Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill: Hindsight is 20-20

The Mars Hill conundrum continues as former pastors and elders come forward with more specific testimony about what’s wrong at the church.

I’m writing today because it speaks to my previous Driscoll-themed post, which, if you recall, argued in favor of the wider church culture being allowed to call Driscoll out on worrying behavior.

The problem that many well-meaning (and some not well-meaning) Driscoll supporters had was with bloggers, radio hosts, media writers and others who didn’t personally know Driscoll but drew their own conclusions about what was happening at Mars Hill. Driscoll’s supporters said that many of these people’s claims were alarmist, presumptive, untrue, and unfair.

So imagine how vindicated everyone felt when former Mars Hill leaders came forward and—surprise!—said the exact same things about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill that all these “alarmists” had been saying for years.

No, I’m not kidding. They said the exact same things. As I read through the following three posts, I was utterly shocked at how similar their claims were to everything I have read on Driscoll-critical blogs over the past three years.

This post documents the comments of Kyle Firstenberg, former Mars Hill member and former executive pastor at Mars Hill’s Orange County branch. (Side note: doesn’t this guy’s last name sound like it came from an “ermagerd” meme?)

This post documents the comments of worship leader Luke Abrams who, until a year ago, was still at Mars Hill. It’s worth noting that Abrams left the church in good standing, without grievances, for professional/career reasons, yet it only took him one year away to admit to how unhealthy MH was.

The third link is a blog post by Abrams' wife Jessica, discussing her reflections on what was wrong at the church.

I compiled a list of claims these three are making about Mars Hill and Driscoll. All of the following are things that Firstenberg, Abrams and Abrams either participated in or say they've observed at Mars Hill.

Claims About Mark Driscoll Himself
*Built a leadership structure around himself that keeps him from true accountability
*Looks at numbers and “results” rather than hearing people’s concerns
*Other pastors are expected to be dedicated “to Mark Driscoll himself" and not just the church
*He’s responsible for the tough atmosphere and "culture of fear" at Mars Hill
*Pastors feared losing their jobs if they tried to hold him accountable
*Driscoll is used as a measuring stick against which other members and leaders should measure up
*He has “unrepentant sin”

Claims about the Mars Hill Culture in General
*Being tough and "instill[ing] fear" in others were part of the operations of a pastor
*Pastors experienced paranoia about not measuring up and "being discarded"
*Sin was often dealt with too harshly rather than having abundant grace
*Church discipline was more about fixing people and didn't focus on love
*Belief that God was working through Mars Hill and not other places, i.e. other churches are wrong
*True dialogue wasn't always sought with people who left the church with grievances
*Growth and results were valued more than love and personal friendships
*"Took advantage of volunteers" resources (such as time and energy)
*Members were treated poorly by those in authority over them
*Money (tithing) and attendance numbers are important to those in power

Driscoll’s/Mars Hill’s Gender Theology
* Teachings about marriage were "domineering and forceful leadership"
*Wives should not "stir the pot" but should run opinions through their husband's opinions
*Women play “supporting” roles to their families and church but are limited from full expression
*A wife’s personal interests rank last, behind her husband and children
*"Spiritual hierarchy"; a man's opinion/discernment is more trustworthy than a woman's

(Jessica Abrams' post is one of the most eloquent statements about the damage of limiting women that I’ve ever read, by the way. You should definitely check it out and give her some kudos).

These are some of the worst accusations that the blogosphere had already leveled at Mars Hill, accusations that were called unfounded or mean-spirited or just plain wrong by many Driscoll fans and many other high-profile pastors.

I bring all this up because honestly, I’m still trying to process it. As someone who has followed Mark Driscoll’s career with concern over the years, I’m experiencing a lot of feelings right now--mostly, the feeling of having been gaslighted. Gaslighting is when someone tells you the opposite of what you know to be true, in an attempt to undermine your trust in your own judgment. In shorthand terms, it’s when someone tries to drive you crazy by insisting on the opposite of what you know in your gut.
Now that some of the strongest accusations against Driscoll have been corroborated by his close associates, I find myself tearing my hair out with frustration. Why did everyone spend such a long time denying that this was going on? Why did so many Driscoll supporters insist that everyone was misinterpreting the blatantly obvious evidence coming out of Mars Hill? When ex-members of MH came out of the woodwork telling eerily similar stories, why did people still try to chalk it all up to “holding grudges” or “bitterness"?

Even I, who am no fan of Driscoll, was beginning to doubt my own instincts. Had Mark really bullied the pastors around him to the point where they wouldn’t stand up to him? Surely that was a little bit exaggerated; they probably just all agreed with him and couldn’t see his errors for what they were. Did Mark really believe that he was more right than all other churches, or was that just his hyperbole exaggerating his attitude?

I guess, on some level, it is ideal to hold off on judgment until you have the best evidence possible, and Mark’s close associates are some pretty good evidence. But then, why weren’t the many wounded victims who fled Mars Hill counted as pretty good evidence? Because they had never been hired as pastors? Because they were seen as lowly laymen who had never written a book? Because anyone who leaves a church must be in the wrong, since pastors/churches are always in the right?

Here’s what frustrates me. What if these problems had been caught and corrected years ago, when people first started talking about them? What if Mars Hill had become a healthier place, and its members today weren’t experiencing all this fallout? What if all those members who’ve been hurt in the last few years could have avoided that?

What if Mark could have started on the road to better emotional health and less anger and more repentance a long time ago, and be living a happier life today?

Instead, he and his church have gotten all the way to an embarrassing national-stage controversy that threatens to undermine the ministry. Three or four years ago, maybe the problems could have been solved if people had just admitted to them. At this point, you’ve got ex-pastors calling for a “peaceful evacuation” of the church. That sounds like the ministry could go under.

A final word of caution: I am all for giving people the benefit of the doubt. I have had moments where I was misunderstood, and moments where I was wrong and wanted people to accept my apology. So I don’t want to encourage people to be alarmist, gang up, or jump to conclusions before getting all the facts on someone’s suspicious behavior.

But it alarms me when evidence against someone’s character can be blatant and repetitive over a period of years and still not be seen as a reason for action, until some crisis forces everyone’s hand.

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