Not long after Matthew Paul Turner’s two blog posts were published an article appeared in The Stranger and, a bit later, an article in Slate.
The fury over Andrew’s experience—and his decision to publicize the church’s internal disciplinary procedures—has led to accusations by other Christians that one of the most powerful evangelical voices in the country, Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll, employs a cultlike leadership style. Now, for the first time, Mars Hill is speaking out in response to its former member’s charges.
The bolded text above links to the following blog post I wrote in late January this year.
Unfortunately, Ruth Graham's paragraph spectacularly misrepresents what I wrote. I did not accuse Mark Driscoll of employing a cult-like leadership style. In fact what I wrote was that I had experiences in 2007-2008 that completely shook my trust in the competence and good will of counseling/biblical living pastors at Mars Hill. Who wants to be linked to by Slate if Slate completely misrepresents what you wrote? It seems unlikely anyone actually read the blog post linked to in Graham’s article before the article hit publication.
Such is life.
It was in the Slate article that something resembling an official response from Mars Hill appeared.
Before now, Mars Hill’s only response has been posting an excerpt on church discipline from Driscoll’s 2009 book Vintage Church on its website and an opaque tweet from Driscoll. But Justin Dean, the church’s PR and marketing manager, agreed to answer my questions by email to tell the church’s side of the story.
One key element that was not clear in Andrew’s original account, Dean told me, was that the letter was intended to be read aloud, not posted online, and only to a “handful” of people. Instead, the group leader received unclear instructions and posted the letter online, a move Dean insists was not meant to hurt Andrew.
Furthermore, says Dean, only the approximately 15 members of Andrew’s small group, who met regularly and knew one another well, had access to the letter on the City. (Though Andrew was blocked from accessing the City, he says the letter was available to a slightly wider circle, including his fellow security volunteers.) “His case was not shared with the full church and had, until he posted it publicly online, only been known by a handful of people who were involved in his life and cared deeply about him,” Dean said. (Confusing social-media privacy settings strike again!) He added that Driscoll was not involved in the case at all. Mars Hill currently has 5,417 members and just nine ongoing church discipline cases.
... Dean describes Andrew as “a man who cheated on his fiancée, lied about it, and only confessed after being pressed about suspicious details.”
Justin Dean clarified several things:
1) The letter was intended to be read aloud, not posted online
2) The letter was posted on The City due to “unclear communication”
3) The letter was intended to be conveyed to just a handful of people
4) Andrew’s case was not shared with the full church
As public clarifications go these are clarifications that assume the authenticity of the escalation letter itself. In other words Justin Dean’s clarification about the number of intended recipients presupposes the reliability of the “what” Andrew conveyed to Matthew Paul Turner, the letter. Thus, Mars Hill’s Justin Dean authenticated the letter. By extension Dean’s authentication of the letter probably authenticates the discipline contract, doesn’t it? Dean also established that the escalation letter ended up being posted to The City due to “unclear communication”. “Unclear communication” may look very similar to “incompetence” where organizational communication is concerned. Best case scenario, “unclear communication” tells us that the only reason Andrew found out his discipline was escalated was because someone, likely several people, screwed up.
So far this isn’t looking like a case where there is anything incomplete or misleading in Andrew’s actual account. If anything Justin Dean confirmed the legitimacy of the discipline contract, the escalation letter, and even confirmed the posting of the escalation letter to The City. What, then, might have been inaccurate or deliberately misleading in Andrew’s account?
Well, we can say that Andrew (or Matthew Paul Turner) may have misunderstood (or misrepresented) the number of recipients of the escalation letter. Since, however, both Andrew and Matthew Paul Turner learned about this second or third hand we should not be shocked that their information turned out to be inaccurate. It counts as a point where the story is incomplete and perhaps even misleading but it does not seem to qualify as deliberately misleading, at least not conclusively.
The other aspect that may be incomplete or deliberately misleading, as anonymous advocates of Mars Hill mentioned extensively, would be Andrew’s alleged or inferred deceit and profligacy. The actual evidence for those assertions, however never got produced on the grounds that the privacy of hurt people needs to be considered. So there’s nothing to be said about that.
It is here we get back to those two critical details that went more or less overlooked in blogging and coverage.