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.
I'm going to open up with the pedantic observation that the sentence should have said "Rather than try to defend ourselves ... ." It has paradoxically been the attempts of Mars Hill to defend itself that have introduced increased potential for trouble. It happens that when Mars Hill has tried to defend itself it's made them look worse rather than better so it's understandable they hit a point where they decided to stop publicly attempting to defend their reputation. They've fallen even more silent since Joyful Exiles went up.They continually repeat that they don't plan to refute misinformation which simply means if they repeat it often enough people will assume there has been misinformation. The proof of misinformation that has been available does not suggest that misinformation came from Andrew half as much as it came from Mars Hill. An actually careful reader will also note that on Matthew Paul Turner's side there has not been misinformation at all unless a reader is exceptionally lazy.
But what is arguably the most specious claim made by Mars Hill since Andrew's story came to public attention is that there has been a continual attempt to drag into public very private and sensitive issues that were church matters. The problem is that the matters, though sensitive, have never actually been private.
Why do I say that?
I'm going to answer this question at length but indirectly, at least at first. The point to which we must continually return, the big E on the eye chart, is that we only know about this case because of the failure of Mars hill. We only know about the Andrew case the way we do because a letter was posted to The City. Why was it posted to The City? According to Mars Hill PR spokesman Justin Dean it was due to "unclear communication". What was unclear? Mars Hill seems to have made a big deal about The City over the years. Yet it is precisely because something was posted to The City that any of this made the news. Mars Hill cares enough about social media that it created its own social networking platform. The significance of this is a thing I hope to explore indirectly but at some length.
The City was first designed by former Mars Hill pastor Zack Hubert starting around 2007. The City was eventually sold to Zondervan in late 2008 or so. If memory serves Mark Driscoll may have mentioned that the sale of The City was what prevented Mars Hill for failing to reach budget. So it may be helpful to appreciate that in a small-scale way The City could be seen as the financial salvation of Mars Hill for a short time.
For the sake of review, one of the points most quickly and perhaps deliberately misunderstood about The City is how wide its access and reach are. If something gets posted to The City it's entirely possible for fifteen to twenty people to see an item. I don't know this was the case in Andrew but when I was still attending and I was invited to join The City I got a pretty straightforward summary of its goals and uses.
Now as I mentioned before The City is an invitation only platform. Even if you were on The City you'd have to be invited to join a group or select a campus. Most people on The City won't know about Andrew from anything posted there. It is not, however, true that Andrew's case would have gone unknown if Andrew hadn't gone to Matthew Paul Turner. Andrew's case would have gone unknown if Mars Hill had not had "unclear communication" that led to the posting of the escalation letter to The City. While Mars Hill has stated the letter was intended to be read or heard by a small group of people Dean's apology that the letter was posted to The City at all is strange. It's strange because if the letter had been posted to the correct privacy settings and distributed to the correct groups only the people who needed to know would have been able to read the letter.
So why was Justin Dean apologizing for a letter being posted to The City about Andrew that should have only been posted to the need-to-know crowd? In any event, this situation is as much the fault of Mars Hill imcompetence as Andrew's immorality and the immorality of his fiancee (let's not forget that point, either). Fornicators, generally, fornicate consensually. Without that synergy of failure across the board there would have been no headline. As a certain megachurch pastor has put it, there are no white hats except Jesus and everyone else is wearing a black hat. Yet when a real world case shows up Mars Hill drops all the abstract talk about what sinners we are and how no one is righteous. Instead there's a lot of "I'm not perfect" or "We don't always do it right" followed by pious protestations of fundamental goodness.
This is implicit in the phrase "rather than try and defend ourselves". It's too little too late, though. Because a comment made by an anonymous friend of Patrick Kyle on staff at Mars Hill mentioned that Andrew's case was connected to "a confluence of situations". A "confluence of situations"? So Andrew was a common factor in multiple situations that Mars Hill has appropriately dealt with? If Patrick Kyle at New Reformation Press was told that Andrew's storywas incomplete at best and most likely deliberately misleading this begs the question of whether we should take Andrew's story as credible on its face. It also raises the question of what that anonymous Mars Hill staff member meant by "a confluence of situations", doesn't it?
And at the end of the day Mars Hill has not even established that there has been deliberate misinformation. If Andrew didn't share the whole story, so what? The misunderstanding about how many people had access to the letter is explicable by Justin Dean's reference to "unclear communication". Dean has admitted on behalf of Mars Hill, in essence, that this was their fault Andrew heard about the letter from a Mars Hill member, after all. If Andrew's story is considered misleading because it is incomplete let's take stock of reality here. Mark Driscoll didn't share the whole story about his marriage in his sermons circa 1997-2008. Even Real Marriage can be considered to be a selective presentation. If deceit through not telling "the whole story" is as bad as deliberate deceit then Mark Driscoll and Andrew have proven equally "deceptive". They even have surprisingly similar kinds of tales, of young men engaged to pastor's daughter's and having a history of fornicating with them. Again, despite the fact that months have gone by, Mars Hill has not contested any of the most basic claims in Andrew's story. We'll get to those later.
To our critics, we’d humbly ask you to imagine how complicated situations such as this are for us. When someone says they have a issue with us, they get to tell the media their side of the story. If we tell the other side of the story, we risk breaching laws and exposing people—both the people in the discipline process and the people they’ve sinned against—to public backlash. The choice for us as a church is often to either take the hits in the press or put one of our members forward (often a young woman sexually sinned against) to let our members take the hits and endure the criticism. Obviously, we’d rather take the hits as a church than expose our members to the media and potentially break the law by divulging private information shared in a counseling session by a victim.
Nobody thinks the situations are simple. When someone has an issue and contacts the media it's no given the media will actually talk with them. Conversely, Driscoll gets to tell his side of the story any time he wants at Pastor Mark TV. In the case of the Justin Brierley interview earlier this year Driscoll can even choose to tell his side of the story in advance of, as he did in his pre-emptive attack on Justin Brierley's theology and character. Driscoll had the luxury of attacking Brierley's character and theology during the interview itself, again before the interview came out, and again by way of the interview showing Driscoll's assessment of Brierley on publication. Yet Mark Driscoll has described Grace as being his "functional pastor". Ultimately Mark Driscoll has been as much spiritually beholden to his woman as a pastoral authority over him, and by his own account, as he has claimed Justin Brierley is. Mark Driscoll got a speech communication degree from Washington State University so he's able to spell big words like "hypocrite".
If Mars Hill was going to choose to take the hits and endure the criticism why even call for a reconciliation? Why not rather be wronged? Rejoice when you a slandered because you follow Jesus, right? Divulging private information shared in a counseling session by a victim? How is this relevant? Mars Hill has had no problem hiding behind victims while being upset that people don't investigate facts that Mars Hill apparently doesn't even want investigated. A consensual fornicator is not necessarily a victim. If a fornicator gets a sexually transmitted disease that's unfortunate but if it were someone outside Mars Hill would the word "victim" be used about a fornicating woman who got an STD? Has Driscoll shown any propensity to think in those terms or speak in them over the last fifteen years?
What we've seen this year is any controversy that Driscoll can be at the center of is a controversy he'll jump into with both feet. If the controversy involves the religious institution he has founded he doesn't utter a word and lets his PR team issue boilerplate like the following:
In the two cases that have recently received media attention, we want to remind readers that there are always two sides to every story. As Proverbs 18:17 tells us, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Unfortunately, in most of the articles and blog posts published in recent weeks, with the exception of the recent Slate article, we were not contacted by the authors to verify the facts or seek explanation regarding those cases prior publishing their articles. Out of sensitivity for all involved, and a biblical mandate to handle such matters within the church, we do not wish to comment publicly on those specific cases and drag into public what should be private. [emphasis added]
There could be fourteen sides to a story. These days Proverbs 18:17 is the popular prooftext for people who want you to believe just their side of a controversy. The proverb is a caution on the order of the TV character Dr. Gregory House, "Everybody lies." Or if we cast further back into pop culture Fox Mulder's variation was "Trust no one." A lot of people have employed Proverbs 18:17 as a way to rubber stamp their own testimony rather than warn us that if there's really no one who's righteous, not even one, then everyone has an incentive to fabricate a tale that makes them look good.
Mars Hill has lamented that they were not contacted by authors to verify the facts or seek explanation regarding the cases prior to publishing articles. But if Mars Hill was so concerned that nobody contacted them to verify the facts why did Mars Hill suspend its entire campus blog network and associated archives in early March 2012? Why did Mars Hill scrub away all references to spouses or offspring in pastor profiles? The question at hand has not been why bloggers and journalists didn't contact Mars Hill to verify facts about Andrew's case. The question is why Mars Hill said they regretted the press not verifying facts, yet undertook a massive information purge of the very facts the press, in the past, could have looked up without having to talk to anyone directly?
Of course the answer to that question is simple.
Go back and read Andrew's story as related by Matthew Paul Turner. You know where it is already if you're even reading this. Four months on and Andrew's claims are astonishing in their specificity . To pick just three statements from Andrew's story at Matthew Paul Turner's blog here's basic stuff we're told about Andrew:
1) Andrew was a member and volunteer at Ballard
2) Andrew fell in love with and was engaged to a pastor's daughter
3) the pastor's daughter is also a stepdaughter
Mars Hill has a very good point in it's 2/13/2012 response I want to highlight. In the months of blogging and coverage not a single person bothered to investigate whether even these three rudimentary claims were true or not. That's true! I totally agree. Mars Hill critics presumed Andrew's honesty. Mars Hill defenders presumed Andrew's guilt but scrupulously avoided, it seems, making any points about those three claims. One anonymous woman at an agnostic's blog went so far as to state that Andrew wouldn't have been given an unfair demand being told he needed to be tested for a sexually transmitted disease. She also implied that Andrew had gotten his fiancee a venereal disease.
Yet all the while the three simplest claims in Andrew's story as related by Matthew Paul Turner remain startling in their specificity even as no effort at all seemed to be taken by anyone other than, well, Matthew Paul Turner, it seems, to seriously verify the details. We're told at which campus he was a member and security volunteer.
Most significantly, we're told in Turner's account Andrew was engaged to a pastor's daughter and that this daughter is also a stepdaughter. Does this not automatically raise the question, in a conservative evangelical megachurch like Mars Hill, with its demanding standard of marriage and masculinity, of how a pastor has a stepdaughter? Someone got divorced and remarried at some point, or someone had a wife who died and got remarried after the passing of the wife.
Even in a church as large as Mars Hill Andrew's three claims above allow for laser-guided precision in identifying the parties involved if Mars Hill had left its campus blog system up and left the pastor profiles up in their older form. No wonder Mars Hill engaged in what is arguably the biggest information purging campaign in its fifteen year history! Suppressing all references to co-founding pastor Lief Moi in 2008 was a drop in the bucket compared to what happened in the last eight months. So when Mars Hill lamented that nobody contacted them to verify the facts related to Andrew's case that lament was specious precisely because during this period of time they were, if anything, probably suppressing access to facts that were easy to look up before the controversy made the news. What does an information purge that has gone unmentioned in the press or blogs suggest? It suggests this-- bloggers and journalists verifying the facts connected to Andrew's case was the last thing Mars Hill wanted to happen.
Unfortunately for Mars Hill, we can't even say Mars Hill succeeded. Did the church suspend its campus blog network and associated archives? Pastors still blog. Take down the blog entries? Pastors still twitter. Take that down? Mars Hill associated pastors still love talking about their stories of redemption to the Christian and even secular press. Take down that MySpace page? Join Facebook. Get rid of the php forums to quell leaks? Create The City which was the next platform through which a Mars Hill disciplinary case got leaked to a blogger and to the media.
See a pattern there? Mars Hill urged members to jump on the MySpace bandwagon about seven years ago. Then there was Facebook. Then there was inventing The City so Mars Hill would have its own deal. Why use all those other social media devices if Mars Hill could invent its own? The City sold to Zondervan for a good chunk of money. It also had the advantage, it was thought, that if the process was invitation only for members then leaks like the 2007 leak about the firings wouldn't happen. Of course this was an oversight because the old Midrash was a members-only invitation only platform, too.
Meanwhile, pastors could reliably be counted on to blog tons of stuff at the campus websites. Pastors could reliably be counted on to have Twitter accounts if they didn't already have personal blogs. Mars Hill seized any and every opportunity to show how lives are transformed by Jesus and, not so coincidentally, by being at or near Mars Hill in any media and medium they could find. Just about any and every seriously up and coming pastor gets a name drop by Mark Driscoll in a sermon or on The Resurgence or at Pastor Mark TV. Sometimes people associated with Mars Hill even get coverage in local newspapers.
The author here digresses into a recognizable idiom of Christianese jargon. The author knows a man in Christ who decided to follow the admonition of Mars Hill's "A Response Regarding Church Discipline" from February 2012. The man decided to actually investigate whether the claims in Andrew's stories were credible. The question was not whether or not Andrew was being less than fully honest by omitting crucial information about his story. No, the question was simply, "Are the claims made by Andrew so far even plausible or verifiable?"
This means the story as conveyed by Matthew Paul Turner needs an exegesis before we jump to hermeneutics. Before we interpret the meaning of the text we need to look at what the text says, what the context of the story is as well as the content, and what facts behind the text we can discover that could inform our reading of it. In order to do this we must ask questions like those in the next paragraph.
Were there any pastors at Mars Hill Ballard in 2011 who were remarried? If so, how many? Under what circumstances? How many pastors at Mars Hill have stepdaughters? How many pastors across the church have stepdaughters? Were these pastors there for a long or short period of time? Where outside or inside Mars Hill had they come from earlier? After all, we couldn't be sure that the stepfather was at the same church Andrew and the fiancee were. Would or does Mars Hill have any history of ordaining men who are divorced? Does Acts 29 have any history of ordaining divorced men? Does not Mars Hill have a history of grandfathering in A29 churches into Mars Hill? Does Mars Hill have any elders who are widowers? Given Mars Hill's stern requirements for elder candidates how was a pastor's daughter also a stepdaughter? Wouldn't that mean that, potentially, that a divorced guy was voted in as an elder at Mars Hill? Did that happen? If so, when? Who? Why?
So the man began to investigate newspaper articles, Driscoll sermons, statements about the church's history made at the main Mars Hill website, and scanning things like that. The man came to the conclusion that Andrew's basic story is plausible in general and credible in its particulars. Andrew's claims in Matthew Paul Turner's account are so specific that from just three claims it is possible to identify four people connected to the case by name on the basis of strictly on record sources still available online for anyone to look up and read. Unfortunately, Mars Hill, that massive information purge to get rid of pastor family information from your campus blog network and pastor listings was a complete waste of time.
How did the man who looked into these things figure it out? I don't want to encourage laziness of the sort Mars Hill rightly said was characteristic of those journalists and bloggers this year. This isn't something you can find on a Wikipedia entry, not even in those often inaccurately footnoted references. You have to actually go do your own research into primary sources, something many bloggers and journalists don't bother to do. Ironically everything is still up and accessible right now. It's in sermons, in books, in historical summaries of Mars Hill, in references to campus histories that didn't get lost in this year's information purge. It's in newspaper excerpts unaffiliated with a church. It's floating around in blogger entries and twitter feeds. Even dead links can tell a story.
Mars Hill likes to talk about idols and how idols ruin our lives. Often that "conversation" is about your idols and not their idols. The Martian discourse often focuses on individual rather than collective idolatry. Mars Hill finds it easier to tell you about the idols you probably have than to consider any possibility that Mars Hill has idols. Like the rest of us, of course, Mars Hill has a few idols. I have no qualms saying one of the idols is Mark Driscoll, whose competence as a biblical scholar and pastor is substantially oversold. But for the Mars Hill community one of the most pernicious idols is social media. Or let me put this in more secular terms, they have a potentially narcissistic obsession with social media and media resources as a way to forward their brand and their message.
An idol? Isn't that pretty extreme? Isn't that absurdly provocative? Mark Driscoll likes to be absurdly provocative and his defenders finesse every statement. Mars Hill has to be willing to take what they dish out at some point. Having spent so many years there I don't think it's unfair to show them what a taste of their own medicine tastes like. If every god or cause requires a sacrifice ever god or cause has a promise. Let's say social media is an idol. What does it promise? Connection, community, communication, name recognition. The promise of social media and associated tools aren't hard to spot.
Every god and every cause demands a sacrifice and the great sacrifice made to the idol of social media and media saturation is what? What you publish is there for everyone to see. In other words, what you sacrifice when you immerse yourself in the internet and social media long enough is something called privacy. You can choose to give up ten percent of your privacy or thirty percent or you can create a persona that you offer to the internet and social media. That, too, is a sacrifice.
Mars Hill has begun to seem more and more like a celebrity who after years of courting the paparazzi is starting to get sick of less than flattering photos coming up in the weekly tabloids. Not everyone in the Hollywood system actually dislikes the papparazi. Years ago Natalie Portman was asked why she didn't have any troubles with them. She said the reason was pretty simple, she's made a clear set of guidelines and actually follows them. Photographers can take any photos they want of her out and about. The second they set foot on her property, however, they're dog meat. Most celebrities she'd observed who complained most bitterly about the papparazi were those who broke their own rules, gave an opening to journalists and photographers, and ever after resented what was socially their fault.
Mars Hill is trying to preserve a "privacy" that it has given away over the course of a decade.
If you've read this far then you will not be surprised by this observation.
Someone could have done a massive info-dumping project showing all the still publicly accessible, on record information necessary to identify the key parties involved in the Andrew case and have done this months ago. This could have demonstrated that Andrew's story is both accurate in several claims but substantially inaccurate in others. Proverbs 18:17 has been used to claim that there's two sides to every story but neither side has wanted to cite the proverb to the effect that both sides could have an incentive to lie.
It is just as obvious, however, that someone hasn't dumped everything connecting all the dots together on the internet. Nobody has, that I know of, gone to the press and by this point why would anyone in the press care? Mars Hill as a culture completely failed to keep private things private for years before Andrew's case came up. Even so, there are plenty of people who know the names of the parties involved and don't want to say how much they know, even though none of it has been private. Since Mars Hill in general and Mark Driscoll in particular have been fond of talking about idols I'll repeat this point in jargon that may help them understand what I think has been going on--Mars Hill has sacrificed privacy to the idol of social media and brand promotion but not everyone bows to those idols, or at least does not bow to them as often or as loyally. That means that even when Mars Hill gives away everything many Christians are loathe to exploit that.
Why does any of this matter? Because when Mark Driscoll parades the dirty laundry of his wife's frigidity and sexual abuse history in a best-selling book his church can't meaningfully talk about respecting privacy and the consideration of sexually used women. They just can't. Where the leader leads by example the followers follow. That's why anonymous Mars Hill defenders have implied Andrew gave his now former fiancee a venereal disease. For them parading dirty laundry defending the institution is more important even than respecting the privacy of victims or former members. This is a problem, Mars Hill.
When Mark Driscoll blogs about the kerfuffle at Liberty University and acts as though some bloggers are making a fuss over nothing he just won't see that he's a blogger himself blogging about the stupidity of bloggers, thinking he's clever. He who hates idols, does he rob temples? The man who figured out who was who in the Andrew case was able to do so at several crucial points thanks to Mark Driscoll's own sermons. Mars Hill, how can you keep things private if your spiritual leader keeps giving it away?
Mark Driscoll name-drops pastors often enough that it becomes a simple matter of looking up names and articles to identify who was who. The irony of Mars Hill wanting privacy now is they can't see they sacrificed privacy to social media. They are even less able to see that the man who has made the greatest sacrifice of privacy to media exposure is Mark Driscoll himself. But how was Mark Driscoll going to know he'd given away many of the clues necessary to identify the parties involved in Andrew's case. Well, let's be fair and remind ourselves neither he nor anyone else in the church could have anticipated that this could happen. The clues have been sitting around for years. Why should Mark Driscoll pull sermons he preached years ago just so it's impossible for people to find out what family Andrew nearly married into? Besides, after all those millions of downloads, and after all those transcripts the truth is out there. That ship has sailed. Driscoll has unknowingly given the game away. The church culture has followed suit.
The thing about making a sacrifice to an idol is you often don't realize the magnitude of what you've sacrificed until it's already been burned on the altar. If there is a tough lesson for Mars Hill to learn in 2012 from the pulpit activity of Mark Driscoll and its obsessive embrace of social media it's that they've managed to reap what they've sown. Trusting in the security of The City was evidently a mistake, a big mistake. It's also a case where Mars Hill made the same disastrous mistake twice. Think about that for a moment. Back in 2007 Midrash was a resource a disgruntled member used to leak a story to The Stranger and The Seattle Times.
In 2012 The City was the way a disgruntled member leaked news to Andrew who in turn went to Turner. Five years later and they made the same mistake they did earlier, thinking that if they just blocked the former members from Mars Hill's social media system that the secret was safe. In 2007 it was Midrash and in 2012 it was The City. What was part of the disciplinary move in Andrew's case? Blocking him from The City. In a classic tactic of attributing evil deeds and motives to the outsider Mars Hill keeps acting like outsiders have betrayed the cause when it has been upset insiders who still had access.
Mars Hill's eagerness to assume the worst about the former members has blinded them to a reality, if people are blocked from Mars Hill social media how can they get all the information that was leaked to the press? This is not rocket science, folks. When will Mars Hill figure out this basic stuff and see that all the most significant breaches of privacy have come not from the exiles and outsiders and former members, those breaches came from within. If you're blocked from Midrash or The City you can't get to the stuff you'd need to make a press release or go to a blogger. But a member who hasn't resigned membership but has lost trust? Bingo. Maybe if I repeat this point often enough and clearly enough Mars Hill will get it but they seem really determined to not get it.
Now it's been four months since Andrew's story made headlines. In all that church discipline stuff there was stuff about Andrew having to write out his full sexual and attachment history. There was stuff about meeting to discuss a bunch of stuff. When he didn't agree to the contract he was blocked from The City. Some people mentioned at least the idea that Andrew might have been told he had to get himself tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Now I don't have any answers here but I ask this question because, obviously, I believe it's relevant--did anyone else notice any point where Andrew's ability to take communion was actually ever discussed? During that time when Andrew and his fiancee were busy consensually fornicating did they regularly participate in communion?
For folks who don't know what excommunication means in more old-school churches it means not participating in communion, not being labeled an apostate. Let's face it, only in a church that already idolizes and idealizes social media would being blocked from social media mean anything or be construed as a serious disciplinary move. Back when I was at the church a guy or gal thoroughly immersed in things Mars might find it daunting to be called into a pastor's office over some battle on a php forum. It was serious business! I should know as I got called in over a few such moments. I can look back on them with both embarrassment and amusement. I used to worry I might not get to participate on the church discussion forums. What a scary prospect! One of the steps taken once Andrew was deemed a wolf is he was blocked from The City. The City, honestly,. what little I saw of it, just didn't seem all that useful.
But if you look at the church discipline process with Andrew, doesn't it seem weird that blocking him from The City got mentioned more prominently than anything about the sacraments? Jesus didn't say "Tweet this in remembrance of me", did he? Paul didn't write to Corinth saying, "And some of you have been blocked as trolls because of your behavior on the church's Facebook wall!" Paul didn't write, "Make sure that you blog and tweet in a worthy manner because some have gotten sick and others have fallen asleep." Baptism and not an invitation to The City is a clearer indication of participation in the local body of Christ. You an accept the invitation if you want to, just keep in mind what the invitation entails.
Jesus warned that the left hand must not know what the right hand is doing but the left hand of Mars Hill can't do anything without the right hand blogging or tweeting about it. When it seems to be a bigger deal to block Andrew from The City then to guard the sacraments that were instituted by Christ Himself that "might" be a sign that Mars Hill has made social media an idol. After years of boasting about The City, promoting The City, and urging all members of Mars Hill to use The City it was The City through which Andrew's story began to make headlines. The functional savior of a homemade invitation-only social media platform with privacy settings did not deliver Mars Hill from the devil of bad press in 2007 or in 2012. It was the means through which bad press emerged. It's unfortunate that Mars Hill seems determined to not learn the lesson and to pretend that the threat of compromised privacy exists out there and not in Driscoll sermons and media coverage that Mars Hill and associates have courted at every turn for a decade.
You who have preached repentance and against idolatry to others, have you fallen prey to idolatry yourself? If you answer "no" about social media or Mark Driscoll as idols maybe read Romans 2 a bit more closely. Pride in Mars Hill's homegrown social media seemed to go before a media fall. There's still time to repent. You can't make private what has been given away but you can learn how to live a more private life. Backing off on tweets and blogs about personal stories may be a good start because Driscoll's not likely to stop name-dropping people and real estate any time soon.