Mars Hill Church Responds to Criticisms

Man, it’s been a good week for notpologists; in addition to Rush Limbaugh’s failed attempt at sincerity regarding his comments about Sandra Fluke and the non-committal response from all of the Republican candidates, Mars Hill has generously notpologized to the growing group of individuals that have come forward citing emotional abuse from the church and its leadership.

A formal statement was issued on Mars Hill’s official website, following a news segment from KOMO, Seattle’s local news station. Here are the most delightful bits:

“Rather than try and defend ourselves or refute misinformation, we simply wish to say that as a church, we’re saddened by this continual attempt to drag into public very private and sensitive issues that were church matters. As with any story that has two sides, the natural tendency is for people to lean toward their prejudices. If they don’t like Mars Hill, these stories will serve to cement their beliefs regardless of what we say. For those who are part of Mars Hill and love the church, there is a tendency to take the defensive.”

By “very private and sensitive issues,” I’m sure they are referring to their procedure of publicly calling for the outright ostracism of church members who choose not to endure their invasive and shaming “discipline” procedures… right? “Private” usually refers to events that take place between a very small group of people. Sending documents to a community group of 15 or more via the internet is not private.

“Here’s the bottom line: we love people. Our goal is always repentance and reconciliation in the discipline process and that the process would be loving, grace-filled, and reflect the heart of Jesus. We don’t always get it right. But, in this instance we ask that you would pray for your leaders, love your city, and wait until we all stand before Jesus to get the facts and a clear verdict.”

No, your bottom line is that you love to tell people that you love them. Undoubtedly, Mars Hill does a great deal of good in terms of mobilizing people and money in times of natural disaster and crisis — with 14 church locations and 19,000 members, they have both the ability and resources to do so. But let us be clear; shaming your own church members by publicly excoriating them and shunning them if they refuse to follow your highly specific discipline procedure is not love. It’s cruelty.

Second, if you believe that your congregation and community members should wait to be judged by Jesus instead of passing judgment… why go to such great lengths — in this lifetime — to prescribe how people should live? According to Pastor Mark Driscoll, Jesus has an opinion on anal and oral sex. He’s also given Driscoll the gift of “divine revelation,” which Driscoll uses to ascertain the specific nature of his congregation’s sexual sin and deviancy. Pornography is fine, so long as it occurs within the vivid imagination of Mark Driscoll.

The letter concludes in this way:

“Our desire is for reconciliation between us and you. This won’t mean we’ll always see eye to eye, but can and should talk face to face in a spirit of humility and grace. Please fill out this brief form so we can begin this process.”

If by “between us and you,” they meant “us and you and many members of our congregations and your close church friends”, then I believe you. But to be honest, given the track record that Mars Hill has for keeping church issues between the offending party and the church leadership, the impersonal delivery of such a call via the Internet rings hollow.

Please login to our Reconciliation Portal. A qualified Reconciliation Specialist will be with you shortly.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. One ex-Mars Hill member wrote this statement on a blog called Mars Hill Refuge (emphasis mine):

“The statement seemed to blur the lines and imply that all of the people speaking out against Mars Hill were under church discipline and are taking those matters public.  To clarify, this is the exception and not the rule, as in our case and most others that have been shared here, we were not, in fact, under church discipline.  And since, in this post as well as the last two responses PR issued, they continue to stand by their stance on church discipline, one which I do not now or will I ever agree with, I am unable to be reconciled in the way that they wish to reconcile me.

What the Mars Hill pastors fail to realize is that those of us that have told our stories about our negative experiences at Mars Hill would attribute the abuses we experienced to our Community Group Leaders, Elders & Pastors.  We trusted them to treat us with love and grace then, and that is not what happened.  Why should we trust them to now? Forgiveness is not trusting someone who has hurt you.  And forgiveness is not neglecting justice for the oppressed.

I am not comfortable submitting my personal information on their form.  And I am not comfortable sitting down and meeting with Mars Hill elders on their terms.  I did not choose to subject myself to meetings with the CG leader when I left for the same reason I do not want to do it now.  It is not clear in their statement whether they are trying to get me to repent and be reconciled to Mars Hill, or if they wish to repent and be reconciled to me.

It’s quite clear to me, from the recent attention and subsequent response from Mars Hill that it is significantly more important for the “reconciliation” to be a cleaner image to market to the masses. It doesn’t matter that individuals were actually hurt by their teaching or leadership; what matters is that those individuals approach Mars Hill in order to be reconciled to them.

Sounds like just the kind of forgiveness and grace that I’ve never been looking for.

About amanda

Amanda is a pie-baking, music-listening, lindy-hopping, yoga-doing, power-tool-wielding feminist, atheist, and wife. She divides her time equally between cooking delicious things, trying to make nice with the house cat, and ranting about religion.

  • Anonymous

    How about respecting the privacy of people and not demand that they tell you their entire sexual and dating history for no reason at all? They don’t even know what the word means. Just as they don’t know what “love” means.

    And “we ask that you would pray for your leaders”. Of course. It’s all about the leaders. It’s all about the cult of personality

  • Carla

    Let’s be clear on something: these people are *voluntary* members of this church. They are not being coerced or forced in to being or remaining members. And no, I do not consider threat of being ostracized coercion. If they do not approve of their church’s procedures, they are free to leave. Yes, that is painful. But many of us made the same choices when told our families we were atheists. So when the church says that these are private issues, so long as no one is being forced into taking part, they are correct. There are few of us who would post our parents’ names and addresses in hopes of publicly shaming them for whatever response they had to our atheism. And, unfortunate and misguided as it may be, I think the leadership actually believes they are loving these people by enforcing such harsh disciplinary procedures. 

    Don’t get me wrong: I do not approve of this church’s behavior. I wish there were a way to free all of its members from the brainwashing. But, as long as these are consenting adults of full mental capacity (please no snide comments about religion and mental capacity), what they choose to do and be part of is not our problem.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anique.vanberne Anique Van Berne

       Brainwashing can seriously affect a person’s mental capacity. It is therefore not certain that members stay completely of their own free will.
      Where brainwashing is involved, we enter a grey area. Here it is not clear-cut if we should leave people to their own choices or try to protect them from their own deluded thoughts and, more importantly, from those that would exploit them.
      Personally, I am leaning more towards the ‘protect people from delusions’ side.

      • Carla

        I only disagree with one part. I’m inclined to believe that many of the leaders are just as deluded as their followers. The abuser in a relationship rarely goes, “I’m going to be abusive.” Most often, they really believe they’re right. 

    • Anonymous

       1.) The way these megachurch cults work is that they entice people with seemingly harmless activities. Then they monopolize more and more of members’ time and eventually one’s entire life revolves around the church. All social activities are church related, one’s who circle of friends are also members of the church and the church also control’s the private life. Once they realize that this has happened, it’s too late.

      2.) No one tells them the extent of the control the church exerts when they join. They aren’t told about the entire theology. They aren’t told that they have to every command. They aren’t told that they can be forced to tell the church the most intimate details of their past

      3.) Yes, they are coerced into staying in. That’s exactly the problem. No one’s holding a gun to their head, but the abuse and manipulation is mental. As noted above, once someone’s whole life is defined by the church, leaving has enormous consequences and can be quite difficult. Shunning members who leave is also a way to make people think twice about that step

      • Carla

        It’s true that megachurchs/cults work exactly like every other abusive relationship. (But, to be fair, all religions are a form of abusive brainwashing.) And, as I said above, I’m not entirely convinced that the leaders don’t believe that they’re doing the right thing. 

        But there are a few things we know about people in abusive relationships: They’re not really able to listen to reason, so our efforts would be largely wasted. They’re enraptured with their relationships. The suffering is part of what makes the relationship work, and makes it worthwhile (not politically correct, by supported by research). Finally, people who are in abusive relationships generally cannot engage in healthy ones, or have a very difficult time doing so. Anyone we “saved” from this church would probably just find another. 

        Could we accomplish it? Maybe. It is our job? Maybe. But I know I don’t look back at my abusive relationship and wish someone had saved me, or that someone had convinced my abuser to stop being abusive. I just wish I’d listened to myself sooner. I have a feeling it would be the same with these people. They know something isn’t right. They just have to listen to themselves. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

          Just FYI – Jesus told his disciples that they should not “lord it over” people.  So no, Christianity (real Christianity) is not about control. But being human too, we always have a desire to control people, naturally.  And we fight that tendency (with more or less success depending on the person and situation) daily.  Obviously Driscoll is losing the battle and is enabling a lot of people who share his delusion… until they find a line they won’t cross with him.

    • Silver_fox-trot

       Carla, it’s called peer pressure. You’d be surprised at how much it can affect a person. There have been many studies done where the subject was asked a question like which is longer a) – or b) —-. If they are alone, they’ll naturally reply b). But if they are with many other people, even strangers, and those people all say that a) is longer, there is a very large chance that you’ll go with the common opinion.

      People are social animals, during our evolution, it was probably a better idea to go with general consensus and be wrong than going against it and being kicked out on your own.

      If only because if you make a stupid mistake as a group, you are least likely to be killed than if you were on your own.

      This can also been seen in schools of fish like sardines. An individual is least likely to be targeted if they are part of a larger group than if they say ‘screw this I’m out of here!’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

      In a sense I agree with you.  They are free to leave.  And as you suggested it happened to you as well when you admitted to being an atheist.  I am sorry for that.  Christians are not supposed to love only Christian family members.

      sigh.  We are all messed up, I am sorry to say, and we all need forgiveness.

      However when you join an organization with a heavy emphasis on social support, and you start trusting this social support group… only to find they betray you at your moment of greatest need, well… it really does hurt at your deepest core.  Most of the people who leave admit they participated willingly and do make efforts at reconciling with those they participated in hurting previously when they were invested in the system.  That to me says a lot.  They simply don’t go away and lick their wounds in bitterness.  They go away wanting to help others caught in the web they once found themselves caught in.  In the long run, that is a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    Former member Kaelee Bates said, “It was honestly scary and frightening to like be there … I had such a bad experience I felt traumatized.”

    Former member Kevin Potts added: “(It was) do what we say — don’t ask questions.”

    Driscoll’s response: “[W]e’re saddened by this continual attempt to drag into public very private and sensitive issues that were church matters”

    Translated: “What’s the matter with you … Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.”

  • Anonymous

    These types of churches are the most offensive to me.  They lure people in, brainwash, them, abuse them, then chastise them if they try to leave.  I truly do not see how any reasonably clear thinking person can get caught up in something like this.  That said, the violations of privacy are inexcusable.  There is just no way around it, religions just need to end.  Whenever any religion gets too much power, it inevitably leads to stories like this.

    • Annie

      I’m trying to figure out how people like Mark Driscoll end up the way they do.  Do they start out in this profession really wanting to help people and then something (power, greed) takes over?  Are they simply modeling how their pastors  behaved?  Or are they bullies who seek out a profession that will allow them to bully for a lifetime? 

      • Anonymous

         Good question Annie.  I think that one key ingredient is the need for power at the start.  I personally think these guys are all con men at heart.  They saw how it started with Mormonism and think it is a model they can follow.

      • Guest

        Judging by the way he has portrayed his relationship with his wife, I would speculate that he’s a power hungry narcissistic control freak who has learned to manipulate people by making them think they need his forgiveness for their flawed ways. It’s a well tested formula that fits right in with religious doctrines. I could be wrong, of course.

      • Anonymous

        I seriously think Driscoll has narcissistic personality disorder or some other kind of psychological problem. We often say some people are “crazy”, but I think he truly is to some extent

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

        When Christians wrongly think Christianity is about behavior modification rather than forgiveness in Christ, they will eventually become legalistic.  If you ask Mark whether Christianity is about behavior modification rather than forgiveness I am sure he would SAY no but his actions betray what he really believes.

        They’re always talking about going to the ‘next level’ – taking the church to the ‘next level’ — next level of what??  behavior modification, perfection, what?  How do you take a flock of sheep to the ‘next level’?  Why not be satisfied to just serve and minister to ongoing needs of the flock you have been given, and grow THEM up in Christ?  What next level?  This sounds like boot camp.  It’s a flock of sheep being forced to go through hell week.  No wonder he’s having problems.

        I feel sorry for his wife.  His teachings about what a wife should do sexually are oppressive and exploitative.  For someone who has already endured sexual abuse as a young person, she can’t possibly thrive under the control of this selfish withering objectifying abusive man.  God help her to speak out.  Maybe that is the thing that will finally break his stubborn heart.

    • Guest

      People tend to get caught up in things like this when they’re emotionally compromised. People make a lot of mistakes when they’re in a bad emotional state, and evil organizations like this profit from those mistakes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597605006 Mary Driftwood

      I don’t think it’s that hard to understand when Mars Hill specifically targets young people trying to navigate the confusing waters of adulthood (and who know little about the Bible) for its membership. MHC offers them stability and authoritative-sounding leadership in a chaotic world. People eat that shit up. By the time they realise something is wrong, it’s too late, and leaving  often means losing most or all of the friends they’ve made, as well as their community support network.

  • Annie

    Apology: a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured or wronged another.

    Bullshit:  talk nonsense to (someone), typically to be misleading or deceptive.

    Hmmm.  Perhaps this would be helpful information for the church elders?

    • Chas

      “We’re sorry about what happened… we’d like to meet five on one in a locked room with you to explain once again what you did wrong and how you can avoid this sort of trouble”

  • http://thethinkeasy.info/ Jordan

    Your article is pretty much just an echo of all of the rest of the news media. You should learn how to think for yourself. No one is perfect. People make mistakes. The incident that was cited was handled months before any press. And the staff that made the mistake were dismissed from their positions.

    http://thethinkeasy.info/2012/03/09/mars-hill-church-christianity-attacked-komo-4-news/ 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

      “the staff that made the mistake were dismissed from their positions.”

      WHAT?  Mark Driscoll was fired?  Oh, no, Rats.  you’re just repeating the spin…

  • rexkenley

    1.) “Private” usually refers to events that take place between a very small group of people. Sending documents to a community group of 15 or more via the internet is not private. 
    Even if these groups are directly involved? As in they know the couple on a personal level. Isn’t privacy more defined by relationships and not by numbers?2.) But let us be clear; shaming your own church members by publicly excoriating them and shunning them if they refuse to follow your highly specific discipline procedure is not love. It’s cruelty. Heb12:5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,   “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, 
       and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 
    6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, 
       and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
     7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.3.) Second, if you believe that your congregation and community members should wait to be judged by Jesus instead of passing judgment… why go to such great lengths — in this lifetime — to prescribe how people should live? 

    1 Cor 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 
    13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 4.) Pornography is fine, so long as it occurs within the vivid imagination of Mark Driscoll. Pro 5: 18 May your fountain be blessed,    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer—    may her breasts satisfy you always,    may you ever be intoxicated with her love. 20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?    Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?You may or may not agree with Mars Hill. But 1 thing is for sure, Mars Hill church follows the Bible without the fear of men.John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. – Jesus Christ.

    • rexkenley

      Well the indentations went wacky. I numbered each point.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

        Doesn’t matter, you didn’t say anything worth reading.

    • rexkenley

      *Fixed :)  
      1.) “Private” usually refers to events that take place between a very small group of people. Sending documents to a community group of 15 or more via the internet is not private. Even if these groups are directly involved? As in they know the couple on a personal level. Isn’t privacy more defined by relationships and not by numbers? And historically speaking, all of Paul’s letters are read out loud to the entire congregation. The ENTIRE church knew who the “incestous” man was.2.) But let us be clear; shaming your own church members by publicly excoriating them and shunning them if they refuse to follow your highly specific discipline procedure is not love. It’s cruelty. Heb12:5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,   “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.3.) Second, if you believe that your congregation and community members should wait to be judged by Jesus instead of passing judgment… why go to such great lengths — in this lifetime — to prescribe how people should live? 1 Cor 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 4.) Pornography is fine, so long as it occurs within the vivid imagination of Mark Driscoll. Pro 5: 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. 20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?You may or may not agree with Mars Hill. But 1 thing is for sure, Mars Hill church follows the Bible without the fear of men.John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. – Jesus Christ.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

      They follow Mark Driscoll and fear Mark Driscoll.

      My word you are blind.

      The passage you quoted from Scripture is not pornography, and isn’t anything like the ribald crass and vulgar stories Driscoll tells.

  • Rexkenly

    1 Cor 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be savedin the day of the Lord.-Apostle Paul

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

      What’s your point Rex?  At least some of the people who have been disciplined at MH were ‘disciplined’ because they gently disagreed with Mark on things. Not because they were sexually immoral.  Sexually immoral people who are repentant were forced to endure what amounted to a psychological hazing in order to be restored.  Really?  That’s what pastors are supposed to do?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560753834 Paula Coyle

    I’m absolutely agog at the online reconciliation request submission form.  WOW. I hadn’t seen that before.  Just… astonishing. 

    I have been reading the stories from the ‘exiles’ escaping Mars Hill, but the submission form wasn’t mentioned or shown.

    Christians all over the country are taking notice of what is going on (not just at Mars Hill, but in so many many popular versions of Christianity).  Sadly we are aware that this craziness is all too prevalent and we are grieved and angry over it.  There are voices trying to speak the truth.  We are not all like these people.  In fact that is why these people are leaving that group.  Because true believers in Jesus can’t abide that kind of legalism either. I will say without reservation that a great majority of people who consider themselves Christians are really not.  I know it sounds like an excuse.  I don’t know how else to explain it.

  • Chas

    Yes, and the ocean parts when I walk throughAnd the clouds dissolve and the sky turns blueI’m held in very great valueBy everyone I meet but youRead more: DON MCLEAN – EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY LYRICS http://www.metrolyrics.com/everybody-loves-me-baby-lyrics-don-mclean.html#ixzz1pr2Sg2AB Copied from MetroLyrics.com