Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Confluence of Situations: A Postscript

Last year Wenatchee mentioned a few things at the following post:

... 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?

... 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.

Then later, this:

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.

Someone didn't do that last year because Andrew Lamb and Matthew Paul Turner had made at least some effort to preserve Andrew's anonymity.  Mars Hill had undertaken their massive information purge but that was moot in light of the sheer volume of information Mars Hill, as a culture, had blogged and tweeted and podcasted at every level between 2004-2011, including people who at one point were associated with Acts 29 churches.  The fascination with and eagerness to use social media could be said to be in the DNA of Mars Hill and associated outgrowths. 

A word about Justin Dean.  He joined Mars Hill in November 2011.

Communications Director

Mars Hill Church

Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Religious Institutions industry
November 2011Present (1 year 3 months)Seattle, Washington
I currently oversee the communications department, including public relations, social media, and marketing for Mars Hill Church, The Resurgence and Pastor Mark Driscoll.

Founded in 1996 by Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church hosts upwards of 14,000 people each week across 14 locations in 4 states. Mars Hill has been recognized as the 28th largest, 3rd fastest-growing, and 2nd most-innovative church in the country by Outreach magazine. Pastor Mark's sermons receive almost 15 million downloads per year, consistently rank #1 on iTunes, and he has 400,000 combined followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Pastor Mark and his wife Grace co-authored Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together which was released from Thomas Nelson in 2012 and reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, #3 on Publisher Weekly’s Nonfiction Hardbound list, #8 on the Wall Street Journal Nonfiction Combined List, and #38 on USA Today’s Top 150 Books.

Pastor Mark's newest book titled Who Do You Think You Are?: Finding Your True Identity in Christ will release January 6, 2013.

The Resurgence is the largest Christian leadership blog, publishes a half-dozen books annually, holds conferences around the country, and offers a master's level theological training program for leaders from around the world.


What's that, upwards of 14,000 people hosted each week across 14 locations in 4 states?
What did MH PR officially say to Slate last year?

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 (emphasis added) and just nine ongoing church discipline cases.

So for the PR spiel says 14,000+ are hosted.  Okay, so that would distinguish between about 10,000 people who attend and the roughly 5,400 contracted members.

What was the weekly attendance for Fall of 2012?

You'll notice how big those numbers are in the report when you click on the link.

So the overall attedance by FY2012 report was a thousand less.  Mars Hill's got no reason to care about that in the short run.  The numbers will go up.  More important, the number of total contracted members went up to 6,429.  So that means 1,012 people surveyed the news of the day about Mars Hill, listened to the praching and so on and decided to sign up.  7,109 people are in community groups and for the 6,064 folks attending Mars Hill who don't go to a community group, you're probably doing fine whether you go or not. 

But let's notice a detail from the annual report.  For everyone person attending the church 20 people are listening online.  Really?  Well, then that means it was even more impossible for Justin Dean and company to have ultimately kept some "private" things "private" because Wenatchee has made use of nothing less than Driscoll sermons to help identify parties associated with Andrew's disciplinary situation from a year ago. 

According to the FY2012 annual report in 2012 attendance was 12,000 rather than 14,000.  Dean may have inflated the numbers in his recent post or maybe an extra thousand picked up between December 13, 2012 and now.  Those kinds of things have been known to happen.  The 5,417 Slate was told is the important detail.  While for PR purposes to the rest of the world the hosted people and the podcasts are a way to show the collosal influence of Mars Hill when Andrew's story made headlines it was best for Mars Hill to say the church was just 5,417 people and that there were just nine disciplinary cases current at the time.  Some folks are concerned about quality and not just quantity.  What would the nature of church disciplinary cases be like?  After all, people with a longer sense of history of Mars Hill than Justin Dean may know of Joyful Exiles and how those two church disciplinary situations played out. 

Driscoll said FY2012 was the best year ever and December 13, 2012 made for possibly the latest FY report ever.  Andrew's disciplinary case, mass layoffs due to a financially dangerous model for Mars Hill's long-term future, that stuff wasn't important.  The growth was important and by that metric nothing could have been better, even though in the first half of 2012 Driscoll said they were in one of the tougher seasons of Mars Hill history, though not the toughest.  "The toughest" might have been 2007-2008 when about 1,000 people didn't renew membership and the church failed to make budget for the first time in its history.  Early 2008 in the Doctrine series was the period in which, as documented by Scott Bailey, Robert Cargill, and Christian Brady Mark Driscoll presented, at best, dubious claims about a Jewish commentary on Genesis supposedly backing trinitarian theology before Jesus was born. 

Christian Brady pointed out that Driscoll claimed the Targum Neofiti, a rabbinical commentary on Genesis which Driscoll alleged was written in the 2nd century BCE, was actually more likely written in the 2nd century AD (for those who don't know that we switched to CE decades ago).  Furthermore Brady noted that not only did Driscoll misdate the source he claimed backed up a pre-Christ trinitarian concept, Driscoll also used an inaccurate translation of the text.  Since to this day Driscoll's never even acknowledged he made basic errors about the Targum that has beeen downloaded via sermon podcasts to millions of people, he apparently doesn't care.

But Justin Dean joined Mars Hill's team in November 2011, which was the month Andrew's disciplinary situation was escalating.  For those who spotted how recently Dean joined the Mars Hill team it suggests that Dean was quickly thrown into a church culture in which PR disasters would potentially be the norm. Some PR meltdowns Dean didn't realize he was going to inherit until Matthew Paul Turner posted some blog posts.  Others Dean may have had a hand in creating himself.

Back in 1998 Mother Jones published a prescient article on Mars Hill that may be worth revisiting:

Of note was an organization that provided financial support to Mars Hill that would be easy to overlook. 

Postmoderns receive crucial support—financial and otherwise—from the megachurches. These postmodern ministries are loosely organized by the Leadership Network, a Dallas-based umbrella group for many of the nation's megachurches. It's the Leadership Network that keeps Driscoll's bohemian Mars Hill ministry in touch with the fast-growing, but more traditional, University Baptist Church in Waco by holding conferences and seminars. For the past three years the network has sponsored national conferences that bring together postmodern leaders. The first one attracted nearly 300, the second 500, and the next one, this fall in New Mexico, is expected to draw 1,000.

The Mother Jones piece highlights the early Mars Hill for its self-identified foundational appeal and even its methodologies in generating awareness.

How do the movement's young leaders intend to stem what they see as an increase in secularism? By preaching that God is relevant and church is cool. Postmodern leaders walk effortlessly between the secular and religious worlds, talking about the new Radiohead album in one breath, Jesus in the next. They are dynamic and approachable. And don't tell this new breed of preachers that they're marketing religion. They say market research is the domain of baby boomer megachurches, and point out that their churches don't advertise—the extraordinary growth has come strictly from word-of-mouth.

And yet subtly, brilliantly, it's all part of the sell. Postmoderns repeat the word "authentic" like a mantra. They seize on the tenets of Generation X—ennui, skepticism, cynicism—and use them as a way to attract members. Song lyrics portray a generation unanchored; politics go unmentioned; dysfunctional families are mourned. And almost all the churches are located near colleges, with a ready-made population that craves acceptance.

That was in 1998.  Since 2011 Justin Dean has the job of managing Mars Hill public relations and communications.  The time for strictly word-of-mouth is gone and now we've got ads for Driscoll books on public transit and radio ads on Christian radio. 

"For financial reasons or whatever, the parents of Gen Xers put their lives ahead of their children's," says Lief Moi, 35, a leader at Mars Hill and the co-host, with Driscoll, of "Street Talk," a nationally syndicated Christian radio show. By playing the "dysfunctional family" card, Moi, Driscoll, and others implicitly coax young people to turn to church as a place where they can experience the family and fellowship they missed out on as a kid. The church then becomes appealing to college students for the same reasons that fraternities and sororities are: instant community.

In order to get some grasp of Mars Hill culture it helps to observe this, that it began with a rhetorical observation that the parents of Generation X put their own lives ahead of the lives and welfare of their children.  If Mars Hill is a cult then we should observe that how a cult gains traction is by appealing to real and healthy needs with a culture that promises openness and kindness but reveals its toxic insularity only over time.  Moi's history of having never known his father in his youth and having been raised by his mother with her lesbian lover is easily known by anyone who was part of Mars Hill from 1998 to 2008.  Driscoll has been very tight-lipped about his own parents over the years.  He apparently would sooner talk about Grace's sexual abuse and related frigidity than to say much more than his dad was a union dry-waller.  But in 1998, with a chance to talk to Mother Jones, Driscoll said the following:

"Some of us haven't given ourselves over to the American Dream yet," Driscoll says into the microphone. "How do we make sure we don't become victims of what harmed us— parents who weren't around because they were too busy making money so we could go on vacations and look like a family?" The phones are dead.

When Driscoll asked rhetorically year after year "Where's dad?" in his sermons a person could wonder why the theme of the absentee father would be so important if all Driscoll ever said about his dad was that he was a union drywaller who swung a hammer for a living and broke his back supporting his family.  And yet year after year the most vivid anecdotes Driscoll had for his ancestors and siblings were not of his father or mother but his grandfather.  For the most part Mark Driscoll's father has been invoked simply as proof of bluecollar working-class credibility and his mother is essentially an icon of Catholic piety. 

The article gets to the earliest money quote before long:

By setting themselves up against their elders, postmoderns are ingeniously adding an anti-establishment spirit to their movement. "I really preach; it's not just three points to a better self-esteem," Driscoll says. "Megachurches have perfect services with perfect lighting. We're a friggin' mess." Driscoll delivers his sermons largely off-the- cuff, and refuses to follow a point-by-point outline like most pastors at megachurches do. "I'm very confrontational," he says, "not some pansy-ass therapist."

There it is, right there, "I'm very confrontational, not some pansy-ass therapist" Mark Driscoll said. 
There was also evidence of preaching Song of Songs as far back as 1998.

"There are gays all over our church and I don't need to yell at them like the religious right," Driscoll says. "You can be a gay or punk and we'll treat you like everybody else. Even if you never become a Christian, we're still friends."

Mars Hill is all about acceptance. Compared to the religious right's favorite son Ralph Reed, a vision of fundamentalist zeal in a blue suit, Driscoll seems downright countercultural. He's unabashed about using the pulpit to discuss sex. "I speak very frankly about the reasons God made our bodies to experience orgasm, the Bible's approval of oral sex between a husband and wife," he says. "Once you're married and as long as you remain monogamous, God tells his children to be unblushingly erotic and passionate."

Consider this anecdote:

Driscoll says one of his best friends is gay. "When I found out, I cried. And then I made a deal with him. I said, 'I'll go to a gay bar with you if you come to church with me.' So there I was in a bar with country-western drag queens! "I just told the guys I met there that I loved them. That yes, they are sinners and they needed to come to God and then their sexuality would take care of itself," he says. "I think we're all screwed up, some of us are just better at hiding it."

Has Mark Driscoll spoken even four words to "one of his best friends" in the last fifteen years?  It doesn't take even all that cynical a person to know the "some of my best friends are ... "line when they see it.

For folks who may have wondered at Driscoll on politics, back then he told Mother Jones the following:

He offers classes at church on topics such as "evangelical feminism" ("the Bible is clear that men and women are both created by God in His image and likeness and totally equal in every way," he says) and disavows any link with conservative politics. "I used to think it was part of Christianity to be conservative," he says. "I was further right than Falwell and Limbaugh." Now he says he doesn't even vote. What changed? "It got boring," he says with a shrug. "And I realized that politics didn't change anything, that in the meantime, people were still starving."

Politics may not be as fun for Driscoll as blogging and tweeting, after all.  Back in 1998 Driscoll told Mother Jones:

"Some of us haven't given ourselves over to the American Dream yet," Driscoll says into the microphone. "How do we make sure we don't become victims of what harmed us— parents who weren't around because they were too busy making money so we could go on vacations and look like a family?" The phones are dead.

In February 2010 during the Luke series:

... I’ve never been accused of that. I’ve been accused of many things, not being a fundamentalist. I do love film, I love story. My degree’s in communication. I’ve got two home theater systems. I’ve got three Tivos, all right, I am not against technology and the arts. Our film crew just was in L.A. at Universal Studios shooting on the Spartacus set to get all of our footage for Good Friday. Some of my friends are filmmakers and poets and artists and we’re a very creative church. We just don’t like Satan, that’s all. We love the arts, we just don’t like Satan. ...

In twelve years Driscoll went from saying some of us (him implicitly) hadn't given themselves over to the American Dream yet, to claiming he's not a fundamentalist because he's got two home theater systems and three Tivos.  He even mentioned that the Mars Hill film crew was in Los Angeles at Universal Studios shooting on the Spartacus set. 

Back when I first began to hear of some place called Mars Hill I heard it was theologically conservative but culturally liberal.  When people I know mentioned asking Mars Hill for a doctrinal statement what I heard was passed out was not an actual doctrinal statement but the Mother Jones article.  Even from the beginning, despite his protests, Mark Driscoll was using hostile publicity as a way to further the reach of Mars Hill as far back as 1998.  If he really didn't care about press coverage he could have declined to talk to Mother Jones. Using hostile press to expand the reach of Mars Hill isn't some new tactic in a Driscollian PR arsenal, it was one of the earliest moves in the game.  Don't let his tweets or blogs about bloggers fool you, Mars Hill has been using bad press since its beginnings, especially if the controversy can revolve around its founder.  If the controversy revolves around 2007 firings, changes in by-laws, or maybe a high profile divorce among core members then expect complete and utter silence. 

For the reader who has stuck with this series this far, you'll notice no use was made of The WayBack Machine and there was no material except content posted by Matthew Paul Turner that came from The City.  That tells you how much Mars Hill saturated broadcast media and social media with the information necessary to establish that Andrew Lamb's story checks out.

Blogging about the idol Mars Hill had made of social media was the oblique courtesy, this series has been a detailed demonstration of a church culture that has been obsessed with using social and broadcast media from its beginnings to expand its brand.  It's only when the narrative that is cumulatively presented by broadcast and social media risks damaging the iconic story of what Mars Hill is supposed to look like that things get clamped down.  It took a "Pussified Nation" or two from William Wallace II to get supporters of Mars Hill wondering if the support was justified.  It took the Inner Circle, whoever they were, to show that the old unmoderated Midrash was becoming a liability. 

The new Midrash was member-only and worked great for years until it became a medium through which members could communicate across campus boundaries as the church went multi-site and it became important to make sure that disagreements about real estate purchases, by-laws changes, and other executive decisions weren't being questioned.  If people had doubts about whether sinking $1.5 million into real estate at 50th street that couldn't be zoned for anything other than industrial use, well, maybe they needed to get off the bus, maybe. 

Thus came The City, the new top-down silo-information knock-off of Facebook and MySpace.  This was the tool that would ensure private stuff stayed private and the admins at the top of the information could control everything.  Or so they thought.  Somehow, against all odds, a letter was passed along to Andrew Lamb, who passed it along to Matthew Paul Turner.  The invitation-only proprietary social network created inside Mars Hill was where something got posted due to "unclear communication".  The best defense and clarification the new PR head Justin Dean could provide for Mars Hill was simple incompetence.  If, as the proverb says, pride comes before a fall, Andrew Lamb's story was the disaster that was waiting to happen ever since Mars Hill launched The City.  All it took was a church disciplinary case in which actions were deemed so punitive as to warrant breaking the story.  If the elders at Mars Hill had heeded Paul Petry's advice in 2007 to include an appeals process for members under discipline then "maybe" this whole thing could have been prevented.  But we know exactly what happened to Paul Petry and Bent Meyer in 2007. 

Mars Hill talks a lot of talk about idols for others and not so much about its own idols.  It's easy for Mark Driscoll to say your idols will let you down and, hey, maybe that's true.  If it is true then what can we learn from that as a lesson about The City? 

A year ago Andrew Lamb's story made headlines. In the same month Mark and Grace Driscoll published Real Marriage and we were told how Mark and Grace were fornicating. Grace, a pastor's daughter, lost her father Rev Gib Martin this year. A year after Andrew's case became news one can't help wondering how different things would have been if Rev Gib Martin had, say, dealt with fornicators Mark and Grace Driscoll the way Mars Hill Church dealt with Andrew Lamb. If the recently-deceased Rev. Gib Martin and his family had dealt with Mark and Grace Driscoll fornicating the way Mars Hill dealt with Andrew Lamb we don't know if there'd even be a Mars Hill Church today. But of course there is a Mars Hill Church and it did deal with Andrew Lamb in the way outlined by Matthew Paul Turner.

PS 01-28-2013

This is called a "postscript" because it's the afterthoughts of observations from the preceding 13 parts.  For the folks who have read the poscript don't forget there's 13 parts that preceeded this. :)

HT to Matt Redmond for noticing there are actually 14 parts. 

Mars Hill confirms operational savings with FTNIS e-tran donation processing platform

They'll need fewer people to process donations with this set-up.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 13

In investigating whether Andrew’s claims were basically credible or not I found that the overall story is credible.  Andrew’s reluctance to fully self-identify was a big reason all the above material has only been published now and not back in May 2012.   Lamb and Turner were able to confirm the basic reliability of what I was able to work out and provided some background on other details Wenatchee had not quite worked out.  The rest was blogged and tweeted by the Noriegas, reported in papers, or preached from the pulpit at Mars Hill.

So, to sum up Andrew’s story via MPT:  He was a member and a volunteer at Mars Hill Ballard in 2011.  James Noriega was a pastor there who had remarried and had a stepdaughter. Both James Noriega and his daughter/stepdaughter attest to an “Andrew”, and Kaitlyn mentions being engaged to an “Andrew” at her own blog.  Her mother refers to wedding shopping in November and a dead link on her blog links back to her daughter’s blog with a post title “An Unused Wedding Dress”. If this is all thought to be merely circumstantial evidence it’s a pretty remarkable set of circumstantial references to a person named “Andrew”. 

As to what exactly New Reformation Press was told was “incomplete at best and likely deliberately misleading” it would be tough to know what that would be. In the Mars Hill lexicon being labeled a “wolf” is certainly bad and people took pains to say Andrew was a liar.  One anonymous woman was willing to imply the possibility that Andrew passed along a venereal disease to his girlfriend.  That’s a pretty strong implied accusation.  Meanwhile, Mars Hill advocates essentially avoided the question of whether Andrew’s girlfriend might have lied or had an incentive to lie. 

By Kaitlyn’s account, one of the stories she shared with “Andrew” was about her lying about her sexual history in her earlier teens. 


… When I was in seventh grade, I went to a very popular private school. I did not fit in at all. I had a few friends who were considered popular. The main conversation was always around sex. Kids were talking about how far they had gotten (which I now know to be a lie). I can never do anything on a small scale, so to bump up my status, I concocted my own lie. A lie that made me popular. Sort of.

I told a few choice people that I had slept with a youth pastor and might be pregnant. This spread like wild-fire. I thought my plan had gone off flawlessly. Until two things happened. A girl in my class called me a slut and I got called into the principals office.


I knew instantly what it was about. My parents were called in and I sat between them while the guidance counselor and the principal looked at me and told me I was dangerous. That I needed  help. That I wasn't allowed back at the school until I had gotten help.

This is part of my dad's and my story. This is where I saw him defending me. This is where I saw him as dad. But for years I struggled with this. Fear that I was really dangerous. Shame over what I had said. …

While defenders of Mars Hill and critics of Andrew have made it plain they believe Andrew was and is dishonest the question of honesty and credibility is one that fans out in every direction.  What Mars Hill has failed to fully appreciate is a point Wenatchee has made a few times in the last year, that even dead links tell a story.  If the aim of Mars Hill was to preserve the privacy of the Noriega family that was doomed to failure from the years 2004 to 2011, thanks almost entirely to the culture of Mars Hill itself and the direct participants in the events that involved Andrew’s disciplinary situation. 
That Andrew has publicly stated his identity has simply meant that everything else that had already been sitting in plain sight, can be easily produced to show that the basics of his story are not only credible, but permitted a pretty detailed process of identifying the other parts.  Maybe now we can understand why so few Mars Hill advocates and representatives either contested or even addressed the most basic details of Andrew’s story, it would have been too easy to identify the parties involved.  But the parties had for the most part identified themselves publicly even before the disciplinary situation became a news item.  Mars Hill advocates can criticize Andrew Lamb’s motives as much as they like, it looks like his story, a year later, checks out.  His willingness to identify himself to the world has meant that he's simply the last in the immediate group of parties to have done so, it seems. The rest was sitting in plain sight under the noses of bloggers and journalists and Mars Hill.
What Wenatchee The Hatchet wrote about last year in more cryptic terms is now spelled out with direct citation of primary and secondary sources. 

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 12


As to at least one possible claim that Noriega was terminated there’s one embedded within this thread at Mars Hill Refuge

If Noriega was fired in September 2011 this would go a long way to explain why Patrick Kyle’s anonymous friend on staff at Mars Hill could legitimately say that Andrew’s story was at best incomplete and most likely deliberately misleading.  I, however, read Matthew Paul Turner’s account of the story and theorized that ambiguities and oversights were probably done on purpose not necessarily to deliberately mislead but to protect some measure of anonymity for the other parties involved in the “confluence of situations” harmed by Andrew’s actions.

Mars Hill stated that it was not going to discuss details out of a concern to protect the privacy of people involved.  They did suspend all of the campus blogs and blog archives. Mars Hill also scrubbed away all references to the spouses or offspring of pastors and staff throughout Mars Hill.  That’s a significant effort to preserve the privacy of the Noriega family.  But the trouble was that the Mars Hill culture of profligate use of social media and of writing extensively about one’s story of redemption and grace for the world to read meant that all of the efforts of Mars Hill to preserve the privacy of the Noriega family were ultimately for nothing.  The Noriegas had blogged and tweeted enough information to establish that there was a boy named Andrew dating the daughter. 

The connection between Andrew and the Noriega family was a time-consuming project but ultimately not a particularly difficult one.  As I wrote at the beginning of this investigation Mars Hill as a culture prizes two things--social media savvy and stories of redemption and life transformation. Mars Hill members and leaders in particular seem unable to resist sharing stories of redemption and change. Some might call this a sanctified, Christian variation of the bootstrap myth. If Noriega was fired the firing was done in a way that was strictly in-house.  Unlike Andrew’s disciplinary case there was probably no unclear communication and if Noriega was fired things were kept low profile. 


How James Noriega went from being referenced by Driscoll in sermons in 2006 and 2007 to co-leading Redemption Groups in 2009 to vanishing out of eldership in late 2011 is not a story I see any need to expand upon much more than I have elsewhere in this blog. I have documented Noriega’s affection for Puritans, Ed Welch, and views of human nature that antedate psychology as we know it. I have also documented Pastor Mike Wilkerson’s observation that one of the incentives for developing Redemption Group content was to ensure recovery groups had a theology that matched what was taught from the pulpit. 

In other words, there’s little reason to doubt that Redemption Group content was tailored, in part, to not contradict the theology of Mark Driscoll regarding habitual sin, addiction, and so on.  Wilkerson and Noriega were able to put together content that met with Driscoll’s approval.  Driscoll asked Wilkerson to write the Redemption Group book. Noriega’s role was in pioneering the mixed small groups that became the prototype for Redemption Groups.  Then in late 2011 Noriega was fired … or maybe resigned under pressure.  The blog entries of James Noriega’s wife imply that her husband was fired rather than resigned and that the MH PR statements in February 2012 were, in her estimation, untruthful about important things. 

Now it’s important to stress at this point that the Mars Hill public response has been to say the staff who were let go were let go over things that had nothing to do with Andrew’s case.  It is possible that if James Noriega was fired and Andrew was engaged to his stepdaughter/daughter that the firing had nothing to do with Andrew’s disciplinary case.  Noriega was, by December 18, 2011, not even a pastor at Mars Hill.  So in that respect Andrew’s story conveyed through Matthew Paul Turner “can” be considered inaccurate or misleading.  Andrew was engaged to a pastor’s daughter but by the time his discipline case was escalated and he’d withdrawn from Mars Hill his prospective father-in-law had not actually been a pastor at Mars Hill in any capacity for a few months.  But to say that James Noriega was a person with no connection to the disciplinary case of Andrew Lamb is wildly inaccurate, to put things nicely.  And if Noriega’s termination was actually connected in some way to how he dealt with Andrew then saying otherwise would be a lie.

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 11


Noriega has a Blogger profile

His blogroll includes Be My Muse, Coffee and Kids, Justified By Faith (his own blog), The Gospel Coalition, and TheResurgence

Be My Muse is a blog that is linked to at the blog Redeemed By His Grace

Now for those who remember this:

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 10



Noriega was eventually introduced to Mars Hill Ballard as co-lead pastor of the Redemption Groups and as part of the Biblical Living pastoral department.

The above link introduced James Noriega in a Meet the Staff posting posted on from March 17, 2009. Unlike the other links I have posted so far, the link has been dead since some time shortly after February 28, 2012.  February 28, 2012 was when I documented the disappearance of James Noriega from the elder listings at Mars Hill in any publicly observable form.  But the title embedded in the link is as plain as could be.  James Noriega was being introduced as a pastor on staff at Mars Hill Ballard.

In fact, since the start of March 2012 at least, the entire Mars Hill campus blog network and associated archives have been suspended.  Any old links default to the current event calendar. That this happened the week after I documented the disappearance of James Noriega from Mars Hill eldership and cited references on campus blogs including interviews with Noriega himself and Pastor Tim Beltz is a curious coincidence.  

I have already noted that a week after I blogged about Tim Beltz' reference to reading James Noriega's biblical counseling materials in a Mars Hill West Seattle campus entry that Beltz was moved to Mars Hill Downtown and the campus blog network and archives were suspended. As I have amply demonstrated, however, there has been sufficient public attestation of James Noriega's role in Mars Hill eldership from Mark Driscoll himself, A. J. Hamilton, and Mike Wilkerson's references to Noriega as a formative influence on Redemption Groups that Noriega's absence from eldership at Mars Hill is too conspicuous to simply ignore.

I had, oddly perhaps, forgotten Noriega was no longer a pastor in any capacity at Mars Hill until the following statement was issued by Mars Hill regarding church discipline in the wake of the public coverage of the cases of Andrew and Lance.

The earlier wording of the response regarding church discipline reads as follows:

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.

It may be true that in most cases there was no attempt to verify the facts in the cases connected to Andrew or Lance.  It is not clear, however, what facts Mars Hill had hoped Slate, The Stranger, and other journalists and bloggers were supposed to verify.

Unfortunately for the press release author(s) The Stranger had contacted Pastor Jeff Bettger and has received a response from Bettger documented here:

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 9


The church Bill Clem and James Noriega were pastoring, Doxa, was a boon to assimilate into Mars Hill for various reasons Mark Driscoll explained in his July 2006 sermon.  It was also advantageous for Clem, who was approached by Driscoll shortly after Clem got word that his wife Jeannie had been diagnosed with cancer.  For James Noriega the assimilation meant he was also transitioned into leadership within Mars Hill. In a strange and improbably coincidence the two remarried men who were pastors at Ballard both came from what is now Mars Hill West Seattle.

On November 9, 2011 the following video got posted.  In the video Bill Clem says about what is now the West Seattle campus:

"It isn't as though we do a lot of ministry here on Sunday morning, but this is where we did all of our ministry when we first started a church plant called Doxa, which was an Acts 29 church in partnership with Mars Hill."

The close of the video establishes the following statistics. 

Doxa launched in 2002 with eight people.

Today as many as 1,000 people meet to worship in that same building every week.

In 2009 the West Seattle campus planted the Federal Way Campus.

So the majority of what Driscoll said in the July 2006 sermon about not developing the 50th street property and the advantages of acquiring Doxa check out. It’s a bit surprising to read now in 2012 what Driscoll said in 2006, that he had made a bid for what is now Mars Hill West Seattle way back in 1996 and was rejected.  Having Bill Clem plant an Acts 29 church at that property matches up with what Clem himself says about his time as a church planter in Doxa.  It would appear that by Driscoll’s own account he’d had his eyes on the property that is now Mars Hill West Seattle from the first days of his ministry way back in 1996. He finally got the property for Mars Hill and with it he got both Bill Clem and James Noriega as pastors.  Despite his history of felonies and being newlywed into his second marriage James Noriega was vetted for pastoral work at Mars Hill. 

Because Mark Driscoll was president of Mars Hill in 2006 and, by his own account, a professional journalist, it’s not entirely clear why Mark Driscoll had no observable qualms about suggesting Noriega be a pastor at Mars Hill.  Noriega was reported by the Seattle P-I as having been baptized in June 2004.  Noriega was escorted away by a police officer who was a member at the church he was baptized in and then, months later, was reported by the Seattle P-I in late November as “newly ordained”.  If Noriega was escorted off the church property by a member who was a cop in June 2004 and then, months later, back as a pastor what exactly happened? 


In the following sermon preached by Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll on November 4, 2007 (The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Humility) Driscoll explained that James Noriega was one of a number of men who were “seeking humility” and had been added to the Mars Hill elder team. 

Mark Driscoll on November 4, 2007

... The last one is James. He was running a drug and alcohol treatment center, I think for the Union Gospel Mission. He was an elder at Doxa Church in West Seattle. He and Pastor Bill were there and I approached them and said, “I think we should partner together,” and turned that building into Mars Hill West Seattle. I don’t know what the building’s worth – $4 million, whatever. He said, “Well what’s the deal?” I said, “Give us the building, resign as elders, work through the membership process, work through the eldership process. I guarantee you nothing – no power, no job, no eldership. If you meet the qualifications and the men vote you in, we’ll make you an elder, but I guarantee you no job. Nothing. If you believe it’s right for Jesus, give us the building, resign, give up all power of authority, give up your position. Walk away from it all for the cause of Jesus.”


He said, “Okay, I think it’s best for Jesus.” He resigned, voted to hand us the building and the people. Humbly went through the eldership process. After he finished the membership process, oversees our drug and alcohol addiction recovery. We just voted him onto the Board of Directors. Why? Because God opposes the proud and he gives grace to the humble.

That this James was James Noriega is beyond doubt because of an article published by Pastor A. J. Hamilton describing how Mars Hill first became a multisite church:

On October 7, 2010 Mars Hill Pastor A. J. Hamilton wrote the following:


In early 2006, Mars Hill first became a multi-site church when we launched the Shoreline campus with live-streaming over the Web. This meant that at times, the sermon would look like a badly dubbed Samurai movie or Pastor Mark's image would explode into a messy digital kaleidoscope of color. We also increased the number of elders from 15 to 24, adding Pastors James Noriega and Bill Clem from Doxa (a former A29 church plant that is now our West Seattle campus). Campus planting took off for a season and Bellevue, Downtown, Olympia and Federal Way launched and continue to grow, relaunch into new facilities and plan for further expansion through new works.

By Mark Driscoll’s account, then, he proposed the partnership with Doxa.  He also made no promises that Noriega would even end up having a job within Mars Hill but that if Noriega believed “it’s best for Jesus” to give Mars Hill the real estate.

So Clem and Noriega, it seems, voted to give the Doxa property to Mars Hill and in exchange they were formally promised nothing, to go by Driscoll’s sermon, but in practice it would appear that Clem and Noriega, as pastors at an Acts 29 church plant, were grandfathered in along with the property.

Mars Hill West Seattle


Mars Hill West Seattle was a result of conversations I had with Pastor Bill Clem, who now leads our Ballard church. Bill planted Doxa Fellowship in West Seattle after having served as the North American Director for Sonlife Ministries, a national discipleship ministry. The church was part of the Acts 29 network and running under 100 people when Bill and I began talking.

At the time, Bill’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, from which she eventually passed away. I called up Bill to offer support for the tough battle he and his wife were facing, and I also asked if he’d be open to letting us use Doxa’s building on Sunday mornings, as Doxa was only meeting on Sunday nights.


Eventually, as our church met in his building in the mornings, as we talked more and more, and as Bill’s wife faced a continuing and difficult battle with cancer, Doxa decided to merge with Mars Hill and become part of our church. We gave Bill many months off, paid him a full salary, and let him care for his dying wife and get a break from the exhausting work he’d undertaken in planting a church with an often bedridden wife. Her funeral was held in the church building that Pastor Bill had been given, and once he was ready, he started working for Mars Hill and is now our lead pastor at our biggest church, Mars Hill Ballard. Additionally, he has published the book Discipleship for us, and is the Northwest regional director for Acts 29.

The old church building we inherited needed a lot of work. So, the people of Mars Hill generously gave $1.8 million in one massive special offering to renovate it. It’s been a great transition over the last five years or so, with the church growing from less than 100 people to now well over 700 people coming together to worship Jesus and serve the West Seattle area, many of whom are new believers who’ve met Jesus and been baptized at Mars Hill West Seattle. Not only that, Mars Hill West Seattle has gone from being a church plant to planting churches, having planted Mars Hill Federal Way in 2009.

In this account the idea to merge comes from Doxa and not Driscoll.  While who is credited with taking initiative to merge changes across accounts, what doesn’t change is the reality that the previously announced plans for property renovation and expansion of the 50th street property in Driscoll’s Reformission Rev was a bust; it was also a boon for Clem, who could be paid a full salary while he had months off to care for his dying wife.  Not coincidentally, Driscoll was able to have Mars Hill receive as a gift the property he’d always wanted for Mars Hill to begin with.  Along with that deal, of course, Mars Hill gained James Noriega.

After such great length you’ll be asking, “What does any of this have to do with Mars Hill Ballard and Andrew Lamb?”  That’s a fair question, and to that subject we immediately turn.

A Confluence of Situations: Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case at Mars Hill, part 8




Now to appreciate the significance of “we don’t need to fight use permits” you need to be aware of the 2005 capital campaign that led to the purchase of the 50th street property. This requires a lot of citations that can’t be shortened. Here they are.


The first excerpt is from Confessions of a Reformission Rev, published in April 2006.



Our current facility cannot accomodate much growth beyond our current four Sunday services. Additionally our kids' ministry is bursting at the seams, our Capstone classes are in desperate need of space, and our cramped, windowless office space would be perfect if we were a third-world sweatshop.


So the elders voted to purchase a 43,000-square-foot dumpy warehouse Jamie found one block away from our current building. When the project is completed, we will have two buildings only a block apart, each hosting church services, with 1,300 seats in one location and a projected 1,000 seats in the other. We will be able to grow to more than 10,000 people per Sunday through multiple services in multiple locations. Each service will have live worship teams, but I will only be live in some services and in video in others.


However, in his July 30, 2006 sermon in 1 Corinthians Driscoll said several things about the property mentioned in Reformission Rev:




There is the building a block away. We purchased it a year ago. It was heading into foreclosure. We purchased it for under market value. It has increased in value since that time, and this is just some interior and exterior shots of the space, and our plan was to turn that into a large room to see maybe 800 to 1,000 people. And so, what we have instead decided to do, first, we’re going to keep that building – and it’s been great – ‘cause according to King 5 television, they had a report that said that 98105, which is this zip code, is one of the five fastest, increasing valued zip codes in the State of Washington. Since we bought that building, as it was going to foreclosure, we already have gained a million dollars in equity in that building. We have no intention of getting rid of it, but here’s what we do want to do with it. We want to knock half the building down and just turn it into parking to increase our parking capacity. Secondly, the other half of the building – we don’t feel that we have to use right now because of some other things that have come available that we’re gonna tell you about – but we’re gonna keep it. We’ll rent it out with the hopes that a tenant will pay most of our mortgage. We can keep it then, and then if we ever do wanna build on it, we can develop it and do whatever we want with it but we feel it’s important right now to watch and see what happens with this neighborhood, particularly what happens to parking, and then make a determination down the road as to best use.


And the reason that we don’t need to develop it as we had thought is because of some other things have come available. Among those is Shoreline and these are some shots from the Shoreline campus and where we are meeting at Christa Ministries, at Shermer Auditorium. Four hundred seats, plus a full daycare. It’s amazing kid space. Huge gym for the kids to run around in. Lots of parking. They’re letting us use that on Sunday and now this fall for beginning, for midweek programming for nothing. It’s free. We don’t even pay for janitorial, we don’t even pay for utilities. It is a savings of over $100,000.00 a year. We can be there for two more years. It’s a savings of 200 plus thousand dollars. We love Christa. We’re very, very grateful for their kindness to us. Eventually, we will need to purchase a permanent site for our Shoreline. We’ll need to get them a permanent purchase campus, ‘cause we can only be there for two years. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if somebody let you how the house for two years for free? I mean that’s a very kind gift, so we are actively looking for another place to buy….


Reformission Rev got published in April 2006 and by July 2006 the plan for the 50th street property looks pretty different.   It is in the contrast between the announced plan in Driscoll’s book and the realities on the literal ground that we see why acquiring what is now Mars Hill West Seattle became a priority.  My best guess is that it was this substantial change in announced plans that Jamie Munson referred to when answering the question asked below.



Page 72/145 from Mars Hill: A miracle of Jesus

November 9, 2007


Section: Stewardship


Answers submitted by Pastor Jamie Munson

Q: What is the status and future plans for the property M.H. owns just north of the Ballard campus?



We purchased the building on 50th with the intention of performing a massive renovation, and by connecting it with our Leary building, to create a large campus in the middle of the city. Since the 50th building dedication, our renovation plans were delayed by our attempt to obtain a change of use permit. During the permitting delay we were gifted a building in West Seattle and undertook renovating and opening that building as our next campus. [emphasis added]  At the time of these changes we communicated this to the members of the church openly and honestly as we wanted to be faithful to the stewardship and generosity of the body.



Also, each quarter a letter is sent to members, along with their donor statement, urging faithful stewardship and giving updates to vision and building strategies. In addition, Pastor Mark wrote a lengthy letter that was sent to members electronically, and handed out at all campuses explaining the shift to a multi-campus church before the West Seattle campus opened.  Due to the restrictions and expense of building a single large building in our city our focus has shifted from one large campus to becoming a multi-site church of smaller campuses.  Your elders feel this will enable a more effective and cost-efficient spread of the Gospel throughout Seattle and beyond.  It will still take capital campaigns and the purchasing of facilities but allows us to spread and grow more quickly as Jesus leads.


We are leasing part of the 50th building to generate some revenue. We are also performing a minor renovation of portions of the building to alleviate our current office and production space needs.  This will eliminate the need for leasing office space for our use.  In addition the property provides some much needed parking relief for our Ballard campus and also needs such as storage.  An average church of our size functions with about 4 times as much square footage as we do with our Ballard campus.  Storage, meeting rooms, office space and parking are greatly needed and this property serves those with purposes in the mean time. Future development options are being considered as well but there are no firm plans for these.  This is further complicated as the city is considering further zoning changes and restrictions in industrial areas of the city.  Until this legislation is decided it hangs property owners up as the future possibilities of the property are unclear.  We are hanging on to the property and using it to the fullest extent possible in the mean time.


In other words, we could take Munson’s reply to explain that Mars Hill elders purchased property in 2005 without adequately investigating zoning and land use permits beforehand. They bought what is now the 50th street property, and have been making the best of it while they were looking to purchase or acquire other property. The property was valuable enough that selling it could be done without a rush and the property maximized while more suitable options were considered. As we can see from Driscoll’s July 2006 sermon other options presented themselves quickly enough.