Several days ago, a bunch of Christians—some of them ex-Mars Hill members—called for a demonstration at Mars Hill Bellevue this Sunday at 9:30 am.
Since then, I've been talking with Seattle Christians about what, exactly, is going on in the church that rose to international fame and now seems to be crashing to the ground with pastor Mark Driscoll's serial scandals and the church's glaring inability to hold him accountable: accusations of plagiarism, quietly spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars to buy one of his books onto the New York Times bestseller list, the circulation of embarrassing old message board posts (that the church has allegedly tried to scrub from the internet because they're too bilious for Driscoll's new spin-friendly, mainstreamed image), money that was supposedly earmarked for a "Global Fund" but never made it to its supposed destinations in India and Ethiopia, and so on, not to mention the proliferation of blogs talking about kangaroo courts, "demon trials," and shunning entire families whose parents are not perceived as loyal enough.
Funnily enough, the story really begins with church bylaws.
Talking about bylaws “will make the average person’s eyeballs roll back in their sockets,” said former Mars Hill elder Paul Petry. “But the bylaws of a church are almost second to scripture. Scripture is openhanded on a lot of things: How do you resolve disputes in the church? How do you have a process for a member to appeal something he thinks is unjust? Who determines how a pastor gets replaced?” Not to mention how thousands of people’s weekly donations are going to be spent and who gets to control the church property. “That,” Petry says, “is what bylaws are for.”
What happened when Driscoll tried to change the bylaws in 2007, consolidating more power in his corner, is the root of the unrest we're seeing today. You can read all about it here. (The strange story wound up being like a sequel to this story I wrote about the church's authoritarian, secretive culture back in 2012.)
As for the protest, another well-respected ex-Mars Hill insider named Rob Smith explained it this way:
We are walking past a wounded man on the road to Jericho—we can’t not stop and help. And Mark is the guy who beat up the wounded man. We were wounded, we’ve been in the place a long time. I’m 56, I’m strong, but we know so many families who’ve gotten into this culture of authoritarianism, and when they leave, they’re stunned. They’re treated as if they’re dead. Shunning is so destructive and so un-Christlike. That keeps me engaged. We can’t just keep walking.
In a related note, I learned this morning that Petry's 19 year-old daughter Eleanor was in a severe bicycle accident. As of this writing, she is in a coma at a hospital, surrounded by friends and family who are praying for her recovery.
Our thoughts and very best wishes are with the Petry family.