The "we are not anonymous" poster refers to pastor Mark Driscoll's recent comment that he can't "reconcile" with church critics because he doesn't know who they are.
After a big buildup of pressure, media coverage, blog posts, and social media buzz, demonstrators who attended this past Sunday's protest at Mars Hill Church's Bellevue campus said it was a restrained spectacle. The people waving signs and talking to passersby had shown up to protest pastor Mark Driscoll's autocratic leadership at Mars Hill Church—leadership that's been called into question after a series of controversies.
Rob Smith and Jim Henderson, who were both there yesterday, say the protest attracted between 65 and 80 people holding signs asking churchgoers to "question Mark." (Smith is a former Mars Hill insider; Henderson has never been a Mars Hill member, but he is a Christian and a longtime Mars Hill observer.) There were no altercations, but a church member came out to offer the demonstrators coffee and doughnuts.
"I quipped that I hoped the Global Fund didn't pay for them," Smith says.
Mars Hill recently admitted that millions of dollars donated to its Global Fund, supposedly bound for projects in Ethiopia and India, actually went into Mars Hill's general fund, which raised questions about how much of the general fund goes toward Driscoll's salary.
In the Christian world, Henderson says, offering coffee and doughnuts is a "political gesture," signaling hospitality and friendship—perhaps in an attempt to distract from the more concrete complaints of the demonstrators. Henderson says he perceives Driscoll as "a broken human being who has been unable to bring his character under control—we can all relate, but the difference is that he's on a huge platform. I've spent a lot of time around addicts, I've been impacted by them personally, and that makes it impossible for me to ignore his pattern."
What, exactly, does Henderson think Driscoll is addicted to? Power. Maybe other things too. Henderson points out that in sermons, Driscoll seems very focused on sex, authority, and submission.
Some Christians protesting Mars Hill are concerned that Driscoll's style is driving people away from Christianity instead of bringing them toward it.
Other demonstrators were more measured in their comments. Some former insiders, like Smith, want reconciliation with Driscoll. As a South African who lived through apartheid, Smith knows a thing or two about truth and reconciliation processes. "Dean [the church spokesperson] said, 'We started a reconciliation commission,'" Smith says. "I said, 'If it's not binding arbitration, it doesn't mean anything to me.'"
Driscoll has a history of comparing feminism with hell itself. During a service in 2012, Driscoll told husbands to think of their wives as their "garden." If you look at your garden and don't like the way it looks, he said to the men in the house, just remember: "You are the gardener."
"Anyone who thinks Christians shouldn't protest other Christians, shouldn't air our dirty laundry—I'm so over that," Smith says. "If people know what's going and still want to stay silent, they'll have to answer to God."
Smith and Henderson say a few current Mars Hill members joined the ex-members (as well as a handful of atheists) in the demonstration, saying they want to remain in the church and change it from within. There is a general consensus that the church ought to return control of its resources to a robust and independent council of elders—the way the church was structured pre-2007, when Driscoll changed church bylaws to concentrate power into his own hands.
In the short term, Henderson doesn't expect much will happen unless other national, pastoral big shots—such as Jim Piper, John Keller John Piper, Tim Keller, and Rick Warren—tell Driscoll that his way of doing business is driving people away from Christianity rather than bringing them toward it.
This past Sunday outside our building about 60 professing Christians led a protest, left a bit of trash, and slandered good men.
Both Smith and Henderson laugh off the "left a bit of trash" opening, saying there were just a few coffee cups left on the table Mars Hill set up because there wasn't a garbage can. "If we left trash, I will publicly repent," Smith says. "I'll hold myself to never do that again, I'll run laps, whatever."
But the "trash" is a minor distraction in a very serious conversation, he adds.
In 2007, the day after Driscoll fired two church elders for questioning his consolidation of power, Driscoll told a room full of young "church-planters": "There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done. You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus."
The 2013 Mars Hill annual report claims that more than 21,000 people attended Easter Sunday services and that it earned more than $26 million in income during the year, the vast majority of which came via member donations. (But it's important to note that while Mars Hill is registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit, it does not disclose its financials to guidestar.com or other common due-diligence sites, making its external reports unverifiable and journalistically useless.)
In related news, Eleanor Petry, the 19-year-old daughter of ex-Mars Hill elder Paul Petry (who was a source for this Mars Hill story) is still hospitalized following the bicycle accident she was in last week. Smith says she's doing better but still in and out of consciousness. A crowd-funding site has raised more than $26,000 to help cover her family's medical bills. If you want to donate, go right over here.
This post has been updated since its original publication.