Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Context for A Call for Reconciliation, part 3

Part 3: Mars Hill's anonymous advocate

Mars Hill leadership has indicated over the months they do not want to discuss things publicly so as to keep things private and avoid potential legal trouble. Members and advocates do not seem to have handled this in the same way. For instance, observe this rather lengthy comment discussion between Santita Tafarella, Anonymous (a woman who is at Mars Hill) and Anonymous2 a self-described atheist friend of Anonymous who steps into defend a few of her defenses of MH regarding her general approach to the Andrew situation. [more after the jump]

 My question here is not whether or not Andrew is or isn't truthful in what he conveyed to Matthew Paul Turner, my question is how Mars Hill expects things to be kept "private" at this point when it isn't clear people at the regular member level are keeping things all that private or avoiding public discussion. Let’s consider what some advocates for Mars Hill have been doing over the last few months, and even over the last few years. Let’s take Anonymous, commenting at Santita Farella:

 Hopefully Mark’s response is satisfactory. Security volunteers (especially those in leadership) are held to a much higher standard, and rightfully so. Some of our members are former prostitutes, and need protection from people from their former lives by people they can trust to love and view them as treasured sisters, not as trashy objects. Security teams protect them, as well as children in our children’s ministry. As members of the body, we are called to love Andrew, but also to offer a safe haven for those most vulnerable to young men struggling with secret sexual addictions. I too have signed the contract and gone through the discipline process, for secret extramarital consensual sexual sin with an adult – my leadership pastor was very gracious and patient throughout the process, and I was restored with unconditional love. I was also encouraged to date again after a period of reflection and personal growth, as would Andrew. However harsh it may seem, a purpose of the membership contract is to weed out pedophiles and sex addicts from serving in that capacity, and the proposed agreement to abstain from dating women FOR A SEASON, NOT FOREVER, was to allow him to get the help he needs, and was completely reasonable, given the circumstances.

We have security guards Sunday mornings to protect certain women from certain horrible people in their past, as well as to prevent an incident like we had about six or seven years ago, where an outsider tried to knife one of our pastors mid-sermon. These security guards also keep our kids safe from outsiders who might come in to molest them. The membership covenants might sound harsh, but they’re there for good reason — to protect members of the body of believers who would be most harmed by pedophiles and sex addicts. If you volunteer for these teams as Andrew did, you are held to a higher standard than the average member. We want our women who have been sexually abused to trust that those who are protecting them from people in their past are viewing them as sisters to protect, not as sex objects.

I come from a nonChristian family, and none of them think I’m in a cult. They’ve seen my life change for the better and encourage my membership at MHC. Yes, ministering to drug addicts and prostitutes will result in greater security needs, but we preach that Jesus is for the crack addict and prostitute as much as he is for the wholesome pastor’s kid. Having stricter background checks and sexual accountability for those who voluntarily work with children and protect women who have been severely traumatized by sexual assault and abuse is not cultish – it’s smart management strategy – look at what happened with the Catholic Church when some priests turned out to be pedophiles! We love our kids too much to not impose restrictions. Andrew knew better: he was reminded exactly who he was guarding and why it was important that the women and children he guarded trust him. The contract and letter wouldn’t have made it beyond his small group had he not run to the bloggers to have it published: ironically he is responsible for the majority of the public humiliation he suffered. Yet Mars Hill continues not to name him, to protect his identity and keep damage to a minimum. At Mars Hill we teach there are two different kinds of lies: outright lies and half truths intended to be deception. I have been through the same disciplinary process (as a WOMAN) for similar circumstances. There was a very practical reason he may have been asked to divulge the names of women he was involved in sexually: to be tested for stds (which don’t require penetration to spread), and to warn these other women if necessary. What he was being asked to do was not unreasonable, especially given the serving position he was in and that he was caught in many deceptions. Notice how he only confessed when he realized his fiance would confess if he didn’t, and he rushed to give his side of the story first, when she may have been too devastated to react (oh, sorry honey, I have a girlfriend on the side and um, do you have sores?). There is a huge difference between “I’m sorry” and “I’m sorry I got caught.” The former shows true repentance, a desire to stay away from what is tempting me to sin, the latter asks how close to sin can I get and still get away with it. I too have been through the discipline process for extramarital sex, etc, but it was nothing like Andrew describes. But then again, I didn’t volunteer directly with kids or to protect severe sexual abuse victims.

Of particular note is this: Andrew knew better: he was reminded exactly who he was guarding and why it was important that the women and children he guarded trust him. The contract and letter wouldn’t have made it beyond his small group had he not run to the bloggers to have it published: ironically he is responsible for the majority of the public humiliation he suffered.

But in Andrew's account via Matthew Paul Turner, of course, we've seen that Andrew himself only found out about the letter from a friend who was still in Mars Hill, had access to The City, and told Andrew about it. So, no, it doesn't seem clear that Andrew's letter wouldn't have made it beyond his small group only if he had not gone to a blogger about it. The PR director of Mars Hill confirmed in the February 10, 2012 Slate article that the letter was posted to The City due to unclear instructions. Anonymous "may" not have read any of the formal statements by PR director of Mars Hill Justin Dean to Slate on the one hand, or bothered to read Matthew Paul Turner's actual summary of what Andrew related on the other. But Anonymous is okay with going on at some length to defend the decision in Andrew's case by explaining the expectation of security volunteers who have been put in place because, years ago, someone rushed one of the pastors with a knife.

It wasn't just "one of the pastors", it was Driscoll. I don’t doubt she's sincerely trying to be as accurate as possible given the information she has. Since I was at MH when the knife-rush incident happened I can say that it did happen and I used to hang out with people who were security volunteers. The guy didn't get very far and was intercepted fairly quickly because there already WERE volunteers handling security at that point. So Anonymous herself, in attempting to defend the actions and policies of Mars Hill seems to be relying on incomplete and at times inaccurate information. To her credit she just used the general term “knife” rather than “machete”. Knife is more accurate by being more general. The guys I knew who said they saw the knife said it was more bowie knife proportions and the important point was really that the guy with the knife was intercepted before he got anywhere near Driscoll.

But all of this is to note that Anonymous has made a point of justifying Mars Hill by explaining that Andrew got the treatment he got because of the volunteer capacity in which he served, a treatment that was justified but that did not necessarily look the same as how she was disciplined in her own case of sexual sin because she hasn't served in a capacity dealing with kids or protect severe sexual abuse victims. Now if security volunteers are expected to keep people attending the church safe (never mind whether or not the people who have to be safe are the implied legion of sex abuse victims in Anonymous’ defense) it is fair to hold people with security clearance in an organization to higher standards. Mars Hill obviously does not wish to publicly lean on that principle even though it would, arguably, be the best shot they have it clarifying why they think they’re handling of Andrew was not unjust. It might also explain, since Anonymous volunteered her anonymous tale of being under church discipline for a consensual sexual extramarital affair with an adult, why the disciplinary process might go differently for people who aren’t volunteering in security of childcare ministries. In other words, she first offers that she went through the same disciplinary process and then retroactively notes that her experience may have been different because she may not have gone through the same disciplinary process after all.

Anonymous, in the comments, at the Santita Farella blog makes a point of stating there are outright lies and half-truths that are intended to be deception. Equating a partial truth or confession with a lie would take more time than I wish to devote to the subject. If a half truth constitutes a life then what should we make of years of Driscoll sermons in which he was preaching about the wonders of all the things you can do in marriage that he was unhappy weren’t happening in his own marriage. Did those sermons constitute half truths? Was it deceptive of Driscoll to preach and teach in such a way that it seemed he knew a lot about sex and had sex with his wife regularly that was fun and mutually fulfilling when this wasn’t the case? Well, if so, then who’s to say Driscoll was ultimately less deceptive than Andrew has been considered to be within the church and by advocates for Mars Hill in the public debate that has surrounded his case?

"As members of the body, we are called to love Andrew, but also to offer a safe haven for those most vulnerable to young men struggling with secret sexual addictions."

This might raise the question of how many young men are struggling with secret sexual addictions at Mars Hill that security teams are needed to protect women and children from pedophiles and predators. How many are there within Mars Hill and how could anyone tell? There could be a lot and one might wonder how much Driscoll's own way of preaching about sex from the pulpit has ameliorated or exacerbated such struggles. Anonymous may not realize this is a line of defense that makes the church look worse rather than better.
I understand Washington state has guidelines for child safety in child care and non-profits can struggle to find enough people whose histories fit those qualifications but I can’t speak to what the Mars Hill credentialing process may be and whether or not it isn’t a few steps beyond even what the state might require. If these requirements are related to actual state requirements Mars Hill shouldn’t have any problem publicly discussing those since they’d be legally obliged to follow state laws anyway, right?

No comments: