Dear Mr. Driscoll: Religious leaders killed Stephen.

Pharisees

Mr. Driscoll,

Stephen was killed because he brought charges against religious leaders.

He brought charges that discredited not just one minister, but an entire group of ministers – the Sanhedrin. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Stephen “attacked” the ministers with charges that they could not even tolerate hearing. And so, instead of responding to the charges he brought, they chose to destroy the accuser.

They were men who were supposed to be trustworthy. They were religious leaders, tasked with shepherding the flock of Israel. Their ministry was to run a religious court system, ensuring justice in Israel. Yet they were the men who killed Jesus.

Stephen’s charge to them: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:51-53)

How utterly insulted the Sanhedrin must have felt. Who was this Stephen guy anyway, and how dare he speak so boldly – so arrogantly! – to men of such high authority! And he brought enormous charges: he said they killed the Righteous One!

“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” (Acts 7:57-58)

The religious leaders couldn’t handle the charges Stephen brought. They were enraged by them. They responded by destroying the accuser, but they didn’t stop there. They instigated persecution against all Christians in Jerusalem. It’s as if they thought, “We have to root out this threat to our ministry, this threat to all of Israel! We have to squash these troublemakers! Who are these people to believe and speak such blasphemy, such falsehood? We must put a stop to it! We must make an example of them, to send a message to everyone in Jerusalem: if you roll with the wrong pack, you will pay!”

So terrible persecution spread across Jerusalem. Fear was put into the hearts of every Christian. Fear that if they spoke the truth, they would be targeted. Fear that if they seemed sympathetic to that troublemaker Stephen, and if they seemed critical of the Sanhedrin, they too would be killed.

And so the church was ravaged by religious wolves who couldn’t stand to hear criticism of their ministers.

Shaun Smith

Men of Unclean Hands

Wash my hands

I believe that the secretive reconciliation attempt by 20 secretive elders and the Mars Hill Church executive elders will produce very little fruit. It has and will, however, produce more pain and angst in many of the most abused ex-members.

My dear wife and I can attest to this pain, and several others have contacted me expressing what I am about to say.

In what will be probably the hardest post to write, I want to say something that may be very difficult to hear.

Many of the men reaching out to seek reconciliation with Mark Driscoll and the Executive Elders of Mars Hill Church do not have clean hands. The best agreement they can come to is that they will all change from being “angry young prophets” to become kinder and gentler, more like a “spiritual father.”

Any resolution that is more punitive in nature is one that they cannot demand without impugning themselves. They do not have clean hands.

Like I did seven years ago when appealing for a fair trial, I will simply point out both the biblical principle of justice and that which our society deems to be fair when it comes to the “clean hands doctrine.” Although we do not know the names of most of the 20 men seeking reconciliation with the Executive Elders, I presume several were men who rejected my advice seven years ago.

I also presume that several of these men still support the notion that I am simply bent on revenge and am a “one trick pony.” Despite the reality that these men do not think much of this messenger, I trust that perhaps God will assist them in their understanding.

Here is a definition of the “clean hands doctrine”:

The clean hands doctrine is a rule of law that someone asking the court for equitable relief must be innocent of wrongdoing or unfair conduct relating to the subject matter of his/her claim.

The sad truth is that most of the elders who are seeking redress from an unknown adjudicator (who knows why the BOAA isn’t addressing the issues at hand?) are themselves men who participated in the abuse. They are guilty themselves.

Even worse, they are in some ways guiltier than the Executive Elders. Any of the 20 men who were elders in 2007 (Dave Kraft was part of the 2007 Elder Investigation Taskforce) are the ones who gave the executive elders their power in the first place. These men chose to give up their role as overseers, legal directors of the church, and gave Mark Driscoll the power that he now wields.

If these men were not up to the task of governing the church, they should have resigned. Instead they voted to give up their authority to govern the church and protect the members. Instead of protecting the flock, they gave the flock whom they were called to lead a form of government that would turn abusive in the hands of a man like Mark Driscoll.

It sort of reminds me of the famous “How dare you!” sermon that Driscoll preached to the young men of Mars Hill Church.

The sermon blasted young single men who diddled with their girlfriends. The Christian fundamentalist world loved the sermon (even landed Driscoll an interview with James Dobson) while the young men in the pews were thinking, “Now wait a minute. You went the whole nine yards with several women, including your wife, and you are screaming at us about diddling?”

Mark lacked the moral authority to preach such a sermon in the way he did. Had he wept with remorse and openness from the pulpit, it would have been amazing. He could have appealed to the reality of his own sin and weakness, and used that as a platform to guide young men struggling with the same sin.

Instead he came across as a fundamentalist preacher, pointing out the sins of others. He did not have clean hands himself.

Now come twenty men. If you know who they are (I only know of a few) then take a look at the words they write: Blogs about “leadership” and “gospel centeredness,” and even posts in recent groups where hurting members are sharing their pain.  Lengthy words of counsel are coming from some of these very men.

I am sorry. This may sound harsh. But these men have been abusers themselves, and until they are broken by the abusive culture that they voted into place, and until they painfully and publicly articulate the abuse they are guilty of, they have no place acting like they are leaders and have something of value to say – even if it is of value.

For Dave Kraft to be quoting Jamie Munson at a time like this, tells me that he has no idea of the harm he has inflicted on us members by his role in carrying out Jamie Munson’s and Mark Driscoll’s abuse.

I and many other hurt members would value a single word of counsel from Bent Meyer or Paul Petry over a volume from Jamie Munson.

I have been trying to think of a good analogy to help the reader understand.

Consider a family that has a particularly gifted 12 year old. Everything that he does he seems to do well. He even seems to be a good leader and God appears to be blessing his gifts. He is part of a large family and decides that he wants to drive the family van (or could we say “bus”?). A handful of uncles argue that to give him the keys would be unwise, but their concerns are set aside (I could embellish the story, but I will spare the reader 🙂 ).

So the family members are driven in the bus by a talented 12 year old kid. Sadly, the kid starts to run over pedestrians that, in his immaturity, he deemed to have been in his way. While members of the family are uncomfortable, they understand that the pedestrians could have moved out of the path of the bus, and they were also becoming afraid of questioning the decision of the rest of the family, especially after seeing how the old uncles were treated.

Plus they were enjoying the ride.

Eventually the young driver lost control of the bus and plowed into a crowd of people.

In this scenario, the police should arrest everyone on that bus and bring them all to justice. If a child is killed by the bus accident and it turns out his father was one of the family in the bus encouraging the driver on, he would have no business being an accuser seeking justice, because he would have blood on his own hands.

Imagine other family members who were in the bus going to the victims and telling them that “it is all about Jesus”. That “now is the time to turn to Jesus”. Imagine them speaking to the wounded long words of how to deal with the pain and grief. It would all be salt on the wounds – even if what they said was true.

The only healing that that person could hope to offer would be a broken heart of remorse and grief, and a throwing of oneself prostrate before God and the wounded bodies under the bus begging for mercy and forgiveness.

Anything else would be total arrogance and a further harming of the abused.

The Board of Advisors and Accountability need to hear from victims, not perpetrators. They need to hear the charges and see the evidence, not seek out some “peace making” group to work out reconciliation between co-perpetrators of their sins.

The way that blood is removed from one’s hands is through open, forthright and full confession.

These men with blood on their hands who are writing one or two sentences of “repentance” among hundreds of pages of other good stuff need to get a biblical view of repentance. Are they hoping that they can quietly slink off and continue to be considered a shepherd? Most are not even saying anything at all – like a murderer escaping and moving to another state and changing his name. I am sorry, even if he becomes a model citizen, he is still a murderer and needs to face his crime.

Of the elders that in 2007 kicked out, humiliated, and called for a shunning of Paul Petry only Lief Moi, Dave Kraft and Zach Hubert have said something considered public. And their confessions are drowned out by the lengthy words of leadership and counseling advice that keeps rolling out of the mouths of some of these men.

To those of the 20 men that remain unrepentant yet are seeking reconciliation with Driscoll and his Executive Elders: Stop posting platitudes until you have openly repented . Stop talking about leadership until it is clear that you are broken over your role in the abuse.

Please just stop.

You will bring healing when you post long words about your sin and brokenness. Then you will be at the foot of the path to one day being in a position to lead others again. Men like Jeff Bettger and Kyle Firstenberg, who I believe are among the 20, have shown the way to lead. I applaud these men, and I encourage the remaining men to follow their example.

Or, I suppose you could secretly seek reconciliation with Mark Driscoll and his team, come to some agreement after which you all sing Kumbaya and dance down the road leaving very little healing of the abused in your wake.  You can scrub from your own resume and memory your role at Mars Hill Church, move elsewhere, and pretend to be a man who cared for the sheep.

Richard Harlemen recently posted the following in a blog where Mike Wilkerson, Jesse Winkler and James Noriega posted words of platitude. These were men who supported the abuse of Paul Petry and gave up their authority to govern the church by changing the bylaws:

“Managing bitterness and vengeance in your heart I can greatly respect. It’s a shame to me when people hide the truth in the guise of piety.”

As I stated, his comment came after postings from James Noriega, Jesse Winkler, and Mike Wilkerson, none of whom had yet spoken out in public about the abuse or their own role in it. In Mike Wilkerson’s case, he posted long posts about dealing with pain and conflict. They were good words, coming from a man who threw the church under the bus in 2007, and voted for the lynching of Paul Petry.

Men, healing comes from confession. Period. If you cannot do that and clean your own hands first, what do you hope to see in reconciliation with your co-abusers?

And until you publicly confess, for God’s sake, stay away from the wounded and bleeding.

 

Note: Since this article was written and posted online, former Mars Hill elder, Jesse Winkler, published his confession and apology at repentantpastor.com.

Abusive tactics forced the bylaws to be changed in 2007

 

 

Cast your vote

Recent events at Mars Hill Church show that dissent of any kind is not tolerated. Even questioning can get you removed as a member.

It therefore time for all members and ex-members to understand that the bylaws that were changed in 2007 were changed under that same threats and abusive coercion that we have all witnessed in recent days, most lately in the cases of Dalton Rohrback, Phil Poirier, and Phil Smidt, all of whom were terminated because they either questioned or could not agree with one thing or another.

The current bylaws allow for the Executive Elders to simply remove elders at will. This was not, however, the case in 2007 under the old bylaws. But the abusive tactics that we now see commonly used by Mars Hill Church executive elders used were used in 2007 to scare and coerce the men at the time to agree to change the bylaws.

How on earth could Mark Driscoll, who taught that he was one of a plurality of equal elders (and recruited elders on that basis) get the same elders to agree to give up the authority they had and give it all to the executive elders? It would seem to be an impossible task.

In order to change the bylaws, two thirds of the elders had to vote in favor of the change, and that would mean that two thirds would have to agree to bylaws that flew in the face of everything that Mark Driscoll had taught for years. They would vote against the form of church governance that the members had signed up for.

The way Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson pulled it off was crafty and certainly against the spirit of the bylaws. One might make a good case that the way it was done violated the bylaws themselves.

The set up was the ruthless firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.

It is common knowledge at this stage of the game that they were primarily fired because they opposed the transfer of power from all of the elders to the executive elders. Petry and Meyer proposed that the Executive Elders be given power by the body of elders in a way that kept them accountable to the elders – certainly a sensible and more biblical approach to church governance, and one that Mark Driscoll taught with great power in the years prior to the 2007 bylaws change.

In 2007, most of the elders were young men. For many this was the best paying job they had ever had, and at the time they were well paid. Average salaries and benefits were rumored to be about $100k per year. As they watched Petry and Meyer get fired and humiliated for just questioning the bylaws, it was clear that their jobs would be on the line if they failed to fall in line with Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson’s wishes.

So twenty two elders voted to change the bylaws in the aftermath of watching two men get fired for resisting the changes. Actually, the truth is that the vote should be recorded as twenty one men voted for the changes, and one man, Lief Moi, voted against. According to Lief, Mark Driscoll wanted to present a unanimous vote to the church, so he demanded a second vote and Lief, who was terminated just months later, realized that his was a lost cause and changed his vote.

So, like so many twists of the truth that we members heard, we were told the vote was unanimous. It was true, but untrue. It was a half-truth.

In 2007, a change in bylaws required a two thirds majority vote. Before the firings of Pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, when the total number of elders was twenty four, sixteen votes were needed to pass the vote. Nine elders could stop the change.

After the firings of the men, which was done in a massive hurry before the vote to change the bylaws, only fifteen votes were needed. It would still take eight votes to block.

So by firing the men ruthlessly, and demanding a unanimous vote, Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson pulled off two things. They removed two dissenting votes, and demonstrated what would happen to any elder that raised questions or appeared to oppose the change.

Some of us ex-members have spoken to at least twelve of the 24 men who voted on October 2007 to change the bylaws. Some have now stated that they felt shame about their vote, and felt undue pressure to vote against their conscience, while others say they were afraid, and others say that had their been reasonable dialog and discussions and the freedom to dissent they would not have voted the way they voted.

In other words, the way that the Executive Elders won the vote was not with reasonable due process that would certainly be expected in any civic and ethical environment, and we know now, based upon everything that we have seen, that the abusive environment caused the vote to be coerced.

Had Paul and Bent not been fired, they would have needed seven additional elders to vote against the bylaw change in order to keep the church elder run.

Without the abuse, 12 elders would have voted against the new bylaws. Mark Driscoll and his executives would have to give an account to the elders of the church. Instead, we have leadership that cannot be held to account, and hundreds of hurt members and staff have left.

The bylaw change was a violation of due process, and the Mars Hill Church BOAA should recognize this fact and acknowledge the immense damage that has been the result.

The current bylaws need to repealed and Paul Petry and Bent Meyer exonerated.