The Mars Hill conundrum continues as former pastors and
elders come forward with more specific testimony about what’s wrong at the
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
*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
*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
*Sin was often dealt with too harshly rather than having
*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
*"Took advantage of volunteers" resources (such
as time and energy)
*Members were treated poorly by those in authority over
*Money (tithing) and attendance numbers are important to
those in power
Driscoll’s/Mars Hill’s Gender Theology
* Teachings about marriage were "domineering and
*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
*"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
Labels: bad arguments, christianity, critique, driscoll, mars hill, spiritual abuse, theology, whistle-blowers, women