RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Mars Hill Church Leaders and Alleged Co-Conspirators

Earlier today, Warren Throckmorton posted RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Leaders of Mars Hill Church. You can find a PDF of the 42-page complaint at this link. Filed by Brian and Connie Jacobsen, and Ryan and Arica Kildea, it names Mark Driscoll and John Sutton Turner, along with other alleged co-conspirators.

This RICO lawsuit against leaders of what was Mars Hill Church has been in the making for a long time. RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. This is an extremely serious matter, and I believe there is a significant amount of information about alleged wrongdoing available. I spent at least 300 hours during 2014, researching and analyzing details in order to produce a case study on Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. If I remember correctly, it’s about 70,000 words – the equivalent of about a 160-page paperbook book.

On the first blog page of that case study is a summary of my reasoning for why I believe this type of lawsuit against Mars Hill leaders is justifiable; the allegations are not trivial matters. And note that I wrote most of the material on that page December 1, 2014. I originally put it on my blog as an article: Capstone 2-6: A Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Could be a Just Cause Because … I think you’ll find the entire article informative, but here is the key section of that page and post, just as it appeared over a year ago:

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For those who process information best with lists, here is my rationale, in brief, for why filing a lawsuit against Mars Hill Church is legitimate.

  1. Mark Driscoll, through Mars Hill Church, sought to wield significant influence in the Body of Christ and also in culture, which he/they did.
  2. However, this was done at the high cost of damaging disciples and also creating a terrible name for Christ and Christianity in the community, through the Mars Hill culture of contempt, money-mongering, and idolizing of power.
  3. There are numerous allegations of misconduct outstanding, some of which may have involved activities that are illegal for tax-exempt, non-profit organizations. These are issues of law and ethics we are bound to obey (Romans 13:1-7), not mere opinion differences or trivial disputes between fellow believers as highlighted in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.
  4. Also, there is an apparent rush to dismantle what was once a multi-campus entity valued at multiple millions of dollars, while maintaining silence about unresolved organizational questions and issues about the current entities that make up Mars Hill Church.
  5. Dissolution of the related 501(c)3 non-profit, LLCs, for-profit companies, etc., will not absolve current leaders of their responsibilities for past problems.
  6. There has been no public disclosure of any impending actions to be taken by the Washington State Attorney General’s office in regard to the dismantling of Mars Hill Church, and the IRS has not been requiring churches to give full disclosure of “excessive benefits” and conflicts of interest, nor investigating churches on possible violations of regulations, for approximately the past five years.
  7. Therefore, I believe a lawsuit may be the only way left to (1) attempt forcing disclosure of critical information under oath, (2) delay the closure of Mars Hill Church in what appears to be an attempt by remaining leadership to remove their responsibility, and hopefully (3) repair and restore a more positive reputation in the public eye.

In my opinion, to deny the validity of a lawsuit against the agents in charge of the demise and damages of Mars Hill Church, we must do one or more of the following:

  • Negate the reality that certain alleged actions by Mars Hill’s directors and staff involve matters of law and regulatory requirements, not merely “spiritual matters.”
  • Deny that Christians have responsibilities to God for fulfilling civic duties to obey governmental leaders and laws.
  • Minimize the damages done by Mars Hill personnel to fellow Christians and to the reputation of Christ in surrounding communities and in society.
  • Refuse the truth that repeated warnings to Mars Hill leaders about their need for transparency and accountability were warranted.

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I have not changed my opinion on the matter in the 15 months that have passed since posting that, because the failures of former leaders to be transparent and to take responsibility have, overall, continued (though a very few former leaders have made helpful statements).

The filing of this lawsuit arrives at a time when I have just finished watching a series of films dealing with investigative reporting, in order to get ready to study the movie Spotlight in depth. So, in the past 10 days, I’ve watched: All the President’s Men (historical drama on the criminal activities surrounding the Watergate scandal), Absence of Malice (fictional drama on an unwarranted investigation of an innocent man, which results in his exoneration and the exposure of those who instigated the probe or collaborated in it), and Shattered Glass (historical drama on the exposure of Stephen Glass, a reporter for The New Republic who was found to have fabricated at least 27 of the 41 stories he wrote for the magazine; he was fired and the editorial staff issued their readers an apology).

One of the main take-aways I got from this set of movies is this:

None of these were about “Gotcha! journalism.” They were not done to “bring someone down.” They just revealed the depth of corruption that was already there.

My prayer is that this RICO lawsuit will spotlight the darkness that was already there at Mars Hill Church and among its leaders. Lessons the Church needs to learn from the multiple forms of misuse of religious authority apparent in this entity will benefit from further documentation. This lawsuit should bring out additional facts of what actually went on, and help bring about justice, because those in control of that non-profit entity seemed to refuse to act with transparency and did so as if with impunity. And it may be that soon, civic consequences will be knocking on the doors of these former leaders and commenders of Mars Hill Church, for what I believe were their severe failures in following biblical ethics and civil mandates.

This opinion piece is cross-posted at Spiritual Sounding Board.

Note: The text of the article was edited to clarify that these are alleged co-conspirators, as was stated in the title of the post.

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