Capstone Article 1 – A Critique of the Three Official Options for Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

SUMMARY. This article presents a critique of the three possibilities presented on October 31, 2014, by Executive Elder Dave Bruskas for individual campuses in the multi-campus system of Mars Hill, which tentatively will be dissolved by January 1, 2015.

  1. Becoming an independent, self-governed church.
  2. Merging with an existing church to create one independent, self-governed church.
  3. Disbanding as a church and shepherding current members to find other local church homes.

To gain the greatest potential understanding and benefit from considering this Capstone article, first read my series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse and the Research Guide to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. The former series looks at the theoretical issues involved in abuse, repentance, individual restoration, and organizational renovation. The latter series provides frameworks for understanding personal and organizational problems at Mars Hill, along with extensive documentation, analysis, and interpretation.

THE THREE OPTIONS LISTED

On Reformation Day – October 31, 2014 – an article entitled Local Mission, Local Churches was posted on Mars Hill’s website by Dave Bruskas. He is the sole remaining Executive Elder from before Mark Driscoll’s stepping down in August 2014 while under investigation for charges that would disqualify him from ministry. Here is an excerpt from the post by Mr. Bruskas:

[…] Following much prayer and lengthy discussion with Mars Hill’s leadership, the board of Mars Hill has concluded that rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities. This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams.

We recognize this reorganization plan is a significant and complex undertaking on many fronts; however, our goal is to have the process completed by January 1st, 2015.

LOCAL DECISIONS

Please be in prayer for your local elder teams as they contemplate the following options in the next few weeks: (1) becoming an independent, self-governed church; (2) merging with an existing church to create one independent, self-governed church; or (3) disbanding as a church and shepherding current members to find other local church homes. This decision will be made by your local church’s Lead Pastor and elder team. […]

While the options from the dissolution of Mars Hill as a centralized multi-campus system may seem on the surface to be positive and constructive, I don’t see them that way. Looking deeper, I see all three options outlined by Executive Elder Dave Bruskas as being problematic. This is based on these dimensions of my work and ministry experiences:

  • Working regularly over the last 20 years in church planting teams, church transition consulting, and social enterprise start-ups.
  • Spending 17 of the last 40 years in five different church and ministry situations that turned out to be extremely abusive through misuse of spiritual authority.
  • Doing research writing and extensive blogging since 2008 on subjects related to spiritually abusive leaders, toxic organizational systems, and those who survive being victimized by them.

Here are my main concerns that flow from those areas of expertise, plus specific concerns about each of the three options.

MY MAIN CONTENTIONS:

We Need to Start with the Assumption that Mars Hill Leaders
Will Implant Toxic DNA in any New Church/Ministry Situation

Questions about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill have been around for a very long time – perhaps the core of them really being about whether the label of “controversial” actually should have been one of “contempt” instead. At any rate, I think we can trace increasing and intensified scrutiny of them to about a year ago. It was November 21, 2013, when Janet Mefferd presented evidence of Mark Driscoll’s alleged plagiarism during her radio interview with him. And the rest is history.

Since then, numerous organizational system issues emerged beyond the many questions raised about Mark Driscoll’s personal character and behaviors, and whether they disqualified him from public ministry. The organizational issues are important here, because they directly affect every current and recent Mars Hill leader who might be involved in a potential church spin-off or merger. Here is my basic contention:

The documented situations of spiritual abuse and organizational obfuscation make all current and former leaders suspect – including all who have served as an Executive Elder, on the Board of Advisors and Accountability, Board of Elders, or paid staff. We must assume they were/are all part of the leadership problem at Mars Hill until each can individually prove otherwise.

And, until each individual leader documents and demonstrates otherwise and clears his/her reputation, everyone else should assume that he/she brings the exact same, corrupt “spiritual DNA” to the table for any future ministry developed from scratch or joined in through a merger.

That DNA has been shown to create and support a severely corroded system where spiritual authority was misused constantly. There is now substantial evidence showing that the ensuing actions from that system were sinful, unethical, and potentially even illegal – and also that the resulting impacts led to a culture of fear, confusion, intimidation, and traumatization.

These individuals’ involvement with Mars Hill decision-making and implementation makes them culpable for harmful actions and inactions inflicted in the name of the institution they served. So, all who are outside and inside of Mars Hill have been given every reason NEVER to accept the word of ANY Mars Hill leaders at face value – until they willingly clear their reputation – and NOT to automatically accept the endorsement of their character or behaviors by any other individual or organization.

They worked for a church with a tainted reputation and toxic running of the organization, and this has been increasingly verified by documentation. So, we cannot simply start them off at neutral, offer them automatic trust, or give them the benefit of the doubt. No disciples, no elders, no organizations should “lay hands on” any Mars Hill leader until he/she adequately shows that he/she is NOT DISqualified from roles of public service in the Church.

We do not need to feel sorry for doing this. It may feel “unfair” to Mars Hill leaders. But the real issue now is discernment for the protection of others and the prevention of splicing into new or merged churches the DNA of abuse that will replicate toxicity.

So – these leaders bear complicity for harm committed in the name of Mars Hill until they clear they name and reputation. How do they do that? Disclose their roles and resolve remaining issues.

Unresolved Issues = Uncleared Reputation

I am calling on remaining Mars Hill leaders “to let the light shine in, and let full and accurate information out” before thinking that Mars Hill is ready for closure, transition, replants, and mergers. Many other voices are calling for similar actions as a precaution against spreading abuse elsewhere.

What Issues to Address

To me, this means dealing any personal involvement with at least the five potential legal/ethical problems detailed in this Research Guide post, plus several other important theological concerns that are related. I’m grouping them here into three clusters:

1. Mars Hill has failed to show robust transparency and accountability about significant financial issues, meeting relatively minimal standards. Leaders need to clear up details about:

  • The ResultSource contract and apparent misuse of financial gifts to Mars Hill being used for the personal benefit of Mark Driscoll through purchase of Real Marriage.
  • The Global Fund designation and alleged misappropriation of restricted funds.
  • Where funds went that were raised for the Jesus Festival.
  • Whether salary levels and severance packages to any individuals constituted “excessive compensation.”
  • Theology of “prosperity gospel.”

2. Mars Hill has failed in its governance and organizational systems through misusing its by-laws and by exerting authoritarian dictates. Leaders need to clear up key remaining issues:

  • Before it closes, Mars Hill leaders need to “finish well” by officially exonerating Bent Meyer and Paul Petry, two elders who were disciplined and shunned in 2007 during the by-laws rewriting and power take-over by Mark Driscoll. (For details of this watershed issue, see the Joyful Exiles)
  • Before Mars Hill closes, the leaders need to complete and release the official investigation report on Mark Driscoll’s disqualification from ministry. Leaders also need to clarify definitively which statements about his disqualifications posted so far are fully or partially accurate, and where they left out conclusions in ways that created confusion.
  • Individual leaders need to declare their theological positions about biblical qualifications for leaders, the authority of elders/leaders, the submission of disciples to those in authority, partiality and conflicts of interest, character issues and behaviors that constitute disqualification from leadership ministries.

3. Mars Hill created a long track record of untrustworthy communications through “spin,” issuance of conflicting statements, revision or deletion of online materials without notice, etc.

  • “Spin” is often really just deceit. Leaders who know of any Mars Hill communications or media materials that were not fully true and/or have harmed the reputation of others need to bring the details to light and seek to repair the damage.
How to Address Them

Any leader who seeks to deserve being trusted needs to disclose what they did or didn’t have to do with any of the above issues. This is not a particular novel idea. Many people – especially those personally victimized by the anger, intimidation, control, and verbal abuse of Mark Driscoll and his key “enforcers”– seem to be suggesting the need for Mars Hill leaders to clear their reputation. The key mechanics include disclosure of facts, and repentance through resolving any outstanding issues, including personally repairing damaged relationships.

  • Go on record about the issues and any personal involvement in them (or lack of involvement).
  • Establish a track record of personal repentance by making things right for any relationships they harmed through damaging actions they took – or failed to take.
  • Confirm any necessary repentance and repair of relationships by private actions over time, with public declaration of those if appropriate.
  • Don’t skip over the realities of requalification for leadership, but engage in a repentance and restoration process that is overseen by others before there is any potential resumption in a role of public leadership ministry.

So, this process combines biblical concepts of repentance in the heart with a faith that then shows itself through one’s actions, restitution, and restoration.

What About Those Who Refuse to Address Them?

Any current leaders who refuse to do this continue to give every reason to trust nothing they say or do, from this point forward. Also, based on the past track record of Mars Hill Church, which includes the impact of their own actions and inactions as leaders there, we need to assume that their future actions will potentially put any non-profit they are associated with in jeopardy for issues that have allegedly come up with Mars Hill, until/unless they clear their own reputation. Such risk issues that could carry over include:

  • Illegal use of non-profit funds to benefit private individuals.
  • Illegal misappropriation of restricted funds solicited for designated purposes.
  • Deletion, destruction, or alternation of evidence that could have potential legal consequences.
  • Failure to disclose or avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Failure to follow the organization’s required processes and procedures as laid out in its governance documents.
  • Spin of information, posting of misformation.
  • Direct or indirect infliction of spiritual abuse.

Surely this is sobering for any Mars Hill leaders. They need to demonstrate their discernment about how toxic organizational systems harms people in the congregation. But scrutiny of such issues is appropriate stewardship for any potential members/attenders who are thinking of joining them in a new spin-off, or leaders of other churches considering some kind of merger with them.

ISSUES WITH THE OPTIONS

Option #1 – Independent Spin-Offs/Replants

Spinning off a local campus as an independent church is a problem if it implants the same spiritual DNA overall as what was in Mars Hill. Given those bad seeds over time growing in a similar direction, it will produce clones of Mars Hill and thus, the same fruit as what happened to people there: authoritarian control, lack of more than minimal transparency and accountability, and spiritual bullying.

Only those leaders who can clearly and comprehensively show that they do not carry the corrupt Mars Hill organizational DNA, and that they have taken care of any remaining “spiritual business” of personal recovery and interpersonal restitution, should be potentially trusted to plant and lead a new congregation. Even so, leaders who prove qualified to serve by their character and behavior may still need a “time out” in “ministry quarantine” to detoxify from immersion in the infected fish tank that Mars Hill had become.

Option #2 – Mergers

Merging with another church is a problem for similar reasons. Any other potential church partner should assume that the shards of Mars Hill left in the wake of Mark Driscoll’s control are still covered with contagions.

So, if you merge a healthy, orthodox church with a church fragment consisting of leaders and congregants from a group demonstrated to be toxic, what do you think you will get? Such a merger does not automatically amplify the healthy trajectory of the one and merely stop the toxic trajectory of the other. Instead, it stops the arcs of both, and creates a new entity on a new pathway, with new needs.

If a healthier church decides to go through with a merger, hopefully the leaders from the host church can figure out how to care for those affected by the spiritual carnage of their former Mars Hill situation. However, they should give up setting any timetables or expectations for qualitative growth and new ministry development. Absorbing and serving a group of wounded people – especially those who may not yet realize how deeply their spirits were bruised by bad leadership practices – will bring huge unanticipated consequences, conflicts, and clashes of church-culture dynamics.

When I was a church plant strategist/designer, I gained a detailed insider view of the merger process where a relatively healthy church plant merged with an extremely unhealthy church in decline. This intensive real-world tutorial took two years of my insider participation and about five years of follow-up observation after I left. I was enthused and optimistic at first, but soon saw more clearly how it was not some “match made in heaven,” despite our attempts to describe it as such. It quickly turned out to be more like a troubled second marriage, and needed the community equivalent of “marriage counseling” from the outset, but didn’t get any. The church planting pastor sincerely seemed to believe he knew exactly what to do, and he gave only the appearance of considering ideas from other people.

Anyway, a key thing to consider for any potential partner for a merger (or perhaps even in welcoming in large numbers of ex-Mars Hillites) is the spiritual DNA of abuse that comes with them, especially with the Mars Hill leaders. 1 Timothy 5:22 is a biblical mandate for congregations, and for good reason: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” (NIV) Leaders of existing churches fail to follow this requirement at their own peril, plus at the potential risk of harm to those they already oversee.

Merger? Not an optimal option when abusive leaders and “troublesome congregants” are a major part of the mix.

Option #3 – Disbandment and Former Members Find a Church Home Elsewhere

The potentially fatal flaws in the first two options mean I’m left with supporting Option #3 … while considering if there are other scenarios possible – and more preferable – and what their probable challenges and consequences would be.

But meanwhile, yes, it would likely prove safer and easier in the short term and more productive in the long term for relatively healthy local churches to take in small bands of refugees from Mars Hill than to merge organizationally and splice in the cultural DNA of abuse.

Still, other congregations ought to be very wary of any overtures for merging, and also aware of the baggage of abuse that ex-Mars Hill attenders inevitably carry – even if they don’t realize it yet. These men, women, and children may well need a significant season of relational help and healing. So, if they haven’t given such trainings already, leaders would do well to equip and empower their people to be welcoming, but also to go beyond hospitality and show greater “perseverance with the saints.” That’s because it’s likely at least some newcomers will have traumatic flashbacks, confusion, grief, depression, and other forms of cognitive dissonance and emotional eruptions, based in their past experiences with Mars Hill. At the very least, every disciple knows what it is to receive comfort from the Father (2 Corinthians 1), and so we all have something worthwhile to share, even if it is generic, because not everyone has a specific, first-hand understanding of victimization by spiritual abuse.

I have been in such a healing church, one which brought me back to life after a period of severe treatment for about four years by the CEO-style pastor in a church plant elsewhere in town. I had flashbacks and near anxiety attacks for another three years after I left that abusive church. Thankfully, these people understood. One of the elders in my new home church even shared with me later on that they saw their main ministry as helping survivors of my former church and one other local church, since there was a continual stream of victims coming out from under those churches’ authoritarian leaders.

If I didn’t have that community of truly caring Christians surrounding me, I’m not sure my faith journey would have survived. I was first a recipient of their immensely gracious care and long-suffering with me. Gradually I was able to share what I’d received with newcomers who needed the same kind of love that I’d been shown – true love that casts out fear. My hope, my prayer, is for all who have been associated with Mars Hill to find that kind of genuine community. They will need a church where whatever wounds they have are healed, whatever doubts that surface are transformed to confidence, that whatever relationships that have been torn apart get repaired. That is Christ’s Kingdom in action, embodied by His followers among us.

Capstone Series Links:

Synthesizing the “Mars Hill Research Guide” and “Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse” Series – Introducing the Capstone Articles and Case Study

UPDATES.

11-02-2014 – minor corrections of grammar and addition of a few words to clarify points.

11-03-2014 – additional corrections and minor changes, plus added links to other posts in the series.

11-05-2014 – added a few phrases to clarify that assuming suspect reputations for Mars Hill leaders includes assuming they would replicate elsewhere the same harmful organizational systems as they were part of, supported, enforced, and may not have challenged while Mars Hill was under Mark Driscoll’s control.

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20 thoughts on “Capstone Article 1 – A Critique of the Three Official Options for Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

    • Thanks for your feedback and validation, Jim. It’s always helpful to hear feedback and/or push-back.

      This was a difficult piece to write in trying to achieve a tone that was strongly concerned but not harsh, that presents hope that comes from a point of empathy for both leaders who’ve been deeply involved in toxic systems and for victims of the abuse who survive those systems. Some Mars Hill leaders have been taking the kinds of steps suggested to share their stories that demonstrate the trajectory of their journey with Jesus, so hopefully we’ll see more of that.

  1. Agreed! Thank you for so clearly communicating the challenges facing the Mars Hill refugees and former leaders. Having spent only a few years on staff in a dysfunctional and abusive church, I strongly support how critical it is for all of them to seek counseling from those trained in this type of healing work. Those who served in MH leadership have additional work to do before they can ever qualify to serve again.

    For me, any church that does not operate with transparency or value and create a safe space for expressing doubts and reservations about church leadership, governance, and even doctrine…is not worthy of my trust or tithe.

    I pray for their healing.

  2. Brad, your work and heart are amazing. I love your love for God’s church. There is a fourth option, its healing and dissolution. Its dissolution that occurs over time, probably 2-3 years as each location exhibits healthy behavior and the strength to stand on its own. I would lessen central oversight gradually, with a goal of ensuring the body is healthy and has good and sound teaching.

    • Thanks Van … much appreciated.

      And wouldn’t yuh know, there’s always another option, a potentially viable scenario. Thanks for posting that. Will put that in the mental hopper and see what reflections pop out. Meanwhile, do you know of any situations where a strategy like you’re describing was implemented? Would be interested in that as a case study …

  3. We Need to Start with the Assumption that Mars Hill Leaders
    Will Implant Toxic DNA in any New Church/Ministry Situation

    By “Mars Hill Leaders”, do you mean Marky Mark’s Mini-Mes?

    In a hierarchy where you Hold the Whip or Feel the Whip, gaining your “Freedom” means “Now *I* Get To Hold The Whip!”

    • In terms of clearing one’s reputation and how that relates with the “Pyramid of Responsibility” in this post in my series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse, it’s basically about documenting and demonstrating which levels in the hierarchy one participated in. The higher the levels, the more culpability involved (as I see it, at least), and the lower the levels, less culpability but still some complicity/being used as an accomplice. So, for instance … was a particular elder at Mars Hill in the Dictator Category, which lots of control over others? Or in the Propagators/Enforcers Layer, with still a lot of overlording of the sheep involved? Or in the Extinguishers and Reinforcers Layer, where they applied negative and positive conditioning to keep people in the system? Or in the lowest category of Enablers and Pawns, who were used by the machine far more than they participated in running the machine.

      People don’t exactly get to the upper echelons accidentally. The higher the Layer, the more choices over a longer period of time to get there and stay there, and the more benefits they reap from the system. These especially are people I wouldn’t want to see doing *anything* with public ministry leadership for a long time; they’ve got a lot of restitution and relational repair work to do anyway, so they’ll be busy with that. Or should be.

      The problem is, when someone fills a position in the hierarchy, such as Lead Pastor of a Mars Hill campus or a Community Group Leader, we don’t know if they behaved “like the machine” in the role that they had, though their position in the hierarchy gave them strong possibilities to do so. So, the only way we know is through their self-disclosures and through investigative reporting. And that does seem to be what’s happening, so people outside those higher levels in the hierarchy can figure out who is trustworthy or not, who needs time away to repent and recover, who has a lot of repair work to do, etc.

      They’re responsible to disclose, the rest of us are responsible to discern and decide who is genuinely qualified or is, unfortunately, disqualified at this time for leadership roles.

  4. “Toxicity”, “contagion” and the presumption of guilt are some rough stances. I can’t imagine a church whose mission was (in part?) specifically to help those from a previous abusive church being the best model, but I’m glad they helped you.

    Signed,
    Never-been-to-a-MH-service

    • Thanks for your comment, N-B-T-A-MH-S. And some thoughts in response.

      [[“Toxicity”, “contagion” and the presumption of guilt are some rough stances.]] Yes, agreed. Two thoughts come to mind immediately.

      (1) In my connecting with survivors of spiritual abuse who were also on paid staff or were higher-up volunteer leaders at the time, it seems a pattern many of us experience is that we come to a realization of our culpability. We were part of the system that got used to prop up the people who were the main perpetrators of control-abuse-intimidation-manipulation. It may have been a little, may have been a lot, but it was there and it’s something we do need to deal with — we as victims were also part victimizer. There’s often a delay reaction timeframe to this realization, but I do see those who come to that understanding go back to repair what relationships and situations they can. This victim/victimizer concern seems to be something that has gradually been written more about in the survivor community, and so hopefully those coming out of abuse situations where they were also leaders will be aware of this problem of complicity earlier on in their recovery process.

      (2) In the specific situation at Mars Hill Church, there is evidence of such extensive corrosion and control in the ways leadership functioned and the ways the organization was/wasn’t run, that it appears there is almost universal complicity by elders and other top leaders below the Executive Elders and Board of Advisors and Accountability. And, there has apparently also been a culture of *omertà* — code of silence — to keep any alternative voices or protests quiet and dealt with internally [or publicly disgrace and discipline opponents and demand that everyone shun them]. Because of this, no one outside those closed, inner circles really knows which leaders were fully on board with The Plan and which may have been pushing back. That’s why the strong suggestion that the silence has to be broken and there must be public evidence of no complicity or of a process of repentance and repair from it.

      So, I think in this case the presumption of guilt until documented and demonstrated to the contrary is a very reasonable protection against replanting inherently abusive strategies and tactics elsewhere, even if it’s rough. As we’re seeing with a number of leaders, they have been doing the work of personal recovery and interpersonal repair that is a major part of clearing their reputation and removing the presumption of DISqualification from leadership ministry.

      Regarding the “hospital church” I mentioned, what I didn’t share in the post was that this was in a relatively small rural community — maybe 20,000 people at the time — with a relative few very big charismatic-personality evangelical church pastors and college-ministry leaders who left long and wide trails of carnage over many years from their control tactics. Helping the survivors wasn’t all of what my new home church was about, and in retrospect I see this church had a significantly balanced ministry of evangelism, community presence and practical outreach, discipleship/mentoring, missions. They didn’t purposely go after becoming a healing/hospital church, it was just that much of what they did in my new home church was simply disciple whomever the Lord brought them. And many who showed up were us “leftovers” who’d been hung out to dry and die by the abusive churches and ministries elsewhere in that town. And there was hardly anywhere else ministrywise for people like me to join in and find healing. Leaders in other churches didn’t seem particularly equipped or interested, it seemed, to walk with us down such a dark dark path toward the light. We know because we tried. So that’s more of the story there.

    • Thanks Linda … that’s encouraging! Those involved have a tough situation to navigate and I was hopeful in publishing it that it would prove useful. And I also see it as touching on trends in the larger community of churches to be aware of. Mergers can be especially problematic. Here’s a cut-and-paste of my favorite account of where a merger worked well [Case Study #1 in Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse, Part 3H. It gives some additional detail to what I spoke of in the article …

      #1. A TIMELY MERGER. How to extend the life of our institutions beyond two more generations has become a major problem as our population ages and our culture changes. Using the metaphor of a house, do you build on an addition, sell it to others and move out, renovate the space together, or something else? In the past 20 years, an increasing number of churches have been coasting toward closure because they are missing the involvement of younger generations. One response has been for an established church to merge with a church plant. One of the particular problems experienced in mergers lies with approaches to mixing people from what typically are two vastly different social cultures and ministry methodologies. Do you go with the traditional, the emerging, or some combination? Put another way, is this a symbiotic new relationship that helps both, a parasitic attachment that helps one and harms the other, or something else?

      The root renovation issue for mergers is this: When you merge two such different entities, you do not merely birth something new, you simultaneously “kill” the trajectories and probable futures of both of the original entities. You’re not dealing with just one birth, but also with two deaths. How do you allow for both sides to mourn the grief of loss of what they had, so they can appropriately celebrate together a new joint start and singular future?

      A friend of mine heard the most amazing account of how a church merger managed this process with a visual timeline and oral history project. The established church had a building, the church plant did not. So they used the wall in the main meeting room to post timelines. Week by week, the older congregation worked through their history a decade at a time. People posted pictures and news articles, and shared their recollections of what happened with their church during that decade. When they got closer to the present time, people from the church plant did likewise, recounting their history. They started from the opposite side of that wall. And when the two timelines met in the middle, the two congregations celebrated their official merging of a new entity with a new name and a new corporate future together. Their process had taken less than a year.

  5. Hey Brad,

    Super post!! You have given people insightful and discerning information to process and work through. You have highlighted the complexities of the situation with this church in particular, especially in the area of human/Christian relationships in a church setting.

    You have taken all the various pieces to this puzzle and have placed them where people can see how they match the picture on the box.

    I am sure that this information will be helpful for a long time to come and many people, over time, will find their way here.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Barb. Because your doctoral research looked at spiritual abuse of leaders and by leaders, your words carry significance.

      Mars Hill is a definitely a complex situation to discern, but if we expect to prevent this kind of malignant ministry to infect the Church, we need to do our homework. We need to pick apart their punitive organizational systems and dissect the resulting culture of fear and coercion to see how these organically affected their congregation.

      On that line, I’ve noticed that in the last few days that some bloggers are reminding us that we’re not simply talking about a few dozen victims of spiritual abuse in Mars Hill’s history, nor even a few hundred. There’s good reason to believe it’s in the thousands who’ve experienced varying degrees of direct traumatization plus indirect damage from legalism under the authoritarian leadership system there. When Mars Hill was at its apex, their official estimates counted 15,000 people in 15 campuses. How many dropped out or were pushed out before the dramatic events of this September and October? And how many thousands have left recently who may be confused, fearful to trust a Christian community, or otherwise hurting?

  6. In the past few days, other voices have been suggesting that a rush to dissolution is not wise. For instance, Becky Garrison posted Mars Hill May Be Disbanding, But Big Questions Remain.

    And Warren Throckmorton posted Should Washington’s Attorney General Hold Up the Dissolution of Mars Hill Church? It contains a copy of the letter sent by Nathan Priddis requesting exactly that, primarily due to unresolved issues about the “Global Fund” and alleged misappropriation of what appeared to be a restricted fund for international work but were used primarily for church planting and properties instead.

    I would suggest that until these legal and financial issues are resolved, a lot of leaders will have reputations that cannot be cleared. Until they can show otherwise, I still assume they will implant in their next non-profit ministry endeavor a repeat of what happened at Mars Hill — conflicts of interest, inurement (misuse of tax-exempt/non-profit resources for benefit of private individuals instead of for the public good), not adhering to good governance practices, editing or scrubbing of media in ways that change the trail of accurate accountability, etc. This was a comment I left there:

    Nathan — thanks for the immense amount of work you put in on your request to the Attorney General. It certainly seems to connect most of the “follow the money” dots and questions still outstanding, such as:

    * Alleged misappropriation of institution-designated restricted Global
    Fund donations used for church planting and properties inside the U.S.

    * Extraordinarily large severance packages that may potentially constitute “excessive benefit” inurement (using tax-exempt non-profit resources for the personal benefit of insiders).

    * Who really “owns”/”owned” Mars Hill Church, etc., and who is legally responsible for any potential misconduct.

    I am not a lawyer, but as best I can understand from all I have researched in the past few months, these issues you mention could potentially mean illegal activities were involved — including various forms of inurement — and not merely ethically questionable activities. The official attempts to deflect questions about the Global Fund, refuse an accounting for it, and “clarify” a very different meaning from what was apparent from early on, are all utterly unconvincing. In fact, I have my own questions about whether deletion of the originally-posted videos and alterations (such as of definitions of “Global Fund”) would constitute “spoliation of evidence” — yet another question for legal authorities to sort out.

    If I were a Mars Hill leader, I would not be in a rush to spin off something new elsewhere when the web of old Mars Hill issues continues to be unresolved and so possible legal and financial responsibility for them are not yet cleared. Non-profits are constituted to function in the public interest and not for private benefit nor contrary to their own designated purposes. I hope the Washington State Attorney General uses what powers his office has to put on hold the dissolution of Mars Hill Church so the apparently misplaced Global Funds millions are accounted for.

    • Brad, it is astounding to me that this disbanding process is so chaotic and unwatched, Yet considering their governance structure, there is literally no responsibility at the helm. The foxes are in charge of the chicken coop. There SHOULD be some type of outside oversight over the dissolution of assets, funds, and severance pay. There SHOULD be some type of oversight involved with vetting the existing leaders and managing the planting of local groups in a HEALTHY way. I wish there were a way for someone like you to be involved as a consultant. It feels like a really unhealthy ending to a situation that has been sick for years. The churches that replant with this toxic DNA will perpetuate the sickness because many of them haven’t even recognized that the mother church and its leader are toxic!

      • Several thoughts, Linda:

        Hopefully the Washington State Attorney General’s office will respond. Quickly. There is every evidence from months and months of online documentation that there could be legal issues to sort out.

        And along the lines of replanting toxicity, the illustration that comes to mind is the creature in the movie series *Alien*. It fuses its own DNA with whatever animal serves as its host, to become a sort of *Alien Hybrid*, but — though it may look and act a bit differently depending on the host — underneath, it’s still the same parasitic creature that kills every host it comes in contact with.

        Perhaps one of the better things that could come out of this entire Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill mess is the emergence of a genuine evaluation/certification process to help with accurate assessments of where a church or ministry sits on the spiritual abuse scale, in terms of leadership, organizational systems, authentic accountability, financial transparency, etc. Isn’t it now obvious that many of the “standards” that have been in place are an awfully low “high bar” for ministry integrity?

  7. Definitely Brad. Your Alien analogy is probably better than my comparison of MH to an ebola victim wherein everyone that has contact and exposure should be considered infected.

    • Maybe so, Linda. Both metaphors have some power to them. With *Alien*, there are more ways it can do in other creatures — either killed the other organism outright, implant and syncretize with it to create some kind of deadly hybrid, even kill some of its own kind for the sake of perpetuating the “hive.”

      Which makes me think: We could sure use a battalion of “spiritual Sigourney Weavers” to Ripley through this “Mars-Hill-Alien replication situation.” Maybe the Attorney General and a task force would do …

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