In an earlier postcard, we heard from a young man who felt his family loyalties were tested by his employment at The Trinity Church. He felt he had to choose between his parents and loyalty to the leadership of the church. He chose his parents.
In this Postcard from Phoenix, Jolie Monea describes a similar situation. She feels estranged from her daughter (married to Zac Driscoll) because Jolie maintains relationships with people who have left The Trinity Church and have expressed their views publicly.
Church should not divide families. In fact, it seems like one of those red flags Julie describes when a church influences members to cut off family members when they aren’t sufficiently loyal or deferential to the leaders. I hope that the upshot of this situation is a restoration of family relationships and that all can get into a church which facilitates family ties rather than weakens them.
I have been thinking about writing out my story for a while now but every time I sit down to organize my words, I am flooded with memories both good and bad from the last 8 years. This postcard gives me the opportunity to pull back the curtain a little bit and look at my time at Mars Hill and Trinity. Although there are many example’s I could give I am just going to recount one experience for this postcard. Hopefully it will help me begin to untangle all the other things I have experienced and witnessed over the years. I also hope it will shine some light on the bigger issue of the continued patterns of abuse that happened behind the scenes at Mars Hill and are now happening a bit more openly at Trinity.
It would probably help for context to give a little background. Our family began attending Mars Hill at the end of 2012 during a difficult season for us. Our kids weren’t connecting at the church we had been attending and our marriage was struggling. Eventually we made the decision to transition, as a family, to Mars Hill Bellevue and Shoreline. We quickly got connected and began serving. Our children also attended the same school as the Driscoll kids and became fast friends. We cherished the friends we met at Mars Hill and loved serving as a family. We enjoyed the music and the preaching, but the shift and transformation that God had made in our family was what we were most thankful for during this time.
So, when Mark stepped down and we realized that they would be moving we began to pray about making the move with them. Fast forward to God bringing us to Arizona the summer of 2015. It was never our intention to be employed by the church or even to have any large role in their ministry. We simply felt called to move and be supportive of people that we considered friends. Although, I was never employed by the church, I spent countless hours volunteering with the creative team and women’s ministry. My husband volunteered with managing the offerings and my children volunteered in kid’s ministry. As a family, Trinity was like our second home. As time went on, I became more involved in leadership with women’s ministry, even to the point of doing some writing and a small amount of teaching. One of our older daughters became part time staff in the children’s ministries department, and our younger two daughters became Junior interns.
Looking back over the years, there were many things that gave us pause. However, because of our close ties with the Driscoll family we ignored many red flags. During the summer of 2020, God began to open our eyes wider to these red flags. One big concern was the fact that there are no local elders. That same summer I made the decision to follow an opportunity to attend and lead in women’s ministry at another local church where a close friend was teaching a class. Although, this is a story for another time, I bring it up because it is when I first noticed a definite shift in how I was treated at Trinity especially by Mark’s wife, Grace. We also started noticing a slight change in how our families interacted.
By December of 2020, there were just too many red flags that my husband, myself and our two younger daughters were seeing to continue serving and attending Trinity. We told our older daughter, who was and is on staff, a few of our main concerns and decided to quietly leave with our younger two girls and start attending the church I had been getting involved with over the past fall. All of this seemed fairly simple to us. Our intention was to express some concerns but not to cause any sort of a vocal problem. You might be thinking to yourself, no big deal, people switch churches all the time. It is true people feel called to switch churches for many different reasons, and it’s not a big deal. In my ignorance of how much the situation had escalated, I thought we could make the quiet transition without too much of an issue.
Before I share the event in February that lead to this postcard, I need to give you a critical piece of the puzzle. Our daughter has been in a relationship with one of the Driscoll’s sons for the past seven years, and they were married this past March. During the months of January and February, I had been in the church parking lot on several occasions to pick up my daughter or drop wedding related things off. I never ventured past the parking lot, but I also never got the impression that I wasn’t welcome. A dear friend of mine hosted a bridal shower that Grace, her girls and many other Trinity people and staff attended. It was clear at this time that there was tension, but at no time was I told that I was considered “unsafe” or a problem.
The only message we received after leaving Trinity was a simple text from Mark letting us know that he approved of our new church. So, when I decided to go to Trinity on a Wednesday morning two weeks before the wedding, I had no idea what would come next. The flower girl for the wedding is the daughter of a close friend of mine. Since my friend was a table lead for women’s ministry, her daughter attended kid’s ministry, and my daughter worked on Wednesdays, it was the perfect opportunity for the flower girl to try on her dress so we could all see it.
My plan was to bring the dress and meet them at church early so I would not disrupt anything going on in women’s ministry that morning. I thought maybe I would get the chance to say hello to a few friends but leave before things got started. I think most people would describe me as non-conflict oriented and harmless, but for some reason that morning I was viewed as a threat. I met my friend and daughter in the parking lot and began walking towards the main building to use the bathroom. I started noticing that I was being watched. I dismissed it as people being surprised to see me. As soon as I walked in the door, I was asked by campus pastor Brandon Anderson to step outside so he could talk to me. It might be important to note here that I have known Brandon’s family since I was in high school. We attended the same church growing up and I had dated his cousin. I genuinely thought Brandon wanted to catch up and see how we were doing at our new church. I was completely taken off guard when he was dismissive and rude. He asked why I was there and how long I planned on staying. I let him know I was only there for the flower girl to try on her dress and maybe say hello to a few people. It was at that point that he told me it would be better if I left because they were taping, and he didn’t want a problem. I was completely shocked and speechless, trying to figure out what was happening. I went back inside, made sure the dress fit, hugged my friend and said good-bye to my daughter. It was at that point I noticed John Welnick (Mark’s assistant) watching me during these interactions. As I walked out the door, completely rattled, I noticed John follow me out and watch me walk to my car and drive off campus. I quickly called my husband to tell him what had happened. By the time I returned home I was in tears and confused on many levels. Questions were flooding my thoughts. Why had I been asked to leave? Why didn’t anyone stop it or say something? What had I done that was so offensive?
Later, one of my older daughter’s saw my face and knew something was wrong. As I relayed the story, she texted her sister on Trinity church staff to find out what had happened and was met with an unwillingness to discuss the situation. Moments later my husband received a phone call from our future son-in-law to inform him that there had been a situation. He informed my husband that they were just taking precautions since they didn’t know why I was at church. My husband questioned the church by-line of “opening our Bibles to learn and our lives to love” if they were going to only allow certain people to attend on a Wednesday morning or even be on the church campus. He then said that he would like both John and Brandon to call him with an explanation and apology. No phone call was made by John, however, Brandon did call a day later with a confusing explanation of it being a mistake because he was stressed and overwhelmed. At that point, he did offer an apology. My husband questioned why I would be considered a threat or problem, and he received no explanation.
Two weeks later at the wedding the shift in how people from Trinity treated us was almost comical. Hugs and “we love you and your family” coming from everyone including the Driscolls. It felt completely fake and done for show. Again, there was no mention of us being unsafe or dangerous people. I have asked for an explanation on what I could have possibly done that lead to me being asked to leave campus and have still not received any valid reason to why I was asked to leave.
Since then, I have taken the time to invite people into our home, listen to their stories of hurt and abuse and do my best to love them and stand with them. Because of our choice to publicly stand with the hurting and open up our home to people, our home is now considered unsafe by The Trinity Church. Just for being seen with a person who left the church, I was told I was unsafe by one of the Driscolls. This has had a damaging effect on our relationship with our daughter and son-in-law. Now they seem unwilling to come to our home or even meet with us at this point. Unfortunately, this has also had an effect on their relationship with our 5 other daughters. I still struggle to understand how opening our home to love people and walk in obedience to Jesus leads to this type of treatment. I want to be the type of person that walks alongside people in love and stands up for truth especially in cases of abuse and hurt. I believe this is the role of the local church and in turn our role as the body of Christ. I believe forgiveness is essential, but I don’t believe that means we stay silent about injustice. Sadly, in listening to people share their stories we also learned of the hurtful and untrue things that Mark and Grace have been telling people about us over the years-also a story for another time. Pulling back the curtain to see that the teaching (although not always biblically based) doesn’t match the personal life or true character of Mark and Grace.
Although, I have much to still untangle and share about the past eight years, I think it’s these true stories of people’s experiences that show the character, exclusivity and pattern of abuse that begin to paint a picture of a toxic church culture instead of a loving church culture. I hope others will also have the courage to come forward and share their experiences. Together we help others feel heard and less alone. I heard a couple of comments from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast from Daniel Silliman and Kate Shellnut that really resonated with me. “The silence [to victims] feels like church wide consent” Kate Shellnut took it a bit further with a quote from Ted Olsen, “When someone does something wrong that hurts, when you find out that people knew and didn’t say anything that hurts worse.”
I am aware that sharing this story, continuing to stand with others, and continuing to share more parts of my story will invite criticism and further family conflict. However, it is important to me to stand up to bullies, focus on what God is asking of me, and trust Him to work the rest out. My heart and prayers are for healing and restoration for those that are hurt and broken. I desire for people to learn the truth and understand that this is not how a healthy Jesus centered church treats people. My hope is for people to move forward in a healthy church that shines the light and love of Jesus to those in and outside of the Church. The Church should be a place where people feel loved and welcomed, not controlled, abused and shunned. We are to be the example of supernatural unity and what it looks like to truly love our neighbor. There should be no difference between what happens behind closed doors and what is preached from the pulpit.
I would also like to take this opportunity to ask a few questions of all those that have said we should be quiet; that calling out the “flaws” of pastors isn’t biblical. Is it Christ-like to stand with the hurting? Is it Christ-like to call out religious abuse? Would you come forward and speak against physical abuse or abuse against a woman or child? I want to be clear that I believe it is biblical and Christ-like to forgive, love, pray for and call out abusive behavior in the church. We are to shine light in the darkness. We are to stand with and love the broken and hurting. No one should have to show their bruises to prove that they’ve been abused. Psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse are just as damaging as physical abuse. This type of abuse from the church causes deep soul damage. The Church should not be silent on these issues especially when it is happening at the hands of those in leadership. When we are honest about what happens in the church and don’t cover up abuse but instead stand up for the hurting, we send a powerful message to the world. We are all broken people in need of a Savior and together with Jesus we can find healing that leads to a life filled with hope, love and unity.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35