well as those outside the community including those who don’t believe Mars Hill’s religious beliefs, and we want to acknowledge the hurt we may have caused. We humbly ask your forgiveness. These are our individual confessions, letters, stories, and apologies.

With posts all dated today (3/29/14), former Mars Hill Orance County executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg, former Leadership Pastor Dave Kraft, former Mars Hill Everett Pastor Scott Mitchell, and Mars Hill co-founder Lief Moi have provided a powerful call to re-examine events in Mars Hill’s history.  In particular, the change in bylaws and firing of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry take center stage.
On March 17, twenty former Mars Hill pastors approached the Board of Advisors and Accountability with a request for mediation. Thus far, no direct response to this call and those who made it has come.
Firstenberg’s official charges are stunning and can be read here.

Former Mars Hill Pastor: Mars Hill Leaders Ordered Violation of City Ordinances

I will have more to say about these posts later but for now, I want to provide the links to Kyle Firstenberg’s posts where he details his charges against Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner.
Letter to Board of Advisors and Accountability
Charges Against Mars Hill Executive Pastors
There is much here but one surprising charge is that the Mars Hill leadership knew the Mars Hill Orange County church was out of compliance with the law but told the pastors there not to move, even authorizing the payment of fines.

Former Mars Hill Pastors Speak Out About Elder Firings and Changes in Mars Hill Bylaws

A little while ago, former Mars Hill Church Leadership Pastor Dave Kraft released a statement on his Facebook page which accepted responsibility for his part in the firings of Paul Petry, Bent Meyer and Lief Moi. Saying that the elders were “unfairly terminated,” Kraft expressed remorse for being “in the group that saw to it that they left.”
Then today on his blog, Kyle Firstenberg also expressed remorse because he shunned the fired elders as he was instructed by Driscoll. Firstenberg also provided his perceptions of the bylaws changes dating back to about 2007 when more power was placed in the hands of the executive elders. Eventually, the Board of Advisors and Accountability was created with the purported purpose to provide outside accountability. Firstenberg described a video call where Driscoll discussed the changes. After some push back from elders, according to Firstenberg, Driscoll shut down discussion:

Mark’s response was simply, I don’t give a shit what you guys think. I brought this in front of you guys trying to be nice and make you feel like you are involved in this decision. I don’t even need to get your permission to do this; the last change to the Bylaws gives me permission to do what I want and we are doing this. It doesn’t matter what you say.
With that, the change was made with little protest because if you want to keep your job you don’t cross Mark. My push back is simply, if Mark can make statements like that in front of the people who are his peers as elders/pastors and the people who he has put in place to hold him accountable to begin with, then what makes us think that he would submit himself to a group of people who are outside of the church?

I have heard other Mars Hill pastors describe this meeting with very nearly the same language. If Mars Hill Church would like to dispute this account, I would be happy to post their account.
This is a powerful vindication of the three elders and one which the Mars Hill BOAA has not publicly addressed. I have noted before that the controversy/firings of these men, and other events from about 2007 onward are reverberating today. Mars Hill BOAA has abundant evidence of the issues but has still not contacted these men, preferring instead to talk about some vague reconciliation hunger.
 

New Letter from Mars Hill Church Leadership Board Acknowledges Charges Against Mark Driscoll; Silent on Twenty Former Pastors

Earlier this evening (3/26), a letter went out to Mars Hill Community Group leaders from the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA)* regarding the formal charges filed by Dave Kraft in May of last year. In addition, the BOAA commented on a “reconciliation process” but did not specifically mention the 20 former pastors who asked for a mediator. The letter refers to someone who could fit that role but it is not clear that the BOAA’s actions are in response to the initiative led by Dave Kraft and Kyle Firstenberg. As far as I can determine, the BOAA has not responded to the March 17 letter from the 20 former pastors.

Dear Mars Hill Leaders,
I wanted to take the opportunity to give you, the current leaders of Mars Hill Church, an update as to the status of some of what we’ve been working on as a board over the course of the past year. Thank you for all that you do. We know it is extra difficult right now, but good fruit is coming out of these trials!
On May 10, 2013, a now former elder filed formal charges against Pastor Mark Driscoll and other leaders at Mars Hill. While stating that he had not personally been sinned against by Pastor Mark, he had at least seven unnamed witnesses who would testify to the offenses and hurts he claimed, which if found to be substantiated, could result in disqualification. We requested the names of the witnesses to exercise Matthew 5:23-25, but he refused to disclose them. While the issues cited as evidence from these charges came from anonymous sources, the issues all revolved around the theme of mistreatment of fellow leaders and staff. As the governing body responsible for the accountability of Mars Hill’s senior leaders, the Board took these charges extremely seriously.
In an effort to substantiate the validity of the anonymous charges, we immediately sent out over one hundred letters to former elders and staff at Mars Hill Church from the previous two years, inviting their feedback and perspectives regarding their time on staff at the church, particularly their interactions with Pastor Mark and the Executive Elders. We received eighteen responses. While some were very positive, every response was read and reread, looking for anything that would disqualify Pastor Mark and any other Mars Hill leaders from serving, or that would require further investigation. Additionally, the Board looked for repetitive patterns that may also lead to potential disqualification. After a thorough review, the charges were determined to be non-disqualifying. However, the Executive Elders were individually and corporately given corrective direction by the Board. Those corrective actions have been followed and have been bearing fruit over the last seven months. We have been very encouraged to see the Executive Elders learn, grow, and repent where needed.
However, we are hungry for reconciliation and are continually grieved that many offenses and hurts are still unresolved. We want to seek out and hear the hurts in a biblical manner. A Board-approved reconciliation process is currently underway and is being overseen by Dr. Paul Tripp who flew to Seattle and recently spent a day with the Executive Elders. He has also been in conversation with a person who is very capable of facilitating these reconciliations. Additionally, each of the Executive Elders has taken the initiative to reach out to people with whom they may need to reconcile. Our prayer is that as a church we can learn from this experience as we continue to grow in love and grace.
You need to know that I and the other Board members have witnessed the Holy Spirit’s work in Pastors Mark, Dave and Sutton as they’ve grieved deeply over the hurts and sorrows that they’ve been the source of. Their hearts yearn for repentance and reconciliation with those that have been hurt and offended.
By God’s grace, the reconciliation process will continue to move forward one person at a time.
Michael Van Skaik
Chairman,
Board of Advisors and Accountability

I know of at least one person who reached out to the BOAA regarding the formal charges and requested to meet personally with Michael Van Skaik, the elder who led the inquiry. However, according to documents I have reviewed, Van Skaik refused to meet in person and wanted the information in writing. I also have seen other materials submitted in writing to the BOAA that cause me to question the BOAA’s relatively mild response.
It is hard to reconcile the claims of this letter with the silence from the BOAA and Executive Elders toward those who have privately and publicly asked for reconciliation.
This letter has been posted on Facebook in multiple locations.
More to come…
*The members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability are Paul Tripp, Michael Van Skaik (Chairman), James MacDonald, Larry Osborne, (the independent members) Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner (the executive elders who also sit on the BOAA).
The governance of Mars Hill rests on these seven men. The members of the church don’t vote on anything and the council of elders only vote on doctrinal changes and vote to ratify the slate of BOAA members yearly. However, elders serve at the pleasure of the BOAA and executive elders. The paid elders seem especially subject to pressure to conform because they report to Mark Driscoll who is the president of Mars Hill. He can remove officers at will and has the authority over the paid staff. Given the repeated allegations of a culture of fear, there is reason to wonder if this structure is facilitating accountability. Given the small size of the board and how dependent they are on each other, the potential for groupthink seems high. Furthermore, the lack of voice given the congregation and elders seems to set up an adversarial situation such as appears to have developed.

Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Update: Dan Allender Gets a Footnote in Real Marriage

In January 2014, I noted that Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins Christian added Dan Allender’s name to the Acknowledgments section of Mark & Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. Use of Allender’s styles of relating without citation was one of the early allegations of plagiarism made by Janet Mefferd after the infamous November, 2013 interview.
In my post demonstrating the addition of Allender’s name to the Acknowledgments section, I expressed my view that the publisher should also add a footnote to the section where Allender’s material was used. Now I see that sometime since that post a footnote has been included along with a mention of Allender in the text of Real Marriage (although with an error in grammar). See below for the before and after images:

This modification vindicates the concerns expressed at the time and is yet another indication that the statement from Tyndale House about plagiarism in Driscoll’s books was inadequate. For future reference, publishers can use this chart to find a substantial number of other corrections that should be made. For instance, Crossway publisher has yet to correct Driscoll’s use of Allender’s conceptualization in Death By Love.

 
 
 

Megachurch Mania: President Business Does Church

World Magazine is lighting some candles lately.
Warren Smith broke the story about Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill gaming the system for Driscoll’s book Real Marriage and now Marvin Olasky brings us a coloring book page that inspires nausea:

This comes from Elevation Church where Steven Furtick is the lead pastor. At the bottom of the page, the caption reads: “Elevation Church is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will protect our unity in supporting his vision.”
Really?
This is part of Elevation Church’s “Code.” Check out #9. This resource is part of Elevationekidz.com.
 
 
 
 
 
I couldn’t help but think of this guy:
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8-4wXkT60c[/youtube]
Everything is awesome!
This also reminded me of Mark Driscoll’s “I Am The Brand” speech. Obviously, I wasn’t there but numerous former staffers have described the speech where Mark Driscoll informed some of his staff that he was to be promoted as the brand. I would love to hear Driscoll’s side of that story but Mars Hill keeps him pretty wrapped and they won’t answer any questions.
Maybe there is another side to all of this and I am open to hearing it, but my reaction to what I have been learning about at least two megachurches (Elevation and Mars Hill) makes me glad that my pastor is my friend and not a brand or a superhero.