Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Justin Dean on dealing with the press, revisiting the first high profile incident Justin Dean fielded on behalf of Mars Hill a few years later

On February 23, 2015 Justin Dean published a post.

Among the list of things "to do" Dean mentioned correcting misinformation.  Back when the disciplinary situation of Andrew Lamb made headlines Justin Dean was willing to talk with Ruth Graham for an article she wrote that was published at Slate.  Let's go back and look at what Dean had to say at the time:
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.

So, basically, it looks as though Justin Dean's explanation of what happened with Andrew's situation was that there was "unclear communication" and a letter was posted online, it seems, to The City.  Who gave the unclear instructions was never explained but what seems clear from the explanation of "unclear communication" would be that Andrew's case became know via The City due to the imcompetence of the Mars Hill communications and leadership systems.

Thanks to the absence of robots.txt from The WayBack Machine let's go back and revisit what else was said:

That being said, we do wish to clarify one detail. In one of the cases, regrettably, a letter that was meant to be privately read aloud to a small group of about 15 people in close community and friendship with Andrew was instead posted to that group’s private online community page. There was never a letter sent to the church as a whole. The tragedy of this whole situation is that what was once a private and discreet matter is now on a grand stage, and those who were misinformed as to the actions of the church in this matter are now complicit in doing the very thing for which they have wrongly criticized us.

So the correction clarified that a letter was posted to a community page.  So if it seems speculative on the part of Wenatchee The Hatchet to suggest that Justin Dean's first major move fielding a PR situation on behalf of Mars Hill was to concede incompetence there are two testimonies, the statement made to Slate, and the published statement from Feb 13, 2012.

For those who don't remember the rest of what was said ... this snippet is worth revisiting:
In both cases that have been brought to light, things did not go as they should have, and well before they were ever written about in a public setting by bloggers and journalists, Mars Hill leadership stepped in to investigate. As a result of those investigations, it was determined that the leaders involved had a pattern of overstepping their authority. As such, they were released and are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church. Again, these actions were taken months ago, prior to any public exposure.

The trouble with this statement was that there was no way to tell who the leaders were who had a pattern of overstepping their authoritah, on the one hand, and on the other hand anyone who was familiar with the bylaws of Mars Hill post-2007 would have been able to see that there was, functionally, no upward limit on what pastors could decided to do in member discipline scenarios. 

Furthermore, as Wenatchee The Hatchet established in exhaustive detail, it was possible to establish a reasonable conjecture that Andrew was connected to the Noriegas based entirely on social media content; Driscoll sermons; Mars Hill website content; and the skeleton of the narrative published by Matthew Paul Turner.  Wenatchee The Hatchet had worked out a good number of the parties involved through publicly accessible media content back in February 2012 but because Lamb had not gone on record, Wenatchee The Hatchet waited until later to publish and discuss what was out in the open for anyone to go consult.

Had MH PR not mentioned any staff being let go it wouldn't have crossed the mind of Wenatchee that maybe the reason James Noriega had unceremoniously vanished from the elder rosters at Mars Hill could have been because he was one of the people let go.  But Mars Hill has neither confirmed nor denied any statements pertinent to Noriega. 

As The Stranger would later describe in 2013, Justin Dean's explanation that Mars Hill was partnering (or going to partner) with Lifelong AIDs Alliance was, as The Stranger put it, a bit of a PR meltdown.
It's also worth revisiting the fact that Mars Hill sermons were on a week delay, which meant that when outside press discussing Driscoll saying something on date X based on a media file made available at a website that the odds were decent the sermon in question was at least a week old.

And Justin Dean's wading into the fracas about the International Paper Building ... well ...
The Church had accused Sound Transit of taking the property by eminent domain, which Sound Transit denies. The Church has since backed down on that claim. Now the church leaders are questioning International Paper's acceptance of Sound Transit's offer.

 "We bid $250,000 over Sound Transit's bid," Dean said.

 In an email, a spokesman for International Paper in Memphis said that's not the case.
 "We accepted the highest and best overall offer which was from Sound Transit," wrote International Paper spokesman Kyle Morgolis. "Given our confidentiality agreement, we are unable to disclose the terms of the transaction".

 Sound Transit bristles at the idea it finalized the purchase agreement by undercutting and pushing Mars Hill out of any negotiation. "The idea that we intervened in the purchase of the property by them late in the game, that wasn't true," Patrick said. "We didn't hear from them until a week after we entered a binding agreement to purchase that property". [emphasis added]

So what if Mars Hill bid a quarter mil over the Sound Transit bid?  The Sound Transit deal turned out to have been finalized before Mars Hill had managed to express interest. 

A person could be forgiven for getting the idea that as PR went Justin Dean actually did more harm than good during his stint at Mars Hill.

If Dean hadn't made a point of talking about correcting misinformation Wenatchee wouldn't have felt any obligation to point out that during the heat of controversy amidst MH stuff circa 2012-2014 it sometimes looked like misinformation was more likely to come from Mars Hill about Mars Hill than from outside coverage.  Has Mars Hill EVER clarified which leaders were let go for overstepping spiritual authority, or even explained what that would mean?