Hillsong stands by decision to feature Mark Driscoll at London conference as criticism mounts

Hillsong is standing by its decision to keep former Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll on the programme of its Europe conference despite a petition calling for his removal.

Driscoll resigned from the church he founded last year following a string of revelations about his leadership style, which was said to be bullying and coercive. His views on the role of women and criticism of 'feminised' men have also been controversial.

The petition, initiated by Christian gender justice activist Natalie Collins, has gathered pace and now has more than 700 signatures. Hillsong spokesman Mark DeMoss told blogger Warren Throckmorton, who has covered Mars Hill's affairs extensively, "Hillsong is aware of the petition. The whole point of keeping Mark (and Grace) Driscoll on the conference program is so Brian Houston can interview them about events of the past year."

DeMoss added: "I don't think that is 'cheap grace,' but rather, a thoughtful approach to challenging circumstances. I think it would be fair for the petitioners to judge this appearance after it takes place, but advance judgment seems premature and a bit unfair, in my view."

Among the concerns expressed in the petition were Driscoll's public statements against women in leadership, alleged unethical behaviour in promoting his book for a best-seller list, misuse of funds and the damage done to Mars Hill's leaders and members.

Collins said that Hillsong's response was "disappointing". "None of those [Driscoll] has hurt will have their voice heard. Clearly he has not made any significant progress in changing his behaviour, or he would have chosen to reject the Hillsong opportunity. As it is, he is continuing to use power in a way that further damages those he has hurt and Hillsong are legitimising and colluding with this."

She added: "Hopefully Hillsong may reconsider, and if they do not, we may choose to peacefully protest at the conference itself."