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 “fatherless” young 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.