Dear Mars Hill,
Lately, we’ve gotten some negative press regarding two specific church discipline cases, which has led to speculation regarding and criticism of our church discipline process. In each of the stories surrounding these cases both in various blogs and in the news media, there has unfortunately been some misinformation. Such is the nature of commenting and reporting on private issues between two parties, especially when it comes to issues that are emotionally charged to begin with.
Private issues between two parties was what would have been the case had Andrew not been brought into the Mars Hill disciplinary process to begin with. As Mars Hill ought to know by now posting any document or statement of any kind on to The City isn't in any way private.
Some of the misinformation, such as whether or not staff were let go in connection to the disciplinary cases of Andrew or Lance, may have come from the Mars Hill side. After all, there was that clarification of the clarification that the two staff let go for a pattern of overstepping spiritual authority weren't in any way connected to the Andrew Lamb or Lance cases.
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. As with any story that has two sides, the natural tendency is for people to lean toward their prejudices. If they don’t like Mars Hill, these stories will serve to cement their beliefs regardless of what we say. For those who are part of Mars Hill and love the church, there is a tendency to take the defensive.
It wasn't that private that Andrew and his girlfriend were together if she was blogging about it. The tendency to take the defensive was certainly a real concern, as a few people were quite content to imply Andrew gave his girlfriend a venereal disease or to declare that Andrew had sex with multiple partners without any clarification of what evidence there was for this. Questions about whether or not the girlfriend could have lied never seemed to come up for people within Mars Hill.
Rather than attack or defend, we wish to reconcile. We are saddened that in some cases people have been hurt, both people who are no longer at Mars Hill Church and those who still call us their church home. While we reiterate that the overwhelming majority of our church discipline cases are healthy and restorative, there are certainly times where things don’t go as they should—both from our end and from the end of those who are in the process.
If they were serious about not wishing to attack or defend then opening with a statement about misinformation in the earlier paragraphs was unnecessary, wasn't it?
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.
So Mars Hill didn't want to put forward a member to endure criticism but they also, evidently, really didn't want to just sit by and take public criticism over something that would have stayed private if a document hadn't been posted to The City to begin with. All that backlash could have been avoided if Mars Hill had just let someone leave who wanted to leave. It's not like that didn't happen at any point in the previous eight years.
But in the case of Andrew, the Noriegas had blogged and tweeted about their respective relationships to Andrew before he even made a confession and before anyone got into the escalating disciplinary situation at Mars Hill. Mars Hill leaders and members had eliminated privacy by divulging in broadcast media the nature of their respective connections to an Andrew. For that matter even Driscoll sermons referred to aspects of the Noriega story. The call for reconciliation rang hollow not just because many former members viewed it as a publicity tactic to quell further bad press but also because Mars Hill had spent a decade publicizing as an institution and among its members the very things that, when press coverage was suddenly more widespread and negative, was supposed to be "private".
Here’s the bottom line: we love people. Our goal is always repentance and reconciliation in the discipline process and that the process would be loving, grace-filled, and reflect the heart of Jesus. We don’t always get it right. But, in this instance we ask that you would pray for your leaders, love your city, and wait until we all stand before Jesus to get the facts and a clear verdict.
It hasn't always been clear that the goal of the discipline process or termination process is repentance and reconciliation or what those two terms necessarily mean. Someone got some audio to Chris Rosebrough at Fighting for the Faith that has also made its way to Joyful Exiles. How interested in reconciliation did Driscoll sound the day after the firings?
Naturally, we’ve been following these stories closely, and a handful of people have stepped out to discuss their experiences. Quoted in various sources are people who’ve given their stories anonymously. Since we don’t know who they are, we’d love to meet with them and serve them and begin a process of reconciliation. So please, if you’re reading this, do let us know who you are so we can do all we can to love you by sitting down to meet, listen, and serve. For the two mentioned in the KOMO story, we’d love to meet with you also to do the same.
Andrew Lamb was not actually all that anonymous even when he and Turner attempted to make his story anonymous. This was because at Mars Hill Ballard there were only two guys in leadership who were in second marriages, which made it possible to narrow the field down to Noriega even after Noriega was apparently fired some time in September 2011. Why Andrew would have wanted to meet with Mars Hill leadership and a culture that posted a notice of shunning to The City isn't a question MH seems to have given much serious thought about. Mars Hill didn't thrill to the idea that the media had hostile people in the press and on blogs badmouthing them without stopping even a moment to consider that this could have been doing to them what they'd already done to Andrew? If Andrew chose to leave the church and end his membership what was to stop Mars Hill from just letting him go?
Then again, Mars Hill had a history of posting significant announcements about shunning people who ended membershil while under discipline before, as Joyful Exiles has established. The lengthy document trail at Joyful Exiles has also illustrated that an executive elder in at least once case was perfectly willing to misrepresent the nature of the entire disciplinary/termination process to a member of Mars Hill back in 2007. Mars Hill also had a history in which executive elders published partial statements about former pastors that omitted significant details like nearly 40% salary cuts without mentioning playing a consulting role in the policy shifts that led to those cuts, or to how the replacement of a campus pastor was given a full salary without having to really show up to do his job during the same year that the earlier campus pastor was making a lot less money and by Driscoll's own account had to deal with constant pain.
And for those who used to be Mars Hill Church members seeking to resolve something from the past, including the majority in the news stories that have not been at our church in roughly six years, the best way to do that is not through the media but rather by meeting with a Mars Hill pastor. Our desire is for reconciliation between us and you. This won’t mean we’ll always see eye to eye, but can and should talk face to face in a spirit of humility and grace. Please submit requests by phone or email so we can begin this process. We offer this all as a means of opening up a line of reconciliation in the hopes of making it as easy for you as possible.
Refer to Joyful Exiles for an example of how Mars Hill pastors opted to deal with Bent Meyer oand Paul Petry when they sought to meet after the decisions were made for termination. It looks even more now than it did a year ago that Mars Hill's big priority was to avoid any media discussion. Sadly Mars Hill is even this weekend leaning on its use of technology as a way to combine the experience of fourteen campuses for a big Easter 2013 celebration. Mars Hill, it's tough to have it both ways on technology and media use. If there hadn't been what Justin Dean called "unclear communication" Andrew couldn't have known about that escalation letter. If Mars Hill and Acts 29 had not recorded apparently any and every stray remark Driscoll's ever made nobody would have felt obliged to scrube the woodchipper incident from "The Man". If when confronted by the fact that Driscoll shared a story of running a pastor through a woodchipper Mars Hill response or Acts 29 response is simply to remove that segment from the sermon all that suggests is that Mark Driscoll has some people in his corner who are willing to remove material that makes him sound bad. Thing is, the clip was out there for so many years the contents have been reproduced in a couple of places. The woodchipper incident will live on via internet for a while.
Now who among leadership at Mars Hill has gotten in touch with Bent Meyer or Paul Petry? What was the Mars Hill idea of reconciliation? A little bit of that can be gleaned from Mars Hill Refuge. It's worth noting that Bill Clem has since transitioned out of Mars Hill.
So now that it's been more than a year since that call for reconciliation what's come of it? Was it more than just an attempt at damage control where Mars Hill coverage in the media was concerned? What meetings took place? Did leadership take any initiative to work toward reconciliation in cases where members and former members felt hurt by men who were by that time no longer even employed by Mars Hill or who had spread out to other campuses beyond Puget Sound? Does Mars Hill consider there to be a statute of limitations past which reconciliation isn't an interesting or worthy goal?