Former Mars Hill insiders and other Christians are shaking their heads over today's letters announcing Pastor Mark Driscoll's resignation from Mars Hill Church.
"He walked out the door using Christian language without any repentance, a total lack of remorse," said Christian activist Jim Henderson, who's been a critic of Driscoll's for years and has accused him in the past of being "arrogant," "malicious," and "damaging" to people's lives and to the reputations of Christians in general.
"At the very least, I'm happy that he's gone," Henderson added. "I hope he grows up someday and learns to tell the truth—honestly, for his children's sake, I hope he gets a grip. But he's probably about 20 years away from that at this point."
Several others noticed that Driscoll's letter of resignation, which he submitted yesterday, sounded unrepentant and self-justifying.
"[The Mars Hill crisis] was all so avoidable, but the arrogance that led to it all is clear," former Mars Hill member Zach Malm wrote in an e-mail. "He spends so much time informing the reader that he was cleared of all charges, frames his sin as in the past, and basically says he's leaving only because he's a husband and father, and this is best for his family. He brought it all on his family, and refuses to accept that."
Malm has been reconnecting with old Mars Hill friends, he wrote, and sees that some of them have been driven away from Christianity altogether—one, Malm said, described himself as feeling "allergic to scripture."
The second letter, from the "Mars Hill Board of Overseers," was posted today. It announced Driscoll's resignation and reported that a board of Mars Hill elders had spent more than 1,000 hours investigating ecclesiastical charges brought against Driscoll—the elders "concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner," but concluded that they wouldn't have asked for his resignation.
"It's just sad all around," said one ex–Mars Hill member who wanted to remain anonymous. "Sad that he wasn't held to any kind of account... That letter didn’t rebuke him at all—they’re rebuking his critics. It’s almost like they're saying, 'Wow, he resigned, we never wanted that.'"
"It's not a just result," the ex-member said. "Mark just resigns and walks away leaving those guys there to throw their weight around. He leaves with a good report card: Yes, he was a little heavy-handed, but that’s what this ungodly city needs. The easy way to get the blame off them is to pile it on Mark Driscoll and then blame people for being haters: C’mon, get over it, the man resigned."
Some, like Malm, say Driscoll has expressed interest in going to California—they speculate that going down there, leaving this wreck behind, and charming a new congregation will be his next move.
Nearly everyone I spoke to expected the church to collapse. Some, like Henderson, suspected within the year.
Former Mars Hill members say the root of all the trouble dates back to 2007, when Driscoll urged the council of elders to consolidate power and decision-making authority in his hands—two elders disagreed (Paul Petry and Bent Meyer) and were forced out in a spectacularly ugly fashion with heated exchanges and official social ostracization. ("Shunning" entire families for the sins of one parent is part of the culture of Mars Hill and some other evangelical churches.) The few who stood up for them (including Rob Smith, who was on a fast track to join the council of elders) were also dramatically chucked out of the church. You can read a fuller account of this history in this article published in The Stranger earlier this summer.
After that battle, Driscoll was left at the helm of a fast-growing church with lots of money and very little accountability—and he steered it directly into a series of stormy controversies. The church was forced to admit that it bought one of Driscoll's books onto the New York Times best-seller list.
Then it was revealed that a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign called the "Global Fund" sent very little of its money overseas. A recently leaked memo demonstrated that that was the plan all along. "For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10K/month)," the memo read, the campaign would be "supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism... This percentage should be flexible (not a 'tithe'), and not communicated to the public."
Being a Christian, Henderson worries that Mars Hill members will feel so burned by this experience that they'll walk away from Christianity altogether. "The young people particularly attach themselves to a charismatic personality," he said. "And when that goes away, there’s so much hubris involved, you don’t want to admit to yourself that you got played." So they decide the whole thing was a sham to begin with.
"It's nice to see that bullies don't always win," Malm wrote, "but everyone connected to Mars Hill loses to some extent here. Once-solid friendships broken over these issues, people afraid to walk into another church."
"I'm planning to start going to counseling soon," said a second ex–Mars Hill member who wished to remain anonymous. "So much heavy stuff for so long. It's rough."