Friday, January 25, 2013

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:

Why the press statement omitted The Stranger coverage is a mystery. The following article in Christianity Today published in February 2012 quotes from the earlier form of A Response Regarding Church Discipline.


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. [emphasis added] Again, these actions were taken months ago, prior to any public exposure. … We're reviewing our current church discipline cases to make sure all our local leaders are operating within the spirit of love intended to be present in our existing policies.

The updated version at MH reads as follows:

 [Updated 2/16] 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 because we take the care of our people seriously. As a result of this investigation, we are taking steps to streamline our church discipline process to ensure that it is applied in a biblically consistent manner across all of our churches. In addition, in two separate instances, we have removed the staff members involved and they are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church. Again, we began taking these actions months ago, prior to any public exposure.

The February 16, 2012 clarification states that the two staff who were let go had no connection to Andrew's case. Because of the initial wording that was not clear.  I began to wonder, in light of those differing statements, what had happened to Noriega.  I had noticed Noriega stopped being listed as an elder as far back as October 2011, and possibly earlier.  I wasn't sure why that had been the case but the Mars Hill public relations statements about staff being let go for overstepping spiritual authority thrust the absence of Noriega from Mars Hill eldership back into mind.  

What I have established so far is there are only two types of men who could be pastors at Mars Hill and also have stepdaughters.  Bill Clem fits one type and James Noriega fits the other type. From multiple statements in the Seattle P-I and from Mark Driscoll himself we can establish that James Noriega has a stepdaughter, was a pastor at Ballard who got introduced in 2009.  So far all of this testimony strongly suggests that the basic claims Andrew has made were accurate. If Andrew’s story was incomplete at best and possibly deliberately misleading then how is it we can pinpoint a plausible identification for the pastor at Mars Hill Ballard to this level of detail?  Incomplete?  Necessarily.  Deliberately misleading?  That’s simple assertion.

What would be incomplete or misleading, then?  Well, here’s a proposal, if James Noriega was a pastor at Mars Hill Ballard but had been fired some time between September and November 2011 then, by the time Andrew’s disciplinary situation came up and escalated, it would have been inaccurate or misleading for Andrew to say that he was engaged to a pastor’s daughter.

Now James Noriega has a twitter account anyone can look up that he was going on fishing trips with a person named Andrew isn’t that difficult to look up. Noriega’s twitter account described him as a pastor at Mars Hill up through February 28, 2012, after which time it was corrected to avoid stating he was a pastor.

Good day fishing with Andrew. He out did me with 7 sea bass and 4 ling cod. I got 8 sea bass an 1 ling cod

06.18pm 19 August 2011 via Twitter for Android

He also tweeted the good news that his daughter from his first marriage came to Christ.


I just heard my daughter from my first marriage, say she believes in Jesus! I've been praying for her 15 years

1:59 PM - 4 Nov 2011 via Twitter for Android ·

Quite a bit more cryptic is this tweet from October 17, 2011. I will note that this was the same month I began to notice Noriega was no longer listed as an elder in any capacity for the first time.

My lack of humility is the perfect explanation to all my defects and failures

6:52 AM - 17 Oct 2011

This tweet, from August the same year, is less vague:

Meet our new interns at Mars Hill church #BLD

@jamesnoriega @MarsHillBLD

gets to:

Mars Hill Ballard

Mars Hill Church lives for Jesus as a city within the city knowing culture, loving people, seeing lives transformed to live for Jesus.

Ballard, Seattle


8:37 AM - 7 Aug 2011 via web


So as late as August 2011 Noriega was at Mars Hill Ballard often enough to meet and document new interns. His twitter feed from 2011 also indicates he had gone on fishing trips with someone named Andrew.