Less than a week after protesters picketed Mars Hill Church and called for the ouster of its leader, the megachurch and its controversial pastor, Mark Driscoll, were removed from a nationwide network of churches Driscoll had helped organize.
Since it was co-founded by Driscoll 15 years ago, that umbrella organization, called Acts 29 Network, has helped start and build more than 500 churches around the world based on a shared set of core principles.
But Friday, the board of that network suggested Mars Hill had not taken strong enough actions against Driscoll after a string of allegations that he regularly bullied or shunned churchgoers and spent church funds inappropriately.
“It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network,” the Acts 29 group wrote. “In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.”
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The decision, while largely symbolic, is the latest in a spate of bad news for the church Driscoll founded as a Bible study group in Wallingford 18 years ago. Today, Mars Hill claims more than 6,000 members and says as many as 13,000 people attend services at its 15 locations, most in Washington.
The church is known for its blaring rock music, its big-screen sermons and its charismatic founder, whose preaching can slip fluidly from casual or comic to thundering and who has come under fire through the years for statements he has made about homosexuality, the role of women and sensitive men.
In response to Friday’s move, Mars Hill officials said they have acknowledged “unhealthy culture issues” within the church and have been working to address them.
But the church group expressed dismay that Acts 29 would dismiss Driscoll and Mars Hill without first reaching out to discuss the matter, and said the church’s problems largely stem from old issues that Driscoll has long since put behind him.
“There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now,” two members of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability wrote in a note to church members.
But issues continue to bubble up.
Less than two weeks ago, Driscoll apologized to his congregants for “cussing” and making other crude remarks about gender roles in an online forum 14 years ago under the name William Wallace II.
Mars Hill has agreed that it used church money to have a company buy up one of Driscoll’s books to boost sales. And earlier this summer, Mars Hill told church members that it had confirmed that some money given to help start churches overseas had instead gone for Mars Hill expenses.
The recent protests were sparked in part because one recent video of Driscoll himself suggested he could not respond to some criticism because it was anonymous. In response, demonstrators carried signs that read “WE ARE NOT ANONYMOUS.”
Then on Thursday, a former Mars Hill member, who started attending the church in 1996 and claimed he was rebuffed when seeking help from Driscoll, urged the pastor to resign.
“The sharks are circling now, and it appears there are many who want only your destruction,” former church member Ron Wheeler wrote in an open letter to Driscoll on his personal website. “I don’t. I want to see brokenness, humility, and change that I can support.”
But church officials have made clear that Driscoll has no plans to leave — and they have no plans to ask him to. In fact, they reminded church members that they had predicted there would be controversy from within, stating that “Friendly fire always hurts the most.”