Another Former Mars Hill Member Starts a Post-Mars Hill Blog

Rob Smith once attended Mars Hill Church and was a deacon who was on track to become an elder. In 2007, he strongly protested the approach used in dismissing Pastors Bent Meyer and Paul Petry from the church. Smith is the person behind the Facebook group REPEAL THE BYLAWS – EXONERATE PASTORS PETRY & MEYER. He is now also writing about his experiences at Mars Hill at his new blog Musings From Under The Bus (referring to the pile of dead bodies Mark Driscoll famously proclaimed were under the Mars Hill bus).
One post describes how Smith attempted to personally contact Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability Chair Michael Van Skaik regarding formal charges filed by Dave Kraft in 2013. However, Van Skaik insisted that Smith submit his information in writing. Smith wanted to meet face to face with Van Skaik to discuss his experience. According to an exchange of communication between Smith and Van Skaik reproduced on the blog, Van Skaik refused to meet with Smith to discuss the matter.
Smith specifically focuses on church shunning:

My family and I have experienced the impact of having been shunned by our church family. This blog is intended to be a forum for processing, healing, and calling for Christians to understand the harm done to people through the harsh practice of shunning. It is also a forum to understand how to pursue justice and mercy in dealing with those who are victims of shunning, or those who have been the perpetrators of shunning.

I am about to teach a section on ostracism in social psychology. There are significant consequences psychologically from ostracism which might also be experienced by those who are ostracized from their church.
 

Mars Hill Church Members Want to Know Why The Orange County Campus Violated Zoning Ordinances in 2012

On Monday, I established that Mars Hill Church in Orange County violated the city of Santa Ana’s zoning law for the better part of a year (2011-2012). In defiance of the city and at the direction of Mars Hill’s executive elders, Mars Hill Orange County continued to meet in a building which was not zoned for a church, even paying fines instead of moving to another location, or simply waiting until a suitable location could be found. Then when the church was facing enforcement, Mars Hill’s pastor Mark Driscoll claimed to lack understanding about the city’s actions.
Apparently, Mars Hill members care about this issue because they asked about it during a recent “Vision Breakfast” where members could ask the executive elders questions.  A May 18 email from Mars Hill leaders to members referenced the matter:

Turner’s reply to members is very close to the one he issued to me when I asked him when he became aware that the church in Orange County was in violation of zoning ordinance. Honestly, I don’t understand how the answer to that question would be influenced by a reconciliation with Kyle Firstenberg (the “person who is raising these issues publicly“). According to Firstenberg, he made Turner aware of his concerns on more than one occasion with no reply.
Furthermore, based on documentation supplied by the city of Santa Ana, it seems clear that the Mars Hill executive board knew that the church in Orange County was operating in violation of city ordinance. This is a matter of public record. I can understand why church members would ask about this and want their leaders to be accountable and transparent. As of now, that does not appear to be the stance of Mars Hill’s leaders.
 

David Barton Again Falsely Claims Obama Administration Has Not Prosecuted Child Pornography

Repeating a false claim he made in 2011, David Barton told his Wallbuilders audience yesterday that the Obama Administration has not prosecuted any child pornography cases. In contrast, Opposing Views links to six different FBI cases in just the last week (e.g., this MS case).
According to World Magazine, the Obama administration has been less than active on adult cases but has been vigorous in prosecuting cases involving children.  The Department of Justice has placed emphasis on enforcement and has a special task force devoted to child protection. A quick review of the press releases for the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the DOJ’s website reveals numerous actions by the Obama administration to prosecute crimes involving children (see 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). A search of the FBI website reveals numerous actions as well.
Barton often stretches the truth when it comes to history and public policy, but this claim is a complete falsehood. In addition to misleading his listeners, Barton owes an apology to the hard working men and women who work for the FBI, the DOJ and other federal agencies who daily try to make the world a little safer for kids.

Mars Hill Orange County and the City of Santa Ana: The Church That Didn't Want to Move

UPDATE (8/15/14) – A reader let me know that the video update from Mark Driscoll to the church was made private by Mars Hill Church. The transcript is below but the church removed the video. I have edited the video to provide the relevant segment.
…………(original post begins here)
In May 2012, there was a stand off between the City of Santa Ana and the Orange County campus of Mars Hill Church. At the time, Mars Hill was meeting in a concert venue known as The Galaxy (now called The Observatory). According to the city, the venue was located in a zone where churches were not allowed to meet. The city had informed the church and the building owner that a church could not meet in that place but Mars Hill continued to hold services there. Thus, in May 2012 the city threatened enforcement actions. Then on May 27, 2012, the city fined the church and building owner $100 each.
On May 26, 2012, Mars Hill Church posted an update on the situation with Mark Driscoll and Nick Bogardus informing the church about actions taken on behalf of the Orange County (CA) campus. The video of Driscoll has now been made private (not viewable) and Bogardus’ update has been scrubbed from the site. However, you can read it via the Internet Archive. Although the video is missing, several news sources watched it and reported on the story. The Christian Post’s Alex Murashko wrote that Mars Hill pastors were “struggling to understand why conducting worship services by way of rotating into the weekly schedule of an active rock concert venue in Orange County on Sundays is a problem with city officials.” The now missing video was the basis for that assessment. According to CP, Driscoll said:

“I honestly don’t understand this because it’s a concert venue and so it’s a huge room where people come in, a band plays on the stage, and the place packs out with people. On Sunday, a band takes the stage and it fills up with people,” said Mars Hill lead pastor Mark Driscoll during a video posted on the church’s website.
“They say we can no longer use the space. [However,] we don’t have our children in there. They are actually in a separate building next door. It’s not a parking problem. There’s plenty of parking. It’s not a traffic problem. It’s Sunday, lots of accessibility, no issues whatsoever. So, we’re not exactly sure what the problem is. The truth is we’ve been asking a lot of questions and we are not getting a lot of answers,” Driscoll explained.

According to CP, Driscoll then wondered if the church was the victim of religious discrimination:

However, Driscoll said Mars Hill has retained legal counsel, saying it’s needed “if we find that we are just getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church.”
“If we find out as well that it’s just somebody on a council somewhere that has an axe to grind against Christianity we will hold our ground,” Driscoll said. “If we do, in fact, find that somehow we are violating laws and rules that don’t make a lot of sense to us we will obey the governing authorities like the Scriptures say.”

In CP’s reporting of this video (also OC Weekly, and The Blaze), Mark Driscoll appears unaware that the church had known for months that Orange County campus had violated Santa Ana zoning ordinances by meeting in The Galaxy. However, recently former Orange County campus executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg alleged that Mars Hill executive pastors were aware of the violation early on and prohibited the Orange County campus from making a move. In order to explore the various claims involved, I requested relevant documents from the City of Santa Ana and attempted to interview people involved.  On balance, the information I have supports Firstenberg’s account. The rest of this post presents this information.
The original yearly lease between Mars Hill and The Galaxy (owned by Jon Reiser) was signed on October 24, 2011. MHC pledged to pay $8,000/month for the first six months and then $10,000/month for the remaining months.  According to Firstenberg, the city contacted Reiser very soon after the lease was signed with the news that a church could not meet there. Initially, Firstenberg believed that the zoning law might not apply to them since the church was not doing anything at the venue through the week. However, soon Firstenberg understood that the church could not meet in the venue and alerted Sutton Turner, executive pastor at Mars Hill for direction. Firstenberg said that Turner instructed him not to move because the city would not want to risk a public relations problem by acting against the church. I contacted Sutton Turner for his perspective and he declined to comment saying that the issue was a “private matter.”
The documentation supplied by the City of Santa Ana begins in May 2012. However, the May 7 email from Alvaro Nunez to building owner Jon Reiser refers to prior conversations regarding the zoning violations.

Consistent with Firstenberg’s claims, Alvaro Nunez said in his email that he had previously made Reiser aware that the church could not meet in The Galaxy. I asked the Community Preservation Division representative Paula Courtade when the initial contact was made but she did not know. She told me that she asked Nunez but he could not remember when he first contacted Reiser. Firstenberg believes it was in 2011, with additional contacts in early 2012. In any case, the city had contacted all concerned before the flurry of activity in May 2012.
According to the CP, OC lead pastor Nick Bogardus said Mars Hill knew the church could not continue meeting in The Galaxy:

The city made it clear from the outset that the church could not stay long term, Bogardus said.

The outset was as early as October 30, 2011 when the lease agreement was signed. Bogardus said the city “made it clear” that church was not permitted in that location.
In reviewing notes Firstenberg kept during that time period, it appears that he investigated dozens of locations from late 2011 until he left the church in July 2012. On at least two occasions, the church seemed poised to move to a new venue. In April 2012, Mars Hill executive elder Dave Bruskas signed a letter of intent to occupy the Garden Grove Seventh Day Adventist Church. This document is significant in that Dave Bruskas is one of three executive elders at Mars Hill, the other two being Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner. Furthermore, on the Mars Hill website, prayer was requested in April 2012 for the location of a new building for Orange County:

Pastor Mark asks for prayer for our five churches that are looking for new buildings: Orange County, Everett, Federal Way, Downtown Seattle, and Olympia. He asks everybody to pray, both individually and as a church family.

In the update video on the site (how long will it be there?), Driscoll told his listeners at 2:20:

Mars Hill Orange County is meeting in a club, the children’s ministry is in another zip code, and we just are losing our lease, and we’re going to be kicked out, and we got a problem, and so we’re going to be homeless like Jesus here very shortly at Mars Hill Orange County. They started on January 15th, they started with 800 people. Only 2% of churches in America are 800 so we rejoice in all that God is doing, but they need a home.

The original uncut video was made private by Mars Hill Church. An edited version with the pertinent segment is below.
[youtube]http://youtu.be/zbJNb11ddkw?t=2m20s[/youtube]
[youtube]http://youtu.be/0k5tBs8IDZA [/youtube]
 
It is obvious that Driscoll was aware that the church could not remain in the location but nothing is said about religious discrimination. As is clear from the documentation (see the documents from the City of Santa Ana here), the religious discrimination narrative emerged in late May when the city got serious about enforcement of the zoning issues which had been in play for months.
As noted above, Alvaro Nunez contacted the building owner, Jon Reiser, on May 7.  On May 8, Kyle Firstenberg wrote both Nunez and Reiser about a possible move to a new location. In April, a letter of intent was executed by executive elder Dave Bruskas and on that basis Firstenberg informed Nunez and Reiser that a move was imminent. According to Firstenberg, Mars Hill executive pastor Turner eventually nixed the deal, leaving them to scramble around for additional options.
According to a May 15 email from Firstenberg to Nunez, the lease was being considered by the Garden Grove church. Then on May 23, Nunez wrote Firstenberg to inform him that church services must cease at The Galaxy/Obsevatory location. The email threatened enforcement action if the church did not comply.

Then on May 24, a law firm, Anthony and Middlebrook, representing Mars Hill sent a letter to Nunez expressing disappointment over the city’s stance. However, the letter acknowledged that the church planned to move to the Garden Grove location and expressed hope that the city would allow the church a little more time to complete the move. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act was not invoked to challenge the zoning ordinance but to ask for more to time in order to prevent disruption of services.
This brings us back to May 26 when Mark Driscoll told Mars Hill Church that he didn’t understand what the problem was and that perhaps someone at the City of Santa Ana had an “axe to grind against Christianity.” Given the events leading up to that point, it is hard to imagine how he didn’t understand the situation.
On Sunday May 27, in defiance of Nunez’s warning, Mars Hill met again at The Galaxy. As a result, the church and building owner were fined $100 each.

By this time, the Garden Grove property had been nixed and the church considered Woodbridge Community Church. However, according to an email from Mars Hill property management department, Sutton Turner did not want to move ahead with that property either.

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.

(LOI stands for “letter of intent.”)
From there it is not clear from the evidence I have what happened. In June, the Firstenbergs were laid off from Mars Hill effective July 6, suffering personal and financial hardships. According to emails between Mars Hill’s attorney’s and Santa Ana, the church continued to express willingness to move but did not do so. The church and building owner were fined again on August 26th, this time for $200. Eventually, the church moved to Huntington Beach, CA.
While these materials do not prove all of Kyle Firstenberg’s claims, they do provide support for them.  It appears that the executive elders of Mars Hill Church were aware that the church was in violation of the zoning laws and advised staying in the building, even paying fines instead of leaving. The religious discrimination angle did not seem to be a part of the narrative until the city raised the possibility of enforcement. If anything, it appears that the city of Santa Ana demonstrated some restraint given the length of time the church was out of compliance with zoning laws.
As noted, I contacted Sutton Turner for his view and he declined to comment saying this was a “private matter.” If there is additional evidence that anyone involved would like to provide, please feel free to contact me.
 

Kansas City Shooter Among Majority on Vanguard News Network Who Called for Extermination of Jews

More information is coming out about the Vanguard News Network and Frazier Glenn Miller who is in custody in connection with three fatal shootings in Kansas City.  On the Occidental Dissent blog (Brad Griffin’s white nationalist site aligned with the League of the South), Griffin links to a Vanguard News Network poll about the “extermination” of Jews. (Warning: this is extremely ugly and hateful material).
Glenn Miller, who identified himself by name on VNN but posted as “Rounder,” agreed with Alex Linder’s call to eradicate Jews but seems to stop short of saying that Linder called for such action.

However, Miller (as Rounder – see black oval) was among the majority of those who voted in favor of Linder’s views.

Linder in his own words:
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68Eb3eA82QQ[/youtube]
 

American Clubs Bring Neo-Confederate Institute on the Constitution to Public Schools; Liberty Counsel to Assist

The neo-Confederate Institute on the Constitution wants to come to a school near you.
The IOTC is actively pushing “American Clubs” with materials on their website designed to help students get a club started. Late last year, IOTC was featured at an American Club meeting at Spanish River High School in FL. In the photo to the left, IOTC founder and former board member of the white separatist group the League of the South Michael Peroutka speaks to high school students at Spanish River about the “biblical view” and “pagan view” of government.
And there may be money in high school clubs. Even though the IOTC is not a non-profit, Peroutka asks for donations to support the clubs.
One important organizational skill being taught to students is how to minimize truly controversial subjects. In this letter to the editor of a local paper, a student minimizes the sponsor of the American club by saying that liberals have spoken to the club members. The fact is that the people behind these clubs are members (Michael Peroutka, frequent conference speaker and former board member) and officers (David Whitney, chaplain of the MD/VA branch) in the League of the South a white separatist organization.
The American Club materials claim patriotism, but the views of the IOTC sponsors are frightening and anti-American. For instance, IOTC senior instructor David Whitney recently said citizenship should be restricted to Christians (presumably of his persuasion). On the website, Freedom Outpost, Whitney said:

Loving thy neighbor means protecting their God given rights as Exodus 12:49 commands. That means preserving the structure of civil government from all who would pervert the civil government into an agency of legalized plunder, whereby the God given rights of no one would be safe and secure. This means, as we have seen in the commands of Scripture that we restrict citizenship to those who, because they are committed to the Covenant of Disciples of Jesus Christ, are willing to submit themselves to serve in the roles of responsibility in choosing leaders who will preserve God ordained order.

Catch the double-speak? According to Whitney, we love our neighbors by taking away their citizenship rights. We have to preserve civil government from the unwashed masses who are incapable of participation because they aren’t Christians. Rather, we need Whitney’s elite Christian aristocracy to “preserve God ordained order.” These are truly chilling words and even more so when you understand that IOTC wants to bring this approach to your schools.
In his article, Whitney focuses on his dominionist dreams. Peroutka has expressed wishes for a Confederate past. In addition to his service to the segregationist League of the South, in his article about the Fourth of July, Peroutka laments that the wrong side won the Civil War. He calls the Confederate army “American soldiers” and says the Confederates were fighting to “defend and preserve an American way of life.”
Peroutka and Whitney should just be honest and call their clubs Confederate Clubs.
Given that Peroutka and Whitney want to discuss the Constitution and their peculiar view of the American founding, it might be possible for a school to refuse an application because the subject matter of the club is well within the school’s curriculum. I don’t see how this club could be considered a non-curricular club.
However, schools might be reluctant to refuse an application because Liberty Counsel has stepped up to support the IOTC effort to spread the Confederate view and Christian reconstructionism in our schools. What a team.
 
 
 

From Barton to Scherr: Thomas Kidd on Various Visions of Thomas Jefferson

Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture seeks “to advance knowledge of the role Christianity has played in mediating larger social and intellectual forces.”  The Spring issue

includes an article by Arthur Sherr (sic), entitled “Thomas Jefferson Versus the Historians: Christianity, Atheistic Morality, and the Afterlife.” When the article appeared, we asked for comment from other historians who have studied the role of religion in Jefferson’s thought. (Last week’s response by John Ragosta is here.)

Thomas Kidd weighs in, finds some problems in Scherr’s analysis and then recalls his work on David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies for World Magazine.

I covered many conservative and Christian historians’ rejection of Barton for the evangelical periodical WORLD Magazine in 2012. For one of those articles, I interviewed Dreisbach, who told me that he had a “‘very hard time’ accepting the notion,” advanced by Barton, “that Jefferson was ever an orthodox Christian, or that Jefferson ever embraced Christianity’s ‘transcendent claims.’” According to Scherr, Dreisbach is “closer to Barton than Barton’s opponents.” But in fact, across the ideological and faith spectrum Barton found virtually no scholarly supporters for The Jefferson Lies.

Let the last sentence sink in. While I think Dreisbach could be more vocal in response to Barton, I agree with Kidd that Barton has found no scholarly support for The Jefferson Lies.
 
By the way, a belated happy birthday (April 13) to Thomas Jefferson wherever you are.

Man arrested in connection with Kansas City shootings is member of forum calling for extermination of Jews

Frazier Glenn Miller is in custody tonight in connection with the murder of three people in Kansas City. Miller is known as “Rounderon the Vanguard News Network, a racist, anti-Semitic forum, hosted by Alex Linder. Miller apparently targeted a Jewish Community Center but if news reports are correct, he killed a teen and his grandfather who attended a Methodist Church. The forum host (Linder) of VNN (where Miller posted frequently) signs his posts as follows:

If we exterminate termites because they destroy the foundations of our houses, how much more lenient should we be in our treatment of jews, who destroy the foundations of our society?


Linder doesn’t seem shy about his extremist “exterminate the Jews” views. Watch:
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68Eb3eA82QQ[/youtube]
Some of the VNN posters seemed happy until they learned that two of the victims were not Jewish.