To say that someone has lied is using very strong language. Since the deceitful and coercive way that Mark Driscoll and former executive elder, Jamie Munson, along with former elders Tim Belz and Scott Thomas, changed the bylaws in 2007, it seems that being deceitful is something that occurs with routine frequency at Mars Hill Church.
Mars Hill Church leaders seem to lie whenever a scandal hits the news. In almost every case there is no repentance at first. Eventually, if the stories they tell do not stick, they finally offer a statement that shifts blame but states that the events that led to the scandal were not good but some outsiders fault, or that there are regrets that people are hurt and an assurance that God is at work in the hearts of the leaders.
Why keep pointing out the lies, you might ask? What axe is there to grind? The answer is simple. There are hurting people, including the still shunned Petry family, that are bleeding emotionally and spiritually because of the abuse they received at the hands of the Mars Hill Church culture. Injustice leaves a wound that simply does not heal until repentance and restitution occur.
I find no joy in digging up the discipline case that hit the news in early 2012.
The attached article in Christianity Today recaps the basic story (link). A young man named Andrew sinned against his fiancé, felt convicted and confessed. Confession was not good enough for his leaders and he was given hurdles he had to jump to “prove” his repentance – which was never good enough. Eventually, after being asked to document and share his entire sexual history with Mars Hill leaders, he had the sense to walk away from such treatment and leave the church.
He was then publicly shunned. I happen to know the young man, and his story is similar to many of us who have been shunned. The sudden isolation, the immediate lack of community, not knowing where you stand with all of your close friends, is humiliating, isolating and very painful. It is also not biblical if you have repented of your sins as this young man had.
You may ask, what has this to do with Mars Hill Church and lies?
Well, the headline of the Christianity Today article is the lie. “Mars Hill Says It Released Leaders Over Church Discipline Cases”. The initial implication was that two leaders got fired over the handling of this particular case. Mars Hill Church stated that the men were fired before the story broke, again implying that they were engaged as soon as they saw the abuse and immediately fired the elders responsible.
I remember the story, and I actually felt deep sorrow for the abused young man. I also, however, felt sorry for the elders who were merely patterning themselves after what they were learning from Mark Driscoll’s abusive style. They themselves have now been ruthlessly fired rather than taught a better way.
Well, I have since met the young man, and met with three of the elders and community group leaders involved. It is they who were quick to tell me that Mars Hill simply lied in their statement regarding elders being fired. The truth is that nobody was fired as a result of the case that hit the news.
So why the lie from Mars Hill Church? My guess is that it is because it is what they thought needed to be said to settle down the raucous in the press.
The lie shifted blame to two elders that overstepped their authority and therefore were fired. So the fault was not the leaders of Mars Hill Church, it was these two rogue elders who were immediately terminated. Problem solved. (Side note: remember two elders getting fired in 2007?) (Link)
The sad part is not just that Mars Hill lied in that two elders were not fired as a result of this particular abusive episode, but that Mars Hill Church scrambled to fabricate a story to pacify the questioning and criticism, but did not scramble to make things right with the young man.
So Mars Hill Church actually recognized that two elders overstepped their authority (euphemism for “were abusive to a member”) and failed reach out to the abused members and put things right.
This is the pattern. The leaders lie to explain and deflect responsibility. Even when it is clear people are hurting, there is no addressing the hurt bodies that have been thrown through the wood-chipper and left under the bus. Here is Mark Driscoll delighting in the fact that, “by God’s grace, there will be a mountain of bodies under the bus” (link)
On final note… in this particular case, Mars Hill statements also progressed and changed. It seems that if the first “story” is not effective, Mars Hill will make further statements that are contradictory to the earlier statements. We have seen this lately with the three differing statements relating to the deception and misspending of church finds to manipulate book sales in trying to secure a Bestseller spot on the New York Times list.
We have also seen it in the various attempts to explain away the fund that Mars Hill leaders had been heavily soliciting donations for with clear implications that the fund was to be used for international outreach (with solicitations all set in an impoverished Ethiopian village). As it has become clear that a minuscule amount of the millions raised actually want to international outreach (maybe $300k), the story went from Global Fund including the U.S. plants and campuses, to the fund not actually existing and Global actually meaning global donors.
The retelling of the story is so obvious and non-believable to anyone paying attention, that I commented that it appears that they are being outwitted somehow (link).
It is my prayer that the level of lies and corruption within the leadership forces the remaining members and elders to bring the changes that are needed to ensure that Mars Hill Church recovers from its current implosion and troubles.