Sophomore Adrian Monroe attends Mars Hill Church’s Ballard campus and is no stranger to the controversy surrounding the church and its pastor, Mark Driscoll.
“A lot of people skirt around the big issues of today,” Monroe said. “I like the fact that he’s not afraid to take a stance, say it how it is and roll with the punches.”
But when it comes to recent allegations that Mars Hill bought Driscoll’s way onto the New York Times Best Sellers list for his book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together, Monroe isn’t so sure.
“It’s all about what the intention was,” Monroe said. “Was it to get his book noticed so more people could read it and have their lives changed, or was it to make a whole lot of money?”
Here’s how it worked.
On Oct. 13, 2011, Mars Hill Executive Pastor John Sutton Turner signed a deal with a California marketing company called ResultSource Inc., according to World Magazine, which broke the story.
The deal stated that ResultSource would use marketing strategies to get Real Marriage on the New York Times, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble best-seller lists.
ResultSource received a fee of $25,000 for the marketing campaign.
The controversial part is that Mars Hill allegedly paid for 11,000 copies of Real Marriage in bulk and individual sales ranging from $18.62 to $20.70 per book, totaling more than $210,000, according to World.
ResultSource would then coordinate the purchase of the books in a way that would register with best-seller lists. Mars Hill supplied ResultSource with 6,000 names of individuals and 90 names and addresses for the bulk order.
The 6,000 individual orders were required to have 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 in any one state.
All of this is to allegedly circumvent safeguards put in place by the New York Times Best Seller list to detect such practices, according to World.
Real Marriage ranked No. 1 in the hardcover advice New York Times list for the week of Jan. 22, 2012 but then dropped off the list the next week.
While these practices aren’t illegal, leading best-seller lists discourage them. In a written statement posted on their website Friday, Mars Hill Church said these practices aren’t uncommon but called them “unwise.”
The Falcon contacted Mars Hill, but the church’s Communications Director Justin Dean referred to their written statement by the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The statement said Mars Hill had been falsely accused but didn’t identify any specific untrue allegations. It went on to clarify the church’s position on accusations it admitted as true.
The statement explains that in 2011, outside counsel advised Mars Hill’s marketing team to use ResultSource Inc. to market Driscoll’s book and gain placement on best-seller lists.
“While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again,” the statement said. “Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the ResultSource marketing campaign.”
The statement also addressed the amount of money that was reportedly spent.
“The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported. And to be clear all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels,” the statement said.
The statement also clarified that Turner was the general manager of Mars Hill, but not the executive pastor, when he signed the deal with ResultSource.
In a phone interview, former Mars Hill elder and pastor Dave Kraft said assuming the accusations against Driscoll and his book-marketing campaign are true, it doesn’t reflect well on anyone involved in the Mars Hill community.
“If the allegations prove to be true, it would be a pathetic and sinful example to be avoided at all costs, student or no student, Christian or no Christian,” Kraft said.
Kraft, on staff from 2005 to 2013, said that while he worked at Mars Hill, he experienced a culture of fear rather than joy and openness, a top-down command and control philosophy of ministry, and a lack of respect and dignity when leading church staff.
Kraft said most students attending Mars Hill wouldn’t be aware of this situation unless they read about it in the media or asked a specific question to a leading staff member.
“[Mars Hill] isn’t as proactive and intentional as I would like to see on numerous issues, the book included,” Kraft said. “I can make evaluations, draw conclusions, but we won’t know why he did it unless he actually says it.”
ResultSource Inc. couldn’t be reached for comment. On their website, the company advertises similar best-seller campaigns.
Sophomore Matt Guchee, who attends Mars Hill’s Ballard campus, said he doesn’t have any problems with Driscoll or how he marketed Real Marriage.
He said because of Driscoll’s reputation as a controversial pastor, he believes media sources and those who disagree with Mars Hill will take advantage of any controversial activity surrounding the church.
“People will take what’s already been there and build it into something it’s not,” Guchee said. “Driscoll has a lot of good things to say. Something like this won’t be a deciding factor on whether or not I go to [Mars Hill].”
Guchee also said that while he believes it’s important for the Mars Hill Board of Advisors to know what’s going on within the church, they shouldn’t have to report the details of Driscoll’s book sales to the public.
“[The marketing campaign] might not have been the best method,” Guchee said. “But if a church as big as Mars Hill reported to the public about everything, it would take a lot of unnecessary time and money.”
Mars Hill currently has over 19,000 members at 15 locations in five states.
Freshman Tobijah Rogers, who also attends Mars Hill’s Ballard campus, believes Driscoll’s book-marketing campaign could be used as an effective ministry tool, but feels it was dishonest and uncharacteristic of an effective church leader.
“He was definitely able to reach a lot of people,” Rogers said. “But I feel like his intentions might have been a little bit more self-serving than that.”
Rogers said that he appreciates the perspective Driscoll brings to issues relevant to college students but doesn’t always agree with everything he says or does.
“There’s a lot of people out there who want to discredit Driscoll as much as possible,” Rogers said. “I respect him and his story. But a little more clarity on this issue would be nice.”