Saturday, February 22, 2020

Yolanda Bonnell's case for asking that white theater critics not review the ceremony/theater work bug and, of course, some critical responses to that

Being sort of half-and-half in my lineage, born of a Native American father and a white mother, I can appreciate that there are a lot of absurd stereotypes about Native American (U.S.) and First Nation people (Canada) that pervade media and arts reviews.  Theater, I must admit, is largely not my thing and owing to certain limitations I wouldn't go to theater events if musical performances are at hand.

Still, half being able to sympathize with a preference that only those reviewing something in the arts have some background in the arts so as to review, the functionally elite and elitist nature of such a request seems hard to escape..

In Pacific Northwestern tribal contexts you wouldn't just be allowed to hear any old song.  Songs could often be considered gifts from spirits and PNW tribes frequently had a very strict sense of what in contemporary Western thought would get described as intellectual property.  So there's all sorts of ways in which Bonnell's case can be understood as tied to spiritual concerns and traditions that may seem opaque to someone with absolutely no Native/First Nation background.

As part of our efforts to decolonize art and foster culturally informed criticism, my theatre company, mandoons collective, run by Cole Alvis and I, requested that only Indigenous, Black, people of colour (IBPOC) folks review the show.
To be clear, white people are welcome to attend the show. It’s important to have witnesses present to understand the ongoing effects of colonialism. And we are totally fine with a person of colour giving us a bad review. It’s not the review we’re worried about, it’s the voice behind it.
Indigenous performance has been grossly under-reviewed and while the tide is shifting, the lens with which predominantly white critics view the work has been problematic. The lack of IBPOC voices in the media—at a time when arts’ coverage is shrinking—means white critics are often the gatekeepers of success.

There is often a tone along the lines of “I don’t understand this, therefore it’s not valid or good art.” Aspects like style, movement, language, and music are at risk of being dismissed. There are so many different styles of theatre or storytelling. Can everyone be proficient in all of those? Probably not. But as reviewers, I think there’s a responsibility in acknowledging that you may not understand certain cultural aspects of how the storyteller is choosing to tell that story.
Michael W Pisani has written a book on the debates within the United States about what Euro-Americans thought about Native American music, if it was even what they thought ought to be called music, how Native Americans were depicted in European musical traditions and attempts by some Europeans and Americans to take the musical traditions of Native Americans seriously.  It's a dense book and I'm still working through it but perhaps I'll manage to write about that book at some point in the future.  There are plenty of white people who simply refuse to consider the possibility that Native American music is music worth taking seriously as music.  I hope that changes and it provides some context for the half of me that understands the idea Bonnell seems to be getting at in wanting those whites who have no demonstrable history of taking Native American/First Nation cultures and histories seriously to just not be involved in reviewing something they've never been interested in before or to expect the usual free review tickets. 

On the other hand, as Adrian Jawort put it not so long ago, an impulse in Native American arts to censor at the point of production may seem well-intentioned but unavoidably more than flirts with chilling effects on speech.

Jawort, however, was discussing the way cultural appropriation has been a concept employed as a cudgel to stifle publication of works before they can enter the market.  That is in many ways a profoundly different scenario than Bonnell's request that only black, indigenous, and people of color reviewers be allowed to review her work.  Yet the core question in terms of freedom of speech, or perhaps to make this point delicately, freedom of sufficiently educated speech, remains.  One of the risks in a knee-jerk or "hot take" reaction to the explicitly race-based request that white theater reviewers not review the work is to consider the formidable educational/cultural ideal against which the request seems to have been made.  If there were a journalist who might "read" as white but who is familiar with the negative effect of the Burke Act and the Dawes Act in promoting the disenfranchisement of Native Americans through the partitioning and fractionation of land ownership then, who knows, Bonnell might consider such a journalist to maybe acceptable if said journalist had some Native ancestry.

That it can look like "one drop" in reverse is obviously hard to avoid. 

Since I'm something of an anime fan I can get how readily and how dismissively Western cinematic journalism is full of people who don't know and don't even care to know enough about Japanese cultural, political and religious history to get anything about, say, the sunshine girl folklore that is necessary to get what's going on in Weather With You, which I saw earlier this year.  I admit I liked Your Name a lot more but the new film is gorgeous, as I expected it to be, in terms of visual design, color design, and there's a lot i liked about the film.  I did sigh a few times when the action and character development came to a screeching halt for what amounted to an anime episode that would be a radwimps music video, though.  I'm not making up that band name, by the way, but I digress, as I get to do in a weekend blog post.

That the critical mainstream or power base is white and male in the United States, the UK and Canada is basically beyond dispute.  That writers at/for The Guardian would sound off on the subject was inevitable.

When Yolanda Bonnell’s play Bug opened in Toronto last week, she had an unusual request for the media: that only people of color review it.

Bonnell, an Indigenous artist from north-western Ontario, creates ceremonial art. Her new play explores the effects of intergenerational trauma on Indigenous women and aims to focus on storytelling.
Bonnell says she has received a number of racist reviews in the past – including one that suggested her work was more suited to reservations. She received an apology for that article, but after discovering that other artists of color had experienced similar treatment, Bonnell decided to pull the plug on white critics for her current show.

“In Toronto, critics are mostly white and male. They come at Indigenous art with a different lens – that often comes back to ‘If I don’t understand it, that means it’s not good or it’s not a valid form of theatre’,” she says. “I don’t mind being critiqued. But at least let it come from a place of knowledge, of understanding what you’re talking about.”

But – as [Arifa] Akbar points out – there are intersections, and it’s hard to know where to draw the line: “I am a south Asian born in Britain. Am I going to be attuned to Indigenous experience in a theatre in Canada?”
The profession doesn’t just suffer from a dearth of critics of color but also female critics; disabled critics; LGBTQ+ critics and working-class critics, too. For that reason, Shoard says that Bonnell could end up excluding other minorities, even unintentionally: “It seems counter-intuitive. It’s not like everyone who is in a particular profession who doesn’t look exactly like you is some sort of very privileged enemy.”
In particular, her concern is that limiting a profession on the basis of any demographic is a slippery slope. “You can make logic out of anything. If someone said: I’m sick of everything having to be viewed through a woke, feminist lens, so I only want white guys who are over 55 to review my work, there would obviously be justified uproar,” says Shoard.
Then again, if a publication is only going to send one critic, perhaps demanding that they’re a person of color is at least a short-term fix. As Bakare says: “The current landscape is completely lacking in diversity. So setting up a criteria that says, ‘These are the only people I want to write about this’, [solves] that issue straight away.”
For this reason, Akbar says that Bonnell’s exercise is interesting and important. “You do wonder who will be left to do the review. Just by making this request, she is showing how little diversity there is in theatre reviewing.”
Depending on how we frame the issues at hand we could ask whether or not the role of the critic as the "gatekeeper of success" has actually been the case.  To read some of Norman Lebrecht's rants on the decline of criticism and the demise of the prestige of the critic it could seem as though critics have less power now than ever before in the age of blogging and Yelp.  It might be salient to ask whether asking white theater critics to not review bug has come at a cultural moment when theater, which I might note the theater critic Terry Teachout has claimed is more marginal, niche and functionally elite now than it's ever been, when theater itself is somewhat at a low ebb.  This seems to be something Bonnell is already aware of.  

To put it in terms more akin to the Adorno I've read in the last five years, why is success defined so strictly in market terms that white theater critic reviews are considered?  When I was a cub reporter getting my journalism degree I recall a theater prof unabashedly describing any coverage of any theater production at the school as publicity for the play.  Whether or not what I wrote was informed or thoughtful was not exactly the point, any coverage at all constituted a kind of advertising for the production.  I admitted theater wasn't exactly my thing but I was curious to know more and to understand where artists in that field were coming from.  So I sat through a few productions that were interesting at the time even if they don't stick with me now.  My affection for chamber music, classical guitar, animation and biblical literature probably needs no more advertising than is already at hand in the blog.

I mention that in passing as a transition. What might warrant mention in a place like Get Religion if Get Religion dealt with arts coverage, would be that there's a ceremonial aspect to Bonnell's work that comes up in coverage about the background for why she has requested that white theater critics not review her work.  What seems counterintuitive in terms of the rituals of commercial arts production and presentation isn't counterintuitive at all if we consider a ceremonial/ritual context in which the right to speak is predicated on an invitation to observe or participate in a functionally religious ceremony.  Protestants won't be offered Eucharist in an Eastern Orthodox service, for instance, because closed communion is practiced, but they will be offered friendship bread.

Indigenous theatre artist Yolanda Bonnell is opening a show called “bug” this week at Theatre Passe Muraille and I’m not invited to review it. Neither is my Star colleague, Carly Maga.

Bonnell and her company, Manidoons Collective, have invited only folks who are Indigenous, Black or people of colour (abbreviated as IBPOC) to write about “bug.”

This choice might immediately strike some as counterintuitive; it certainly runs against the dominant conventions of criticism, in which theatres offer free tickets to all critics actively reviewing in their market, in exchange for reviews of their shows. Those reviews serve a number of functions including critical evaluation, historical record and support for future funding applications and, more immediately, they help get word out that the shows are happening.

Why disrupt this system?

Bonnell has many reasons, starting with the fact that “bug” is an artistic ceremony, which she says “does not align with colonial reviewing practices.” [emphasis added]

Directed by Cole Alvis, “bug” was nominated for four Dora Awards when it was presented in the 2018 Luminato Festival. I saw it in that Luminato run (it’s also played in Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria, and in Toronto in several developmental contexts). It’s a solo show in which Bonnell plays an Indigenous character called The Girl who is working her way through intergenerational trauma while being pursued by manidoons (Ojibwe for bugs), which represent her addictions.

“Ceremony traditionally is a very spiritual and private ritual,” says Bonnell. “What we are doing with artistic ceremony is bringing more community into the ceremony we are performing and presenting onstage … For me, the idea of critiquing an act that is ceremonial feels very wrong” — when that critique comes from people who don’t necessarily have the experience of marginalization that Indigenous, Black or people of colour consistently face.

Given the show’s ceremonial nature, why not perform it in a specifically Indigenous venue rather than a mainstream theatre?

“Part of why we’re doing this is to bring community into the ceremony; bringing anyone who wants to be a part of it,” says Bonnell.

“Whenever anything I write is being produced, somehow the question gets asked: who is this for? I always have two answers. It’s for Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, two-spirit, nonbinary and trans folks who have the most marginalized and silenced voices. It’s important that we be seen and validated. The work that I do, I deeply and primarily do it for those people.

“It’s also for people to understand the effects of colonialism,” she continues. “I am still arguing with racists every day and that fact that I still have to have these conversations means that still people don’t understand those effects.”

Non-Indigenous people are invited into her ceremony, Bonnell says, “to act as witnesses. It’s up to them to carry that story and spread it to other people, to use their platform and privilege to explain what the effects of colonialism are” — the effects that in “bug” are manifest in The Girl’s struggles with trauma and addiction.

But aren’t critics (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) important witnesses — particularly given that our function is to communicate publicly about the theatre we see? Previous experience of being reviewed, as well as recent reviews of the work of other IBPOC artists, has Bonnell wary.

When it was presented at Luminato, “bug” received a review that Bonnell and her collaborators felt was “incredibly problematic”: “The person didn’t do their basic research. They thought it was autobiographical and they said it would be better served on reserves.”
Western art-religion in the wake of Richard Wagner has very often been art-religion of a nominalist type, the art itself is the religion more than there is necessarily any explicitly religious/spiritual content to the work.  White arts critics with some familiarity with LGBTQ activism may default to an essentially secular/secularist mindset in which ceremonial anything that doesn't default to some vaguely defined backdrop of Abrahamic religions (which may be too readily conflated with "colonial" but that's arguably an entirely separate topic since the history of Western and Eastern Christians rejecting sacralism and conflation of church and state goes back thousands of years despite various bids at explicit Christendom ... ).  The default to whiteness may trip things up not at the nonbinary/trans/two-spirit (which, for people not familiar with this Native term, fits within the LGBTQ spectrum) because in terms of sexuality theater critics would likely be on board with that in major urban centers, the trip-up might be a ceremonial Native American context within which experiences of trauma were processed.  For white urbanites without much interest in religious traditions therapy would be the ceremony or ritual default, so to speak.  That's not necessarily how it will play out for Native American or First Nation people.

 Then again, when I consider my mixed lineage the white side of the family defaulted to Arminian Pentecostalism while the Native American side tended toward Calvinism/monergistic soteriology within the Christian traditions.  One of many white stereotypes about Native American/First Nation people could be assuming that "we" all have religious beliefs that don't map out within the context of Abrahamic religions.  As Walter Echo Hawk and David Treuer have pointed out, there are, in fact, Christian Native Americans, so one of the old saws introduced for why they didn't deserve any religious freedoms ran aground on Native Americans taking up religious beliefs white people were trying to get them to believe.  If once they also professed Christ how did Christians sitting on judicial benches justify denying them legal rights?  That, too, is grist for a whole range of other posts and not really the aim of this post in particular. 

Having never actually made a living in the arts or even managed to work in arts journalism, I admit to being on the fence about all of this stuff.  In a lot of ways I practically don't care because I realize mainstream music journalism often isn't covering the kinds of stuff I find fascinating, like contrapuntal cycles for solo guitar (six string).  I'd rather music journalists wrote about Koshkin or Bogdanovic or Ourkouzounov or Ben Johnston than yet more verbiage about Beethoven and it's not even because I don't like Beethoven.  I like a lot of Beethoven's not-choral music.  I don't regret seeing a Harold Pinter production but a Harold Pinter production that's riveting one night lapses into "okay, I got it" seeing it the third time.  

I don't view the arts in sacramental terms and for those who do I respect that's where they come from and what they believe the arts should achieve.  I also try to be at least moderately religiously literate enough to get that a wide variety of religious impulses and experiences can inform work in the arts that aims at a sacramental/ceremonial experience.  I doubt whether or not Get Religion will cover this recent situation but it seems as though even in the reporting that has been done on Bonnell's request the "religion angle" has at least come up.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Warren Throckmorton revisits Board of Elder assessment of Mark Driscoll, let's revisit the governance of MHC at the time of Driscoll's resignation and see where the BoE members have ended up

In 2014 during the final days of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, 21 former elders of the church lodged charges of pastoral misconduct against Mark Driscoll. In line with church bylaws*, a committee of elders investigated those charges by interviewing numerous church members and related witnesses. A report of that investigation was never released to the church or public. Instead, the Board of Elders provided results to a decision making board at Mars Hill called the Board of Overseers.* This was communicated in a conference call and via a brief summary.
Recently, an anonymous source provided me with a summary of these results which were intended to be shared with members after Driscoll resigned. I checked this summary with several sources who were at Mars Hill at the time who confirmed the accuracy of information in the report. These sources were in a position to know if the material was true. I have also seen information shared with various members of the Board of Overseers which make it clear that the Board of Elders did not want Driscoll to be in a teaching or administrative role at Mars Hill without first going through a restoration process. ...
Here is the summary of Board of Elders investigation. This was a version of results which was intended to go to members of the church.
Members of Mars Hill Church,
This report is given to you from the Board of Elders with permission from the Board of Overseers.* These two boards are working together for the good of Mars Hill Church.
Below are the findings and recommendations from the Board of Elders and our investigation into the charges against Pastor Mark Driscoll. Though Mark has resigned from his role of pastor and elder we believe these findings should be explained to the people Jesus has entrusted to us. In this matter we stand before God, Christ Jesus and the elect angels (1 Timothy 5:21) to give an account.
Summary of BoE Findings
Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
We conducted an examination of the charges against Mark by interviewing more than 40 eyewitnesses and Mark himself. The charges below we find to be true are supported by testimony of those currently close to Mark, and was not limited to the former staff and elders who signed the formal charges. Based on eyewitness testimony and our own direct experiences we find the following allegations of sin in Mark to be true:
Quick-tempered, including harsh speech
Domineering in his leadership of the elders and staff
While no members of the Board of Elders expect Mark Driscoll to be perfect, the scriptures hold those who serve in the office of elder to a high standard of character and godliness. Throughout the history of Mars Hill Church, Mark has demonstrated these patterns of sin. Former elders have shared their concerns on this with Mark privately, and friends and advisors outside the church have shared this feedback with him as well. On many occasions Mark has acknowledged these sins himself. Sadly we see Mark continuing in these patterns to the present day.
It is with a heavy heart that we believe the church should follow 1 Timothy 5:20 which says that an elder persisting in sin should be rebuked before the body. It is our prayer that through the church following scripture, and the work of the Holy Spirit, Mark can more clearly see his sin, repent and be reconciled with those whom he has sinned against.
It was our recommendation to the Board of Overseers that Mark be rebuked for his sin and a restoration process be developed to shepherd Mark towards godliness. This process would have involved:
Removal from eldership and all church leadership for reflection, repentance, and healing
Repentance and reconciliation with those who have been sinned against
A team of pastors and counselors inside and outside of Mars Hill that would care for Mark throughout the process
Loving restoration of Mark to ministry and leadership when the above pastors unanimously agree that Mark is in a place of repentance and godliness
All of the members of this board love Mark Driscoll deeply. We hoped to see him restored and are grieved that Mark chose to leave before we were able to walk alongside him through this process.
Repentance as Leaders
As we walked through this investigation the Holy Spirit impressed upon us that we too have been sinful and that He is calling us to confession and repentance of our own sins. Before God we confess: we are guilty of arrogance, being quick-tempered, we have led in a domineering manner.
It is our hope to lovingly lead the church in a season of reflection, confession, and repentance. May the love of Jesus Christ we show towards one another and his redemption of our brokenness be what Mars Hill Church is known for in the future. Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Board of Elders
Ed Choi
Alex Ghioni
Aaron Gray
AJ Hamilton
Bubba Jennings
Miles Rohde
Tim Smith
One of the things that is important to mention about the above summary is to compare this summation of investigation to some Twitter interaction between Warren Throckmorton and Justin Dean a while back.

an exchange between Warren Throckmorton and Justin Dean on Twitter, and a Driscoll discussion of governance as "throne down, not pew up" may (actually) shed new light on Driscoll's 2014 resignation decision

At the time I summarized the situation as follows:
If in Driscoll’s understanding of church governance and ecclesiology leadership is from the throne down and not the pew up, and if Justin Dean’s account is accurate that the Mars Hill Church governing board offered Mark Driscoll a restoration plan in which he would stop being in a managerial role and would preach, then the most plausible explanation for why Mark Driscoll resigned that takes all of his accounts as factual, face-value accounts is this: he decided that a church as a corporate entity in which he was not seated on the throne (as president and CEO) was not a church in which he would be a member. 

POSTSCRIPT 7-14-2019

If you want to get a clearer sense of the governance context in which Mark Driscoll decided to resign, here are some pertinent passages from the Mars Hill Church bylaws from 2012.

Mars Hill Church 2012 bylaws

Article 7

Section 7.6. Removal. The primary preaching and teaching pastor for the Church may only be removed from the board of advisors & accountability if it is determined that he engaged in conduct which would disqualify him from service as an elder in the Church. This determination will be made pursuant to the procedure established in Article 12 of these Bylaws. The remaining members of the executive elder team may be removed from the board of advisors & accountability at any time for any reason upon a recommendation of removal by the primary preaching and teaching pastor for the Church and the approval of a majority of the board of advisors & accmmtability. If a member of the executive elder team is removed from his position on the board, he will also be deemed removed as a member of the executive elder team and as an officer of the Church. Any other member of the board of advisors & accountability may be removed by majority approval of the members of the board of advisors & accmmtability. In connection with any vote of the board of advisors & accountability pursuant to this Section 7.6,the member of the board of advisors & accountability being considered for removal shall not vote and shall not be taken into account for purposes of determining whether the required vote is obtained.

Section 7.7. Resignations. Subject at all times to the right of removal as provided in Section 7.6 and to the provisions of any employment agreement, any member of the board of advisors & accountability may at any time resign by giving notice in writing or by electronic transmission to the board of advisors &  accountability or the chairman of the board. Such resignation shall take effect at the time specified in such notice or, if the time be not specified, upon receipt of such notice; and, unless otherwise specified in such notice, the acceptance of such resignation shall not be necessary to make it effective. If a member of the executive elder team resigns from his position on the board of advisors & accountability, he will also be deemed to have resigned as a member of the executive elder team and as an officer of the Church.

It looks like the way the bylaws were written the president had an all or nothing kind of deal.  The president could resign or be removed but once the president was removed from, it seems, any position, he was removed from all other positions.  Clearly Driscoll chose to resign rather than be removed, although the wording as to how not unfit for ministry Driscoll was found to be for ministry now seems a bit vague.  If he was found ultimately not unfit for ministry why would he have been asked to step away from management when the bylaws that would have apparently been in effect at that point stipulated that being asked to step away from the BoAA or a managerial position meant loss of membership (go read the earlier articles).  Let's look at some of the other articles.

Article 9 

Section 9 .1. Election, Qualification. The primary preaching and teaching pastor for the Church shall serve as the president of the Church and shall have the authority to appoint other elders who are employed by the Church (or, if necessary to fill a vacancy while an individual completes the eldership process, a deacon) to fill other offices of the Church. The officers of the Church shall at a minimum include a president and a secretary. The president may also choose a chief operating officer, a chief financial officer, one or more vice presidents, a treasurer, one or more assistant secretaries and assistant treasurers and such other officers and agents as he shall deem necessary. Any number of offices may be held by the same person, unless the Articles of Incorporation or these Bylaws otherwise provide. The office of president and secretary may not be held by the same person.

Section 9.2. Term, Removal. The primary preaching and teaching pastor for the Church shall serve as the president of the Church until such time as he ceases to be a member of the executive elder team. Each other officer shall hold office until such officer's successor is appointed and qualified or until such officer's earlier resignation or removal. Any officer appointed by the president of the Church may be removed by the president of the Church at any time.

Section 9.3. Resignation. Subject at all times to the right of removal as provided in Section 9.2 and to the provisions of any employment agreement, any officer may resign at any time by giving notice to the board of advisors & accountability, the president, or the secretary of the Church. Any such resignation shall take effect at the date of receipt of such notice or at any later date specified provided that the president or, in the event of the resignation of the president, the board of advisors & accountability may designate an effective date for such resignation which is earlier than the date specified in such notice but which is not earlier than the date of receipt of such notice; and, unless otherwise specified in such notice, the acceptance of such resignation shall not be necessary to make it effective. If a member of the executive elder team resigns from his position as an officer of the Church, he will also be deemed to have resigned as a member of the executive elder team and the board of advisors & accountability.

Section 9.4. Vacancies. A vacancy in the office of president because of the death, resignation or removal of the primary preaching and teaching pastor shall be filled by the individual chosen to fill his vacancy on the board of advisors & accountability. A vacancy in any other office because of death, resignation, removal or any other cause may be filled in the manner prescribed in these Bylaws for appointment to such office.

Section 9.5: President. The president shall be the chief executive officer of the Church and shall, subject to the provisions of these Bylaws, (i) have general and active management of the affairs of the Church and have general supervision of its officers, agents and employees; (ii) in the absence of the chairman of the board, preside at all meetings of the full council of elders and the board of advisors & accountability; and (iii) perform those other duties incident to the office of president and as from time to time may be assigned to him by the board of advisors & accountability.

Section 12.1. Constitution. In the event that a formal charge and/or accusation is made against the primary preaching and teaching pastor for the Church that, if investigated and found to be true, would disqualify him from his position as an elder in the Church based on the biblical requirements of an elder, the board of advisors & accountability shall refer the charge and/or accusation to the board of overseers. The board of overseers shall have authority to investigate any such charge and/or accusation. If the board of overseers determines that the charge and/or accusation is true, the board of overseers can vote to rebuke the primary preaching and teaching pastor or, if warranted, remove the primary preaching and teaching pastor as an elder of the Church (in which case he shall automatically be removed as a member of the board of advisors & accountability and his employment with the Church shall be terminated for cause under the terms and condition set forth in any employment agreement entered into between the primary preaching and teaching pastor for the Church and the Church).

Every single member of the Board of Overseers now has to be able to explain why they decided Mark Driscoll was not found disqualified from ministry even if all we have is the summary of the Board of Elders report.

Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Resignation
Mars Hill Church
From Mars Hill Church:
On Tuesday, October 14, Pastor Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as an elder and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. The Board of Overseers has accepted that resignation and is moving forward with planning for pastoral transition, recognizing the challenge of such a task in a church that has only known one pastor since its founding. We ask for prayer for the journey ahead.
As is well known, inside and outside of Mars Hill, Pastor Mark has been on a leave of absence for nearly two months while a group of elders investigated a series of formal charges brought against him. This investigation had only recently been concluded, following some 1,000 hours of research, interviewing more than 50 people and preparing 200 pages of information. This process was conducted in accordance with our church Bylaws and with Pastor Mark’s support and cooperation.

While a group of seven elders plus one member of the Board of Overseers was charged with conducting this investigation, the full Board of Overseers is charged with reaching any conclusions and issuing any findings. In that capacity, we believe it appropriate to publicly mention the following:

  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.
  3. We found some of the accusations against Pastor Mark to be altogether unfair or untrue.
  4. Other charges had been previously been addressed by Pastor Mark, privately and publicly. Indeed, he had publicly confessed and apologized for a number of the charges against him, some of which occurred as long as 14 years ago.
  5. We commend Mark for acting upon the vision God gave him to start Mars Hill Church and for his ministry of faithfully teaching the Word of God for the past 18 years. We commit to pray for him, for Grace, and for their children as they transition from ministry at Mars Hill Church.
We would ask for patience as we now make plans for the first transition of pastoral leadership in the history of Mars Hill Church. We have asked Pastor Dave Bruskas to serve as the primary teaching pastor while we work on long-term plans and decisions. Our elders and board members will work closely with the church staff to support the ongoing operations of Mars Hill in the days and months ahead.

Finally, Mark Driscoll was not asked to resign; indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter. While he can speak to his decision as he chooses, we would point to just two things from his letter. He noted that he had concluded “it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church.” Secondly, he specifically wanted to convey “to the wonderful members of the Mars Hill family, how deeply my family and I love them, thank them, and point them to their Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ, who has always been only good to us.”

Mars Hill Board of Overseers
Michael Van Skaik
Larry Osborne [there's a series of posts on Osborne, Driscoll and MHC here]
Jon Phelps
Matt Rogers

These four guys at some point have to be able to explain why they concluded from the Board of Elders report that Driscoll was not found disqualified from ministry.

As I put it earlier, the governance of Mars Hill was designed so that Mark was on the throne or not even a member of the church in any capacity.  It becomes clearer, in light of the governance structure Mars Hill had in 2014, why the Board of Overseers decided not to publicly rebuke Mark Driscoll.  To have done so would have entailed the end of his membership and managerial role within the corporation.  Driscoll obviously chose to resign rather than let things reach such a moment, which is why I have not felt there was anything inappropriate about suggesting that Mark Driscoll is the Richard Nixon of megachurch pastors.  

In fact when you look at those bylaws and see what would be involved in a public rebuke of Driscoll it makes it seem as though the statement of the BoAA that they were surprised that Mark Driscoll chose to resign seems a bit ... well ... maybe a bit precious.  Why WOULDN'T they suspect that Driscoll would rather resign than submit to a process that, if followed to the letter of the by-laws quoted above, would involve a public rebuke and a removal of Mark Driscoll from not just the pulpit but having any legal standing in the corporation known as Mars Hill Church.  Now precisely WHY it was designed in such a way is a bit mysterious since it seems as though it would have been possible to design the corporate structure of Mars Hill in such a way that it would be able to exist without Mark Driscoll as president or in any managerial role.  

It makes one wonder if Justin Dean ever looked, even once, at the actual bylaws and governing documents of the former Mars Hill Church.  It seems to defy plausibility that anyone on the BoAA or the BoE or Justin Dean, if they bothered to read the governing documents of Mars Hill ratified in the zone of 2011 and 2012, should have been surprised that when faced with the prospect of a public rebuke, removal from management, and placement in a restoration plan that resignation wasn't going to be what happened.  Driscoll did say he said he was going to submit to the restoration plan but then he heard that a trap had been set.  The more stories get shared about that period the more it seems that the only plausible explanation for whatever that trap was supposed to be was the actual restoration plan. 

That Driscoll resigned is, as the axiom goes, history.

Now might also be a good moment to note that most of the former Mars Hill campuses actually survived Mark Driscoll's resignation.

Ed Choi (lead pastor Thanksgiving Lifepoint Church, it seems)
Alex Ghioni (gospel shepherding pastor at Doxa Church)
Aaron Gray (Sound City Bible Church)
AJ Hamilton (not currently serving in any ministerial capacity)
Bubba Jennings (lead pastor Resurrection Church)
Miles Rohde (currently lead pastor at Redemption Spokane, formerly MH Spokane)

Tim Smith (currently Executive Pastor of Staff and Ministries and an elder at Door of Hope)