STARTING WITH THE END
Posted by Sutton Turner on
If I would have known how messed up Mars Hill was in 2011, I would never have taken the executive pastor job. My wife’s friend often tells her that God doesn’t reveal everything to us because then we wouldn’t do what he wants us to. Sometimes when we count the cost, by the grace of God, we underestimate.
I’m thankful that I didn’t have the full picture in April 2011. I don’t regret the decision to serve Mars Hill Church. In spite of how difficult my time at Mars Hill was, there were also times of great joy. The gospel was preached unapologetically, many people were saved, and Marci and I met some amazing siblings in Christ who will be friends for eternity. During my service, I made mistakes and I am sorry for those. I also directly sinned against brothers and sisters and I have repented and sought (and continue to seek) reconciliation and forgiveness from them on a one-on-one basis (Matthew 18:15). Most importantly, Jesus has used all of it to sanctify me and make me more like him.
"Most importantly ... " Jesus has used all of the events and words to sanctify Sutton Turner and make him more like Jesus? At the risk of getting all Reformed/Presbyterian here isn't the highest aim to glorify the Lord and bring credit to His name? Beneficial though personal sanctification and progress may be they are not necessarily to be gained by seeking them as ends unto themselves. This concluding idea from Turner "could" be misconstrued as morally therapeutic deism without a counterweight.
But that actually was not the first thing that came to mind reading that closing set of paragraphs. Now, there's an echo latent in Turner's account that brings something else to mind from another former executive pastor about a decision he wouldn't have made if he'd known about some stuff in advance. You know what it is, of course, but let's revisit the source anyway:
Mark and Grace Driscoll
Thomas Nelson(c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
... One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film--something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I woke up, threw up and spent the rest of the night sitting on the couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer. Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don't remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her. But God told me to marry Grace, I loved her, I had married her as a Christian, we were pregnant, and I was a pastor with a church-plant with young people who were depending on me.
There's an interesting parallelism there in the stories of Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner, two men who explained that had they known about some stuff beforehand they would not have signed on for what they signed on for. Yet explicitly or implicitly God counted on or ensured the man's ignorance as the basis for the man doing what he was supposed to do. Apparently as with the "prophet", so with the "king" ... although the "king" turned out to have been a secretary and a treasurer, after all, while the "prophet" turned out to be the king. Formally the king signed the contract and the prophet made the profit.
Turner's apology for his role in Result Source would seem to put forever to bed the idea that "prophet" "priest" and "king" were categories beyond PR and branding. Turner was obviously not the "king" if, as a high-ranking employee of Mars Hill he was still somehow expected to or required to sign the Result Source contract in spite of his having (by his account) objected to it. If Turner could produce the memos and correspondence proving beyond all doubt at the time the contract was under discussion that he, in fact, objected, that would clear up a lot.
For the moment Turner's story asserts a lot but doesn't back up anything substantial with documentation. That the story Turner has shared happens to largely fit with documents leaked to Warren Throckmorton is not hugely surprising, but Turner's added enough details that we can't be sure those details are so just because he wrote them. Take the idea that all the elders had to agree on everything for anything to get done, for instance. That was demonstrably false to anyone who consulted the 2007-era bylaws. But it's possible Turner didn't have access to those by-laws or was told an erroneous account of what the pre-2007 bylaws contained. Once Joyful Exiles went public there was no real room for plausible deniability there.
A CULTURE THAT DOESN'T ENSURE CONFIDENTIALITY FOR MEMBERS
From Article VIII, Section C of 2007 era bylaws
2. Members of Mars Hill Church are not guaranteed confidentiality regarding issues of church discipline, and understand that in submitting themselves to the authority of the church, issues of a sensitive or personal nature may become known to others. This includes, but is not limited to, notification of the authorities if a crime has been committed or if a real threat of someone being endangered exists, as well as other violations of scripture that may not result in physical
3. Those who are members of the church or who regularly participate in church activities may be dismissed from the church by the agreement of at least two elders. The dismissal of a church member may be made known to all church members.
4. A person dismissed from Mars Hill Church for disciplinary reasons may be reinstated to full membership if the person’s repentance is accepted as genuine by the elders that oversaw the person’s discipline.
5. Each member of this church, and every other professing Christian who regularly attends or fellowships with this church, agrees that there shall be no appeal to any court because of a discipline process or dismissal. A member who is under discipline by the church, as defined in the previous paragraphs, forfeits and waives the right to resign from Mars Hill Church. Resignation is possible only by a member who is in good standing and who is not under any disciplinary action.
A note in passing, go to Article V and consider that under the 2007 bylaws the Board of Directors was delegated the task of handling and collecting royalties from intellectual property. So if the 2007 bylaws were being adhered to the Board of Directors would seem to have had a role in deciding to use Result Source, perhaps?
So it's important to keep in mind that with respect to member discipline the 2007 bylaws established that there was no basis for an appeal to any court over discipline or dismissal AND that there was no assurance of confidentiality with respect to member discipline. Furthermore, dismissal of a member could be made known to all the churches within Mars Hill.
CONFIDIALITY ASSURED WITHIN THE LEADERSHIP CLASS
So it's with that bylaw precedent in mind we can revisit Turner's recent account:
After my conversion, the Holy Spirit led me to repent to Marci for the sins I had committed against her and our family due to my idolatry. We sought the grace and mercy found only in Jesus and worked hard to reconcile and submit our marriage to Christ’s headship. Up until the fall of 2011, neither Marci nor I had shared a full, detailed account of my pre-salvation story with another person. In order to become an elder of Mars Hill Church, I submitted to an extensive process to ensure that I met the elder qualifications given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5. The campus lead pastor and the other longtime Mars Hill pastors who were overseeing my eldership assessment assured me that the process would have strict confidentiality.
As part of this process, Marci and I had an interview with the pastor over pastoral care at our local campus. We honestly and openly discussed my past sins before coming to Christ in 2005. The pastor asked if we had communicated this information to anyone. I told him that I wanted to wait until my daughters (who were 7 and 12 at the time) were older, because I wanted to tell them first. My desire for confidentiality was not due to ungodly secrecy but rather appropriate privacy.
That assurance of strict confidentiality may have been sincere enough but in terms of the bylaws it was not actually a given that member confidentiality would automatically be a given, was it?
Let's consider that by Jonna Petry's account:
... on a Sunday evening at 8:30, after Mark’s last sermon on Nehemiah in which he ranted about men “who don’t follow the chain of command…even in leadership of this church” Paul and Bent Meyer were angrily threatened by Mark in a small private meeting that if they didn’t resign from staff and as elders immediately they would both be fired and put through “very personal and painful” trials to have them removed as elders, that their “files were full and growing.” [emphasis added] No other reasons for dismissal were given. Neither of them resigned. The meeting lasted maybe five minutes. And then the hell really began.
Of course the day after the terminations it turns out Driscoll talked about "a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus". Two guys weren't on mission and now they were unemployed. You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus, those were the two options, but the bus ain't gonna stop. Or so it seemed in 2007.
Turner may not have realized this when he joined Mars Hill leadership but a history of putting guys through the proverbial woodchipper in disciplinary settings was hardly new.
Turner continues with the following:
I submitted to the pastors of my local church and their decision on my eldership, whatever that might be. A few weeks later, I was presented to the church body for comment. Two weeks later, I was prayed over by these same men in front of the church and installed as an elder. In the eldership process, you count the cost of what sacrifices you believe will be made, but ultimately you have never done it. So you have to trust the leaders whom God has put in place to steward what is best for you, your family, and your church.
One of the lingering riddles about who was installed in what elder capacity at Mars Hill has been the nomination of James Noriega. Whatever Turner's pre-conversion sins, James Noriega's history of felonies and having a second marriage was reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer back in 2004 before he became an elder at Mars Hill who ended up on the Board of Directors.
Now, to be sure, the life and teaching of Christ changes lives but if Noriega was able to get greenlit to eldership and the Board of Directors with his background, was it possible Sutton Turner could have been fast-tracked into eldership when he wasn't quite ready? Consider that Tim Smith became worship pastor in spite of having had no demonstrable musical competency as such but having what Mark Driscoll considered leadership potential. This may seem like an esoteric and pedantic point but it will be important when we get to Turner's story where it goes next.
... OR MAYBE NOT? SO ... IS THIS BEING DESCRIBED AS BLACKMAIL?
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. As a church, Mars Hill had endured six months of intense scrutiny in the media. I had endured just as many months of media accusations and former church elders calling for my resignation. Twenty-one former Mars Hill elders had filed formal charges against my fellow executive elder. People outside of Mars Hill informed me that former Mars Hill elders were working to file formal charges against me also. I was told that a former lead pastor was approached to lead a group of people who hoped to force my resignation so that I “could not help Pastor Mark Driscoll.” That former lead pastor declined to participate.
A few days later, an anonymous mass text was sent out to current elders stating that I was not qualified to be an elder, among many other things. At the end of August 2014, I received a text from an anonymous phone number stating that one current elder and many former elders were discussing my pre-salvation sins. It also said that I was not qualified to be an elder and I needed to resign or this sensitive, private information would be shared to the public. Additionally, the week I was to announce my resignation to the church, an elder stated that he had my elder file in his possession, as he was asking for more severance.
Did Sutton Turner endure six months of media accusations? Turner's name was on the contract. There's no accusation there. Turner himself admits he signed the contract with Result Source on behalf of Mars Hill. The colossal rate of lay-offs and terminations that emerged with Sutton Turner's arrival was conceded by the Board of Advisors and Accountability. Wenatchee The Hatchet was practically documenting the exodus of staff in real time for the last five years. Wenatchee The Hatchet was given an exit interview response to Van Skaik's 2013ish letter in which it was stated that Driscoll should fire Sutton Turner, who was considered a bullying employer. That many people loathed Turner was not hard to discern in the trenches. Wenatchee The Hatchet never really burned any bridges in attempting to document the history of Mars Hill and at the risk of invoking the general vibe the rank and file had about Turner, they didn't much dig him, it seems and those that did apparently weren't apt to run into Wenatchee The Hatchet. Fair enough, everyone's bound to have their partisans, though.
When we get to the part about the anonymous mass text sent to current elders, if Turner's account is reliable, that's what it was. Turner doesn't say whether "one current elder and many former elders" had actual names or if it was a general veiled and not-veiled threat.
What's more significant is that Turner describes being put in a position where he was told that if he didn't resign his pre-conversion sins would be shared with the public.
Regardless of past or present Mars Hill staff status the question here should be why on earth the pre-conversion sins should matter? James Noriega's pre-conversion felonies weren't held against him, were they? He ended up on the Board of Directors. Mark Driscoll talked about how before he became a Christian he'd basically forged his birth record to get jobs he wasn't legally old enough to get.
Part 5 of Proverbs
Pastor Mark Driscoll | October 28, 2001
It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. [emphasis added] Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
So if a guy could have felonies and a second marriage and still end up not only a pastor but on the Board of Directors, and the founding preaching and vision pastor could say from the pulpit he falsified his birth record to get a job he wanted and all this refers to pre-conversion activities, it doesn't quite make sense why former or a then-current Mars Hill elder would have a leg to stand on trying to threaten Turner with public disclosure of sins from his pre-conversion days.
Then again, let's put it another way, by Turner's account, it seems we're told someone who was at the time still a Mars Hill elder (and may have never formally quit being one) was also in on this alleged threat. Let's put it like this, if the stuff was considered bad enough that it could be retroactively brought to bear against Sutton Turner in 2014 why wasn't it considered grounds for excluding him from elder candidacy to begin with!?
That's a point that can and should be brought up regardless of whether or not a person believes Turner's allegations are true. They might be true but until such time as he documents the allegations it's impossible to know how much of the story checks out. If he opts not to disclose more than that's just how it is. It's unfortunate, and extremely so, if former pastors resorted to blackmail. But at the same time, when Petry and Meyer got fired there was report that the trial was warned to be one that would be painful and personal. So in some sense, if Turner had just had a more in-depth history of how conflicts got brokered within the leadership culture of Mars Hill he might have had a chance to hear from people who could have warned him that, eh, maybe these things sometimes happen now and then. If even former Mars Hill staff ended up being guilty of the tactics would that be a huge shock if it turns out, with the disclosure of how the 2007 trials of Petry and Meyer got conducted, that even in exile Mars Hill leaders might be tempted to resort to some kind of hardball of the kind that was, by at least some reports, in currency?
And didn't more than one hundred people lose or quit their jobs in the first two years Sutton Turner was in executive leadership? this doesn't mean the blackmail, if it happened, was a good thing, but it may suggest the possibility that there could have been a giant pool of people with at least a potential axe to grind. Whatever Turner does not want disclosed may not be as material as the fact that by his own account the sins that were not considered bad enough to keep him from getting a pastoral job in the first place were considered bad enough that Turner, again by his own account, opted to resign rather than risk whatever those alleged sins were getting brought into the public sphere.
But let's not take everything Turner says at face value. He may believe the anonymous threat came from former staff but if it was really anonymous, well, we can't be sure. And if by Turner's account BoAA split on whether to make him the scapegoat it sounds like Turner pissed off a LOT of people at various levels in the organization.
Just when it seemed the Mars Hill saga of decline couldn't spiral down into anything nastier ... .
Turner states an anonymous text message stated that former pastors and a then-current pastor were discussing his past sins. This may have to be taken at face value as a statement having been made, but it's difficult to assess whether that statement sent to Turner would have been true. Mars Hill had by 2014 had a history of bleeding information but it seemed the more was revealed about the culture the more secretive things were at the top.
Which is to say that just because someone anonymous claimed former pastors were discussing Turner's sins doesn't mean those sins were known and anyone who would be in a position to know would seem like someone eager to not discuss it and, as the BoAA indicated, non-disclosure agreements were considered acceptable practice.
On the other hand, Turner's account has stated that there was a split within the BoAA whether or not to blame him alone for Result Source and Global. Turner had caused enough bad blood to develop between him and former staff it's "possible" they would have a motive but the question then becomes one of access. Turner alludes to a then-current pastor but the question of who could have access to personal information about executive pastors is a bit murky in terms of certainty. Since Turner was an executive it would seem as though the easiest access point would be from anyone who had currently or previously had executive pastor assistant level access. Even with a turnover rate as high as what Mars Hill went through in the previous six years that could be a relatively short list.
It is not confirmed that former pastors conspired with a then-current pastor on staff at Mars Hill to disclose information just because an anonymous set of texts asserted that. Turner took the threat seriously enough to resign but we may never find out whether the anonymous person(s) making the threats turned out to be as the texts claimed. In other words, we can't rule out false flags just yet.
For those who remember the Portland vandalism incident at Mars Hill Portland, some of the gay community wondered if that was a false flag. The threat to Turner could still be a real one but it's not certain with the little information available who could have made the threat.