The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Church’s leadership is heavy-handed and entitled
Published: February 8 2012
My first experience with the institution of Mars Hill Church was through an old friend of mine: a stout, 6’2”, Irish, ex-gang, sea captain with a taste for beer, semi-automatic firearms and old American wisdom. He must have imagined the Mars Hill compound to be the ideal place to reconnect after two years.
I heard my share of stories and warnings about the neo-reformists, tales of resentment and angst about everything from theological nuances to accusations of brainwashing.The only thing going through my mind as I walked through the doors of the Ballard-based stronghold was the phrase “into the belly of the beast.”
After hearing all the hype, the place seemed modest compared to most, though at first glance, I got strange vibes from certain details. The whole place was crawling with men in security uniforms. In particular, two perched next to Mark Driscoll during his monologue. Rumor has it he is rarely seen on church grounds without them.
I guess the whole thing started on Oct. 8, 2006, when a man charged the pulpit during a sermon, wielding a machete and a heart full of rage. In the same year, several threats were directed to Mars Hill and thus the Security Service was formed, or as I like to call them, the SS.
This was not the only interesting change to the institution. In 2007, the church began an entire overhaul of the institution’s membership rules and governing bylaws. Essentially, this reorganization resulted in the consolidation of executive power to four pastors: Driscoll, Jamie Munson, Scott Thomas and Tim Beltz. Concerned elders Paul Petry and Bent Meyer spoke out against this change and were met with probation and, ultimately, expulsion from leadership. They were called by leadership to repent, and when they refused, were excommunicated from the compound.
This has been a common theme in situations regarding dissent and discipline. The Stranger recently published an article titled “Church or Cult?”, a lengthy investigation into several case studies involving similar instances.
The article focuses mainly on the stories of two men, Andrew Himes and Lance (the latter a pseudonym), and their departures from the institution. The controversy in the piece derives mainly from the approach in how the leadership treated the two men and the unethical implications that arise. It is threaded heavily with shame and submission.
They are not alone. The well-trafficked blog of Mathew Paul Turner has spearheaded many accusations against the institution’s internal workings.
Turner was originally the source for the story behind the events of ex-member Andrew. Others agreed with Andrew’s reasons for coming forward.
One of those people was an anonymous woman who started her own blog called Mars Hill Refuge, a place devoted to telling stories of abuse from the community and leadership alike.
Amidst the recent stir of events and publications putting Mars Hill in question, the institution’s dictators have taken no hints. In fact, their only response was a statement from Pastor Justin Holcomb on the organization’s website followed by a chapter concerning discipline from Driscoll’s book Vintage Jesus.
“All is well,” seems to be the message that most gather from this response. The leadership group might as well be saying, “Everything is normal here at Mars Hill. We love Jesus and only act by Scripture and the grace of God.”
The most dangerous religious sects typically emphasize a sense of normality, responsibility and focus on God — all while maintaining an iron hand behind closed doors. It’s a typical smoke-and-mirrors tactic that has led generations of religious leaders into an inevitable and wanton fortification, only to bastardize the twisted beast of entitlement.
“People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe,” Kevin Smith wrote in the movie Red State.
I’m sure the man who saw it fit to charge the pulpit and slice up Driscoll had more belief than we ever will. God bless that brave and, most likely, half-crazed punk. It occurred to me that day, standing in Mars Hill, that I admired that man — someone whom no one would ever celebrate.
We will probably never know or understand what drove him to do what he did, though I’d like to think that maybe he saw the fatal fallacies of the entire institution he was in and wanted to be the one honest voice among an audience of religious folk who regarded the place with little more than fear and loathing.
Staff reporter Taylor Svendsen is a sophomore psychology major at Seattle Pacific.
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