Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Stranger: Mars Hill Not Actually Volunteering with Lifelong AIDS Alliance
Mars Hill Church Not Actually Volunteering with Lifelong AIDS Alliance
Posted by Dominic Holden on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 4:57 PM

Well, this is a PR meltdown.

For those just tuning in, it began this morning when Mars Hill Church pastor Tim Gaydos issued a statement celebrating his parish's new proximity to a neighborhood filled with AIDS. As he put it in an e-mail, "being closer to Capitol Hill is a blessing as we are serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill.” Asked at about 11:30 a.m. what sort of HIV/AIDS outreach they were doing—and how being one-third of a mile closer to a gay neighborhood empowered the church to conquer the disease—Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean explained that congregants intended to teach to the neighborhood's "AIDS victims" about Jesus and the ministry was "at the beginning stages of volunteering with the Lifelong AIDS Alliance." Why would this estimable nonprofit associate itself with a church that won't even allow gay members?

And that's where the question stood until now.

It turns out, Mars Hill Church hasn't filled out any volunteer application forms or undergone a screening process to affiliate itself with Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Kelly Bray, a spokeswoman for the outreach charity, says by phone. She says, in fact, that the church has "no relationship" with her group. Mars Hill did call Lifelong about the possibility of volunteering last fall, but they hadn't heard again from the church until today—"around lunchtime," Bray adds. You mean, the church only touched base again with Lifelong after The Stranger started inquiring about the church's purported Capitol Hill AIDS ministry? "I think the timeline of that synced up," Bray confirmed. "We have not responded yet. We are still working out our response internally." ...

The beginning stages seems to have meant Justin Dean was willing to say something in public.  Dean seems pretty good at saying things in public like that because of "unclear communication" the escalation of church discipline for a former member of Mars Hill named Andrew got posted on The City when it was intended to be read by a tiny group of people. 

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.

Justin Dean is relatively new to Mars Hill, having begun work as the Communications Director there in November 2011. If Justin Dean ever wants to comment about this (aka this) it'd be interesting to see what public statement he might have. As yet there's no indication that anyone within Mars Hill has even acknowledged that Joyful Exiles even exists but perhaps at some point Mars Hill will take an approach that doesn't involve named parties associated with an EIT simply shuffling off to other churches within the Acts 29 Network.

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