Pastors of the Mars Hill Church on Monday proudly announced the opening of their new downtown parish. Located at Fifth Avenue and Marion Street in a grand masonry building, the announcement explained, the church is conveniently located near a neighborhood where there's lots and lots of AIDS.
"Being closer to Capitol Hill is a blessing as we are serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill," said the statement from Tim Gaydos, lead pastor of Mars Hill's downtown congregation. The announcement from the youthful-but-socially-conservative church—which does not allow gay people to join as members—went on to note some of "the church's community reach efforts."
But it's not clear the church has done anything to help people with HIV or AIDS (nor does moving the congregation a scant one-third of a mile closer to Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood from its previous location in Belltown help their claims of gay outreach).
"We are currently at the beginning stages of volunteering with the Lifelong AIDS Alliance to build relationships and walk in love with those in the Capitol Hill area and beyond who are affected by these chronic conditions," Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean told me when I asked what outreach Mars Hill would perform for people with the disease. Dean said the large church has started a new ministry to help "those living with, or who are at risk of HIV/AIDS."
Of course, he added, "Their desire is for everyone to know Jesus."
But it turns out that Mars Hill Church hasn't filled out any volunteer application forms or even begun a screening process to volunteer with Lifelong AIDS Alliance, said Kelly Bray, a spokeswoman for the outreach charity. She said, in fact, that the church has "no relationship" with her group. Although Mars Hill did call Lifelong about the possibility of volunteering last fall, Lifelong hadn't heard again from the church until last Monday, apparently within hours of The Stranger calling to ask about the matter.
Which leads to another question: Would Lifelong even work with Mars Hill? After all, the megachurch conglomerate—which has 14,000 members in 11 branches—doesn't allow gay people to be members. (Asked why the church bans gay members, Mars Hill didn't comment.) It's just weird for a notoriously homophobic mission to target a gay neighborhood, brand the area a hotbed of disease, and then telegraph its plans to use a well-regarded nonprofit as a vehicle for proselytizing their divisive version of Christianity. Why would Lifelong even consider affiliating itself with such a group?
"We don't discriminate against organizations that walk through our doors," Bray said. "If Mars Hill is interested in potentially volunteering, they would be made aware of what flies by us, the values we uphold, and individuals we work with. We would not put them in any position where they could proselytize."