Mark Driscoll’s Cult-Like Actions: Julie Roys Enters the Chat

Today, Julie Roys dropped an article about the ongoing controversies at Mark Driscoll’s The Trinity Church and it is a hammer. She brings together many threads of reporting into a devastating report about the church and what she calls Mark Driscoll’s “cult-like actions.”

Roys takes a very deep dive into the situation with the family first described at David Bonner’s blog involving Driscoll’s daughter. Roys has the aftermath of that situation and tells us that the Scottsdale police are involved. The church filed a complaint against the father and the family has filed a complaint against Brandon Anderson at the church for detaining Driscoll’s daughter’s boyfriend for questioning.

Roys explores the “elderless church” as I have been calling The Trinity Church. She points out the lack of accountability at the church. There are no budgets available and church finances are closed to members. In fact, there are no members. People attend but they have no meaningful way to participate. Driscoll has insulated himself from being accountable to those who attend and those who are his subordinates. If he wants someone out of the church or to be monitored, it is done.

I reported on Saturday that Driscoll authorized surveillance of his daughter’s former boyfriend’s family. Roys has a transcript of conversations involving church staff following members of this family. Not only did Driscoll ban the family from the church, he paid to have them secretly monitored. I wonder if Phoenix Seminary teaches classes in surveillance.

Spectrum of Trust

As extensive as Roys’ report is, there are more stories to tell. She mentions shunning, but there are more stories of families being shunned because they are not sufficiently loyal to Mark Driscoll. Roys introduces us to the very culty phrase “spectrum of trust.” The higher you are on the spectrum of trust, the more the Driscolls trust you and the more access to them you have. Sadly, if you not high on that spectrum, you may drag your family members down a notch or two. Ranking people in terms of their loyalty to the dear leader is a characteristic of a mind control group. An extension of that is shunning family members over loyalty to the dear leader.

One aspect of fallout from Mars Hill was the creation of blogs by people affected by the church (e.g., Joyful Exiles, Wenatchee the Hatchet*). As far as I know, here is the first such blog:

Spectrumoftrust.me

It appears to be in the development stage but go check it out.

 

*Probably my favorite blog name ever.

 

The Trinity Church May Be Watching You

On April 28, David Bonner at the Wondering Eagle blog published a story about a family chased out of The Trinity Church because of a kiss shared by an adolescent boy and girl. The girl is one of Mark Driscoll’s daughter and the boy and his family attended The Trinity Church until Driscoll wanted the family evicted from the church.

I have been able to confirm the basic elements of this story with several sources. One source, Chad Freese, was until recently the  Director of Security at The Trinity Church. He told me that Driscoll confirmed to him the basic elements of the matter and was “pissed off” about the kiss.

In addition, Freese told me that Driscoll authorized the boy’s family members to be surveilled in the community and monitored on social media. Church funds were expended to hire security personnel to follow them and report back concerning their activities.

Freese recently left the church over this and other concerns.  His resignation comes amid the departure of several families and other staff members, some of whom are unable to speak due to non-disclosure agreements.

For more on Mark Driscoll’s elderless church, click this link.

 

Mars Hill Church and The Trinity Church: Is Past Prologue?

In August 2014, 21 former elders from Mars Hill Church brought formal charges under the bylaws of the church against Mark Driscoll. Recently, I have been listening to people talk about their experiences at The Trinity Church in Phoenix. To quote Yogi Berra, it feels like deja vu all over again.

For those who complain that I am unnecessarily bringing up the past, I will reply with Shakespeare that, at times, past may be prologue. The charges are linked below; those who are currently involved or recently left Trinity Church may want to compare notes with past Mars Hill elders who wrote in 2014. Anything seem familiar?

Read the 2014 Formal Charges 

These charges were investigated by a group of elders. According to Dave Bruskas (who was involved in the discussions), this group recommended that Driscoll be considered disqualified subject to involvement in a plan of restoration. However, another group of overseers who did not hear the evidence but also had oversight did not want to disqualify Driscoll and keep out of the pulpit indefinitely. These two groups could not agree and during  their time of disagreement, Driscoll resigned. Eventually, he started The Trinity Church in Phoenix.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Four – Who Are the Elders?

Dee  Holmes conducted a one-woman protest yesterday and today at The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, AZ. She took up a presence on the sidewalk in front of the church and loudly raised the issues of no elders, no accountability in finances and the fact that police were called to keep a family off church premises after a teen boy in the family and Driscoll’s teen daughter shared a consensual kiss.

This tweet from Dee makes me wonder how much in the dark The Trinity Church members are. This man comes out in response to Dee and says the church has elders. That, of course, is either a brand new development or was carefully hidden from former staff who never heard of them and don’t know who they are.

As noted in this post, the nonprofit board of directors are not elders at least in the sense that Driscoll teaches in his book on Doctrine. In this flow chart provided to staff, there is no place for or mention of elders:

It seems entirely likely that members don’t know how the church is organized or funded. They haven’t seen financial statements or bylaws and have no idea what kind of organization they attend. That all may work out unless and until they have an issue or concern — like the family who objected to how their teen was treated after the infamous kiss.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Three – Where’s the Board?

A former staff member from The Trinity Church provided the following document to me:

Notice the heading: “The ministry of The Trinity Church is ruled by God, influenced by Wise Counsel, governed by a board, led by the Senior Pastor, run by staff, and carried out by Team Trinity.”

However, looking at the flow chart, there is no board. Rather, note who is large and in charge – “Pastor Mark & Grace.”

Notice also that Driscoll’s daughter Ashley Chase is higher on the chart than the pastors. It also appears that Driscoll’s Real Faith nonprofit is a subsidiary of The Trinity Church. Now that is confusing. Driscoll’s nonprofit board and staff serve as a part of the staff of The Trinity Church. Maybe this is indeed a family business.

Actually, on a sheet of instructions given to staff, that exact phrase “family business” is used. See #8 under Professional below:

There are some catchy but meaningless phrases in this document. For instance: “We are Governed Throne Down, not Pew Up.” Who is on what throne? In practice, this is just a way of the single leader telling everybody else what to do and claiming God’s permission to do it.

Notice the conflation of The Trinity Church and Driscoll’s personal ministry: The Trinity Church and Real Faith.

Staff and volunteers also have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I will take that up in a separate post.

There are awful, harrowing stories coming out of this church. People are being kept from seeing family members because of how they feel about Mark Driscoll. Having chronicled stories from Mars Hill, I can say it feels like deja vu all over again listening to the hurting people contacting me now.

For any The Trinity Church attenders who are brave enough to read this far: Ask yourself why there are no financial statements. Do you know how your offerings are being spent? Why are there no elders or deliberative meetings over church direction? Why do people simply disappear from attendance without comment? Why are some people shunned?  Why aren’t  forgiveness and reconciliation stories what Mark Driscoll’s churches are known for?

If you are really brave, invest some time listening to these former Mars Hill Church co-workers of the man who now occupies your Trinity throne.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Two

On Monday, I wrote that former church members and staff told me that Mark Driscoll’s Scottsdale organization The Trinity Church doesn’t have elders. However, the organization does have a small corporate board made up of Driscoll as president and Jimmy Evans and Randall Taylor as Directors.

Nonprofits must have boards so here we have a board theoretically charged with the oversight of this organization. However, these are not elders as Driscoll describes them in his book Doctrine. Evans doesn’t attend the church. Taylor is not a pastor which, according to Driscoll, one must be to be an elder.

According to Driscoll, elders are chosen due to exemplary church membership to assume the role.

“Those who function as exemplary church members are then qualified to occupy the church leadership positions of deacon and elder, respectively.” (p. 322)

The organizational board of non-attending non-members aren’t elders. Unless Driscoll produces evidence in contrast to the testimony of former members and staff, I conclude that he in sole operational control of The Trinity Church.

Real Faith, Concealed Finances

A consequence of Driscoll’s control of the church is the blurring of lines between the church and his personal nonprofit ministry – Real Faith (formerly called Mark Driscoll Ministries). When you go to the Real Faith website, you find all the same sermon content that is also hosted at The Trinity Church. Driscoll uses the material he preaches at the church to raise money for his personal ministry. Last year, according to his 2020 990 IRS submission, Real Faith took in $555,182 in contributions.

Because Real Faith is a nonprofit organization, Driscoll has to file a 990 form which allows public disclosure of some aspects of his tax exempt activities. However, since The Trinity Church is considered a church (is it really, without elders?), no such disclosure forms are required. Thus, there is no public accounting of the church finances. According to former staff and members I spoke with, no financial statements are available to church members.

This is a gigantic red flag. The history of Mars Hill Church is littered with various financial shenanigans. Let me mention just one: Result Source and the church payment to manipulate the New York Times bestseller list to benefit Driscoll’s book Real Marriage.

Driscoll and the New York Times Bestseller List

Although famous in the history of Mars Hill Church, current The Trinity Church members may not have heard this story. Warren Smith at World first disclosed that

Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.

Soon after this story broke, the contract between the consulting group Result Source and the church was leaked to me and can be viewed here. Mars Hill used church funds to purchase 11,000 copies of Real Marriage at retail cost and also paid the $25,000 consulting fee. Result Source used over a thousand different payment mechanisms to evade detection by the various bestseller lists.

Even though Driscoll knew the scheme was in place and had guaranteed his placement, he tweeted this when Result Source had finished their work:

Clearly, Mars Hill members did not give their tithes and offerings to help Mark Driscoll get his book on bestseller lists. This incident demonstrated then and still does today the need for financial transparency in church work. It is concerning that The Trinity Church doesn’t provide audited financial statements to members. Why don’t members know where their money goes?

 

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church

Remember Mark Driscoll?

Driscoll is the former Seattle-based Mars Hill Church pastor who was charged by 21 of his former elders back in 2014 with an abusive style of leadership. There were two groups of leaders at Mars Hill Church who were involved in deciding what to do with Driscoll. The group of elders who investigated the charges found that he should be disqualified from ministry. Another group of overseers loyal to Driscoll did not want to communicate to the church that he was disqualified but wanted to keep him from the pulpit for a break. That group had not been a part of the investigation process and had not heard the evidence. In the middle of the several days these two groups were in disagreement, Driscoll resigned from the church without entering any process of restoration.

In short, a jury of his elder peers found him to be disqualified to be a pastor-elder. Instead of being restored by those elders, he left the scene and eventually started a new church — The Trinity Church — in Scottsdale, AZ.

It should come as little surprise that Mark Driscoll’s new church apparently has solved the elder problem which led to his demise at Mars Hill. Just don’t have any.

During the past couple of weeks, several former members of The Trinity Church in Scottsdale have contacted me to talk about about aspects of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. They contacted me due to my coverage of Mars Hill from late 2013 until 2015. They tell stories remarkably similar to those I heard from former Mars Hill members during that span of time. There is one major difference. In the current church, there are no elders who are putting on any brakes. There are no elders to whom appeals can be made. Several former members and staffers have told me that The Trinity Church does not have elders.

Some things do sound the same. Non-disclosure agreements are again being used. Money is again conditioned on silence. People are describing abrupt decisions about membership without due process. Friends and family who are considered disloyal to the church are being shunned. At some point, these stories may be told. For now, according to former members and staff,  the pastors who are there in addition to Driscoll are not elders in the decision making sense of the office. If elders hold you accountable in one place, eliminate them in the next place.

Doctrine: Who Needs It?

Over the years, Driscoll has taught often about elders. On The Trinity Church website, Driscoll has his book with Gerry Breshears — Doctrine: What Christians Should Believeavailable for download. In that book, he discusses the biblical role of elders in a local church:

“The church is organized under qualified and competent leadership. The senior human leaders are men called elders (pastors).” (p. 309)

“The Bible describes the office of elder-pastor or overseer as the highest office in a local church, a position charged with the responsibility of overseeing the doctrinal soundness and spiritual health of the church. There is no end of confusion over the title pastor. It is often used for leaders of the church who get paid for their ministry, or specifically for the preacher. Negatively, this false understanding separates pastors from elders, the biblical term for senior leaders.” (p. 319)

“The duties of elders revolve around two major areas of responsibility: pastoral care (including equipping Christians for ministry and oversight of the church) and guiding and guarding the teaching of the church (including the preaching of God’s Word when the church assembles). The elders are the senior leadership team in a church and as such they bear primary responsibility for the well-being of the church’s people, resources, and doctrine.” (p. 319)

“It is important to note that the Bible always speaks of elders in the plural. This follows the New Testament pattern that ministry is to be done by teams so that everyone is under authority, including those in authority. While there will almost always be one man on the team of elders who is the leader of the elders, a “first among equals” elder, he does not hold a categorically different office from the other elders.” (p. 320)

There is more, but it should be clear that a local church as envisioned once upon a time by Driscoll and Breshears should have more than one elder. The Trinity Church does have pastors – in fact, the church lists five pastors: Brandon Anderson, Eden Fine, Darien Bennett, Carl Steele, and Landon Chase. However, as noted, nowhere are they referred to as elders. I wrote The Trinity Church asking about this without answer and the church bylaws are not available online. The former members and staff I spoke to said the bylaws are not available to members. Naturally, if the church has an alternative perspective, I will add it to the post.

So what is The Trinity Church? One former member I spoke to said it appears to be more like a family business. And indeed it may be. As I documented in prior years, the religion business can be quite lucrative for some. And if that is what a person wants in their Sunday morning activities, it is a free country. However, others would like to know if what went around before is coming around again.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Driscoll Gets Political with Sen. Martha McSally

This Sunday, Mark Driscoll will host Sen. Martha McSally during the 11am service at The Trinity Church where she will give a testimony.

I hope they are on their best behavior. Both McSally and Driscoll are known for their use of foul language.  Driscoll famously shamed one of his Mars Hill elders into swearing during an elder meeting, even though the elder didn’t want to do it. He also was once known as the “cussing pastor.”

McSally is also known for her colorful language and brusque manner. When Senators were discussing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, she stood and signaled her wish to repeal it with an urgent profanity.

McSally acknowledges she uses “salty” language and, for that reason, refused to condemn Trump’s reference to “shithole” nations. More troubling than the language is Driscoll’s move into advocacy for the Trump agenda.

McSally will be a big draw among Trump supporting Republicans along with the water slides and other attractions at the property. A source close to the church told me that The Trinity Church is not using mitigation measures such as social distancing and masks. So add Driscoll’s church to the growing list of COVID spreading, Trump supporting ministries.

Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, Part Two

In this concluding video, former Mars Hill Church executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas talk about incidents not discussed publicly before. They also describe more personally their feelings about their actions at the church and their hopes for the future.

In this portion of the interview, we cover Mars Hill Global Fund, how public relations were handled at the church, their perspective on Mark Driscoll’s leadership style, James MacDonald’s and Paul Tripp’s resignation, being evicted from the Acts 29 Network, the findings of the investigation of formal charges against Driscoll, his resignation and move to Phoenix. They also weigh in on whether or not they ever saw Driscoll wear a bulletproof vest. There’s a special Easter egg for those interested in James MacDonald.

For those who are interested in Mars Hill because you lived it, or because you want to know how to prevent it, these are important discussions. Here is part two.

CORRECTION (8/20/20): In this interview, Sutton says he doesn’t believe there was enough money to pay Mark Driscoll a severance, and he never saw Driscoll wear a bulletproof vest. After this interview, former Mars Hill staff approached Sutton with new information to correct those points. Please see this post for the details. In short, the staffer said there was a substantial severance and Driscoll wore a vest once in 2008.

Watch part one here.

For all posts on Mars Hill Church, click here.

For all posts on Mark Driscoll, click here.

For all posts on Mars Hill Global Fund, click here.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Book Review: Mark Driscoll’s Spirit-Filled Jesus

In this guest post, freelance writer Becky Garrison reviews Mark Driscoll’s new book Spirit-Filled Jesus with a focus on what is missing from the book.

The Revisionist Rebranding of Mark Driscoll from Calvinist to Charismatic

By Becky Garrison

Mark Driscoll’s latest book Spirit-Filled Jesus: Live by His Power slated to release on October 2, 2018 represents his first major public offering since he resigned from Mars Hill Church (MHC) in October 2014 amid allegations of plagiarism, financial mismanagement, and abuse. Backed by the PR muscle of A. Larry Ross Communications, who represents such Christian powerhouses like the Billy Graham Legacy, Saddleback & Rick Warren, and The Family aka Fellowship), Driscoll appears poised to rebrand himself from “young, restless and reformed” to older, wiser and spirit-filled.

One could see signs of Driscoll’s move from Calvinist to Charismatic when he appeared with Robert Morris of Gateway Church on DayStar TV the same month he left MHC. However, by publishing with Charisma House, Driscoll’s transformation into a spirit-filled pastor appears to be complete.

Throughout this breezy book, Driscoll offers simplistic step-by-step instructions for how one can live a spirit-filled life by following Jesus’ teachings. Those well versed with charismatic teachings might find this book of interest as Driscoll mentions Jesus with far greater frequency than most charismatic authors, who tend to focus on the Holy Spirit. However, those well versed in the Mars Hill saga will find his whitewashing of his past telling.

For example, his bios on both his website and the Spirit Filled Jesus website make no mention of his role in founding and pastoring MHC. Nor does Driscoll reference his connections with Antioch Church or the Young Leaders Network, two entities that played a seminal role in Driscoll’s formation as a pastor. (On a side note, Brad Sargent aka Futurist Guy offers this timeline of the US emergent church. A review of this timeline along with Wenatchee the Hatchet’s detailed history of MHC point to the similarities in both entities in terms of their histories of abuse.)

Throughout the book, he makes vague allusions to his pastoral endeavors prior to establishing Trinity Church in Scottsdale, AZ without mentioning Mars Hill Church by name.

When describing his departure from Seattle, he states, “We moved to Arizona for a hard reset of life and ministry after years of feeling like a crash test dummy in a car with no airbags. After about two decades in ministry, I took some time off to heal up before entering the next season of God’s will for our life. For some months, we had church in our home on Sunday mornings before we relocated for safety reasons.” (pp. 31-32)

Later in this book, Driscoll describes how he healed from this unnamed ordeal. “After roughly two decades of teaching, I took a break for healing and learning during the most difficult season of my life for my family and me.” (p. 162) He alludes to this difficult season again with tears as the family gathered for Sunday church in their living room. (p. 185) One familiar with MHC’s history could presume Driscoll is describing the period after he resigned and before he moved to Arizona. But once again, he remains fuzzy on the details.

Then as he proclaims how his church plant in Arizona would be a “family ministry,” he makes this observation. “The first church my wife Grace and I planted, we were just twenty-five years of age with no children.” (p. 32)

While discussing his 2009 preaching services on Luke (available online at the Mars Hill Church website), he does not mention the specifics of where his preaching took place. “It took me roughly two years to preach that book to an audience comprised largely of college-educated singles who attended late night services because they had a hard time getting up by the crack of dinner.” (p. xi)

He later references pastoring a church prior to Trinity Chruch without delving into specifics. (p. 154) In fact, a reader unfamiliar with Driscol’s past would only know he has visited Seattle when Driscoll noted, “We were traveling from Seattle to Orlando” (p. 60). No mention anywhere in this book of his years living and pastoring in this city and the surrounding environs even though as Wenatchee the Hatchet documented most of the Mars Hill Church campuses have survived albeit under new names.

Continuing his revisionist retelling of his over two decades of ministry, Driscoll fails to acknowledge any of the carnage left behind after he departed MHC. Case in point, his chapters “Forgiven People Should Forgive People” and “Seven Reasons to Forgive” make no mention of the Facebook page established by MHC parishioners to air their grievances after Driscoll claimed he could not reconcile with those wronged by MHC because he could not address what he termed anonymous complaints. So one wonders about the validity of his forgiveness challenge designed as part of the book promotional campaign given that Driscoll appears unwilling to practice what he preaches.

Furthermore, given past revelations Driscoll plagiarized sections of Real Marriage and other works, one would think he would be more judicious in citing his sources in this book. His Jesus-filled index is quite sparse with one chapter ironically titled “Facing Foolish and Evil People With the Spirit’s Wisdom” having no citations at all. So just who came up with the “Six Kinds of Relationships” involving wise, evil, and foolish people described in detail in this chapter? Was Driscoll inspired by the Holy Spirit to pen these concepts? After all, he’s now playing in the Charismatic stream where personal revelation trumps traditional scholarship.

Given Les Parrott endorsed his book, I presume he does not object to having his work used by Driscoll without proper citations. However, since Parrott also lives in Seattle, I wonder why he would endorse a book that omits any reference to Driscoll’s controversial Seattle past. While Les Parrott and his wife Leslie are not connected directly to MHC, they co-author a range of relationship books that are represented by Sealy Yates, who was also Driscoll’s agent prior to the Real Marriage fallout. And like Driscoll, the Parrotts utilized Result Source to guarantee their book would chart on the New York Times bestseller list.

Most of Driscoll’s other 24 endorsements appear to be minor players in the Charismatic church scene. However, I am struck by the inclusion of Eric Metaxas, a Fox News pundit and one of the earliest and most stalwart Trump supporters, as Driscoll has never veered into faith based political debates.

I ran down this list of endorsers with Wenatchee the Hatchet to ascertain those individuals who had connections to Driscoll during his Mars Hill days. Here’s his assessment.

  • Larry Osborne was credited by Driscoll with advising him in a way that catalyzed the notorious 2006-2007 reorganization of MHC.
  • James MacDonald is a BoAA member and Executive Elder who helped Driscoll crash John MacArthur’s anti-charismatic Strange Fire conference.*
  • Craig Groeschel was another guy Driscoll name-dropped as someone he consulted with for the 2006-2007 reorganization of MHC.
  • Greg Laurie was a speaker at Resurgence 2013, and a client of A. Larry Ross.
  • Gerry Breshears was Driscoll’s advisor at Western Seminary and co-author of a few of his books, most notably Doctrine and Death By Love.

In a blog posting addressing the rise and fall of MHC, Breshears writes about those in MHC leadership repenting of their past actions as they replant many of the former MHC churches. So why would he then endorse a book by Driscoll who obliterates Mars Hill’s history with no sign of Driscoll repenting of his actions to date? Furthermore, why did four other individuals who had connections to Driscoll during his MHC days decided to endorse this book, thus participating in Driscoll’s rebranding efforts?

While the teachings of Jesus feature prominently throughout this book, upon further examine, suffice to say this book appears to be full of something other than Jesus.

(Note: The quotes from Spirit-Filled Jesus are from an uncorrected proof, not final copy.)

Becky Garrison is a freelance storyteller/satirist currently based in Portland, OR. Follow her travels via twitter and Instagram @Becky_Garrison

 

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this review said James MacDonald might have had a “gambling habit” and racked up real estate debt for his church. Although there wasn’t an intention to link the two ideas, at least one reader did so and others may have.  To avoid confusion, I decided to remove this sentence. There was no intent to suggest that any poker playing led to church debt. 

On the point of MacDonald’s gambling, there is a credible report that MacDonald gambled with Jerry Jenkins in the past, but there is no intent in this article or evidence presented that he does now.  Wenatchie the Hatchet added a postscript to a recent article which also addresses this issue.

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