There is nothing that has marked this season of Mars Hill Church leadership more than its determination to hide the truth. Any sign therefore of genuine learning and growth would be demonstrated by a keen willingness to be truthful.
From hearsay presented in convicting Paul Petry in the show trial used to create fear and pressure when forcing the new bylaws on an unwilling church in 2007, to statements made in Mark Driscoll’s 30 minute speech made to members this week, avoiding the truth seems to be what Mars Hill Leadership has learned to do well in this season. Most of the scandals of the last six years have included some level of deception or truth avoidance.
My last conversation with Mark Driscoll was on August 18, 2009. It was after The Seattle Times published a front page article about a ferry that my company was building for Lake Victoria in East Africa (link). Toward the end of the article, the reporter wrote the following:
Smith split from Mars Hill Church in Seattle two years ago after he opposed a change in bylaws and crackdown on dissenters. Starting new churches was the focus, not helping the poor, he said.
The statement was true, although it did seem a little out of place. If you pick up the article from sources other than the Seattle Times, that line is removed. It is as if the reporter added the comment for readers in Seattle.
Well, I had two reactions to this statement. The first was an email from a dear friend warning me never to say something negative about the church in a public forum. This impacted me quite significantly although, as most would know, the statement was not made by me – it was made by the reporter.
The second reaction was from Mark Driscoll. My previous conversation with him had included him berating me as “the worst trouble maker in Mars Hill’s history” and his threat to destroy me and make sure that I could never be in ministry again (along with words that only a “cussing” pastor would use). A week earlier I was well on my way to becoming an elder under then Pastor James Harleman, and was coaching the community group leaders for the new Wedgwood campus. I had suddenly become a pariah for suggesting that Paul Petry and Bent Meyer needed to have a fair trial (link).
On the Monday morning after the article ran, I received repeated calls from an “unknown” number. Typically I ignore these calls, as I get calls from all over the world because of my work in Africa. It was clear that the caller was not giving up so I answered.
It was Mark Driscoll.
He said that he had been contacted by the Seattle Times reporter and was asked for his side of the story. He proposed that we have a truce and neither of us talk about or tell our side of the story. The conversation was shortened when I asked Driscoll, “Why don’t we just both walk in the light?” After an awkward pause he said goodbye and the conversation ended.
Why tell this story now?
Well, it shows the same pattern as we are seeing now. “Let’s not tell the truth” is what I was hearing. Let’s just agree to hide parts of the truth. This is what we have seen in almost every scandal.
But the rest of the story here needs to be told. I was interviewed by both the reporter that wrote the article, and by one other reporter that at the time was the religion reporter. I asked both reporters if it was true that the Seattle Times was calling Mars Hill Church for their side of the story. I was told that in fact exactly the opposite had occurred. They had been contacted by either Driscoll himself or by Mars Hill (my memory is fading) offering his side of the story.
Mark Driscoll had simply lied to me.
I filed this away. But of course it made me that much more wary and guarded. This man who had threatened to destroy me, destroy my ministry, and make sure that I could never minister again was willing to flat out lie to me as well. It gave his threat to destroy me credibility. It played a role in my long silence following the incident as I was responsible to both investors in my ferry business and donors in my work with African orphans. It helps me be patient with others that are afraid to speak out.
So now we listen to Mark Driscoll talking about this being a “season of learning” for him (link).
While telling us this, he tells the members the following (link):
As well one of the things that has been complex is the fact that a lot of the people that we are dealing with in this season remain anonymous. And so we don’t know how to reconcile or how to work things out with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are. And so that has made things a little more complex and difficult as well.
My reaction to this, as well as the reaction of many ex-members (reflected in comments in the “Repeal the bylaws” and “Mars Hill Reconnect” groups of Facebook), was that his statement conveys more dishonesty and deception.
As demonstrated in the call that I received in 2009, Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church do know the names of the hundreds of members that are bleeding. They know the names of those that they view as those with whom they should reconcile, or at least work things out with. This statement is intended to show a willingness to do the right thing, when in fact Mars Hill Church has shown no such willingness.
In fact, they are unwilling to attempt reconciliation and are showing no signs of trying to work things out.
There are many other statements made by Mark Driscoll in his 30 minute video that are also deceptive. But perhaps others will point them out.
I ask the reader, especially the current leadership and current members the following: Is it possible that the lesson during this season of learning is that of simply learning to tell the truth?
And I still have the same phone number as I had in 2009. Reconciliation and working things out are quite possible. After all, is it not true that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with the other”?