The response to Mark Driscoll's exit from Acts29
Last week Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church were removed from Acts29 Network, an organisation he helped to establish. Shortly afterwards, LifeWay Christian bookstore also announced its decision to stop selling Driscoll's books.
The megachurch pastor has long been a controversial figure, but the revelation that he had posted distasteful remarks online using a false identity more than ten years ago seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
The Acts29 leadership said their decision was the result of repeated accusations against Driscoll. In a statement on its website, Acts29 said: "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. 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 dishonoured."
In a fuller letter to Driscoll, which was then leaked by Warren Throckmorten on his blog, they wrote: "We have both publically and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behaviour. [...] Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action. Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help."
The response from Michael Van Skaik, chairman of Mars Hill's Board of Advisors and Accountability, said that neither the board nor Driscoll had been contacted by the Acts29 leadership before being informed of their decision.
Van Skaik said: "Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly. 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.
"Our board's decision is final regarding these charges, although will no doubt continue to be played out in the courts of public opinion."
The Acts29 decision followed an open letter from one of Driscoll's former protégés, Ron Wheeler, who planted the first Acts 29 Network church, and filed a grievance against Driscoll to the Acts29 leadership team in 2005. The blog post was entitled 'I am not anonymous', a response to Driscoll's comment in a video that his detractors often abuse him online anonymously.
Wheeler began by saying: "You were once one of my closest friends. You were once my trusted mentor and benefactor." He went on to write: "You've destroyed people, Mark. You've ruined people's reputations. Through your own perverse interpretation of 'God's grace', you've cast people aside who you decided were not 'on mission' spoke of 'a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus.' [...] Please Mark. Just stop. Step down. Resign."
Wheeler welcomed the decision by Acts29, saying: "Not only did you [the Acts29 leadership] recognize the credibility damage to the network due to the continuing association with Mark Driscoll, but more importantly, you recognized that the cause of Christ was truly more important than Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Acts29 or anything else. The message for all of us here – individual, organization, church, or otherwise – is that silent passivity in the face of obvious sin and destruction, only gives birth to more sin and destruction in the end. Integrity was well served today."
As the popularity tide retreats from the controversial megachurch pastor, there are plenty of others who have something to say about the Acts29 leadership's decision.
About 65 members and former-members of Mars Hill protested outside the Bellevue, Washington church site on August 3 in response to the news of his comments online. They held placards saying: "We are not anonymous" and "Stop objectifying women". Numerous former members of the church have also contributed to the Tumblr page We Love Mars Hill, where they share stories of their difficulties with the church and its leader, alongside information on how to deal with spiritual abuse.
A group of 75 people who had planned to bring charges against Driscoll, have held off filing their complaints in light of the Acts29 decision, waiting to see whether Driscoll will heed the call to resign.
Kurt Willems, lead pastor at Pangea Communities, part of the Acts29 Network, wrote on Facebook: "There is no doubt that God has done some great things through many of the people at that church, even with some very clear pastoral and theological missteps. I hurt with those who have been hurt by a leadership and a system like this one (having experienced the pain church can cause people on a personal level in the past).
"Excessive power in the church when coupled with certain theological assumptions can be quite abusive. So to all of those who are hurting right now for whatever reason because of what is happening at Mars Hill Church, I want you to know that we are praying with you and for you."
Reflecting on the lessons learned, blogger and author Tim Challies said that while he admired Driscoll's early theology, he had always dislike his coarseness. He wrote: "I doubt we will see another Mark Driscoll anytime soon – someone known equally for crudeness and for gospel preaching. We get it now, I think. The two are incompatible."
Not everyone has joined in the condemnation, however. While acknowledging the same failings that Driscoll himself admits, Adrian Warnock wrote sympathetically: "If we were to examine the lives of great preachers of the past as closely as we do today, we would also see great flaws. What of the intense rows between Whitfield and Wesley, or for that matter the overly harsh way that the Apostle Paul treated Barnabas and Mark?
"We live in a fallen world. If we examine our pastors under the microscope, we should not be surprised if we find out that they are also fallen, and that they are a work in progress."
Similarly Jonathan Merritt, writing for the Religion News Service before the Acts29 decision, encouraged forgiveness: "When Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can't even accept their apologies, something has gone seriously wrong. If Driscoll had ignored these comments, his critics would have excoriated him for his silence. But when he says he is sorry, they criticize him still."