Last Friday, Mark Driscoll addressed the Mars Hill congregation about some of the recent controversies involving him. In his letter, which can be viewed here, he addressed the scheme to elevate his book Real Marriage to #1 on the New York Times best seller list, among other issues.
Reaction on social media has ranged from skepticism to uncritical praise. Some reactions (for example this one) contain skepticism along with hope that repentance and reconciliation result from the effort. I certainly hope for a good resolution as well and wish only the best for all concerned.
Reading the apology, I have some reactions.
The pledge to stay off social media seems odd since he has a media team to do most of that for him.
Where was the mention of plagiarism? Surely, the extent of this problem should have been addressed. Driscoll noted in the letter that he planned to teach courses at Corban University and Western Seminary. I would think those institutions would investigate the matter further. According to Driscoll himself, plagiarism is a serious matter and one which could lead to discipline at his Resurgence training center. There was no mention of this in the letter.
Regarding the New York Times best seller controversy, I am curious about when Driscoll developed the conviction that the scheme was wrong. Was it before or after the World Magazine article? Spokesperson Justin Dean initially described the scheme as an “investment” and an “opportunity.” Surely, Driscoll had some input into that statement. Then the Board of Advisors and Accountability called it common but “unwise.” Finally, in this letter, Driscoll said he saw the ResultSource scheme as a way to enhance sales. Now, he says, he sees it as “manipulating a book sales reporting system.” Since the contract signed by his employee Sutton Turner makes it very clear that the scheme was designed to manipulate the book sales reporting system, I don’t understand what Driscoll means. Is he saying he didn’t read/understand the contract? Is he saying he was deceived by his staff or board, but now he sees the light? The three statements with their discrepancies arouse skepticism and raise as many questions as they answer.
I wonder when Driscoll is going to acknowledge the revisionist history he has promoted. He has purged his bio of the designation #1 best selling author but he continues to refer to himself as the “founding pastor” of Mars Hill. It is well established that he founded the church with Lief Moi and Mike Gunn but this information has been removed from the Mars Hill website. As a sign of change, I would expect to see the facts restored and former elders and staff exonerated.
Driscoll describes his team as unified but in the same letter admits that there has been significant staff turnover. The latter admission is an understatement as most of the branch pastors have left in the last couple of years. If anything, the staff situation seems to depict a different picture.
Driscoll lauds the Board of Advisors and Accountability as a blessing. Those who left MHC over the shift to the BOAA as the ruling body certainly wouldn’t agree. That difference could be chalked up to doctrinal disagreements. However, leaving those differences aside, it is hard to sell the BOAA as a vehicle of “true accountability.” According to the MHC by-laws,* Driscoll is the president of Mars Hill and his elders serve at the pleasure of the three executive elders (the executive elders can remove elders at any time; Driscoll can remove church officers at any time).
Four independent board members also serve but they can be removed from the BOAA by a simple majority vote. This only requires that the three executive elders and one other independent board member agree. There is no broader accountability by the full council of elders. They cannot even call a meeting without the BOAA doing so. The people don’t have voting privileges, and the elders can’t meet unless the BOAA convenes them. The authority is concentrated in a very small group of people who perpetuate their position. The full council of elders get one chance every year to vote down the full slate of elders but Driscoll himself cannot be removed from the BOAA unless it is determined by the independent members of the BOAA that he has disqualified himself as an elder.
I find the situation interesting as just one case of how some evangelicals organize themselves around a central figure. I am open to new information and really hope and pray for a good resolution to the concerns raised by former Mars Hill members as well as those who count themselves supporters of the church. Mars Hill Church has offered itself as a model of how to do church and so it should be expected that observers will ask questions and offer critiques.
* the by-laws can be changed at any time by the BOAA. It may be that a newer set exists since the document could be changed without notice.