That someone from Mars Hill has gone public about a discipline contract does not surprise me. It disappoints me but does not surprise me. I am not in a position to be sure that this person named Andrew is telling the whole story. I'm not sure there's any thing that can certainly be discussed beyond some rudimentary points. One is that someone finally felt that Mars Hill disciplinary procedure is problematic enough to decide to go public. This may not mean the person who did this has good motives but if we account for divine providence it may not be necessary to be certain of every detail. This does not necessarily give us an assurance the anti-Driscolls are right more than the pro-Driscolls.
On the other hand, now might be a time to share that a discipline contract, whatever its merits in a specific case, does not seem like a huge surprise to me. The reason I think it is important to finally say something in public about this controversy, whether Andrew was "truly repentant" or not is because when I left Mars Hill one of the things I shared was that I was concerned that if things didn't change in the way Mars Hill approached church discipline and pastoral counseling a disaster could be down the road. I wasn't sure what form the disaster would take if it happened but I felt that it was going to come from two things: 1) a case in which discipline was unusually stern and 2) a case in which the sternness of the discipline was part of a sequence of events in which disciplinary precedent made the stern action seem arbitrary or out of proportion to the offense. Well ... it's too early to tell for sure but it's "possible" that moment may have arrived. I sincerely hope not but as I just said it's a bit early to tell.
Now shunning errant members whose errors were real or simiply imagined began earlier than 2011 or 2012. By now the 2007 firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer are not that hard to look up. The coverage initially done by Seattle alternative paper The Stranger was actually pretty fair. I don't say this because I like reading The Stranger. I only read The Stranger for about as long as Chris DeLaurenti was writing a column about the local classical music scene. But I can truthfully say that the coverage was, particularly coming from them, fair minded and fairly accurate in my opinion. The material was also leaked to the Seattle Times (if memory serves). So the coverage of the firings goes back for years.
And it was during that time that folks at Mars Hill were urged to shun the fired pastors and only speak to them if we were going to urge them to repentence. One of these men was my neighbor and I consider him a valuable friend. I've met his kids and like his kids. I was not going to then nor would now stop associating with a brother in Christ and a friend. Yet a friend of my friend once asked me to pray for him years ago because he was being considered as a candidate for church discipline for having been seen with this man who was supposed to be shunned ... even though the person who reported this to a pastor at Mars Hill was at the same social event! I began to put together that if I wanted to spend time with my friend and not get flak from Mars Hill leaders simply not renewing was a good way to do this. After all, if I wasn't a member how could I get flak for hanging out with people I'd been told by Mars Hill leadership to shun? There was no case against me.
And by letting my contract get cancelled out by elder fiat and not renewing I was convinced of another thing. After renewing my membership contract for years and then not renewing it after it was voided by elders I came to this conclusion, if the "covenant" was ended it was not by me. A covenant you have to renew every few years isn't a covenent unless we're talking short-term marriages in some place like Sweden. This means that if the covenant was nullified it was not by me but by the elders. I.e. in the plainest possible language I was not the covenant breaker, they were, and that gave me no incentive to renew what was really a contractual relationship in which I was obliged to give money to them and had no voting rights in the church and no practical appeal should a church disciplinary issue come up. I'd read the by-laws, I'd worked out the unlikelihood of any significant changes in the doctrinal statement. And I had seen how the culture of the church had decided to ostracize a fellow believer on grounds that I had not found adequately convincing.
I am not against church discipline, in case anyone might wonder that. There is a time and a place for confession of sin and for repentence. There are times and place for confession of sin that are not just individual but corporate.
Let me put it another way, when I didn't renew I didn't renew out of concern for the lack of accountability for what appeared to be arbitrary applications of church discipline. I was asked to shun two men I respected who did not seem to have done anything close to being as bad as a serial adulteress whom I was asked to NOT shun because she said she wasn't even a Christian and since the pastors agreed with her the whole membership thing and discipline didn't apply. Trouble was we heard after about a year which church she was attending. If she was claiming to have never been a Christian to avoid disicplinary sanction a number of Mars Hill members told me they'd seen her a few times and knew people at the other church she was attending. If someone was really never a Christian what was up with continuing to attend other churches? Don't true heathens in the Emerald City have better things to do on Sunday than go to church?
And why, then, was I asked to shun a man who was my neighbor and who had befriended my family when there was no clear explanation that what he did was even close to being as bad as what the adulteress did? Surely I was not the only person to point out that this presented a huge problem of consistent disciplinary precedent. When I made this point to elders I got zip. One elder trotted out the old saw "When dad and mom are having an argument the kids don't need to know what's going on." So when dad and mom live off the tithe checks given by the children they don't have to explain why dad decides to fire mom? But I blogged about this in the past.
What ended up happening during that time was I ended up in a place where friends who I saw spending time together every week were no longer speaking to each other. They'd speak to me but not to each other and this went on for years. When any of these two groups had any overlap in a social activity there'd be awkward silence (and in several ways that still happens). I was stressed out at work and stressed out because of family conflicts that Mars Hill people had made much worse rather than better and I was seeing my Mars Hill circle of friends circle wagons in what looked like a disaster.
I was going to use a compouned word starting with "cluster" but in deference to some PG language for this post I'm refraining. All my friends in and outside Mars Hill know by now that this is how I've fielded both sides and I stand by it. The 2007 controversies were a shameful fiasco that nobody in the church or out of it can entirely live down. At a practical level my entire social life was integrated into that church so seeing all that stuff happen was so bad it was sort of like watching family members going through a divorce. I began to believe the smart money bailed out before the firings happened. If you're reading this you know who you are already.
After I'd decided to not renew my membership I kept attending for several months because most of my best friends were there and a lot of them still are. Of course with a lot of them being married or being parents I hardly got to see them anyway. I even kept giving to the campus I attended for a time. But a friend of mine preached some sermons on Jonah in later 2008 and the sermons were convicting. They were convicting because of a simple question, is there something you sense God wants you to do that you don't want to do because it feels too risky or inconvenient or scary? I began to think it through and realized that, yeah, that was actually where I was at. It's one of those strange ironies for me that I believe God used my friend's sermons to convict me that it really was finally time to move on to a new church home.
Friends of mine have told me that my peaceful, amiable transition out of Mars Hill without bad blood and with mutual respect and affection was pretty much a miracle, particularly given what I actually shared on my way out. Well, if so, God is very good and I am fortunate. I have made some trenchent criticisms of Mars Hill but I have not done so with an eye to demonize them even if they have demonized others. They are fellow believers and I want the best for them.
To put it in old school Pentecostal/spiritual warfare terms, I love the people at Mars Hill who share life with me and I pray for them regularly. I do, however, hope that what might be called Mars Hill the principality will be broken. For as long as the top brass don't want to admit that what they're gunning for is becoming, in essence, a Calvinist Baptist complementarian denomination I will be comfortable saying they need to stop hiding from themselves. If by twenty years there are more than a dozen churches and tens of thousands of members with a goal to have an intergenerational impact what do these people think they're doing? "Not" making an institution?
But though I was blessed to leave on the best possible terms and have remained friends with my Mars Hill friends and love spending time with them when I can; I have been disappointed to hear that a lot of people had much worse experiences. Sometimes I have wondered if the new blood may be bad blood and bring bad blood with it. I'm not sure, but I did begin to hear about redemption groups and about how if there was any sin in your life it was a "worship problem" and how the idea was that everything comes down to idolatry. If you worshipped yourself into a mess you were going to worship yourself out of it.
Well, the confessions of the Driscolls in Real Marriage were sobering and in some ways they have some bearing on a controversy about church discipline and accountability. This will take some time so bear with me if you're even still reading this. It turns out all this time Driscoll was extolling wifely stripteases and holy blow jobs he was unhappy with his wife, not realizing that she felt uncomfortable about sex due to a history of sexual abuse and (probably) because of her husband's way of approaching sex. Now I have read excerpts in which Mark Driscoll said that in the end the thing that cured his moodiness was frankly more frequent sex and that's what he needed. Do I need a larger context for that? Is there really a larger context for understanding the flat declaration that more orgasms for Mark Driscoll equaled a stabilized mood?
If a guy who is part of a redemption group, accountability group, or community group at Mars Hill sat down one night and said to the people in his group, "You know, I've got these struggles with moods and the only thing that makes them go away is having sex more often." how do you think guys in that group might react to this man? Might the man be told sex was his idol; that he was using sex as a drug to stabilize his moods; and that he needed to repent of his sin of making sex a god and using his wife to make himself feel better? The people I've met at Mars Hill over the years would seem to be the sort to actually say that. He would probably be told that using orgasms as a kind of mood-stabilizing drug suggests a problem, wouldn't he?
But if Mark Driscoll states plainly in Real Marriage that the only cure for his moodiness was more frequent sex this goes with no remark other than to defend him?
It gives a curious spin to this ...
Nine reasons Real Marriage is for singles, huh? The Driscolls say to not copy them. Heh, that probably goes double for singles, right? If an unmarried person struggles with depression or moodiness then Mark Driscoll's self-diagnosis that the moodiness goes away with more orgasms might not be the best practical methodology for single people who aren't married! There are a few Christians I've met where if they heard someone say they need orgasms to stabilize their mood that this sounds like the symptom of a straight up sex addict. No ifs, ands or buts.
Now what if Driscoll ends up in a situation comparable to what Mars Hill pastor Bill Clem went through, with a wife who was slowly dying of cancer? The chemo treatment was severe, so severe sex was not an option for a long, long time (as in she eventually died and sex wasn't on the table). Clem gave a sermon years ago in which he said guys who think self-control and self-denial about sex are only for single people will be in for a huge shock if they get married (and stay married). I had a chance to work with Bill a little in a ministry and, honestly, I like the guy. I appreciated his openness and his humility. If Mark Driscoll needs more frequent sex to stabilize his moods God help the Driscoll clan if Grace ends up with an illness that makes sex impossible because at that point Mark Driscoll could become impossible.
For people who never got any counseling at a church like Mars Hill you may not be aware that there are things you may be asked to sign called waivers. The things that get waived are stuff like:
1. That this is actually professional medical, psychological or legal advice
2. That this is actually confidential (it's not, they reserve the right to inform law enforcement if what you share turns out to be a matter of breaking a law)
What this means, in essence, is that if you're a regularly giving church member you're obliged to give financial or warrant a talking to but you have no voting rights as a member about things like the appointment of deacons or other matters of church polity at a local level. You have also been given a situation in which to get a counseling session with a pastor you will likely be asked to sign waivers that indemnify them against legal liability for whatever advice they may give you. They are not required to certify competence in mental health, medical knowledge, or the law and in a non-denominational setting there is not even any need for academic credentialing in theology or the study of biblical literature.
You have basically tithed for what is considered binding in terms of spiritual discipline within the church but that at a purely legal level might as well be entertainment. Should it happen that a pastor decides what you have shared should become public knowledge throughout the church, well, we've just been notified of that, haven't we? If you were asked to confess to some sin that you regularly struggle with as a part of the membership application process you may come to the conclusion, as a friend of mine did, that what this amounts to is leadership having ammunition for a database so that if at some point you dissent from leadership there's something to hold over your head. If the tables are turned and you were to ask the people in authority over you if they have any recurring sins would you get an answer?
And if after all this you go to a pastor for counsel in a church setting like what I saw at Mars Hill what you may get is someone who might be listed as a "biblical living" pastor so there's no misunderstanding about competency. As Steve Hays put it over at Triablogue years ago the tricky thing about "biblical counseling" is that it will only be as good as the exegesis brought to a situation by the nouthetic counselor. It is not always clear that those nouthetic counselors are competent exegetes. Some of them are but in the case of a church like Mars Hill what you could get is someone who was appointed to be a "biblical living" pastor whose formal education may have stopped at high school, or an undergraduate degree in business, and who pleads the Holy Spirit and maybe the approval of Mark Driscoll. I think a thinking man or woman will be forgiven by both God and men for deciding those qualifications just aren't good enough.
When I left Mars Hill one of the very sincere cautions I passed on was that I was concerned about both the competence and good will of "pastoral counseling" as it had been practiced at Mars Hill. It wasn't all terrible counsel. In fact some of the best personal counsel I've gotten in my life were from Mars Hill pastors. But I have to add this huge, huge caveat, the two pastors who gave me the best advice gave me that advice having known my family for years and having known me fairly well over the years. In other words they "led" out of love for me that was personal as well as pastoral and for the people in my life they knew I was having trouble relating to at the time. And they were not guys who were officially listed as "counseling" or "biblical living" pastors. They frankly didn't need to be. Years of that thing called actual fellowship gave them the tools and mutual love gave them a basis from which to give actually wise counsel. As an axiom goes many people who pay for therapy wouldn't have to if they had good friends.
But it seems that for a lot of people they weren't even close to this fortunate. They didn't get counsel from pastors who actually gave a crap about them. They didn't get counsel from pastors with any competency in mental health or biblical literature that was demonstrated beyond fitting the preferences of a leadership panel. Particularly in the wake of the 2007 firings the default mode a lot of campus pastors took was to assume that if anyone had any trust issues with elders of any kind that was a sin issue that sprung from pride. I have written enough about my concerns about the truncated hamartiology I saw at Mars Hill I won't bore you with the details. Search the blog for a term as arcane as hamartiology or distaff spellings and you'll find that.
Now the question Jason Blair asked over at the Boar's Head Tavern was this, "Are we seeing pride going before destruction?" In light of all the "I stand by what I said" and "I'm a Bible teacher" Driscoll has been doing the answer that question could be "yes". How bad will that fall be? It depends on how unwilling some people at Mars Hill are to concede that maybe how they've handled things at almost any critical juncturewas bad. Not just concede that how they handled things was bad but to make restitution. Make restitution would mean publicly admitting to error and having hurt people. It would mean establishing a basis for internal and external accountability.
It might mean doing something besides spinning the failure of a capital campaign as far back as 2005 into a claim about good stewardship when the situation was they hadn't adequately researched zoning requirements before purchasing what was supposed to be Ballard campus #2, that one Driscoll mentions in Reformission Rev. It's very easy to go easy on folks who admit to mistakes but if you don't admit a 1.5 million purchase was not the shrewdest move, well, it becomes tougher to show some leniency, especially if along the way you start doling out "discipline contracts".
For every Driscoll drone who talks about Mahaney or Piper mentoring Mark Driscoll please stop taking that idea seriously. Mahaney's on the other side of the country and last I heard isn't even necessarily attending his own church. People say Driscoll is "teachable" because he's got the kinds of pastors whose names sound cool when you name-drop them to show some enthusiasm for him. This is not the same as actually being mentored. A mere stamp of approval isn't enough, a mere few words about not adequately expressing Christ's love for the church only gets him to change his tone for about three sermons. When someone outside Mars Hill tries to point out where Driscoll is going off the rails we see the way things went with John MacArthur. I have made my lack of agreement with MacArthur on all sorts of things plain but I respect that he said something. But the trouble is that when serious criticism of Driscoll as a biblical scholar and exegete comes from a conservative like John MacArthur or liberals like Soott Bailey or Robert Cargill the Driscoll fan base circles the wagons and sheer charismatic authority is cited.
By now it is impossible for Driscoll's fanbase to say that critics are just liberals in favor of a hippie queer Jesus or fundamentalists who are upset that Jesus told knock knock jokes to hookers. No, what both liberals and conservatives have started articulating is that Mark Driscoll puts himself and his interpretation of certain texts above scripture while claiming to "just preach what's in the Bible". When confronted about this he just doubles down and says "I'm a Bible teacher and if you disagree with me I'd be glad to discuss this with you."
Want to schedule an appointment with Robert Cargill or John MacArthur, Mark? It seems that by MacArthur's account of things Driscoll has not been that eager to have that discussion. To go by what Driscoll told Thor Tolo years ago if any pastoral folks are uptight about his take on Song of Songs that's because they're looking at porn. I doubt MacArthur would appreciate being told that if he's objecting to Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs it must be because he's looking at porn. Team Pyro has already spent some time suggesting that if anyone's seeing porn it's Driscoll in his visions.
IF there's a crash it could be a disastrous crash but it may not be the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing could be no crash for years and years. King Saul had success at every turn for quite a few years and then the downward spiral into paranoia, madness, and cruelty began all while people still referred to him as the annointed, God's chosen leader for the time. Just because God tells you to specifically do something doesn't prove in itself you know Him. Even Judas was on the same team as Jesus, to pick a New Testament example. We cannot be certain that success proves Driscoll's legit anymore than it proves Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley or Paula White or T. D. Jakes or Rick Warren or John MacArthur is automatically legit.
While gays in Seattle have waited for Mark to be caught at a gay bar and others assume a sex scandal is in the works I would cautiously propose that the real scandal has already been slowly taking shape, the lack of competence and good will displayed by the counseling pastoral arm of the denomination. I don't say that lightly and I don't speak as someone who had no experience. I have felt for years that if there were a disaster brewing at Mars Hill it would be about exactly this topic, church discipline and how the top down approach often lacks mercy and can seem arbitrary.
That someone has finally come forward about church disciplinary procedures that seem abusing and controlling does not surprise me. Honestly, right now that I'm blogging about it I'm surprised it took this long. I would have thought something would have shown up earlier. I would have thought anyone who'd simply read some of the waivers they'd have to sign to even get counseling from Mars Hill might have started putting together that what it amounts to is a tithe-based form of entertainment without an assurance the pastor who counsels you is necessarily up to the task.
You may find yourself in a position where a counseling pastor assumes the worst about you and your associates; gives advice that fractures relationship; and then when asked to simply explain the basis for his counsel stonewalls you. You might discover that some vital piece of information that could have ameliorated a longstanding conflict was not brought to your attention because some pastors decided you just didn't need to know something that made all the difference in the world toward a reconciled relationship because it happened to come from some people who decided to leave the church. If they left the church that meant they were only after control.
Then you might have to decide if you had to take the risk of going against that counsel and finding someone else to step in and help seek some reconciliation after a pastor or two have decided that's not on the table. And if you do that, God willing, you'll find some of those folks have a change of heart and are sorry about the earlier advice and glad that reconciliation happened. If you haven't figured out that I wasn't speaking hypothetically I might as well say I was not speaking hypothetically in this paragraph and the one before it.
So, no, I'm not the least bit surprised that someone finally felt a need to go public about Mars Hill church discipline or pastoral counseling. I got some terrible as well as terrific counsel from Mars Hill pastors in my time there. In consideration of the love I have for my pastoral friends who gave the wonderful counsel in the past I did not wish to blog much of the terrible counsel. And even in one case where some counsel I got wasn't so good that got patched up very nicely! I, too, was an asshole so if someone gives me well-meant advice that doesn't work out, that's still on me and finally not them. Love covers a multitude of sins, a godly man can overlook an offense. If someone gets something grievously wrong but I know I love them and they love me I can roll with that. If there is a lack of clear competency good will sure helps.
But in other cases there were situations in which there was neither a demonstration of competency nor good will and that did make things messy for me. Naming names is not important, sharing that this news that is shocking to other people is not to me is what I've been sharing. I don't know if I should have shared this earlier but I feel like I should share this now. I don't want Mars Hill to head for a disastrous fall but if disaster is unavoidable I would rather one or two guys have to eat the whole flock of crows than for the whole people to be forced to eat crow because a man or two persists in unentreatibility.
I do really love the people at Mars Hill and still pray for them but that doesn't mean the institution can always outrun the full consequences of ill advised policies and decisions. I don't know what the future holds, I've been meditating on Ecclesiastes enough to know that. When times are good be happy and when times are bad know that God has made one as well as the other so that no one can find out what the future may be. If Mars Hill is getting flack for its disciplinary sternness I'm sorry to see this both for those harmed and for those who perpetuate the harm. I can't speculate about the future.
I can, however, in good faith and in all honesty say this, that when I finally felt I needed to leave Mars Hill back in 2008 I warned at least some of them about this very issue that's become a talking point now. I warned that if there wasn't some circumspection and introspection about the basis and practice of church discipline, going right down to one's practical theology of sin, that a disaster was on the horizon. Whether or not anyone considered my advice is now completely moot.