Wednesday, September 10, 2014

members of Mars Hill, remember that the church is not a place but a people, and if that is so the corporation isn't really the church and it may not deserve your money

"The church is not a place but a people."  These are words that many a leader at Mars Hill, but most notably Mark Driscoll, have said over the last nearly two decades.  The leadership of Mars Hill has indicated recently that they can only give as much "church" as the members are willing to provide.

That may well betray a fundamental change in values that signals a profound sickness in the corporation.  If the church is still not a place but a people then whether or not the corporation technically recognized by the state of Washington as Mars Hill Church continues to exist the people will continue to be a group of professing believers.

Mars Hill leadership has begun to state rather than hint that times are bad.  The times are bad, they are even beginning to say, because leaders have sinned.

Yet which of the leaders of Mars Hill will say how much the salary or housing allowance is for any of the executive elders is?  Do they even know?  For that matter how much does your local campus pastor make?  Do members even know that?  How many people who go to hear Driscoll preach at the Bellevue campus even know where he lives, or that he hasn't lived in King County in years?  If he's not even in the same county as you are and you only see him mediated by a video screen on which is projected a sermon he preached a week ago in either another part of town or another town altogether how, exactly, is that guy your pastor?

Mars Hill has been indicating to its membership the ultimate power lays with them to pony up more money rather than in the leaders to spend it ... but if the leaders won't disclose where all that money goes and why they hardly merit getting more money. 

If all of the pastors at every level aren't willing to share with members how much they make the members who aren't even civil members of the corporation for purposes of Washington state law only have the power to give or withhold money.

Let Mars Hill as a corporation prove it can be trusted with money before they get any for a while.  Give to the local campus operation costs with gift restrictions if you like, but it looks like it's getting to the point where a full-scale embargo on giving anything to the corporation known as Mars Hill Church might be necessary?  Why?  Because money talks, and because Mars Hill's leadership culture apparently pays more attention to when the giving isn't enough for what they want to do than when they have enough money to feel like they can gamble on opening half a dozen campuses in five months. 

A financial embargo wouldn't have to be long, just a season, and could send a powerful message to its leadership that it truly owes an honest accounting of its expenditures.  It's not like Mars Hill didn't just lay off dozens of people recently anyway.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has attempted to articulate and also document how the Mark Driscoll of 2011 to the present has in various ways said and done things that publicly document a shift to being nearly everything he used to warn people against and denounce from the pulpit up through to about 2006.  Driscoll can say he's a nobody trying to telle verybody about somebody, but it turns out Driscoll's catchphrase is just a truncated recycling of a catchphrase that was often said by Denver Moore.  Even his catchphrase is demonstrably someone else's idea and has been truncated.  The Denver Moore version had it "Tell 'em I'm a nobody that is tryin' to tell everybody about somebody that can save anybody," .  It seems, at length, that Driscoll's omission of "that can save anybody" may telegraph a truncation of a populist theological aphorism that may reflect far more on the limitations of Mark Driscoll's understanding of the Gospel than most may be able to guess at. 

If Mars Hill isn't willing to explain to its regular attenders where the money goes and why, and its leadership insists that the accusations against Mark Driscoll specifically have to be addressed before anything about the by-laws or governance gets addressed, or any concerns about how and why money has been spent the way it has then they don't deserve the money they're asking for.  Driscoll has said that trust is gained slowly and lost quickly.  How much trust does the Mars Hill leadership culture merit these days?  The answer, even by the account of the leaders themselves in some cases is "maybe ... not so much." 

Wenatchee The Hatchet has made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion earlier that Mars Hill may only pay attention to the rank and file attenders if there is a financial boycott pending full financial disclosure ...and also a sex strike.  This is the less tongue-in-cheek proposal.  If the leaders of Mars Hill actually believe what they have taught about the church being not a place but a people they should love those people enough to be completely transparent about where the money goes and if not, maybe they don't love the people as much as they love the place and their place within that place.  Yeah, those will be construed as fighting words.  It is not Wenatchee's custom to agitate or suggest agitation but it increasingly seems that the leadership culture at Mars Hill pays lip service to the idea that they know they're not trustworthy without doing the simplest things that could be done to restore trust not just from regular members but to the public at large. 

Subject them to a financial embargo, withhold any and all donations, and that may be the only real test of your power you'll ever have, members of Mars Hill. 

A lot of people have made snarky remarks about how people must just drink the Kool-aid.  People keep speaking up on Driscoll's behalf in spite of Result Source and in spite of the citation errors.  Are they defending the plagiarism or the sales rigging?  No.  Are they even necessarily defending their pastor?  Well, only if their pastor is a face on a screen seen via week delay in most cases, which begs the question of whether he's even a pastor at all, since sometimes he's said he's an evangelist and other times he's said he's not even that but a missiologist and at other times he says he's a local pastor even if he doesn't live in the same county he preaches to people at.

Okay, well, let's propose that what people are defending when they speak up for Mars Hill is not the figurehead but the story and their investment of themselves into that story.

Wenatchee The Hatchet used to do that but the scandals of 2007 (no, not just the firings, look into the real estate and other disciplinary activities from around that time) began to shake the foundations of the narrative.  Seeing Mars Hill slowly transform itself from telling the story of a community co-founded by a group of families into the dominating narrative of a single man who has increasingly made the narrative of a spiritual community revolve more closely around himself even as he is at an astronomically greater remove from anyone in this group, persuaded Wenatchee The Hatchet that there's nothing about being an evangelical Protestant that necessitated sticking with this particular narrative.  It no longer even resembled the story of the people I was once part of and still consider myself in some sense part of.  I don't regret meeting any of the friends I met and made through my time at Mars Hill.  I still love my friends whether they have stayed or left there.  Everyone will drink the Kool-aid for someone or something.  It's too easy to mock the loves of others and one of the commitments Wenatchee has made in writing about Mars Hill here is to avoid demonizing people and to at least try to refrain from mocking the loves of others. 

What Wenatchee The Hatchet can keep trying to do is educate people about the history of Mars Hill so that they can reach informed decisions.  The suggestion of a financial boycott until transparency is provided is not made lightly, it's made because it's looking like the only thing that will work.  If at this point the only thing that gets the attention of the leaders is not the realization that rigging sales to promote books with cribbed content is a morally wrong thing to do but that people aren't giving enough money for the undisclosed salaries of leaders and staff then Mars Hill as a spiritual community might just have to administer to itself the tough love it has spent nearly two decades declaring it would give to others. 

You won't stop being the people, individually and collectively, that you have been if you take this path.  You can stop giving to a corporation that rented Ephesus for a day and signed a contract to rig sales for a NYT list.  You can stop giving to a corporation that let a law firm send a cease-and-desist letter to a little church in California while the church executive signed on the line with Result Source to promote a book that turned out to have cribbed from Dan Allender's work without giving him any credit in its first edition.  The problem, as it slowly emerges from years of headlines and public statements and scrubbed sermons and behind-the-scenes amendations to books with citation errors is a leadership culture that arguably has just as much, or more, of an entitlement sensibility now as in 2012. 

People who have defended Mars Hill in the past defended their investment of themselves into Mars Hill.  That story is not necessarily your story and you may not fully realize how expendable you are to the corporation.  Consider whether Mark Driscoll has ever said even two words about co-founding pastors Mike Gunn and Lief Moi in the last seven years.  If even co-founding pastors have proven to be ultimately expendable how much more are you, Mars Hill member who might happen to read this? 

This is the sort of open letter Wenatchee tends to dislike, but Wenatchee isn't writing as some unbeliever.  Wenatchee is also not writing as someone who takes this suggestion lightly but a financial embargo (temporary though it might be) is probably the only way for the regular attenders to make their voices heard.  After years of the leaders regaling you with how bad you are at giving while increasingly documents show a chaos of fiscal chaos it's starting to look depressingly like only money talks.  Think of it this way, even if the corporation dies (and it must eventually since it's just how the world works) the community does not necessarily die.  If the church is a people and not a place then it won't matter if that corporation known as Mars Hill Church stands or falls.  You can follow Jesus just fine without signing a membership contract that gives you a series of obligations and a handful of privileges but no actual rights.  Wenatchee isn't telling anyone to do anything but inviting a possible path.  Let your money talk.  It's not just a case of where your treasure is so goes your heart, it's where their treasure is so goes their heart.  Your campus pastor and your executive elders should love you enough to be able to tell you what they make and if they don't but let robo-letters be sent out to ask you to give more all that covenant talk may mask a strictly contractual relationship.