Friday, January 25, 2013

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 6



In Matthew Paul Turner’s account Andrew said he was engaged to a pastor’s daughter and that after his confession he ended up meeting with his fiancée’s stepfather.  Now in Matthew Paul Turner's wording the stepfather might be construed as a separate person from the pastor at the Mars Hill campus.  This inference, however, could be a misleading and inaccurate.  I do not believe, ultimately, that it’s plausible to simply assume that the fiancée’s father and stepfather as described in a Mars Hill setting are necessarily different men. It’s possible, of course, but I intend to explain the significance of these two details at some length given what I know about the history and culture of Mars Hill.


The requirements for elder candidacy at Mars Hill are generally thought to be pretty stringent. Divorce is not generally smiled upon at Mars Hill. Who could have been a pastor at Mars Hill Ballard and have also been a stepfather?  First we have to establish the conditions under which such a scenario might have been considered acceptable and only then consider whether there were actual candidates who in 2011 at Mars Hill Ballard could have met those criteria. 


There are only two plausible possibilities to explain how and why a man would be an elder at Mars Hill and also have a stepdaughter.  Either the man was married, had a wife who died, remarried, and gained a stepdaughter or the man was married at some point when he was not a Christian, ended up divorced, became a Christian, married, and with that subsequent marriage gained a stepdaughter.  These are the only two credible options given the seriousness with which marriage and family are taken by Mars Hill. 


It happens that at Mars Hill Ballard circa 2009-2011 there were not one but two pastors who were remarried.  Bill Clem’s wife Jeannie died of cancer around 2008 or 2009 and he subsequently remarried.  I don’t recall anything about his kids other than that they all seem to be adults and seem to have been married. He is currently pastor at Mars Hill Ballard. Simply put, it was not Bill Clem. Since Andrew’s story made national news Mars Hill has, at some point at least prior to March 2012, scrubbed pastor profiles of any and all information indicating spouses, children, or stepchildren. It’s not particularly difficult to speculate as to why.  In 2012 Clem was still high profile and had a job within Mars Hill (though not anymore).  Mark Driscoll even blogged in 2012 that because Bill Clem and Bubba Jennings had done such a fine job leading Mars Hill Ballard Mars Hill could move live preaching from Ballard to Bellevue. Again, Clem was not the man.


That brings me to the second man who was a pastor at Mars Hill Ballard who remarried at some point in the past. Since late February 2012 I documented the abrupt disappearance of James Noriega from eldership at Mars Hill.   As I began to investigate further into the absence of James Noriega from the Mars Hill elder listings I scoured publications for more about his background.  I came across the following articles that are the earliest witness to Noriega’s history. They are important both for being early witnesses to Noriega’s life and history before Mars Hill and for being on record accounts independent of either Acts 29 or Mars Hill:



June 1, 2004


James Noriega didn't know he'd sold drugs to an undercover police officer until the day he was baptized. 


Recognized by a member of the congregation who happened to be an officer, Noriega was escorted from the church, his face still dripping.


It wasn't a setup, Noriega said, unless you appreciate the Almighty's sense of humor. It was karmic payback, his life catching up with him -- and his own yearning to put despair behind him.


Like many of the homeless and formerly homeless men who come to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission legal clinic, Noriega had been seeking legal advice, but hoped for transformation. Like many others, he has found both.


"Meth made me someone I wasn't," says Noriega, 37, who went to prison for a year, instead of the five years he might have served, helped by Union Gospel Mission's legal clinic and a substance-abuse program run by the faith-based mission. 





Noriega can relate. When he was in the Kitsap County Jail serving a sentence for a warrant "I didn't even know had been issued," he had time to reflect on his newfound faith and life.


Noriega had prayed to be reunited with his wife. A rigger at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, he never wanted a divorce. But she had found someone else. 


When she got the children, he discovered drugs. Then he discovered unemployment. He hit the streets, still masking pain with meth.


"She couldn't -- and didn't -- claim domestic violence or anything like that," Noriega said. "It came down to the fact she didn't love me anymore. I loved my kids. My heart was broken. I quit going to work ... I didn't have anything, yet I was supposed to pay $900 a month in child support." 


The legal clinic has helped Noriega, now a counselor with the mission, repay child support, get out of debt and start anew.


On New Year's Eve last year, he married a woman he met through a Christian dating service and "has a chance to be a dad again" to her 10-year-old daughter.


"God works through the cracks of our lives," Noriega said. "I've learned not to be afraid of cracks."


Noriega was once married and not a believer, got divorced, sank into drug use after the divorce, became a Christian, married again, and gained a stepdaughter.  He was apparently arrested the day of his baptism for having sold drugs to an undercover cop. Noriega was escorted out the building by a cop who was a member of the church he was baptized in.  Fast forward a few months later to November 2004.



Nov 25, 2004




James Noriega had found it once, before divorce sent him into a drug-fueled tailspin that ended in a Pioneer Square park one cold December night.





The chain of events that landed Noriega at the same shelter was set in motion in 1996, when his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two children divorced him. His whole identity was wrapped up in being a husband and a father, and when that disintegrated, Noriega lost his grip. 


"I just never really got over the divorce," the 38-year-old said.


Drugs became a salve, and Noriega was soon in the throes of a serious methamphetamine addiction. At its peak, he was using about $100 worth of drugs daily. He lost his job at a Puget Sound shipyard. The felonies followed, and the former family man, who'd never had so much as a parking ticket in his life, ended up in prison. 


After being released, Noriega turned to family members and friends. But he was a liability, and no one would take him in. One chilly night in December 1999, he found himself sitting on a bench in Occidental Park -- the same bench he'd walked by years earlier on his way to a football game with friends. A homeless man was there at the time, praising the Lord. What a pathetic sap, Noriega thought to himself.


There he was, in the same place, with nowhere to go. Noriega noticed a line of men outside the nearby mission and walked over. He soon met Ostertag, who was in a dorm on the same floor. They became friends, graduating from the program the same day and joining the shelter's paid staff together two years ago. 


Noriega moved out of the shelter then, but the two continued to work and spend time together. When Noriega took on his current position as a case manager for the shelter's drug recovery program, Ostertag stepped into his former role, working with men newly arrived at the shelter to place them in programs and provide referrals to other community agencies.


The pair has the sort of friendship, Noriega said, forged by shared experience. 


"There are some definite depths of our souls we share," he said. "We grew up together, basically, in a new life -- muddled through it, fell on our faces, day after day, in a good way, trying to get it right."


And finally, it seems, they have


In order to more fully discuss the background of James Noriega we’ll need to take a detour into the history of Mars Hill real estate acquisitions.  Without investigating this topic we’ll have no idea how James Noriega came to be at Mars Hill to begin with.  At this point we’ve merely established that of the two remarried men that James Noriega was the most likely possible candidate to be the father/stepfather whose daughter/stepdaughter Andrew had been dating.  But it is still necessary to establish Noriega’s publicly published background to show that it’s perfectly plausible to suggest that Noriega fits the criteria in Andrew’s story as conveyed by Turner.


Now, to that topic of real estate …

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