When stories surface about troubled institutions—like this week's story about Mars Hill Church—the institution typically reacts by pointing at the first whistleblower and saying: "That guy? He's crazy. Bad apple. We won't comment on the particulars of his case—because we want to respect his privacy, you understand—but he's not reliable. Just one crazy guy."
When the second whistleblower appears, the institution says "two crazy guys." With the third, it's "three crazy guys."
But when the fourth person appears, and the fifth and the seventh and the eleventh, you figure the whistleblowers were onto something. And that seems to be happening—people are sending more emails and posting more stories in comments threads about fleeing Mars Hill.
Bent Meyer, one of the well-liked elders who was controversially fired a few years ago, has posted his story over at The Wartburg Watch. It's worth reading—and here's an interesting tidbit about early Mars Hill ambition and tactics:
As to my motives, I want Mark’s best. In my opinion he is a very troubled man. He is caught in his own hell. The consequence, of course, is the influence he has on others, which is mixed.
He, Lief Moi, and Mike Gunn, together the founders of Mars Hill Church, sent out to focus on those that were young, upwardly mobile and future leaders. They wanted to position themselves to influence their faith decisions and their life choices. This is a lesson for many church leaders to learn from and choose for themselves.
Ex-members and other Christians have been writing in to share their experiences and advice.
As one correspondent wrote to The Stranger
You have no idea. Please don't use my name. But you have no idea (the Mars Hill story). Thank you so much for writing it. Thank you. Can't say it enough. I have gone through a year of hell, triggered from Mars Hill.
To the members of this church: Be empowered. You have a powerful set of teachings that have the ability to enable great good in the world. This man Driscoll is telling you not to think for yourselves, not to engage thoughtfully with the very words that you believe Christ died to make true for you. Driscoll wants you to hear him, and only him, as his Sunday big-screen broadcasts to all of his satellite churches make perfectly clear. But Paul tells you, and the Corinthians, this, “4:8 You are already filled. You have already become rich. You have come to reign without us.” You, in your beliefs, have a direct line to Christ. Don’t let Driscoll convince you of the need to continue buying his priestly indulgences.
Some other readers have set up a blog about Mars Hill involving both ex-members and never-members.
And an ex-member named Kevin Potts sent a longish email to The Wartburg Watch, as well as The Stranger, to talk about his experience:
After reading your article on the blog regarding Andrew, and seeing Bent Meyer's response, I thought I would tell my own story. I left in 2008 from Mars Hill Church.
Their culture of abuse is frightening in its implications. Everything said on your blog [the Wartburg Watch], on Matthew Paul Turner's site, and on the Stranger is alarmingly accurate: the members are not encouraged to stand up to the leadership when it's acting with wrong motivations or wrong actions, they are told to remain quiet and to trust the leadership. There is no body to hold the leadership accountable to, and the church's authority structure is such that the only people to go to if you have an issue with one or more of its pastors is, unsurprisingly, another pastor. I can't imagine this being an environment, for anyone who takes a few moments to consider its implications, where anyone would feel safe expressing concerns about the leadership, let alone about Mark Driscoll.
For myself, my story is perhaps one of their earlier examples. At the time, I had been a member for nearly 8 years, having started at Mars Hill in 2000 and becoming a member just two months later with a much less rigorous membership process (which amounted to a quick 2-hour lesson from Driscoll on church leadership's structure, an indication of what being a member meant, handing out membership covenants to those attending, and letting us decide on our own if we wanted to become members). I had been having misgivings about the growth of the church and the increasing separation between the leadership and the congregation, but had largely kept this to myself.
Driscoll, in 2008, was preparing a sermon series entitled "Ask Anything", the intent being to set up a website where questions could be posted and voted on, with the top 5 questions (those that received the most votes) being the ones that Mark would build his preaching series on. Anonymous comments were allowed due to the software that was being used, and people used this to start bringing up questions about the firing of Paul Petry and probation of Bent Meyer that they felt they couldn't ask in the church itself, since they had been directly instructed by (then) pastor [redacted], in an open letter to the members via the password-protected members' website (The City hadn't yet come into being, though it was close at the time), to remain quiet on the issue while the leadership worked to produce a unified document explaining their actions.
I made one comment on this site under the pseudonym of Kel, and had no further comments published. At the time, one person was using the title of "Concerned" in the comments, and was raising a bit more of a stink, though with some thoughtful and probing questions.
Around this time, I decided to transition away from the main Ballard campus over to the then-titled Wedgwood Campus, as it was geographically closer to where I lived (the campus became the Lake City Campus, which is now closed; its staff were largely absorbed into the Shoreline campus). I was serving as a stage manager in the morning for the Ballard campus, and had an exit interview with the head of the production department, Jeff. In this exit interview, a discussion of my discomfort with how the Petry/Meyer issue had been handled arose. I made a statement of "I have no interest in causing division. It would be easy to do so with how well connected I am in the church, but I have no interest in doing so."
This was communicated to senior leadership as "Kevin Potts indicated he's going to cause division in the church."
Shortly after that, I received an e-mail from the Pastor of Technology (and creator of The City). He asked me point-black if I was "Concerned", the poster raising issues on the Ask Anything site. I indicated to him directly that I wasn't. A couple of days later he responded and indicated he thought I was, in fact, "Concerned", as that individual was making statements that echoed my exit interview with Jeff, as well as a statement I had made on the members' site in response to one member indicating it would be a shame if the leadership had to start tracking IP addresses between member posts and the anonymous comments on Ask Anything in order to figure out who were random posters and who were disgruntled members hiding behind pseudonyms. I indicated this wasn't a course that was wise to take, as there were people upset with the leadership, and such an action wouldn't engender the trust the leadership needed to get Mars Hill through the trying situation at the time.
This, according to [redacted], was me displaying an "unhealthy distrust for the leadership" at Mars Hill (eerily echoing the accusations levied against Paul Petry and Bent Meyer), and it was indicated that my membership was being put on suspension pending a meeting, as three elders had apparently concluded I was "in sin" (without ever having spoken to me first to hear my side of the story).
After much prayer and consideration, I chose to conclude my membership at Mars Hill Church. I sent an e-mail to [redacted], as well as the then-head pastor of the campus I was transferring to. No "discipline contracts" were offered to me, as I don't think they'd have thought of something like that at the time. Some momentary communiques occurred between me and Pastor [redacted] (who is now a Mars Hill pastor at their Albuquerque campus in New Mexico) shortly after both the Stranger and the Seattle Times had gotten ahold of me, as my name was on a list someone had circulated to those papers as people of interest to speak with regarding the truth, as we understood it, behind Paul and Bent's dismissals.
When I had spoken with Jonah Spangenthal-Lee from the Stranger, and Janet Tu from the Seattle Times, I had indicated in both instances that I didn't want my name used in their articles. I was still, at the time, living in a house owned by Mark Driscoll in Montlake, and didn't want my living situation jeopardized, as I didn't trust Mark or his assistant to do the right thing in light of this. In both discussions with the reporters, I only confirmed what they already knew, referring them to Mars Hill Church and Bent Meyer and Paul Petry for further discussion. [redacted] eventually called me to find out if I was, in fact, the person who had spoken with the Stranger and the Seattle Times (and I doubt I was the only one who had), and I confirmed it for him, at which point he proceeded to lay a guilt trip on me, indicating I needed to go to the church and ask the forgiveness of the people I had harmed in talking with The Stranger (who he was sure to note to me "was no friend of Mars Hill, and no friend of Christ") and the Seattle Times.
Keep in mind I was already no longer a member at Mars Hill at this time, and yet he thought that he could still control me to the point of having me apologize to people I was no longer involved with in an attempt to repent of sin that it seemed he was the only one accusing me of, he and those he represented.
At a later point, Molly Worthen from the New York Times Sunday Magazine spoke with me. At that point all ties with Mars Hill were severed for me, and I would have suffered no ill consequences for speaking with her. I gave her my full permission to use my name in her article, which can be found here. Curiously, she chose not to use my name, though on the 4th page of the article in the link I gave you, I'm the member she referenced in the third paragraph, the member who "complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended".
I was able to get out before they implemented the kind of behavior that Andrew is now experiencing. I'm horrified to hear he's experiencing it. Feel free to use my name and my story here (though you may want to remove the pastors' names, as I have no ability to authorize their use) in a blog post if it would be remotely helpful to anyone else who's going through the horrors of attempting to separate from Mars Hill Church.
I expect the stories to keep on coming.