What Have We Learned? – The End of the Mars Hill Church Empire

Guest Post by the Lee Karl Palo

After the mounting controversies surrounding Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll culminated in his resignation, the MHC network has chosen to disband. The multiple sites that formerly had live video of Mark delivering sermons each Sunday will choose to either dissolve themselves or become independent churches.

This move makes a lot of sense if you understand that Mars Hill was largely built upon Mark Driscoll’s cult of personality. One of the accusations of Driscoll was that he systematically pushed out those who challenged his authority, creating an environment where there could be no successor from within the organization.

It is certainly my hope that the many people attending the various Mars Hill locations can discern the best course of action for their future.

Not everything is ending well though. I am left with a bad taste in my mouth from some of the remarks made by church leadership after Driscoll’s resignation. The church’s board of overseers, upon receiving his surprising resignation, had some interesting comments to make.

Driscoll was seen to have “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.” But they also noted that “Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy.”

I suppose what really bothers me is that the bullying they readily acknowledge on the part of Driscoll seems to be glossed over. Is bullying not sufficient to warrant any substantive action? Given the effects such actions are known to have on others, is this not in itself an action which might be deemed immoral?

I couldn’t help but think of one of the most quoted passages in all of scripture, 1 Corinthians 13, and how it might apply to this situation.

“If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal.

Mark Driscoll is, by all accounts, a very charismatic and gifted orator.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing.

Certainly many people have found Driscoll’s vision of a more masculine Christianity to be appealing. Whatever the case, he wasn’t found by the church’s board of overseers to have committed heresy, at least according to their church’s independent understanding of orthodox Christian belief.

“If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

Driscoll has resigned his position at Mars Hill, and he has issued apologies for his behavior, even if some question what the apologies mean.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

It’s possible some in leadership at Mars Hill thought that Driscoll would need to address certain issues prior to returning to his position as pastor. Given the church’s board of overseers findings about bullying behavior on the part of Driscoll, it is reasonable to assume that if they had conditions for his return, those conditions would involve more accountability from Mark and greater authority for other church leaders.

It may also be telling that elders within the church have found themselves complicit with certain bullying actions in the past. Nevertheless, it is clear that they had hope for Driscoll to return as their pastor at some point in the future. That they would desire reconciliation for Driscoll is surely a noble goal.

“As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

I have no way of knowing whether Driscoll resigned because he understood what he had done and the consequences of it, or if he resigned because he would have to change how he did things prior to returning to his position as pastor of Mars Hill church (would he share power?). In any case, it is time for me to move on now that the ministry Driscoll has had, which has greatly troubled and angered me in the past, is over.

As someone who cares deeply that theology should be crafted out of love for God and neighbor, it has been difficult to see ways in which Driscoll has used the Bible to hurt many different people (including stay-at-home dads like me whom he has derogatorily referred to as being “Marty Stewarts”).

I will pray that Mark Driscoll may be transformed—to truly know love as talked about in 1 Corinthians 13, so the old Mark will be no more—that is my imprecation.

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the Common English Bible (CEB). For reasons as to why I use the CEB, go here.

Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church Seattle via Flickr (Image source)

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