The membership of the hipper-than-thou, ultraconservative Mars Hill Church, led by a young, brash, and controversial pastor named Mark Driscoll, has been buzzing in recent days about the firing of pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. According to a letter sent to church members on November 8, the pastors were let go for disrespecting church leaders and for "sinful" behavior. Both pastors were unhappy with revisions to the church's bylaws that would change the way power is divided in the church. Dissension among church leaders over the revisions has since spread to the Mars Hill flock.
Mars Hill has grown exponentially since it first began in Driscoll's Wallingford rental house in 1996. The church operates out of five campuses around the Seattle region and has a sixth location on the way. Despite catching heat in the past for misogynistic and homophobic statements (Driscoll said that women should stick to traditional gender roles and compared homosexuality to "cancer"), he preaches to packed houses every Sunday, simulcasting his sermon to all five Mars Hill campuses.
While Driscoll is the face of Mars Hill, the church also has about 30 "elders" working behind the scenes. As Mars Hill has grown, the elders, along with Driscoll, have decided to reformulate the church's power structure, and Driscoll's role in the church's day-to-day operations has been reduced.
According to a letter to Mars Hill members from church leadership, Petry and Meyer opposed the elders' restructuring plan. The letter also asserts that Petry and Meyer shared documents—including the not-yet-ratified bylaws—with non-elders, including an attorney.
On October 15, the church elders voted to fire Petry from his paid staff position at the Mars Hill Ballard campus for, according to a written Q & A between members and elders (including Driscoll), "his behavior, accusations of other elders, and breaking of elder protocol and confidentiality." Meyer was also removed for "disrespecting other elders and displaying an unhealthy distrust for leadership." However, according to church documents, Meyer was "repentant" and the church elders voted to put him on probation—in an unpaid position at the church's Shoreline campus. Neither Meyer nor Petry would comment for the story and Mars Hill did not return calls.
The firings riled up Mars Hill's membership, and a lengthy discussion on the church's private online message board (provided to The Stranger by a disgruntled Mars Hill member) ensued. "I am concerned Mars Hill is currently under a cloud of secrecy," one member, identified as Cameron Black, posted. "I don't understand why the members are being kept in the dark." On the message board, Mars Hill members repeatedly asked church elders for clearer justifications for the firings, and voiced support for the two men. "Bent and Paul are two of the most trustworthy and Godly men I have ever met," wrote a board user identified as Doug Finefrock. The debate got so acrimonious that some members were banned from the discussion.
While the fallout from the bylaw revisions brought dissent and harsh words from Mars Hill members, the church leadership got its digs in as well.
In a September 30 sermon, Driscoll lashed out. "There are a few guys right now, if I wasn't going to end up on CNN, I would go Old Testament on 'em," he said sternly. "There's no, like, attorneys and blogging, just like, 'I punched you in the mouth. Now shut up.' That's clean; it's simple." In the written Q & A, members asked Driscoll whether he was referring to the two fired pastors. Driscoll wrote that he didn't remember thinking about the pastors at the time, and that he was directing his anger at several Mars Hill members who "were acting very disrespectfully, sinfully, and proudly toward... the elders."
Driscoll's comments and the firings have, according to one former Mars Hill member who asked not to be identified, caused some to rethink their membership in the church. "[This is the] straw that broke the camel's back," the former member says.
Petry will receive his salary and benefits through the end of December.