MD County Official Uses Faux George Washington Prayer in Violation of Judge's Order

A First Amendment case is brewing in Maryland involving sectarian prayers and a prayer book wrongly attributed to George Washington.

The prayer recited by Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier Thursday that she said is from George Washington has been proven to not belong to the first president, but is often used by Christian Conservative politicians, according to a scholar.

Friend and Messiah College history professor John Fea provided the expert commentary:

John Fea, chair of the History Department at Messiah College, said the prayer comes from the so-called George Washington Prayer Book, which was found in a chest of papers by one of Washington’s descendants in the 1890s. The University of Virginia, which houses the Papers of George Washington, and the Smithsonian Institution have concluded, based on the handwriting, that it was not written by Washington, Fea said.

More from the Baltimore Sun.
 

Text of Letter From Former Mars Hill Members to Mars Hill Church Asking to Delay Email Deletion

The plot thickens.
Yesterday, World Magazine reported that 16 former Mars Hill members hired an attorney to send a letter to Mars Hill Church demanding that the church stop the implementation of the new email deletion policy. The attorney, Brian Fahling, requested that Mars Hill preserve the stored data in anticipation of litigation. As I first reported here on Wednesday, the policy was set to take effect yesterday.

I have obtained a copy of that letter which you can review here.
Fahling claims Mars Hill faces penalties if they destroy evidence which could be at issue in litigation.  He presses the case that possible evidence includes electronic communications and documents. According to World’s Warren Smith, Mars Hill did not reply to a request for comment.
While email retention policies are becoming more common in business and industry, this notice could complicate matters for the megachurch. Assuming the leaders became aware of this intention to request electronic information before the close of business, there may be repercussions if they followed the policy as planned.
 

Ex-Mars Hill Member's Facebook Group Continues to Grow

Just noticed this afternoon that the Repeal the bylaws– exonerate pastors Petry & Meyer Facebook group has now gone over 200 members.
The purpose of the open group is:

…to engage each other is a constructive way that ultimately leads the Mars Hill leaders, members, ex-members (like myself) and donors to revisit 2006 and see the destruction caused by the carefully and timely executed firing and trials of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.
Failing to revisit this means that any repentance and reconciliation that we see leaves intact the current form of governance that has no accountability at all and allows abuse and harm to continue.
*This group is primarily meant for current and former Mars Hill members, but people not from there are welcome. Whoever you are though, please do keep your posts focused on seeking righteousness and reconciliation at Mars Hill.

While there are a number of themes which unite former Mars Hill leaders and members, the exoneration of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer seems to be a prominent one. For much, much more on that story, see Joyful Exiles, and  this recent post by Bent Meyer on his view of Mark Driscoll.
A quick review of the site indicates that members of the group may be getting together in person to renew friendships and perhaps to plan for additional actions to press their case.
As noted previously, the bylaws change in 2007 was a pivotal event in Mars Hill’s history that signaled a change from elder led governance to the more corporate-style governance of today’s Mars Hill.
 

Mark Driscoll and Result Source: What About the Other Best Seller Lists?

By now, most people know that Mars Hill Church entered into a contract with ResultSource Inc. to place Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on to the New York Times Best Seller List. World Magazine broke that story and then I posted the contract between MHC and RSI. Overlooked in the fallout from that story is that Real Marriage also made it on other best seller lists. According to the contract, this was by design.

Note that RSI pledged to attempt to Real Marriage on best seller lists published by the Wall Street Journal and the USA Today.

Although RSI was only obligated to make a top 15 placement on the NYT list, the other publications were mentioned as targets with expectation for success.
Initially the position of Mars Hill Church through spokesman Justin Dean was that the RSI-MHC partnership was an “opportunity” and an “investment.” Two days later, the MHC Board of Advisors and Accountability said the arrangement was “common” but “unwise.” Then, days later, Mark Driscoll said he initially saw the scheme as a way to market books but had come to see it as “manipulating a book sales reporting system” and thus “wrong.” He also said he was going to ask his publisher not to use the “#1 best seller status” on future publications. Quickly, the designation came off of his Mars Hill bio.
But what about the other best seller lists? Did he make those as well?
Consistent with the aspirations expressed in the contract, Real Marriage did make other best seller lists in early January and then as with the NYT list, the book fell off those lists after the campaign was complete. The book went to #3 on Publisher’s Weekly list, #8 on Wall Street Journal’s Nonfiction Combined list (week ending Jan. 8), and #38 on USA Today’s Top 150 Books (entered the list Jan. 12 for one week).  In contrast to his stance on the NYTs list, Driscoll continues to refer to those lists on his website:

At one point, this list also carried the #1 NYT best seller designation, so someone edited the page and decided to leave these placements alone.* Although the NYT best selling designation is more prestigious, another look at the contract demonstrates that the RSI scheme manipulates the efforts of several respected publications to estimate customer interest in books.
 
*Although these links are probably dead on arrival, there are multiple places on pastormark.tv where the NYT designation is still in place.
UPDATE: All links to pastormark.tv are now dead. I have copies of the pages but the current links go to a page that says, “We couldn’t find that.”
 

David Barton Slated to Speak at Urbana University April 28

On April 28, David Barton is slated to speak at Urbana University in Ohio. With the title, “David Barton – an expert of historical and Constitutional issues,” the event is promoted on the school’s website. However, his presence there may not place Urbana on Barton’s list of a dozen acceptable colleges.
The Barton event is being sponsored by a small group of people in the area informally called, “We the People,” according to Karen Bailey, Champaign County Auditor. Bailey is one of the initial sponsors who is paying for Barton to come to town. In a phone interview, she called the event “a gift to the community.” She said other sponsors were coming on board but that Urbana University is being paid for the use of facilities.
The event caught my eye because Urbana University seems an unlikely place for Barton to speak. While there is a religious background to the school (Swedenborgian), the school would not be on my short list of institutions which would be friendly to Barton’s brand of historical revisionism.
While he may be a gift to those who want to believe in Christian nationalism, he will be a lump of coal to other groups, such as:
Scholars and academics – Barton says that students at Christian colleges are falling away from faith because of their “pagan professors” who were trained by professors who “hate God.”  Scores of academics, including Christians, have called out Barton on his historical problems.
PTSD sufferers and advocates – Last year, along with Kenneth Copeland, Barton engaged in offensive suggestions about cure to PTSD sufferers.  Barton drew a special rebuke from the conservative Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter, who called Barton and Copeland’s advice “gospel-destroying and demonic.
AIDS/HIV patients – Barton has called AIDS/HIV a punishment for sin.
Native Americans – Barton invoked just-war theory to help rationalize the destruction of Native American tribes, prompting Baptist leader Randy Adams to call the theory “outrageous” and unhelpful.
LGBT people – Barton has promoted the idea that homosexuality should be re-criminalized.
Those offended by Christian nationalism – Some, perhaps many, African-Americans are offended by the Christian nationalism promoted by Barton. Then, there was Barton’s awkward defense of Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves and his false contention that Jefferson couldn’t free his slaves during his life.
Those who value historical accuracy – Exhibit A is the removal of Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies from publication in the midst of a successful sales run due to historical errors. Exhibit B is the fact that the Family Research Council removed his Capitol Tour video from You Tube because of historical errors. Focus on the Family had to edit two broadcasts to remove two historical falsehoods which Barton repeatedly told in his speeches. Other instances are too numerous to mention.
Not knowing the topic of his talk, it is hard to know what stories he will tell. He might tell them that violent crime has shot straight up until now since the Bible was removed from the public schools (it hasn’t), or that the first English Bible was printed for the use of schools (it wasn’t), or that the Constitution quotes the Bible verbatim (it doesn’t).
 

The David Barton Dozen: Ecclesia College (AR)

In October of last year, David Barton said there are about a dozen colleges that he believes are right on history and the Constitution.  John Fea identified six of them as

Liberty University Law School
Ohio Christian University
Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Pensacola Christian College
Brewton-Parker College
Louisiana College

I think a seventh can be added: Ecclesia College in Arkansas.
Barton is on the Board of Regents and recently spoke there.  While in the area, he spoke to a group of GOP state legislators demonstrating again his hard-to-explain influence. Even though he teaches things like the Constitution quotes the Bible verbatim and the Bible is a part of our law via the 7th Amendment, GOP legislators can’t seem to get enough of him. Neither of those claims are true of course, but that doesn’t stop him.
All posts on David Barton.

Megachurch Methods: Mars Hill Email Retention Policy

One complaint that has arisen about Mars Hill in recent months from some of those former members who have spoken out is that Mars Hill is run more like a business than a church. Yesterday, I posted the Mars Hill approach to bringing formal charges against elders and today I want to note a policy about to go into effect at Mars Hill regarding email retention. As of this Friday, emails and church related documents may only be stored for 90 days before being deleted. Also, staff must delete any Mars Hill related documents from personal computers or other storage.  See the policy here.
Let me point out what I think will be a controversial aspect to this policy:

What exactly is the risk of storing old emails unnecessarily? I asked an IT friend who told me this looks like a move by Mars Hill to try to keep employees from maintaining documents which could harm the church. If storage was the issue then deleting materials from external hard drives, or other storage would not be necessary. Some organizations implement such policies but as risk management moves.
I imagine this will not be a popular policy. Some projects last more than three months and it is convenient to keep emails in a folder or just in an inbox for reference. I suspect this will add work without much real protection against the “risk of storing old emails.”
 

Jonathan Merritt Discusses Sexuality and Vulnerability in New Book

On Sunday in a blog post at Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt summarized some personal reflections on his sexuality which are detailed in his new book Jesus is Better Than You Imagined.
Merritt, also the author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars which I endorsed. In that book, Merritt raises good questions and frequently illustrates the damage done to the Gospel and to people by culture war battles over social issues. In this blog post and his new book, he makes the matter personal.

The church is at a critical juncture on sensitive matters such as these. Churches need to create safe spaces where their people can be honest about what they feel and what they’ve experienced. All of our stories belong at the table. We need to listen to each other and learn to love each other and then pick up the scriptures and ask, “What does it look like to follow Jesus with our hearts, minds, and bodies?” If I shared my story for any reason, it was this one.

Merritt describes unwanted sexual contact as a child and then struggles over his sexual identity as an adult. He doesn’t label himself with a sexual orientation label and describes a fluidity that is characteristic of some people. I appreciate that he does not peg his same-sex attraction on his childhood and in fact says that it is “dangerous” to assume a connection.
Merritt’s experience is similar to so many who are same-sex or bisexually attracted but maintain loyalty to beliefs which are incongruous with same-sex sexual behavior or relationships.  The American Psychological Association’s sexual orientation task force report calls this experience, telic congruence.
I look forward to reading his new book.

Megachurch Methods: Filing Formal Charges at Mars Hill Church

On March 26, the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability referred to formal charges filed against lead preaching pastor Mark Driscoll in May 2013. According to the BOAA statement, the charges, which were filed by former pastor Dave Kraft, did not lead to Mark Driscoll’s disqualification. However, Kraft’s charges appear to have led to something else: a change in how formal charges may be filed.
In August 2013, new procedures were approved by the Board of Advisors and Accountability which made the process of bringing formal charges more difficult and actually eliminated the ability of former employees to file such charges if they failed to do so during their employment.

You can review the entire document here. I have mixed reactions to it. On one hand, I think it is right to protect people from false and frivolous allegations. On the other hand, this document places some powerful disincentives in the way of those who have legitimate concerns. My stance with this post is to provide the information and serve as a forum to discuss the role of formalized (some would argue extra-biblical) procedures in the megachurch environment.

One additional opinion I will express is that the success of this procedure will depend on the ability of the leaders to act in good faith and the willingness of the people to believe that the leaders will do so. For instance, this document requires that an accuser must submit a letter of resignation along with the complaint. If the allegation is found to be “groundless, sinful, or otherwise divisive,” the resignation could be actualized.

If the people trust that the leaders can distinguish between what is truly “divisive” and what is a legitimate problem brought with sincere intent, then people might be more likely to risk the many hurdles found in this process. If the people worry that any complaint will be viewed as “divisive” then legitimate concerns will smolder under the surface and likely lead to other problems. I’ll leave it to current and former Mars Hill members/leaders to decide what kind of climate exists there.