I don’t know what else to say about this “book.” Driscoll has taken lots of well deserved criticism on Twitter about it and I want to point out another great source: Wenatchie the Hatchet. Go check out WtH.
Beyond this, the book is just bad and nearly incoherent. I am going out on a limb to say Driscoll isn’t using ghostwriters anymore. At least he didn’t on this one. Here is WtH’s comment after 40 pages of it:
40 pages in and this is perhaps the most breath-takingly dubious and egregiously bad faith ranting I’ve ever seen Driscoll do, even compared to his William Wallace II rants from 21 years ago. I’ll eventually have to write about this dumpster fire of pamphleteering incompetence but I’ll want to go back and revisit how much Driscoll’s stated views seem indebted to systems of patronage.
He is being kind. It is that bad.
I intially thought I would critique it but I don’t know if it is worth it. Here is just one section:
Those Jews and their theories; brought the Holocaust on themselves.
There may be serious critiques of CRT; this has never been and will never be one.
Benjamin is the son of Paul and Jonna Petry, former members of Mars Hill Church. Back in 2007, former elders Paul and Bent Meyer resisted the changes Mark Driscoll wanted to make to the governance at Mars Hill. You can hear their story on episode seven of Christianity Today‘s podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. A more complete description of their story is chronicled at the Joyful Exiles blog (start with the Timeline).
Fourteen years ago to this day, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer submitted feedback on the proposed by-laws changes at Mars Hill Church. For raising questions, the orthodoxy of Paul and Bent was questioned and they were fired. There is more to the story but suffice to say that Paul and Bent became symbolic of principled dissent at Mars Hill. They were perhaps the first two elders thrown under the proverbial Mars Hill Church bus Mark Driscoll spoke about here.
It wasn’t just the two men who were tossed under there. Their wives and children went too. They were shunned and their church was taken away from them for no good reason.
Fourteen years later, enter Benjamin Petry.
As he explains in this Facebook post, Benjamin decided to respond to the invitation he received to attend the 5th anniversary of the opening of The Trinity Church. He wanted to call Bible teacher Mark Driscoll to recognize the character of Christ. This is his account of how that turned out.
As noted, Benjamin first posted this on his Facebook page. He gave me permission to post it here as a part of the Postcards from Phoenix series.
I went to The Trinity Church. The purpose of this post is to give many people an answer as to how my trip went because I keep getting questions. This writing may also serve as an insight in however you as the reader may find it insightful. Trinity’s website made it pretty clear I was invited to their 5-year birthday so being the social butterfly that I am I happily accepted. The first and foremost goal was to face Mark and leave Mark. In a sense, this was a sort of cognitive healing. It felt good (though it was hard) to confront something that damaged my parents and family in such an extreme and violent way.
The second goal (and looking back much of this aspiration could be classified as wishful thinking) was enabling reconciliation between my dad and Mark. I did and still do believe that if Mark wants to make right, it is within his ability through Christ to do so.
So with these goals in mind, it comes down to my execution of how I go about attempting to achieve them. I believe in radical love and assuming the best in people, even when I have every reason in the book to think otherwise. I find that oftentimes even people who act terribly towards you are trying the best they can, and there’s only so much on the surface we can see. And even when they’re not trying their best, well, that’s not up to me to decide – and I’ve realized I’m happier when I don’t. Jesus said to love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. And I don’t try to follow this belief religiously just because Jesus said it, but because it gives results – even when the results may not be the ones we think we want or need initially. By putting the best foot forward, you take away the other person’s ability to claim in good faith that you’re overstepping them. Like all of us, Mark is created in the same image and likeness of God that I am, so I can’t really help but empathize with everyone a little, including him.
After figuring out my goals and intentions in addressing those goals, I bought my ticket. I’d be flying in from Sacramento (after a friend’s wedding) to Phoenix for the 11am service. My plane was set to land at 8:15am and was on time. When I got outside the airport I got an Uber and off to Trinity we went. My original plan was to grab breakfast around the area but after pulling up at the church curb I was greeted by a church helper and they let me know the 9AM service just started. So with that information I walked out a bit, grabbed a selfie of me at the church, and then walked back.
(I’ll mention here that there were a lot of people who wanted me to have cameras and/or recorders and make more of a scene out of the whole ordeal. If I were to act in this manner it would eliminate the notion of me coming in good faith and with a message of love and peace, so I didn’t do that. No YouTube video; no views.) Turns out I opted to fill my appetite with Mark’s preaching rather than McDonald’s that morning. This also meant I’d be in for one more extra service than the one I was attending at 11.
The guy who greeted me outside the church this time was extremely nice throughout all of my visit there. I told him my name is Benjamin. We’ll just call the guy Ted because 1.) I don’t remember his name and 2.) I don’t want him or anyone else at Trinity harassed or treated in an unGodly way, “unGodly” being defined as that which is lacking agape love. However, on that note, I do think there is certainly a lot to be said about those proclaiming Love to those around them and then carrying out actions of unLove against them. In other words, those who proclaim God and then do the unGodly in his name. As my heart goes out to the adrift perpetrators of this abuse, it also goes out to those who innocently get cut down by it. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres, even when we don’t perceive it to do so.
Getting seated was next. The church was packed so they had extra rows of chairs they were putting out (I guess their 5th anniversary advertising worked out great – I mean, I was there and I was from Seattle). Since I was 10 minutes late I missed the early worship and it felt like I was thrown into a fiery Christian stand-up gag. Mark was preaching on the book of James, but you couldn’t tell unless you were there for the start of his performance. The sermon devolved into entertaining anecdotes and emotional epiphanies – with fully voiced characters. Mark is a gifted public speaker. I won’t go into all the details of how I felt sitting there for what felt like a decade, but my mind was flying, especially when he started ranting about “trials.” What I perceived as scriptural hypocrisies, lies, and manipulation kept my heart racing up and down. At times I was laughing with the crowd, at times I wanted to weep, at times I wanted to get up and confront him directly on topic with something like “Real men apologize Mark!” (I’ve interrupted speakers before, let alone pastors, so this wouldn’t be new to me.)
Again though, to act in this way would not be inline with my goals of love, or what I think would honor my father and mother for lack of a better phrase. I chose to go with philia sophia over philia nikia. If this were something that happened directly to me though, who knows how I would have responded. I already empathized greatly with my parents, but I was more in their shoes now when it comes to the Mars Hill situation than I had ever been before, and it shocked me. This great practice in restraint was actually a pretty fun and good experience for me from a psychological perspective all things considered. I was quite literally confronting the past, and being present with it.
After the sudden flow of emotional ups and downs, it mellowed out into a feeling of sympathy, empathy, and sadness for Mark. There was a sadness for how the past was repeating itself at Trinity. Mark had learned all the wrong lessons from Seattle and was tying in his dogmatic hyper-calvinistic overly sexist ideology with conservative Christianity, and doing it all from a business perspective where he had complete domination and literally owned everything. And what better place and time to do that than with all the ex-Californians moving to Phoenix to avoid the crazy Earth-loving heathens. I mean, religion aside, his marketing is great. I wouldn’t mind if Mark retreated down to AZ to start a Christian comedy career. The problem is that it is not comedy, and I know there are people in the chairs around me who are going to be spiritually crushed and/or have really messed up beliefs enforced by Mark’s laissez faire self-destructive doctrine in the name of Yeshua.
As in the past, there was a big focus on the specific numbered growth of the church, even numbering it down to the baptisms. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a big show out of Church growth, I could tell that it was going to be used here more than anything else to hammer down dissent. (i.e., “How could you accuse me of destroying marriages – look at all these numbers!”) Everything felt so hollow, and Yeshua is not hollow, and His church is not hollow. It is full of life. The acceptance and manifestation of agape Love is not a hollow process, and the guy who is shepherding you as a believer should not be the guy also running people over he claims to love. While that might work for some people, that, to me at least, seems rather empty. It could be that as a culture we’ve become so enveloped in authoritarian hierarchies structured by the love of profits that when they appear in what we call our religion, their corruption is invisible to us. Jesus never justified existentially destroying people who are acting in good faith, and he certainly never justified it with utilitarianism. However, Mark is not alone in this. Just look at all the megachurch pastors and “leaders” of the modern evangelical movement in the US. If Jesus was walking around churches He’d be flipping over the head pastor’s book sales tables in all of them, or not, I don’t know for sure – only God knows the heart.
From sadness for my brothers and sisters who may become a part of great distress brought on by Trinity and Mark, my mind shifted to a broader picture. Some of the very reasons why Protestantism came to be was because of the rigorous authoritarian structure and outdone aesthetic of the Catholic church. The experience of the Catholic church as a whole was more about keeping others in-line and abusing the aesthetic of Christ, rather than recognizing the raw, radical character of Christ Himself. Idealistically, people wanted Christ, not comfortability backed up by mere man-made aesthetic symbols of Christ in an attempt to get people to subscribe to the Catholic machine at the time. The character of the evangelical movement in the US has grown to become more and more conglomerate, rigid, and away from God. I mean, just look at all the big names – most of them actively abuse Love, abuse scripture, and thus abuse God. But hey they own three private jets and multiple homes so who cares they must be adding value to society because they’re creating wealth right? Live and let give.
Prosperity theology is antithetical to the character of Christ.
The problem with aesthetics is that they can project an illusion of bondage in Christ, when in reality, most people at a church don’t actually have any empathy for you at all. Then again, I’d argue most church goers are in it for the whole comfortability and aesthetics thing. In that regard, Christianity in America is still sorta thriving – if we’re to use shallow utilitarian polling standards. Around 65% of the US identifies as Christian now, opposed to 70% in 2015. I’ve been in a lot of churches and this is the only one where no one who wasn’t volunteering bothered to say “Hi” or shake my hand. But hey, maybe that’s your jam, man.
One thing that terrifies me about very religious people is that they are particularly notorious for saying in one breath to your face that they love you, but in their next course of action actively cut you off, write you off, brush you off, avoid you, lie about you, and shun you. This is not how Jesus acted. These are actions of someone attempting to protect their perceived comfortability – and the scary thing is that it totally works on a bigger scale most of the time. Turns out tribalism is pretty effective, and especially effective when combined with religion. People are more fearful of what physical things they can lose in life than they are, if at all, of God.
The culmination of these thoughts left me with a sense of lostness. We are so far away as a society from embracing the character of Christ. And in fact, we have intertwined it with the love of money. It’s all political. It’s all sad.
Yes, the church in Acts was not forced into selling some of their properties and giving to whoever was in need in their community, and that’s the point. Because they believed in Agape, the rational action they took to follow in their empathetic recognition that we are all made in God’s image and saved through Him, was altruism. They did these things willingly and altruistically to spread the Love and Word of Christ. The manifestation of God’s Love should end up being something along the lines of the best in me serving the best in you. So the million dollar question (or however many millions Joel Olsteen has) is, how do you skip out on the whole interpersonal love thing and still be a Christian, not to mention a spiritual leader?
If you’re asking me? Well, I don’t think that’s really possible. But Mark and a lot of other, let’s just say, questionable pastors seem to have found a key for themselves. If you take Calvinism and believe that you know the hearts of individual people as their Creator does, it makes a pretty nice narcissistic cocktail. Why attempt to make right with someone when you can just know that their heart is full of great sin towards you and excommunicate them from your life and gossip about them? I mean, who wouldn’t do that? (They’ll end up in Hell anyways am I right? Wouldn’t want them to get any more chances at leading ME there!)
The evangelical Calvinist movement in the US is antithetical to the character of Christ.
The problem is that only our Lord knows our hearts and he has instructed us to be vocal carriers of our feelings and transgressions towards one another, and to do so intentionally and in private if we can help it. Amen to judge not, that you be not judged. Most evangelical leaders in the US (if they’re acting in good faith, which I’ll do them the service of assuming so) judge others by their own individual standards. How can you possibly understand someone when you judge them by your own standards? How can you understand someone when you lean only on your own understanding?
It’s important to note that understanding is not necessarily agreeing. It’s the mental work of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you cut people off after judging them by your own imperfect standards, you cut off the opportunity to understand them. You cut off empathy to that person, and thus cut off altruism. You eliminate the opportunity for God to do his work through you. You eliminate the opportunity for apology and forgiveness. You eliminate, in that moment, the Love that could have taken place. You’re doing yourself a disservice that will only proliferate its problem within you. You cannot be content if you’re lying to yourself, and you cannot love if you won’t accept Love to thrive. Love does not grow where Love is not shown. We love because Christ first loved us.
One of the elephants in the room is that there’s so much religious freedom here. One would think in a country that is apparently largely Christian and has so much financial freedom, the elimination of many social ills would take place. I’m somewhat convinced the legal monetary framework for religious institutions in America was invented by narcissists. And if not, it’d sure make a lot of sense. Being a “pastor” or CEO in general are some of the only positions where having undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder can actually help increase revenue. From a business viewpoint, religion in America is bound to attract the absolute worst people on Earth and reward them for taking advantage of others through the love of money. It’s sorta like how politics works. It’s always interesting for me to see how many Americans have their dogmatic religion tied completely to their dogmatic political beliefs. And politicians take advantage of those people in similar ways, although that doesn’t bother me as much because politics aren’t nearly as personal to me as God is.
What Mark is doing in Phoenix is indicative of a bigger problem. And a lot of these things I’ve written about and thought about, but it felt so real at Trinity. In fact, the more surreal it felt, the more real I realized it was. What goes on here goes on all over the country. In many regards, it’s all an act. As much of an optimist that I am, I can’t help but feel it’s an upward battle. I mean, people think they agree with what Mark is saying. And people don’t mind sacrificing their time for this guy’s agenda, a lot of whom are unpaid. Mars Hill destroyed marriages and this guy is teaching classes on marriage and how to be “real men”.
Mark’s also a gifted manipulator. I’ve had friends in religious organizations like ICC (International Christian Church) and I’ve attended many brainwashy services and youth groups. When Mark says things along the lines of “Don’t look at outside things, look at God,” over and over again, what he’s really saying is “Don’t look at my past or listen to anything people say about me, just showup for Church and be happy”. And the repeating of messages like this is how the behavior gets reinforced in a group, notably because it is tied to the group’s spiritual beliefs.
I did have several brief conversations with other church goers that I initiated – I couldn’t help myself. One guy told me he did a little bit of research on Mark and that it was “Just some drama – Mark’s a great guy!” I had some good conversations with Ted. One got weird when we started talking about love and he was like “Well but like when do you decide to just not interact with someone anymore?” And I don’t know about you but to me agape Love is unconditional Love and as soon as you start adding conditions you mess the whole thing up, plus cutting someone off is usually just a scapegoat for not pursuing reconciliation. I mean having boundaries for people is good, but I could tell he was talking about that whole hyper-Calvinist-saved-unsaved-I-know-the-heart-cut people-off stuff. Just weird and surreal conversations all around. The music was good and loud but of course the audience was basically all rich white people so the dancing (or lack thereof) was C- at best. Everything just felt a little forced.
The devotional was written by Mark and a lot of people were carrying that around. Both sermons were practically exactly the same – although in the second one I sat right in front of Mark and there were significantly less people there. I didn’t see Mark after the first sermon which was weird. Like, it’s the 5th anniversary you’re not gonna come say hi to your first service people? Forget Sunday school it’s just a straight up daycare with toys and slides. They had amusement park rides out front. There was this cool Ford truck outside. They had cupcakes inside all over for people to eat. They played videos after the sermons each time of Mark and the history at Trinity. It was alright, but again, felt very forced and targeted. Like just talk to me man and tell me about the church don’t play a stupid video. A lot of show and aesthetic.
A leader with a drive for painting the church in the colors of the mystics, artists, and philosophers is a very attractive thing to their followers. Experiences of the mystical, the artistic, and of the philia sophia are some of the most powerful ways we can express and experience agape Love. That’s why it’s so shallow and crushing when you realize it’s not an attempt to bring more glory to God, but to get people to conform, submit, and get lost in the illusion of love that has intentionally been structured to keep you from holding your leader(s) accountable.
After the second sermon I waited around for a while. I had good conversations with whom I found out later were security guys, but they were nice enough at first, especially Ted. I asked about the church and told them I wanted to meet Mark. I definitely appeared to be really intrigued – I mean I was. I stayed for both sermons. It was just weird though with how they talked about him. Like “Oh I’ve talked with Mark a couple times!” or just stuff like that. I’m not a fan of megachurch pastors but it’s one thing if you’ve got thousands upon thousands of people attending your church. However, if you just got a regular sized church and you got all this uber security and bigshot status ego complex thing going on – it’s sort of awkward. Just my two cents.
Then finally he came out. Ted saw him and told me he’s right there behind me in the doorway. He was in a conversation with someone who was touring the building, but the security guys put a good word in for me about this “Benjamin” character and Mark turned around saying “Oh yeah Benjamin” as his arm reached out for me to shake it. And I shook that hand. As we were shaking he recognized who I was and made the connection between my familiarity and my name and I’ve never seen his eyes wider. He then said something to the effect of “Ohh thaat Benjamin”.
I told him he was a gifted speaker, that everything looks really cool, and that I came down to see him. I told him that there were things that happened to my dad that were not entirely his fault but that he largely contributed to, and that I’d really appreciate it if he could just give my dad a call and just say that he’s sorry and that that’d mean a lot to my dad. By this point Grace was there and noticed me. She said something like “Oh hey long time – Benjamin – wow,” and made eye contact very quickly and then made sure to not make it again. I was still looking down at Mark in the eye and told him that I’ve got no cams or monkey business and that I come in love. I gave him a hug.
I tied in a little of my request for a phone call with his sermon on tackling your avoidance and dealing with things in the past. He said something to the effect of “Well your dad’s a great guy but yaknow he’s got some things,” then I said “But do you think you could just give him a call – I’ll give you his number it hasn’t changed?” He brushed me off after this and started back in the same conversation. Facing him like that, man, I never knew how short the guy was, and the funny thing is that all his security guys are taller too. That’s the first thing I noticed when they stepped in. (They stepped in automatically once Mark brushed me off.)
At first I was a bit puzzled but then I realized they were just acting as a barrier. Can’t have heretics harassing the sacred leader am I right? And I’ll just reemphasize, I conducted myself in an extremely calm and loving way. I know there were no cameras or anything, but I know how I carried myself and I kept my composure. I came in good faith and I acted in good faith and I left in good faith. At first with the security guys I just talked with them. I enjoy having conversations with those selflessly propping up and guarding authoritarian figures. For the most part, I could tell they didn’t really know what they were doing – they were just following orders. There was one guy who had been with Mark for 15 years so he probably knew what had happened to my family. I asked him how he could stand by this guy knowing all the things he did and the guy just kinda had a blank stare on his face – like trying to explain long-division to a Kindergartner. Ironically enough, I think he probably kept doing security for Mark because of the security it brought him – pretty sure he was paid (I mean, I’d hope so if he’s been with this guy for 15 years).
At this point I could tell the other men were a bit confused. They could tell I was being genuine and that I was calm. They didn’t like it when I asked them “Is guarding Mark Driscoll really what you believe God has called you to do with your life?” I sat down for a bit just to process the disbelief I was going through, and the humor of the entire thing. I couldn’t believe it. The perceived hypocrisy of Mark I had just blatantly witnessed. And guys all over the country are doing exactly what he’s doing – it’s all business (albeit many are more successful or unsuccessful than him depending on your definitions). I told the security guys about the Christianity Today podcast and a couple were interested – two said they’d give it a listen so I don’t know if that happened. One guy said that Mark says to look at God only and not other things online or some rubbish like that. I mean, I guess the guy who’s not gonna question the leader is a good security guy? I got up and decided to leave on my own volition. After all, that was one of the goals: Face Mark, Leave Mark.
The guy walking me out was the same guy walking me in. I asked him if his family was involved at this church. He said yes. I told him he might want to think twice about that.
Thanks to Benjamin for permission to post this account.
August 2014 was a critical month in the demise of Mars Hill Church. Seven years ago this month, the church experienced multiple blows from which it never recovered. For those reliving that year via the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, this post provides some context for what may have been the most consequential month of the year. The links take you to my blog posts in 2014.
August 1 – A former colleague and co-founder of one of the first Acts 29 churches, Ron Wheeler, accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarizing material from his work.
August 2 – The church announced that James MacDonald stepped down from the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BOAA was basically a group of Driscoll’s friends who by bylaw had oversight of the church, but they did not attend Mars Hill. MacDonald has been a long time supporter of Driscoll and this was seen as a move that made Driscoll vulnerable.
August 2 – Christianity Today published an apology from Driscoll about comments he made on a Mars Hill Church message board calling the U.S. “a pussified nation.” This brought the mysoginistic William Wallace comments into public scrutiny again.
August 3 – A group of former members held a demonstration in front of the church with picket signs and media converage. Previously, Driscoll had told the church he couldn’t respond to many of the charges against him because they were made by anonymous people. This set off a wave of angry public responses from former members on Facebook culminating in this August 3 protest and a Facebook group that exists to this day.
August 7 – Planter of the first Acts 29 church, Ron Wheeler, penned an open letter to his former colleague Mark Driscoll and asked him to resign.
August 8 – Acts 29 Network evicted Mars Hill Church and former network co-founder and president Mark Driscoll from membership. I broke this story with the correspondence from Acts 29. Just prior to announcing their decision to remove the church and pastor from the network, the Acts 29 board said this: “Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help.”
August 9 – Lifeway Christian Bookstores confirmed to me that Mark Driscoll’s books would no longer be available via their bookstores.
August 12 – Popular biblical counselor Paul David Tripp broke his silence about why he resigned from Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability. He claimed having outside advisors doesn’t work. Local elders are needed for accountability.
August 12 – Mark Driscoll was canceled from an Act Like Men conference.
August 14 – Mars Hill canceled their annual Resurgence Conference.
August 15 – Mark Driscoll was withdrawn as the closing speaker at the Gateway Church Conference.
August 18 – Public questions were raised about the cancellation of a promised Jesus Festival at the church since the church had raised millions of dollars via year end giving appeals. One major reason given for the appeal was to fund the festival.
August 21 – I published the charges brought against Mark Driscoll by 21 formal elders. These charges formed the basis for a later investigation by a group of current elders. They found him guilty and declared him to be disqualified as an elder. They offered him a plan of restoration. While Mars Hill’s two board haggled over the matter, Driscoll resigned without accepting the verdict of the investigating board.
August 22 – The New York Times covered the formal charges story.
August 24 – Mark Driscoll announced that he will take at least six weeks off while the charges against him are investigated.
August 28 – Nine current Mars Hill elders wrote a lengthy letter to the rest of the elders, executive elders, and Board of Advisors and Accountability with recommendations that Driscoll enter a plan of restoration (instead of just take time off), the communication from the BOAA become more honest, and the church to change their governance avay from non-local governance. The document laying out these demands was leaked to me and published on this date.
August 29 – A petition started by former member Dave Lester called on the Mars Hill leadership to follow the recommendations of the nine current elders regarding a Driscoll restoration plan, governance change, and more clear communication from leadership of the church.
August 30 – The Mars Hill Executive Elders released a statement saying that donations were down due to an “increase in negative media attention.”
As a bonus, I will add the advice I gave Mars Hill then to decrease negative media attention. They didn’t follow it and The Trinity Church isn’t following it now. But I think it is still pretty good advice. What do you think?
To decrease negative media attention, follow these tips:
1. Don’t use church funds to manipulate literary best seller lists to make your pastor appear to be a best selling author. In a related tip, don’t cover it up and threaten staff not to disclose this fact. Furthermore, when it is revealed, reduce the number of explanations from three to one that is accurate.
2. Advise the lead pastor to avoid offending people with vulgarities, name-calling and bullying.
3. Don’t spend dedicated funds meant for ministers in third world nations on nice facilities to expand the Mars Hill brand.
4. If you say you are raising money for a Jesus Festival, you should have a pretty big party.
5. Don’t ignore requests for information from media and members. When members want to see the bylaws or know where their money was spent, comply. When media ask for an accounting of how you spend money, disclose that information. Remember, it wasn’t your money and the information is in the public interest. Refusing to disclose looks like you are hiding something. It is not too late to follow this tip.
6. Don’t make technically correct, but misleading statements to the public and press. The press and the public are smart enough to see through that. Eventually even people who want to give you the benefit of the doubt will see through it.
7. Going forward, revamp the whole Board of Elders/BOAA thing. Most of the people who have been appointed to these positions are known vocal and financial supporters of Mark Driscoll. This will all come out soon. The verdict, if favorable to Driscoll, will invite another “increase in negative media attention.” For the sake of balance and fairness, you should appoint some of the nine elders who wrote you a letter to the group who will examine the charges against Rev. Driscoll. Another possibility is that everyone who has presided over the church during the season of increased negative media attention should step aside. The BOAA should change the bylaws to allow the current elders to elect new executives and get a fresh start. I suspect that would lead to a decrease in negative media attention.
I may think of some additional tips. I imagine that people who comment on this post will add some as well.
In short, be more transparent about what you are doing in the name of God. Mars Hill Church has become known for the mysteries it hides more so than for the mysteries of the Gospel it proclaims. This, brothers and sisters, should not be so.
This postcard from Phoenix highlights the role of distrust in bringing people into the orbit of the church. Kim Thompson had a preexisting distrust of media and the leaders of The Trinity Church used that to reduce her critical thinking about the promises made by the church leaders.
This story also revisits the recurring theme of friendship as a weapon. Apparently, Michael W. Smith would not be at home at Mark Driscoll’s church. When people leave The Trinity Church, friends are not friends forever.
Kim summarized her thoughts about the church by describing common themes of “control, manipulation, and fear mongering.”
She closes her message by challenging those who feel the stories of those who are leaving The Trinity Church are irrelevant to them. Those hurt by The Trinity Church didn’t want to leave. Everyone felt distant from the problems until they came home to them. She appeals to those who remain to consider the common good.
Our story at The Trinity Church began in December of 2019. We were attending another church in the valley at the time. We had been there for nearly 5 years. While we liked the church and tried hard, we didn’t feel we could get fully plugged in. We are not people who normally sit on the sidelines at churches. When the head pastor left to go to another job, some friends of ours mentioned that they were going to The Trinity Church, so we decided to visit. We knew Mark from the past but had not heard that he had another church in Phoenix. After one visit, we were hooked. The preaching was dynamic, and we loved the people. We went to the “Team Trinity” meeting and were so impressed with how eager everyone was to get us involved and serving. Since this was what we had been longing for at our old church, it was almost too good to be true….
We had been involved in a small Acts29 church plant here in the valley previously and have followed Mark since the 90’s, listening to his sermons online. We knew a lot of what had happened at Mars Hill, but honestly he seemed repentant and we had high hopes that he had healed from all of it. We even bought in when he said from the pulpit, “don’t believe everything you read online” and how evil the media can be, which we all have seen to be true, especially this year.
I began attending the Flourish women’s groups at night, my husband and I began leading a life group, our son began serving in the children’s ministry and even was able to join the flagship “Jr. Intern” program that began last summer. “The Backyard” was such a welcoming place where we visited after church with the pastors and staff and on Wednesday nights ate hamburgers together before the groups that night. It truly felt like a family. When the pandemic hit and church was cancelled, we were so sad because this church had truly become home to us and we couldn’t wait to attend every Sunday. When the church reopened, it was such a sanctuary for our family; the only place we could go each week that was “normal.” Our kids and our family were truly thriving here. Our 15 year old son became best friends with Mark’s son. It was such a gift. They got baptized together along with many others on the Jr. Intern team. Our married daughter and her husband starting attending as well when they moved back here from Colorado and our older college age sons attended as well when they were home. What a sweet time for our family, we filled an entire row each Sunday at the 11 am service.
Everything seemed perfect…until December of this past year. We had the interns at our home for a sleepover when I got the call from Pastor Mark. He was concerned that we had left the interns alone for 30 min with some other teenage girls at our home. I was arriving home from an event and got back a little later than I had planned. I basically got reprimanded from him. His first question was “Is your husband home?” (not gonna lie I was a bit taken aback that he didn’t even seem to know my husband’s name when his son spent so much time at our house) Bruce was on a hunting trip so he was not there. Then the interrogation began. I felt like I was talking to the principal after getting in trouble at school. The conversation ended with him saying “We are coming to get (Driscoll’s minor son).”* Grace came to get the interns and ended up taking them to his house for a sleepover (which I was confused about because of his daughter dating one of the interns, it seemed strange that they could sleep in the same house yet his son couldn’t be alone with girls for an hour at my house….) When Grace came in my house I told her how the conversation made me feel. I even began to cry because I was so upset and felt so vulnerable due to his tone with me and the lack of grace shown in the situation. She was very apologetic and said that I would not have known their family rules, etc. and that they were “under attack” due to baptisms taking place that weekend so they were kind of on edge. (I now see that this is the tactic used when they sin against someone, it is all “spiritual attack”. Convenient way to not deal with their bad behavior) I’m not going to lie though I kind of expected an email maybe from him at least apologizing for how it was handled. I now see why that was a ridiculous expectation.
We then heard murmurings from people about Dustin’s [Blatnik – former woship pastor] mysterious disappearance from leading worship. We heard that “he wasn’t leading his family well.” We found it interesting that he just disappeared with no explanation from the pulpit. I have never experienced that before. Normally even when a pastor is dismissed there is something said, wishing him well or explaining if there truly was sin involved.
In the fall a guy that had been in our life group was asked to leave the church over an incident that happened with him and another life group. I only heard the story second hand and actually at the time thought “wow, I’ve never been at a church where they actually practice church discipline” and was kind of impressed. Little did I know this would become a common practice……Fast forward to March when the Manuele’s situation happened. Katherine and I were friends and I realized I hadn’t seen her for several weeks at church which was unusual because they were normally there every week. I reached out to her via text to check in and that was when I heard about what happened with the intern (Katherine’s son) and Mark’s daughter. I was shocked. I literally could not believe something like that could happen at a church?! (See these links for this story – here,here and here).
A few weeks later we had made dinner plans with another couple. The wife cancelled at the last minute and just told me that “something unexpected had come up and they could use some prayer.” I figured maybe someone was sick or something. After a few weeks went by of not seeing them at church, I reached out to her. You can imagine my shock when I heard their story that they were also asked to leave the church! Now this was getting weirder by the day…
I began noticing security following Grace on Wednesday nights. She seemed to have her own bodyguard watching her every move. It seemed oddly paranoid to me. My daughter and I didn’t like the way Caleb (Grace’s security guard) stared at the women from the side of the room while we were worshipping on Wednesday nights. One night my daughter and I arrived early and tried to go into the meeting room..we were stopped and questions by security. We noticed more and more security present on Sundays, including the ushers following people to the bathroom and then back to their seats! This seemed very paranoid to us. There were the security guys poised in the front near the stage just staring out into the crowd. It felt like we were at a rally for the president or something…
I also never liked the “resource list” that was on the website that we were directed to use as table leaders so as not to recommend any books that may not be “sound.” One time Grace forwarded me an email from someone at my table who was looking for help in reading her Bible I was called out on a separate email because I gave her a blog that was for scripture writing that was not “approved.” I understood the idea behind this but it always gave me pause…I now see it was just another form of control.
We began noticing more and more people disappearing from church. Then we heard the stories about how people were told who they should and shouldn’t be friends with. We heard about the Manuele’s being surveilled. Could this actually be true that a church would involve their pastors in following a family?? Bruce called Carl (a staff pastor) at this time to ask him what the heck was going on. He was told that all these people were just out to get Mark. He stated that “they knew they would lose about 1000 people over this.” He seemed unbothered by the amount of people leaving. We began to feel more and more unease about attending the church any longer. We were heartbroken to even have to think about leaving as our family had grown so much and our son was so involved with the Jr. Interns, serving 3 days a week and loving it.
We have now heard about the families of his married kids who are being shunned. This is totally unacceptable and straight out of Scientology and what they call “Disconnection” which is “the severance of all ties between a Scientologist and a friend, colleague, or family member deemed to be antagonistic towards Scientology.”
I decided to make my exit from Flourish on the second to last week as we were leaving for our son’s wedding and would miss the last week. I had heard how people were shunned once they gave notice that they were leaving the church and did not want to not be able to say goodbye to my group of ladies at my table whom I loved so very much. I waited until the end of Bible study to tell them. I simply told them that my husband and I had prayed and decided that we were leaving Trinity and if anyone wanted to talk about it I was not going to talk there but could be reached outside of church. I had planned to send my resignation email that night after I got home. God had other plans….one of the ladies at my table ran to Grace after the meeting and told her I was leaving. Grace literally chased me down asking to talk to me. She brought me into the main area where women were leaving Bible Study. She asked me what was going on. I told her we were leaving the church and proceeded to tell her every single concern we had. All she could say was “they are all lies” and that she couldn’t believe I was buying into all the lies. When I brought up the December incident about the interns and how shocked I was that Mark never apologized, she had the audacity to say “I apologized for him.” I told her that my husband doesn’t make me do his dirty work. 🙂 When I asked her who we could contact with our concerns about how Mark and his staff were treating people, she told me “the overseers” and “the pastors.” I told her I had heard that people were contacting the overseers and no one was responding. I told her about Bruce’s conversations with Carl and that all he could say was the same thing, “they are all lies.” I finally had to walk away from the conversation as I had to pick up my kids.
Later that night, my son, _____ received the sweetest text from ________ (Driscoll’s son)*. I was heartbroken knowing that most likely their friendship was over. But that did not seem to be the case at the time. Driscoll’s son affirmed their friendship and even told my son that he hoped they could remain friends and still get together. We cried that night tears of joy for this small miracle as their friendship had been so sweet. Fast forward two weeks when my son realized that both Driscoll kids had “unfriended” him on social media. When my son questioned this saying, “I thought you said we could still be friends?” Driscoll’s son replied with “I am getting rid of all the people I follow that don’t go to the church.” Wow. Can’t say this was unexpected, but it was painful. Seems that they are teaching their kids to treat people the same way they treat them. So sad.
Leaving was certainly not easy. Looking back, I see how the cultish aspects of Trinity really took a hold on me. I have left churches in the past (never for these reasons) and it was never this difficult or emotional. Now that we are “out,” I have spoken to so many more who all have very similar stories. They are unique but have common themes to them – control, manipulation, and fear mongering. There is no way that these are all a coincidence or lies. None of these people were “out to get Mark.” They all loved the church as much as we did and did not want to leave. Many that I speak to who have remained at the church say things like “none of these situations affected me or my family personally”, or “he is just such a good teacher” or “look how much fruit there is at the church” or “these people just don’t like Mark.” These are all things coming from leadership and used to get into people’s heads so they don’t leave.
We are still heartbroken that this happened. We were so hopeful that this time around Mark was going to be able to handle the fame and attention of being a pastor of a large church but it is clear that is not the case. We pray that he steps down before he does any more damage to his followers.
Before I close, let me add some words to Trinity attenders who think none of these situations directly impact you. I don’t know how this can’t impact you knowing that your pastor, who is supposed to be your shepherd and actually protect his sheep is in actuality harming many of the sheep in his care. It may not be you, your family or anyone you know but how can you ignore the stories of those who have experienced abuse? I know the answer everyone is being told to give is “It’s all lies” but what would be their motivation for lying? Everyone I know who has left did not wish to leave, they were either forced to or were like us and just couldn’t continue to attend a church that has no elders or accountability for the man that is in charge, especially when he has shown in the past to be dangerous to those under him. The heart of those of us who have left is for open eyes and to put Jesus back on the throne that Mark is currently sitting on. Mark frequently says “It’s all about Jesus” but how can that be when so many are getting hurt and no one seems to care? Just some thoughts for you to ponder on as you sit under his elderless leadership.
*I decided to remove the names of minor childen (Throckmorton)
Seven years ago today, popular Christian Bible teacher and counselor Paul David Tripp resigned from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability. Based in Seattle with Mark Driscoll at the helm, the church’s history has gotten renewed interest recently due to vocal former members at Driscoll’s current church in Phoenix and a Christianity Today podcast series examing the rise and fall (in 2014) of the church. Here is the brief post from that day on this blog:
Paul Tripp has resigned from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability.
Tripp, one of the newest board members and popular conference speaker, was unavailable this morning, but in response to my question about Tripp’s membership on the Mars Hill Church BOAA, Steve Sarkisian, Vice President of Paul Tripp Ministries, told me, “Paul resigned from the board.”
I will add more information as it becomes available.
More information did become available.
On August 1, the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability came out with a statement saying Tripp agreed to work as a consultant with no indication of trouble between Tripp and the board. However, later on August 12, Tripp disclosed that he did not believe the church structure of having a board of non-local advisors (such as exists now at Mark Driscoll’s The Trinity Church) is workable or helpful. He believed then that local oversight is needed.
The church at the time did not have true elder rule in that there was an executive board of elders made up of Driscoll, Sutton Turner, and Dave Bruskas. The other governing board was made up of advisors, such as Tripp, who did not attend Mars Hill and met infrequently.
the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.
This statement came in a conversation with nine elders who still worked at Mars Hill and were getting advice from Tripp about how to effect change at the church. The elders decided to take what they called then “a bold stand” and call on Mark Driscoll to take time off and enter an elder directed plan of restoration. This was before the investigation into the formal charges against Driscoll came to the same conclusion. Eventually, Driscoll resigned instead of entering that process.
To read the Postcards from Phoenix series, click here
On Monday, Christianity Today posted a statement from 39 former Mars Hill Church elders who served from 2011 to 2014 which called for Mark Driscoll to step down as pastor of The Trinity Church in Phoenix. I followed that with an inside look at the development of the statement.
Today, I can report that two more elders have added their names to the list: Will Little and Phil Poirier. Since there are nearly 40 more who could add their name, there may be others who join the list. When you think even a little about this, it is a stunning occasion to have this many former staff take this kind of public stance.
Here is the current statement and list:
Statement from Former Mars Hill Church Elders:
We are saddened to learn that Mark Driscoll has continued in a pattern of sinful actions towards staff members and congregants as he pastors. The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. These sinful leadership behaviors appear similar to what he exhibited in his leadership role at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. We are troubled that he continues to be unrepentant despite the fact that these sins have been previously investigated(1), verified, and brought to his attention by his fellow Elders,prior to his abrupt resignation. Accordingly, we believe that Mark is presently unfit for serving the church in the office of pastor. Knowing that we have no formal authority in this current matter, we hope that Mark will voluntarily
resign his position immediately. We also hope that those who have influence over Mark would encourage him to do so.
We sympathize with those who have been wounded by Mark and pray for their healing. We have engaged and heard from many former Mars Hill Church staff and members who were hurt by domineering leadership, harsh speech, and angry outbursts and are sobered by the devastation victims
have suffered. We realize that Mark left deep pain in the lives of many by being unwilling to seek restoration and reconciliation with those he has sinned against. We grieve the harm that has come to The Trinity Church as well as the damage to the reputation of Jesus among unbelievers through Mark’s words and actions.
We plead with Mark to participate in and submit to Christian conciliation(2), in the important work of pursuing repentance, reconciliation, and restoration with those he has harmed and sinned against. We are disappointed in the leaders who affirmed Mark’s role in planting The Trinity Church. They provided a ministry endorsement from a distance, rather than investigating carefully the charges against him and leading him in a process of repentance and reconciliation. This “translocal” advisory structure has allowed Mark to avoid the accountability he needs.
We hope and pray, by the grace of God, that Mark will submit himself to a prolonged season under the Godly leadership and direction of a local church body and Elder team. Many of us stand willing and ready to pursue reconciliation with Mark and assist others who also would like to do the same. Our hope is that after being restored in the future, Mark will find an appropriate place to serve and be served in the Body of Christ. However, we don’t believe that it would be prudent or healthy for him to be in a position of spiritual authority in a church or ministry setting for the foreseeable future.
In faith, hope, and love through Jesus,
Former Mars Hill Church Elders
Jerry Austin, Kyle Firstenberg, Will Little, Miles Rohde, Sutton Turner, Joel Brown, Carlos Garcia, Dick A McKinley, Paul Rohrbaugh, Matt Wallace, Dave Bruskas, Tim Gaydos, Ryan Mount, James Rose, Ryan Welsh, Ed Choi, Aaron Gray, Steven Mulkey, Gary Shavey, Ryan Williams, Josh Clayton, Bubba Jennings, Bob Paulsen, Tim Smith, Steve Zietlow, Gabe Davis, Matt Johnson, Tim Patton, Joe Stengele, Rich Downen, Brian Jonkman, Andy Phipps, Brian Stoddard, Cliff Ellis, Dave Kraft, Phil Poirier, Jim Tomisser, David Fairchild, Ryan Kearns, Adam Ramsey, Steve Tompkins
1 The Board of Elders of Mars Hill Church investigated the formal charges against Mark Driscoll and issued the attached findings on Monday, October 13, 2014
2 Christian conciliation is a Biblically based method of peacemaking in order to resolve conflict and restore relationships.
In a stunning statement posted this morning at Christianity Today, 39 former Mars Hill Church elders call on Mars Hill co-founder and current The Trinity Church pastor Mark Driscoll to resign from his current post. Their message is simple: Driscoll was disqualified from pastoring at his former church and never completed a restoration process to become qualified. He now is repeating past mistakes and should step down.
This message follows months of revelations here on this blog, at Julie Roys’ website, and elsewhere from former The Trinity Church members of actions which sounded like the Mars Hill Church charges which were investigated in 2014. As former Mars Hill colleagues and executive committee members Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas detailed in this interview with me last year, Driscoll resigned before he was restored to pastoral ministry at Mars Hill.
Inside the Statement
The elder statement dropped today has been in the works for several weeks. The CT article about the statement chronicles the interaction of some of those former Mars Hill leaders and members and recent Trinity Church leavers. There is a community of people from Seattle and Phoenix who now have Mark Driscoll in common. No doubt more than one person has said, ‘nice to meet you, sorry it is under these circumstances.’
The formal charges against Driscoll covered the years 2011-2014. The elders who were contacted to sign the statement served during that time frame. Thirty-nine elders signed the statement but there are 26 who agreed with it but declined to sign for various reasons. According to an elder close to the process, the main reasons elders who agreed with the statement declined to sign it was fear of legal or other kind of retaliation from Driscoll or fear of jeopardy to their current ministry or other job. Some worried about the emotional toll of public involvement. Very few, less than a dozen, disagreed with the action.
This statement comes during the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast series which is shining a light on the Seattle megachurch. The cognitive dissonance must be extreme for people continuing to attend The Trinity Church.
The interviews with former executive elders at Mars Hill Church Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas are below:
Part Two (Much of the discussion of the end of Mars Hill and Driscoll’s resignation is in this part)
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
Andrew Lisi was involved at Mars Hill Church from December 2011 to March, 2014. During that time, he was an Executive Pastor, Community Groups Pastor and Biblical Living Pastor at three different campus churches (Downtown, U-District and West Seatte). When Andrew resigned, allegations of pastoral abuse and wrongdoing had started to surface against lead pastor Mark Driscoll.
Andrew recently reached out to me with a letter of concern he wrote to the Executive Elders of Mars Hill Church at the time of his resignation (Dave Bruskas, Sutton Turner, and Mark Driscoll). The letter expressed many of his reasons for leaving. He contacted me in response to the recent reports from former members of The Trinity Church in Phoenix. Andrew sees The Trinity Church reports as history repeating itself. He also hopes to raise awareness about the fact that the investigating board of elders at Mars Hill declared Mark Driscoll to be disqualified from ministry in 2014. Driscoll first agreed to undergo a restoration process but abruptly quit before he started it.
As I read these documents, I am struck by how prophetic Andrew was. I have to remind myself that he is writing in March, months before the church closed down. He saw what was coming and in a way what is happening now.
Several months later, he sent the letter directly to Mark Driscoll with the following cover email:
I wish this was an e-mail under different circumstances. But, I do hope this e-mail and the attached document get to you directly. First, here’s why I’m writing. There are two specific incidents in there I think have personally been involved in regarding your leadership and have as examples of sin against me. The first is the “son-in-law” episode during the LP [Lead Pastor] residency back in May 2013. The second is the Real Marriage/ResultSource stuff. I invite you to read my letter to see the details.
Since I resigned from being on staff and from being an elder at Mars 5 months ago, I have thought long and hard, prayed, and sought counsel as to whether or not I should reach you directly. I never came to a solid conclusion until recently. I decided to trust the Holy Spirit and my gut that’s telling me that the best way to honor you as a brother in Christ and to seek reconciliation is to try to reach you directly.
You might think that I am just now bringing these things up, but that is not a case. Attached you will find the grievance letter I submitted to the Executive Elders and HR when I resigned in March. All of the local elders at West Seattle read it and discussed it with me. I had brief discussions with Pastor Dave and shared it with Bonnie Heather. Much of what is brought up in there has to deal directly with you and while I wanted it to get in your hands then, I’m sure it was never read by you. Perhaps you never received it. While I would add some nuance and deal with the few typos, what I am sending to you is the letter I submitted on March 21, 2014.
I do hope you will read this letter. I expect you will be tempted to get defensive or perhaps dismissive because I was at Mars for a short period of time and we never had a lot of personal interaction. I simply ask that you submit to the Holy Spirit’s fruit of patience and self-control and delay judgment until you’ve read it completely.
Please know that I long to see Jesus glorified in all of this and your joy in Him to be made complete. If you want to address my two examples and would like to talk to me, I will put my number below. Additionally, I am willing to come to Seattle to talk in person.
Your brother in Christ,
The letter is too long to place in the blog post so I have a link to it here:
I want to pick out just a couple of elements to highlight.
After examining several reasons he decided to leave Mars Hill (many of them involving Mark Driscoll’s leadership), Andrew anticipated various rationalizations for Driscoll’s actions from staff who remained at Mars Hill. One frequently heard rationalization was that Driscoll’s platform brings people in to get saved. Andrew wrote:
I can listen to Pastor Mark’s teaching and even seek to be obedient to what he says. I believe he is an extremely gifted and talented preacher and communicator who gets the gospel out there, calls people to repentance and to turn to Jesus and they do! He has great insight into the human condition and the culture around us. There’s so much about what he says I agree with; but I refuse to do as he does because he doesn’t practice what he preaches. It’s all public. It’s about platform. It’s about influence. It’s about being seen by others. The claim is it’s for the sake of the gospel, but the platform and being seen (Pastor Mark, #1 Best Seller, Founding, Preaching, Vision Pastor, 3rd Fastest Growing Church) is like a megaphone with the name Jesus spoken in plain voice.
And then later in his letter, Andrew looks at the growth of Mars Hill realistically. While they were baptizing people, many were coming from other churches. That echoes what is happening at The Trinity Church. Driscoll’s enterprise grew rapidly when many churches were closed during the pandemic and Driscoll stayed open in defiance of mitigation efforts.
The argument from success is overplayed. The argument is “we are baptizing a ton of people.” In this I say – Amen! I am so thrilled to see people get saved and be baptized. But does it tell the full story? 50 churches, 50,000 people. Phoenix was planted with over 600 people on launch day and over 1,700 when Mark preached live. To what end? The majority were most likely Christians from other churches who were gone the next week. On launch day, with 668 adults and 75 children present (743 total), 10 people were baptized. To knock the small church of 75 people who has one baptism, is to point the finger back on ourselves. First, I implore Pastor Mark to stop taking tactless hacks at small churches and consider them lesser because we are “bigger, stronger, faster, better” and have “a ton of baptisms.” Many small churches are just as missional as Mars Hill and God is choosing to use them in a different way. Second, many Christians from those small churches and other larger churches are just transferring to the new, cool church in town. Third, Mars Hill is not seeing the non-Christians come out in droves to be saved. By ratio, we are seeing the same kind of fruit as many small churches.
Another common one for excusing his actions was “Mark is making progress.” Andrew wrote:
…a general disposition of repentance is severely missing with Pastor Mark. “Progress” is downplaying the issue “But you don’t know Mark at all, Andrew” is what I’m told. That’s right. I don’t have any kind of personal relationship with him. I know this may just get dismissed because of that. However, I think that just feeds the problem. It’s not that I don’t know Mark; it’s also that he doesn’t make himself known. He does not pursue more opportunities to walk in the light with his elders, the men entrusted to lead the mission at the local level. He may very well be a leader in repentance in his home and with his family, perhaps even those closest to him. But I know enough to know that we expect more from those who become members of our church than we do Mark. Some leaders in the church I have talked to say they “see progress” and that’s enough for them, but as I see it, it’s like an abused woman saying, “well he’s only hit me three times this year instead of like five last year – that’s progress.” I fear that because of his savvy way of communicating, forceful language, and bully tactics (name calling, caricaturing, etc.) along with success in ministry Mark got a free pass for his actions long ago and those who knew him then say “he’s so much better than 10 years ago!” When it’s the kind of progress an abusive boyfriend makes, I’m not telling the girl “well that’s great, I’m sure it will get better.” I’m saying, “get out and get out fast.”
Near the end, Andrew recommended.
I believe Mars Hill is at a crossroads and Pastor Mark has to make a decision. Our church and the people live under a false sense of security because we see more money coming in, more churches being established, higher attendance numbers, and people getting saved. But I don’t think it’s only the Holy Spirit working through us; rather, it’s God working despite us. He is patient, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. TThe church has only existed for just over 17 years. That span of time is often just a paragraph in the bible. So, perhaps it can stay this way for decades. I saw God answer the prayer of men being raised up in leadership at West Seattle, but I don’t know for what purpose. Maybe the growth will continue. But the growth we see is a false sense of security. The massive staff turnover and resignation from elders shows that “you reap what you sow.” The labor is in vain. Mars Hill has boasted “the only constant at Mars Hill is change” for at least as long as I’ve lived here. I want that to be true, but it’s not, at least not where it matters most. The call is not merely for a further resurgence forward, but a call to repentance now and it begins with the Founding, Preaching & Vision Pastor, the President of the Board of Elders: Pastor Mark. I recommend Pastor Mark take a sabbatical (not a summer vacation) and entrust Jesus’ church to others and the Holy Spirit. What can be lost by that? I believe that will set a trajectory that will work all the way down in such powerful ways through Sutton & Dave, the LPs, XPs, other staff and elders, leaders in the church, members, attendees, and even many outside the church to God’s glory. This is what I long for and I know I don’t have to be here in order to witness it. I will rejoice wherever the Lord leads as I hear about repentance in Mark for his leadership and a greater desire for him to walk in the light with his brothers and elders and I will be filled with sorrow if that day never comes.
Eventually, Driscoll did take time off and in August 2014, formal charges were filed with the church against him by 21 former elders. After they were thoroughly investigated, the board of elders who did the investigation recommended that Driscoll be disqualified until he could be restored by the elders. Another decision making body at the church – the Board of Overseers (outside advisors) – didn’t want to do that. While these two boards were deliberating, Driscoll resigned.
Andrew Lisi wasn’t around for that. He was gone by then but he had seen the trouble coming and issued a warning. His letter stands as a warning today. Who will heed it?
First, let me introduce Steve Hassan’s interview with me regarding Christian nationalism, mind control groups, the Trump years, and, at the end, The Trinity Church in Phoenix. Hassan crafted a blog around the interview which you can read here. A warning to my readers who support Donald Trump, Steve wrote a book called the Cult of Trump about QAnon and Trump’s followers who can see no wrong in anything Trump does. By discussing people who can’t see Trump critically, I am not implying that everyone who supports some of Trump’s policy ideas is in a cult.
Veterans of the Culture War Podcast
Second, I appear today on the Veterans of the Culture War podcast hosted by Zach Malm and Dave Lester. Both men were formerly associated with Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Here is their tweet about the podcast:
Do evangelicals care about the truth when it comes to abusive pastors? American history? Gay conversion therapy? Our guest @wthrockmorton has found that far too often the answer is “no”. It was great to talk after years of occasional correspondence since the Mars Hill days. https://t.co/uZowPodwPq
The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill – Christianity Today
Third, today is the beginning of Christianity Today’s podcast series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” You can hear the first episode “Who Killed Mars Hill?” here.
I like where Mike Cosper is going with this. Rather than tell the whole story of Mars Hill, he focuses on why fallen celebrity pastors keep getting a platform among evangelicals. He hopes to understand better why certain types of people gravitate toward the role of pastor and why Christians keep accepting them.
Mike and guest Ed Stetzer establish the epidemic of celebrity pastors who fall from their perch for various reasons. Stetzer seems to float the possibility that gifted people are elevated to celebrity status before their character can catch up. As I listened, I framed this question to myself: Does pastoring in a megachurch create narcissism or are narcissists attracted to leading a such a church?
The Different Stories of the End of Mars Hill
There is a helpful section near the end where Cosper interviews former elders Aaron Gray and Tim Smith about the investigation of the formal charges in 2014. Driscoll has told people that God told him there was a trap set for him and that he was released from Mars Hill. Gray said he has never understood what that meant. Smith said Driscoll told him that Driscoll came to believe the Board of Elders who investigated the charges against him wanted to gather dirt to force him out. Instead of restoring him, according to Driscoll, they wanted to take over the church from him. Smith seemed dumbfounded by that suspiciousness.
Dave Bruskas, who witnessed the entire process, responded that there was no such “trap.” The plan was for Driscoll to submit to his elders, as he always preached a pastor should do, and return to the role of pastor at Mars Hill.
I will have more to say about future episodes but I will end this post by saying it was a nice touch to have Mars Hill Band King’s Kaleidescope provide the theme song and I liked the choice of Pedro the Lion for a closing song.