Holy Hipster Mark Driscoll Continues to Fall

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Following the news that 21 ex-Mars Hill Church pastors asked lead pastor Mark Driscoll to step down, he returned from his planned vacation on August 24, 2014 and announced he will be taking at least six weeks off while the charges are being investigated. Mars Hill has retained evangelical PR strategist Mark DeMoss, son of the religious right funders behind the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation and former advisor to the Romney campaign, to assist the church during this time.

Earlier this month Driscoll suffered a major career blow when the Acts 29 Network, the all-male coalition of over 500 Reformed evangelical church planters that he co-founded, removed him and his Seattle based Mars Hill Church from the organization’s membership, and asked him to step down as a pastor.

Following this news, Lifeway Christian Stores, the second largest distributor of Christian books, announced it will no longer carry his books, and Mars Hill cancelled their annual signature Resurgence Conference scheduled for October 2014. Driscoll continues to find himself persona non grata at events such as the the Act Like Men Conference.

Driscoll’s “difficult season” escalated on August 3, 2014 when approximately 80 ex-members of Mars Hill protested Driscoll’s misogyny, ongoing plagiarism allegations, and abusive tactics, as well as the church’s overall lack of accountability and financial transparency.

Hailed as a rising young hipster pastor destined to revitalize a graying evangelical leadership, Driscoll, age 43, earned the moniker “the cussing pastor” for his profanity-laced preaching. His ongoing mission to reach “fatherlessyoung males attracted to muscular Christainity made him an international star within Reformed Christianity with his podcasts ranking among the top 10 in religion in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway.

In January 2012, he became a #1 New York Times bestselling author heavily promoted by his publisher, until Mars Hill removed this designation from his bio following revelations that he had paid ResultSource, a marketing firm that “creates”bestsellers. At present, Driscoll seems to have been dropped by his agent, and his relationship with his current publisher Tyndale remains unclear.

A cursory glance of Mars Hill’s history illuminates a church embroiled in “dissent” since the formation of Mars Hill Church* in 1995 (though Driscoll, Leif Moi and Mike Gunn co-founded the church itself the following year, in 1996).

Mars Hill’s growing controversies remained hidden, due in large part to a drastic change to the church’s bylaws in 2007 that shifted oversight from 24 male elders to a select group of executive elders, with Driscoll as the lead pastor. Those few who protested the change, or any subsequent decisions made by the executive elders, found themselves fired and shunned. Also, many employees are prevented from speaking publicly about Mars Hill due to a non-disclosure agreement they had signed as a condition of their employment.

After Wendy Alsup, the former leader of women’s ministry at Mars Hill whom Driscoll truly respected, critiqued Real Marriage in February 2012 and later ex-elder Jeff Bettger felt compelled to share his story online in December 2013, other leaders began to come forward and tell their stories publicly, regardless of the repercussions. This shift from outsider voices critiquing Driscoll to insiders sharing their stories is perhaps best exemplified in a recent piece by The Stranger‘s Brendan Kiley. Unlike previous coverage of Driscoll that focused solely on his bad boy persona, Kiley went out and collected the stories of those who felt victimized by their time at Mars Hill.

Yet despite the growing cacophony of victims seeking justice, Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors & Accountability continues to support Driscoll, recently stating that “There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.”

It doesn’t help that while Mars Hill once claimed to have an open book policy regarding its financial records, it now hides behind the IRS regulations that allow churches to keep financials private. For instance, Mars Hill lists total personnel costs of $12,047,038, though church leaders continue to refuse requests to release the salaries of individual staff members.

According to reliable sources, this breakdown would reveal massive discrepancies between the compensation of executive elders and that of staffers who must supplement their church income with food stamps. Also, a quick review of Mars Hill* indicates that the executive elders and not the church are listed as members, thus raising the question: “Who Owns Mars Hill?”

Now that a former employee has gone public with proof that funds donated to the Mars Hill Global Fund were allocated elsewhere, perhaps others will come forward to unearth documents Mars Hill refuses to release despite repeated requests.

But to focus solely on Driscoll and Mars Hill overlooks the other Christian leaders who find themselves mired in similar problems stemming from a lack of accountability structures. For example, among those whose stars also seem to have fallen include Driscoll’s colleague Steve Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte, now under scrutiny for not disclosing the connection between the church’s income and his personal finances; former president C.J. Mahaney of scandal-plagued Sovereign Grace Ministries (and one of Driscoll’s mentors for a brief period of time); and the now defunct Emergent Village, an offshoot of the Young Leaders Network (whose official vision group Driscoll was once a member of), which also has a history of cyberbullying women.

It’s tempting to ask whether there’s something in the masculine Christianity playbook that makes its proponents so scandal prone.

Corrections: C.J. Mahaney was initially identified as Mahoney, and two references to “Mars Hill LLC” have been changed to “Mars Hill.” As Mars Hill does not make its public financials known, it is not possible to ascertain with complete certainty which entities are nonprofit/for-profit corporations or limited liability corporations (LLC). RD regrets the errors. 

bgthedoor@aol.com'

Becky Garrison contributes to a range of outlets including The Washington Post's On Faith section, The Guardian, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, Killing the Buddha, Believe Out Loud, and American Atheist. Her seven books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (2013), and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

  • Frank6548

    Thankfully with or without Driscoll the truth will continue to be taught.

  • DKeane123

    Define truth.

  • joeyj1220

    Don’t get Franky started

  • DKeane123

    But it is fun sometimes :)

  • Leigh Anne P

    The “truth” is that the Divine is too expansive to be limited by the beliefs, rituals, clergy, or institutions of any one religion. While all may have some degree of “truth” the Truth (capital T) will continue to be larger than any box any one religion tries to place it in.

  • JamesMMartin

    Where is your Proof with a capital P? There is no proof God exists, while there is abundant evidence he does not and never has existed. “Truth” is based on fact. You have no facts. Not one historical record other than your bible. Jesus is a myth founded, apparently, on some 2,000-year-old account of a rabbi named Joshua who may or may not have lived at the time we only assume he lived. You are deluded, Leigh Anne P.

  • cranefly

    I don’t think even sensible atheists tend to disagree with the opinion that “the Truth is bigger than anyone fully understands.” But the word “Divine” really gets under your skin? Bear in mind that not all theists are biblical Christians.

  • BeeSmart

    Why don’t you take your OPINIONS and go argue with a trained Theologian? Study the written works of inspired writers for the last 1500 years. The Bible and its origins might take a lifetime to fully comprehend as a historical document and a spiritual guide as well as repository for human behaviors,interactions and our the core drives, both good and evil. Posting some simple minded “There is NO God” statement of opinion as if it were the truth marks you as a very opinionated, emotional dolt.

  • phatkhat

    Driscoll wouldn’t recognize the real truth if it bit him on the a**.

  • phatkhat

    People who actually study the bible (and other religious writings) with an open mind very often become atheists. Or at the least, agnostics. The bible is a book of folk tales, and it tells of peoples who had tribal gods, including the Hebrews. People tend to invent the gods they and their culture need for social control.

  • BeeSmart

    Okay. Some of these “folk tales” seem to be a recitation of actual historic events and the resulting effects on the people living at the time.

    Was WW II a folk tale. I am sure many exaggerated stories have come out of the war but the event happened with all its’ historic ramifications.

    To dismiss the Bible as a compilation of of fantasy tales dismisses the strict restrictions put on scribes who transcribed the stories. Science has confirmed many of the events written about. The extrapolation of the events into “divine’ revelations might give many pause but this written tome has many uses other then religious ones.

    Seems any carfully written record of events going back over 2000 years and the attendant historical happenings should be poured over by scholars not dismissed as some uninformed folk book because it is viewed by many as a divinely inspired work.

  • Andre M

    The difference between history & myth in the ancient world was not distinct the way we like to think of it today. So, you’re right that they aren’t JUST folk tales–but that doesn’t mean that all supernatural things that happen in the stories really did happen. I’m sure you won’t argue that the Greek gods were actual participants in the historical accounts the Greeks were writing, in spite of their appearances in those histories.

  • phatkhat

    It’s “pored” not “poured”, unless they are actually washing the pages.

    Nevertheless, whatever historical tidbits there are, they have been embellished by the writers and later by translators to fit an agenda. Many of the tales have been thoroughly debunked, by geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, etc.

    Mythology is important, yes. And that is what the bible is.

  • FranktheMc

    Life won’t be worth living if the head of the First Church of Christ Meal Ticket goes down.

  • Leigh Anne P

    I do not consider the “Divine” to be limited to any one religion. And Jesus being a merely a human rabbi bothers me not at all. The Bible being a socio-religious book by many male authors with no real inspiration other than their own..also bothers me not a bit…why should it?

    For me spirituality is those connections of whatever type and scope that affect and define our deepest values and meanings for life. For me..those things, like a child in a classroom that jumps with excitement at an idea he finally “Got” is one of those “divine” connections that guides me.

    What guides you James?

  • JamesMMartin

    John Lennon’s “Imagine,” together with the writings of everyone from Liebnitz to Dawkins. I’ve got a Nietzsche trigger finger.

  • BeeSmart

    Thanks for the word distinction. Never wrote that word only spoke it. After separating the wheat from the chaff there is still much historical material to be considered. The “moral” teachings and observations on human nature both good and evil can be construed as universal manifestations observed in most societies. The Ten Commandments as well as the Sermon on the Mount convey ideas of real value for those living within an ordered civil society.

    Since The Bible is widely read and the New Testament adhered to by many Christians it seems to have been a decent method of transmitting a coherent value system from generation to generation. The current idea of a constantly changing value system based on expedience and social fads can be said to contribute a sense of moral chaos and spiritual dissonance that might cause a lack of a balanced feeling in many individuals.

    Its’ devine nature aside historical and anthropological references to tribal life have in fact been of value in studying how early civilizations operated.

    The dismissal of the Bible because it is a supposedly the revealed word of God or because an individual is an atheist seems wrong headed. Might be sort of like dismissing some universal truth because the author was writing a novel.

  • Jim Reed

    You have to learn to live without the false promises. What the church has been providing is illusion payable after you die, so there never actually was anything worth anything in the first place. Once you accept it, you find out it is really better, not worse, because you no longer have to live with what deep down you always knew was not true.